My trip to Guadalajara had a bumpy start, but this first week has been excellent! A,so, all pictures are attached to the end of the post!
I started off forgetting my passport. As we were rushing out the door, I made copies of my passport, ID, and debit card and slipped them into my bag. When we got to the airport I realized that I had left my passport in the photocopier. I had to reschedule the flight (thank you U.S. Airways for not charging me!) and I had to deal with not having any sleep that night because we had to leave for the airport at 2:00am. Thankfully, everything worked out and I arrived in GDL with myself and my bags intact. Even finding a taxi was easy, I just went to a desk at the front of the airport and gave them the address and my money. Guadalajara by night (and with little sleep) seemed scary. No one was out, everything was covered in graffiti, and I couldn’t talk to my cab driver. I think I hit the peak where strange is the new normal when I got to my room. It was a tiny room, just a bit larger than the bed, in the back of a building which looked it had been grown rather than been built. There where all sorts of steep stairs with tight corners, an open air roof where more rooms where, and the floor was littered with random steps up and down. I’ve since learned that many buildings in Guadalajara look like this, even the well kept ones.
I loved it, it was charming and just big enough for me. I want to live like that for a few months (or more!). maybe a little bigger if I’m with someone. There’s something about having your own room, that you bought and paid for, and (at some point at least) had a hand in reserving. I can’t describe it but it’s an amazing feeling.
I woke up about 6 hours later to get ready for my first Spanish lessons. By day Guadalajara is much more friendly. The sun is bright, the spray-painted shop security doors have been lifted, and there’s always between five and two hundred people on any street at any given moment. Even better, the IMAC Spanish language institution, my school, is literally around the corner from my hotel. The only problem is that I didn’t know which corner. I wandered around for a few minutes and finally spotted a sign with a map on it. As I rushed over to it I saw an American woman going the opposite direction. We caught each other’s eye. With a sinking feeling I examined the map. Yep. I had to turn 180° right after we glanced at each other and go along the same route as her to IMAC. I felt like an enormous creep but I didn’t know what else to do. I made sure not to follow too closely and I was enormously relived when I got to IMAC. The people manning the desks there are extremely nice and helpful. Mario, who had helped me several times while I tried to sign up for it, even offered to take my backpacking pack and store it in his office while I went to class! Also, IMAC has these wierd faucets that are turned on by a switch in the faucet head. Here are pictures:
Classes at IMAC are long, but rewarding. If you go I suggest you take an empty notebook and several pens. The teachers speak in Spanish the entire time, only resorting to english if, like me, you couldn’t understand them. We went through a whirlwind of topics this first week, verb conjugations, infinitives, ‘gusta’, numbers, colors, and much more! I had a hard time paying attention because I wasn’t used to the language or the heat. I sometimes felt like I was going to keel over or fall asleep in class! I keep a water bottle with me at all times now (even more than the gap year!) and I haven’t had trouble since. For the first few days my class was in flux, some people where there, some people left, but it finally settled on five people:
- Sandy and her husband Douglas – an elderly couple from Canada, nice but I didn’t interact with them outside of class
- Gregory – an old man from the navy who didn’t serve in any wars, he’s been traveling around Mexico for a year but is somehow still in the beginner class.
- Austin – 17, more about him in a minute.
Our teacher, Tania, was helpful, everyone except me knew a little Spanish but I never really felt like I was holding up the class with my questions.
After class, IMAC organized a taxi for me and I went with my bags to my homestay family. Bernardo and Toni are the couple that took me in. They’re quite sweet, Toni will make you more frijoles than you could ever eat and Bernardo is a jolly man with a sharp sense of humor. My homestay family had also taken in two other homestay students and had a teacher from England living with them, also on a homestay program. The teacher barely spoke a word of Spanish but was getting international English teaching experience. The other homestay students where Austin, from my class, and Tom who had told me about how cheap the lunches at IMAC are. Where we all pleasantly surprised. Here’s a picture of them:
Tom and Austin where fun to be around. They’re both geeky like me, and the close quarters and our mutual exhaustion; me from the flight, them just in general; led to several nights spent hanging out in our room just talking. Thankfully, Tom is a linguaphile and he had spent the last few months rigorously learning Spanish. With him, Austin and I could interact with the lovely people of GDL.
On Tuesday, I went out with all of Austin and Tom’s class and two Mexican guys for lunch. It ends up that they’re part of a high school and any students in a special Spanish class could come to Guadalajara and learn Spanish there with IMAC. I met Austin/Tom’s three classmates: Adrianna, Laura, and Theresa. The meal was a bit strange because we, me and the 3 girls, ignored each other the entire day. I think I said two words to one of them during the entire lunch. The other two Mexicans, Jose and Mario, where outgoing and I talked with them almost as much as I talked to Austin/Tom. The meal was amazing. Me and Austin had an enormous plate of the best meat, cheese, and smattering of vegetables I have ever tasted. To give you sense of scale, the girls and Jose’s plates where at least half as small and Tom and Mario couldn’t finish a plate between them. Sadly, neither could me or Austin. We got damn close though, if I had just pushed through… Maybe rationed my palette cleansing water….
