Guadalajara

I shouldn’t have left it so long to write about this city, because now I am finding it hard to do so, and to put in to words what has kept us so long here.  I will try my best to explain.

view pictures  that belong with this set here

After 3 weeks here we are now planning to leave, and we have been considering the passing of time.  This place feels so familiar to us now that it feels like our home, but alternately we can not believe we have stayed here for so long. We didn’t make a plan on stay, we just kept finding reasons that made it hard to leave. One thing that really has marked the passing of time is that 3 weeks ago we had never cycled in the rain, and now rainy season is well and truly here, and will be until October. A few times a day there will be huge down pour, where everything in the city seems to come to stand still.  Most nights there thunder storms, part of our home has no roof so I lay and listen to the rain on the floor, and count the time between the thunder and lightening, I love it. The temperature here is perfect, now we have climbed so far above sea level it isn’t so hot, our sun tans have faded and we’re enjoying the ability to sleep at night without sweating, or leave the house without applying sun lotion.  Back in Britain people are basking in a heatwave, and although the temperature isn’t much different it feels as though we’re enjoying a break from the heat.

Casa Ciclista

this blog has written about casa ciclistas in Latin America.

So essentially it is as the name suggests, a home for cyclists.  The Casa Ciclistas (CC) here is run by the organisation GDL en Bici.  Here in the barrio of Santa Tere, in central Guadalajara the casa is a bike mechanics, a meeting space, and a general hub for cycling and bike people within the city.  We sleep on a mezzanine floor, on our camping mattresses, the contents of our panniers sprawled over what feels like our indoor tree house.  We have access to wifi, a place to cook and to wash; and of course use of the mechanics. We arrived into the city on a Saturday night as it was getting dark, and had started to rain. Bernardo who is one of the main people involved in CC lives around the corner, and came to let us in, he welcomed us, told us all about the neighbourhood.  Bernardo has this Buddhist zen like quality and patience and is the only Mexican vegetarian I have met so far.  Some mornings he would come with little Tupperware boxes of lentils or ceviche de soya.  There was also a map of the city and Bernardo had taken the time to draw up a list of all the bike shops and other relevant places and mark them on the map. There is no charge for staying at the CC and we were told we could stay as long as we wanted. So one of the reasons it has been so easy to remain here is that each time we make plans to leave the people here tell us we need to stay longer and have made us feel so at ease.   Resident mechanic is Jorge, people come here to learn how to fix their own bike and he helps them, there is a real culture of learning and sharing which is totally refreshing, and there is also a weekly club where people come and learn new skills. Jorge is one of the best friends I have made so far on the trip.  We can all end up just sitting around for hours chatting; sometimes he will patiently give Spanish lessons, or more importantly lessons in Mexican slang (and there is so much), he tells us in such passionate detail about all the speciality regional food we must eat.  Since being here I have replaced my brake pads, my chain, and  totally cleaned my derailleur and rear hub.  With this maintenance I have mainly been helped and guided by Lalo, a very kind and patient friend who is learning to be a bike mechanic and spends a lot of time here, then once we are done Jorge checks it over.

GDL en Bici

People refer to Guadalajara as GDL, it would be pretty annoying to have to say and write the full name the whole time.  GDLenBici is a non-governmental organisation which exists to promote cycling as a means of transport within the city, and it seems with specific aims to improve safety.  The CC is the hub for which people have various different meetings, and share ideas. One of the things the organisation does is coordinate the ‘bici blancas’, what in London we could call ghostbikes, sadly a cyclist dies in the city every 10 days.

