Friday, October 23, 2009

Jalisco: Mexican state of surprises

Quick, name something Mexican.

If you said Mariachi bands or tequila, you're talking Jalisco.

If you said charro, the Mexican cowboy, you're talking Jalisco, too, because all three originated here.

So did the cry for independence from Spain and with the 200th anniversary of the Mexico republic coming in 2010, residents are particularly proud of their heritage and eager to share it with visitors.

Very little is flat for long in Mexico, especially in the state of Jalisco, but that's no reason to stay away from this art-, history-, beauty- and hospitality-filled area.

For the next few posts, I'll take you on a trip around the hills, cobblestones and sights the Levelers way.

An easy place to start is Guadalajara, the capitol, which 3.5 people in its center and 5 million in its greater metro area call home.

Warning: Guadalajara stays flatter longer than any other area in the state I encountered although you still have to be on your guard. As Ricardo, guide extraordinaire, warned of negotiating Mexican sidewalks, "In Mexico you can't walk and talk at the same time."
Forget gawking on the move, too. It may be level but it's not flat and there are steps and stairs everywhere.

It's a lively city with good restaurants, fascinating architecture and lots of traffic.

Tip: Begin with a Tapitio tour in a double-decker bus to get the lay of the land and a feel for what you want to see.

You'll want to explore the historic center - Centro Historico - with its cathedrals, squares and original government buildings. If you're into art, don't miss the powerful murals by Orozco, Martinez and other masters of this popular Mexican form of expression.

You'll have to negotiate a flight of stairs but the Orozco murals at the Palacio de Justicia - Palace of Justice - are worth it. Catercorner across the Plaza de la Liberacion, the Palacio de Gobierno has several large Orozco murals. Cross the Plaza de Armas and walk two blocks to the Biblioteca Iberoamericana to see murals by David Sequeiros and Amado de la Cueva.

Tired or foot-sore? Pause at one of the cafes at the plaza's corners for a cold beer or soft drink.

Tip: Take a cab - they're cheap, rarely more than 50 pesos (less than $4) to the Instituto Cultural Cabanas for more memorable Orozcos.

If walking and taking stairs is too much, hire a cab to take you on a murals tour. Your hotel desk or doorman can set it up complete with cost in pesos or dollars.

Love fashion? Don't miss the Takasami line by Maria Rosario Mendoza. I saw a fashion show of her designs and was blown away by the incredible hand painting and embroidery. What a smashing souvenir of Mexico.

Guadalajara makes a good headquarters for side trips such as the day-long, famous Tequila Train or to the art villages, Tonala and Tlaquepaque, but more about those later.


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