Guadalajara The Wonderful
( Originally Published 1912 )
"Give me a ticket to that place, please," said an American tourist to the booking-clerk at the Mexican Central Railway office. The man from the States held out a rail-way guide in which he had marked the name of the place to which he wished to travel; for he had serious doubts about the correct pronunciation of it.
"You want a ticket to Guadalajara," replied the clerk, but he pronounced it something like "Wanda-la-hara."
This beautiful city with the perplexing name has a population of over a hundred thousand, is three hundred and eighty miles northwest of Mexico City and is not far from the Pacific coast. It has the distinction of being the handsomest, the cleanest, and most cheerful of Mexican cities ; it is also acknowledged to be next in importance to the capital, although Puebla has long claimed that honor.
The wonderful progress that Mexico has made within recent years is strikingly exemplified in the case of Guadalajara, which, less than twenty years ago, was a sleepy, backward place but little known to the outside world. The nearest railway was then some distance away, and travellers from the capital were obliged to make a large part of the journey in slow, uncomfortable stage-coaches. To-day, Guadalajara has become a busy, cosmopolitan city and an important railway centre; while on account of its great manufacturing industries it might be appropriately called the Manchester of Mexico.
The Mexican Central Railway maintains a good service of trains between Mexico City and Guadalajara, so that the journey can be made in absolute comfort if not with excessive speed. I left the capital at eight o'clock one evening and reached Guadalajara at one the next afternoon, making the journey in a comfortable Pullman car.
For most of the distance the railway traverses the great central plateau, and the country, as seen from the train, presented the usual vista of arid lands, dry, yellow grass and occasional green, irrigated fields. Forming, a distant background to these typical highland scenes were the out-lines of a range of reddish, barren mountains which some-times assumed fantastic shapes and were evidently of volcanic origin. Most of the watercourses were dry, but once or twice we crossed small streams and one winding, shallow river of fair size. Very few towns or villages are to be seen on the way, the majority of those along the route being hidden among the hills a little distance from the line. Sometimes there would be a mule-car at the way-side stations to take travellers to some invisible town.
This part of Mexico, including the State of Jalisco, of which Guadalajara is the capital, was originally called Nueva Galicia by the Spanish colonists who settled there in 1530. Most of these colonists came from Andalusia, and the pleas-ant manners and light-hearted ways of their descendants are still typical of sunny Spain. The women, too, have the reputation of being the most beautiful in Mexico. Guadalajara was founded in 1540, and was called Espiritu Santo, but was afterwards given its present name, after Wadal-il-harah, the Moorish capital. In this part of the country there are many delightful towns and villages, with fine old churches and other substantial buildings left as mementos of Spanish domination.
Guadalajara certainly merits its reputation of being the most beautiful city in Mexico. It is a bright, clean town with wide asphalted streets and handsome white stone buildings, which, in the principal thoroughfares, are mostly in the modern Spanish style. Looking down the broad streets, one sees a distant vista of mountains; for Guadalajara lies in the midst of a plain with mountains rising around it. The streets run at right angles, intersecting a number of parks and plazas filled with shady tropical trees and resplendent with flowers. If there are any slum streets in the city, they are very carefully concealed. I saw none. The peons whom I encountered in the highways and by-ways also seemed to, partake of the general cleanliness of the place; they looked much more intelligent than any I had seen before.
Not only is Guadalajara a beautiful city, but it is a busy commercial place. In the principal streets there are good shops of all kinds, numerous banks and commercial agencies, and other outward signs of wealth and prosperity.
From its appearance no one would imagine Guadalajara to be an important manufacturing place; there are no huge chimneys belching forth black smoke such as are seen in our manufacturing towns. The fact is that all the machinery in the local factories is driven by the same electrical power which lights the streets and runs the street cars, this power being generated by the great falls of the Lerma River a few miles distant. Here, again, is evidence of the wonderful progress that is being made in Mexico in the utilization of water-power.