In  terms of a cycle culture the city is in some respects way more advanced than London.  Each Sunday between  8am-2pm many of the main streets within the city are closed to traffic, this is called the ‘Via RecreActiva’ the streets are full of bikes, and also masses of skateboarders.  Each night of the week there are ‘night rides’ where people meet at a certain point, and cycle a pre-planned route in and around the city.  These rides are highly organised, volunteer stewards with walkie-talkies helping keep people together and ushering everyone through traffic lights, explaining the situation to motorists.  Each night there are different levels of rides, from 8 miles to 30 miles, with around 300 people turn up (less in rainy season).  Everything happens a lot later here in Mexico, the rides don’t start until 9:30pm, and often don’t finish til 12:30am.  It is thrilling to ride in the dark, empowering to ride with a big group of people, and a great way to make friends and feel part of a city, to discover new places. Once the ride ends there is often a ‘bici bar’ where people hang out in a plaza drinking beer.

Once a month there is a huge ride called ‘paseo de todo’ or ‘ride for  all’ where around 3000 people come out on the streets and ride.  This is different from the critical mass that happens in London and many other cities in the world. Critical mass functions on the idea that there is no one leader or no pre-planned route, and is therefore considered by some as pretty subversive.  Here, the paseo has a planned route, with stewards and is fully accepted by people within the city.  We were so so so excited to experience this ride, but sadly there was a big storm the night of the July ride so it got cancelled at the last minute.

if you have the time or inclination then watch this amazing 25 min video featuring the sweet and prophetic Yisrol whos passion for improving life in the city really comes through http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G_1pI2JG0to  It has been nice to share ideas of how London Cycling Campaign have been successful in recent campaigns such as ‘LOVE LONDON GO DUTCH’.

Friends

Every time I write a post I can not say enough about the kindness of the people we have met whilst on the road.  Now, being in the city the kindness has only been amplified, we have made so many friends and people we have grown close to.  Each time we were thinking of leaving we’d meet new people and get taken to new places, our stay stretching out further.  When I arrived I spent time with my friend Ben, an English boy who’d I’d met on a trip to Colombia a few years before.  He is living here now and I totally understand why he doesn’t want to come home;  Ben’s housemate Donaldo has become a dear friend, he came on a night ride with us, and when I said goodbye he played me a Nicaraguan song on his guitar, and offers of staying with his family in Nicaragua, Donaldo was so excited about our trip, it’s a shame he can’t come and join us.  On one of the night rides we met Mario, Daniel and Bart; Mario has bike-toured from Alaska to San Francisco, it was lovely to meet another bike tourer and share silly tour stories over post ride beers. They have been good friends to us during our time here – taking us on nights out, the best being a sweaty cumbia club where we danced all night, so much fun.

One truly fortunate meeting was with the dear Victoria from Manchester, who has lived here for a few years now, teaching English. One Sunday morning I had taken the recycling to the recycling centre, where Victoria was volunteering.  I think she picked up my cluelessness with the whole process of the centre and she quickly introduced herself. We chatted for a while before she invited me around hers for lunch, she only lived round the corner so off I went.  It seems here that people are less fixed in their plans and end up doing a lot more spontaneously, everyone is also so welcoming to new people .  This then led to a dinner invite a few days later, where she was trialling a menu for a supper club that she is running with her lovely friend Lily.  We ate delicious food before heading to a great bar.  That night we met Cacho, Lily’s boyfriend who is so kind and sweet and took great interest in our trip and the tales we had to tell, this then led to a dinner invite the following night in one of GDL’s best restaurants.  We were worried about being out of depth in a restaurant, having only eaten in taqueria’s and street stalls over the past few months…. but wow, here Cacho treated to the most amazing food, wine and Margaritas.  Cacho told us that the kitchen staff knew about our trip and couldn’t believe it, even the pastry chef came out to meet us, and made us the most amazing desert of hollowed out biscuit bread, cajeta (caramel / dulce de leche), nuts and ice cream.  This was such a special night with such fun and kind people, and if that wasn’t enough Cacho and Lily insisted we have a ‘staycation’ from the casa ciclistas so we spent the night in their spare room, IN A BED.  Leah and I use these camping towels, which pack up really small, but also aren’t great at making you properly dry, so now when we get to use proper towels, like we did during our stay at Lily and Cacho’s we get all excited about an EXFLOIATION! haha.

