Free Movement

If not on his sea legs, he’s at least rocking his sea hair!

Freely moving, I watch as waves of vanishing time crash over the strange and muddled destinations I’m slowly forgetting.  A raft of human connections, some meaningful, others pointless, keeps me floating through both open ocean and overcrowded currents. Occasionally I feel a powerful lonesome undertow, born of having company.  However, these are the words of a fortunate man.  A man drenched by a sea of what my friend Erik calls, “endless days of fucking around”.  

 

At my leisure, I encounter problems of my own making, and enjoy delights of my choosing.  Is this my experience because I was born a privileged white guy?  Am I living this reality because I was kind in a past life?  Perhaps there is no reason at all why this is my experience?  Why am I here, free to do what I chose and not currently languishing in a prison?  What has kept me from living out my days trapped in a broken body, rather than having one I can freely neglect yet continue to rely upon?  Whatever the case may be, you can bet your sweet ass, I feel about as grateful for this opportunity as a man can feel.

 

In a relatively short period of time, we have traveled the total length of the Baja Peninsula, taken two weeks of Spanish language lessons, parked our van on a ferry and voyaged across the Golfo De California (Previously known as the Sea of Cortez), spent time in the bustling town of Mazatlán, driven the expensive highway from the sea to the beautiful lake at Santa Maria Del Oro, and arrived in the metropolis of Guadalajara!  I’ve been sick twice, Tiffany pulled a muscle in her butt, Pelé has panted in 100 degree heat, and our van has suffered a few minor injuries.  Thanks to these mercifully mild inconveniences, we are getting our sea legs for travel in Mexico.  

 

After our two weeks of school in La Paz, we headed over to Cabo San Lucas to meet with my friend Erik Jacbosen, his wife Lala, and his son Jakob.  We’d been in over 100 degree heat for the past two weeks, and had been bathing in a combination of swimming pool water, and late night showers in the parking lot of the hotel where we were parked in La Paz.  

 

Before we left La Paz for Cabo, we made arrangements to record two podcasts.  One was scheduled with our hosts, Milton and Su Su. We were keen to speak with them about their experiences as a world traveling boat Capitan and chef on large private yachts.  They are also devout Christians who operate their own church, they have two adopted children, and are both involved in way too many projects to mention here.  I was looking forward to discussing so many things with them!

 

The other podcast, we hoped, was to be recorded with the daughter-in-law of our new friends from school, Martha and Robert.  Victoria Cramer, Martha’s daughter-in-law, is an author, athlete, mother, and cancer survivor extraordinaire!  Her book, “Living Life Loudly”, is an amazing chronicle of her battle with breast cancer, after giving birth to twin girls!  Needless to say, we were very excited to record these conversations and spend such intentional time with these amazing people.

 

When we left La Paz for Cabo, we decided to splurge a little, and check-in to an Airbnb in Cabo. The promise of indoor showers and air-conditioning was titillating.  On the way down to Cabo, we stopped in the small town of El Pescadero to visit with a few other new friends, Val & Claudia for lunch.  El Pescadero is small, charming, full of surfers and beautiful vistas of the Pacific Ocean.  Val & Claudia are from Oregon, and are funny, sweet and a blast to be around.

 

Once in Cabo, we settled into our beautifully cool room, and slept without sweating into our pillows for the first time in weeks.  There is something about traveling in a vehicle in extreme heat which gives one a certain empathy for the plight of toast.  

 

Our hosts at the Airbnb, Martín & Laura, were super cool, and as laid back as just about everyone else we’d met in Mexico.  We were able to park under a mesh roofed structure in front of their home.  It was incredibly generous of them to make available the two spaces necessary to accommodate our enormous vehicle.  

 

We spent the next day wandering around Cabo, waiting on our friends, Erik, Lala and Jakob to return from a fishing trip.  It took us about ten minutes of walking around to realize we did not particularly like what time and white people had done to Cabo San Lucas.  Cabo is an example of what happens when goofy-ass rich people, with somewhat gaudy tastes, convince people who were previously unaware they were “poor” that if they would just let the rich people do anything they want with the “poor people’s” land, they will be rich too!  In other words, the place is something of a bummer.  

