A Mexican Foodie Post (Part II)

proper taco at el tomato

On to round 2 of tasty Mexican eats in, well, Mexico!

5) Peculiar foods I’ve never heard of before my trip
One would be the jicama. The outside reminded me of a huge potato, but it tasted more like a turnip. The best part is that you don’t have to bake it, but you cut it up, slice it in quarters, strew some salt, pepper and chili (of course, what else?) over it and drench it in lime juice. Et voila, perfect afternoon snack (not to forget, healthy, too).

When in Guanajuato, I tried nopales y papas (nopales with potatoes) for breakfast. Nopales are the leaves of a pear cactus. They look green and taste like a fresh and crunchy veggie. I really liked them a lot but couldn’t find them after coming back to Guadalajara.

Jicamas, as seen on http://www.cookinglight.com
Jicamas, as seen on http://www.cookinglight.com

Of course guacamole was one of the standards eats. A great tip my friend gave me was to simply leave the avocado seeds (or bones, as Mexicans call it) in the guacamole. This way it lasts several days, not only a few hours (this past summer I made guacamole that I literally had to throw away less than 24 hours later. After using the seed trick, it lasted 3 days!).

6) The biggest Taco Feast I went on…
… was at La Tomate Taqueria in Guadalajara. Taco meat was cut straight from slabs (reminded me of the Kebab places in Germany), then served with several tortillas, different kind of salsas, onions, and herbs. The best ingredient: Pineapple pieces (this makes or breaks a taco, so pineapple will be a common ingredient from now on).

Different sauces to top your tacos off
Different sauces to top your tacos off
How to eat your taco at La Tomate
How to eat your taco at La Tomate

As you can tell, beans are not included in any Mexican meal, unless served on the side (another common misperception when it comes to Americans mixing Mexican cuisine up). And, does this look like a hella taco or not?

7) The best raw food I’ve tried…
… was Aguachile de Cameron.

Aguachile de Cameron
Aguachile de Cameron

Raw shrimp, which is covered in chile sauce, making it halfway cooked (because of its hotness). It’s served with lemon, onion, cream cheese, and cucumber. In this variation, we also had a strawberry, which made up for quite an exotic flavor altogether.

8) Regional variations
After being to Guanajuato and San Miguel, I have to admit that the food by far exceeded my expectations in Guadalajara. The foods in the first two cities were actually not as tastily prepared than in the capital of Jalisco. After traveling for the first weekend, we encountered an old woman who even told us so and then everything started to make sense. However, I did have a pretty decent breakfast consisting of nopales (an exotic ingredient I hadn’t tried before) in Guanajuato, so kudos go out to the mom’n’pop shop who served us.

Great breakfast in Guanajuato
Great breakfast in Guanajuato, nopales are in the second taco.

While the never-ending discussion with my friends at home had come to the conclusion that refried beans are strictly American and black beans are strictly Mexican, I was baffled when I had my first breakfast in Mexico. Chilaquiles served with refried beans on the side (and nowhere did I encounter black beans on my voyage). My friend pointed out that black beans are more seen in the South, whereas other areas serve pinto and refried beans (and laughed at my initial thought of these being American).

Elote - tasty and easy to eat
Elote – tasty and easy to eat

To my amusement, we went out to grab some Elote every once so often, but not the corn on the cob variation known to me before. The corn was carefully scraped from the cob, collected in a cup, mixed with cream (not mayo), and then topped with cheese and chili. I was then handed a spoon so that I could stuff my face with this variation of esquitas. My friend pointed out that eating the corn directly from the cob turns out to be far too messy, so that’s why the stores decided to serve it in a cup. Makes sense, eh?

Elote served with chili chips (of course, how could it else be?)
Elote served with chili chips (of course, how could it else be?)

Overall, after providing you with this list, Mexican food might seem like one of the unhealthiest food options out there (heck , alone those 20 tortillas a day should make your body look like a bloated ship). But honestly, I’ve found some great options because Mexico also provides the entire country (and the US) with fresh fruits and veggies. Having an avocado presented on a silver plate together with oranges, mangoes, and papayas (smell bad, taste good) is a pretty nice morning routine. I’m sure not everyone eats this way in Mexico, but my friends kinda did (or at least their parents let them). Groceries were cheap compared to the US (even after converting them it into local wages). Of course tortilla and alcohol were even cheaper, but let’s put that aside.