Last Saturday morning we had made plans to go on a weekend long country ride with our friend Bernardo (to a village which under threat from being flooded to make way for a giant dam). I got struck down by food poisoning, after an hour of riding I had to head back to the city, creating a Hansel and Gretal trail of vomit all the way back to the CC. Leah continued on the ride and I lost the next 24 hours sleeping and being ill.  When I woke on Sunday morning I text Victoria to ask if I could spent the afternoon sleeping at hers.  3 nights later I actually left her house. Other new friends also offered places to stay and although I felt miserable about being ill again I felt so lucky to know that there were people who could help us. Mario also organised a consultation with his mother who is a doctor specialising in homeopathy, she gave me some natural treatment and advice, so hopefully I will not continue to look one week every month to sickness.  Both times I have been ill on this tour I can never pin point one thing that may have caused it, so I guess it may just be that my body needs time to get used to this new life.

Food

One of the reasons I first began riding my bike was so that I could eat whatever I wanted without worrying, and enjoy real hunger and appreciate food. Leah is an amazing person to be on a bike tour with, and one of the great things has to be our motivation to eat and enjoy food as much as I do.   Travelling by bike we gain so much appreciation for how the landscape influences our access to food, and how food culture slowly changes through the regions. Since being off our bikes we have still continued to have so much hunger, we have continued to eat like royalty this city provides a cornucopia of eating experiences.

The food in this city really has been something special, I haven’t eaten a quesadilla for weeks!  Stepping out of our door there is a fruit vender on the corner of the street, here you can buy litre sized cups filled with chopped fruits, then drenched in fresh lime juice and chilli to your taste, this has to be the best way to start the day.  Then there will be the stalls of ‘agua frescas’ basically flavoured waters, the most common flavours being Horchata, a cereal based sweet cinnemony drink, and something called Jamaica which is basically hibiscus and sugar infused water, and usually there are so many different choices too. Another delight is corn on the cob, the kernels shaved off into a cup with cheese and chilli sauce mixed in, eaten with a spoon.  Most days, after waking up we wander to our local indoor market, Santa Tere.  Here we buy fruits and vegetables, cheeses, tortillas.  We will then go sit at our eat our favourite food stall, there is one women who has taken a shine to us, she each day she ushers us to the seats, and calls us ‘hijas’ which means ‘daughters’. We order Chile Rellenos and a large Horchata, and she always remembers.  Molletes is another speciality- hollowed out maize patties, filled with cheese or beans, lots of food has a side of nopales, which is cactus. Being a vegetarian I obviously miss out on some of the most famous delights, but I am well and truly happy.  People go crazy when they tell is we must try Torta ahogada .

I am ending this post without talking much about the city itself.  It has a population of around 5 million but feels a lot smaller and a lot more tranquil.  We’ve found it really easy to orientate ourselves.  The city is great for wandering – the markets, the plazas, the streets.  I think my favourite place in the city is the hospicio de cabaña, the 18th century building is old orphanage with ceiling frescoes by the artist José Clemente Orozco.  We spent so long laying on the benches just day dreaming, starring at the ceilings.  Another GDL highlight had to be the Lucha Libre, the crazy Mexican wrestling, it’s everything you imagine and more, fake pantomime wrestling with masks, then a midget comes out and someone pretend wrestles him, we paid about £2 for the cheapest seats at the top of the arena, and enjoyed watching the audience go wild with the performance whilst drinking Corona and eating chili popcorn.  The intervals seem to just be made up of beautiful women posing in hardly any clothes, it was pretty odd to us.

I could write more about this place that have called home for the past few weeks, and our friends but now we need to go, otherwise we wont leave this town for another day.  We must get out of the door, and remember what it feels like to be on a bike tour. Gracias por todo Guadalajara!

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