The ‘Heart’ of Mexico
story and photos
(G) As a hopeless romantic I am always looking for some way to impress Barbara on Valentine’s Day. We both love Mexico and last year, I found the perfect trip to Guadalajara. The second largest city in Mexico offers an unparalleled, totally Mexican experience that, when combined with the calendar date of February 14th, will explain my impression and why I now refer to this city as “the Heart of Mexico.”
(B)Situated about 4 hours east of Puerto Vallarta, this inland metropolis boasts much more consistent weather than the coastal town and is not reliant on tourism as many of the port towns might be. So, if you’ve spent any time in Mexico or if your experience is limited to short excursions from a cruise ship, you’ll likely notice several pleasant things right away. First, the people are generous, happy and most of all extremely proud to be Mexican. Secondly, there are few vendors and those that do exist are available as much for the locals as they are for visitors. You won’t find the frantic hawking of trinkets as one might find in a U.S. border or seaside tourist town. Certainly bargains exist (for instance Tequila, the drink gets that its name from the close by town that uses Guadalajara distilleries to complete the liquor making process). Then there is Lake Chappala, the largest lake in Mexico and home to many rich U.S. expatriates. A short trip to this inland haven and you’ll know why.
(G)Tlaquepaque—a suburb of the city, is a haven for artists. Shopping is a treat in and around massive cobble stone plazas and buildings that are often more than 600 years old.
The architecture is extremely colonial and in many of the shops one will find residences in back of storefronts. Almost every old building has beautiful, serene interior courtyard of some sort.
The Aniversario de la Ciudad (Anniversary of the City) is actually celebrated for a full week. This makes for a double-barreled fiesta, the likes of which can be found in no other City in the world, let alone in Mexico.
The name "Valentine" is derived from Latin valens meaning worthy and was popular prior to Christianity. Not much is known about Saint Valentine whose feast is on February 14, except his name and that he was buried at the Via Flaminia north of Rome on February 14. It is even uncertain whether the feast of that day celebrates only one saint or several martyred saints of ancient Rome. This is the real reason that the holiday was not kept in the Catholic calendar of saints. However, "Martyr Valentinus the Presbyter and those with him at Rome" remains on the list of saints proposed for veneration by all Catholics. It is no wonder, then that Guadalajara (supported strongly by the Catholic Church in it infancy as well as today) chose this day to officially found the city in 1542. All of Mexico came under Spanish eventually and by extension Catholic rule. Regardless of why you are in town, February 14th is likely to have perfect weather to enjoy Guadalajara.
The cofounders of the city were, ironically a female, Doña Beátriz de Hernández and a male, governor Cristóbal de Oñate. There are monuments to honor them both in the Plaza de Los Fundadores. Open-air concerts, live music and a marathon race are some of the other attractions offerered around the central plazas. When we visited, a giant mural of John Lennon had been erected in honor of the musician’s song, “All You Need Is Love.”
(B) While visiting the city, be sure to see this colorful history of Guadalajara (and Mexico) as depicted on the walls of the Sistine Chapel of the Americas, where Orozco Clemente’s murals are featured at a former orphanage. The orphanage—now cultural museum-- is an architectural and artistic marvel. There are twenty-three internal courtyards, varying in size and use. The entire structure is a must see and we recommend the guided tour. Known as Hospicio Cabañas, it was founded and financed by Bishop Juan Ruiz de Cabañas (who is featured in the murals) and was a home to shelter orphans, the elderly, the poor and handicapped. It was deemed a World Heritage site in 1997.
Ed Rampell, art-and-entertainment critic based in Los Angeles, CA says this of Orozco Clemente, “Simply put, he is a genius.” The Hospicio Cabañas opened to the first orphans in 1810 while it was still under construction and was named (Casa de Misericordia) House of Charity. That same year the War for Mexican Independence began and construction came to a halt. It was used to house Spanish troops, Independent troops as well as supplies. Rumor has it that secret passages were constructed by workers prior to this occupation and the workers were killed and sealed into the tunnels, to assure their silence. After 1829 the building resumed to house the people it was originally built to serve. The construction was finally finished in 1845 and the name was changed to Hospicio Cabañas in honor of its founder and depicts a deep love of and respect for Mexico and of the city of Guadalajara. Truly, almost every building in this city has this kind of historical significance attached to it, as is often the case in a town of 600 plus years. When you sit down for a meal, or look to buy a keepsake, ask the shop owner about the building. Most of the time, they are happy to oblige.
(B)To guide us through the intricacies of touring the area, especially at this time of year, I was lucky to find a couple that not only love one another, but are intensely fond of the city of Guadalajara and the country of Mexico, as well.
Dr. Armando Hernandez an internationally known surgeon was trained in England, but has chosen to have his central practice in Guadalajara (his hometown). It is a city that he loves and he knows a great deal about the culture and history. Perhaps his most important reason to love Guadalajara is because his lovely wife, Evita is a native. She has lived in the Jalisco state her whole life, except for a short stint in London with her husband. “This is a very rich and unique place, “ she points out. “Many of the things which people around the world associate with Mexico, got their start in the State of Jalisco, where Guadalajara is situated. This area is the cradle of tequila production, the foundation of Mariachi and the birthplace of LaCaheiria or Mexican Cowboys. We have our own unique food, dances and folklore here.”
Amemonos means “let’s love each other,” and more accurately defines the attitude of the Mexican population who celebrate Valentine’s Day. Indeed, it is pure chance that has made the lover’s holiday so important in Guadalajara. “I don’t know any other city in Mexico that celebrates February 14th, especially in the same way, “ said Evita. “And, not everyone in Guadalajara knows the historical significance of the day, either. It is a day of love and friendship not just love of lovers. It’s an important day to show affection to friends, mothers, fathers and other relatives though many, many young ladies get their engagement rings on this day.”
So, how would these two lovebirds suggest one celebrate a romantic version of Valentine’s Day? “Everything is so crowded on Valentine’s Day, you may want to wait until the next day to go out to a restaurant or make your reservations far in advance!”
“If you do go out, two of the best are Santo Coyote and Sacramonte. Both have Mexican food and atmosphere, but Sacramonte is more a Spanish-fusion mixture. Santo
Coyote is very festive in a different way, and is often used for a different kind of celebration. Sacramonte is a little more sophisticated, a smaller restaurant with not too many tables. So, it is a little more intimate.”
(G)Flights are available from every major airport in the U.S. and Canada. So, regardless of which eatery you choose, why you are visiting this wonderful city, or what
time of year it might be, the adventure will be authentically Mexican and in more ways than one, you will experience the true Heart of Mexico!
(B) It was one of the nicest Valentines Day gifts I have ever received.