This plate summarizes traditional Jaliscan cuisine in one glance
This plate summarizes traditional Jaliscan cuisine in one glance

A Mexican Foodie Post (Part I)

breakfast in guanajuato

Mrmph! Flautas, micheladas, enchiladas, guacomoles, tortas…!

I know my Mexican Adventure has been a while ago, but I couldn’t resist not letting you in on all of the delicious food I tried while down there. Mexican food is spicy, repetitive, and experimental at best. Those three points pretty much summarize my entire foodie experience, but of course there is so much more to it.

You see, Mexicans cannot be without their two main ingredients: Tortilla and Chile. I don’t know what people with a gluten allergy do if they are ever trapped in that country but I can tell you that it is a challenge to have any sort of allergy in Mexico. It is also very rare to encounter vegetarians, as my friends pointed out from day one (I am one of those rare people who didn’t know better). Most food truly consisted of chicken, pork or other kinds of meat and constantly requesting to have a substitute mixed in or rather getting a veggie version raised a few eye brows at first and then simply became annoying. You would assume that with all the vegetables going on in that country, vegetarians shouldn’t have no problem whatsoever. Unfortunately, most restaurants consider these vegetables more of a side order than a main meal.

Now, where to start in describing my typical food experience? Perhaps with the most obvious…

1) Tortillas
The main substance of Mexican food, as you all know by now. Tortillas come in all sizes and forms. They can be made of flour or corn (maiz), they can be fried or simply baked. They can be served grande when wrapped around a burrito or tiny, tiny small when processed into chips. I thought after seeing a few variations in Tex-Mex places in the US, I’ve seen them all, but that is not true. After a few days in the country, I’ve basically seen them in every way possible: Tacos, enchiladas, quesadillas, flautas, chilaquiles… A quesadilla is a common breakfast, by the way. Just cheese, tortilla, and a delicious sauce.

Chilaquiles for breafast served with refried beans on the side
Chilaquiles for breafast served with refried beans on the side

Chilaquiles are more like a morning nacho, but much better. Fried tortilla chips with either mole sauce or different types of salsa, served warm. And flautas are mini-enchiladas, crisply fried and rolled up to preserve all the ingredients inside.

Traditional flautas served in Jalisco
Traditional flautas served in Jalisco

2) Drinks
Well, beer is good. Or even better: Micheladas! It took me a week to discover these. My friend also pointed out that they come with lemon NOT lime (as American places serve them), because lime is considered too bitter for this type of drink. Oh, and the real joy comes when adding clamato (a clam-like sauce) to the Michelada. This makes for one of the most exotic-tasting beers I’ve had so far (of course it’s spicier and saltier, too).

Michelada con clamato - dark perfection!
Michelada con clamato – dark perfection!

Aside from these two beverages, hard liqueur is big. Tequila, of course, what else could it be? Not always as a shot though (unlike college kids do throughout the world). Moreover mixed with a sweet soda or taken in slowly (like a good vodka).

Tequila poured into fruit water
Tequila poured into fruit water

Margaritas are actually not Mexican, at least my friend does not believe so. According to her, they originated in America but have been warmly welcomed in Mexico and kept as a standard on most menus (they are also easily prepared since Tequila is found in every restaurant). Researching the history of Margaritas has proven to be rather difficult, so let’s leave it at that.

3) Chili
Mexicans LOVE their chili. They put it on EVERYTHING. Even their ice cream (nothing like shaved ice with a few drops of chili sauce on top). Indeed, my stomach had a really hard time adjusting to the constant spiciness of practically every single food out there. Not that I mind chili, but my body did (it was all burnt out after this vacation). After a week into my trip I was experiencing severe cramps and other unpleasant side effects. Unfortunately, my stomach never really stabilized until after I came back. So the next time I go, I really have to take it easy when ordering food in Mexico. However, it is barely avoidable, just to be fair. Mexicans certainly put a fair amount of spices in their food, but there are always more added spices on the table to pepper up your plate. When I tried my first salsa in Mexico, I dropped my chip as my tongue was burning. Nothing I’ve tasted so far compares to Mexican spices, absolutely nothing.

