Guadalajara, a city initially founded on February 14, 1542, today is thriving with 4.4 million people filling it’s metropolitan cities. Guadalajara is a center of culture, history, and finance. The Historic District reminds me of Europe and the neighborhoods remind me of San Francisco, Daly City, or even Palo Alto depending on the section of town. While walking through the Historic District you constantly find the surrounding buildings pulling your eyes upward so that you can fully comprehend and appreciate the architectural beauty that surrounds you on every street.
Any day of the week finds the streets full of people working, shopping, and strolling the streets and at any given moment you are surrounded by music. An orchestra in the Plaza, a makeshift band, mariachi music, or loud music from nearby shops that make you feel as if you are trapped in the soundtrack of a German film.
The drums are played on 5 gallon buckets, the tuba was fashioned out of PVC pipes, and the horns were made from garden hose. When there is a will there is a way!
Guadalajara boasts the largest open-air market I have ever seen, Mercado San Juan de Dios. It is several blocks long and at least three stories high. This is a huge draw to the city.
Horse drawn carriages line the front of the Mercado.
The mercado offers anything you could want. Leather goods, fine linens, kitchenware, furniture, containers, fans, jewelry, clothes, a whole street full of shoes, food, knives, and hundreds of birds! Anything you could ever want and the shops are open for negotiation!
This is a place sparsely filled with an American or Canadian tourist. The world of Guadalajara is vastly different from oceanside cities such as Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, or Cabo where you have to work hard to find someone who speaks Spanish instead of English.
There are lots of street vendors here. This woman is selling a variety of chips that she most likely made at home early this morning. She has her kids with her.
We arrived Guadalajara on Friday afternoon, having survived a 5+ hour bus ride from Puerto Vallarta on the Vallarta Plus bus line. We picked up a taxi to get to Hotel Frances, a lovely hotel built in the 1600s and last remodeled in the 1980s, but our taxi driver told us that there were drugs and streetwalkers nearby at night. He instead took us to Santiago de Compostela, a nice but old hotel just a couple blocks away. He received a tip from the front desk for steering us to them. I’m sure the other hotel would have been fine!
Our main business in this large, and sometimes overwhelming city, was to find my distant family members. 35+ years ago my parents drove in to Guadalajara on a motorcycle and found a sombrero shop owned by my abuelita’s brother. 11 years ago I arrived in Guadalajara on a lark with college girlfriends Jas Lee and Jordan Lau. We were adopted by an older woman who took me by the hand and led us to every sombero shop in the multi-level Mercado until we found the correct one and we met up with my family the next day for a whirlwind tour of Guadalajara.
This time Conor and I started at the Mercado as I tried to trace my steps from 11 years ago and at last we found a hat shop owned by a Becerra. But not the Becerra I am related to. We pressed on. The last sombrero shop we went to said that a Becerra used to own that shop and has passed and he was someone else with a different last name. He was not overly helpful, but looking back maybe it was because my Spanish is still so rusty that I was not making sense. After 5 confusing minutes I think our conversation ended something like this.
“Andres Becerra had this shop but he has died. I am not a Becerra.”
“But my abuelita’s brother was Andres Becerra”
“I am not a Becerra. My name is xx Rodriguez.”
“Oh! I had an uncle with the last name Rodriguez!”
He looks at me like he wishes I would disappear.
Finally I do disappear.
Next we try to track down a house that we think is in the family. I had written a letter to leave in case the residents were out and the hotel staff checked it for accuracy- it was perfect and I am happy that my written Spanish skills are better than my verbal skills! We take a taxi to the house. The taxi driver waits for us to check on the house. It appears that nobody has been home for some time. The taxi driver checks the electricity meter and sees that it has been turned off. I flag down a young couple crossing the street to bring flowers to the boy’s mother. He takes me to his mother’s house to see if she knows of a Becerra and I rattle off a couple different first names. They lead me to another neighbor who has lived on the street for 30 years and does not know of the family. They send me down the street to check with another house, and then another. Finally we return defeated to the taxi cab and make our way back to the town center. The taxi driver is so nice that he tries to cheer me up by yelling,
“Tia….. Tia….Tia…Donde esta, Tia?”
Out the window as we drive through the neighborhood.
Now it is time to start making phone calls. I ask the hotel clerk for assistance as my first call is to a Tia a couple of generations older and I am nervous my Spanish will not be good enough for the phone call. The number I have does not work so they call information to ask for a number that belongs to my Tia Socorro in another town. None of the phone numbers we get from information work. My Tia Irma in California emails me more names, numbers, and addresses. I continue to work with the hotel staff on the numbers and addresses until I feel that my favors may be running low with these very patient employees.
So the quest to meet the Becerra family on this trip was not fulfilled, but I am not done trying. And we are happy we had a reason to go inland and see Guadalajara. On the way back we saw landscape similar to the Central Valley in California. Except the fields changed from agave inland to banana trees as we neared the coast. Finally we made it back to hot and humid Puerto Vallarta and, as always, we are happy to be reunited with Moondance!