Today we arrived at the third city in our journey away from La Penita and have but two more to go. As Guanajuato came into view from the highway, it was quick to notice from across the valley, that the city was built on some very steep hillsides and we’re going to have to navigate ourselves through some very narrow and winding streets when we get there.
We had a challenge that turned out to present some very interesting outcomes while looking for a hotel. Not only were the streets FILLED with pedestrians, but we found that the longest straight away in town was no more than 25 feet. The locals get around by either walking (more like hiking) or public transportation. There is at least one cab for every 20 to 25 people and a bus for the rest. As one bus pulled up to their stop two others were still filling up with paying passengers. Our first goal was to find a hotel, and of course it must have parking available for our car as well. From the moment we started down the steep streets, we were called to the curb by “tour guides” that not only wanted to help us find a hotel, but guide us throughout their wonderful city. Thinking we could do it ourselves, we continued into the city. Finally we found ourselves deep in the middle of Guanajuato with heavy traffic all around us and a hotel just sitting there waiting for us to check it out. The only thing was, there was no parking anywhere so I pulled up to the curb, let Sol, Carol, and Louise out, and hoped that “if” the police were to come up to me he would understand our predicament and let us illegally stop for a couple of minutes. Sure as hell, it wasn’t but a couple of minutes and I had that policeman standing at my window and wanting me “out of there”…no excuses !!! Fortunately he walked away and out of site (probably on purpose)… A couple of minutes later the crew came back and they had company with them, a “tourist guide” who “speaks English”. Well it seems that when it comes to finding your way around Guanajuato it’s almost a “must” to employ a local tourist guide and now we’ve found one (or maybe it’s HE FOUND US…). Anyway, he knew of a “wonderful” hotel right in the middle of the city with parking in front of the rooms, AND it’s going to be in our budget.
With everyone squeezed into the car, we were directed to take a turn at the next corner and head down into one of the tunnels of Guanajuato. Now I’ve got to tell you, once you’ve driven down in the tunnels of this city you lose all sense of direction. Fortunately we had our “tourist guide”. Once we entered the tunnel we were told to drive into a domed opening in front of us and this turned out to be “our” hotel for the next three nights.
It also turned out to be almost perfect for all we wanted to do. There was no need for us to have a car and fortunately it was always safe to leave behind while we were checking out the city. After having our included breakfast in the mornings, we would walk up a short driveway at the back of our hotel and enter into the center of town…now the only decision we had to make was “which way do we go”.
I guess the first thing we did, was to hire our guide for the next morning. He was hired to take the 4 of us by van and spend a day visiting the highlights of Guanajuato. I’ve also got to write about this: The “guide” that we found (???), introduced us to the hotel. He got a commission…OK, that’s business. The “guide” also found us ANOTHER guide, “the best English speaking guide” and again he got a commission…OK, that’s business. The negative of all of this, WE PAID THE COMMISSIONS !!! Our first night came up quickly after all of our guides left so we decided we should head up the driveway and enjoy our first night in Guanajuato with a cold beer and a nice dinner. We wanted a non-Mexican dinner but found that almost impossible to find after walking all over our “new city”. I decided to get up a little early the first morning and “walk some of the tunnels”. In 1990, the first time we were in Guanajuato, you wouldn’t have walked into one of these tunnels. The HEAVY exhaust fumes and smoke from the diesel trucks would have killed you in ten minutes. Now it is safe from fumes and any other type of danger, the only thing you have to worry about is finding your way back. Once you’ve gone from one tunnel to another by taking a turn here or there you will get turned around (and I did). In meeting our guide in the morning, we were taught a little history lesson of Guanajuato that we found interesting. At one time the city was split by a small river which now serves as the main thoroughfare under the city. With the growth of the city and building a dam, the government diverted the rivers flow to new pipes which are now located deep under the original tunnel. This then gave them the opportunity to build more and more tunnels. Fact is, today they are still tunneling deep into the hills and continuing with their infrastructure. Because of the extremely hilly terrain, there is only one main road to enter the city and one to leave. The main street leading into the city now runs for three km underground and follows the original course of the Guanajuato River. It is that street that we entered into our hotel. With the extreme irregularity of the terrain, the city hosts hundreds of small alleyways, and some very steep staircases. These run up the hillsides to some of the most colorful homes you could imagine.
I read about the name of one of these alleys and I thought I would include it here for you…”Sal si puedes” (Exit if you can)… It fits more than one of the streets and alleys if you ask me. The main church of the city is the Basilica Colegiata de Nuestra Señora de Guanajuato built between 1671 and 1696. The first night in town we had dinner across the plaza from the church and watched while hundreds attended the services. The most famous alley is the Callejón del Beso (Alley of the Kiss).
