A Travellerspoint blog

Losing my innocence in Guanajuato

sunny 28 °C

Well, I'm far too old to be making this kind of public confessional, but I have been operating under the misguided impression that Canadians are well-regarded on the world stage. I was shocked to discover this is not the case in Guanajuato and probably not in the rest of Mexico. We came upon this mural yesterday, depicting the rapacious history of the silver and gold barons.
The rough translation of the script is: They came to exploit and loot the gold and silver - first the Spanish, then the Canadians.


The Canadians? The history of exploitation among the indigenous people is well-known, but this mural brings us up-to-date on Canada's involvement with over 200 mines in Mexico, and their continued ill-treatment of the locals. After NAFTA, Canadian mining companies were able to operate in Mexico with far fewer restrictions and regulations, and it would appear they have most definitely not put the interests and safety of the Mexicans first. From the tiny bit of research I did, Canadian mining companies pay local workers between $150-$200 US a week, while they make profits of hundreds of millions of dollars every month. A local source told us that the pay, the working conditions and the security for locals is appalling, with the cartels moving in for their cut of the "cooperation" money. Violence and threats are common. Our source also hinted at the mining executives' involvement (voluntary or otherwise) with the cartels and government. Mexican history is filled with injustice, hardship, violence, corruption and a fight for survival - it never seems to end.

Mexico's history is also filled with rebellion and revolution. El Pipila, which towers over the city, is a monument to the first victory of the Independence movement in 1810. This monument is a major tourist attraction, reached by a funicular (currently closed), a taxi, bus or by foot. We chose to walk up to get a closer look at some of the city's famous alleyways.


We climbed up through a maze of twisty callejones to reach the top.




The view of the city from this vantage point really shows how piled together the buildings are. See that tiny green triangle? That is the Jardin de Union - the centro's main greenspace and meeting point - it is so much smaller than similar jardins in other colonial cities.


We chose a different path down and this was where we encountered several walls filled with murals (including the political statement on Canada). We look for these murals in every city we visit - they tell so many stories - past and present.


Another thing we look for are the more sanctioned forms of street art - usually sculptures. Leonora Carrington, a British-born artist and part of the Surrealist movement who lived most of her life in Mexico City, was a prolific producer of sculptures and paintings. There are eight larger-than-life Carrington sculptures on the streets of Guanajuato - most with her distinctive cat-like eyes, and long, bony fingers and toes.


Since we visited most of the major sites and museums when we were in Guanajuato five years ago, this time we concentrated more on the art galleries, wandering the streets and visiting sites just a bit outside centro. Some samplings:

I really like this art gallery. There is a Leonora Carrington sculpture peeking over the roof, pink sandstone window frames and lintels, and inside, every floor has inlaid mosaic tile "carpets" - about 200 years old. Try and imagine the work involved - this floor was probably 20' x 25'.


There was an exhibition of Colombian artists - this one, called The Other White Elephant is by Felipe Cifuentes. I'm not sure he is even 30 years old yet (I wish I had taken notes), but he is a huge talent who is currently living in Mexico, and his show had about 20 extremely provocative paintings.


This one, by Gustavo Rico Navarro, is an example of his figurative work. This woman is modern, but looks like an 18th-century Madonna. His paintings all have a twist - the older people look as though they may be dead, the children look a little too knowing, sexuality is ambiguous - I would love to learn more about him.


We headed out to La Presa a couple of days ago - the reservoir that provides Guanajuato with its drinking water. The reservoir is equipped with a fleet of small boats to rent, and ringed with souvenir and food kiosks.


La Presa was once home to the city's wealthiest families - most of those mansions are now government or corporate buildings. This stately building is the Governor's Palace.


The walk back revealed a neighbourhood that has become quite mixed. This modern building and park added a lot to the streetscape.


This one did not. It has been abandoned - parts of the roof are falling in - sadly, it may be too late to reclaim it.


No signs on this building - it may be a private home.


This former mansion has been turned into a restaurant/gallery.


Today was our last day in Guanajuato, and on the advice of new friends, we took a bus to the outskirts of town to visit the ex-hacienda San Gabriel de Barrera. It was a highlight of our time here.


Mexico has a number of haciendas that are still in operation, as well as former haciendas that have been turned into luxury hotels. This hacienda was built in the 17th century as one of five - they operated as factory-style working farms. Hacienda San Gabriel was abandoned for 137 years, and re-opened in 1946. But, back to the beginning. We met our very charming and informative guide Carlos at the gate, and he spent over an hour showing us around the hacienda and filling us in on the history.


