Travel & Outdoors | February 2009
|Gone Coastal: From Guadalajara to Barra with No Reservations|
Jan Baumgartner - PVNN
The Ambivalent Optimist
|A native Californian, Jan Baumgartner is a freelance writer dividing her time between surviving in Maine and living in Mexico.|
When I told my mother I’d be taking an impromptu bus trip from San Miguel to Guadalajara and onto the Costa Alegre (Happy Coast) I could hear her cringe on the other end of the phone. The word happy eluded her and instead she heard only death wish. "Is it safe?" she rattled more than once, not unlike Lawrence Olivier in Marathon Man.
"Don’t worry, mom," I reassured her, "I’ll be taking a series of rusted and dangerous toxic fume belching buses through lawless lands rife with gun toting bandits and fun loving drug lords who like to play hide the body part in the barrel and have a quirky affinity for decapitation and I’m sure there will be at least one dirty old man in the back of the bus near the toilet if they have a toilet and he’ll only be wearing a poncho and black socks with mismatched sandals and we have no reservations nor do we have any real destination or plan and we’re carrying scads of cash but I’m sure I’ll be just fine even though they don’t maintain the buses and they drive with flat tires and no brakes on potholed mountain passes and coastal cliffs at speeds that top 100 miles per hour and the drivers love to play chicken especially when chickens are crossing the road and they’re known to wear hip flasks filled with 180 proof tequila as do the bus drivers who are also wanted drug runners and the bus serves up a lunch offering your choice of rotten shrimp that’s been festering for days in the sweltering luggage compartment or drunken chicken beak enchiladas rojas that are still squawking and bottled water filled straight from the tap but other than that I’m sure I’ll be just fine and besides Benicio de Toro is in the country to promote his new movie Che so maybe I’ll see him on the bus."
"Oh, that sounds nice," she said. "You always liked Benicio del Toro. And who are you going with?" "Janice’s husband," I added. "Oh well then," she rallied, "Sounds like the perfect getaway." By now, my mother knew of my travel antics - travels which are often solo throughout Third World countries, my adventurous spirit, which still translates to her as major risk taker and target when in fact, I see them as nothing less than leaps of faith. When you’ve lost just about everything, the risk is no longer a risk when you have nothing left to lose. So my leaps of faith have become lighter, less angst-ridden. I look forward to the festering shrimp, but she worries, still. She is a mother after all.
Life is a Bus Ham Sandwich
Some people just go with the flow. When my friend, Janice, cyber arm-twisted her husband into taking me along on his unexpected bus adventure to the sea, I’m sure she heard a muffled head butt, or got an email chalk full of f-bombs. Back home in Oregon, Janice and their two little girls were experiencing one of the coldest, snowiest January’s on record. Greg was in San Miguel renewing his FM3 status, legal paperwork for gringos who own property and or reside in Mexico. Renters for their casa wanted to move in rápido but Greg still had a week long wait for his documents.
He, Janice and the girls had previously crisscrossed Mexico via bus, and were quick to point out that while neither they nor the bus line could control wanton vomiting or any other human bodily projectile, the ETN luxury bus line rivaled First Class accommodations on any airliner. The promise was of spacious, clean buses, large reclining seats with padded leg rests, bathrooms for both men and women, decent ham sandwiches and a beverage of your choice.
My last couple of weeks in town had not been bueno, in part thanks to hormones that were Cirque de Soleil-ing out of the big top. I needed a change of scenery, not to mention a bigger tent, and to get the hell out of Dodge before the authorities found me running naked in the bull ring just up the street on Recreo, clad only in red lipstick. You never want to be jailed in a foreign country, although it’s possible that a bare blond woman taunting bulls might actually be a crowd pleaser.
I had never seen the Mexican coast and was ready for a little adventure, but Greg and I hardly knew each other. Traveling with a stranger, my best amigas esposo, on a bus, no reservations or destination? Surely she was jesting or getting paid big pesos for a new reality series, "Triple M - Menopausal Mexican Meltdown – Bus Travel with a Deranged Stranger - or Volaré This."
But if I saw my travels as leaps of faith, then I had to see Greg’s willingness to take along his wife’s friend who was nothing short of a Woman on Fire, and not in a good way, as nothing short of delusional. Travel with someone who looked normal and impressively well coiffed, but was the she-devil version of Médico Jekyll y Senor Hyde, full days on a hot bus, humid weather that would make my feet swell and my hair limp and cause me to weep uncontrollably or gouge my wrists with tortilla chips if there was too much salt on the rim of my margarita glass? The guy's nuts, I thought, or an imbecile. I don’t want to travel with someone who is slow-witted, or nuts. Or I’m nuts. Well one of us is nuts. Maybe we’re both nuts. Okay, I was in. Rabid Zorro was off to pack her bags.
Bright Lights, Big City, Dry Taps and Only a Hairdresser Knows for Sure
First stop Guadalajara, a beautiful city with a bustling Centro Histórico with its impressive plazas, cathedrals, museums, and known for its murals by the renown Mexican muralist, José Clemente Orozco, a population of nearly four million, and Mexico’s second largest city.
Undaunted, we stepped from the comforting confines of the bus following a pleasant six hour trip and into the heart of Nuevo Central Station - with no idea where the diablo we were going. Taxis were at our beck and call and I swear the loudspeaker was playing the jaunty tune - "see the gringos without a clue, backpacks, water bottles and Frommer’s, too!" We had a couple ideas of where we might go; one, a nice sounding place but next door to a tranny bar, which might be noisy on a Friday night, and in the heart of the seedy section of town; two, an old convent near town but not close enough to make hoofin’ it to the zocalo ideal, and chances were good that it was cold, dank and had unnaturally if not unholy extra firm mattresses. There’d be no pleasure possibilities or joy seeking in these rooms - especially for those sinners alone in their habitaciónes and quite possibly, talking naughty to half empty tequila bottles.
We compromised, finding a good location, colonial atmosphere, and right price at approximately $30 per night. But instead of tranny’s we had a bout with dry faucets, showerheads and no flush toilets, and as a fair tradeoff for hard beds and evil nuns, I got a bed full of used sheets and a pillow case so covered with black curls from the last rooms’ resident, it appeared as though he had come in with a full, healthy head of hair, and checked out bald, sin plugs. Greg’s room faired a bit better, no hairpiece under the covers, but an area rug that mandated slipping into shoes when stepping out of bed. Other than that, the place was lovely and just down the street, a pastry shop with warm treats that filled our bag with a dozen delights for about one dollar. Sugar and butter and gracious Mexicans make up for many things, even sleeping on used sheets or deciding what body part gets washed with the last of your bottled water.
Note: Guadalajara is known as the birthplace of mariachis, the sombrero, and tequila. There wasn’t a mariachi or sombrero to be found - at least we don’t remember them.