Hello, I am a chili ice cream. For real?!
Hello, I am a chili ice cream. For real?!

4) Tortas
Here is one of my most favorite (and also cheapest!) foods I had in Guadalajara. Although tortas exist in the US, they are about 3 times as much. I kid you not! An average torta in Mexico costs perhaps around 35 pesos ($2.50). The last time I checked, I saw them sold for $8 in the restaurant around the corner.

Well, bitterness aside, tortas are simply amazing. I’m sure they are not healthy, either, but who cares about that. Huge sammiches which soft cheese, ham, a few peppers and white (baguette) bread – yum. Perfect instant breakfast, and that’s when you should be buying these anyways. Because when I once tried to get a torta at 3 PM, the place didn’t sell them anymore (a certain quantity is made fresh in the morning and sold off until noon). To top it all off, Guadalajara offers Tortas Ahogadas (drowned or flooded sandwiches).

"Drowned" shrimp torta for breakfast - simply the best!
“Drowned” shrimp torta for breakfast – simply the best!

Now this is truly the best variation I’ve found of tortas so far. And as a seafood lover, our place served an excellent shrimp-filled breakfast option drowned in delicious tomato sauce. I cannot describe how well all of this tasted. I hope the picture says it all!

[to be continued in Part II, now off to get some overpriced tortas!]

Why Photography Was so Challenging in Mexico

See those speakers in the background...?
See those speakers in the background…?

One of the real challenges during my recent trip was photography itself (well, taken the language barrier aside). I had been prepared to take some awesome shots of traditional Mexican costumes, some exciting snaps of people on the streets, and of course breath-taking pictures of landscapes, beautiful colors of the houses and what not. But after a few days of being there I had re-evaluate my goals: Being a photographer in Mexico would be much more challenging than this!

The first “problem” I encountered was when my camera of choice simply gave up about a week before I was supposed to go on the trip. Yup, that’s right, the Canon T3i wouldn’t work and after bringing it into a repair store the only option was to send it to Canon since it was still under warranty – luckily.
Anyone who has done this before knows that it takes about 2 weeks until they return it so I was quite bummed about not being able to use it. Luckily I had a backup camera in my old but faithful Canon XT, which has around 8 megapixels (a crushing fall from the previous 18 megapixels) but has proven to be quite solid over time. The only problem with it was that the screen was a bit small and didn’t give much feedback on how a picture turned out.

Now, getting used to the new old gear took some time by itself but eventually I had more troubles adjusting to the light conditions than anything.

Guadalajara lies in a dry climate, meaning humidity was not so much of an issue. What did indeed comprise a problem was the glaring sun coming down at almost every time of day except for sunset. That’s right, even when avoiding those all-so-dreaded times between noon and 3 PM, I still had to fight the intense sunlight at 6 o’clock at night. The result? Washed out images, harsh shadows, and an unflattering picture in altogether. Boy, was I disappointed in the first few days!

Great motive but can you see a sky?!
Great motive but can you see a sky?!

After traveling to Guanajuato and San Miguel, I was able to shoot early in the morning or late at night. But another problem followed immediately: How is it possible to enjoy your traveling when you are constantly worrying about getting or missing that one shot? It is not possible!

So I had to set my priorities straight: I would either enjoy a great trip or I had to focus most of my energy on shooting. In both cities I devoted my time to walking around for one hour a day by myself and just seeing life as was in both locations. This also meant that I had to get up earlier than the other girls or miss out on an opportunity of dining with them. It did have advantages. Having to wait on them or them having to wait on me seemed more nerve-wrecking than setting my own pace and shooting as I went along. So in this case it worked out fine. In Guadalajara not so much, as I was always with one of my friends who were my designated tour guides.

Nothing special about this one
Nothing special about this one

A fourth problem was simply the tourist part: How to shoot candid images of Mexico’s everyday life if I am only traveling to tourist sites? This is why most of my images turned out to be from well-known landmarks and parts everyone is familiar with. The approach also goes hand in hand with a sense of comfort and awareness. Mexico is not the safest country in the world. Hence, going to poorer neighborhoods could prove to be dangerous (a risk neither my friends nor I were willing to take).

