Guadalajara: couchsurfing, buen fin and artesanías

Last week I decided it was finally time to do a little couchsurfing. With that weekend being a long one due to Mexican Revolution day, it was time to visit Colima’s neighbouring state Jalisco, whose capital Guadalajara is the second biggest city in Mexico. A young designer approved my request and replied to me within a day giving me directions on how to get to her warehouse-style home in downtown Guadalajara.

After a short three-hour coach journey I arrived in the busy city and made my way to my host’s house to be greeted with a typical Mexican breakfast of chilaquiles waiting for me. Unfortunately, my host was extremely busy the whole weekend so introductions were brief on Saturday morning.

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My afternoon was filled with cathedral/temple sight-seeing which was lovely but marred by a huge construction project running through the city’s centre making it even more congested and dusty. This weekend was buen fin, Mexico’s version of Black Friday so the whole city was completely chaotic with tapatíos and tourists searching for good deals in Guadalajara’s huge host of shops.

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That evening I finally got to know my host a little better, met some of her friends for a few beers and wandered home with a quick stop over in a very local pulquería, where they sell pulque, a fermented drink made from agave that can be mixed with fruit and herbs. (I would highly recommend pulque but just keep an eye on how much you’re drinking as it’s deceptively alcoholic!)

Guadalajara is famous for its artisans; pottery, glassware, jewellery, art, and clothing, sending many people to Tonalá and Tlaquepaque both within an hour from the capital. The former is a must if you’re looking for a bargain, but with it being buen fin it was far too hot, chaotic and busy for my liking. A bit of social anxiety was kicking in so I knew it was time for me to head out of the, what seemed to be, maze-like stalls of Tonalá. I asked around – everyone was so friendly, they just wanted to help – to see how to get to Tlaquepaque. I’d heard better things about this pueblo mágico with its only downfall being supposedly more expensive prices compared to Tonalá.

The whole environment was so much more relaxed and laid back in Tlaquepaque – I felt more at ease and took some time to just sit and people watch with a coffee in the main plaza. Bordering the plaza is un andador filled with stalls selling artisans, but in a  less chaotic and more organised and attractive manner. Tlaquepaque still had its Día de los Muertos colourful bunting up around the streets making the town look even prettier as the sun began to set.

Overall the weekend was a good one: couchsurfing went well as there was a decent balance between being independent and relying on my host, the cathedrals of the capital are architecturally beautiful (more so from the outside), the museums and art (including the graffiti) around the city are intriguing, and Tlaquepaque was exactly what I wanted from a pueblo mágico.

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Michoacán: dulces, butterfly fishermen and graves

Michoacán is a state full of culture, beautiful architecture and thriving markets, a state not to be missed when travelling Mexico despite the area being deemed somewhat ‘dangerous’.

After a super comfortable overnight six-hour coach journey to the capital Morelia, we set up base in a friendly hostel situated only a few minutes from the hustle and bustle of the city centre. With sepia toned buildings, the famous Mercado de Dulces y Artesanías, a beautiful cathedral and a host of cafés and restaurants, the city is a favourite for tourists especially during Día de Los Muertos (1st November is to remember young’uns who’ve passed away, while the 2nd, the main day, is for adults) which also falls towards the end of the famous Festival Internacional de Cine de Morelia.

When traveling to new places, the first things I look out for are markets and food, and Michoacán is a great place to explore both of these. Walking around the Mercado de Dulces, it becomes even more evident that Mexicans have a major sweet tooth. With rows of stalls stacked high with sugar skulls, catering for Día de los Muertos, ates de frutas and huesitos de leche (in a variety of flavours including rompope, a vanilla flavoured eggnog like drink), the market is a wonderful place to browse Morelia’s famous sweet treats.

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After a morning in Morelia, we headed off to Pátzcuaro in order to catch a lancha on the lake taking us to Isla Janitzio. The pier was full of food stalls, selling two of my favourite snacks gorditas de nata (clotted cream cakes) and nieve de pasta (almond and cinnamon ice cream), and souvenir shops. My Lonely Planet book does warn you that the whole thing is a little cheesy, and extremely obvious that it’s purely for tourists. Nevertheless, the atmosphere on the pier was great as everyone got ready to head out onto the lake.

Nearing the island, which is identifiable by the huge statue of independence hero José María Morelos, the views from the boat are quite beautiful. Butterfly fisherman circle the boats, which is a wonderful sight, however it’s quite clear that from the start it’s a bit of a tourist trap. Everyone whips their cameras out to capture the moment, then the fisherman go round asking for moneda. 

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Small winding cobbled streets will take you up to the main area of the island where the statue stands, where even more food and drinks are served including ponche, quite like mulled wine but can be drunk with or without liquor snuck in.

The island’s cemetery was a lovely sight for Día de los Muertos with marigolds covering practically every surface, offerings of food to the dead, and candles lighting up the graves. But I couldn’t help but feel a little weird. The whole tradition is quite personal as families remember their loved ones who’ve sadly passed away. But there I was, alongside other tourists, gazing at the graves of people I didn’t even know. Despite knowing about the tradition,  I unconsciously made a spectacle out of an important religious weekend.

Regardless, my first weekend away in Mexico was a success. Trying different food, getting a fairly authentic taste of a Mexican tradition and capturing lovely views of Michoacán was a fun escape from the chiquita city of Colima.

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