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Dave and Jan's travels, day 171:

6th November
Now this is (yet) another fine city. I'm becoming increasingly fond of Mexico, as the people are just so nice. Still, for a city of 5 million inhabitants to retain this much charm is truly remarkable. I'll leave the description of the town itself until further down the page, after a couple of hopefully amusing stories.

Anyhow, enough of the boring stuff. One highlight of the entry to Guadalajara was our first brush with corrupt officialdom. Imagine the scene. We're breezing along a two lane highway that looks like a recent bombing raid victim, traffic all over the place although no-one is driving too aggressively. Just as we go across a junction a policeman flags us down, he checks our papers and my driving license. He clearly has no idea what this is (for our US audience, British driving license are largish pieces of paper without photos that are typically value until 2026 or so).

Eventually he starts talking to us, which is when the fun starts. Eventually we realise that he's saying that we went through a red light. Did we? Who knows? In any case, when the policeman says that perhaps we don't know what a red light means, Jan explains (as calmly as she can) that we have been driving for over 20 years (each) and we just about know what a red light means. He repleid that even with 20 years experience a red light could be missed and so it rambled on.

To get the full flavour, you should realise that each sentence can take minutes to comprehend due to our still woeful grasp of the language. Then it becomes apparent that the fine for this offence is about 30 British pounds. Then it becomes apparent that our new friend might be prepared to waive this fine "in the interests of good relations". Then it becomes apparent that this would be somewhat contingent on a similar gesture in support of international cooperation, and that this gesture might well be of the folding sort.

Now, I know that this sort of thing is very bad, but it was all done with such good humour and absence of intimidation that it was almost fun. Our man appeared to be about sixteen, and was completely unselfconscious about the whole thing, happily taking the cash in full view just as a more senior looking character drove up in a squad car. By the way, does anyone think it makes any difference whether or not we actually did run the light?

Guadalajara was also the jumping off point for our pilgrimage to the town of Tequila. A tour of the Cuervo Brothers distillery ensued, during which we surveyed the entire process whereby every day, 150 tons of Blue Agave cactus are transformed into 50,000 litres of finest Tequila. Then we sampled the various grades of the end product. Apparently the most revered Tequilas are "100% Agave", and apparently, these don't do so well in the export market because "they taste too much of cactus". As far as I'm concerned, they don't taste of anything much except alcohol. Still we had a good time in what is basically a nice small town that smells slightly of booze and is completely surrounded by Blue Agave fields. The factory itself, in spite of being the centre of a global business, looks for all the world like a rather well-to-do rancher's home base.

Back to Guadalajara. It's a modern town, like we said 5,000,000 people, but it retains a compact centre that retains much architectural integrity. This is all the more surprising in that the centre has been continually added to over the city's life. The additions include not just buildings, but plenty of sculpture and fountains of all styles, shapes and sizes.

The central landmark is a reasonably bizarre Cathedral that took one hundred years to build, during which time the architects built each increment in whatever style was popular that week. The overall effect is quite startlingly strange.

Still, around the Cathedral are four distinct and each beautiful plazas. The one to the south fronts the Governor's palace, which is a regal colonial building. It's stately aspect was somewhat marred whilst we were there, due to a large and smelly mixed herd of farm animals parked more or less permanently on its front steps. These were the centrepiece of a farmer's protest about new taxes, that was quite good-humoured but rather effective.

Behind the church is a splendid neo-classical theatre, and behind that the "Cabanas de Cultura". This last was constructed by the church, and has been put to various good uses over the years including operating for many years as an orphanage. It's a pretty and calm labyrinth of whitewashed cloistered courtyards, many of which contain various art displays. The centrepiece is a chapel which has been covered inside by murals, created by one José Orozco, one of Guadalajara's more famous sons. These tell the story of Spain's history, in magnificent and gripping paintings. Orosco both refused to interpret his paintings and created them fully laden with mysterious symbology. Some of this - like the Spanish oppression of the Indians - is pretty graphic. Other parts seem to offer equal laments to the fate of the workers at the hands of capitalism and communism, are much more subtle. Add to that a profusion of cunning draughtsmanship with eyes, swords and other things following one around the chapel and it's a magical place. The locals know it as the "American Sistine Chapel".


   (click thumbnails for a larger picture)

The cathedral

Picketing the Governor's Palace

Murals in the Cabanas Cultura

Living sculpture

Tequila in Tequila