Severely cropped image of a girl celebrating her 15 years.
Severely cropped image of a girl celebrating her 15 years.

Then of course there was the language barrier and not knowing if I was able to take a picture of this activity or that person without being called out or having my camera destroyed. When getting this shot from a basket weaver in Tlaquepaque, I asked the lady beforehand. She said I was only allowed to if I were to buy one of her items. I ended up purchasing a wooden spoon for 5 pesos and snapped this image of her, not too bad after all.

5 pesos picture
5 pesos picture

Between gauging if this site was too touristy but another site was too dangerous, it also turned out to be pretty hard to enjoy myself with the camera challenges in my head. After noticing how stressed out I became and how this influenced my friend’s attitude as well (no one wants to get crap for showing a tourist around, simply put), I decided to give it a break and just shoot what came in my way.
And some night pictures did indeed turn out quite well. But Mexico also seems to have a short sunset and blue-hour-sky, so be prepared for this if you ever plan on getting cityscapes at night.

Night photography in Guanajuato
Night photography in Guanajuato

Overall, I think I made the best of my trip and I am very grateful for having had two awesome tour guides (as in friends) who were very patient in showing me around.

Luckily I didn’t have the problem my friend fought with in Tulum: His camera fogged up entirely because of the high humidity in the South of Mexico. So, unlike him, I was still able to get quite a few shots while he had to simply give up after his first day. I feel for everyone who has to go through this fail!

9/11/2013: Remembering…


Remembering the day 12 years ago when the world was forced to change its outlook and nations were affected (by shock, by loss, by war yet to come).

Once again, for the second year in row, New York is remembering by shining its bright lights through the sky. The two Freedom Towers, one still in construction, but nevertheless proudly standing on the spot where the World Trade Center used to be.

As I quote from my last year’s post:

I couldn’t help but think that this is New York’s way of remembering 9/11: Through the dark there shines a light and touches everything and everyone around it. While this city has been touched and will be touched in further decades to come, it will never forget that one day in September when its two twins were crushed eternally.

And I can’t put it in better words than I did last year, so please read the full post here.

Today we had our 93 degree (34 Celsius) weather. Hot, sweltering, almost like it was during the summer. One last day of heat, oddly on that one meaningful day. I took these two pictures at the Pulaski Bridge two nights ago. I guess the lights will shine this entire week. 9/11/2001 – you will never leave our heads, hearts, and souls.


Enjoying One of Those Last Late Summer Days

far rockaway beach at sunset

Yesterday was one of those late summer days. Perhaps among the last ones for this season. Spent at the beach – an ode to the water, sun, and sand. At the Far Rockaways, as so many times this year. With a friend, who hadn’t been once this summer.
We had a blast just sitting there, being rained on by sand that was blown on our backs. The water, oh so icy cold, I didn’t dare stick much more in than my feet. My friend went in all the way, brave person. Beer and whiskey in disguise, grapes and watermelon pieces to keep us healthy.

Afterwards a stroll on the boardwalk, still broken up in parts. When will they ever have it fixed to completion? I hope no more hurricanes will mess with the progress that has been made over the past 4 months. A dinner at Far Rockaway Taco, where I’ve had so many tacos, quesadillas, and elotes over the course of one hot summer, I wonder how I will go without.

Then a beautiful view while walking back to the train. A sunset offering colors of purple, yellow, red, pink, and blue. People cheerfully packing up. We were not the only ones to enjoy our little excursion outside.
It is only a matter of time until summer will come to an end. Perhaps the next three days will bring another (mini-)heatwave. But I guess fall will slowly take over after this. What better way to end this season than one last day at the Far Rockaways?

Martes de Luchas : Mexican Wrestling at the Arena Coliseo

luchas guy flying over fighters in ring

Of all the things I’d wanted to do in Mexico, there was one thing I never expected to see: Las Luchas! Mexican wrestling from its finest. I didn’t even know it existed until my friend told me about it. On one of those few overcast days we were experiencing, she shook her head and said: “You know that the Luchas are only on Tuesdays, right? I think we should try to go see a match before you leave!”
Luchas, really? The day before her cousin had made fun of us for being among one of the few females who will have macho comments thrown at them when they stand up and want to walk to the toilet. “Yes, it can be brutal,” he exclaimed, “but moreover you will have a great time!” Not without smirking and leaving the rest up to our imaginations.