In addition to all these advantages, Guadalajara is blessed with one of the finest climates in the world. Like Cuautla and some other favored places, it is situated at an altitude of five thousand feet, which gives it an average temperature of about seventy degrees the year round — a perennial June. During the winter months the city has probably the driest air on the American continent, which, with its balmy climate, makes it a favored resort for invalids suffering from bronchial or lung affections. The early mornings and late evenings are never cold, as in the higher altitudes, but occasionally a light overcoat can be worn with comfort.
As in most Mexican cities, the life of Guadalajara centres about its main plaza, which is famed for its beauty, its palms, orange trees, and tropical flowers being forever green. Beneath the portales, which border two of its sides, are a number of fine shops and cafes, and also facing it is the Governor's Palace, a magnificent building of white stone which would command attention in any European capital. All over the city there are imposing old churches dating from early Spanish times, tinted in beautiful soft colors and having wonderful towers and domes. Adjoining the plaza is the cathedral, a beautiful edifice commenced in 1561 and completed in 1618, with two tall Gothic towers, wholly unlike any others in Mexico, which can be seen from a long distance. The interior is rich in decorations and paintings, and in the sacristy is preserved Murillo's "Assumption," for which $75,000 has been refused.
This picture is one of the twenty-seven versions of the theme painted by Murillo. When Napoleon invaded Spain, the clergy of Guadalajara, in testimony of patriotic devotion, sent King Carlos the Fourth a large sum of money to aid in the defence of the country. In recognition of this the king presented the cathedral with Murillo's master-piece from his collection in the Escurial. When the French were in Mexico in 1864, and captured Guadalajara during Maximilian's short reign, they endeavored to seize the painting as a trophy for the Louvre, but it was concealed, and even an offer of $25,000 did not lead to a revelation of its hiding-place.
In one of the buildings overlooking the main plaza is the American Club, where visiting Americans and English-men are welcomed. There are quite a number of Americans in the city; they have started several churches and a school, and there is an enterprising weekly newspaper, the Jalisco Times. The well-to-do Americans have established them-selves in a beautiful quarter where the wide streets are lined with shady trees and the houses are embowered in tropical foliage. This district, which is rapidly assuming an Americanized appearance, is popularly known as the American Colony.
On several evenings during the week a fine military band plays in the main plaza, and it is now the fashion for the elite of the city to ride round and round while the concert is in progress, the promenading, which was formerly in vogue, having been practically discontinued. Even in these prosaic days a wonderfully picturesque sight is presented when the band is playing. The music, the balmy tropical evening, the plaza illuminated with its many electric lights, the palms, flowers and orange trees, the peons in their red sarapes and sombreros, the lines of carriages passing round, filled with dark-eyed beauties daintily attired as in summer-time, — all, under a clear sky, dazzling stars and a glorious moon, combine to make a scene of enchantment.
There is, in fact, a good deal of life in Guadalajara, and the atmosphere of the place is far more cheerful than that of Mexico City. The climate, too, is much more favorable for outdoor life; and you can sit outside a cafe enjoying your refresco while listening to the music in the plaza with-out having the chilly sensation and dread of pneumonia that are too often experienced in the capital.
Guadalajara has five theatres, one of them, the Degollado, being the largest on the American continent, excepting, perhaps, the Metropolitan Opera House in New York. It is a handsome building much larger and finer externally than any theatre in the United States. In the city there are twenty-eight hotels and twenty-five public baths, and when it is remembered that Guadalajara did not have a railway to it seventeen years ago, these statistics are interesting.
The day after my arrival the city was en fete, celebrating one of the numerous Mexican public holidays. The business buildings were gayly decorated with the national colors of red, white and green, there was a civic and military procession and the streets resounded with the strains of music. Itinerant vendors of all kinds had gathered round the plaza, giving the place quite a festive appearance. The streets were thronged with sight-seers, and the smart American electric cars which run through the city and out to the suburbs were crowded with passengers.
