Turning Left

el terrible juan guadalajara

“The only way round is through.” – Robert Frizzle 

This morning I woke up and did something I’d never done before when leaving the house: I turned left. Now, this might not seem like a big deal, turning left, but since I’ve been living in the house where I’m currently living, every single morning, when I’ve left the house to walk to work, or to walk to Starbucks, or to walk to similar cafe where I digitally scribble in this blog, I’ve turned right.

Of course, my reasons for turning right are manyfold. I love walking down Calle Libertad. It’s leafy, it’s airy, and if the time of day is just right you feel like you’re soaring rather than walking, such is the air of tranquility the street creates, the foliage. I also turn right because the places I usually go to, El Rincon del Mate, el Expiatorio, are most expeditiously reached by turning right. To turn left leaving my house would not only take me into a shabbier neighborhood, it would also add at least five minutes to my walk. To turn left would take me onto the busy Avenida de La Paz (I hate walking on busy streets), and it would also take my by an Oxxo, Mexico’s most ubiquitous gas station.

But of course the main reason I always turn right has to do with habit. It feels comfortable. It’s what I know. And thus any other scenario, turning left, for example, going straight and running into the building across the street, taking off my shirt and standing in the middle of the road screaming, would feel uncomfortable. We’re creatures of comfort — this is one thing I’ve figured out in my 34 years — and change scares even the most intrepid explorers.

After turning left and walking a few blocks I was immediately confronted with an arresting sight. As some of you know may know, I’m currently in the market for new lodging, a new apartment, a new abode, a new dwelling, new “digs,” as it were, and it just so happened that staring me in the face was a big banner that said, “For Rent. Shitloads of space. Roof terrace.”

Actually, it didn’t say shitloads of space, but the amount of square meters listed on the banner deserves no other moniker. The most intriguing part, though, was the terrace. Ever since a few days ago walking by a beautiful house with a veritable forest on top I’ve decided that the ultimate thing you could do in Guadalajara would be to have a terrace. I’m talking about terrace with a view and shade and most importantly, obscene amounts of plants. I’m talking about a jungle. I’m talking about a place where you step out onto the terrace and a Virginia Creeper wraps its tendrils around your neck and asks for the password. I’m talking about a place where you get lost and when you finally make it back to society you realize you’re in Belize. In short, I’m talking about the ideal roof terrace.

So of course I took a photo of the phone number for the apartment and plan to contact them sometime later today to see how many gross tons of bio-matter they think the roof terrace could support, and thus figure out if this might be the place for me.

After seeing this apartment I walked down Calle Montenegro, taking in the sights. There was a place called El Comedor that looked peaceful and elegant, with delicious food. There was a hotel called Hotel Isabel that looked suitable for visiting family members or friends, should that ever happen. And finally there was a restaurant called La Menuderia which specialized in menudo, a soup people have told me I must try but that in my obstinacy I still haven’t. And then I got to El Terrible Juan, my second favorite cafe in Guadalajara, and realized I’d been on a veritable odyssey, that my morning had been completely transformed, indeed my mentality had been transformed, and all because I’d turned left.

And so tomorrow, and later today, and for the rest of this week, I might not always turn left when I leave the house, but I will strive to do one thing each day in a similar vein. I’ve been complaining about my life getting stagnant in Guadalajara after just two months, but it actually might not be so difficult to remedy. It might just involve continuing to step outside my comfort zone, continuing to explore, continuing to meet new people, and of course, ideally, a roof terrace with a shitload of plants.

The 5 Best Cafes in Guadalajara (so far)

el rincon del mate guadalajara miguel blanco

These are my five favorite cafes in Guadalajara so far. I say “so far” because I’ve only lived here for two months. Still, when you go to cafes everyday, two months is a decent amount of time. The criteria I’ve used are atmosphere, price, quality, and staff, though not necessarily in that order (though definitely in that order). 

5. El Monosílabo

mono silabo guadalajara

Atmosphere: 4
Price: 4
Quality: 3
Staff: 4

Located in the exact neighborhood where I want to live, near El Rincon del Mate (see lower on list) and the famed Expiatorio, Guadalajara’s most magnificent neo-gothic cathedral. Like many old houses in GDL, this one contains a wonderful inner courtyard patio where the sounds of the street drift in and are filtered by the murmur of happy clients and cheap, fairly delicious frappes.

What to order: chilaquiles with a coffee frappe. 

4. Palreal: La Pura Crema

palreal cafe guadalajara mercado mexico

Atmosphere: 3
Price: 2
Quality: 5
Staff: N/A

Full disclosure: I’ve only been here once, and that one time was yesterday, but even getting an iced americano was enough to know their product is second to none (and third to none, for that matter). The good thing about Palreal is it’s got beautiful wooden, richly-finished picnic tables which are perfectly positioned for the breeze. The bad thing is it’s in Mercado Mexico, which is essentially a mall.

What to order: An iced americano. 

