27 August 2007

Aug 26 – Touring G-town

I woke up around 8 and decided that was as good a time as any to get up. I wasn’t really hungry or wanting breakfast but I was very thirsty and had a headache. The hotel provides 2 bottles of drinking water and a sign that says the tap water is not 100% safe to drink. Unfortunately, I drank both bottles last night…before I remembered that I still needed to brush my teeth. I brushed without water but I need to take the travelers medication I got from my doc.

But first…I needed pesos.

I went to the desk to ask about an ATM and was told there is one about a half-block up on the other side of the street, near the Ibis Hotel. She said it was on the street, which made me a little nervous but I thought I’d check it out.

Outside, it was a very gray, dismal-looking sort of day. There were heavy clouds off to one direction. Luckily, I had a poncho with me, if it came to that.

I found the Ibis and the ATM. It was one of those ATMs in a glass room with a door. You use your card to open the door and then it locks behind you to keep anyone else from getting in while you’re using the machine.

I got some cash, left the room and continued on down the block to find the Hilton Hotel, where the tour bus pickup is. I found the hotel (only about 2 blocks from my hotel) and asked a bellboy where the tour bus pickup was. He said it was down below (on the sidewalk) but it doesn’t come until 10:00.

I didn’t understand that until later, though. I thought he said it would be 10 minutes. So I went into the hotel’s gift shop to get a bottle of water and some chapstick with sunscreen. I took my pill and then waited down below for a bit. While I was waiting, I perused the brochure I got at my hotel and in reading the fine print, realized that the tours don’t start until 10am…which is when I “got” what the bellboy tried to tell me.

As it wasn’t even 9 yet, I headed back to the hotel. I stopped at an Oxxo (convenience store sort of place) and got a bottle of pop and a granola bar. I still had my headache and figured the caffeine would help.

Back at the room, I took some acetaminophen with the Coke and read until a little after 9:30 when I headed back to the Hilton. While I’d been in my room, the day had brightened considerably. It was actually sunny and very pleasant.

I got on the double-decker tour bus when it arrived, along with a few other people. I took a seat on the open, top level. I was really glad I’d packed a hat this time and had gotten the lip balm with sunscreen.

When you get on the bus, they give you a pair of earbud headphones. You plug them into the jack in front of you and select your language. That’s how you get the audio for the tour.

The voice doing the narration in English sounded so familiar…I couldn’t quite place it but it was a man with a southern accent…I think it’s one of the guys I hear all the time on NPR’s Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me show on Saturday’s at home…not Tom Bodet, the other southern guy…but I can’t think of his name.

The tour solved one mystery for me. Every time I’d been outside, I’d smelled something that reminded me of the bean processing plant in Des Moines. This smell was similar but not exactly like that. Still, it made me think of processing grain. While on the tour, the smell kept getting stronger…until we passed the Corona beer factory. Mystery solved!

The state of Jalisco, where Guadalajara is, is also the home of José Cuervo tequila. There are a number of tours that will take you to Tequila (hence, the name of the liquor) and show you how tequila is made from the blue agave plant. Originally, it was fermented like wine but now it is distilled.

The world also has Guadalajara to thank for mariachi bands. They originated here and eventually became a cultural symbol for all Mexico.

While riding around town on the tour bus, I noticed some curious things…

I saw a lot of traffic lights that had 2 red lights. I never saw them working independently of each other and not all lights had the double-reds. I didn’t know why. The only thing I could think was that it would certainly make it easier for people who are red-green color blind…even coming up on the lights in the dark, you could easily and immediately tell the red from the green. But that can’t be why…there just aren’t that many color-blind people and not all the lights had them. (Later, Cesar told me it’s where there are two sets of lanes, there’s a stop light for each of them…it functions sort of like a left-turn light except that’s not exactly it.)

Here, the traffic signal color pattern is the same as in the States, too…unlike Switzerland where the yellow comes after the red instead of after the green.

We passed a number of gas stations along the way. None of them post the price of gas so you can see it from the street. However I asked Cesar later and he told me it’s 7 pesos per liter (or, about $2.50 per gallon).

They use the $ symbol for pesos. So I kind of have to do a double-take when I see things like a bottle of pop for $7.50. Or the 2-hour bus tour for $110. They’re actually more like 68 cents and $10 (US) respectively.

The tour bus dropped me back at the Hilton at about 11:40 so I was back in plenty of time to meet Cesar for lunch and the afternoon touring.

I met him at the hotel entrance and he introduced me to his wife, Hilda, and their son, Alonzo (2½). He told me we were waiting a few more minutes for one of the other guys who would be one of my students in the coming week. He (Víctor) arrived a couple minutes later and we loaded up in Cesar’s car.

He took us to a restaurant on the Minerva roundabout…El Abajeño. We got a table streetside and watched the fountain and traffic go by. I had enmolado con pollo (an enchilada sort of thing with mole sauce on it) and Cesar ordered (for the table) some quesadillas with ham, cheese, mushrooms and onion in it. Also chips, guacamole and a plate of a traditional, local cheese. It was all really good.

