Guadalajara for living

Back in September, I flew to Mexico to live with my sister in Guadalajara. She was doing an internship in an architecture studio and I was glad for an excuse to settle for a little while and attempt to fit into society, get a job and go to clubs like a normal person.

So our days living as expats in Charlie’s depa, in the elegant and green district (Colonia)  Americana began, three months of integrating among the Tapatios, building a map of the city inside our heads as we cycled among the 18th century mansions of La Fayette and the colorful homes of Santa Tere. The weather up there at 1570 mt is usually perfect, not too hot (until the summer) and not too cold (unless you are inside old houses and suffer of bad circulation), it fact they say that Guadalajara enjoys an eternal spring, which is certainly true for its vegetation. Our favourite Avenue, Libertad, is always protected by the shade of enormous ever-green trees, which makes sitting in its cafes at any time of the day a great pleasure.

View over the internal courtyard at Charlie’s place

I grew to appreciate the tidy urbanism of the city, very much in contrast with that of the Mexican capital. In a geometric grid of roads crossing each-other perpendicularly, the only nuances is the confusing names of the roads and avenues. It seems like the roads have been named in order to trial people’s dyslexia in Colonia Americana: north of Avenida Vallarta run in sequence Pedro Moreno and then Morelos, while a few blocks south you have Jose Guadalupe Zuno followed by Jose Guadalupe Montenegro …

Getting around Guadalajara is relatively simple, especially if you have a bicycle. I bought the key to the city bike which can be found all over the centre and Americana for one peso a day: 365 pesos for a year (the offices are on Calzada Federalismo- crossroads with La Paz). Although the fact that you can only take it out for half an hour each time limits your movements, it is very easy to find a station and take it out again, and it is safer and cheaper than buying a bike and risking it might get stolen. Uber is the other efficient way to get around but it does get expensive in the long run plus it seems like the drivers go around with cucumbers over their eyes since they still seem to not know their way around the city without the Map app. We just used it in the first few weeks and to get home at night (MiBici only is accessible until midnight). To go to Zapopan, the connected town, there are various bus lines running across the city for 7 pesos, it gets horribly hot riding them but if you avoid rush hours it is a fast form of transport: just check the website www.rutasgdl.mx since especially in the summer the routes change often due to roadworks.

The first couple of weeks in the city I spent time on facebook checking all the free events, attending cultural concerts and joining meetings in which I made friends with innovation-oriented people. Guadalajara is, in fact, the tech and entrepreneurial spot in Mexico, almost anyone I met had his own business, be it making wooden furniture like Supermorphe, or building surfboards like AO, working in his own architecture studio or designing an app to make the city more efficient.

One event which I attended on a weekly basis and which is strong on innovation and a meeting point for entrepreneurs is Hackers and Founders. They have pitching events with free beer and networking session at the end. There’re a lot of cool people as well as deep geeks attending, everyone keen on making contacts and sharing knowledge. I pitched at one event, presenting the proposition of a project to build a platform with all these kind of events and initiative to reunite the free minded people. I soon learned that the Tapatios are great at showing enthusiasm but rather unreliable when it comes to taking action. The proposition was greeted with excitement, but no one was really into making it reality.

I wasn’t going to bend over backwards to build a project for uninterested citizens. Anyway, the opportunities and vacancies weren’t certainly lacking. In fact, I had never been in a place with so many … outside every other shop or restaurant you can see the signs of the employee hunt. Sure, the jobs offered usually involve low wages and long hour shifts…

Legends has it that among those who make most money are the men standing in the streets flagging their handkerchiefs showing you where to park and “taking care of your car! Most Tapatios cherish these people and believe they also assure safety in the streets, but I have my  strong doubts about that.

However, I did meet some Tapatios that kept their word and we tied a long lasting friendship over coffees, torta ahogada and Orozco’s trompe l’oeils. If I had a free Tuesday we would go and visit the exhibitions at Instituto Cabanas, a wonderful and gigantic old monastery converted into a museum with free entrance that day of the week. I also checked exhibitions at Musa, the Museum of the Universidad de Guadalajara, just behind the majestic church Expiatorio, half way between the centre and and the popular Av. Chapultepec. On hot afternoons on my way to yoga at Carlo’s house in Madero I would enter the Expiatorio, walking all the way to the altar to look at the wonderful glass stained windows up the tower.

On Sundays a small hip market takes places in the square in front of the ancient catholic church,

 selling vegan jamaica flower tacos. Small young businesses selling natural products organize markets  in different spots of the city. I also loved browsing around antiques stores and second hand shops around Parque Rojo and Lopez Cotilla to find bargain garments and kitchen utensils. Only on my last Sunday (probably for the best) I discovered the antique market of Av. Mexico.

 I visited all the food markets of the area- in fact the times I entered a supermarket or a shopping mall can be counted with the fingers of a hand. My favourite markets are Santa Tere- although it gets quite congested in the streets nearby, so it’s efficient to go by bike- sometimes I would stop there for lunch, since half of the market is a massive popular restaurant selling ceviche, pumpkin flower empanadas and many more deliciousnesses. The best market is abastos, the arrival point of all the fruit and vegetables, where you can get free-range eggs, ricotta and all kind of plant-based foods. In the centre, on fresh days you can go and get lost inside San Juan de Dios, an intricate labyrinth selling everything that can be found in Jalisco, while mercado Corona’s upper floor is the place to buy herbs and remedies, I even found Orosus (Licorice) there, which I was beginning to think didn’t exist in America.  Finally, along the Zaragoza street, next door to Corona, is where you want to go to find bulk grains and seeds.

I soon came to learn that Guadalajara has a lot to offer music lovers. For those who love live acoustic, Rendez-vous in Av. Libertad is a great spot: two days a week they a group of musicians meet to play manouche jazz or gypsy tunes, I always have the feeling I am stepping back in time when I sit at the outside tables of the cafè and float on those notes. Centro Cultural Breton, Cafè Escorza (friday evenings) and Foro Independencia are other alternative location for live and free music to keep an eye on.

Weekends in Guadalajara should be dedicated to escaping to the many natural paradises that Jalisco and its surroundings have to offer, but if you stay in the city and wake up early on Sunday (which means you didn’t go dancing in Americas and that you are a very exceptional person) you have the chance until 2 PM to go cycling or skating along the via recreativa in Av. Vallarta. Another free sport to practice on weekends is swimming in the albercas municipales.

The Metropolitan Area of Guadalajara includes the city of Zapopan and the municipalities of Tonala, Tlaquepaque and Tlajomulco, among others, making up the second largest agglomeration in the country. Zapopan has grown, swallowing little towns to give birth to the city’s shopping centre, but there are also alternative spots of interest, such as the Parque Agroecologico with its community vegetable garden and spaces where workshops are often hosted.

Photos of Alejandro Colunga’s magician’s living room

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