Arriving at the Festival International Cervantino, in Guadalajara city, Mexico, was like a dream. Colonial-esque buildings forged from large sandstone blocks rested on cobblestone streets, in a dry, savanna-like landscape. It was as if a European town, housing an eclectic culture of old and new worlds, had been tossed into the desert.
On this particular weekend, the town was pulsating with celebratory gusto, Mexican style. Mariachi bands racketed, young uni students sipped lattes on terraces, and folk crammed into taverns where containers labelled “pork brains” were reborn into ashtrays.
Like many towns, Guadalajara, whose name derives from the Arabic phrase “valley of the stones”, has a tumultuous past. It was settled in 1542 to establish permanence during the Spanish conquests. Later, it provided much of the scene for the Mexican War of Independence (19th Century), as its leader Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla stationed himself there for some time.
After being thrust back and forth between rebels and royalists, Guadalajara progressed gradually, having a university established in 1791. By 1930, progress accelerated, and in 1953, Enrique Rueles of the University of Guanajuato began to put on short plays from Miguel de Cervantes (author of Don Quixote) in various parts of town.
This practice, which morphed into the Festival International Cervantino, grew, and after a little federal funding in the 1970s, it flourished to boast international acclaim. Today, Guadalajara city is considered the cultural centre of Mexico and the home of mariachi music (folk style Mexican music played by men donned in traditional, suave attire).
When I was there during the festival (15-16th of November), Guadalajara was full of zesty colour and gyrating cheer. Wandering through town I received hearty backslaps and saw numerous wide grins amidst a sea of heads. Observing the activity from cafes was a highlight, as was spending my entire first night on the street, absorbing as much of the festival as my weekend would allow.
The following evening, myself and my three companions (pictured above) slept in a hacienda run by a local woman on the outskirts of town. Here our final night ended like the weekend began, a dream, as a lone dog howled into the night sky, piercing the silence of the hills as we huddled down excitedly to sleep.
I was only there for two full days, but Guadalajara city is one of the most beautiful and interesting places I’ve been to.