It was located about 4 blocks away from our hotel so or course we had to check it out. It is only about 30 inches wide in places with over head balconies that nearly touch each other. Folklore states that couples that kiss on the third step (painted in red) are guaranteed seven years of happiness together. Now I know how that term “seven year itch” came about…I guess you have to go back to the Callejon del Beso every seven years if you want to stay together. Hell, how did we get to our 50th without this alley? The historic center of the city is filled with some great colonial mansions, churches and city buildings built with pink or green sandstone. Another place of city history is the Juarez Theater.
It is in “Neo-classical style with a façade containing nine sculptures depicting the Muses of Greek mythology”. It does look a little out of place here in Guanajuato, but on the other hand, they did a beautiful job of location and construction… And then there are the many plazas throughout the city that are well used by the locals, students, and the tourist alike. The city was the result of the discovery of mines in the mountains that surround it. These mines were so rich that the city was one of the most influential during the colonial period. One of the mines, La Valenciana, accounted for two-thirds of the world’s silver production at its height. We were supposed to get a tour in the La Valenciana but the van we were in all of a sudden developed a mechanical problem so we had to visit another instead. Oh well, isn’t one mine just like another (as far as walking in and looking around)? It was a good tour, short and to the point but good. When we got back into the van we found that it didn’t have enough power to get out of the parking spot…all out, grab a couple of guys from the mine and PUSH. Thank God the rest of the trip was downhill. Prior to that, we were at the top of Guanajuato and taking a tour through the world famous Mummy Museum. The city is home to the Mummy Museum which contains the “naturally occurring mummies” that were found in the municipal cemetery between the mid 19th and 20th centuries. What is meant by natural occurring is that between certain compounds of the earth, temperature of the ground, and timing of the burial, the mummification was able to take place without having any “wrappings” or other types of preservatives added prior to burial. Our visit to the museum was so much different from the last time we were here in 1990. Last time it was pretty depressing and not exactly what we’d call a “tourist attraction”. Now this time we found the museum totally remodeled and well laid out. The displays of the mummies were well done as well, not anywhere close to what we saw 20 years ago. Our next stop was again high again over-looking the city. A large statue of El Pipila, the poor miner who strapped a large flat stone onto his back for protection, crawled to the base of the enemy lines, so that he could throw his flask of tar and a torch to destroy a large door of the government building which allowed the insurgents to enter and take control. It also gave us another panorama of Guanajuato and another opportunity to see all the homes of pastel-color facades and balconies trimmed with iron work, and flower-filled window boxes. Hacienda San Gabriel de Barrera was to be our last stop. The hacienda was founded at the end of the 17th century, the former Hacienda de San Gabriel de Barrera served as a depository for the region's gold and silver until the late 1700s. Now as we visit this beautiful hacienda, we’re visiting a museum with a variety of exquisite gardens and amazing structures that have been beautifully restored. Now we’re heading west and will be back home by tomorrow night.
_Starting in the small town of Dolores, on September 16, 1810, is an event that marks the beginning of the Mexican War of Independence. This is the most important national holiday observed in Mexico. The “Grito” was the battle cry of the Mexican War of Independence by Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a Roman Catholic priest.
_It took over a decade before independence was won from the Spanish but with a lot of courage and blood for country, the battle was finally theirs. To remember the day and the one who lead from the first day, Dolores took on the name of Hidalgo so that all can remember…today this town in central Mexico is called Dolores Hidalgo and we’ve made this our 2nd stop in our week’s travels. Each year on the night of September 15th just before midnight, the President of Mexico rings the bell of the National Palace in Mexico City. After the ringing of the bell, he repeats a cry of patriotism based upon the “Grito de Dolores”, with the names of the important heroes of the Mexican War of Independence and ending with the three fold shout of Viva Mexico ! from the balcony of the palace to the assembled crowd in one of the largest public plazas in the world. With a crowd of half a million spectators shouting and waving flags, singing the national anthem, the event finds the beginning of a week’s celebration throughout the nation. Unfortunately we’re not here or in Mexico City for the ringing, but we are here in Dolores Hidalgo and able to see the church of Our Lady of Sorrows
_and the historic city center and main square. The town is also known for its “talavera tile” factories and street vendors selling homemade ice cream. Across the street from the church sits the main plaza. On all four corners of the plaza (and some across the streets) you can find vendors selling the homemade ice cream and in front of all of them you will find a line of ice cream lovers.
_Well all four of us felt we fell into that category so we jumped in line too. First they want you to find just the right flavor so to accomplish that, they offer you one tasting spoon after another until you find just the right taste for the day. They had so many flavors that we couldn’t identify and most tasted pretty good, but then they had many more that tasted sooo good we had trouble deciding. Finally with cone filled high we settled down on a park bench and licked as fast as we could before all that good sticky stuff settled over our hands. It wasn’t too long after that we got back in the car and started heading onto our next destination of Guanajuato. As I look back on Dolores Hidalgo I feel remiss that we didn’t take more time there and visit at least one of the ceramic factories. They produce about 75% of the ceramic ware of Mexico.