 

Don’t get me wrong, there are redeeming qualities to Cabo.  These qualities are mostly found among the long-suffering yet hilariously good-natured locals who tolerate and profit from the drunken and horny gringos who give the whole place the same treatment people give to cheap hotels and rental cars.  On the walk from our charming Airbnb to the beach, we ran a gauntlet of hustlers trying to sell cheap goods, barkers coaxing people into restaurants, pharmacies promising erections and pain relief, and tour guides with ragged pamphlets desperate to entertain anyone who still had enough energy to fish, dive, or do anything other than drink, shop or eat.  

 

When we met up with our friends later that evening, we had dinner at an outdoor restaurant attached to their hotel.  The meal was delicious, and our generous friend Erik would not let us pay.  In fact, he paid for every meal we had with him over the next several days.  We had only planned on staying for two nights though.  Sometimes plans change.

 

The following morning, I was up at 4:30AM to go fishing with Erik and Jakob.  Our boat captain, a hilarious and incredibly capable guy called Francisco, was waiting for us at 6AM, the boat fueled up, filled with lunches for all of us, and coolers full of ice, ready to receive any fish we might trick into the boat.  We were on the water by 6:15.

 

Fishing with locals is an awesome experience.  For one, the sunrise at sea is second-to-none.  Also, you do a bit of commerce in the bay, before you reach open water.  There are small boats with two or three guys and a few coolers out on the water who have been up all night catching bait to sell to any anglers heading out in the morning.  The bait we purchased would represent a nice day of fishing for a guy like me.  We were clearly seeking bigger fish.  

 

To be clear, I am not an experienced fisherman.  Don’t let my swarthy beard, or my willingness to work with my hands fool you, I’ve caught an incredibly small number of fish in my life, and have spent very little time in boats.

 

Francisco drives what is called a “Super Panga”.  It is basically a boat with a bit of a swoop in the front, and two large outboard motors which power it through the sea.  The swells were not insignificant once we hit the open water, and the boat was rising and falling constantly throughout the trip.  Mercifully, the Dramamine I took before we left did the trick and I didn’t get sea-sick.  In fact, I managed to catch the first fish!  

 

To be fair, Francisco handed me a pole with a line already in the water, and told me to reel it in. I started reeling, and he took the rod back from me saying, “there’s something wrong with your rod.”  Handing it back to him I asked him what it was. He held it for two seconds, handed it back to me and said with a wink, “there’s a fish on it”.  I reeled it in, and a rather large trigger fish popped out of the water and was guided into the boat by Francisco.  I felt a little useless while he removed the hook, killed the fish, gutted it, and let it bleed out before putting it on ice.  My hook was re-baited and back in the water within less than a minute.

 

We caught several more fish, and marveled at the way Francisco handled his boat while basically fishing for us.  Erik and Jakob are incredibly experienced fishermen, and the two of them have fished with Francisco many times before.  However, they both took something of a side-seat to Francisco as he handled almost every aspect of our journey.  At one point, Erik landed an enormous manta ray!  Francisco deftly pulled up the beautiful animal, removed the hook and set it free.  He did not, however, miss the opportunity to land a little joke once he realized Erik was reeling-in the large and tough-skinned creature.  “Do you need new shoes?” 

 

It was, as Erik would say, “a capitol day on the open!”  We caught enough fish to eat lunch and dinner, and headed back to the docks to do just that.  When we got back, another capable guy arrived, gathered up our catch and took it to an exceptionally clean little room to be filleted, and refrigerated.  We took two small bags of the fresh fish to a nearby restaurant and asked the cooks to prepare ceviche and sashimi with our catch.  Ten minutes later, two beautiful platters of fish were delivered with guacamole, salsa, chips and a variety of limes, hot sauces and other little items; all of it delicious.  

 

As soon as I sat down to eat, Erik handed me his phone, saying he had a message for me from Tiffany. There was a long text from her, below a photograph of the windshield of our van, almost completely destroyed. 

 

A large wooden beam, which had been precariously propped-up against the wooden structure under which our van was parked had been accidentally knocked over by a few children who were playing in the yard of our hosts. Honestly, I feel bad for the kid who knocked it over. It was most certainly not his fault, and as I understand it, he got into a fair bit of trouble for having been the unlucky guy who happened to touch the ill-fated piece of lumber.

