Guadalajara and Beyond
Guadalajara! The self-styled cultural capital of Mexico, whose relationship with the political capital, Mexico City, rivals Mexico’s relationship with the United States in a bizarre combination of condescension and dependence. This city of millions with its lavish plazas, crowded neighbourhoods, and cathedrals that announce to the world – Yo soy la puerta (I am the door), reminded me of Calcutta, more a feeling than any physical correspondence. A
feeling that its people weren’t quite sure how the city had gotten this large.
I was alone in Guadalajara. Being alone in a big city always leaves me with a feeling of not knowing where to go or what to do. I took many pictures during the two days I was there. But I write now from memory, because as I discovered in due course, my camera was minus the film!
I left Guadalajara in a second-class bus. Always travel segunda classe even if they tell you that you’ll be eaten by cannibals! Nothing of the sort happens and you’ll be free of the twin evils of air-conditioning and non-stop video. You’ll feel the wind in your face, and eat tacos at every village along the way.
Guadalajara to the west coast is a five-hour journey, not counting any breakdowns that might occur. My destination? Puerto Vallarta – billed as nothing short of paradise if I were to go by what the travel brochures said. Though Puerto Vallarta came close, it was the five hours over the Sierra Madre Occidental that robbed me of my speech. I wrote in my diary. “This is the most beautiful land I have ever seen”. And it was.
We wound our way slowly through the mountains. The dark green of tropical rainforests stretched in all directions unto the horizon, and beyond that was the blue of the sky. Clusters of settlements would appear around a bend, and a path would vanish into the valley below. I wished many times that my Spanish was good enough to let me get off at one of those now nameless towns.
Halfway through the journey, our bus broke down and I was offered a seat on the next bus that came by. “Tengo tiempo, no tengo dinero,” I said as I declined the offer ï¿½ “I have time, not money.” I squatted by the roadside chatting with the driver while he fixed the bus. In due course our bus started up and I climbed on, one of two remaining passengers.
As we mounted a ridge, I was granted an unforgettable vista. The rainforest swooped down the slopes into a shallow valley. There, in this ocean of green, was a small town, yellow in the sunlight. And from the centre rose a spectacular cathedral reaching into the sky. My jaw must have dropped as I stared in silence at this vision. And the only thought that ran through my mind was that of a band of 16th century Catholic missionaries making their way through what was then a pathless land to build this structure that now stood in the distance.
On the other side, the Sierra Madre plunged into the Pacific in a striking confluence of vertical and horizontal, hard and soft, green and blue. At sea level, the sun shone down ferociously. And as I waited for a bus into town, I was amongst mangoes, pineapples, and red and yellow flowers – Mexico lindo.