Two new guitars, one rolling pin, eight passion fruits, six mangoes, a mask of a terrifying red-haired woman, a wearable blanket, a wooden cigarette holder, and an extra passenger. These were the fruits of one three-day road trip to Paracho, a small town in Mexico’s Western Central Highlands, famous for its guitar makers.
It began with a casual conversation.
“How far is it to Paracho?”
“About eight hours, I think”
“I need to go there to get a guitar I’ve had custom built for me. When the Spanish came over they taught the townspeople how to make classical guitars and the tradition has stuck. The whole town is made up of luthiers, and they charge a fraction of the price of the US. ”
“Sounds like a mission. Let’s do it!”
And with that, like many a journey before, the road trip was born. It started with Jess (the guitar-buyer), Selinger (hula-hooper, chef and Jess’s girlfriend) and Habib (the driver, acupuncturist, and general wizard). I was drawn in by the adventure of it – a mission to collect a special guitar from a mountain town in Mexico. Steve had a weekend of work ahead of him so sadly had to decline, but on the morning of departure, we had a last minute addition when local muralist Jesse decided it looked like too much fun to pass on. We started with five and would come back with six.
We’d decided to break up the journey with a night-stop in Guadelajara. A last-minute request on Couchsurfing had found us Manolo, an architect and hopeful wedding proposal planner, who invited all five of us to stay – likely drawn in by the promise of wizardry.
A five hour Gonzo-style journey through jungle and mountain-lined roads with a brief road-side stop to placate a policeman who objected to our driver’s style, brought us to Guadelajara.
A jam session ensued, taking advantage of our host’s son’s mini drum kit. The non-musical among us entertained ourselves with some tiny, infuriating – then deeply satisfying – metal puzzles.
That night, Manolo took us out on the town to a bar selling more than 100 beers, and a club that played live ska music. He tried to teach my two left feet some salsa steps, and later joined the band on stage to sing Nicaragua’s pop-rock anthem.
We awoke fuzzy-headed the next morning, and after an impromptu yoga class from me, set out on a whistle-stop tour of Guadelajara. Highlights included some splendid street art. a beautiful central square and a ‘torta ahogada’, which literally translates to ‘drowned sandwich’ and is made of a meat baguette doused in a salsa soup – not the easiest thing to eat – especially out of a bag!
It was then time to head to Paracho. Selinger kept us entertained (and slightly horrified) when she exposed a taste for chilli-sauce-topped cookies.
The nearer we got, the colder it became as we ascended into the mountains, and by the time we reached the town, the sun had set and scarves and woolens came out. That night I’d sleep with all my clothes on – fleece and all.
This was it – the fruition of our journey – it was time to collect the guitar. Jess had ordered it from Fernando, a man well-known and recommended for his skills.
We found his workshop and, when handed the guitar, Jess found himself almost to nervous to play it – he’d waited months for this moment. After eventually finding the courage, it was love at first strum.
The rest of us had become distracted – Jesse by an overwhelming bout of ‘hanger’ – and the others by the sight of three bling kings dancing outside the church, which was blasting dance music to an otherwise peaceful town. We stared at the epiphany celebration, wandering if all Paracho’s religious days are marked by church raves.
We had expected the town to be full of guitarists and live events, but it turns out that very few of the luthiers play the instrument themselves and there’s no tradition of guitar-music in town – not even mariachi music. Tired of being in a place full of guitars without the means to play, the younger generation are starting to change this and are taking lessons, said Fernando.
Not keen to join the church rave, we filled our bellies with tacos, enchiladas soaked in mole, and a humungous chocolate flan, before bedding down for the night in a little hotel on the edge of the town.
Morning bought a treat with the arrival of the weekly market – the largest in the state of Micholocan, a fact told to me proudly by a lady selling indigenous clothes. We counted a grand total of one other white person while in town – a nice change from our beloved, but ex-pat-heavy San Pancho.
Before we left, there was one more mission to accomplish: I wanted to buy a guitar – not the refined, fancy version a la Jess – but a suitable one for beginners like Steve and I. The musicians in the group helped me shop, and, after much deliberation, I settled on the first one I’d tried. We’ve named him Leonard, but I suspect it’s actually female.
And so we headed home with our new instruments and gifts from the market – but there was still one last thing to add to our loot…
We found him about four hours into the journey during a gas station stop for lemon peanuts, ice-lollies and coffee. He ran up to Jesse and, on noticing they had the same hair, it was deigned a match made by the Gods. The gas-station attendents said he’d turned up a year before, had no home, and would we please take him home to give him a better life. Jesse couldn’t resist the little one’s sideways smile and so it was decided, he was taking the ragamuffin home.
And that’s how five became six on our journey back to Paracho. Tom Junks, as he’s been christened by Jesse, has settled in with ease to the good life in San Pancho. He recognized his name within hours and has already become a popular face in town. Jess is delighted with his guitar and I’m slowly learning to bear the pain on my fingers as I learn to play mine.
The final outcome of the roadtrip is yet to happen – when Jesse wakes his roommate wearing the dreadful mask. I’ll let you know the outcome…