Guadalajara is a world class city. Beautiful Spanish and French architecture, modern conveniences, friendly people and one of the most lavish malls I have seen anywhere in the world. (It was interesting to see polo golf shirts retailing for 1200 pesos when most Mexican’s pay less than 20 pesos for a meal.) I roared into town after dark having made numerous stops for shelter from the full day torrential downpour. The drivers within the city limits are by far the most aggressive and impatient that I have yet encountered. The main streets combine numerous lanes of above grade traffic punctuated by express tunnels which, if you can’t get over in time, will suck you below ground and do not discharge you for a good kilometer or more. I navigated well from my notes and got to the correct neighbourhood where Fernando lived but had to enlist my GPS to find the actual street. As I was buzzing through the unmarked intercom buttons outside Fernando’s building leading to unintelligible conversations with confused and soon frustrated old women, Fernando, Rogelio and Gerardo walked up from the parking area to greet me.
I met Fernando in the main plaza in Sayulita on New Year’s Day. I was still recovering from the usual malicious hangover and thought a few beers would help. Fernando looked very peaceful sitting on the end of a planter, barefoot, with medium length black hair, dark blue jeans and a relaxed countenance. I sat down next to him and sparked up a conversation. He told me he had come to Sayulita with his brother Rogelio and his best mate Gerardo. The two of them had gotten tanked the night earlier and driven off to Puerto Vallarta in search of mas fiestas and had accidentally taken poor Fernando’s shoes with them. As I fed Fernando cans of beer from my 8-pack of Modello Especials, he told me that he worked as a dentist and that he and his brother had moved from their family home of Tepatitlan to the megatropolis of Guadalajara for opportunity and excitement. But they loved Sayulita as well and often drove the 4 hours to the coast for holidays and long weekends. They were staying at one of the campsites on the beach where you can set up a tent for 50 pesos a night. I liked Fernando immediately and joined him when he went to meet a Canadian girl that he’d met the night before. Unfortunately the girl and her friends were a bit too high-strung and snobby for my liking and I took leave to wander around with Kevin, the other couchsurfer from Quebec who was staying at the same place as me.
We had really lucked out in Sayulita, especially since it was busy as all get out and all the hostels were full. Our host Scott, a 50-something stoner hailing from the northeastern United States, was a very interesting individual indeed and spoke with the relaxed air of someone who had been enjoying the greenery in Mexico for quite a while. He had trained as a groundskeeper in the states and upon arriving in Sayulita found a dream job looking after a multi-million dollar private estate for a wealthy Guadalajara businessman who visited very infrequently. The grounds where beautifully manicured with palm trees, stone walking paths, small wooden bridges, a very pretty and robust emerald plant which neatly covered the remainder of the estate up to the sand line. There were several handsome crème-coloured adobe villas tucked around the foliage overlooking the private beach bounded on either side by craggy statuesque boulders. It was an absolute paradise and it was all ours to enjoy. I spent many mornings sitting on the terrace nearest the beach pretending this was my own private resort and enjoying the “good” life! God bless couchsurfing!!! Because of its location right on a point north of the main beach, the action of the waves was extremely powerful and unpredictable. Kevin and I routinely went swimming in the mornings amid the 10-12 foot waves and submerged rocks; both of us exceedingly aware of the force and danger of the tidal action. The first morning I walked down to the beach with a towel slung over my shoulder, I watched the swells for a full 10 minutes before approaching the water. While standing on a dry spot of sand above the tide line to set down my towel on a boulder, a huge rogue wave came up way higher than any of those preceding, dropped straight down on top of me viciously ushering me into the sharp black rocks. I reacted well, I think, by putting my legs straight out in front of me and came away exceptionally lucky with only a bloody foot and a healthy fear of this point break. I still went for my swim but was certainly aware that this particular beach would not be sanctioned by any lifeguard in the world.
On my last day in Sayulita, I saw Fernando (still barefoot) sitting with his brother and friend at a coffee shop off the main plaza. I went up and joined them for a tea. Both Rogelio and Gerardo were just as sociable as Fernando and both spoke excellent English. We sat for a few hours and had such a good conversation. They asked questions about my trip and Rogelio told me that he had just spent the last year working (illegally) in Calgary and Vancouver. He said he had absolutely loved Canada and the people but struggled with the ladies because everyone thought he was a Punjabi gangster. (Check out the photos and you’ll see why! ) But the best part of being in Canada he told me was the money he made building houses. Even being paid a reduced labour rate under the table, the money he made in Canada was many times more than what he could hope to make in Mexico at his job as a corporate investment advisor. And although he had been discovered by immigration officials and sent back to Mexico, he was advised that if he could get a company to sponsor him, he was welcome to return. Ah, Canada. So this was his mission at the moment. He told me had dreams of working in the oil sands up north. I strongly advised him against this and told him it was a dreadful place and he would undoubtedly get taken advantage of. (Later, I did give him some help with his resume and contacted a few colleagues back in Vancouver to inquire about a sponsorship for him. Although I wasn’t able to turn up anything, Rogelio has since received an offer from a company in Calgary and appears to be on his way back to the northern hinterland.)
When I told the lads that I wanted to visit Guadalajara after a few days surfing in Bucerias, they were all very excited and offered that I could stay with Fernando when I arrived. They promised to give me the best tour, help me with my Spanish and take me to all the popular clubs in the city. I was stoked by their offer and, of course, accepted straightaway….and they definitely delivered on their offer. Every night the boys would rush home from work to collect me and take me out to go dancing, drinking or listen to live music. Guadalajara has just the most incredible nightlife. I saw one of the greatest live shows of my life at this beautiful outdoor club called Samon Bar. Mexican freestyle rap accompanied by a trumpet, trombone, wild drummer and two DJ’s. They had the crowd absolutely bumping. The women of Jalisco are rumoured to be the most beautiful in Mexico and I would have to concur. But the best part is how friendly they are. In Canada, most times you walk up to a beautiful woman in a bar, she’ll immediately try to end the conversation before it starts. And the dismissal is often on the rude side. In Guadalajara the girls will ask your name, shake your hand and engage you. And this wasn’t just special treatment for the foreigner because my friends were enjoy similar receptions. Where I ran into problems was with girls who only spoke Spanish. Although it seemed like they wanted to talk, they were uncomfortable with their lack of English and would therefore shy away from conversations. A few times, I would have one of the boys translate, but this obviously leads to a much more disjointed and awkward exchange.
On his days off Fernando would also take me around to see the cultural sites around the city; museums, old buildings, historically significant points of interest. He would lead me around and I would dictate the facts and figures from my Lonely Planet and other resources we’d pick up along the way. He was genuinely determined to ensure I enjoyed my time and appreciated his adopted city. I’m now a huge fan of Guadalajara and will speak fondly of her in future. The boys also took me to a family gathering in their hometown of Tepatitlan; a small town one hour northeast of the city. Here I met the guys parents and third brother. There were also many aunts, uncles, cousins. Although most of the family spoke only Spanish, I did my best to converse. My new primos would sit on either flank as if acting as my protectors. Both mother and father spent time speaking with me in slow and deliberate Spanish asking about my trip and trying to get to know me. They spoke fondly of their boys and they were stoked that I shared their opinion. After dinner the entire family engaged in a raucous game of charades. Then the tequila emerged…. It was a marvelous night and I loved observing how a regular Mexican family interacts. Fernando, Rogelio, their friends and family are just the nicest, most hospitable, giving, contented people. I consider myself incredibly lucky to have stumbled into their company and I am excited to keep in touch with my Mexican primos for years to come.