 

As a matter of fact, the previous afternoon, I also knocked over the offending timber, but my landing was a bit more fortunate; barely missing our van as it crashed to the ground. Against my instinct, I picked up the long piece of wood and wedged it back in place, as it seemed to be supporting the structure in a lateral aspect.  It could easily have been me that broke our windshield.

 

Tiffany was outside, hanging out with our hosts when it happened, and was a witness to the crazy sound of our windshield’s last stand.  Our host leapt into action, and began working on a solution right away. Unfortunately, those solutions fell to circumstance, one after the other.  We would end up being in Cabo for at least two more nights.

Fortunately for us, even though we did not much like Cabo, we had the opportunity to spend more time with Erik, Lala and Jakob.  We ate with them several more times, laughed, listened to music, walked around the dock with them, and generally enjoyed ourselves.  

 

We ended up taking the van to two different shops to have a new windshield installed.  The first one bought a window, then realized it was the wrong size.  The second shop promised us they had the correct window, and actually removed our broken windshield before verifying an exact fit.  When the replacement part arrived and was much too big to fit, they actually had to reinstall our old and now more significantly broken windshield to get us out of there.  Ultimately, we were sent back to La Paz, where we were assured the correct windshield could be found.  We also missed our appointments with our scheduled podcast guests, as our ferry crossing was only a day away!

 

We never got angry, we didn’t get impatient, and we took a laid-back attitude towards the whole thing. Our hosts agreed to pay for the replacement windshield, and the shop in La Paz did a mostly decent job replacing the crazily broken screen.  The only bit of the debacle which got to me at all was the fact that I had to drive two and a half hours with a dangerously broken windshield, and that we missed out on hanging out with the people we had planned on interviewing.  Such is the nature of life on Earth though.  

 

No children were injured by the falling log.  We didn’t get hurt.  Our vehicle was not damaged beyond repair, and ultimately we got to spend more time than we thought we would with our friends.  We remain fortunate!

 

Our ferry voyage from La Paz to Mazatlán was crazy.  We sweated almost constantly on the journey.  The swells of the sea were rolling against the side of the ship, as we were heading East-South-East almost the whole time.  We met some other traveling gringos from the San Francisco Bay Area, chatted with them, and watched the sun set on the beautiful city of La Paz from the boat.

 

In the morning, I had my first conversation conducted solomente en Español!  A young 19-year-old guy called Rodolfo from Mexico City approached me, and asked where my dog was.  Pelé likes to sleep in, and has little interest in seeing sunrise. Tiffany was happy to join him that morning, so I watched it come up alone.  Rodolfo and I talked for about an hour; mostly about food, Ciudad de Mexico, his job cycling for Uber Eats, his travels that summer with his uncle, and his dreams of traveling in the U.S.A.  

 

We were later joined by two other guys, an older guy called Eddie and another young guy called Diego. They spoke fluent English, but managed to keep me in the loop when the conversation drifted back to Spanish.  I tend to understand way more than I can speak. So long as I don’t worry about how dumb I sound, I can generally make myself understood.  We laughed, and talked about a range of travel related subjects for the last three hours of the 16 hour journey.

 

Each of the guys gave me his phone number, and invited us to visit them in their homes.  I was so touched by the sensitivity, simpatico, and genuinely friendly and helpful nature of these lovely guys.  I was also struck by the great pride they each took in sharing his country with someone who was willing to travel through it. Their enthusiasm for sharing travel tips, particularly Eddie who was a truck driver, was nothing short of exhilarating to me.  They told us what we should not miss, and what to look out for in various parts of the country.  I am so grateful for our Spanish lessons!  

In Mazatlán, we hired another Airbnb, as the temperatures were in the 100’s, and the humidity was not far behind!  The place we rented was super inexpensive, very nice and had safe parking about a block away from the bustling and beautiful Malecon by the sea!  Our refrigerator was not functioning properly, and I was out of my depth on the repair.  I had tried for several weeks on my own to remedy the issue, and finally found myself willing to trust someone else with the task.  

 

I found a local guy called Rafael who spoke a total of 0 words of English who said he could help me. He spoke pretty fast, and our conversation was often fairly technical, but somehow we managed to work out a program to get the thing running again.  He told me on Saturday to bring it back on Monday morning, and we would get it done together.

