Tuesday, 6 December 2011
JULIAN HAD OFFERED Rachel, the older woman from NYC, a lift to Guadalajara with us. We drove over to her place to collect her stuff. Julian pulled out a joint to smoke before we left. Rachel asked if we were carrying any drugs besides this? I said No, Julian said A Bit. She was quite nervous, and insisted on a better hiding place than Julian was currently using. He told her to relax, as he'd been searched around fifteen times on the road so far, and the cops hadn't found a thing: they're looking for people carrying a little more than a few joints of grass, after all.
She quickly grabbed the front seat, leaving this 6'-tall Englishman crushed in the backseat between Julian's gear and her bags. Great...this was going to be a fun ride? As we set off out of Sayulita and pulled onto the highway, she remarked at the view. Since my view was the back of Julian's head and Rachel's two-foot-wide straw hat, I told her I couldn't possibly comment. She took the hint and removed it.
Julian was fiddling with the facia of his stereo.
"I hope you're not going to play any of that awful rap music?" she asked.
"Sorry?" asked the owner of the vehicle she was riding for free in.
"I really don't like that music...you'd have a very grumpy passenger if you play that..."
I caught Julian's eye in the rearview mirror, we exchanged raised eyebrows. If I'm a passenger in someone's car, the last thing I dream of doing is to dictate what music they can play. In fact, had I been driving, said New Yorker would have been getting a longer, closer look at said scenery while I disappeared in a cloud of dust, Public Enemy blaring from the speakers. Cheeky old mare.
"Can I turn the air-con down please? I'm very sensitive to temperature change" was the next request.
Sweating in the back, I rolled down the window. Julian did likewise.
"Can you just roll it down halfway? My ears are very sensitive to wind...they don't like being buffeted."
Anything else, Your Majesty?
I was actually glad of being in the back by now, Julian stuck in conversation with her. She had that awful habit of sign-reading: anything we passed on the road, she read out aloud. Thankfully she skipped the Coca-Cola signs, or it would have been non-stop. And she was a nervous passenger, saying "Whoa...whoa...whoa!" in increasing volume anytime we were near a truck which drifted across the white line as we overtook it, or if we rounded a bend and there were cars braking. I asked her if she had any valium with her, as she needed to calm down a bit? Having said that, if there'd been any valium, I think I'd have taken it first: an overdose.
It was blessed relief to reach the small pueblo of Tequila. As it was on the way, we thought we should stop. Julian wanted to buy some of the famous spirit for a friend he was due to see in the States soon. He was in and out of a few shops, unable to find exactly what he wanted, which was a quality bottle at a reasonable price. At the third shop, Rachel butted in and said she'd ask for him. She then used pretty basic Spanish to ask the owner what he recommended. I could tell by the Austalian's expression that he felt a little patronised...his Spanish being more than good enough to ask the questions himself.
She wandered off to buy postcards. "Man..." sighed Julian. "Doing your head in?" I asked. "Mine too." He told me that he'd given plenty of people a ride, but that she was the first he'd wanted to leave somewhere by the side of a road. She was lucky she was in her 60s, I reckoned.
Tequila seen, done and its namesake bought in a half-hour, we hit the road again. More signs were read out, just in case we hadn't seen the huge green metal things above the roads.
"Wooooow...look at the scenery...incredible" she gasped.
It was an average valley with a few trees. Julian caught my eye again in the mirror.
"Does anyone have any objections to me singing..?" she asked.
"Errrr..." chorused myself and the Aussie, uncertainly.
She cleared her throat.
"Oh, give me land, lots of land, under starry skies above...don't fence me in. Let me ride through the wide-open country that I love...don't fe..."
Spying a gas station, Julian slewed across the road, gravel flying from beneath his tyres, and crunched to a hard stop. I was biting my lip to stop myself howling with laughter, knowing exactly what his game was. While the attendant filled the tank, Rachel went in to buy snacks.
"What the hell was that about?" he asked, his palm to his forehead.
"Dunno, mate...but good skills and quick thinking."
He grinned. Rachel was all but silent the rest of the way: no more murdering Cole Porter.