So on the Martes de Luchas (Luchas Tuesday) we were on our way to Guadalajara, already stuck in a traffic jam. We were supposed to get to a bar right no time, and from there a bus was scheduled to take us to the Arena Coliseo. After arriving a bit late, we were able to relax because thanks to a rain downpour (one of those sudden storms that happen in a subtropical climate) we ended up being on time when catching the bus. Santos Diablitos offers Martes de Luchas every week. We paid the bar 150 pesos in total ($11), which is a true bargain considering the price included the transportation to the match, the match itself, and then a free drink at the end of the night.

Our bus was jam packed with mostly Mexican adventurous chicas and chicos and even three German guys (who seemed completely out of place). A DJ was mixing some music and everyone was in an excellent mood, dancing while we were taking with every curve possible. We were able to get a few shots of Tequila for the expensive price of almost ten bucks before the bus arrived at our destination. There, one of our friends bought a Luchas mask (in pink, since she is a girl) and we took turns posing in that mask for some badass pictures.

luchas mask

Then the most absurd game I’ve ever seen started: The Luchas! I don’t know too much about wrestling, frankly. But the Luchas were one of a kind.

luchas game 1

We saw 4 different matches, and it started off with 2 teams which must have counted towards the lightweight class. Luchadores come in groups of 2 – 4 I believe, and in this round there were teams of 2 luchadores each. The wrestlers came up, were introduced and started beating each other up almost immediately. One of them performed some great aerial moves, which involved climbing up on top of the ring and jumping onto his opponent’s back. Once one luchador went down, he left the ring and his team member took over. The bizarre part was that the good team always seemed to lose in the beginning. Then they were beat up and made fun of by the bad team. Oh yes, there are players who are considered good and then players who are considered bad. The audience was given enough opportunity to loudly booh the losers. But pretty much out of nowhere the losing team made a thrilling comeback and beat the bad ones – at the end of the match.

Guy flying over luchadores' heads
Guy flying over luchadores’ heads
Wrestler being beat up outside of ring
Wrestler being beat up outside of ring

luchadores outside of ring

The third team involved women luchadores, about 3 girls on each team. One team had a particularly chubby woman and she was mocked by the winning team until somehow she managed to pull out and get her confidence back. So basically the two fighters are wrestling, as soon as someone slips out of the ring, another team member takes over. If someone is losing, the entire team gets to that person, and you can see up to three people beating the one “loser”.

The last match involved a few older guys. I would say one was around 60 and their opponents must have been 40 years and up. This one remained inconclusive, as the bad guys ended up winning (which only happened once over the course of the evening). The good guys were pissed and followed the bad guys out, not sure if further fighting went on behind the scenes.

Girl luchas
Girl luchas

luchas girl fighter in cat mask

girl figher

A few times during the match, the luchadores were hauled out of the ring and right into the audience. I feel sorry for the couple they always landed on but I guess if you sit in the front row you have to expect these things to happen. I cannot tell you how much of the Luchas was good acting and how much was actual wrestling. To me it seemed like an absurd showcase of guys (and girls) who were trying to give the audience the best show possible.

The Luchas masks and the different colors of it are an important component of the game. The losers had to take theirs off; this was seen as humiliation and verification of their loss.

Of course hot chicas were an important part, too. They were the ones holding up signs with the wrestlers names once a match was announced. The cameraman made sure to include many takes of scarcely dressed stripper-like show girls. But the highlight was certainly a lost-looking Chinese Mexican guy who kept flicking the players off. He was simply standing next to the ring, beneath the showgirls, and showing some agitated behavior. At some point the entire audience was making fun of him. Maybe he was on drugs, perhaps he was only drunk. Either way, a sight not to be forgotten.

hot girls during luchas

Yes, the Luchas were a lot of fun. And even though another girl and I had to use the restroom at some point, we managed to sneak past almost every guy without him yelling a few obscenities at us.