 

We spent the weekend wandering around Mazatlán.  On our first day, we made friends with a young guy named Isaac.  This guy is a total gem!  He took us on a bike ride around the city, took me to his favorite swimming hole (where I got bitten by a weird little fish), showed us his apartment, watched sunset with us from his rooftop, and made us feel like old friends immediately.

 

On the morning when I was to go meet with Rafael to work on the fridge, Tiff, Pelé and I rode over to the opposite end of the city from where we were staying, and rode to the top of a small mountain overlooking the city and the sea called “El Faro”.  It was incredibly steep, super hot, and fairly difficult.  If ever you decide to visit Mazatlán, don’t skip it!  It is beautiful up there, and worth every drop of sweat!

 

I connected with Rafael, and he told me to get my refrigerator out of the van.  I followed him, as I carried our little fridge, for three blocks where we stopped at an electronica (basically an electronics store with half disassembled appliances and various electrical parts laying around). The guy there said he didn’t have the parts I needed, but knew a guy who did.  Rafael told me to go get my van, and we would go see another guy.

 

We drove together for a few miles, and talked about Rafael’s life.  It was fascinating to me to hear about this guy’s existence.  He lives and works out of a small place he owns with his wife and kids.  He has lived in Mazatlán his whole life, save for a few years in Guadalajara, which he appeared not to have enjoyed very much.  Rafael is in his early sixties, works six days a week, doesn’t like to drink anything other than rum, water, and the occasional sip of mescal.  We talked about food, music, dancing, and work.  I understood about 60% of what he said.

We dropped of the refrigerator with another guy who said he could get the part I needed (which I knew to be a tiny piece in the circuit board of the computer in my refrigerator which operates the fan which cools the compressor).  In the states, I would have likely just gotten a new circuit board and swapped it for the old one.  These guys were going to cut out the little part, and solder-in a new one.  I like that sort of ethic.

 

The following day, I got a call from Rafael.  Isaac was with me, and came along to translate the final aspects of the refrigerator repair transaction.  I was absolutely shocked by the price.  First of all, Rafael would not accept any money from me!  He had spent about two hours working with me, looking for parts, negotiating with the other repair shop, and basically making sure I got the thing fixed before I left town, but declined my offer to pay him for his time, because he wasn’t the one to do the actual repair.  The other repair shop charged me $350 pesos…that is less than $20 US!

 

I am crazy grateful to have met this man.  He is an inspirational character.  He taught me new lessons about hard work, unconditional kindness, and cultivating the best kind of work ethic.

Rafael & his least profitable customer.

Mazatlán, from El Faro!

Tiff, Isaac & Big Dummy

About 16 hours after Tiffany and I climbed up to the top of “El Faro”, I started feeling pretty awful. My muscles ached, my stomach was turning over and I had a terrible headache.  Within 24 hours, I was totally sick.  I managed to handle the transaction with Rafael and the other shop, thanks to help from Isaac.  We took him out to eat at a place of his choosing, and I ended up going back to the van to sleep while he and Tiffany had a meal together and looked over the map of Mexico.  He is a wealth of information and is a seasoned traveler through many parts of Mexico. We spent the rest of the night with Isaac, and watched our last Pacific sunset for a while from his rooftop.  I ended up being sick for two more days!

 

We left Mazatlán and headed for Guadalajara.  Our first stop was a beautiful laguna near Santa Maria Del Oro!  The route we took down there was beautifully paved, scenic and not too busy.  Unfortunately, it was also peppered with some legitimate and some absolutely not legitimate toll stations.  The total cost for driving from Mazatlán to Guadalajara was over $20 US!  We ended up negotiating with the bogus tolls (You can’t pass without paying something), and paid full price at the ones manned by people in actual uniforms with guns.    

 

The laguna at Santa Maria Del Oro is in a bowl, surrounded by green mountains.  We camped under a large mango tree and took two perfectly ripe fruits with us the following morning.  That evening, Pelé played in the lake, chased after a ball in some gorgeous grass, and was slightly tormented by an aggressive female dog named Lupé!  It was a delightful night, accompanied by a steady and cooling rain, our first in many months! 

Santa Maria Del Oro

The next morning, we drove to the town of Tequila for breakfast.  We ended up staying there all day!  