3. La Teteria

la teteria guadalajara

Atmosphere: 4
Price: 3
Quality: 4
Staff: 5

I dedicated a previous post to this place’s matcha frappes. They’re sweet, they’re cold, and drinking one is a little bit what I imagine injecting heroin might be like. Which makes me wonder if I might somehow be able to inject a matcha frappe. Does anyone know how to do an IV?

The staff here are wonderful, especially Gustavo, an Argentinian expat I often have extended conversations with, about Argentina, about Guadalajara, about mate, and about working online. Come for a matcha frappe, stay for an afternoon.

What to order: Duh.

2. El Terrible Juan

el terrible juan guadalajara

Atmosphere: 5
Price: 4
Quality: 5
Staff: 3

It’s a sad realization when a place is cooler than you. You walk in, you sit down, and you think, Damn, everyone here is so cool. Then you look down at your undershirt which is stained from the hydrogen peroxide you used to treat your ear last week at the beach. You look at your laptop bag, which is actually an old grocery bag. And you think, Wait a minute, can I actually be here? Am I going to be out-cooled to the point where I have to just leave? But you stay anyway, and talk to the cute waitress, and order a Chemex and write a blog post.

And that’s basically my experience every time I go to El Terrible Juan cafe.

What to order: Any of the specialty preparations with any of the beans. Also, try the lonche de cochinita

1. El Rincón del Mate

el rincon del mate guadalajara

Atmosphere: 5
Price: 4
Quality: 4
Staff: 5

Prepare to check your worries and preoccupations at the door, and spend a magical hour (or two, or three), sipping on South American tea and listening to the gurgle of a fountain. El Rincon del Mate is located just up the street from El Monosilabo, also in the Expiatorio neighborhood. I come here almost everyday. If they rented rooms, I’d live here. If they rented showers, I’d bathe here. Maybe one day they’ll hire me, and all will be right in the world.

What to order: A mate clasico with a tarta (quiche) de portobello. If you’re in the mood for something sweet or unique try the terere or the mate mocha.

If you know of any other cafes in Guadalajara that are amazing please leave a 500-3000 word comment in the comments section. Any comment of lesser word count will be categorically rejected.

A special thanks to all of these cafes for providing inspiration and thus supporting this “blugh.”

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Doña Marta’s Lonches

Doña Marta doesn’t know my name, but I know hers. People call her “Doña Marta” or “Señora Marta” or, if they’re on really close terms with her, “Martita.” Of course, I would never dream of calling her by her first name, but that might change in the next few months because I eat her sandwiches everyday. Marta sells “lonches” out of her little convenience store in the Americana neighborhood of Guadalajara for the reasonable price of 28 pesos ($1.50).  They’re essentially sandwiches on soft baguettes filled with things like pierna (basically pulled pork), and chilaquiles (soggy tortilla chips covered with green salsa and melted cheese). If you saw Marta’s store from outside, or even went inside, you would never suspect she sold high-grade, culinary ecstasy. You would think she sold Coca Cola and toilet paper. This is because she does.

In Guadalajara and only Guadalajara, sandwiches of this kind (on baguettes) are called lonches. Everywhere else in Mexico a lonche is more like the sandwiches commonly served in the US on sliced white or wheat bread. Lonches, then, are similar to the Mexican torta, but whereas tortas commonly drift into fast-food territory, lonches are a class above. In Guadalajara it’s not uncommon to go into an upscale restaurant and see some kind of lonche, possibly cochinita (another kind of pork), accompanied by salad — and with the word “aioli” lamentably somewhere in the description — for close to 100 pesos. This doesn’t happen with tortas. Tortas are usually sold on the street.

But Marta, and the one employee she has in the kitchen, does not know what aioli sauce is (praise Jesus). She doesn’t say things like “balscamic reduction” or “I need to julienne these vegetables.” This is not to say for a minute the quality suffers. The ingredients are fresh. The lonche de pierna is topped with slices of avocado, strips of jalapeños, tomato, and homemade red salsa. The lonche de chilaquiles, or, as I like to call it, my reason for getting up in the morning, is a more involved process and usually necessitates a fork. I like to try to let it sit there and let the salsa soak the bread and essentially eat it as if it were a bread salad or some kind of stew, but impatience usually results in salsa-covered hands.

Everyday the hardest decision is which lonche to order. This dilemma is solved by alternating, and also by going there every day, sometimes twice. She still doesn’t know my name, but by now Doña Marta asks me how I’m doing, and I’m always honest. “Work sucks,” I say, or, “I don’t know that many people here in Guadalajara.” One time I said, “Doña Marta, your sandwiches are the highlight of my day,” followed by, “Is that a little sad?”

“No,” she said. “No no. We must appreciated the everyday things.”

10 Reasons to Visit Guadalajara (Number 8 will make your cerebellum implode)

el expiatorio guadalajara

Friends, I’m no longer in danger of starvation. I have many of you to thank for that, your generous donations, your love and support. In fact the way things are going I’m actually making money (almost) every day, and by mid March should have enough to have my very own apartment that I can hopefully Airbnb mercilessly until I get evicted.

Mexico is a land of possibilities.

