27.03.2016 27 °C
Guanajuato is built around a tight valley, with the city centre fanning out along the flat bottom of the "bowl" and the rest of the city climbing up the steep sides. Street signs are few and far between. It is easy to get lost and just as easy to get found. If you find yourself feeling a bit bewildered with all streets starting to look alike, simply walk downhill until you reach level ground again.
It's the best kind of "stumble-upon" sightseeing.
Guanajuato became a hugely wealthy city in the mid-16th century due to its silver and gold deposits. Evidence of that former wealth shows in the stunning neoclassical and baroque buildings that have earned the city a UNESCO World Heritage Site designation.
Interestingly, most of Guanajuato's homes lack any ornamentation at all, except for a full palette of vivid colours.
This is a "real" city, with residents going about their business. It can feel a bit gritty - so interesting, so historical, but also in need of a paint job in places.
The area that we are staying in is just out of the centro - a series of apartments that face into one another. We have gotten to know the kids who live in two other apartments a little bit. They play in the courtyard right in front of our stairs - the first day they had their Barbie dolls out and yesterday they had chairs lined up - they were about to deliver a play. It's a pleasure to have a quick chat with them every day - they're so polite and curious. This is the edge of our street - the jacarandas are out in full bloom in the city - gorgeous.
There are far fewer foreign tourists here than San Miguel, for example, and far less English spoken. Mind you, this week was taken over with tourists, both foreign and national, to celebrate Semana Santa. Today the crowds are just starting to thin out. Here are a few images from the Good Friday processions:
Soldiers waiting for the procession to begin.
I wondered why this soldier had his baby with him. No babysitter? The mother in me
was wanting a hat for her little head, out in the hot sun for over an hour.
Then the procession began - led by the two thieves who were crucified with Jesus, each carrying heavy boards on their shoulders and followed by guards flogging them as they walked. It was quite realistic, and even though the "thieves" were not really being whipped, they were carrying a heavy load and walking in hot robes in their bare feet.
The next group to follow the thieves were the common criminals - all of them is burlap sacks, hoods and thick ropes. They carried the platform with Jesus - on the cobblestones, in their bare feet. I don't know how they stood it - as spectators, we were all so hot. For them, it must have felt like real punishment.
We saw another procession on Good Friday evening, with crowds led by men in conical hoods (with an uncanny resemblance to the Ku Klux Klan), and a procession carrying out the coffin with Jesus. It was quite a spectacle, and unfortunately, all my photos were blurry - my little camera does not do night shots well.
GTO is a university town - around 20,000 students keep the city lively and current. The Universidad de Guanajuato is a sight to behold - it is one of the more stately and dominating buildings in the city, and those many steps are always full of people of all ages.
One of the most distinctive features of Guanajuato are the network of tunnels that have been developed to manage traffic on roads that would otherwise be impossible to navigate. The Rio Guanajuato used to flow underneath the city, causing massive flooding during the rainy season. In the mid-20th century, the river was re-directed by a dam, and the tunnels were used to move cars and pedestrians underground. The result is splendid for pedestrians - less so for drivers. This is one of the main intersections, with cars coming and going from all directions.
A single tunnel exit - one of many in the city.
A rather claustrophobic pedestrian entrance - not to be attempted alone, or at night.
Entering one of these tunnels for the first time can feel downright Jack-the-Ripper-ish. This tunnel took just five minutes to get through, and I have to say I was very happy to see the "light at the end." They're dimly lit, they drip water, the sidewalks are narrow, (I imagine rats), and cars whip by at unholy speeds, but since the population of GTO moves through them nonchalantly, so shall we.
Another distinctive feature of Guanajuato are the teeny little alleyways (called callejones) - very steep stone steps or paths that lead uphill (and downhill!) between two buildings - in some cases, barely a body width apart.
One of the most famous is the Callejon del Beso (the Alley of the Kiss).
When couples pass through this alley, in order to thwart the legend of tragic love lost, they must stop on the third step and kiss to ensure their love will last forever. You can imagine my surprise when Stephen agreed to take part in this superstition! When we arrived, there were great crowds of people lining up, so we will return when we have more privacy. This couple kissed for so long the crowd began to cheer.
This beautiful family didn't kiss, but it is obvious they have nothing to fear from the curse of the legend.
This is the back entrance of the Callejon del Beso - to give you an idea of how narrow some of the streets can be.
Back in the centro, I had a "pretend" kiss with one of the street performers, who was busking for the Museum of the Mummies. (That was supposed to be a coffin I was in.)
On the steps of the Teatro Juarez, we watched a hilarious performance by a clown. Our limited Spanish was not a barrier in this case, as his slapstick humour and broad gestures cut through language. He mercilessly picked on members of the audience (about 200 people sitting on the steps), and then once the crowd was warmed up, he asked for a volunteer to help him with his routine. This little boy very bravely got up, but as soon as he faced the big audience, you could see his expression change and his shyness took over.
The clown kindly returned him to his family and another volunteer was soon recruited. This funny kid was perfect for the job - he was unfazed by all the teasing and the laughs from the crowd, and he turned into quite the little ham. The clown had him pretending to be a toreador, waving a blanket and dodging the charges. He was a natural.
At the end, he took his applause like a pro.
Such is life in Guanajuato - every day is a performance. The mariachi bands are in full swing in the Jardin, at least five or six of them at all times, competing with one another as they serenade outdoor diners, or wander in groups, looking for business. These two were enjoying a beer before heading over to the park to work for the afternoon.
Food, glorious food! We were a little sad to leave the fantastic food scene of San Miguel, as we did not remember Guanajuato as being very distinctive. We figured we would be in for a series of tourist-oriented, over-priced and underwhelming meals. We haven't been here for five years, and things have changed for the better, to our great relief. Our first night, we had dinner at Escarola, a modern yet rustic restaurant with interesting, healthy choices (I had a Portobello burger with pesto). Best of all was the setting - mainly outdoors, in terraces sloping down the hill and a view of the night city. Our table was so unique, I had to take a photo - big slabs of wood with the centre cut out and lined with concrete, and filled with succulents - beautiful. Oh, and that's not a bad shot of Stephen either - he's definitely got his relaxed holiday face on.