 

The town of Tequila is, as you may have guessed, the birthplace of the spirit of the same name. The drive into the town is completely surrounded by miles of agave fields, blue-green and sharp against the hills, small puffy clouds and farms along the route.  The town itself is charming, almost elegant in it’s tranquil and easy style, and filled with tequila tasting tours, restaurants and street performers.

 

I don’t drink, Tiffany doesn’t like tequila, and Pelé just wants to play, so we skipped the tours. We did manage to eat some delicious food, walked several miles around town, I ate a bag of spicy crickets (so delicious that Tiffany even ate one) and almost got the van stuck on a crazy little road, at the bottom of which we were told was a magnificent waterfall. We didn’t get to see the waterfall, but we didn’t get stuck.  One must take the good with the bad!  

 

If your life presents you the opportunity, absolutely go to Tequila.  Eat the food, tip your waitress, buy a drink for a performer, eat a cricket or 30, and absolutely get a ride to the waterfall!

Indoor parking, and festive too!

Agave Fields near Tequila.

From Tequila, we drove into Guadalajara.  With nearly 4 million residents, Guadalajara was strangely easy to navigate.  We had only the slightest of trouble finding our parking place for the next few days, and were parked, and chatting with our new host, Raul, in no time.  That evening we walked to a large avenue called Chapultepec, and wandered up and down the large tree and fountain lined median, looking at handmade crafts and clothing for sale.  There were over 50 different booths along the avenue.  On either side of the large road, restaurants, bars and shops give the place an urban feel, more similar to Seattle or Portland than what I would have thought I’d find in central Mexico.  Young people were drinking, waiting for their Uber drivers, eating crazy foods, and very often listening to western music.  I heard more Led Zeppelin, Nirvana and The Doors in Guadalajara than I’ve heard in years.

The following day we headed deeper into the city to walk from plaza to plaza.  We were looking for murals, public art, music, local food and to get a feel for something a little less like an American city.  We found it.  We saw grand murals by Orozco, depicting the darker side of the Mexican revolution.  The street art is everywhere, and magnificent.  I ate a local sandwich, which is basically a pork chop sandwich which has been drowned in a tomato sauce; the whole thing is eaten with fingers and a spoon. We then stopped in the Plaza de los Mariachis for a little music.  

 

I’ve been somewhat torturing Tiffany with my favorite Mexican song.  It’s a tune called Besame Mucho (it means kiss me much), and I love it! Every single time a musician, or a group of musicians approach us and ask if we want to hear something, I request this song.  Everyone here knows it.  Tiffany doesn’t really mind, but her sly eye roll when I make my request, and the way she smiles when they start playing, are all I really want out of the experience. In the Plaza de los Mariachis, I found a guy in a beautiful yellow waistcoat and ornate trousers, and asked if he was in charge.  He said something I truly believed and deeply appreciate.  In Spanish, he told me, “The Mariachi have no bosses, only friends”. I asked him if he could sing Besame Mucho for my wife.  I also asked him to throw in her name – Stephanie!  He gathered up several of what I would imagine to be the least intoxicated guys around, and the ragtag group of guys stumbled into my favorite tune! It was so bad, that it was perfect. When he said, “Besame Mucho, Stephanie”, Tiff almost lost it.  I asked before hand if he wouldn’t mind if I filmed the performance.  He was cool with it.  The resulting video is awesome, and features Pelé at one point, yawning at one of the funniest points possible. 

 

We made our way to a crazy Mercado, not far from the Plaza de los Mariachis.  This magnificent animal is filled to the brim with artisans selling their wares, hand made instruments, cheap gifts, electronics, fruits, vegetables, meats, crazy foods, and all sorts of hand made clothing. Above the Mercado, there is an enormous area dedicated to countless food stalls and restaurants.  You can eat goat 20 different ways, get a smoothie, and eat some ceviche without having to walk more than 10 yards.  In fact, on a Friday, you may be hard pressed to make it 10 yards, as there are thousands of people in every direction!

 

Pelé was with us for every step of this crazy day of walking.  This remarkably good natured little guy keeps up with us in the heat, hangs out at our feet in restaurants, and somehow managed to walk all over that crazy Mercado without ever getting stepped on!

