Mexico Part 2: Lodging & Family

September 11th, 2011

As I wrote in part 1, my family and I were in Mexico recently.

Today I’ll write about the places we stayed. We spent most of the time in a room we rented in a private home in Guadalajara. My friend Jonathan had found it for us, and it was not too far from his home.

The owner was a grandmother, and across the courtyard was more family, including a granddaughter close in age to our boys. They enjoyed playing together.

It was really a perfect arrangement for us. There’s no better way to be a part of local life when traveling than to stay in someone’s house.

Here’s our bedroom:

Notice the glass slats in the window — it’s a nifty, though not airtight, alternative to our regular windows. More on that later. More of the inside:

We had a bit of a language barrier while in Mexico, though never anything significant. My Spanish vocabulary started with almost nothing and I reached maybe a few dozen words by the time we left. Terah knew some Spanish from high school and college, and my friend was fluent. Our hostess also knew a little English. But we all communicated well enough. Terah or Jonathan would help translate when needed.

As I’d seen before, the children would say things to each other, but never seemed to be bothered that their playmates didn’t understand what was being said. They just had a great time anyhow.

On Sunday afternoon, when we came back from our activities, there was a buzz of activity. Children everywhere outside, running and playing. Adults too, chatting. We didn’t know exactly what was happening, but sent Jacob and Oliver out to play anyhow (which they were eager to do). The yard was enclosed by a wall, so children could pretty much run around without lots of supervision.

Eventually they were invited to have some birthday cake (ah ha!) — it was one of the children’s birthday. Jacob and Oliver actually were served the first two pieces of cake (as the “amigos”). Everyone seemed so friendly, warm, and welcoming.

Each morning started with breakfast at the house, followed by a scene like this:

That’s Jacob and Oliver, looking to see if Jonathan had arrived for the day yet.

I often noticed in Mexico that I was unsure if I was inside or outside. Here in Kansas, we can have a string of summer days that each exceed 110F (44C) — or a few weeks in winter that never get above 15F (-9C), even in daytime. And then we have some pleasant days like right now, too — or rain blowing sideways at 60MPH. In general, we spend a lot of effort keeping the outside, well, out.

It is quite clear that this isn’t a problem in the Guadalajara area. Some restaurants could have been described as buildings with large, open windows so you feel a lot of breeze while inside. Or perhaps as a simple shade roof with a few supports on the edges, so you’re never really “inside” at all (sort of like going under a small shade tent outdoors). To the extent that windows could close, many of them couldn’t be made airtight. It was clear that in that area, people spend more energy finding ways to invite the outdoors in rather than to keep it out, thanks to the year-round moderate climate.

Perhaps the best example of this surprised me one evening. We were arriving in Guanajuato, an old silver mining town in the mountains, and were going to spend the night at Hotel Socavón, which had been recommended to us by a local friend of Jonathan’s. From the street, the hotel looked tiny. But walk in, and you get in this old-looking (and feeling) entry tunnel:

That’s the front desk, apparently cut out of it there on the right.

We asked to see some of the rooms before buying — apparently a normal request around there. The innkeeper agreed, and gave us keys and directions to find them on the third floor. It included going up 2 flights of stairs, passing through a courtyard, and going up another flight.

It was after dark, and the hotel was dimly lit — something I was fine with. I thought we were stepping out into a beautiful atrium with some potted plants in the center of the building — something fairly common in some nicer hotels. Until I felt rain on my head. Then I realized that the courtyard, which began two floors up from the street, was open to the sky. Beautiful!

Here was the view from out room door:

And down the “hall”:

After getting home, a Google happened to turn up some reviews of this hotel. I was so annoyed at what some people wrote! One person gave them only 3 stars because they didn’t have air conditioning, had poor water pressure, and “lots of steps”. Someone else complained of the dark entry tunnel — something I couldn’t help but smiling about the moment I entered.

My review, which should hopefully get posted soon, is certainly different. I gave them 5 stars, because if I wanted a Super 8 with generic fluorescent lighting and the same layout as thousands of other hotels, I would have gone to Nebraska instead of Mexico. Most homes and local hotels in the region don’t have air conditioning because they don’t need it, and that’s just how water pressure is in Mexico (due to needing to pump it from municipal supplies to private storage tanks overhead). And who doesn’t appreciate entering a hotel through a brick tunnel? Ah, sigh…

This should give you some idea of the kind of travel we like: part of the point of traveling is enjoying the differences from home, and I think it is a huge mistake to be annoyed at everything that is different. Enjoy the differences!

Finally, here’s a photo of the staircase in the home we stayed in, which I thought was fascinating:

Categories: Family, Travel

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  1. Anonymous

    I agree with your comments about enjoying the outdoors and embracing the conventions in a different culture rather than complaining. However, I would also note that you didn’t visit in the middle of the summer, where a lack of air conditioning means a serious heat wave indoors. 90F, 100F, or higher starts to necessitate some form of cooling.


    John Goerzen Reply:

    If it got that hot, I’d certainly agree. Guanajuato is up in the mountains, and according to Wikipedia might have highs as high as 86 one month out of the year. Warm but doable, I figure.,_Guanajuato


    John Goerzen Reply:

    Maybe I wouldn’t agree even then. I think there’s value in living like a local. It’s a lot easier to become a temporary part of the place that way.


    Anonymous Reply:

    Fair enough, and good to know. 86 is definitely livable, and if that only happens one month of the year I could definitely imagine not having AC.


  2. auser

    > Finally, here’s a photo of the staircase in the home we stayed
    > in, which I thought was fascinating:

    What exactly is it that fascinates you in this staiercase?

    just asking as I grow up with one like that …


    John Goerzen Reply:

    I don’t normally see them without a support in the back. It sort of looks like it’s floating there, being most obviously supported on only one side.


  3. Alea

    Great pictures…thank-you! I liked the part about the birthday cake getting served first to the amigos…it goes a long way in showing how conscientious our southern family is…and obviously YOU are YOUR family are adventurous travelers…whereas the people who can find it within them to complain about that amazing hotel you stayed at are people who are on “vacation” ….


  4. Nana

    Wonderful! Just to be clear, you aren’t ragging on Nebraska, right? :) I’d give the place 5 stars too!


  5. Gunnar

    One of the things I most love about my city (and most of the altiplano — the center of the country, located on a very big plateau ~1000-2500m above sea level) is the weather. Never too cold, never too hot. At home, I have never had airtight windows, any kind of artificial cooling (I have two standing fans for the hottest weeks of Spring, where we ocassionaly hit 30°C, around 90°F), and only when my grandfather lived in my house we had a simple heater (as the coldest we get in Winter is slightly above 0°C, 32°F).

    Of course, when I’ve travelled to places with real winters (as last year’s July to Argentina, the only time I’ve seen snow), I have no adequate clothes. But that’s a really adequate price to pay! :)


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  8. Rafael Toscano

    Read Part 1 and Part two, so far i am looking forward to reading the rest, it’s really interesting. Thanks for sharing.


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