7 Reasons to live in Ciudad Guzmán
In a recent article I read about writing for the internet, which claims it is different than other kinds of writing, the advice is to write lists. It seems people like lists. I have read this advice before on another specialist site for blog-writing.
Yet I notice that on all the English language blogs I regularly enjoy reading – Malcolm Leith on the narco-wars in Mexico, Gancho on life and politics in Mexico, David Lida and Jim Johnston on what is going on in Mexico City, Nicholas Gillman on ‘Good Food in Mexico City’, Daniel Hernandez on art and life in Mexico, Rachel Laudan on food and food history, Mark Lynas and Jonathon Porritt about environmental issues – there is a barely a list in site.
It is true that Nick Gillman did break rank recently and publish a-just-passed-the-New-Year list of his favourite Mexico City restaurants in different categories – which is definitely worth reading if you live in or plan to visit DF – but that is the only list I can recall seeing on these blogs.
So, partly in an experiment to see if writing a list boosts my readership, here goes.
In my last but one post, I commented that a number of Mexican friends living in large cities cannot understand why I am living in Ciudad Guzmán. So what better reason than to make a list of the seven reasons for living in Ciudad Guzmán? (As an aside perhaps I can piggy-back on Steven Covey and turn this into a best seller – The Seven Highly Effective Habits of Living in Ciudad Guzmán.)
As Estate Agents are generally imputed to claim, location is everything. I think Ciudad Guzmán has an ideal location. It is about ninety minutes south of Guadalajara so all the attractions and vices of that 5 million-peopled city are within easy reach for a weekend outing – without having to brave the traffic, noise, pollution and increasing insecurity there every day.
The delightful city of Colima – which regularly wins surveys for the city with the best quality of life in Mexico – is one hour to the south. This of course begs the question: why not live in Colima? The answer to me is clear. Colima is only about 500 meters above sea level (unlike Ciudad Guzmán’s 1500 meters) which makes the heat there in summer unbearable for me.
In addition, if you like large beach resorts, Manzanillo is about two hours away. But better still in my view, the lovely small resort of Melaque-Barra de Navidad is less than three hours away, as are the beautiful unspoilt beaches of the Michoacán coast. But be careful if you are thinking of visiting the Michoacán coast as my last post warned.
Apart from having a great location, the whole area around Ciudad Guzmán is very interesting, in terms of culture, history and nature. The small towns of Sayula, Tuxpan, San Gabriel, Atoyac, Amacueca – to name just a few – are full of history and traditions and each has its own distinctive, unique atmosphere. The three ‘Pueblo Mágicos‘ of Tapalpa, Matzamitla and Comala are all within easy reach.
Ciudad Guzmán itself is surrounded by hills, a large laguna (which is an International Wetlands ‘Ramsar’ site) and two volcanoes. From my house, within twenty minutes on foot, I can be walking in the Sierra.
3. Vibe and Size of the City
Whenever I am travelling anywhere in Mexico, and a taxi driver asks me where I am living and I reply Ciudad Guzman, the response is almost inevitably: “Es una ciudad tranquila”. It is indeed a very peaceful city, hundreds of miles away literally and culturally from the violent US border cities which attract so much foreign press attention and create a very distorted picture of Mexico.
I like the dimensions of Ciudad Guzmán. It is a city of about 100,000 people which to me means it has all the facilities of a city – a range of shops, large market, lots of restaurants, bars, a recently opened multiplex cinema – and yet still feels intimate and not overwhelming. In addition, it has five universities, which give the city a youthful energy and vitality.
4. Local Shops.
In a previous post, I commented that the street where I used to live when I first moved to Ciudad Guzman, has everything. Within a street of not more than 400 meters can be found an excellent baker, a church, three doctors, a dentist, a funeral parlour, two gyms, an optician, at least two cafes, a bar, a little hole-in-the wall shop to copy keys, a natural foods outlet, three largish off-street parking places, a textile shop etc. etc.