 

We walked back to our weird little parking lot, stopping briefly to pick up our laundry.  Laundry is a weird thing here.  Asking someone else to do our laundry feels strange. Both Tiffany and I don’t mind the task, and have done 99.9% of our own laundry over the years.  However, in Mexico it is much more common  to drop off your dirty clothes, pay a ridiculously small fee, and collect your clean and perfectly folded clothes later in the day. We dropped off our clothing that morning, and on our way back from a day of fucking around, we picked up a perfectly wrapped bundle of clean clothes, folded with considerably more care than we ever devote to them ourselves.  They even used our soap and dryer sheets.  The whole thing cost us $6/US.

The next day, the little town of Tlaquepaque was on the agenda.  For pronunciation of the word, Tlaquepaque, you will just have to use google or ask a Mexican; I can pronounce it, but I have no idea how to advise you with only the written word at my disposal.  Tricky pronunciations aside, this town is pretty hip.  We are not alone in this opinion.  The town, on a Saturday, was packed! 

 

Tlaquepaque is just 20 minutes from the center of Guadalajara, but feels like it can’t possibly be so close to a city of 4 million people.  The streets and buildings are old, charming, brick and filled with people, crafts, food, art and beautiful plants and trees.  We spent all day, wandering around the town, looking at amazing street art, sculptures, beautiful buildings, and increasingly familiar hand made craft items.  We had a delicious meal in a restaurant which was almost entirely located in a large and elegant courtyard.  The bar was a grand affair, posted in the middle of the courtyard, large trees with vines hanging from them provided ample shade.  There were large tables strewn about in a leisurely distance, and the chairs were big and comfortable, with firm, yet supple pillows on the bottoms and backs.  You couldn’t help but lounge a little while waiting on food and drink in that atmosphere. I would say it was way too chic for us, but the place knocked itself back a few notches with the large televisions which were mounted to the inner walls surrounding the courtyard.  The programing for lunch and dinner service was a collection of music video hits (western ones) from the 2000’s.  It was literally called, nothing but the 00’s. I munched on a salad while watching a young Robert Downey Jr. lip-sync in moody fashion to an Elton John tune. I almost feel like I should remind you that we are in Mexico.

 

At any rate, we had a blast in Tlaquepaque.  I got my beard trimmed up a bit at a super cool barber shop, Tiff found some sunglasses to replace her busted pair, and Pelé got to wander around with us, sniffing up a collection of smells I could not even begin to fathom.  

Street art in Tlaqueplaque

Tuck’s Truck - The home of Julie and Marcus

When we returned to our parking lot, we were surprised to see another traveler in the lot.  The big, beautiful vehicle was unoccupied, so we parked next to it for about 20 minutes, took a shower, then moved our van back to our regular spot.  Their giant vehicle created a great privacy barrier for us.  

 

We visited the website printed on the side of their vehicle, looked over their social media, and immediately wanted to meet them.  We gave their photos a few likes, and completely forgot to send them an actual message.   

 

Pelé was tired and the weather was nice and cool, so we fed him and left him to sleep in the van. Tiff and I headed out to Chapultepec avenue, wandered around the massive array of booths lining the large median, and ended up on the balcony of a restaurant and bar which overlooked a couple of street performers who were entertaining a large crowd of people.  The playlist to this bizarre show was another western hit bonanza.  So weird.

 

The next morning, we connected with our new neighbors; Julie and Marcus of TucksTruck.net.  Julie and Marcus are on an around the world journey, and have traveled so far from England, throughout a great deal of Africa, South and Central America, and almost all of Mexico.  

 

We joined them for breakfast and invited them to join us for an excursion to the famous Charreria, Guadalajara’s rodeo!  After breakfast, we hired a car, and we all headed to the rodeo, Pelé included!

 

A Charreria is not what people in the U.S. might picture when you mention a rodeo.  The events are tethered to a deep tradition which was meant to help young people stay practiced in the skills necessary to manage herds of cattle, and to promote continuity of culture throughout the generations.  

 

When we arrived (I was completely shocked that they let us bring our dog), we sat down in the front row, in some primo seats.  Marcus and I were chatting, and Tiffany was peppering Julie with a non-stop barrage of questions about places on our route.  Fortunately, Julie is keen to share any and all information about their journey, and is quite an insightful and intelligent person to have as a willing guide.   

Charros in Guadalajara.

Pelé was super curious about the horses and the little bulls at the Charreria.

