Saturday in Guadalajara

I’m indecisive when it comes to choosing shoes. I feel like shoes are one of the most representative choices we make when portraying ourselves through apparel. Guadalajara has a large shoe industry, and they have built an entire mall specifically to display their shoes – the ‘Galería del Calzado‘. I felt like an entire mall of shoes would help me make a decision. I’ve honestly been looking for new shoes for six months, not like everyday or anything, but I have been mentally formulating the criteria for my perfect pair of shoes. I do other things as well, just so you know.

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Exercise is key to any traveler. Sometimes being in a new city can feel like a moveable feast, new cuisine, new drinks, new snacks, chocolates.  There is a lot to sample and it would be culturally insensitive to not. We walked the 45-minutes from La Fe Hotel & Arts, our abode, to the shoe mall. In the back of my mind was the GDL specialty Torta Ahogada, or drowned sandwich, which is big sweet white bread roll stuffed with pork and covered in spicy salsa. I hardly need an appetite to eat such things in their entirety, but I felt the experienced would be heightened if I were at least a little hungry, so we walked.

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Maybe I didn’t walk far enough but the ‘famous’ torta ahogada at Tortas Toño were a disappointment. Or perhaps another explanation is that you are handed your torta with your chosen filling of pork or beef and left to ahogada the sandwich yourself. When I go to a famous sandwich shop I’m looking for consistency of experience, I’m looking for professionals to do what I can’t, that is, make a delicious sandwich. I don’t like to be trusted to garnish my own meat. Maybe I didn’t ahogada the sandwich hard enough, maybe I added too much picante sauce vs. sweet sauce, I don’t know. How would I know?

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The shoe mall was a definite success. At around 80 stores soley devoted to the sale of footwear there was plenty to choose from. Despite my particular tastes, I managed to purchase two pairs of shoes at around US$35 a pair. I made the mistake of wearing shoes without socks to the shoe mall, usually I would expect that shoe stores would provide socks so that you don’t sully their merchandise with sweaty feet. A plastic bag kept in my pocket sufficed. I think the customers and store-persons who handled the shoes after me trying them on will be thankful.

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We headed over to Tlaquepaque where we planned to buy pretty Mexican things. If you have noticed a theme of shopping here that is because 1) Guadalajara, and more specifically Tlaqupaque and Tonola, is famous for it 2) There ain’t squat else to do. I had to give the Torta Ahogada another chance. We sat for the afternoon in El Parián, the unofficial world’s largest cantina I was told with a wink. I ordered beer and in a loud voice another Torta Ahogada. Jo-Roxy ordered a cazualeta drink that was about as good as any drink I’ve had in Mexico, literally a bowl of fruit juice into which you tip a double shot of tequila. Conceivably it could have been the live music, perhaps it was the idyllic surrounds, maybe it was the gigantic beer I ordered, most likely it was that I was handed a perfectly drowned sandwich that I didn’t have the opportunity to screw up. My second, and last, Torta Ahogada was a success.

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A short drive from Guadalajara is a small town named Tequila, perhaps you’ve heard of it? Indeed, it is the birthplace of one of the most commonly abused alcoholic beverage, preferred by partying teenagers and those who attend Cinco de Mayo celebrations wearing oversized sombreros. But let’s be honest, those people are idiots and tequila has a terrible reputation despite being as serious a drink as whiskey or bourbon. Short of visiting Tequila, the best place in Guadalajara to purchase the good stuff is El Buho, where I found myself trying a vast array of artisinal tequilas in the late afternoon. My expert guide and shop owner, Emilio, chooses each tequila on his shelves himself. With Emilio’s help I came to the conclusion that I prefer really expensive tequila and so purchased Mestizo, produced by the famed Tres Mujeres distillery, the only bottle on the shelf not available for sale in the USA. The reason for its scarcity is a brand conflict with a drink already selling in the USA. It’s nice and all, but I still prefer mescal – for that you have to visit Oaxaca.

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The thing about Guadlajara is everything is hidden and if you don’t go looking for amazing experiences you’ll be lucky to find them, for example, our restaurant of choice – i Latina. We decided we could walk from our hotel, looking at the maps we had about 25 minutes of walking, seemed reasonable. We walked along neighborhood roads, soon we hit a large intersection,  suddenly we were walking alongside a freeway, then we were in a nearly deserted neighborhood walking along a busy train-line. This was supposed to be a fancy restaurant, surely Gmaps has this wrong. Then suddenly, sitting out the front of what appeared to be a normal home, was an attendant and a small valet stand. Sweet relief. But still, what the hell is going on here. Entering i Latina is like stepping into a circus tent, the small doorway opens into a small warehouse-type space where a cacophony of colors and lights and strange music add to your disorientation. There are three rooms, the circus room, the kinda-adult mood lit dining room and a very pleasant outdoor area. We were seated in the circus room and ordered local Minerva beer, which I can’t believe how good the entire range is, especially the stout and clara, and jicama shelled tropical shrimp tacos that are quite the delight. If you want to know how good we think I Latina is, we went back the next night.

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If I had visited Guadalajara before I visited Mexico City, I probably would have enjoyed it more, this probably says more about how interesting and vibrant Mexico City is right now. Guadalajara doesn’t really feel like a big city, I mean, it is, but so is LA and both feel like a bunch of small towns that have grown into one city. There is also a roller blade store in Guadalajara, I thought as a society we gave that up, but in Guadalajara there are so many rollerbladers that a store devoted to inline survives, this makes me suspicious.

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