In the midst of this holiday-making a large party of Mystic Shriners arrived from Mexico City and found quarters at one of the large hotels. They were given a luncheon by their compatriots residing in the city, and while this was in progress, some good music was furnished by one of the local military bands. In honor of their American visitors, the Mexican musicians played a selection of American national airs, such as the Star-Spangled Banner, Hail Columbia, and Yankee Doodle. Most of the Shriners had a very limited knowledge of Spanish, and at the conclusion of this complimentary pot-pourri some of them shouted such appreciative American phrases as "Good, good; bully for the Mexicans," while several enthusiasts yelled "Adios, adios " (good-by), evidently thinking that the word was synonymous with "Bravo." The bandsmen naturally understood it to mean that the Americans wanted them to go, having had enough of their music, so they commenced to pack up their instruments preparatory to marching off.
It was only when the High Imperial Potentate himself hurried to the bandmaster and explained matters with the aid of an interpreter that the irate musicians were pacified and smilingly resumed their playing.
The Shriners were afterwards given a reception at the American Club, all the members and their wives being present to meet the visitors and the ladies of their party. It was there that I had an opportunity of meeting the "Imp. Pot.," who, throwing off his imperial dignity for the time being, was very convivial, told funny stories in the smoking-room, and indeed was quite the life of the party.
Leaving the club later on to return to my hotel, I strolled across the plaza, with its throngs of fashionably dressed people, and went along one of the quieter streets. Here I witnessed a scene which furnished a delightful contrast to the rush of prosaic modern progress which is rapidly trans-forming the ancient City of Guadalajara. A drowsy peon and his boy were slowly driving a large flock of turkeys along the street, keeping them in motion with the aid of long sticks with which they occasionally prodded the birds. This is one of the olden customs of Guadalajara which still survives, in spite of the city's wonderful up-to-dateness. Instead of going to a poultry shop, the housekeepers of Guadalajara buy their turkeys from these vendors as they pass through the streets. Sometimes the purchaser has the bird despatched on the spot, but, in most cases, the turkey is kept for a week and fattened until it is in prime condition for the highly seasoned stew into which it is made.
During my stay in the city I paid a visit to the Hospicio, one of Guadalajara's public institutions which is unique in its way. Instead of being a hospital, as its name would indicate, it is an asylum for the poor of all ages. It is a series of great stone buildings covering an entire square, contains twenty-three patios with fountains and flowers, and shelters a strange assortment of humanity, — aged men and women, boys and girls and even babies. The inmates all looked well-fed and cheerful, everything was scrupulously clean and the appointments of the place would have done credit to any American institution. The children in the Hospicio are given a good education, and when they grow older are taught some useful occupation. In one of the departments which I visited, the girls, mostly Indians, were making some beautiful embroideries.
Electric traction, which has done so much in developing the suburbs of some American towns, is having the same effect on the growth of Guadalajara, the laying of suburban street-railway lines having caused the city to extend in every direction. There are few rides in the world which in point of picturesqueness can equal those about Guadalajara; the swift-moving cars, passing through fields of tropical vegetation and between hedges of cactus and palms, reach the plain from which there are superb views of the lofty mountains and distant glimpses of the beautiful white city.
In the village of San Pedro, to which the cars run, many of the wealthy citizens of Guadalajara have their country houses, and some of these are very charming. The famous Guadalajara ware comes from the potteries in this village, which turn out all sorts of water-jars and bottles in various beautiful shapes. They also make little figures representing almost every phase of Mexican life, such as water-carriers, cargadores, mule-drivers, vaqueros or cowboys, colored most cleverly and wonderfully modelled. An interesting collection of these can be bought for a few dollars. San Pedro is the home of two Indian sculptors, the Panduros, father and son, and at their studio a visitor who wishes to carry away a souvenir of Guadalajara can have his bust or statuette modelled in clay while he waits. These statuettes are wonderfully lifelike and are colored with great accuracy.
