The first night I arrived, I was immediately plunged into a completely different culture and setting as we went downtown in Tlaquepaque to watch traditional dances and mariachi bands play. People crowded around, filming and applauding while the performers were on, and I was entranced by the beauty and excitement of it all. They told me it was an every night sort of occurrence. Nearby, various food and souvenir stands stood out, selling everything from taquitos to ceramic dicks (I’m not kidding, I bought one). As we walked around looking at everything, I was in absolute awe of the entire place. It was loud, it was bustling, and it was amazing.
Guadalajara is a huge city, with various neighbourhoods and towns making it up and giving it a diverse and fascinating existence. I was so grateful to be able to see such a place first-hand, just walking around the streets and absorbing everything. I live in a small town, but I’ve still visited several large cities in the States, and I can say that none of them were remotely similar to what I experienced in Mexico. Wherever you went, there were stands and small shops set up selling food, drinks, or bootlegged DVDs. The owners would yell out as you walked by, offering up their product and shouting the prices. You could smell all kinds of food as you went about, although I’m a bit wary of eating things cooked outside.
Even when you went downtown, where it resembled any regular US city, you’d still have small stands with vendors, along with various street artists or performers (which isn’t too different from places like NYC, I suppose). Most shops besides the fancier/bigger ones would leave their doors wide open, and you would still be somewhat connected to the outside even while shopping or eating there. It was such a nice, fresh atmosphere.
The houses in particular had such a simple, natural feeling about them. In the neighbourhood where I stayed with my friend and her family, the houses were all lined up, each one with a flat roof and square build. Inside, they would also leave windows or doors open, letting in the fresh air and sunlight. One of my favourite things was the windows on the roof that let in the natural light during the day (they weren’t made of clear glass, so don’t worry about someone peeking in on you!). My friend’s neighbourhood was on top of a hill and I had an amazing view of the entire city down below. I will note quite a strange, different thing…you would go out on the back porch (it had walls but no roof) and ascend a small spiral staircase to go to the laundry room, which was actually outside! It had a roof over it, but it was completely open and outdoors. I found it pretty cool, but what happens when it rains? Doesn’t your stuff get wet? (I didn’t think to ask).
When we didn’t ride somewhere with her parents, my friend and I took the buses around the city. It was similar to the public transport in Quebec, but…the roads are so terrible! It was so bumpy and rough, and you would bounce around a lot in the smaller buses. My family was worried about me getting kidnapped or encountering some other terrible fate, but honestly I think the most dangerous thing I experienced was riding in those buses! (I’m kidding…kind of). However on one bus we had a pretty cool encounter when a young man with a guitar boarded and began singing songs while we rode. My friend said performers and vendors came on the buses a lot, and sure enough once the guitar man left, an older man came on with a rack of candy to sell!
Now, addressing some issues that my family was concerned about : From my experience, Guadalajara was about as dangerous as any other big city. There’s always creeps you have to look out for, and it’s not a good idea to walk about alone, especially at night. My friend’s advice to me while I was there was to wear a shoulder bag instead of a backpack, as it was harder to have stuff stolen. She also suggested not wearing too short of a skirt, because of men that would bother you (I never had anyone harass me though). And of course, she made sure she was always with me so I was never alone somewhere. I was only there for about a week, but I didn’t have any negative experiences or problems with people.
As far as drugs, or cartels (which my family was absolutely frantic about) … I mean, no one tried to kidnap me or sell me cocaine ?? My mom especially would say such negative things about the country, but I felt safe the entire time I was there (I wouldn’t go about by myself, of course, but I don’t know the place that well). I think it’s just one of those instances where there is so much talk and media frenzy about the negative things that go on in a country that that’s all other people can think about. I consider myself culturally literate, but even I was surprised by a lot of things during my stay there. I know there are bad places just like in any country or city, but I stayed in a nice, gated neighbourhood, and everywhere we went I had positive experiences and everyone was polite. I feel that it’s just like any other place in the world, with negative and positive aspects. And I didn’t experience anything negative while I was there! I definitely think it takes visiting a country to really get a good perspective about what it’s like.
And about the water (because that was everyone’s first concern next to drug cartels)… I didn’t drink from the tap, but neither do they. They had jugs of water that they would pour into pitchers and glasses. I did get a bit sick my last couple days there, but I’m positive it was from some food I ate. Otherwise everything was good!
I tried to be as comprehensive as possible without rambling, so I hope this post was a bit informative at least! I’m happy to answer any specific questions as well, if I can! I had an amazing time in Mexico and I can’t wait to go back someday.