In fact, Ciudad Guzmán is full of small specialist shops, which I think we have largely lost in the UK. On one corner, is a cobbler who does amazing work in recovering shoes that in the west we would throw away. There are many small tailors specialising in clothes repairs. The other day, I came across a small shop selling knitting products which was full of women participating in a knitting circle.
There must be literally hundreds of abarrotes, small grocery corner shops. The bad news for them, and in my opinion for Ciudad Guzmán as a whole, is that I just heard Walmart is planning on building a Superstore here along with a Sams Club.
5. The People.
A potential downside of Ciudad Guzmán is that it is a very conservative, catholic city – it was a stronghold for the deeply Catholic Cristeros fighting the Mexican post-revolutionary government in the Civil War in the 1920’s. Like in other strongly catholic areas in Mexico there is an emphasis on appearances. The reality behind the appearance can, of course, be very different.
The good news, which is the other side of the coin, is that the city is full of traditions and the people are extremely courteous, warm and friendly. When I lived in Cuernavaca for a year, I don’t remember anyone ever asking me where I was from in a shop. Here it happens all the time.
6. The Traditions.
One of the principal reasons I like living here is that it is a very traditional Mexican city in a rural area. There is very little foreign tourism.
This means that traditional forms of life are still very present here: the observance of the novena in different neighbourhoods leading up to the Día de Guadalupe on December 12th; the October Feria; the pilgrimage to Talpa starting in early March; the celebration of the Saint Day of each different barrio. I suspect some of the traditions are declining and the city now has a fancy new coffee shop from the Italian Coffee company chain in prime position in the arcade near the corner of the main plaza. And as I commented already, the Walmart Empire will be arriving soon. But it is still possible to see people on horseback or with donkeys in the smaller streets.
One of the most interesting times to be in Ciudad Guzmán is for the three week long Feria in October which culminates in an enormous three hour long procession of different types of traditional dancers, charros (Mexican cowboys, cowgirls and cowchildren), carros alegoricos (displays of bible scenes mounted on tractors), and finally a huge, heavy wooden platform carrying the statues of the Patron Saint – St. Joseph holding el Niño Jesús – and the Virgin Mary. The platform is held upright for the procession around the city, which can take up to six hours, by two teams of around 50 men. It is a great honour to do this.
7. The Food.
Like everywhere in Mexico, Ciudad Guzmán has its particular specialities as well as the whole range of typical delicious Mexican food. Local delicacies include: chile de uña (tostadas spread with a finely chopped mixture of chile, tomatoes, coriander, onion and other more secret ingredients); the enormous Pepe’s tostadas which are also known as ‘tostadas de muco’ for the effect the spicy tostadas have on the nose; ponche de granada which is mexzcal and pomegranate juice; and palenquetas, which are a local sweet made of nuts embedded in a sugary base.
Also like many places in Mexico, there is a whole range of places to eat. Fancy restaurants, cenadurias which serve pozole, tamales, flautas, enchilidas and tostadas at night, and lots of wonderful street food. Just in the short street where I live there are two really good, cheap restaurants. I can have a soup thick with fresh vegetables, chicken in a mole or pepian sauce, and a home made dessert with the aguafresca of the day for 56 pesos (about 5 USD). When eating out is so good and cheap, no wonder I don’t cook at home as much as I used to in England.
What still delights me is that after five years of living here, I can still discover new food haunts. Only this morning I found a great bakery which I must have passed countless times without noticing it. Shops here have much less emphasis on display and design than their western counterparts so you often have to be told about the food they sell. One of my favourite places is a little juice bar set in a wooden hut in someone’s front garden on the way to the Parque Ecológico. Here for 12 pesos Doña Chuey will make you a ‘levanta muerto’ (‘wake the dead’) – made of freshly squeezed orange juice, carrot juice, pineapple, kiwi, celery, plum, apple and beetroot.
And finally, you never know what is around the corner for you in any Mexican city