Three friends and I headed out of Ajijic for a three-day getaway. Our ultimate destination was León, but we traveled the back roads and visited some delightful villages and cities. The area northeast of Guadalajara is called Los Altos de Jalisco, which encompasses a zone of expansive high plateau plains. The panoramic views of the cerulean blue skies dotted lavishly with white cumulus clouds reminds me of big sky country in Montana.
This time of year, when the hills and mountains are so green, it is such a pleasure driving and enjoying the scenery. We took the cuota or toll road (highways 80 and 45) for part of the time. The rest of the trip we chose the libre (free) road.
We passed through Zapotlanejo, the doorway to the high plateau region, without stopping. I’d been there a couple times. It’s the wholesale district for clothing.
Heading into Tepatitlán, a city of 120,000 people, we parked and walked around the two central squares, peeking discretely into the Church of San Antonio while a funeral was in progress. Tepatitlán is a gracious town with two large squares in el centro. We ate a quick lunch and discovered that, besides being an important agricultural and cattle breeding center, much of the employment is in making bedspreads, and quilts. The town is known for the beauty, grace and good nature of its women and the fine bearing of its men. It is a town with many banks, nice new cars and obviously more middle-class Mexicans than you see in Ajijic and Chapala. You can definitely see a Spanish influence in the arches and beautiful frescos.
We drove quickly through the small village of Valle de Guadalupe. It was about 2 p.m. and the entire town seemed to be enjoying siesta. We had wanted to see some of the important archeological objects in the Municipal Palace, but it was closed. The village was originally a coach stop for travelers between Mexico City and Guadalajara.
Leaving the quota road, we headed about twelve miles south to San Miguel de Alto to see the “most beautiful town in Jalisco.” This town of 50,000 is mostly pink because of the pink limestone used on its facades, benches, arches, churches and in the main square of San Miguel. Some of the stonework on the buildings is fascinating. We felt from the stares of the few locals not on siesta, that foreigner women were rarely seen in the town. The town was lovely and clean, but I think there are far more beautiful towns in Mexico.
At about 4 p.m., we headed west towards León, passing briefly through San Julián, a town of 20,000 and 2,015 meters high. It reminded me of the tropics with its towering palm trees dividing the main road. Believed to have the most beautiful women in Mexico, it is said that even today, women are carried away by handsome charros to be taken in marriage. We were disappointed not to see the famed Christmas spheres for sale alongside the road, but perhaps here they took later siestas.
On to León, a city of about 1 million residents. I’d been there twice before and had enjoyed it. Compared to Guadalajara, besides being much smaller, it’s much cleaner — both the air and the streets. Street sweepers augment the work of the shopkeepers and homeowners who scrub the streets with buckets of soap and water each morning. We stayed at Hotel León, located conveniently in the center of town. The rooms were large and adequate. A beautiful restaurant entices many customers all hours of the day. An elevator operator managed the old-fashioned elevators with wrought iron doors that opened and closed at his beck and call.
Two marvelous large squares in León’s central plaza are edged with large trees precisely manicured in conical shapes. Outdoor restaurants and cafes dot the plaza and many blocks of pedestrian shopping is available free of traffic. León is the leather capital of Mexico. At an altitude of about 6,000 feet, it’s a little cooler in the winter than Guadalajara. Driving is civilized. I found my way around with few problems.
The first night we stopped at a downtown pub for a margarita and asked the waiter for a restaurant recommendation. We had a yen for Argentinean food and he knew of several such restaurants in León. He called and made reservations at the Argentilia, located on Avenida Campestre. It boasted a combination of Argentinean and Italian cuisine, nd is owned by Swiss people. The food was delicioso. The four of us shared a whole flank steak, grilled to perfection and helped ourselves to a magnificent antipasto and salad bar. The restaurant was fairly empty when we got there at 8 p.m., but by 10 p.m. when we left, most tables were filled.
The next day we split up. Linda and I (the shoppers) went to the shoe district where hundreds of permanent booths and buildings offer shoes, purses, jackets, saddles, belts and other leather goods at extraordinary prices. I bought some Christmas presents, we each bought a pair of shoes, then we lunched at a nearby Chinese restaurant before meeting up with our other two friends about 4 p.m.
There was a celebration in the plaza to raise money for the elderly. Several different groups provided live music and many booths run by volunteers offered various handicrafts for sale. We listened to the music awhile, enjoying a cappuccino each.
Afterwards, we decided to drive around and see some of the neighborhoods of León. At the outskirts of the city, many beautiful suburbs adorned the hillsides with fantastic views of León, lying serenely in the valley. We inadvertently bumped into Plaza Mayor, a large shopping center with Sam’s, Office Depot, Penny’s and a multitude of other stores.
Finally, as tummies began to grumble, we settled on dinner at Ma Come No on Lopez Mateos, Ote., which is the same as one of my favorite Guadalajara restaurants. Unfortunately, the salad bar didn’t compare and they charged an additional 38 pesos for it. In Guadalajara each meal is accompanied by the free salad bar.
Ah well, the waiter was delightful. He enjoyed practicing his English with us. After a day of walking and shopping, at least two of us were pretty tired. Back at the hotel, an excellent combo was playing. The piano player, backed up with a guitar and drums and accompanied by an excellent singer, provided us with an hour or two of Latino music — a perfect end to a perfect day.
In the morning at a nearby breakfast place, we watched thousands of people march by in various matching t-shirts. As near as I could tell, it was a religious celebration having to do with catechism. They sang and chanted and marched to music. Later, on a drive to pick up a few last minute leather items before returning home, we saw that the procession covered the sidewalk and part of the street, maybe ten abreast, for as far as we could see. I wish I had a better understanding of what was going on, but I appreciated everyone being on foot, because the traffic was practically non-existent.
Finally, on the way home, we detoured through Lagos de Moreno. The name is translated as “The Lakes of Moreno.” We strolled through a large tianguis near the center. A former Mexican president had declared the downtown area a national monument. The Templo del Calvario sits above the square and was inspired by the Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome. We missed the Hacienda de la Cantera, where famous charros of the Pedrero family breed quarter horses, buffaloes, and game-cocks. Perhaps another time.
I like taking off on two to four day jaunts. There’s always so much to see and enjoy. I’ve decided León is a place I could definitely live. It has an airport, major hospitals, Sams and Office Depot! The weather is nice, the city is clean and the people are friendly. Maybe in another few years, I’ll be ready for another move.