Friday, March 02, 2007
Home for a while: Guadalajara
My first view of Guadalajara, from the air, is promising. A blanket of twinkling lights spread below gently curving mountains, dark against the darker night sky. As I walk into the airport, I am further reassured. Comparing this to Tijuana is like comparing Melbourne airport to Hobart’s. Gleaming airport shops and modern buildings greet me. I could be back in Australia, if not for the Spanish signage and the incomprehensible stream of language rolling from the loudspeakers.
I don’t care about interesting and authentic right now. I am perfectly satisfied with comfortable and familiar.
It’s easy to follow the signs, with their universal symbols and arrows accompanying the (Spanish) words for ‘baggage claim’. I quickly spot my bag, too, and stand waiting for The Husband. I’m surprised he isn’t there to meet me as I came off the plane, but more surprised that he isn’t here. In Melbourne, he traditionally meets me at baggage claim. My seat-mate from the plane materialises, similarly surprised that her brother isn’t here to meet her. She’s from San Diego, but lived here until she was nineteen. Her California accent and flawless English mark her out as thoroughly American now, though the fierce pride in her voice when she tells me that I will love it here belongs to a local.
A few minutes after she disappears to find her brother, I follow in her wake to the airport exit. There stands a line of hopeful-looking people – The Husband among them, a long-stemmed red rose in his hand. His worried look turns to a grin when he spots me.
‘Where have you been?’
‘Where have YOU been?’
It turns out that non-passengers are not allowed past this point. The Husband takes my sports bag and offers to take the others. I assure him that I’m fine. We walk together to the exit, holding each other tight and shooting each other fleeting looks, as if neither of us can believe we’re both here.
The Husband has enlisted the aid of a staff member from the hotel where we are staying, who is waiting for us in a van outside. He shakes my hand and greets me in English. Relieved, I return his greeting gratefully as we collapse into the back seat. All of my adventures of the day spill from me in an unending stream. The Husband is appropriately interested and horrified, gradually less so. I take the hint.
The Husband’s description of his arrival in Guadalajara to the sight of abandoned car shells and decrepit housing by the roadside is still with me. But, even as I strain to see it, I don’t really notice anything like that. What I see are the first-world roads and billboards, the evidence that this is not like Tijuana – at least, what I saw of it.
As we approach our destination, our driver tells us that he has seen a documentary on Australia recently. It was wonderful, he says. He can't remember the name of it or what it was about, but it was a tribute to a national hero of ours who had died; a great man. He thinks hard and eventually the name comes to him: Steve Irwin!
'It was a sad day for Australia, no?' he says. 'He was very very famous. A national hero.'
'Yes, after he died' The Husband wrly responds.
We are staying in a hotel tonight; moving to our own place tomorrow. The hotel is on a busy thoroughfare in the centre of downtown. The tall buildings on either side of us are old and run-down, but serviceable. Restaurants and eateries line the roadside, hotels visible above them. We are next-door to a grey-looking mall. Our friendly hotel staffer opens the barred gate to the hotel and buzzes us in. We climb a narrow stairway to another barred gate, which clicks open as The Husband pushes it. The lobby is really something. Yellow and white diamond tiles at our feet, ornate light settings hanging from the high ceiling, vast potted palms, ornate decorations. A large painting of lilies on a black canvas hangs at the end of the lobby. The front desk is worn and simple; the internet tables by the doorway accompanied by a handwritten sign about rates and usage: bastardised English in green texta. It’s obvious that this was once a grand old building; the lobby retains the last vestiges of those days.
The Husband flings open the wooden double doors to our room. Inside, it’s more 1970s motel room than anything. Twin double beds with shabby flowered bedspreads, an old TV set, a long table under a mirror. And another set of wooden double doors, which open onto a balcony over looking the street. We watch the traffic together awhile.
‘Do you want a shower before you go out?’ The Husband asks.
‘Oh, GOD yes. I’d LOVE one.’
The bathroom reveals the age of the building: literally. A sign next to the toilet horrifies me. ‘This building is 130 years old and has narrow pipes. Please do not put toilet paper in the toilet, but in the basket provided.’ This explains the oh-so-faint stench in here. Worse, my longed-for shower is somewhat of an anti-climax. The water runs cold for approximately twenty minutes, in a half-hearted trickle from the shower head. I dance impatiently, slowly freezing, while I wait. When the hot water comes it is lukewarm at best. I endure it for a few minutes. (And did I mention that the toilet is practically IN the shower?)
Dinner is at a restaurant that, The Husband later tells me, caters to tourists. It is quaintly charming. The stone walls are hung with sepia-toned framed photographs of the old city. Mariachis wander the restaurant, singing and playing. More than once, we are approached by vendors with armfuls of flowers for sale.
‘Ni necessito’ says The Husband to each in turn. (Not necessary)
He says his Spanish is bad, but it sounds pretty good to me. He converses with waiters with ease, discussing the menu and ordering on my behalf. I am unadventurous and eat chicken enchiladas, which are good, and drink sangria, also good. The bill comes to the equivalent of about $20. Cheap, but not as cheap as I expected. The Husband reminds me that the point is that you CAN live very cheaply if you want to. Eating from street vendors, for example. Oh well.
We wander the streets a little on our return to the hotel. The magnificent old buildings are lit up, casting the stone in a golden glow. The plaza is bustling – with children as well as adults, even though it’s nearing midnight by now. Apparently, this is common. The atmosphere is cheerful, festive even. The streets feel perfectly safe. Tony tells me that crime is not a problem here, that I should feel safe. And relax my iron grip on my satchel.
My stomach pleasantly full (though starting to ache a little), I stroll back to the hotel with my husband - in the city that will be our home for the next six weeks or so.