_Yes, I know, I’m not a buyer but to watch how they do what they do to make some beautiful product is a disappointment.
_The last time we were in San Miguel de Allende was 1990 and I must admit I didn’t remember too much about it. I did remember the central plaza area, but even that was remembered differently. Today San Miguel is settled by a lot of “ex-pats” and especially those that are “artists”. Yes, this is truly an artists community… Being a World Heritage Site with a well preserved historic area dating from 1550’s, the mostly colonial buildings
_are still continuously bringing tourists from all over the world and has again brought us to visit and explore. Sol, Carol, Louise, and I drove over 400 miles in one afternoon to get here. Our route was to take us around Guadalajara but like many times when you try to take a short cut, you find yourself heading directly into the areas you wanted to miss… I really don’t mind driving through the major cities but when you are trying not too it will drive you crazy. Signage is the problem here in Mexico. Most of the time your directional sign is pretty good, but then there are the other times were you have no idea as to where you are heading. It’s not uncommon for the signs to be hidden behind trees and bush so you’ve got to be diligent while driving or navigating. Another problem is when they give you names of other areas in the direction that you are going that mean nothing to you but are listed as the primary location and direction. Once we cleared Guadalajara again we were on our way… 8 ½ hours later we were in San Miguel and looking for a hotel.
_Being a “Colonial” town the signage on the buildings are small and hidden from sight but with a little luck and determination we found a small B&B within a couple of blocks of the central plaza. The houses have solid walls against the sidewalks. They’re painted in various colors with many featuring bougainvillea vines falling down the outside and the occasional iron grated window. The first night, we walked up the hill and into the plaza which is the location of the “red-sand church” (Parish of San Miguel).
_We were looking to find a place to enjoy dinner and do a little exploring. Now we knew that we were “inland” from La Penita, and we knew that the chance for the weather being much cooler we dressed much warmer for the evening ventures. We also knew to ask for “agua caliente” when checking into our room as hot water is a must if you want a morning shower…well the agua caliente wasn’t so caliente, it was more “frio”, at least for the first ½ hour or so … We started our first morning with a great cup of Starbucks before heading out to see the sights. We heard about a huge market that was located well outside of town, so we jumped into the car and headed out. It turned out to be more of the same type of trinkets that we have found in the markets elsewhere but we had to go see anyway. Later that afternoon we took a bus tour. It took us to some of the same places we had found on our own but it also took us to some great treasures as well. One of the treasures was the unique “laundry” gathering place.
_Each morning you can find the some of the local ladies bringing their laundry into the court, turning on the water and getting their whites even whiter. This one dates back to the 1600’s and is still used today. Yes, it has had a little modernizing but it’s still quaint. San Miguel is also known for being the first town to have a Pemex station.
_Pemex is the state owned gas station conglomerate. Here is the first pump and the location that fuel was available by Pemex in the 1950’s.
_At 7:am on February 6th the buses started arriving from as far away as Ixtlan del Rio, Santiago, and Tepic. Even here in the community of La Penita (our little “trailer park”), the international volunteers were up and waiting. One of the park’s main charitable activities is hosting the annual Cancer de Mama Clinic and today we’re expecting about 400 women.
_The women volunteers will be providing love, friendship, understanding, and professional fittings of a free prostheses, bra’s and clothing to those who are in need after a mastectomy. The clubhouse here at the park was transformed into a large number of “fitting rooms” that were pleasantly decorated to make everyone feel more comfortable, respected, and safe as they meet with their volunteer professional. In addition, Cancer de Mama has a limited number of wigs for those women that lost their hair through chemo therapy. Free wigs were individually styled for each lady so that they will feel more comfortable through that period when they’ve lost their hair. Because the ladies have traveled so long on the bus and it’s a long day here as well, Cancer de Mama provides beverages and meals to all that have come (husband and kids as well). One thing that was evident throughout the day were the tears, hugs, the hope, and the real friendships from the survivors and the volunteers…it was a great weekend. Louise helped each day at the “Free Store”.
_There they had available just about any type of clothing that they might want or need. My job was to transport the ladies from one location to another on a specially designed trailer that was attached to an ATV…(they had to do a lot of trusting in their driver).
_3 February 2011 OK, now let’s see if I can get caught up once again…
Last week we joined up with Sol and Carol and two other couples for a day trip to San Blas. San Blas is 40 miles north of us and was one of our stops last year as we traveled down here to La Penita. The last time we were there we decided to take the “Jungle Tour” that took us by boat through the marsh and swamp areas to see the local birds, crocodiles, little red frogs, and MILLIONS OF MISQUITOES !!! Well this time we just wanted have lunch and see a little more of San Blas.
