Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Margheritaville (Guadalajara, Mexico)

Day One.

I am staying in the nicest hotel I will experience in Mexico. That's because I am being treated to the accommodations and a per diem, in exchange for accompanying a colleague to meetings in virtually every department and with every employee of the impressive and enormous University of Guadalajara. The hotel boasts an exercise room (a closet, really, with two stationery bikes that I could bend and break by merely staring at them) and a kidney-shaped pool about the size of 1,372 bloated kidneys. My room is actually a suite, with a large living area and a good sized bedroom with a working TV and my very own bathroom. There is a door leading to a kitchen, but it is locked and unavailable to me. I am not upset by the thought that I won't be cooking or washing dishes.

After settling in, I go outside to scout out a restaurant in which I can enjoy a leisurely and delicious late lunch. Ambling around the residential neighborhood, I discover several interesting possibilities. Unfortunately, none is still offering eats at 4pm on a Saturday afternoon.

I wind up at a Chinese buffet that looks like it will either kill me or make me stronger. The food tastes better than it looks, although I am unable to identify half of what I eat as either Chinese or food.

I retire early. Actually, I'll probably retire 20 years after my death, but in the meantime, I go back to my room, watch movies and music videos (the closest I get to the mariachis for which Guadalajara is famous), am foiled in my attempt to swim in the pool -- which has closed for the evening, read, and go to bed early.

My colleague and friend, McK will arrive sometime this evening, and I anticipate a full day tomorrow and during the rest of our stay.


Day Two.

I am up and about at the pre-crack of dawn. (I can't sleep late unless I'm deathly ill or just plain deathly.) After bathing and dressing, I go downstairs to partake of breakfast in the lobby.

Breakfast is served on the latest in stryro-ware. There's yogurt, in flavors ranging from nut to prune; cereal; juice; toast; and airline-approved coffee (read: weak). I read a newspaper, eat my carb allotment for the day, and chat with a young Mexican American, who invites me to join him for a walk to a nearby mall. I turn down his offer, because I am uninterested in malls and because I am sure that my colleague and friend, McK, who arrived at the hotel sometime last night, will be appearing at any moment.

Two hours later, my new friend returns from his walk, surprised to see me in practically the same position as when he departed. He tells me that they've closed off the major thoroughfare to allow people to bike, skateboard, and walk for miles and how the whole of Guadalajara appears to be taking advantage of the beautiful weather to do so.

In the interim, I have read the last month's newspapers and every brochure for every restaurant and tourist attraction in Guadalajara, checked to make sure that McK actually arrived (he did), and flooded my body with dishwater (read: coffee).

New friend goes up to his room, but I continue to wait. At noon, I have reached the outer limits of my patience, and insist that the desk clerk ring McK's room. He's either dead or unconscious, and I want to know what to do next. McK doesn't respond to the call, so I am beside myself.

"He could be in the shower," the clerk suggests.

We wait 45 minutes before calling again. No answer.

"He could have gone out," the clerk says.

I am ready to do the same, when McK comes in the door. He'd sent me an email to say he'd meet me at around 2pm for lunch, but as I had no access to a computer, I hadn't received the message. Up even earlier than I, he'd gone for a run, along with the rest of the population. I am relieved that he is alive, well, and back.

McK goes up to his room to clean off and re-dress. Within half an hour we are outside, joining the masses, and on our way to downtown.

We debate taking a bus or a cab, but we're so engaged in conversation that we don't catch a ride until we're two blocks away from our destination. We pop in and out of every historic building in the centro, including the theater, museums, and the sites of murals from all the famed muralist native sons of Guadalajara.

Having worked up both a sweat and an appetite, we start scoping out likely lunch spots. We end up asking someone for a recommendation, and we have a satisfactory experience at La Chata. Afterward, we grab a cab to visit just one more museum before we head back to the hotel, but it's already past museum-closing time. Instead, we go to the "Shoe Mall," where we drown our sorrows by buying Flexis, a Mexican brand of comfortable footware.

We return to the hotel with plenty of time to swim before the rain hits.


Day Three.

Our driver, Ismael -- with his background in hotel hospitality -- is an intelligent and interesting character who gets us where we need to go by the skin of his and our teeth, and relates funny stories well, in Spanish and/or English. Our schedule is tighter than a pair of size 2 jeans; every hour we find ourselves at a different Facultad. There are speeches of welcome and tours. A highlight is a meeting with the heads of pediatric and adult emergency services at the university's hospital and a look at the isolation unit in which victims of failed suicide attempts, exuding poisonous vapors that would kill anyone coming into contact with them, are hosed down and the oxygen in the room exchanged every couple of minutes.

We are taken out to lunch -- at La Chata. As Guadalajara is known for its tequila, I am easily convinced to down a Margherita. I am a cheap drunk, but I hold my own, to the best of my knowledge. After more meetings, we are treated to a lovely dinner, where I drink a tamarind Margherita and finish the tequila-infused sorbet that is served at the end of the meal. I do not have any memory of the rest of the day...


Day Four.

See Day Three. Skip the hospital visit, add more welcoming speeches. After a while, I tell McK that I finally understand why he invited me along on this trip; he has been giving me small boxes to store in my purse, which he requests whenever we meet with people he's known from previous trips or with new, important folks (like the Rector of the University or the Director of Directors). I then pass him the package, without ever discovering what is contained therein. "I am the mule," I say.

Sometimes McK and I are given our own packages. I get a key chain, a pen, and three books that I "mistakenly" leave in my hotel room. To the best of my recollection, the titles are: Feminist Writings in Early 18th Century Mexican Letters to the Editor; Rural Road Construction in Places You Still Cannot Access; and The World's Most Beloved Bedtime Readings About Educational Topics.

We end our meetings early. McK reunes with one of his colleagues, while I go to lunch with a Cuernavaca friend's partner. He offers me a choice of venues, including Chili's, which I give the cold shoulder to. In a lovely, non-US, non- chain restaurant, we dine on fish, and I don't drink anything stronger than lemonade.

When I return to the hotel, McK suggests that I join him as guest of a friend and some colleagues for dinner. "There should be some interesting conversation," he tells me, plus there will be another woman there who will probably welcome my presence.

The evening consists of long waits for the other people to show up; long, drawn-out speeches; long, drawn-out monologues; and a longing to return to our respective rooms. I am actually amused, but McK's eyeballs have been rolling for several hours, and he is tired.


Day Five.

A fond goodbye to McK. Taxi to the bus station. Back to Queretero.

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