It was a 5 hour 20 minute journey to Guanajuato, from Mexico City, on the ETN. This is one of the luxury coach services that operate throughout Mexico.
Air conditioned with reclining seats and a personalised audio and video system for each passenger.
This offers you more room and comfort than most airlines, if not a little slower.
Guanajuato was declared a World Heritage Site in 1988.
It has built its fame and fortune on mining, an industry that was well developed before the Spaniards found gold there in 1540.
In the 18th century it was one of the richest cities in the world and a great source of wealth for the Spanish crown.
The city is built in a mountainous area with coloured houses climbing up the hill from the old colonial area.
We arrived just in time for the Baile de las Flores or Dance of the Flowers. This festivals is held just prior to Easter and appears to be an excuse for the locals to let off steam. The streets around the historical centre, Jardín de la Unión, were crowded with family groups, teenagers and mariachi bands.
The next day we visited the Mummies of Guanajuato. The museum houses a number of naturally mummified bodies that were buried following a cholera outbreak around Guanajuato in 1833. There are also some more recently discovered bodies on display.
It’s a gruesome display which is made even more bizarre by the broken mirrors in every room.
Because of the steep terrain surrounding Guanajuato, flooding has always been a problem. In 1760 and 1780 floods nearly destroyed the city and as a result a series of tunnels and ditches were built. Today they have been converted into roads and footpaths, through which you can traverse the city like a subterranean mole.
That afternoon we returned to Jardín de la Unión and it was almost as crowded as the previous evening.
However there weren’t nearly as many mariachi bands – they must have been resting up for their night time performances.
We went to the tourist office just next to the gardens. Surprisingly the woman in the booth only spoke Spanish. This was rather strange considering that Guanajuato is one of the most popular destinations in Mexico, if not the world.
The lack of English was a theme that we continued to find in Guanajuato.
Our limited Spanish was put to the test.
Perched high above the city is a 28 metre tall statue of a local hero, Juan José de los Reyes Martínez Amaro (1782–1863) also known as El Píplia. On September 28, 1810 this brave miner strapped a long, flat stone to his back, to shield him from the Spanish muskets, and proceeded to burn down the door of the grain store in Guanajuato. This was at the very start of the Mexican War of Independence against Spain.
We took the funicular up to see El Píplia and walked down. The view from the top gives you a wonderful appreciation of the city layout and major attractions.
Don Quijote seems to be the unofficial patron saint of Guanajuato, as there are statues and memorials to him everywhere. This probably has something to do with the Cervantino Festival, held every October and named after the author, Miguel Cervantes.
In the evening we walked back into the main square to find some dinner. On the way we discovered a exhibition of local products, all displaying the Guanajuato GTO logo. This is an initiative to promote and sell quality good produced in the region.
Through the hotel, and at their suggestion, we had booked a day trip to San Miguel de Allende and Dolores Hidalgo.
The day started with a real kerfuffle.
We had been promised, on two occasions, that there would be an English speaking guide on the tour.
Once our guide started talking, he didn’t draw breath for ten minutes – all the time in Spanish.
It was then that we realised there was no English speaking guide.
After our pleading and a lot of debate between the staff and a frantic phone call, they found a guide to accompany us. This was going to be a long day visiting a number of different places and we didn’t want to spend it all in a communication black hole.
Jaimi turned up to be our guide and after some negotiations and the payment of an extra fee, we were on our way.
There were eleven ‘tourists’ and four staff all crammed into a Ford E350 Van. This of course included our personal guide, who sat in the back seat with us.
We very soon discovered that we were on a Mexican pilgrimage, visiting the places and remembering the people that the locals hold dear to their hearts. It’s no wonder there was no English guide.
The tour was mixed with liberal doses of ‘opportunities to buy’
Our first stop to shop was a silver jewelry showroom, where our hands stayed firmly in our pockets. Then it was on to the marmalade factory, Conservas Santa Rosa. Here they made all sorts of preserves even one from cactus.
Finally it was time for sight seeing.
José Alfredo Jimínez 1926-1973 was a very popular singer-songwriter who changed the Ranchera genre (traditional Mexican music). There is a grandiose memorial dedicated in his honour at the Dolores Hidalgo Cemetery.
Alfredo had no formal training, yet he wrote over 1,000 songs, many of which became hits and were covered by renowned artists, world wide.
Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla was the extraordinary priest who started the revolution, against Spanish domination, in 1810 at Dolores Hidalgo.
He was not only amazing for the way he fought for the rights of the indigenous population but for the way he openly flaunted the Catholic Church. Part of the museum, that’s dedicated to him, proudly displays his family tree. He was a father to his flock in more ways than one, having dalliances with at least two different women and creating a lineage that still survives today.
Next was the Jimínez Museum, that traced the rise to fame of the other of Dolores Hidalgo’s favourite sons.
We were bouncing between history and pop culture.
We then had yet another opportunity to buy, at a Lungar Ceramic Showroom, before driving to San Miguel de Allende.
This was our lunch break, at 4pm.
This is a Spanish colonial town and a UNESCO site. It’s also home to a large number North American and European retirees who have had the effect of inflating the property and restaurant prices.
It it however is a delightful town with yet another charming central square surrounded by classic post Columbian architecture.
Jaimi was prolific with Facebook and had images and videos up before the tour had ended. As he never ‘friended’ me I have no idea what he posted.
As we wandered around on our last morning I got the feeling that Guanajuato is more a tourist destination for Mexicans rather than broader travelling community.
That made it even more interesting.