One morning I went out to see the most wonderful of Guadalajara's local sights, a deep gorge called the barranca, about six miles from the city. This, at some points, has a depth of nearly three thousand feet, and as climate in Mexico depends entirely upon altitude, this freak of nature enables Guadalajara, situated in the temperate zone, to have the climate and fruits of the tropics only six miles away, large quantities of bananas, cocoanuts and other hot-land fruits being grown in the depths of the barranca. In the higher lands adjacent to the city the fruits and vegetables of temperate lands are grown the year round, so that the people of Guadalajara are provided with a bountiful supply of good things for the table.
A small tram-car drawn by two sturdy mules took me to the beginning of the barranca, the line ending at the edge of this great chasm, where the scenery is magnificent, somewhat resembling that of the Grand Canon of Arizona — a series of great castellated rocks, frowning precipices and deep abysses. Mounting a horse, I rode for miles down a winding road to the depths of the rocky gorge, experiencing a wonderful change of climate. At the top of the barranca the air was fresh and balmy ; at the bottom of this natural hot-house the heat was tropical in its intensity. The ride, however, was delightful, my rocky path bordering the narrow Lerma River which flows through the depths of the barranca, dashing over the rocks amidst the tropical verdure of banana plants, orange trees and cocoanut palms ; on either side the towering walls of the gorge rear themselves in perpendicular cliffs.
From Guadalajara the Mexican Central Railway has been extended westward between one hundred and fifty and two hundred miles to Manzanillo, an important port on the Pacific coast. With the completion of this line Guadalajara will now become still more important as a commercial centre, as the new ports of the Pacific coast will give access to the trade of the interior. The line opens up a vast mining region, rich in gold, silver, copper and lead. It runs through a fertile, picturesque country of high mountains, small lakes, rolling hills and broad valleys. The only active volcano in North America is a few miles from the line, — Colima, twelve thousand feet high, — twice as high as Vesuvius and higher than Mount Etna. From Manzanillo steamers run regularly to San Francisco and other American ports as well as to ports in southern Mexico. Thousands of cattle are raised on the plains west of Guadalajara, and in the hot lands along the coast all kinds of tropical fruits are grown. In the State of Colima, through which the railway passes, there are a large number of coffee plantations.
The State of Jalisco, in which Guadalajara is situated, is one of the most important in the Mexican union in point of population, and it is also one of the richest. It is a wonderfully fertile country, and having an abundance of running streams, irrigation is carried on extensively; it is also well wooded, some of the mountain ranges being covered with forests of timber suitable for all purposes. While manufacturing, agriculture and cattle-raising have hitherto been the main industries of Jalisco, mining now bids fair to take a foremost place. In recent years some rich mines of copper and other minerals have been developed in the western part of the State, on the route of the new railway extension.
Many of the members of the American Club whom I met in Guadalajara were engaged in mining in the mountains west of the city, and were enthusiastic concerning the mineral-producing possibilities of the country. The future development of these great states of Jalisco and Colima offer wonderful opportunities for the investment of capital, and undoubtedly this part of Mexico is destined to be one of the richest countries on the face of the earth.
Mining developments in the neighborhood of Guadalajara have brought there the usual number of "men with schemes." Strolling round the plaza one evening, I noticed some Americans of the Western "schemer" type seated together talking very excitedly. As I passed them, I caught such remarks as " The biggest thing in Mexico ; millions in it." One of the prospective millionaires produced the usual piece of ore from his pocket and I heard him say, "Well, gentlemen, I've got the golderndest richest proposition here that you ever heard of. This little chunk of metal came from over Colima way and — wal, there's just simply millions in the little hole it came out of." I waited to hear no more, but fled. Was I never to escape from these men of millions ?