The silver and gold-mining hacienda first belonged to a very wealthy family, Captain Gabriel de Barrera, his wife and their two daughters. The property was run by indigenous (almost-slaves), but the household help were black, and had more privilege. As well, the family was assigned a priest and a housekeeper - spies for the church and the Spanish government, respectively. Captain Barrera was required to give 10% of the gold to the church and 20% to Spain. This was the room that belonged to the priest - he was able to eavesdrop on the Captain, who had meetings in the other room.


After the uprising in 1810, the hacienda was seized and remained empty until 1946, when a wealthy industrialist bought it (he made his money bringing typewriters to Mexico). By 1950, he developed 17 acres of gardens all around the home, turned the house into a private museum and built another home on the property as his family's "weekend home."


In 1975 the corrupt governor of the day took a liking to the hacienda and made the industrialist "an offer he couldn't refuse". He took up residence for a few years until In 1979, the government changed hands and returned the favour to the governor. (The governor wisely chose to vacate the premises and is now living out his old age a free man in Queretero.) The hacienda has been a government-owned public institution ever since, with the home and magnificent gardens a living museum from a different era.


One last word from Guanajuato. While we were here, we had the good fortune to meet not one, but two Canadian couples, who have sold their homes, almost all their belongings, and are travelling the world. Their stories are different, but their motivations are the same - there is too much world, and too little time, and they wanted to be unencumbered for as long as they are able, to just pick up and go.

We've decided to join them (not literally, but in spirit). We will return home, see our dear friends, and then put our home on the market. When it sells, we will begin to divest ourselves of our belongings, except for a small storage unit to house our most precious possessions. Everything else we will sell. Our plan is to travel for a month/2 months, then rent a small furnished place in Ontario, BC, Halifax, maybe Portland. Travel again. Sit down again and spend time with family and friends. Repeat until we can't/don't want to do this anymore.

Anyone know someone who wants to buy a pretty Gulf Island home?

We're off to Zacatecas tomorrow for a couple of days - talk again soon.

Posted by millerburr 19:19 Archived in Mexico

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At last … we were speculating - its so you (two rolling stones) - good on ya (:
Hugs & hi fives!!!

by Robin & Gerry

Still enjoying reading you so very much. You are a fine writer.
Fascinating about the Canadians...

Travel well,

by Shelagh

Wow! I'm not surprised!
It sounds organic!
I look forward to seeing you and I'm loving that you have let us all know what you're experiencing and all you are feeling.
Safe trip, xomc.

by Mary Charlotte

Well that is huge news, adventurous spirits. You will be missed on the west coast but good for you! Very courageous.

by Gin

We will certainly miss you if your plans come to fruition.
Your comments about the world view of Canadians is interesting but not surprising. Canadian mining companies are responsible for some of the worst environmental atrocities in the world. We were recently in Peru and in Mongolia where we saw first hand the appalling environmental damage caused by our companies.
These are things rarely discussed in the Canadian media. See our blog: www.hawkson.travellerspoint.com for stories about Huaraz in Peru and Ulan-Bator in Mongolia.

by Hawkson

Be sure to stay a while with us when you get to Ontario!

by Peter Hohenadel

That is big news! You two are such adventurous spirits! Well, all I can say is Carpe Diem! Though we'll miss you when you're not on the island.
Meanwhile, enjoy the rest of your time in Mexico...we're enjoying the virtual journey :)


by Donna D

You're not the only one who has lost your innocence! It seems I have a lot to learn about Canadian history as well, with regard to the mining industry in Mexico. Thanks for setting the record straight. As for your last bit of news, we wish you all the best on this latest adventure of yours!

by Heather

Hola. So loved reading your blog! Because we visited the same sites as you and even took some of the same photos it was like a review of our visit. Thank you!You write so beautifully! Such vivid descriptions! Just arrived home,place is nice and the twins are darling. Life is good. Weather is fantastic.Thx for ICC info. Neat about the Ontario couple, they sound so interesting....and energetic. Safe travels. Keep us posted on your progress. Big hugs.

by Linda & Gary

Thank you for adding me to your list.
Really enjoy reading all the notes and viewing the pictures.
Follow your heart and do what you have to do.

by Elaine

I am spreading the word that your house is haunted, has dry rot, rats, etc. Cannot imagine the Island without you there. Will wait to admire your adventurous spirits if and when I recover . Much love, linda

by linda ogle

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