Teds Travels -Mexicos Colonial Cities: Part I
If you think Mexico is nothing but jungles and ruins, you are terribly mistaken. The country’s centre is marked by its colonial architecture, rich history, and unique arts and crafts.
Over the following weeks I’ll tell you more about three of my favourite colonial towns. Today, for starters, I’ll take you to the state of Jalisco: the land of tequila, mariachi, and the most exquisite crafts that I have ever seen.
Guadalajara is the capital of Jalisco and Mexico’s second largest city. Its colonial streets are home to traditions such as ‘charreria’ (Mexican rodeo), the ‘jarabe tapatio’ folkloric dance, and some of the most important murals of Jose Clemente Orozco; one of Mexico’s famous painters. In a day you can visit Guadalajara’s Cathedral, Government Palace and gardens before travelling to Tequila, where you can visit blue agave ranches, witness the distillation process of tequila, and have a tasting (or a few).
Unfortunately, with over four million inhabitants Guadalajara can’t provide the intimacy that other Mexican colonial cities can. However, Tlaquepaque (try pronouncing that after a couple of tequilas), a small town located just 7km outside of Guadalajara, definitely can.
Book a room at Quinta Don Jose, a beautiful, family-run boutique hotel located steps away from the shopping and gallery district. Tlaquepaque is famous for its millenary handcrafted goods (in fact, the indigenous name of ‘Tlaquepaque’ means ‘a place on potting-clay hills’). You’ll see enchanting and fanciful hand-crafted items in every nook and cranny of this unforgettable place.
Wake up early and ramble along the town’s pedestrian streets. Venture into its markets and discover its workshops; where you’ll be able to watch local artisans work on blown glass, jewellery, ceramics, pottery, ‘papel mache’, corn-leaves sculptures, woven fabrics, woodcarvings, and more. Since knowledge and creativity are passed from generation to generation, local artisans have achieved high levels of skill and innovation in the use of different techniques.
Take for instance Rodo Padilla, one of the best-known craftsmen in high-temperature ceramics. Born in Tlaquepaque, he followed the footsteps of his father into pottery. A graduate in Industrial Engineering, Rodo has studied ceramics and design in Japan, Italy, and Argentina. Today, his unique figurines are known around Mexico and the United States; depicting traditional and everyday people in a quaint and funny way.
Whether your taste inclines towards indigenous yarn paintings, carved masks or silver jewellery, you’ll find it all here. Bear in mind that you might not be able to find many bargains though; the quality and authenticity of the crafts are top notch in the country and what you’ll find here, you won’t be able to find anywhere else. At the end of the day, sit down at a café and watch life pass you by in the main plaza, listening to mariachis play.
Tlaquepaque has a vibrant, nostalgic ambience. Take time to explore its elegant art galleries before you leave. After all, what makes Tlaquepaque distinctly different, is that seems to overflow with art.
Next week I’ll tell you more about another beautiful city: Guanajuato. The atmosphere here, as with most of Mexico’s colonial cities, is rich in history…and mummies.
Ted Dziadkiewicz is Director and Founder of Contours Travel, Australia’s longest running tour operator to Latin America. He has been more than 100 times to Latin America over the past 40 years and visited over 20 countries. If you want to know more visit www.contourstravel.com.au