What the men of schemes probably did not know is the astounding fact that some of the streets of Guadalajara are actually paved with gold. A few years ago, when the asphalt company repaved the city streets, the asphaltum was mixed with tailings from the old Spanish and Mexican reduction works in the Etzatlan district of Jalisco. After the paving had been done, the company's manager, out of curiosity, had a number of assays made of the old tailings. To his surprise, these assays revealed the fact that the tailings contained about fifteen dollars' worth of gold and silver in each ton. About four hundred tons of tailings were used in paving, so the net amount of gold and silver laid in the streets represented over $6000.
On leaving Guadalajara, I took the train to Atequiza, a village about forty miles from the city, the nearest station to Lake Chapala, where I had arranged to spend a week-end.
There are few important rivers and lakes in Mexico, but two of the latter, Chapala and Patzcuaro, are famous for their great size and beauty. Chapala is becoming a popular resort for visitors from all parts of Mexico. From Atequiza an old-fashioned stage-coach drawn by eight mules takes travellers to the village of Chapala on the shores of the lake.
Between Atequiza and Guadalajara there is a large hacienda through which the railway runs for several miles, and being so close to the city, this property has become extremely valuable. It employs an army of peons, and on its farms are grown all kinds of fruits and vegetables. There are broad fields of grain and large grazing grounds for herds of sheep and cattle. The stage-coach runs through one of the hacienda villages, with its church, schoolhouse, several modern mills, ancient granaries, massive dwellings and adobe huts.
The road from Atequiza to Chapala, like most Mexican country roads, is not macadamized, but is full of rocks and ruts which toss the old coaches about like ships in a stormy sea. Lucky are those passengers who get outside seats, for those who ride inside are almost choked with dust before the journey is over. Recently some steps have been taken to improve the public highway from Guadalajara to Chapala, and although the road would stagger most American motorists, several cars come over it every week from the city to the lake.
I sat beside the stage-coach driver, and was very much amused at the way in which he kept his eight animals on the move with constant cracks of his long whip and frequent trilling a-r-r-es, which he would vary with shouts of "mula, macho" — mula being the female, and macho the male, mule. How they ever managed to drag the great lumbering stage-coach, with its load of passengers and luggage, I could not understand. A German mechanical engineer who was my fellow-passenger, remarked to me, "This coach is typical of old Mexico. They use it simply because their forefathers used a coach of this kind. It's a big load in itself without any extra weight. A light American coach would get over the ground in half the time and stand the wear and tear just as well; but these fellows wouldn't think of using one because` no es costumbre,' it isn't the custom." The only redeeming trait that I could see about the old vehicle was that it was picturesque. It was unwieldy and uncomfortable, being hung upon leather bands instead of steel springs, and jolting so much that the unfortunate passengers inside had to be strapped in their seats to keep them in their places.
So we swayed and jolted over the rough road, bordered with low stone walls dividing the cultivated fields from the highway, winding up and down hill amongst rocky mountains until, in the distance, we saw the glistening waters of Chapala melting away to the horizon; by the side of the lake was nestling the village of Chapala, set in a little oasis of green verdure, and towering above the housetops were the two beautiful spires of the parish church. A few miles more and we clattered down the main street, over the rough cobble-stones, to the door of the hotel.
There are three hotels at Chapala, all very much alike. I found quarters at the Arzapalo, a rambling stone building of two stories, a few feet from the lake and commanding some beautiful views. Although somewhat crude in a few minor particulars, the place was comfortable and, for a Mexican hotel at least, unusually well managed.
Very few Americans have ever heard of Lake Chapala, although it is one of the largest lakes in the world. It is seventy miles long, east and west, and twenty miles across at some points, covering a superficial area of a thousand square miles. It has an altitude of about five thousand feet and is surrounded by mountains, some of which are over ten thousand feet. They are covered with scrubby trees and vegetation of various hues that add much to the beauty of the scenery.
