El Diente, Mexico
Preparing to leave home for a two month trip always feels like a whirlwind event for me and Wills. With four of us in our growing family, the days of fitting all of our worldly possessions into the back of a pick-up truck are long gone. We certainly do not want to be accused of being bad parents… to our kitty cats Salem and Parkin. Our loving cats would be very disappointed if we failed to ensure their house was properly cared for in our absence.
Sitting on the plane as we approached Guadalajara, Mexico, looking out over rolling green hills dotted with the occasional building, I finally relaxed with the knowledge that our cats, and their house, were in the competent hands of a responsible renter. For us, the next two months would host multiple climbing festivals, as well as exploring climbing areas both old and new. I allowed my mind to wander to all the amazing places we would climb during the trip, and the excitement of starting a new adventure took hold.
Previously, on a visit to Mexico City, the capital of the country, I remember being blown away by the sprawl of what seemed an endless ocean of concrete and smog. Vying to be the most populous city in the Western Hemisphere with 21 million people in the greater metropolitan area, the visible impact of Mexico City on the geography is shockingly apparent from the air. This trip though, we were visiting Guadalajara in the state of Jalisco. Guadalajara is the second most populous city in Mexico, and also with a big and growing urban area and yet we were impressed by how much more livable it felt. Lushly vegetated volcanic hills and mountains covered in trees surround the city. From the plane we could see the steep walls of the Oblatos Canyon—the “Grand Canyon” of Mexico – and the giant nearby Lake Chapala, Mexico’s largest.
We were greeted by the smiling faces and warm hellos from Corina Balderas and Victor Eloisa of Vertimania, a climbing and outdoor sports store and Evolv climbing shoe distributor, along with their friend Luis Medina who was helping organize the festival at El Diente that we’d been invited to attend. Also having flown in just before us, came William Fuenmayor, a talented young slack-liner from Venezuela.
As Luis drove us into the city in his SUV, he raved about the outdoor sports opportunities of the area, especially the rock climbing and canyoneering, and his passion for life in Guadalajara. This echoed the feelings of nearly everyone we met there. So it was no surprise there was a huge turnout for the festival that Vertimania had organized. The area of El Diente is threatened by development, and the idea of holding the festival was to create public awareness for the area’s multiple outdoor uses from rock climbing, hiking, running and mountain biking to bird-watching and picnicking. El Diente boasts an impressive climbing history. Once on the sport-climbing world circuit it attracted early itinerant developers and seekers of the limelight such as Todd Skinner and Hans Florine. In fact, the area is touted by locals as the first place in the world to hold an international bouldering competition, which took place on the natural boulders of the area around 1986. The rock even reminded me of the rock at Queen Creek, Arizona where the famed Phoenix Bouldering Contest used to be hosted.
After checking into our hotel we were taken to eat dinner at Karne Gariboldi, a restaurant that was a sponsor at the Festival. Karne Gariboldi’s claim to fame is it’s speed of service… seriously, they claim to have the world record for serving dinner, of 8 seconds! Growing up in Southern California I have always loved going to Mexican restaurants when I’m hungry because they greet customers with chips and salsa. You know how that works: you stuff yourself full of chips before the main course arrives. Well, not here because the meal is in front of you within seconds of placing the order.
Someone played a joke on me. After our meal the entire staff of the restaurant came over placed an ornate floppy cloth crown on my head, and put a colorful fake cake in front of me, then began singing happy birthday! This would all make sense if it was actually my birthday… Everyone had a good laugh at my expense. But the free dessert made it worthwhile.
The day of the festival I was told “every climber from Mexico” would be there. Well, I only knew one climber from Mexico before this trip, which is Carlos, from Mexico City, who had shown me around El Chonta. And yes, there he was! Overall we were told over two thousand people attended at various times and there was a lively and fun scene. A great atmosphere. Not only were the climbers given a show, but William Fuenmayor displayed some pretty amazing acrobatics on the slackline, and locals joined in with some tricks of their own, occasionally necessitating the help of qualified paramedics, but it all ended well.
As for the climbing, there was an incredibly laid-back competition on real rock. In the first round the idea was to climb six boulder problems V8 and harder so as to make it on to round two, on a man-made wall! Conditions felt almost tropical, warm and humid, but surprisingly the rock was okay! Sure, it was a bit rough, but the steeper lines overall were not the kind to rip a tip on. We had fun amid the mass of competitors on some of the classics of the area, like Oscar Gonzalez’s Silmarilion, a thuggy gymnastic prow, that is front and center and a must-do. Checking off six lines I’d never seen before in these conditions wasn’t easy, and yes, I’ll have to go back to complete a couple of the problems I didn’t get to finish.
The next round was on an artificial climbing wall. There were about a dozen guys plus me, and one other woman (introduced to the crowd as the “strongest female climber in Mexico”) who made it to this stage of the event, and we all competed on the same lines as qualification for the final the following day. I am still a bit confused about the format, which was billed as “Sudden Death Elimination.” Even though I had to climb the last problem after time was up, I really enjoyed the comp, which is down to the enthusiasm and support of the crowd who all seemed to enjoy watching me struggle to keep up with the guys! Despite my elimination at the hands of the men, I did finish with the women’s first prize. The evening’s event ended abruptly as a torrential downpour, typical for the area, scattered all.
An extra couple of days in Guadalajara gave us a chance to do some climbing at El Diente outside of the festival. There is a very peaceful vibe in the place and it felt like a great environment to relax, away from the hustle and bustle of the city. For dinner one night Luis recommended a Guadalajara specialty, Torta Ahagada, which basically is a yummy marinated pork sub sandwhich. Delicious. Another of our best meals was cooked for us by talented young climber Adrian “Canape” Morales– the winner of the men’s bouldering competition at the Fiesta de El Diente! Thanks Canape!
Guadalajara is also the region in Mexico associated with Mariachi’s. Thank you Victor– for my lovely sombrero souvenir! The “big hat” created a lot of positive attention in the Atlanta Airport. It is now proudly hanging on our wall back in the US, a cheerful reminder of a great time!
Thanks also to Corina, Luis, Luci, Oscar, Sergio, Franz, and Andrea for showing us around and making our stay so much fun! Looking forward to my next trip to Mexico!