This is another post more about the photos than anything. Well, that and some info on places to check out, whether for eating or just to see.
This city has been one of the highlights so far on our trip. I know we are only about six weeks or so in, but I don’t see that changing over the course of the next six or so months. There is a reason why this is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (there are 31 total in Mexico, more than anywhere else in the Americas!) and I hope some of these photos show why.
The city itself has a disorienting feel about, starting with its location in the mountains. You can’t see it until you drive through a pass in the mountains and then it begins to appear on the mountainside. As soon as it appears, it disappears again as you drive into a tunnel. When you pop out of the tunnel, there is no indication of what direction you are facing or what part of the city you are suddenly in. But you are smack dab in the middle of a city and there are people
everywhere, cars honking and street signs likely to send you in a direction you had no intention of going in. This was one of the only times I was glad I was not driving because I would have just pulled over and studied a map for about an hour before moving another inch. Kiel prefers to figure things out on the go, so we went. And went, and went, not finding our camping spot. Instead, we ended up heading back out of town to regroup in the Bugamville Trailer Park, which was just a big, empty field.
We got camp set up just in time for a thunderstorm to pass through for most of the night. I’m happy to report that the Hubba Hubba tent I have been using withstood the best
thunderstorm Mexico could offer and I came out completely dry, Although, I did not make it to the next morning without a little mental scarring. Just after sunrise I was abruptly awakened by what I presume to be a stray dog that sprinted straight at my tent, jumping into the rainfly and bouncing off. Startled and disoriented, I reached for something to protect myself, coming up with the rubber mallet I use to pitch the tent. Mallet in hand, I laid completely still for about fifteen minutes while this dog sniffed around intently, poking his snout under the fly, trying to figure out how he was getting to his next meal. Finally, he left and I tentatively got out of the tent, telling Kiel we needed to get the hell out of there. So we did, heading back into the city. And somehow, we were able to find Morrill Trailer park right away. What a difference a day makes!
Other than the stunning appearance of the city landscape, as it climbs up the mountains, bursting with colors, there are some specific, interesting sites to check out WHEN you make it here. There is the Museo de Momias, which is on the outskirts of town, towards the Plaza de Toros (I’d give better directions, but I kept getting twisted around – but if you take Benito Juarez (the main street) out of the center, away from Nuestra Senora, you will eventually get there) and is within walking distance of the center, but there is a bus that goes there. It is $50 pesos to enter, or $35 for students (I used by BU ID from 8 years ago!). You are not supposed to take pictures, and I did not, but there were plenty of people snapping photos. There is also a tour guide (in Spanish only) who works for tips only, so hook him/her up. However, while the story behind the mummies is cool (bodies were exhumed in the late 19th century if families could not pay the imposed burial tax, but were preserved by the minerals in the ground) the exhibit itself is rather underwhelming. And don’t bother with the secondary exhibit when you exit from the mummy portion. I didn’t go, but Kiel said it was definitely not worth it.
The Pipila Monument is also cool, more for the view than anything. Again the story behind the monument doesn’t hurt either; the Spanish were entrenched in the Alhondiga during the war for independence and the Mexican nationals could not drive them out. El Pipila put a slab of stone on his back to protect him from the Spanish gunfire and crawled up to the walls of Alhondiga, spreading oil on the walls and setting fire to the structure so the Mexicans could attack. Ultimately, it was successful and the Mexicans won, with El Pipila getting a huge monument overlooking the city. You can take the funicular up ($15 pesos, one way) or you can walk up if you are feeling energetic. I took the funicular. The views are amazing and certainly worth the climb or the $15 pesos.
As with all major cities in Mexico, there is a main, central market, which is the Mercado Hidalgo in Guanajuato. It is a cool place to just walk around and take in all the sites and sounds. It was two levels, with lots of local crafts on the top floor and food on the first. Just to get an idea of prices, it was $9 pesos (less than $1 USD) for a kilo (2.2 lbs) of bananas!
There is the Callejon del Beso, which is an alley leading up the wall of the valley with another interesting story behind it. The story has a Romeo and Juliet feel, as a young woman was forbidden by her father to see a young man she was in love with. Rather than listen to her father, she disobeyed him, as teenagers are wont to do, and arranged for him to visit her from the house across the alley. Since the alley was so narrow the balconies of the two houses almost touched, allowing them to exchange kisses, or whatever teenagers in the 18th or 19th century exchanged. The father found out and killed the daughter. Anyway, you can walk up in one of the houses for free and see how close it really is. Again, this is also right off the city center, just before you get to the Mercado when coming from Nuestra Senora.
We really lucked out in meeting Rodolfo here, as he was able to recommend some great places to eat. Before me met up though, Kiel and I ate at Casa Valadez, which he mentioned had great pancakes and bread, as well as great coffee, for very cheap. It was right across from the Teatro Juarez in a crowded little plaza. The second day, Kiel, Rodolfo, Marianne and I had breakfast at Santo Cafe at Puente del Campanero #4, which has a cool little
seating area on a bridge looking down over an alley. I had huevos Aztecas, which were awesome and only ~$45 pesos. Most of the other dishes were about the same. Also, the waiter (not waitress) kept telling me I had beautiful eyes, which became the running joke for the day. He even showed up at the cafe we were hanging out at later in the day, Club Cafe (free wi-fi, just ask for the code – its LeBlu, shhhh!), and reminded me. I think he just missed his Norwegian wife. Anyway, the moral of the story is I have nice eyes. For dinner, we went to Trunco 7, which, oddly enough, is located at Calle Trunco #7, just behind Nuestra Senora. Kiel had the tortilla soup which looked and smelled awesome. I would have tried some had he not finished it in a matter of seconds. I had mole poblano con pollo, which was so tender, the chicken just fell off the bone. The mole was rich and was plentiful enough to be scooped up with the freshly baked bread. And my dish was only $70 pesos! Also, I
would recommend getting a liter of either (or both!) the sandia (watermelon) or melon (cantaloupe) refresco. It was so good, Kiel got a liter to put in his camelback for the walk home.
Finally, I will use this forum to say that Kiel is a wimp. We had a wonderful day touring the city with Marianne and Rodolfo, our new Mexican friend who lives in Poland (really, wtf???) and he could only have one shot of tequila with us! If I were Rodolfo, I would have been highly insulted. Instead, the three of us who were not wimps, came close to finishing the bottle, before Kiel and I headed back to camp.
I said it before, but I’ll say it again; I really enjoyed our time in Guanajuato. It was a walkable city, if you can handle the hills, has beautiful vistas, a lively spirit, great food and a sort of lost world feel to it. It seems like the Mexicans and Spanish know about it, but I don’t think US citizens, Europeans (except for a sprinkling of Germans and Dutch), or Asians have really discovered this place, but it is well worth the effort of getting there.