All along the shores of the lake, and in the Lerma River which runs into it, hundreds of peons are employed in gathering and burning yellow water-lily which has invaded the waters. A few years ago some imbecile planted a quantity of the lily in the river, thinking it would look pretty. In an incredibly short time it spread like wildfire; some of the streams were completely choked with it, and when I visited Chapala the river was covered in places with green masses of the plant. It had spread all along the lake when the Mexican government took the matter in hand and appropriated a large sum of money for its destruction. At night, fires can be seen blazing along the shores of the lake where the peons have collected and are burning large piles of the noxious weed.
The village of Chapala is built on the northern shore of the lake, where a sloping, sandy beach makes a capital bathing place. The narrow streets centre at a tiny plaza adorned with orange trees and other tropical vegetation. Here on Sundays the market is held, and picturesque natives from the surrounding country pour into the little town and gather there. A number of pretty villas are dotted along the lake's side, embowered in bougainvillea and hibiscus, palms and orange trees. On a hill a short distance from the shore some land has been divided into building lots for villas, with the idea of starting a model American summer village; but the price of the ground is so high — about $1000 per lot — that very few purchasers had been found.
A rude pier of rough stones extends into the water, and here one can embark in a rowing or sailing boat or a naphtha launch and take trips up and down the lake. There are one or two old-fashioned steamers on it, but they do not make regular runs and have to be chartered for special trips. There are also a number of small fishing schooners. The little village, with its big white church and mountainous background, bears a wonderful resemblance to some of the lake villages in northern Italy, and makes a most beautiful picture. This little bit of the lake might be taken for a scene on Como; but the waters of Chapala are slightly yellowish instead of blue. The lake, too, is very shallow, and for this reason the government has prohibited its waters being used for irrigation.
In the lake there are some small white fish (pescados blancos) which are caught with nets, but there is nothing to tempt the angler. The Mexican government is now stocking the waters with trout, bass, perch and other game fish, which may eventually make the lake more attractive to lovers of the rod and reel; but the Indians along the shore are such inveterate netters that it will be very difficult to breed the fish.
For the sportsman Chapala is far more attractive. Lying along some parts of the lake are extensive flats that are overflowed at high water. During the winter months these swamps are favorite resorts for myriads of feathered visitors from the north, ducks of all kinds and sizes, snipe, plover, geese, swans, and in fact all varieties of birds that like muddy creeks and shallow waters here congregate and fatten. While I was in Chapala a retired English naval officer, who had been cruising about the lake, brought in thirty geese one evening, the result of only one day's shooting. He said that Chapala afforded the finest wild-fowl shooting that he had ever enjoyed in his travels.
Chapala is beautiful at all times, but is particularly charming as the day wanes; in fact, it is famous for its sunsets. The great expanse of waters with its mountainous background then becomes a thing of wondrous beauty. As night falls a stiff breeze generally springs up, which makes the air very fresh and invigorating. Then the waters of the lake dash on the shore and break over the pier in marked contrast to their placid appearance in the daytime.
A short distance along the shore, within sight of the beautiful electric-lighted villas, there is another of those queer contrasts so often met with in Mexico. Here is a little village of Indian fishermen who live in huts or wigwams of rushes and adobe, some of the fishing houses being built on piles in the lake like those of the prehistoric lake-dwellers in Switzerland. These Indians are the descendants of the fierce Chapaltecos, one of the last tribes subdued by the Spaniards. At sunset these wild-looking creatures, in very scanty raiment, can be seen casting their nets in the lake and catching the small white fish, which they sell in the neighborhood. To visit this place when the sun is setting, and see the weird figures flitting about beneath the semitropical foliage, conversing in low tones in their ancient dialect, living the most primitive of lives, makes it almost impossible to realize that hardly a mile away are comfortable hotels, newspapers, the telegraph, the telephone, a railway, Pullman cars and other adjuncts of latter-day civilization.