When I set out last Sunday on my only full day in Guanajuato, it was not my intention to walk across half the perimeter of the city, but that is exactly what I did. The benefit of travelling alone is that epic adventures on a whim are the norm, not the exception. There is no one else to convince but yourself that the next best thing is right around the corner (when if fact it was up a mountain, around two valleys, and past something unexpected).
Guanajuato is the most amazing walking city. There is no point in having a car, it isn’t big enough to need it, the buses are frequent and easy, and driving would only mean missing all the little callejons that you can’t drive down.
After making it through the center, I started rambling up the hill thinking it couldn’t be too far a walk to that giant pink church, the Valenciana. This is where the town starts to get more rundown – houses under half construction, and this clay factory where the trinkets sold in town for pennies are shaped and dried in the sun. You’d never see that from a bus.
Although, as the bird flies the church wasn’t that far from downtown up the side of the valley, from a roadside view, it required quite a few switchbacks and roundabout going to actually get up there. On the way there, another red church that wasn’t visible from the valley came into view, and was a great resting point. It was clearly Sunday, and the masses were out for mass.
Some boys were hovering around me and finally asked me for my bottle. I offered them the full thing to share, but they said they just wanted to empty bottle, for change I suppose. I found it such a unique and polite way to ask for something they needed. I gave them the rest of my snacks, and finally after some insistence they took the rest of my water. I was just excited I was able to conduct the whole encounter in Spanish and hope it helped them a tiny bit in their day.
From around the next corner, it looked like the pink church was RIGHT THERE, but of course, around more switchbacks and up the mountain, it was much further. After finally getting there, I rested at the base with an older woman selling geodes and such from a local mine. She gave me entire history of the area in Spanish, of which I understood approximately 5%. But it was sweet.
La Valenciana is a cathedral dating from the late 1700s. The pink stone and location make it visible from anywhere in the city. I think the little hilltop community here is actually it’s own town, and has the vibe of the kind of place that people don’t leave very often.
I took the bus back town the mountain – 15 minutes, as opposed to the two or three hours I spent taking the long way up. I made it back to the other side of town to the Mummy museum that everyone talks about. It is quite a racket with an endless line out the door. 50 pesos to look at the dessicated and highly preserved bodies that were dug up decades ago to make room for more folks. They are in amazing states of preservation, and some are quite disturbing. The worst/most interesting were the babies – up to 100 years old complete with eyelashes, fingernails, and perfect baby toes. It was interesting to learn that traditionally in Mexico baby funerals are treated as a joyous event to lift the families spirits with music, dancing, dressing the baby in white, and making a parade through the city.
As I was headed back to the hostel for a siesta, I passed a cafe that just called to me. I really wanted to have dinner there, and made it back off the hill the hostel was on. The effort was worth it, as La Vida Sin Ti (The life without you), turned out to be a truly unique and memorable experience.
As soon as I walked in, a woman who wasn’t even working started talking to me and getting the waitress’ attention to help me. The woman and her party then turned their seats to include me in their conversation while they drank coffee, made (from what I could understand) many off color comments about dating and men, and life in general. This was a good enough night for me, but that is only the beginning. A rather flamboyant man with tattoos all over his arms came in and started joking with the woman talking to me and pretending to dirty dance with her. He then came over to me, and when I laughed and pushed him away with my strongest Mexican cuss words, the whole place erupted in laughter. It turned out pretty much everyone there were close friends and regulars – all writers, artists, musicians, and the tattooed man a mime/magician. The owner of the restaurant is a writer who writes exclusively in Portuguese by the name of Oliverio Alvarez. I was going to leave and call it a night, but decided to stay when I saw this picture in the bathroom.
After finishing a unique quesadilla, I joined the folks at the bar and got to talking. It turned out everyone spoke English (and they weren’t shy about letting the disappointment that I’m not conversational in Spanish be known – although I learned later in the night some of this was projected anger at former or present American girlfriends who never learned Spanish.)
At some point in the night we were talking about art, and I stated that I was a really good singer. I didn’t mean for it to sound the way it did, but everyone stopped in their tracks, made jokes about my American-ness, and then dragged me on top of the bar and ordered that I sing right then and there to the restaurant full of people – with no guitar, and no time to think about what might go over. I tried to get out of it, but was instructed that I couldn’t make such a comment without proving it (this coming from a writer – if he were put in the same situation, it is impossible to make a writer provide a novel at a moments notice.) So I sang – Rock Salt and Nails to be exact.
Luckily for me, it went over extremely well, and the writer who claimed that he was ready to ridicule me for my American bravado the second I was finished instead asked me to marry him.
And so went the night. They shut the place down, they locked the doors, and a few of us artist types spent the night drinking, talking, and occasionally they made me sing a song – although my ability to come up with one on the spot and actually remember the lyrics got worse as the night progressed. Sorry Derek Hoke, I hope the butchered version of Still Waiting I came up with at 1am never makes it onto youtube.
For only the second time since I’ve been in Mexico, I had a two day weekend. Road trip!
I headed to Guanajuato, the city that I’ve heard so much about from every other teacher I’ve met in Guadalajara. It is pure magic. The entire city looks like one giant castle, with stone streets, stone walls, an entire subterranean roadway system, and bards roaming the city in what look mideval costumes.
I arrived late Saturday night, and was a little nervous about finding my hostel. The bus dropped us off downtown – underground. It just stopped in the middle of a tunnel (of which there is a tangle of rabbit warren like roads under the city), and told everyone to get off. The tunnels are clean, well-lit, and a haven for youngsters who want to make out where their dad’s can’t see. When I popped up to the surface, the city was a gorgeous and busy maze of lights, people, and stunning cathedrals.
My roommates at the hostel were a merry band of Korean folks who immediately invited me up the rooftop for a bottle of whiskey and reminiscing about the land of morning calm. It was a great evening with an amazing view from the top of Casa de Dante. It was really nice to hear some Korean language again and trade stories about places we’ve lived. These folks all work for Samsung Engineering and get to travel around the world working on different projects.
To say this city is a maze, is an understatement. Roads go under each other, around each other, up mountains, and down spiral staircases to nowhere. It is a land of dreams, and for a kid who believes in dragons, would be fantasy on earth.
Two hours northwest of Guadalajara is an archaeological site that very little is known about. It’s believed to be part of the Teochitlan culture, which the neighboring, tiny pueblo town is named after, but it’s not known for sure. The believed time from is from 300-900 BCE, but again, these particular pyramids are not known for sure. What is known is that their circular shape is unique to pyramids anywhere in the world, and the steps are unique to this area.
It is fairly smooth bus ride from Guadalajara, and an easy half hour walk from Teochitlan up the mountain to the pyramids.
On the other side of the city is a large lake. The restaurants there are supposed to be amazing. Although we had a great view, a nice spot under the trees, and some good live music, I didn’t find my shrimp fajitas to be much more than mediocre.
Last Saturday, one of the guys that I refer to as Los Hombres a la Tienda took me on a cultural excursion in the city. I hang out with them drinking cerveza on Friday and Saturday nights and learn more Spanish that way then I have through taking overpriced lessons. Parque de Aqua Azul has a giant market on Saturdays that is full of young people peddling strange wares from piercings, handmade hippy clothes, everything related to metal and goth culture, cult classic toys, and a disarray of general junk. I bought a pair of sandals made out of old tires with pretty flower cloth and wooden beads for straps.
Next to the market is the actual park, and was the most relaxing thing I’ve done so far in the city. It’s a quiet oasis, complete with sweet fifteneers getting their pictures taken in crazy princess costumes.