Then, the bus ride back: A full 1 ½ hours of dancing and listening to music while everyone started wondering why it took us so long for a 20 minute ride. Turns out that the bus was simply riding in circles through the entire city because that was part of their program: Providing a party for us. How nice! After 20 minutes most of us were exhausted and a bit tired of the constant beats ringing in our ears. I managed to sit for most of the time but my friends were shaken through every time we turned a corner. Not too stable, those buses.

Party Bus - way too long
Party Bus – way too long

We redeemed our one free drink at the bar afterwards and made sure to get the heck out of there. Las Luchas – an experience of a kind!

Visiting a Paradise of Drunkenness: Tequila!

Tequila Agave fields

Ever wonder where Tequila is from?
It’s from a town 40 miles from Guadalajara. Coincidentally, this town itself is called Tequila. Any alcohol that comes from this place has the typical name some of us may associate with wild parties, old student days, and puking over a toilet. Any alcohol that is similar but does not come from here cannot be called Tequila (hence so many different other types, such as Patron).

Tequila is a UNESCO World Heritage site and it attracts many tourists each year. This was indeed the only spot where I ran across fellow Germans and some Argentinian, French, and Dutch people. My friend and I took a bus from a hotel (after waiting 45 minutes, once again, punctuality is not seen as too important in Mexico). While on the bus, our tour guide mainly spoke Spanish, explaining a bit of the landscape and where we were going. She also spoke English after her Spanish introduction, but it was disguised in such a thick accent, I was glad I was able to understand a few of her Spanish words rather than being frustrated with her foreign language skills.

Agave fields in Tequila

Our first stop was an agave field. A gorgeous view came into sight as soon as the bus pulled up. Of course this part of Mexico is breathtaking no matter what, but nothing tops the blue plants surrounded by distant mountains and sugary white clouds in the sky. While taking in this panorama, we were introduced to el jimador Ismael. A jimador is a farmer that specializes in choosing and cultivating the blue agave plant. He showed us how to correctly slice these agave plants open. Of course it looked a thousand times more professional the way he did it with his sombrero covering his head and ax swinging over his body. After chopping up one plant, we were able to pose with his ax and the agave plant for a great picture. Mine looked goofy, but my friend posed well (she’s had practice, since she regularly brings tourists to this area). Ismael also made sure to give us a tiny bit of one of the richest body creams I’ve experienced. Made from the agave plant, it took quite a while to soak into our skins. I guess if you are out in the fields like that all day long, you need some extra precautions taken for skin care.

El Jimador Ismael
El Jimador Ismael
Awkward pose!
Awkward pose!

Our second stop was Tequila, the town itself. Here we were given an hour time to try our first margarita for the day. Our total bus tour price was 300 pesos ($23), this included a few coupons. One was for the margarita; another was a discount for our food. While trying our first drink, we met a nice girl from Monterrey, who was traveling by herself. We kept her company for the rest of the day, as we all know how awkward it can be to travel alone sometimes.

At first we were shown a short movie about our whereabouts and then we took the factory tour itself. Tours were divided among Spanish and English speakers (and I am glad they were, this time no funny accents, either). A nice guide told us all about the history of Tequila. He then gave us a juicy slice of the agave plant, wrenched in sugar. It smelled awful but tasted great. Tequila is made from agave so that was one of the first steps of fermentation. After trying a Tequila that had 55 percent of alcohol (which really tasted yucky, no one wanted to have another shot glass after their first one), we were then led into the final hall. Here we were able to see what the different types of Tequilas looked like: The silver one (also called blanco as in “white”) takes the least amount of time and is ready in less than 2 months of aging. The golden one takes anywhere from 2 months to 1 year. And the exquisite brown Tequila has the longest aging process, as it takes 1 to 3 years to ripen.

Our hairnetted tour guide
Our hairnetted tour guide
Tequila barrels
Tequila barrels

The entire tour took perhaps an hour. Unfortunately no pictures allowed, so no image insights here.
However, it was interesting to take in the factory and work process. Our tour guide also pointed out that most people drink Tequila wrong: Only a few types are meant for mixing and only a few are designated to drink neat. Which one, depends on the amount of alcohol volume in it.

