There is a song they sing about the city of Guadalajara, and included in the lyrics is hermosa. That means beautiful. And it is.
Our first trip here was with our Mexican friends. Back then, we hardly had the confidence to leave the tourist areas in PV. I cannot begin to describe how far out of our comfort zone our first trip to Guadalajara was! Adding to our trepidation, was their announcement that we would be leaving on the midnight bus! After a restless night on the bus, we arrived at the Zapopan bus station around 5am, and finally, at the family home of one of our friends. In spite of the early hour, we were warmly welcomed by the entire family, even though we most likely looked like we had just rolled out of a ditch and they could not understand a word we said.
Our command of Spanish back then was less than poor, and we spent a lot of time sitting in their living room understanding nothing but our names, which seemed to be bandied about frequently. In spite of the language difficulty, our hosts eagerly toured us through as much of the city and surrounding area as we could handle in 3 short days. It was a weekend all of us will remember fondly for many years to come.
Now, 5 years later, our Spanish is a bit better; at least we can make ourselves understood, which also makes us better at translating street signs on the fly.
We have visited this great city several times since our first visit and have learned that the major streets in Guadalajara are fairly easy to navigate, but they are as busy as any other major city, and they come with their own set of rules and etiquette. Coming from Edmonton, Alberta, population about 900,000 last time I checked, driving thru Guadalajara with its population of about 5million, we never cease to be amazed by the traffic here. Kevin has figured most of the major streets in Guadalajara and where they will take us. Aside from a little difficulty navigating around the construction for line 3 of the underground train system this trip, he got us to all our destinations with very few wrong turns.
As always, the underlying reason for our trip was to visit the markets. Its not like we actually NEED anything, but we both love to wander thru the stalls looking for something that might strike our fancy.
Our favourite and most frequented stop is the Tonola Market. Thursdays and Sundays, a normally busy street becomes insane when vendors set up their tables and tarps to display everything from curtains to ceramics to wood work, pictures, artwork, furniture, lamps, cushions, name it, you can probably find it at the market. Adding to the confusion, hawkers walk thru the narrow alleys selling everything from cold drinks to washing machine covers. Whether we buy anything or not, we always see something new and enjoy the time we spend there. Incidentally, all of the furnishings for our guest rooms came from this amazing place.
Kevin, navigator extraodinarre, has also taken time to figure out the subway lines. From the Hotel Portobello, our home base for this visit, it was a 7 peso, 10 minute, subway ride to the Mercado San Juan de Dios. At least one full city block, and 3 stories high, its immenseness is awesome. Restaurants and electronics & accessories on the top floor, general goods, including clothing, saddles and leatherwork on the second and food on the bottom. Meat vendor after meat vendor eventually gives way to cheese and dairy, dried beans and finally, fruit vendors towards the exits.
In between all that, stands selling Mexican Tortas large enough to feed a family of 4. If not for Kevins funky wheat allergy, … There are a lot of repeat stalls, and regular visitors all have their favourite vendors. My favourite vendor was the guy who sold me an new iPad mini cover for $160 pesos! This place is amazing and surprisingly, does not duplicate the Tonala Market.
Our final market was one we had only recently heard of and our understanding was that it sold nothing but FOOD!!!!! Count me in, I couldn’t wait to see it.
We a bit of difficulty getting around the subway construction, but when we finally laid eyes on the Mercado de Abastos, our jaws dropped. Covering a minimum of 5 streets, it never seemed to quit.
Here, we found onions for 8 pesos a kilo, tomatoes (yes, good ones) for 7 pesos, sweet corn! (who cares how much that cost, we rarely see it!), fennel, avocados for 16…oh, the list goes on and on, as far as your imagination can take you! Some prices were so low we could hardly believe them, and others were similar to here. If not for the 5 hour unrefrigerated drive ahead of us, I would have filled the back of the truck so fast it would have made Kevin’s head spin.
Aside from the low prices, it seemed everyone in Guadalajara was in there! We had to gawk on the fly because of the river of people pushing us ever deeper into the market. Get to the end, change sides and the river pushes us out again. We highly recommend this stop, if only to have a good look at what organized chaos looks like from the outside. The vendors never seem to stop moving, weighing this, bagging that, next customer. It is one of the busiest places we have ever seen.
Across the street, behind the parking lot, which is very civilized when one considers all the confusion of the market, there is a sugar store. And a bean store. And a seed store selling everything from Amaranth to Quinoa, including Turin Chocolate in large chunks suitable for baking. Take a number, because they are so busy, they don’t have time to look at you until it is your turn.
Oddly, amongst all that food, we could locate only 1 stall selling prepared foods. Their speciality was Tacos de Cabeza, which includes but is not limited to beef tongue, cheeks, lips and brains. Already reeling from the sensory overload of the market, we opted to look for our breakfast in a quieter local.