Each year Dorothee and I ponder over a locale that can provide a respite from Austin’s brutal August Summer. This year, on the basis of recommendation from our friends the Mericas, we chose Guadalajara, and it turned out to be the perfect choice.
For the curious, Guadalajara, at a population of 1.5 million and growing, is the 2nd largest city in Mexico. More importantly to us, the elevation, similar to Denver, assures moderate summertime temperatures (daily highs between 75-85), all the while its latitude assures mild winter time temperatures as well. The city seems much smaller (population-wise) that statistics would suggest. Perhaps the large number of commuters riding bicycles, scooters, or motorcycles helps relieve congestion on the streets.
We rented a new, 5th floor 2 bedroom condo in the center of the city, a section called “Colonia Americana”, located near the red pin on the map.
Our unit was truly spectacular.. very modern with all the conveniences of a stateside condo.. marble counters, washer/dryer, and little patios on both the front and rear side of the unit. With only 12 units in the entire building, it felt like home. An open terrace on the top floor was a favorite place to hang out, and afforded great views of the entire city:
Our month in Guadalajara was so much more than just a retreat from Austin’s August climate. We had the opportunity to spend quality time with a number of friends from stateside: Good friends Dean and Elizabeth Mericas spent 10 days in the city, staying with their cousin and local resident Gerardo (Uribe Garcia De Alba.. gotta love those Hispanic names!). Even after Dean and Elizabeth returned to Austin, Gerardo became a great friend and frequent tour guide/host for the remainder of our stay (he is also an ardent Trump-hater, so we got along well on the political front!)
Within a few days of our setting up housekeeping, our long time special Austin friends, Tim and Desiree Chegin arrived to share a week in our condo:
Soon after Tim and Desiree left, Dorothee’s sister Mary and her husband Tim (my favorite relatives) arrived to take their turn in our second bedroom:
Finally, for the cherry on top, we were privileged with a visit from my Sister Lee Ann for a final long weekend.
Back to Gerardo, whom we quickly came to love and appreciate. He insisted on picking us up at the airport on arrival (albeit considering we were complete strangers to him at that time!). Then he invited us to his home for dinner (multiple occasions in the end) a day or so later where he demonstrated his culinary skills with a wonderful Paella, where we were joined by other local friends and relatives of his:
Almost Daily there was a WhatsApp message from Gerardo, insisting that we join him on some adventure. This included day-long trips to Lake Chapala, including lakeside ex-pat mecca Ajijic (not as hard to pronounce as it looks!); another day trip to the pueblo of Tequila (home of the Jose Cuervo distillery); then to ancient archeological site Guachimontones where recently excavated round pyramids were found dating circa 300 BC. Then there was a day spent in nearby Tlaquepaque, a touristy, craftsy Carmel-esque village just south of the city.
The Peso-dollar exchange rate, at roughly 20 pesos per dollar, contributed to extraordinarily cheap (barata) prices for most everything (simple conversion.. divide peso price/cost by 2, then move the decimal place one to the left). This includes restaurants, bars, food stores, and most hard goods as well. One inexplicable exception is the cost of gasolina, which at the mostly state-owned Pemex stations rings up at a price of roughly $4 US per gallon.. yikes! It leaves one wondering how the poor Uber drivers (ubiquitous within a few blocks every time you call one up) can possible drive their modern Nissans/Mazdas on a 30 minute+ drive for approximately $4-5 US!
We used Uber almost daily, and never had to wait more than 3-4 minutes for our driver to show up after punching up our destination in the app.
Our condo was perfectly located, between one-way main arteries Ignacio Vallarta and Calle Manuel Lopez Cotilla (named after a politician and educator from the early 1800’s). We were also just 4 blocks from Avenida Chapultapec, one of Guadalajara’s most popular locales for restaurants, bars, nightlife and coffee houses.