We arrived in Guadalajara, and located Rachel's hotel. She seemed surprised that we didn't want to check out the rooms, too. More comedy ensued when she asked Julian for his cellphone number...much um-ing and ah-ing before he realised he couldn't avoid giving it to her as he had the bloody thing in his hand. I was relieved that I didn't own one. We made a quick getaway, even considering a different hostel from the one we'd told her we were going to stay at after she said she'd drop by when she'd settled in. Personally I'd even have considered a different town. Thankfully it didn't come to that.
Guadalajara is México's second city, and the capital of Jalisco State, with a population of 1.6 million. It's a big place, but fairly low-rise, and seems deceptively small as you walk around the centro. Ask any Méxicano and 90% will tell you that this city is populated by the most beautiful women in the country. The other 10% are lying, blind or gay. Just a quick walk around the city centre backs this up. The Méxicanos consider the paler, taller women the prettiest...but there were more than enough dark-skinned moreñas for me to feast my eyes on. I've been to Brasil, Argentina and Colombia...the three countries considered to have the most beautiful latinas. But those in México beat them hands-down in my humble, red-blooded, cold-shower-needing opinion.
We were invited to a couple of parties, Julian's friend Liz knowing a few people in the city. The first was at a bar previously a house, an empty swimming pool in the garden packed full of revellers. The crowd were well-dressed and hip, and wouldn't have looked out of place in a European venue. The music was pretty good, too...a mix of House and hot Latin numbers. We had a few beers and mezcals before Liz said we should head for the other party. She and myself stopped in the street and I rolled the fastest joint I could, wary of the police cruising the streets looking to shakedown whoever they could. I didn't fancy paying a few thousand pesos to stay out of jail. We smoked it in the shadow of a tree, and then headed into the club. As we headed for the bar, my head spun...and it wasn't the weed spinning me out: an absolutely stunning woman walked by, all shining anthracite mane, flashing black eyes and a pair of legs most girls would give an arm for. I nudged Julian, but he was already pointing out another one. Then I spotted another incredible vision. They were everywhere. It suddenly clicked: Liz had mentioned earlier that the party was being thrown by a modelling agency. We were obviously in heaven and giggling like nervous schoolboys in their orbit; the only drawback being that all these creatures gracing our presence were in their early 20s. Had I been of that age myself, I think I'd have been engaged by the end of the evening; as it was, I had to content myself with just looking and rueing the fact I didn't come here in 1995. Oh well.
I got a haircut the next day, and the hot stylist was chatting me up. She asked me out, and we arranged to meet the next evening after she finished work. Julian left that afternoon, and I moved hostels. Heading out, I arrived at the salon to find her colleague there alone: my date had had to head home due to a problem with her kids. As I was leaving the next day anyway, it wasn't like the romance of the decade had failed...so I headed back up to the hostel for a quiet night with my book. I was still sat around when the Méxicano sharing my dorm happened by. He introduced himself as Martín and asked what I was up to? I explained my Loose End status and he laughed. Did I want to come to a party in a penthouse across the city, then? You bet your bollocks I did.
The rooftop of a hotel provided a 360-degree view of the city, an impressive sight at night. We got stuck into the beer and eyed the women. Pounding drum-and-bass was complimented by the fug of weed hanging in the air. Departing in the wee small hours, we ended up back at the dorm in a right old state. Just for a change. I awoke next morning, and Martín was up and starting to pack. He asked of my plans. "El plan es...no hay plan" I told him, and he laughed. My rough route was Guanajuato, San Luis Potosí and possibly the desert ghost-town of Real De Catorce. I asked where he was from, and he said Colima. I told him that it rang a bell, and I pulled out my map. I refuse to carry a guidebook these days; too heavy, and it's easy to either ask for recommendations or steal a quick look at someone's guide when in a hostel. I'd bought maps and marked off the locations I wanted to visit before leaving England. Colima and the surrounding area were covered in yellow highlighter ink. I asked him if he minded me tagging along, and he grinned at my change of tack, his hometown in the opposite direction to the intended Guanajuato. "El plan es...no hay plan?" I grinned back. "¡Claro!"
So we jumped a couple of local buses and waited on a dusty highway for a first-class bus. I didn't realise it then, but Martín was the catalyst which led me to one of my favourite periods in my whole trip.