While we were all chatting, I noticed a man in a large yet somehow elegant sombrero approaching us. He was wearing a striking and ornate outfit, which matched his hat.  Where a westerner would have a tie, he wore a perfectly placed cravat.  His patterned pants ended at a pair of tough yet stylish leather boots.  The smile on his face was almost a billboard of pleasant teeth; a human advertisement for genuine welcoming vibes and general gladness.

¡Chuy!

 

The man looked directly into all of our eyes as he spoke, introducing himself as Jesus.  He asked us to call him Chuy.  His job was to welcome new faces to the arena, and to act as an ambassador of the Charro culture to creepy white people like us. He offered to take us on a tour of the facility so we could fully understand what the Charreria was really about. We had no choice but to follow him; charisma is a powerful thing.  

 

Chuy told us about the history of the Charro, since the Mexican revolution.  He told us about pride, skill, honoring the land, the animals, the people, the history, and the culture of Mexico.  He told us about the struggle for national identity after the revolution.  The people were confronted with the fact that they were no longer Spanish, and they were not exactly Indians either, they had to figure out what it meant to be Mexican. The new land owning class of people did their bit to contribute to the national identity by dressing in an elegant manner, and doing difficult shit on horseback without getting dirty.  So today, we have Charros, and the Charreria.

 

We followed Chuy around and watched these crazy young kids (the youngest was probably 11, and the oldest maybe 17) ride horses with great skill and style.  They were skilled with ropes, and could catch the small bulls which were being terrorized from one end of the arena to another.  They rode, wrangled and wrestled these little beefs for hours.  There was music, a beautiful young woman with an angelic voice strutted around the bleachers on a wireless microphone and sang her heart out as the announcers talked over her, and the vendors shouted things like, “TEQUILA, CERVESA, MICHELADAS!” 

 

The whole scene was incredible.  I’m a meat eater, so I don’t want to sound too hypocritical, but I did have a hard time seeing those little bulls get terrorized the way they did.  I get the cultural attachment to the events, but I couldn’t help but feel bad for the animals.  I decided to eat beef that evening, just to face my own hypocrisy head-on.   

Zapopan, in Guadalajara

We ended up spending the next several days with Julie and Marcus, and even managed to record them for the podcast!  Sit-down interviews have been difficult to conduct recently, as most of the people we’ve met are either not interested in being interviewed, the language barrier is too thick, or the timing somehow manages not to work.  

 

 Marcus, Julie, Tiff, Pelé and I headed up to an area of town called Zapopan.  Zapopan is a charming, clean and plaza filled little area with quaint shops, good restaurants, and loads of public art.  We had lunch, walked around a bit, then had to do a runner from an absolute torrential downpour.  The upshot of having to run for cover is that the closest building where we could call a cab happened to house a record store.  I loved the music the owner was playing, and managed to get the name of the artist and the tune that was playing – The artist is a guy from the 70’s called Sabu.  The song is called Vuelvo a Vivir, Vuelvo a Cantar.  I love it!

Street art, Tlaquepaque

We made plans the following evening to go see the Lucha Libre (super crazy and theatrical Mexican wrestling).  Marcus and Julie were done for the day (Julie, tough as nails, had had a surgical dental procedure earlier in the day, yet had managed to hang out with us all day!). They offered to watch Pelé for us. We took them up on their offer, and headed out to see the show.

 

If you have never seen the Lucha Libre before, we highly recommend it!  The whole thing is ape-shit crazy from start to finish.  Just finding the end of the line to purchase tickets is an exercise in the outrageous!  There were people everywhere, some wearing the masks of their favorite wrestlers, others just pouring dinks down the hatch con mucho gusto!  

 

We made our way into the darkened arena to find the thousands of people who had been drinking and goofing around outside to be standing in bleachers or in front of chairs, now yelling craziness at each other. 

 

One side of the arena would point to another group of the audience and in mass would start singing “SU PUTA MADRE!, SU PUTA MADRE!!”  It basically means, you are a motherfucker!

The people in the lower seats, nearest to the actual ring where the luchador were doing their thing, were enthusiastic for sure.  However, the wild-ass people in the bleachers near us had drums, horns, and about one metric ton more volume and passion for throwing insults than the folks below. It was a beautiful madness, and it all took pace on a Tuesday evening!

