We were driving along a lonely road north of the Santiago River Canyon with archaeologist Francisco Sánchez, heading for home after visiting Rancho el Mexicano, famous for being “in the middle of nowhere.”
“I know this road,” said Francisco. “Do you realize we are very close to one of the early incarnations of Guadalajara? There’s a monument marking the spot and I know where it is.”
Naturally my friend Rodrigo and I prevailed upon the archaeologist to show us the historic spot. As we drove along, he explained that the first attempt to found Guadalajara was in Nochistlán in Zacatecas, but there wasn’t enough water and that plan was scuttled. Next they tried Tonalá, but brutal conquistador Nuño de Guzmán chased them away, saying he wanted that land for himself. Then they decided upon the spot we were heading for, called Tlacotán, located 17 kilometers northeast of today’s Guadalajara Zoo.
Francisco stopped the car. “We’re here. The monument is just a few steps away.”
The place looked even more solitary than Rancho el Mexicano and I couldn’t see a monument anywhere. But all good adventures in Mexico start with a step over, under or through a barbed wire fence and this was no exception. On the other side of the fence was a row of trees and then we saw it, a great slab looming above us like the monolith in “2001, A Space Odyssey” and all around it nothing but cornfields as far as the eye could see. A large engraving stated that Guadalajara was founded here in 1535 and declared a city by royal decree in 1539.
“But there’s nothing here! Where are the ruins?” we asked our guide, who assured us that back in those days there were houses, a cathedral and a big plaza shaded by a tall Zapote tree.
“So, what happened?” I asked Francisco.