Saying “adios” to Puerto Vallarta on a Tuesday morning, heading towards Guadalajara by bus, the terrain along the drive was beautiful as the landscape changed from beaches and palm trees to mountains and thick greens. Arriving behind schedule, the bus sank into deep traffic surrounding the capitol of Jalisco, joining work commuters as congestion grew on the main connectors of this well-traveled city.
After securing accommodations, I headed out into the busy streets of Centro in search of some delicious Méxican food for dinner, heading once again towards Mercado San Juan de Dios, the largest market in Latin America, with 40,000 square meters of vendor stalls, boutiques, artists and eateries.
Among the many counters available, Fonda Maru offers plump, breaded chile rellenos from a display piled high with dark green poblano peppers stuffed with cheese. After heating a skillet with oil and a bright red tomato salsa, the cook selected a pepper from the display, swirling in the poblano in the bubbly sauteé. He fried the pepper to golden perfection, serving it a la carte in a colorful ceramic bowl, with a side of warm corn tortillas and a few salsas.
The following day, I returned to Mercado San Juan just after lunchtime, when the counters would be less crowded but the morning food would still be fresh. A persuasive woman beckoned patrons to Mariscos Brisa, offering several tempting options, including empanadas, tacos and tostadas. At her recommendation, I ordered an empanada with fish and shrimp, and a taco with fried shrimp, as well as a Cerveza Tecate with lime and salt. She placed a place of saltines and a few tostadas on the counter with some diced cucumber tossed in lime, cilantro and Tajin to enjoy while waiting.
Hollering across to the two eateries across from hers, the hostess dispersed the order to the other counters of Mariscos Brisa. About 10 minutes later, two hot empanadas, stuffed generously with fish and shrimp arrived, along with several chiles and salsas. “Try this one!” she raved with a smile, “My father makes it in our home.”
The tangy brown sauce was rich with roasted onion, salty spices and smoky chipotle, definitely worth tasting. A few minutes later, the taco arrived, stuffed with several fried shrimp, shredded lettuce, cabbage and tomato. My mouth did a little Mexican hat dance among the savoriness of this late lunch.
Between sips of cold Tecate, I relished every bite, watching as the ladies lure hungry shoppers to their counters. Mariscos Brisa features some curious dishes on their menu like Vuelve de La Vida and Pata de Mula, the latter being a deceiving name for a rich-flavored, dark-colored oyster. The hostess gladly cracked open a Pata de Mula, showing off one of many way it is prepared and served. Finally, $100 MXN ($5.00 USD) later, I thanked her generously for this simple but delicious experience.
Winding through the cramped stalls and corridors of San Juan del Dios, shoppers seem pleasantly overwhelmed by the colors, textures, sights and sounds of the giant marketplace, which literally sells nearly anything. There appears to be an order to the chaos, with departments cloistered near one another including leather goods, sportswear, cellular accessories, handcrafted textiles, housewares, and – in the most olfactory-arousing area – perfumes and beauty products.
One smiling vendor offered an array of embroidered goods, including the flowered cinturons (belts) that compliment the blouses popular in México, bargaining fair prices for the purchase of two. Heading out of the market, it was hard to resist ordering a cold alfalfa auga fresca, one of many delicious natural juices offered among the produce vendors of the first floor open air market.
A short walk led to nearby Plaza Tapatia, a sprawling city park with several beautiful sculptures and memoirs of the building of Guadalajara, including the large Coast of Arms from Carlos V. Popular with the locals, this large gathering place also serves as an outdoor showroom for artisans and merchants, where curious children duck behind their parents, eyes wide to tourists and potential customers.
The rest of the afternoon was spent roaming the Centro along Avendia Juarez, one of the main thoroughfares in Guadalajara, capturing photos in Plaza de las Armas, including an image first taken in 2012, in front of the historic Cathedral, on a premiere visit to this glorious landmark of the city.
In the evening, after the rains had cooled the night air, people filled the streets again, many heading out for drinks and desserts. Meeting a former student (now friend) at Chai Centro, we conversed over a menu of small plates and snacks (like chicharos, dried green peas) plus an array of beverages, from coffee to craft beers.
Early the next morning, boarding an InterJet flight with several stops to Mexico City and Bogotá, and a change to LATAM airlines, the ending in Cartagena was well-anticipated. While the Mexico City change was brief, the wait in Bogotá was about four hours, a bit too long when the final flight home was less than two hours.
However, a long layover did provide time to meet with two exceptional women: Andrea, a former WorldTeach Colombia 2014 volunteer and current teacher-traveler, and Kerry, owner of Sipsi Maria Bwtic, an online boutique supporting art and design to gain respect and value as artists both nationally and internationally.
After inspiring conversation and a quick lunch at Colombia’s popular Crepes and Waffles, the final connection began on the journey home to Cartagena. As the LATAM jet took off, settling in with the July issue of VAMOS magazine featuring colorful articles on Barcelona and Cuba, ideas began stirring for the next adventure following this glorious Summer Vacation 2016.