I was amazed by this mansion: from the gorgeous interior courtyard with its fragrant orange trees to the large formal salon with its unique intricate Mexican tiles and a huge bedroom with three beds on the other side of the courtyard, this stately edifice is nothing short of impressive. The huge house has ten bedrooms, four of which are used by students. Some of the interior spaces reminded me of the Alhambra, the medieval Moorish castle in Spain.
Student bedroom at “The Castle”
In the dining room we caught up with my co-student George, a retired university professor from Oregon in his mid 70s. George has been studying Spanish for 45 years now and his wife, who recently passed away, spoke Spanish as her native language. George’s Spanish skills are outstanding and over the last few years he has studied Spanish at different language schools in Mexico, Argentina, Costa Rica and Colombia. No wonder his Spanish keeps getting better and better…
Architectural detail of “The Castle”
We left the castle behind and walked up to the main square of Tlaquepaque. Just steps away from the zócalo is the municipal market, a very colourful place with dozens of vendors. Wouter showed me where the locals do their shopping. Even many of the language students pick up fruits and prepared dishes here at the market as all the merchandise is fresh and very inexpensive.
Friendly merchant at the Tlaquepaque municipal market
Over the years Wouter has become a real local expert who also knows Mexican cuisine and ingredients. As we walked through the market he pointed out different local fruits and vegetables. Jicama, for example, is a sweet root vegetable that looks like a turnip. Nopales are the pads of the prickly pear cactus and are often chopped up and added as vegetables to all kinds of meals. Chichayote is a root vegetable that is often prepared with chile, lime and salt. Peanuts are also very popular in Mexico and pumpkin flower (flor de calabaza) is often used for soups or fried.
Fruit stand at the Tlaquepaque municipal market
Huge varieties of beans and legumes were available for purchase. We walked by several tables of fresh seafood which is brought in from the Pacific coast of Mexico, just about three hours away. White tiled tables were holding freshly slaughtered chickens that still had their heads and legs attached – a bit of a morbid sight, but the locals are used to it. Traditional refrigeration is not used much in the market because people go shopping for fresh ingredients every day and by about noon there is not much meat or seafood left. Photo opportunities abounded: from colourful tropical fruits to brightly coloured piñatas of all shapes and size – the Municipal Market in Tlaquepaque is a colourful place full of fascinating sights and smells.
Dead chickens – in all their glory
Wouter had to get back to the language school, but I continued my walk to another place that I had wanted to check out. Two language students from Canada were staying at a small hotel called “Mi Viejo Refugio” and they were absolutely raving about this place. In addition to homestays with local families, small local hotels and private apartments are other options for the language students at the Guadalajara Language School. I wanted to find out first hand why Bonnie and Turney enjoyed their hotel so much.
Alejandro Jimenez, in front of his hotel Mi Viejo Refugio
The hotel was just five minutes away from the main square and I asked for the owner, Alejandro Jimenez, at reception. Moments later Alejandro, a dynamic, very outgoing man in his early thirties, started taking me on a tour of his small hotel. He first showed me the rooftop terrace which is mostly used by smokers, but offers a great view of the surrounding rooftops of Tlaquepaque.
Traditional decor at Mi Viejo Refugio
Mi Viejo Refugio has 12 bedrooms, all decorated differently with bright colours. Each room has a private bathroom and rates vary between about 500 and 1200 pesos (around $50 to $120) a night. The kitchen and main floor are decorated with intricate tile work and equipped with traditional Mexican furniture. He also plans to add some big-screen television screens to entertain local and foreign sports fans. Alejandro also took me into the courtyard which he plans to turn into a restaurant in the near future. Alejandro’s energy is contagious and it was obvious he really enjoys interacting with people. I was not surprised that my friends were have a good time during their stay at Mi Viejo Refugio.
Courtyard at Mi Viejo Refugio
My tour finished at about 10:20 and I headed back to my Spanish class for another 40 minutes. We started getting into a really interesting conversation about the family structure in Mexico and how families are still much closer knit in Mexico than in the United States or Canada. Our teacher Miguel cautioned us though that family structures are becoming more relaxed in Mexico as well: when he was a child he had to address his parents with “Usted” (the formal way of addressing people, equivalent to “vous” in French”). And when Miguel’s mother was upset with him because he did something wrong, she would even address him with “Usted” in order to create more distance between him and her.
Action at the Tlaquepaque municipal market
We also touched on the role of religion on Mexico. Americans and Canadians often perceive Mexicans as deeply religious people, but Miguel explained that religion is more based on culture and tradition than pure religiosity. In this context we also talked about Mexican fashion which sees women often dressing in extremely tight and sometimes provocative dress. I had noticed many women in the street dressed in skin-tight jeans and very tight-fitting and low-cut tops. Coming from Canada, Mexican fashion seemed to be quite revealing. We all enjoyed this discussion and practiced our Spanish at the same time.
Fruits at the municipal market
After a quick lunch I was ready for my next adventure: local expert guide José Orozco, who had already taken me on a tour of Lake Chapala, was ready to take me on an excursion to the Tequila region, the place where Mexico’s national drink is made.