On Wednesday I went to the cultural exchange program from 1pm-2pm. This is a regularly scheduled event where any student who wants can come into a small theater, watch a short presentation on Mexican culture, and then talk with one of the English students about it. Every discussion has been completely unintelligible but this time I was sitting across from the girl I had accidentally followed that first day. Her name is Claudia, she’s been speaking Spanish since kindergarten and she said that she liked how I handled the first day. She said that I hadn’t made her that nervous because I kept the distance between us, if I had closed the gap between us she would have been upset. She also warned me not to wave around my can of mace, she has one to but apparently they’re legally a weapon or something of the sort. All in all an interesting person. I’ve wanted to talk to her more but chance keeps getting in the way.
Thursday was spent looking for a tourist-y shirt for Tom. As we were walking there we met a friend of Tom’s called Efran. He’s from Canada and has been an English teacher at IMAC for almost a year. To find a shirt, we all went deeper into the city, just past the shiny veneer around major roads (like all cities have) and into an insane, yet completely normal for Mexico, market. There was room for about one and a half to three shoulder widths between stalls (depending on where you where) and the stalls where lined from floor to ceiling in merchandise. Stands with hundreds iSomething cases all shoved into a 10′ by 5′ box butted up against elaborate stacks of wallets and hanging t-shirts. Even the butchers joined in, their section was covered in hanging ropes of sausage, thick animal thighs, and glistening livers all put on display. We found a t-shirt eventfully and Tom even bought a baseball cap to give to a friend. I went out after this on my own and found a museum with some creepy, but awesome, chair statues around it.
Friday was Tom and Austin’s last full day in Guadalajara. I think they where anxious about it because they did almost nothing that day except take some salsa lessons. Tom even took an hour nap in the afternoon! I went out instead, intending to go that museum, but one delay led to another and I got a bit lost in Guadalajara. I made it back to IMAC safely though and I even had spare time before the Salsa lessons!
I can tell salsa is a fun dance. Unlike swing, where the lead and follow roles are locked in, Salsa plays with them, leaving me (a lead) to do the occasional move and to trust my partner to catch me, rather than me doing all the catching. Claudia was also there with her friend Tracy. Tracy danced with Tom and I danced with Claudia for the lesson. The lesson was difficult for me because I haven’t danced much in the last few weeks, my legs where off and my ears couldn’t find the beat in the mariachi music. Another problem is that the basic step is different from swing. It took half of the night for me to reprogram my brain to go ‘rock step forward, pause, rock step back, pause’ instead of ‘rock step back, triple step, rock step back, triple step’. I was able to learn a spin though, thankfully Claudia isn’t the type who gets dizzy. After the lesson Tom and I where thinking of going to a Salsa club, but I couldn’t leave Austin (who is underage) alone when they’re both leaving. We stayed up and chatted about Austin’s past relationships until almost midnight.
Saturday, Tom and Austin packed up and left today and I went. Out. I had met a nice girl at the salsa dancing and she showed me around the city and helped me practice my Spanish. Then we went to another salsa lesson, this time I learned a move where the you trade places with your partner, before losing contact with her. I don’t what happened, but she disappeared right after the lesson. Strange. Either way it was a fun Saturday and I managed to procrastinate just long enough that I couldn’t finish this blog post!
Which is great! It means I’ll get to tell you about my adventures on Sunday! Remember that third homestay participant? Her name’s Christine and she’s going to be in Guadalajara for another week. She was raised in Hungary but now lives in England and teaches English. She’s in Guadalajara for work so that she’ll have ‘overseas experience’ on her résumé. She’s also been traveling in the area, as she’s not planning on coming back anytime soon, and she hadn’t gone to Chapala yet! This morning at 8:00am, we left for a tour of the Chapala area. Sadly I hadn’t gotten much sleep that night so I fell asleep every time we where driving to a new destination. Our first stop was at a ranch. It had lots of horses and even a guitar shaped pool!
After admiring the horses and wandering around the ranch for a little while we all went to a gift shop and I almost bought a drinking horn. Then we piled back into the van and headed for Chapala. Chapala is Guadalajara’s weekend get away town. Everyone goes there on the weekends and enjoys the beaches, sun, and water. My only problem is that I’m terrified of being on open water. I tried to go on a small boat tour of the edge of the lake but I had to have the boat driver turn us around when we were only twenty feet out. Not my finest hour. After that I calmed down by exploring the beach front area and running through a skate park. I love running up and down sheer ramps and hills (particularly ski hills…) so I had a great time. At 2:00pm we got back into the tour van and drove to a town that is almost entirely made up of old, rich, Americans and Canadians. All of the signs are in English and Spanish, there’s a definite American vibe, and there were tons of $400,000 to $1,000,000 houses! After the tour, the tour leaders left us at an excellent restaurant right by the ocean. None of us knew each other so we all got seperate tables except for me and Christine. It was a bit awkward between us the whole day, we literally had nothing in common and could barely talk about any subject. Most of the meal was sitting in silence, eating. I enjoyed it though. The food was delicious and I had my first full beer with a meal! After that they dropped us off back in Guadalajara and we made our way back to the house.
When I got home, I had to do laundry. Not a big problem except that the laundromat only aceppts cards. I pulled out my wallet and discovered I had lost my only dempbit card. Everything’s sorted out now, have a new one being mailed here and I have more than enough money to live on but it was a surprisingly awful end to an otherwise excellent week!
Oh yeah! I almost forgot! I’m a victim of the infamous crime in Mexico; a bus driver didn’t give me back my two pesos.