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.