 

As for the actual performance of the Luchadores; it was nothing short of incredible!  We watched both women and men wrestling and acting in a crazily over exaggerated play.  The athleticism, fight choreography and over the top narrative of the performance are impressive and super funny to watch.  The combination of the wild energy of the crowd and the intense show being played out in front of everyone makes going to see the Lucha Libre something I think any human being who claims to like fun should experience at least once.

Unfortunately, neither of these performers survived this attack.

The following morning, I got up early, and was hungry for something specific.  On our last morning in Guadalajara, I wanted to eat birria! Birria is essentially stewed goat meat. If that sounds gross to you, there is little I can do to persuade you otherwise.  If it doesn’t, please allow me to share the following; Birrieria las 9 Esquinas in Guadalajara makes the very best I’ve had.  

 

The meat is tender, packed with flavor, and has the perfect texture in both stew, or tacos.  It makes a delicious meal for breakfast, lunch or dinner.  The salsas available range from a smoky, roasted pepper and tomato number, with cilantro, onions and lime to a mild pico de gallo.  The corn tortillas are made in house, and the service is truly perfect! The whole experience seems so well practiced and nearly effortless (Although I know how difficult the task of prepping all of that food must be for those people day after day).  This place also serves my favorite type of coffee. It is similar to Turkish coffee, with cardamom, a bit of orange zest, and a subtle but nutty dark roast.  The combination of this nearly sweet yet powerful coffee with the distinctively tangy flavors of the birria tacos is something I look forward to repeating again in the near future.

 

We walked about a mile and a half first thing in the morning, just to eat at this delightful place. On the walk back, I stopped at a panederia to pick up some pan dulce for our new friends who work at the parking lot where we spent nearly a week camped out in between tow trucks, food carts and the cars of office workers, waiters and bankers.  The guys at the parking lot, Raul, Arturo, Manuel and the little fella I liked most, a 10 year old kid named Chuy, were super cool to us.  For less than $7, I was able to get a huge bag full of tasty breads and snacks for my new pals.  

 

I spent a bunch of time every evening playing with Pele´ and Chuy.  That little kid had the sweetest little smile. He was incredibly shy with his words, but substituted them easily with his shy but endearing grin.  I managed to teach him a few words in English, we drank some agua frescas together, and we played futbal (soccer) with Pelé every chance we got.  I actually miss that kid a little now that we are gone.

 

We delivered the sweet treats to our pals, then said goodbye to our other new friends, Marcus and Julie. We should see them again in Oaxaca later in the month.  We are both looking forward to seeing them again, and I’m certain Pelé will be glad to see them as well (he really liked Julie).

 

After a few errands (filling up water and fuel), we headed out of Guadalajara; a town I hope I never forget, and am able to visit again someday.  We pointed the van South and East; Lake Chapala was our destination for the day.  Although the lake is only an hour and a half away from Guadalajara, it felt like a world away.  I’ll leave that bit of the journey for another time.

 

I think about the tiny moments in life.  Moments like when Chuy’s little teeth would peak out from behind his shy lips to let the big dumb Americano he was hanging out with know that he was having a good time, in-spite of the language barrier.  I look back on those moments and see my nieces and nephews. I also think about the strange ways many Mexican businesses tend to advertise their products. Like when a place called Dr. Burger created a cartoon burger with a lab coat and a stethoscope; who were meant to be his patients?  Would Dr. Burger take care of other burgers, or customers who eat burgers?  It doesn’t make any sense, but I love it! 

 

I know those two matters may seem unrelated and unnecessarily thrown into the same paragraph, but I bring them up for a reason.  

Whether I’m in a tender moment, like when Chuy’s smile grabs my heart, or when an absurd business logo hijacks my attention in pointless directions, I am reminded to be thankful for the opportunity.  I’m reminded to pay special attention to the magician’s hands as they shuffle the cards in front of me, because I may only get to watch this trick once!  I’m also reminded to keep one hand near my pocket, just in case the crafty hustler in the background decides to make his move and relieve me of my wallet.  In other words, when I look back on this journey, tiny moments tend to leave the longest lasting impressions, and I’m keen to pile them up in great stacks until the whole thing crashes down and my turn at the table is up.

 

Cheers to the little guy!

Worrying his shoelaces with his eyes.

Buen Suerte to the cook!

May good times be found wherever you look.

And saludos to the tender-hearted!

Ending happily nowhere near where she started.