Guanajuato ~ Part 3

The remainder of our stay in Guanajuato was spent seeking out interesting restaurants and exploring places on our own.

We decided to check out the Mercado Hidalgo, a bustling marketplace opened in 1910, where the locals rent stalls to display their crafts and sell fruits and vegetables.

We were tipped off about El Midi, a nice little Mediterranean style restaurant for comida (lunch).  It is tucked away in a quaint little plaza, called Plazuela de San Fernando, where balconies overlooking the shops are filled with Talavera pots laden with fragrant plants.

From here we jumped into a taxi and headed to Ex-Hacienda San Gabriel de Barrera, a 16th-century former hacienda, with 3 acres of gardens representing several countries, Japan, Mexico, Italy, etc.  This is a tranquil setting, away from the hustle and bustle of the city and much of the original furniture continues to be displayed within the walls of the hacienda.

There is a famous alleyway not to be missed when in Guanajuato, that of the Callejon del Beso (the Kiss Alley).  Legend has it that two young lovers, one a wealthy Spanish girl, Ana, and the other a poor miner, Carlo, would sneak kisses from their balconies across from one another. One night Ana’s father witnessed this and murdered his daughter. Carlos was so distraught over his loss that he killed himself in one of the local mines.

A much photographed sculpture of Don Quixote de la Mancha and his sidekick Sancho Panza can be seen in the Plaza Allende, where the Teatro Cervantes is also located.

Just a few steps away is Campanero (Bellman) Street.  Looking skyward, you will see an 18th-century bridge, one of the few remaining in Guanajuato, with a lovely cafe spanning it.

One of the most beautiful theaters in all of Mexico resides in the heart of Guanajuato, across from the Jardin de la Union, the Teatro Juarez. The bronze sculptures of the Greek muses are proudly displayed on pedestals atop the theater and are breathtaking, both during the day and at night.  The inauguration of this theater occurred in October 1903 and can accommodate 1100 spectators.  It is the main stage for the annual International Cervantino Festival, as well as the focal point for theater, ballet, musical presentations, and painting and photography exhibitions.  On nights when there are no performances being held, impromptu mime acts and other student productions are taking place outside, with the stairs leading up to the theater packed with students and other observers.

Our last evening meal in Guanajuato was spent at a lovely sidewalk cafe, La Cappelina, sharing a pizza and people watching.  It was very heartwarming to see the number of smiling children, walking arm-in-arm with mothers and grandmothers, no matter what their age, not too embarrassed to be seen displaying this type of public affection.

This is a city of great vibrancy, perhaps because of the university influence, and one which appears to be adhering to their Spanish roots, despite the oppression of the past.  We look forward to revisiting this area again and again.

Guanajuato ~ Part 2

Guanajuato means (in the Tarasco native language) “place surrounded by frog formed hills”.  While hiking in the hills, supposedly two locals found many large rock formations shaped like frogs, hence the name given to this city.  It is a colonial, silver mining city and, both culturally and historically, is one of the most important cities in all of Mexico. Built between the years 1548 and 1554, UNESCO declared it a “World Heritage Site” in 1988.

One focal point of the city is that of the Basilica of our Lady of Guanajuato, built between 1671 and 1696.  Beautiful marble floors and crystal chandeliers reflect the grandness of this church.  The altar is constructed of an impressive 40 kilograms of silver.

Basilica (1)
Basilica (2)
Basilica (3)

Being the typical tourists, we decided on Day 2 to take a tour of the city with one of the local guides, Agustin, to better understand the history of this vibrant city.  We met him at the city’s center, in the Jardin de la Union.

Jardin de la Union

We donned hard hats and took a 20-minute tour of a former silver and quartz mine, Mina El Nopal, then headed off to explore the Templo de San Cayetano, one of the most impressive churches, both inside and out, which was built on behalf of the local miners. Construction was begun in 1765 and completed in 1788 and has 3 altars of carved wood, covered with plaster to protect against termites, and given a finish of gold leaf.  The organ is from Germany and the pulpit from China.

Templo de Cayetano de Valenciana
Templo de Cayetano de Valenciana (2)

Two huge paintings adorn the walls of the church, created by a San Miguel de Allende artist, Luis Monroy, in 1885.  He had a unique ability to embed a figure in his paintings that seemed to present from the same angle, no matter where one stood.  The embedded figure in the painting below is that of the dove.

The next stop on our tour was most unusual, a museum entitled Hacienda Del Cochero, which featured instruments of torture.  The tour was given by a young tour guide dressed as a Franciscan monk, with the peaceful sounds of Gregorian chants in the background. Below are just a couple of the ghoulish sights housed within this museum.

The Rack
Is My Head Screwed on Straight?!

The gardens, however, were just lovely and gave no indication of the horrors that lay within its walls.

The statue of El Pipila was the next stop, where terrific views of the city can be had and where history abounds.

This monument is a memorial to Jose de los Reyes Martinez, whose heroic actions allowed the rebels to enter the Royal Forces fortress, which was housed in the Alhondiga, originally built as a granary for the city and where Mexico’s first battle for independence took place.  The Royal Forces used this building as a fortress due to its high vantage point overlooking the city.

