5 April, 2015
Guanajuato – Liberal Gem of Central Mexico
Guanajuato is where we decided to spend the bulk of our stay in Mexico. This decision was based upon an afternoon I spent in the small city several years ago. Spanish architecture, rich colors, a crazy tunnel system and a talent for naturally producing mummies from 10% of the dead residents made me want to know more.
My intuition was spot on (naturally). This city is even better than I anticipated. Not only is it historically significant as a former silver mining town run by Spaniards on the slave labor of the natives but that aspect of its history also made it an early hot spot of the revolution which liberated Mexico from Spanish rule in 1821. In fact, the street we are living on is off the path that is part of the route Father Hidalgo took when he led the army of revolutionaries to the Alhóndiga giving the insurgents their first victory against the Spaniards in the fight for independence (thousands of pissed off Mexican countrymen armed with sticks, stones, and machetes charged a granary that hid 300 Spaniards and their allies, broke down the door and killed everyone inside). The war for independence began in 1810 and Hidalgo was executed very early on but he is considered the father of this country’s freedom.
So there’s that.
Guanajuato is also the birthplace of Miguel Cervantes (of Don Quixote fame) as well as Diego Rivera. There is a strong cultural sensibility here – several art museums, a symphony which I am told repeatedly is fabulous, and open theatres which play old black and white films. Advertisements for jazz nights are common in several restaurants.
The University brings a liberal attitude to the city and there is a significantly open gay population – tourist and local. My Spanish teacher tells me this is unique to this city and that the state of Guanajuato is actually one of the most conservative in Mexico. It makes me think Austin, Texas or Atlanta, Georgia would make a good U.S. sister city in this regard. My Mexican side of the family is from a very small, conservative Catholic town so it is refreshing and exciting to see this here. It’s definitely not the Mexico I grew up with!
Another architectural gem within Guanajuato is the tunnel system. The Rio Guanajuato ran down the Sierras and through the town, flooding at least once a year. Guanajuato, being a silver mining town, cleverly built a system
of underground tunnels to divert the river out of the city center. This tunnel system has been paved over and is now a complex, unique part of the pedestrian-friendly roadways that run through the city. If you look at GTO on google maps, you’ll see it’s a clusterf*** of winding messes that amount to underground tunnels, one way cobblestone roads, and brick paths leading up the hills to residential areas. There’s no way to see the severity of the inclines but let’s just say my calves are looking nice and our legs are always tired … like *always* tired… regardless of whether it is the start of our day or the end of it.
Below I’ve added some photos that give you an idea of what a charming place this is. Being here for Semana Santa (Holy week, the week before Easter) has been an adventure; both joyous and somber celebration all day and night. I’m grateful we have more travel ahead or I would have had a hard time
resisting the influx of artisans peddling fantastic embroidery, jewelry, pottery and clothing. Knowing that whatever we purchase will get hauled to Costa Rica and beyond does keep my purchasing mostly in check. I also have a tendency to embrace the fashion of a place I am in and end up taking stuff home that I would never wear outside where I purchased it. A traditional embroidered Mexican dress would be one such purchase I have successfully avoided. Besides, only tourists buy that stuff. And floral crowns. Or *anything* with Frida Kahlo on it.
We have a friend visiting us next week! The NomNoms are excited to host our first guest and I suspect it will instigate several outings to more museums and possibility a day trip to San Miguel de Allende; aka “Little America” (due to it’s expat population). San Miguel is also renown for their silverwork and pottery and reportedly has a bohemian feel to it.