Ignorance is Bliss

Let's say you're thinking about heading to a city you've not been before... How much should you try to find out about said city before arriving? 

Should you maybe buy a guide book? Read up on the city's history and culture? Check out TripAdvisor? Read reviews on restaurants to eat at, places to go and things to do? Or... should you just turn up not knowing a thing and try to find out for yourself?

Apart from downloading some offline maps of the area I'm visiting from Google and booking a hostel within walking distance of the bus station, I usually do nothing more to inform myself than scrolling through a few photos on Google Images. Literally, that's it.

Don't get me wrong, I get the appeal of knowing more, I really do. But the experience of visiting somewhere is just a whole lot better I think when you arrive without expectations. Take this for example... let's say you're in town and you fancy a coffee. Do you take a stroll around until you find somewhere that looks interesting - or - do you check out TripAdvisor to see where has the best reviews?

Sure, its nice for BobbyUS876 to suggest that the coffee at Cafe Negro is "the best in Central America" but what if you go there and dare to disagree? I mean granted, if Bobby thinks its the best in Central America, its probably going to be fairly respectable but the problem here is that Bobby has set an expectation and we all know that expectations lead only to one thing... and that's disappointment. So unless you agree with Bobby that you are indeed drinking the best coffee in Central America you are unfortunately going to be left somewhat disappointed EVEN IF you have a really nice cup of coffee. 
For me, expectation management is the key to having a good time and the best thing to do is just not to set any
Case in point was Guadalajara where before arriving I knew nothing more than it was a fairly large city. Ordinarily, I'd have probably skipped right over it but decided to stop by as it served as a useful skipping stone to the town of Tequila which on the other hand I was keen to visit... as... well... you know... its Tequila. And I'm in Mexico.

The city of Guadalajara was a little underwhelming if I'm honest and decided pretty quickly I'd only stay in town for a few nights. I wasn't disappointed by any means - like I said... you can't really be disappointed when you don't have expectations - it just didn't really feel like there was anything to stick around for.

The highlight of my time in Guadalajara was that it was the first time on this trip I was CouchSurfing, something I hadn't done in over 5 years. 

My host was Marymar, who along with her two teenage sons agreed to put me up for the full 3 nights I was in town. 

Me and my CouchSurfing host, Marymar

Marymar and her sons lived a few miles out from the city centre in a gated community where parked cars filled the driveways, lawns were neatly cut and the streets were clean and tidy. It was I think my first true experience of suburban "well-to-do" Mexico and apart from feeling a little surreal, everything was all just really rather nice.

On the evening I arrived, Marymar and I got to know each other over coffee whilst we waited for her eldest son to finish up at a fencing class he was taking at the local sports centre. It was here, over coffee, that I discovered Marymar's passion for travel and adventure and how not so long ago she herself had also taken an extended trip away. What was nice to hear was that despite working, owning a home and having two teenage sons, Marymar still managed to find a way to make it work and just goes to show that if you really want to to travel - you will find a way. 
Marymar's passion for travelling made me all the more hungry for this trip
It tasted far better than it looks
As means of saying thanks for having me, I on my final night offered to cook dinner for my hosts. After a lot of toing and froing I eventually settled on a simple not-so-healthy salad with bacon, fried bread croutons and avocado served with sausages and red wine.

When it came to visiting Tequila, I again did absolutely no research and arrived knowing nothing more than it was a town near Guadalajara with lots of factories making tequila. I had considered booking a tour ahead of time but Marymar insisted at dinner the night before there were plenty of factories to chose from and I'd easily be able to book a tour from within the town. On the morning I left then, my expectations were firmly set to zero. 

I left at 8 and after an Uber to the bus station and a 90 minute bus journey, I arrived into a small town which felt as stereotypically Mexican as it gets. The small bus station was on some random backstreet and after looking at the offline map I had downloaded I headed in the general direction of the town's centre. Following my hunch I made my way for 10-15 minutes until I arrived at what I assummed to be the town's main square.

The central square was super quaint and after a quick walkabout found several reps selling tours around the town's various tequila factories. After booking on to the next available tour which was just over an hour away I got some coffee and found a bench in the shade where I could shelter from the blistering midday Sun. 

After a few minutes sat alone I was approached by a young Mexican lad who I guess must have been in his early 20s. Smiling, he asked if he could sit down and with no reason to say otherwise I was compelled to say yes. 

Sporting a happy disposition, he quickly introduced himself and explained - in Spanish I might add - that he had travelled three hours that morning to be here so he could begin working a new job at a restaurant on the corner of the square we were sat at. He had clearly arrived well ahead of time and with still an hour or so to kill before his first shift I think he saw me as a good opportunity to perhaps kill some of that remaining time. Whilst initially I was perhaps a little suspicious of his motivation, he genuinely was just a nice, friendly and welcoming guy who over the course of half an hour was happy to talk in rudimentary Spanish about both his life and mine.

Alongside 20 or so others, the tour bus picked me up from the main square and took us the short 10 minute ride to the factory on the outskirts of the town. The tour, wholly in Spanish, was fascinating and despite not really understanding what was being said, think I got the gist of what was going on. 

Agave plants being processed on their way to becoming tequila
What I especially loved was the smell which greeted you as you entered the factory. 
It was a little smokey, a little tequilery (new word for you) and very sweet. It was delicious.

The tour finished with many free samples as a means I think of luring you in to buying bottles to take back home. And credit where its due, it was a good ploy. The tequila here was strong. Really strong. And certainly strong enough to loosen up people and their wallets as almost nobody boarded the bus back to town without at least one bottle of tequilery goodness. For me, as tempting as it was, I figured the additional weight in my backpack wasn't quite worth it and so made do with a few extra samples for good measure.

So with my time here over I can say that the past few days have been somewhat of a mixed bag. Guadalajara - the city - was on the whole very forgettable and not somewhere I imagine coming back to. But hey, with no expectations preceding my visit I am not leaving disappointed!! In fact, quite the contrary because both my trip to Tequila and the time I spent with my hosts were both really enjoyable and in the absence of expectations made all the more sweeter for being both unexpected and unplanned.

My take home message? Sometimes ignorance is a good thing.

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