The day started with me descending into the belly of the beast, i.e. the dark cavern that is Guadalajara’s SITREN, i.e. Guadalajara’s metro. But don’t call it the metro. People will correct you and call it the train, despite the fact that it runs underground, and is indeed a metro in every way possible apart from the fact that people don’t call it that.
My goal this morning was to go SOMEWHERE. Anywhere. All I wanted to do was get out of GDL, and preferably to a small town. I had a few small towns north of GDL in my cross-hairs, one of them being San Francisco de Ixcatan, which looked to be in the mountains, or some kind of valley, next to a rushing body of water, which I believe laymen call a “Rhivjer.”
My plan of attack was this: Take the metro, I mean train, as far north as I could, and look for a bus. This is why I’m not allowed to travel with people. Most people wouldn’t subscribe to this plan. What if there aren’t buses? What if that part of town is really bad? Why don’t we just go to the main bus station and do this methodically?
I got off the train and started walking north, hoping buses would be going by right there. But when I looked at Google Maps I realized I’d probably have to connect with the main highway before there’d be buses. So I kept walking. I bought a “chocomil,” or chocolate milk, made fresh right there with cinnamon on top. With this glucose infusion I kept walking, and after a few minutes asked a guy sitting by the side of the road if he knew where the buses to Ixcatan left from. He seemed excited. “Right down there, by the Elektra,” he said, pointing down the hill. And so I kept walking. I walked for probably half a kilometer, and the Elektra, an electronics store, came into view. There was a slough of people in front of it, the chaos of buses stopping, the heat, the cars speeding by. I crossed the road and followed people’s lead, taking a seat on a planter in the shade created by the Elektra.
“Good afternoon,” I said to the people sitting next to me. “My name is Mark Thomas, first of his name, and I was wondering if the buses to San Francisco de Ixcatan pass by here.”
“Where’s that?” the woman said.
“Ahhhh, Ixcatan,” she quickly added. “What did you call it?”
“It’s just that it says ‘San Francisco de Ixcatan’ on the map.”
“Why do you wanna go there?” the guy sitting next to her asked.
“I don’t know. To eat. To get out of the city.”
This seemed like a novel idea to them. I gathered from our short conversation that Ixcatan wasn’t exactly on the top of people’s bucket lists.
(For the record: I despise the term bucket list. I’m ashamed of myself for using it. It’s kind of a buzz word these days, people always asking each other, “What’s on the top of your bucket list?” followed by a 15 minute conversation about Thailand.)
The bus was glorious. Oh, how I love locomotion. Moving faster than you could under your own power. Is there anything better? Besides chocolate milk, of course.
Within 15 minutes we were out of Guadalajara and a large valley stretched before us. For some reason I had expected everything to be green and florid, but it was decidedly arid. Dry. Parched. And we weren’t going UP in altitude. We were going down. Down a steep, winding hill, further into the heat. Out of the city, but not out of the heat.
Even before getting to Ixcatan I was thrilled by the trip. Thirteen pesos and I had gotten a world away from GDL. Why have I not been doing this every weekend? Or every day, for that matter? Why don’t I live in San Francisco de Ixcatan, keep goats, and tend to them? This last question would plague me for most of the day.
Upon arriving to the town, which was quiet, a few old men sitting in the main plaza under the shade of a jacaranda tree (I have no idea what kind of tree it was), I sought out tacos. I was rewarded with a stand next to the church that sold tacos dorados for 10 pesos each, of which I had two. After this I drank a Topo Chico, Mexico’s premier mineral water, and headed for the hills. I took a cobblestone road that seemed to lead out of the town, and indeed in less than 10 minutes I WAS out of town, listening to the sounds of the insects, the birds, the sounds of the country on a hot day in old Mexico.
After my foray into nature I walked back into town where I spotted a horse standing on the sidewalk waiting for its owner. I sat next to the horse, and next to a dog that was taking refuge from the sun in a tree planter. There I sat for some time, observing the town. There was a group of people to my left listening to music and drinking beer. A man road by on his horse followed by his son, who was riding a pony, and then they talked to the people and went by me again. The dog, when I sat next to it, stirred for a second, looked at me, and went back to sleep. The horse seemed annoyed at having to wear a bit, but content to be in the shade.
And then I went back to the main plaza, where I continued to sit. When I heard the sound of the bus, I ran to get on it. It didn’t leave for a few minutes, however, so I walked over to a guy selling fruit and got a bag of mango and watermelon covered in chile and lemon for 15 pesos. And then it was time to get on the bus, and time to leave San Francisco de Ixcatan.