On our first Sunday, we were surprised to observe that Avenida Ignacio Vallarta, just below our bedroom patio, was blocked for all vehicular traffic, and reserved exclusively for human powered transport.. bicycles, skates, skateboards, etc. We then learned this is a regular Sunday occurrence where some 20+ miles of major streets in the El Centro area are blocked for recreation. This event became my Sunday morning lazy day excuse to set up a chair on the patio and observe the action with margarita in hand! (We DID explore the possibility of renting bicycles, but ultimately found the process to be too cumbersome.. in retrospect, we should have just purchased cheap bikes and left them with the condo owner upon departure!)
Weekends were always our favorites, because it was the time that local residents converged on the many plazas around the city. So many outdoor restaurants, entertainment, and booths hawking every imaginable item:
Iglesia Luz Del Mundo
In the video below is included footage from one of the Sunday “bicycle” days on Avenida Ignacio Vallarta, just below our bedroom balcony. On one particular Sunday, in addition to human-powered traffic, we observed huge formations of marchers along the street, singing collectively. This human tide continued for some 30 minutes, as wave after wave of groups marched together singing religious songs. We later learned that the participants were all members of the Iglesia Luz Del Mundo (Light of the World Church). This piqued my interest, so I did a bit of Google research on this church.
To my surprise, the world headquarters of Luz Del Mundo is right in Guadalajara, less than a 20 minute Uber ride from our condo. I also learned that, during the week of the procession, a week-long gathering of the faithful from all over the world had been held at the local church, with purportedly some half million attendees.
Even more surprising, I learned that the self-appointed leader of the church, a guy named Joaquin Garcia, had been arrested off his private jet after landing in Los Angeles, just two months prior to our stay in Guadalajara. The charges? You guessed it.. pornography, child rape, human trafficking.. a whole laundry list of transgressions so common among the “spiritual”. Garcia claims that he is the one and only anointed “apostle” of God, supposedly the only human in the world who gets direction from above. Bail was set at an astounding 50 million dollars, but then rescinded out of concern that the church could raise that amount and set him free.
Of course, I had to visit the church and see for myself. Inlaws Tim and Mary accompanied me to the church on a weekday, where we encountered two young teenage girls from the US who were just winding up their week-long participation in the worldwide conference, and spoke with us at length about the organization.
The church itself is sited on a large property with a long esplanade leading up to the front, and “spoked” streets in all other directions. The leader’s own home is located just steps away from the church’s doors. The pictures below tell the rest of the story:
Ajijic (Lake Chapala)
One lovely day Gerardo took Dorothee and myself, along with Tim and Mary to Lake Chapala, Mexico’s largest freshwater lake. There IS a small town named Chapala, along the shores of the lake which we drove through, but the supposed main tourist attraction is at nearby Ajijic (3 miles away), touted by realtors as one of the largest expat communities in the area. Ajijic is a small (10,000 population +/-) village whose main attraction (to expats) is the moderate climate (similar elevation to Guadalajara, some 30-40 miles north) and low cost of living.
Of course, the price for living-on-the-cheap entails living in a remote area, miles from the city life, surrounded by tourist-trap stores and dusty, bumpy cobble-stone or gravel streets. A great place for a day’s visit, but not one bit appealing to us as a place to live, no matter how “barata”. Interested readers looking to chart their course to Mexico can find a positive treatise on Ajijic here: https://www.forbes.com/sites/chuckbolotin/2019/01/17/what-so-many-americans-find-so-appealing-about-retiring-to-ajijic-lake-chapala-mexico/#6362e3661012
Another day long outing (again, courtesy of Gerardo) was to the cute little village of Tequila, home of.. duh.. TEQUILA! The Jose Cuervo Distillery is located literally right off the main square of the village. We sprung for a tour of the distillery itself and enjoyed checking out the village. Tequila, of course, is distilled from juices of the blue agave plant, and the entire surrounding countryside was relegated to cultivation of the plant. Even the roadside “right-of-ways” were filled with agave plants as well!
Please view video with scenes from our stay: