Destinations editor Eric Moya visited Guadalajara, Mexico, during a media trip hosted by the city's office of visitors and conventions.
Objectivity be damned: I love Guadalajara and regularly take the opportunity to tell travel enthusiasts that it's a must. It's a love that predates my recent trip and stems from my days as an expat there from spring 2005 to summer 2006.
I lived in downtown Guadalajara, so I was familiar with attractions such as the historical center's cathedral and the Hospicio Cabanas, a Unesco World Heritage Site whose chapel contains fresco murals by Mexican artist Jose Clemente Orozco. And just outside the city, I'd occasionally visited the towns of Tequila, where the agave fields have also garnered Unesco recognition, as well as Tlaquepaque and Tonala, well known as arts-and-crafts meccas.
Other attractions were new to me, though certainly not new. On our first afternoon, we visited the Lienzo Charro arena for an exhibition by local charros, who are preserving an equestrian tradition dating to colonial times. Dating further back were the ruins of Guachimontones in the town of Teuchitlan, about an hour away. After recent visits to Chichen Itza and Tulum, I was stunned by the singular, circular architecture of these pyramids, which date to the fourth century B.C., as well as by how uncrowded the site was on a late Saturday morning.
I noticed changes in the city's dining scene. Staples such as the torta ahogada, the spicy, diced-pork "drowned sandwich" sometimes touted as a hangover remedy, are alive and well. But our trip also included dinner at Alcalde, where acclaimed chef Paco Ruano puts an upscale twist on traditional flavors (roast suckling pig with mole poblano sauce was one highlight).
When I lived in Guadalajara, I wasn't treated to much wining and dining. Hardly a never-ending vacation, expat life for me was testing the limits of my high school Spanish with calls to the landlord ("Senora, no hay electricidad") or visits to the Palacio de Gobierno for a green card (though the latter did provide several chances to check out that building's Orozco murals -- in my travels, bureaucratic buildings have rarely been as interesting).
I was heartened to see evidence that Guadalajara is taking tourism seriously. For example, throughout downtown I spotted signage with info on the city's many historical cathedrals and other colonial architecture. But as tourism officials showcased some of Guadalajara's greatest attractions and its hottest restaurants, I realized that over the past dozen years, my glowing recommendations of the city weren't based on publicists' efforts or upscale experiences, great though they might be.
Templo Expiatorio, Guadalajara. Photo Credit: TW photo by Eric Moya
No, my love for Guadalajara came from living among its welcoming citizens, and the simple joys of a bite at my neighborhood taqueria or the view of the Templo Expiatorio while having a beer at the Coyote Rojo, the bar's stereo blaring Mana or Iron Maiden. In some ways, the routine of expat life can be a peek behind the curtain, maybe diminish the romance that a vacation or other brief visit can inspire. But in Guadalajara, between revisiting familiar haunts and discovering new favorites, it was easy to fall in love all over again.