Mexico trip recap

By kate on September 2nd, 2007

Steve, Ruby, and I went to Mexico in mid-August. I’d been getting the travel itch pretty bad, and thought that a trip within the U.S. would not be enough. We have a good family friend in Mexico – a former Catholic priest who has known Steve’s family for years. My last trip to Mexico had been with Steve’s family to see his ordination in 1999 (he has since left the priesthood, married, and had a baby).

Our friend, Rafa (short for Rafael), lives in Guadalajara, an inland city west of Mexico City. It was a perfect starting point, since my ideal Mexican vacation is more of the exploring-cities-and-towns type, rather than the sit-on-the-beach type.

I wasn’t really afraid of being in Mexico with Ruby; what really terrified me were the plane flights. Ruby never stays still for more than a few seconds, and I worried how she’d react to being confined to our laps for hours at a time. So, I overprepared by buying 24 different toys (one for each half hour) that she’d never seen. I chose things that were small and light and didn’t make noises or messes. As it turned out, the plane flights were all fine. Ruby slept for most of one leg each time, and spent a while eating, too (which used up the time). She was engaged by most of the new toys, and the buckle toy was particularly reliable as a distraction. We had lots of new toys left over, some of which we used throughout the week, and some of which we brought home, unopened.

We tried to travel light, despite having a baby with us. Our luggage consisted of a rolling suitcase, a duffel bag, and a backpack. No stroller or car seat: just our baby carrier, which fit into the backpack. We cheated and borrowed a Pack ‘n Play from our hosts (for Ruby to sleep in), rather than bring our own.

We arrived in Guadalajara and spent one night at Rafa’s house. He and his wife, Gina, were the most gracious hosts you could imagine. We had been planning to take buses around, but they surprised us by offering to loan us one of their cars. We accepted, even though it felt less authentic than riding the chicken bus, and it really made the trip better. The next day, we set off toward the mountains to the south.

After an uneventful ride, we stopped in a town called Jocotopec for lunch and to stretch our legs.

Then, we headed uphill toward the town of Mazamitla. Since it’s less than two hours away from Guadalajara, it’s supposed to be a popular weekend getaway for Mexicans escaping the heat. It was a nice little town, but we were surprised at how deserted it felt. Many shops were closed, and while there were people around, we didn’t see the crowds we expected (it’s possible it’s only busy on weekends, or that we hit the off-season).

We chose a hotel from our guidebook, and it turned out to be a great choice. The Hostal Ciervo Rojo (Red Deer Hotel) consists of eclectically-decorated rooms arranged around a lovely gardened courtyard. The proprietor speaks good English and is very friendly. He was excited to hear we are from Seattle, because he’s visited here. We chose a large room because it wasn’t much more than a smaller one.

We spent the next two days in Mazamitla. The high point for me was getting a chance to ride horses. Since our time in Mongolia, I’ve been looking forward to riding again. And, even better, I got to ride with Ruby!

Other than that, in Mazamitla, we wandered around, relaxed, ate at restaurants, and browsed in the shops. The town is supposedly renowned for woodcrafts, but everything we saw looked cheaply made and souvenir-ish. After two days, we were ready to move on, so we selected another nearby town as our destination.

We followed our map toward the town, while wondering what the dotted line road meant. When we got to a junction town, we had trouble finding the road we wanted, so we stopped to ask a man. I should mention here that Steve and I know some Spanish words, but are both far from fluent. Anyway, the man communicated, by words and gestures, the way to the road. Then, he stepped back, looked at our car (a tiny economy car), and said we’d never make it in THAT car – we’d need a truck.

We considered our options, and decided to head for Ajijic, a town on the large Lake Chapala. Steve had visited Ajijic in 2000, and remembered it as quaint. However, between then and now, thousands of Canadian and American retirees have moved to what is known as the “Mexican Riviera”. The town was overrun with gringos and frustratingly operated on a gringo daily schedule (everything closed in the evening) rather than the Mexican schedule we had adjusted to (big meal in the middle of the day, smaller meal in the evening). We got to have another horseback ride, which I enjoyed, but didn’t otherwise like the town much. We found a night market in the next town over, which occupied us for the evening before we dodged giant clouds of gnats on the way back to the hotel.

The next day, we headed back to Guadalajara for a weekend in the city. Ruby had fun playing with Rafa’s 11-month-old son, Juan Marcos. One evening, we went to a playground and all played together.

On our last full day, we drove into downtown Guadalajara and explored the city. I realized that I’m more of a city person than a small-town person, because it was probably my favorite day. I enjoy the grandeur and ambition of cities, the variety and bustle. We walked through a giant market, an expansive square full of fountains, and an art museum.

In a courtyard outside the art museum, we found several fascinating sculptures by Mexican artist Alejandro Colunga:

On our last night, we went out to a restaurant specializing in pozole, one of Steve’s favorite Mexican foods. The next day, we flew home. Because of an unusually long line at Customs in Phoenix, we had to run across the airport and barely made our flight to Seattle. Our bags didn’t make it, but they were delivered the next morning.

Finally, enjoy this video of amusing clips of Ruby in Mexico…

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