El Pipila, a courageous miner, supposedly carried a lit torch, with a heavy stone slab balanced on his back to protect him from enemy fire, and set the entrance door to the Alhondiga on fire, allowing the rebels led by Miguel Hidalgo to defeat the enemy forces.

The four rebel commanders, Hidalgo, Aldama, Allende, and Jimenez, did not live to see Mexico win her independence from Spain.  When they were captured by enemy forces, they were decapitated and their heads were displayed on the four corners of the Alhondiga for the next 10 years as a reminder to the Mexican citizens not to think about uprising again.  Even this did not deter these courageous people in their fight for freedom.

Terry and I found ourselves going back to El Pipila later that same day; however, this time on foot up a very steep staircase.  There is no lack of exercise opportunities in this city, right outside very door.

Staircase to El Pipila
View from the Top
Me at El Pipila

Our tour concluded with a visit to the Museo de las Momias, Museum of the Mummies. Photos are no longer allowed in this museum and many of the mummies were currently on loan to museums in Mexico City, Michigan and Los Angeles.

Here are just a couple of photos of the tunnels used by vehicles and pedestrians that run underneath the entire city, which is built into the hillsides.

A fruitful second day in Guanajuato!

Guanajuato ~ Part 1

Wednesday, the 6th, we struck out for places unknown, where the locals speak little English.  Are we ready for this?  Why not!  A driver took us to Tonala, outside of Guadalajara, to the bus station, where we waited for our executive bus to transport us to Guanajuato.  It was  a 4-hour bus trip in very comfortable surroundings – large reclining seats, movies, lunch, with bathrooms and hot drinks on board.


Once at the bus station in Guanajuato, we headed out to hail a taxi.  Many were already waiting for this type of transport, with none in sight, so we opted for a bus as we knew where we were going, sort of.  This was a much different bus from what we had spent the last several hours on, narrow seats not made for those towing luggage.  I sat down with a laptop bag at my feet, my daypack (stuffed) on my lap, and a large duffel bag hanging off the seat next to me.  Terry sat behind me and how he managed to not have any luggage with him I do not know!  Before we left the station, a very rotund woman came up to me and insisted that she was going to sit in the seat next to me and she was not taking no for an answer.  Thankfully I did not know the Spanish word for “seriously” or I would have been very tempted to use it.  I attempted to place our oversized duffel in my lap as well, and she decided to take up the rest of my lap, what there was of it.  Every time we veered to the left, my ability to breathe was compromised significantly.

At one stop, in one of the 16 tunnels that snake through the city, used by both vehicles and pedestrians, most everyone began to exit, except for four of us, two gringos (Terry and I) and two Asians.  We all looked at one another, then quickly got up and hopped off the bus, as we assumed the locals knew something we did not.  As we emerged into the sunlight from the depths of the earth, we felt as if we had stepped into a European village. The scene was one of colorful houses climbing up the hillsides, competing with the local vegetation, balconies with flowerpots hanging off them, narrow winding streets, and shops and people everywhere.

Given that the annual International Cervantino Festival (the cultural event of Latin America) was commencing the following week, we felt the first order of business was to secure a room for the night.  After finding no availability in a couple of hotels, we found a room for one night only at a funky little B&B named Hospederia del Truco 7.  Thankfully, one of the patrons there assisted with English/Spanish translation.

Hospederia del Truco 7 (1)
Note the Singer Sewing Machine Base Under the Sink

Once settled into our room, we set off to explore the city.  The first church that we happened upon (and there are many in this city) was the Templo de la Compania, built between the years 1747 and 1765.  It was designed in the Barroque style common to this area and depicted many Jesuit images in pink stone.  It was in the process of being restored and there was a service taking place at the time, so no inside photos for us!

Our next stop was the Universidad de Guanajuato, where 20,000 – 25,000 students enter through these doors to expand their education.  This building was erected in 1950 and has the longest staircase of any building in the city, 82 steps from top to bottom.  We were told that there is some local controversy over this building as it has a more modern design that the remainder of the city buildings.

Once you ascend to the top of the staircase, a nice view of the city is evidenced, of particular note the Statue of El Pipila (more to follow on the history of this statue) and the Fundicular (incline tram leading to the statue).

We continued to wander the streets of this colorful city and happened upon a rather bawdy production in the Plaza del Musico.  Although we did not understand most of what was being said, actions speak louder than words, and we got the gist of it!

We thought we would finish off our first evening with a stop at The Italian Coffee Company, for a nice cup of chamomile tea, which we did, but had no idea the surprise awaiting us on our walk back to the hotel.

Mexico does not often embrace their Spanish heritage but one of the rare exceptions is that of the callejoneada, or roaming street party, which is just what we encountered as we headed for the winding staircase leading to our hotel.  At least three times per week, student and professional singers, musicians, and storytellers, dressed in 17th century costume, parade down Guanajuato’s colonial streets, gathering a crowd as they go, like pied pipers.  The entire mob winds through streets and alleyways, sharing wine and juice with the crowd from parrones (ceramic flasks with long spouts).  It is difficult not to get caught up in the excitement!

What a wonderful way to end Day 1 of our adventure!