After the tour we were able to get two tequilas for free in addition to another margarita. As you can tell, a lot of drinking was going on that day. Around 2 PM we got hungry and decided to get our coupon’s worth in a nearby restaurant. While sitting down, a show started just next to us. I guess we were at the right place to the right time. First, the dancers dressed up like Native Mexicans and performed an Indian tribe dance. Then a father and son showed a traditional cockfight. No bloody roosters, here, luckily. The same performer also swung his lasso around. Finally the show ended in a nice flamenco dance.

Rooster fight
Rooster fight

Tequila performance


Tequila was among one of the most fun adventures I had, albeit pretty touristy, I have to admit. Now every time someone tries to sell me crappy Tequila at a bar, I have to cringe and think back at the time I was in the city of cities (at least in this aspect). If you are in the area, it is certainly a must see. I also heard that the 1500-pesos-train ride ($113) is probably not worth it and that drinks are watered down to the point they only contain a few percent of alcohol. The bus tour, on the contrary, was pretty legit and we spent a decent amount of time in the town itself.

Tlaquepaque: Handmade Goods with Native Indian Roots

Tlaquepaque church

A few minutes outside of Guadalajara lies the town of Tlaquepaque. You see, it is spelled about as confusing as it is pronounced. This is because its name is Nahuatl, which is the native Mexican language. Supposedly it translates to “land above clay land,” and that description makes much more sense to me than the name by itself.

Tlaquepaque was one of the quainter towns I’ve experienced during my trip. It was easy to navigate around its town center, presents were not hard to find, and people were pleasant to deal with. Half a day gave me plenty of time to explore a few shops, buy souvenirs, eat at a great restaurant, and listen to Mariachi bands. Yes, Mariachi! Finally I got to experience one of the symbols of Jalisco. Mariachi are pretty much everywhere here, in every color imaginable. Not only men, though, I also ran across a women’s mariachi band performing inside a joint. As the story goes, Mariachi is tradition going back hundreds of years ago. A singer tries to vow a woman’s heart and convince her to marry her by singing at her in beautiful and melodious songs. It has been carried over into today’s times and become an art by itself.

Tlaquepaque mariachi men

“If you go to Guadalajara in September, you will experience the annual Mariachi Festival. I once went there and saw a Japanese group performing!” my friend’s mother told me. Yes, Mexicans go all crazy about this form of singing, I get it. Not only do the groups look good in their costumes, but they also perform quite well. When they sing in restaurants, they usually gather around a table of customers and expect some sort of payment after their performance. Basically, if you are on a date and see a band, you can make it more romantic by asking them over to sing for your girl (or guy).

Women Mariachi
Women Mariachi

Aside from Mariachi, Tlaquepaque has an array of gorgeous items for sale. Excellent pottery in form of kitchenware and decoration. Handmade, blown glass products, so adorable, I was tempted to buy way more glasses than I could have fit in my suitcase. For 10 dollars only I was able to buy 6 shot glasses and 2 medium sized drinking glasses – a bargain, considering that they all looked quite unique and had the quality of higher end merchandise.

Tlaquepaque also has somewhat of an art scene. We looked at an exhibition of an artist whose theme was evolving around a guy riding his bicycle. Everything was exhibited in glazed pottery form and sparkling from the walls.


The town also holds a few churches, of course. No Mexican town exists without having at least a couple of churches on every street corner here and there. While strolling around, I saw this darling woman fixing her own baskets so I asked for a quick photo. She allowed it, but only after I bought a 5 pesos wooden spoon from her assortment so this picture means a mighty lot to me!

5 pesos picture
5 pesos picture

We then continued on to our restaurant, where I finally got a Margarita that tasted like it should and my friend introduced me to Cazuela de Tequila – a drink served in a bowl, consisting of different juices with a shot of Tequila (which you have to pour in yourself). So good! If you want to check it out for yourself, go to El Abajeno (it was also here where yet another Mariachi band performed).

Cazuela de Tequila
Cazuela de Tequila

This town is great for seeing some unique handmade Mexican items (much better than shopping for souvenirs Guadalajara) and I can only recommend you stopping by if you get a chance. If you don’t have a driver, the El Tapatio bus goes here, too. Just make sure you don’t sit on the second level, and if you do, watch out for mean branches whacking you in the face!