_One thing that was new (and still under construction) was pedestrian only street that they were just finishing. For a smaller town like this, a “pedestrian only street” is really unusual but totally enjoyable as we were able to enjoy walking the town without worrying about stepping out in front of a car. Now all we had to watch out for were the bicycles… One other reason for heading this was is to pick up a loaf or two of the famous banana bread. Well last Wednesday Louise and I joined 7 others from the park and enjoyed a day of ZIP-LINING… We drove into PV and met with a bus that took us another 45 minutes south to the “Los Veranos Canopy”. It was a fabulous adventure in the “jungle environs” were we soared high above the Los Veranos “ecological preserve”. Our ride in the mini bus was like a torcher chamber on wheels. For some reason (that was explained to me and I’ll keep to myself…) the road that travels through PV is THE MOST POT-HOLED road in ALL the world and while sitting in the back seat of a crowed van is no less than evil. Anyway, that road is the only way to head south and while hitting my head off the ceiling a time of two we enjoyed the gorgeous coastal landscapes, seaside estates, and the incredible Los Arcos rock formations. Once we arrived we were met by a group of our hosts (4).
_It didn’t take but a minute and we knew that we were going to have a great “ZIP” and great bunch of guys to make it that way for us. After a short gathering to get all suited up and a briefing
_on how to hold on and how to stop, we ascended the steps to the canopy of the first zip-line deck. With a quick click from the harness we were strapped up and flying…
_Gradually the rides became more and more thrilling with the apex of the runs coming as we hit 30 miles per hour on a run of 1300 feet, and at the dizzying height of 500 feet above the ground (or what might be better described as above the river). On that run I decided I wanted to let it all hang out and let go of the strap and hung up-side down…I love it !!! Now that was what I enjoyed and this is what Louise enjoyed...
_The third town on our 3 day outing is Talpa de Allende or “Talpa” for short. The drive from Mascota to Talpa is made on a good, safe road that was only completed about 4 years ago and it is no stranger to the many tourists that come up from PV or down from Guadalajara. Just prior to cresting the plateau and looking down into Talpa, we came upon the La Cruz de Romero scenic over-look. Sitting in front of us was this chapel
_that not only comforts those that travel by and those that look up from below. It also invited us to stop
_for a climb to the top for one more amazing view and a physical challenge for us “oldies”. Standing at the top
_and following the road that we were to travel from the chapel to Talpa, we were amazed at the forests of maple, oak and fir trees as well as local species of orchids and ferns…
_Talpa is also one of Mexico’s most cherished pilgrimage sites. For centuries the devout have walked from the coastal Jalisco and Nayarit (2 states of Mexico) and Guadalajara to show their devotion to the “Virgin of Talpa”.
_The icon is housed in Talpa’s basilica, which was built in her honor in 1782.
_There is an old story that “shortly after the virgin was found in the mid-1600's, she disappeared to Mascota because the mayor wanted the devoted coming to his town. Mysteriously the virgin kept returning to Talpa until the mayor finally gave up”. After checking out the church and the chapel of Our Lady of Talpa (where the Virgin resides in a glass case) we crossed the street and toured the church museum and then onto the many different souvenir shops around the plaza. Also we found several shops throughout town that made this sweet “rollos de guayaba” or something that I (not Louise) recognized more as “fruit roll”. The big difference was this “roll” was much thicker and thus a lot sweeter. I felt it was just too sweet for my liking but obviously well liked by the Mexican community venturing into town. Speaking of sweet, on the way back to La Penita (117 miles) we stopped off to visit a local tequila distillery
_and have a couple of samples (except us drivers of course). Louise picked up a bottle of almond tequila that now sits hidden away (for a rainy day I guess…).
_Mascota, established around 1592, this lush valley at 4,000ft is rich in wheat, rice and corn. The name Mascota comes from a Nahuatl word "Mazacolta" meaning "Place of Deer and Snakes" and does not refer to 'pets' (isn’t that great, more snakes…). Mascota is an agricultural town,
_so we weren’t surprised when we saw horses and donkeys being ridden through town and gathered at the corner. It was no different than seeing some young men coming into town in their cars and stopping to chat at one of their favorite hang-outs. We found that Mascota, together with Talpa are known as the land of the horse and donkey so we found that all we saw made a lot of sense. People from all over Mexico and beyond come here to buy horses and then there are those that bring their horses here to be trained. It’s also a place to purchase peanuts…the fields are just about everywhere and the flavor of the freshly grown peanut is amazing. For us, we were primarily there to find a place to spend the night as there were a lot of great hotels and B&B’s to choose from. Our hotel was one that was about in the middle of the price and quality area but one that was very comfortable and right in the middle of town.
_Not only that, it had a great little coffee shop at the corner that all of us enjoyed first thing in the morniing. It was kind of a “stopping off” place on our way to Talpa but one that we are already planning a trip to come back too.