I’m at Starbucks again this morning, which should come as no surprise because I go to Starbucks every morning. This routine makes me happy. When I walked in just now I started smiling, and I wasn’t sure why. I think it was just because I was in a place I felt comfortable. The people around me felt like my family, even though I know none of them. The only bummer is they didn’t have apples this morning, which means I’m involuntarily fasting.

Whenever I meet someone new here they I ask me why I came to Guadalajara. At first my stock answer was, “I wanted to be in a place like Mexico City that wasn’t Mexico City, Seattle was too expensive, and I wanted to improve my Spanish.” My Spanish isn’t bad, in fact I probably speak more grammatically than many Mexicans, just like many Swedes probably speak English more grammatically than you, but I want to take the oral legal interpreter test in Seattle next October, which means I want my Spanish to be perfect. This month has already helped (as of today I’ve been in GDL exactly one month). Yesterday a woman at the consulate asked me if I was Mexican and when I said “No, 100% gringo,” she said, “Really? No…..”. It was flattering beyond belief. She also gave me cake. She might currently be my favorite person in the world.

The other two reasons are also true: Seattle is expensive as hell, and I felt I needed to try a different place other than Mexico City since I’ve been many times.

And though I wasn’t elated about Guadalajara, I like it more everyday. Here are 10 reasons why:

1) El Terrible Juan Cafe

This is my favorite cafe in Guadalajara. I like it because you’re surrounded by plants, it’s in a wonderful, quiet, shaded neighborhood. The staff is nice (except one girl who I think might despise me), and the product is great. They have a pulled pork sandwich smothered in some kind of aioli that I could probably eat everyday and not get tired of. The only gripe I have about the place is the WiFi is sub-standard. But who goes to a cafe to be on their devices anyway, nowadays, except everyone.

2) Abarrotes la Abue’

If I keep going to this place everyday the lady who works there might accidentally end up adopting me. I still use the formal “usted” with her and probably always will, but we’re almost on a first-name basis. The thing I get here is the chilaquiles sandwich, soggy tortilla chips in sauce with melted cheese between two pieces of rustic baguette. It costs $1.50. In El Terrible Juan I could eat their pork sandwich everyday if I had the money; at Abarrotes la Abue’ I actually eat their pork sandwich everyday.

Abarrotes La Abue.

3) Parque Rojo

My favorite thing about this park is the kids who stand around free-style rapping. It’s hilarious. All they do is insult each other and wave their hands in the air and bob back and forth. Plus the other day I saw a guy there with a chinchilla.

4) El expiatorio

Apparently the ultimate example of neo-gothic architecture in the world, though I’m sure this is false. This is like when Mexicans say Mexico City is “the biggest city in the world,” an asseveration that is patently false. Mexico City is big, but not that big. Tokyo is bigger. Sao Paulo is bigger. Hell, if you’re talking metropolitan area, Chongqing is bigger.

El expiatorio is a cathedral, in case I haven’t made that clear. Masses are held all the time. The doors are always open. And right next to the cathedral lies number five…

5) Tamales at El Expiatorio

Seventeen pesos buys you a one-way ticket to flavor country. Destination: delicious tamales served out of big silver pots by smiling women. They have red, green, spinach, mushrooms, and corn. I personally like the corn tamales because they’re sweet. But since I’m a crazy, demented health nut (and also just demented), I often get the acelga tamales, which are like spinach.

6) El Bosque de la Primavera

A good place to spend an afternoon contemplating something you rarely experience in Guadalajara: silence. This is of course because the Bosque de la primavera is not in Guadalajara, it’s just west. If you go, consider doing a temazcal with Fernando and Miriam at Casa Quetzalcoatl. When I did it I could smell my hair burning and my hands went numb, but it was, like, kind of cool, too.

bosque de la primavera guadalajara

El Bosque.

7) Cheap

Sandwiches for $1.50. Rent for $200 a month. Even the tea I’m drinking right now at “Estarbucks” barely costs more than a dollar. The Mexican pesos is weak right now, like a middle school kid pre-growth spurt held in a head-lock. Not great for Mexico, good for tourists.

8) Lack of Gringos

That said, there aren’t that many international tourists. The expats have already decided where it’s “acceptable” to live in Mexico: San Miguel de Allende, Lake Chapala, parts of Baja, Cuernavaca. Which means those places have been ruined, and every other place is still awesome. Like Guadalajara. (Oh, I forgot: This one was supposed to blow your mind. That title was actually just an imitation of all the awful headlines seen on the internet today).

9) Tortas ahogadas

Imagine a wet burrito, but instead of a wet burrito a wet sandwich. Here’s what they do: They take a torta (basically a sandwich on french bread filled with carnitas), and douse it in a mild red sauce. I mean douse. Drench might actually be a better word. Or drown, since ahogada means “drowned.” The end result? It basically because like eating stew — a delicious, sandwich stew.

10) Calle Libertad

My favorite place to walk at night. Leafy, airy, cool. Not too much traffic. Great cafes and restaurants like La Teteria and La Cafeteria. And it’s also the street leading home, which is why I’ve chosen it to end this blog entry. Hopefully the post hasn’t been too good, because then you might come, and I might have to take number 8 off the list.

 

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