When the waiter brought the food, he put down a bowl of red sauce and told me it was very hot…be very careful. So I very gingerly tried it with a chip. I didn’t think it was so hot. In fact, I ended up using quite a bit of in on my lunch. It had a certain spiciness to it but not really much heat…and I’m not a huge fan of pepper-hot food.

After lunch, we went to the market at San Juan de Dios. It’s a huge market that covers 3 levels and has warrens of aisles with shops on all sides. The center is an open courtyard sort of space where people congregate and socialize.

I wasn’t really looking for anything in particular…I just like to see what the local handicrafts are like and the sorts of things people sell. There was a lot of pottery and leather work, some woven basket type things, some stone carving.

Most of the bottom level around the courtyard was food and produce. I wanted to take a stroll past the produce just to see how much of it I recognized.

Most of it was pretty familiar…apples, pears, cantaloupe, watermelon, bananas. Some was a little less typical but still not unidentifiable…papaya, mango, pomegranate, star fruit. There were many kinds of cactus fruits, which, had I not recently eaten some in Cairo, I wouldn’t have known what they were. However, in Cairo, I only saw the one kind of fruit…a deep yellow, barrel-shaped sort. Here, there are many different sizes, shapes and colors of cactus fruit (or tuna as it’s called here)

There was a fruit that I didn’t know and Cesar couldn’t say in English. They were green and looked kind of like smallish, lumpy grapefruit from the outside but there were some cut in half for display and the inside looked like apple with the same sort of star-shaped core in the center with seeds and a thin skin. Cesar said it was kind of like apple only not so sweet.

There was also a small orange-colored fruit that Cesar didn’t know the name in English. They looked like kumquats…but since I’ve never had a kumquat, I have no idea if that’s really what they were like.

Hilda bought some and shared. They’re almost all pit with a thin layer of fruit pulp just under the skin. You bite off a piece of skin and suck off the fruity part then spit the skin out. They taste vaguely citrusy, sort of papayay, very mildly astringent, and there isn’t much to them but they were sweet and fruity.

We walked through the various plazas and outdoor pedestrian malls. Cesar was right…they were loaded with families and people out walking. There were a lot of fountains and statues, kids running around or splashing in the fountains, performers doing their shticks for whatever coins they could get, wandering vendors hawking soap bubbles or balloon animals or little toys. There were also a fair number of people who were disabled singing or doing something…begging for alms without actually panhandling.

Most of them seemed to be blind people singing or playing an instrument along with a recording. But probably the most heart-wrenching one I saw was a woman sitting on the pavement up next to a building. She had only tiny stubs for arms and about the same for legs. She did, however, have one almost-normal foot at the end of one of the vestigial legs. With that foot, she was crocheting doilies; holding the crochet hook between her toes.

It was especially disturbing (to me) because people were just standing around looking at her like she was the main attraction at a circus freakshow. She obviously couldn't move, feed or dress herself, yet she was wearing a very clean, bright dress...sleeveless, to clearly show the arm stubs and with the skirt draped around her modestly yet tucked to reveal the foot. So she had to have a "handler" who posed her there. I scanned the crowd briefly to see if I could spot someone nearby but not part of the gawkers...I didn't. I don't know whether someone set her there then left or what.

After our walking, Cesar took Víctor and me back to our hotel. It was about 5pm and the day was still lovely so I decided to actually hit the pool this time.

The pool was deserted when I got there and the water was very warm…actually warmer than I’d like for swimming but I swam laps anyway. I have no idea how long I did that, but I was feeling like I’d actually done something physical.

There was a ledge all the way around the pool that was maybe a foot wide and a foot and a half deep. Along the middle of each side there was another shelf above that that was probably 6 feet wide and about 6 inches deep. I got out on that shelf and did some yoga.

It was kind of weird doing yoga in water but between that and the swimming, most of the travel-induced muscle tightness was gone.

I rounded out the day with supper at the restaurant…tortilla soup and a tuna salad stuffed avocado. The tortilla soup was “Aztec style”…it was tomato based with strips of crispy fried tortilla and chunks of avocado and some creme on top. The tuna was basic tuna salad, only not so heavy on the mayo as it is in the US (I’m not sure there actually was any…there wasn’t much “sauce” of any sort) with chunky tuna pieces, diced veggies, and corn in half a peeled avocado.

I did some prep for tomorrow’s class while dining. Cesar and I had talked about the class some during the day. It’s going to be a challenge. The class was originally set up to be an intermediate level class for people who’ve been using the program for a while.

The challenges (that I know about) are going to be: there are going to be 3 people in the class who have never used the program. It’s going to be a bit of a trick to make sure the newbies don’t feel completely lost and the experienced people don’t get bored or feel like they’ve wasted their time. Oh, and some of them don’t speak English all that well. And I’ve got 3 days with them…the normal beginner class is 4 days.

On the plus side: there will be one guy in the class to translate when language issues come up, I know the material extremely well and have a fair bit of experience in teaching to various levels. That’s about it. The rest of it is going to be a roller coaster ride, I think.