Sunday, March 20, 2011

Guanajuato - "Place of the Frogs"

Let me give you a word of advice: Don't blog about a big trip nearly 2 months after you've taken it. You won't remember a thing!

Alas, our trip to Guanajuato in January was awesome!
FYI: Guanajuato is pronounced somewhat like: Goo-ahn-ah-hoo-ah-toe.

We were forewarned not to drive in Guanajuato, and to take a bus or taxis around town. Understood--but first we had to get to our hotel! So, we plugged in the address in our GPS, and it looked like it would be easy enough to get to.

Guanajuato is comprised of very few streets for a city of its size. It is built in a mountain valley, and we saw homes where the residents park on the roof of their home, and lived underneath (on the hillside). Most people there don't own or drive cars, and instead catch a lift to the nearest street, and hike up staircase after staircase to get to their home on the mountain side. Between many of the houses you will find miniature "alley staircases" with staircases wide enough for only one person...and these staircases lead up to many levels of homes.

As were drove into town, we found ourselves driving through tunnels in the underground of Guanajuato. Supposedly, there are 9 miles of tunnels winding underneath the city. These tunnels are the old riverbeds of the Guanajuato River. From 1963 to 1966, the tunnels were converted into streets, and it is now a maze of dark, rustic (awesome) tunnels!

Not only that, but there are also underground bus stops in these tunnels! Some of the tunnels are very small, and I began to question whether the city buses could maneuver through them...but alas, they were tunnel pros!
We followed our GPS faithfully, until we realized we were on the road to nowhere. We kept going through the same tunnels, and seeing the same tour guides on the street sides trying to wave us down and commit us to a tour the next day. When we found ourselves in a tunnel, we felt like throwing in the towel and giving up. We had no orientation below ground, and none of the streets in Guanajuato were straight!

We passed through sections of the tunnel that opened up into homes that were overhanging the tunnels!
After passing the same tour guide several times (making it painfully clear that the GPS wasn't getting us there--and we were literally going in circles...or squiggles), we finally picked up the tour guide (who didn't speak a LICK of English), and gave him a good tip to help us find our hotel (and I mean a really good tip. We were so happy to park our car after 1 1/2 hours of trying to find the hotel)!!

We stayed at El Hogar de Carmelita, a "hostel" owned by Carmen (below, on the right), who was a very pleasant host! It was not a Hostel by US was actually more of a bed-and-breakfast with a "homey" flair (is that a proper thing to say? It looks very questionable...). I found a few reviews online, and they raved about Carmen and her cooking...and boy, they were

Here is Carmen and her helper, Martha, who made delicious Mexican breakfasts for us . A great one was Huevos de la Presa, which is eggs on a tortilla with beans and amazing red sauce (which is good on virtually any MX dish). Carmen told me how to make the sauce, and I recently tried, but failed miserably. I emailed her to ask what was wrong...and she said I needed 20 tomatillos, not 2. Whoops! Huevos de la Presa reminds of the Huevos Rancheros dish that is popular in Sante Fe! If I was to eat eggs...I'd prefer to eat them this way!

The Breakfast Club...
It was a holiday weekend, and Carmen's grandchildren were visiting. The girls were smitten with each other, and pulled out toys to play with. Both our girls and her granddaughters ran back and forth to me to ask for translations--it was cute! Maiya even graced us with a short "show" which was absolutely adorable!
The next day we started the "15 minute" walk (ha!) into town. After only a few minutes, Maiya decided she couldn't walk ANY more. We gave in, and took the rickety, fast-moving city bus to Jardin Union (Union Square) was only 50 cents...and a great choice!

We found a tour guide who spoke English, and coughed up the big bucks to have him drive us around for half the day (the English-speaking price was significantly more than the Spanish price...but it was worth it)!

Teatro Juarez was the first stop...and it was quite stunning...

We managed to embark on a tour in one of the coolest cities without checking our camera battery in advance--and it died immediately after taking this photo. Grrr...

Oh well, you had to pay an extra $3 USD to be allowed to take photos in this theatre. So, instead I've borrowed a photo someone posted online (sorry--and thanks!). Teatro Juarez began its construction in 1872 and it was completed in 1903. It is neoclassical style, and the inside has amazing painted "wallpaper" with "gold" details. The guidebook calls it "Mauresque"...whatever the heck that is! (Oh...just checked...I think it should be called "Moor-esque" instead!)
It is not used any more for public events, but it is a lovely building perfectly preserved with original furnishings.
Next, our guide took us to the Museo De Las Momias (The Mummy Museum)! Our guide explained a lot of details (he talked very fast, and used waaaay too many dates and names. We were overwhelmed with too much information!). Another website I found explains the ludicrous history of the museum here:

The Guanajuato mummies were discovered in the cemetery of Guanajuato, a city northwest of Mexico City (near Léon). They are accidental modern mummies and were literally "dug up" between the years 1865 and 1958 when a local law required relatives to pay a kind of grave tax. You could pay the tax once (170 pesos) and be done with it; this option may have appealed to wealthier individuals. But you were also allowed to pay a yearly fee (50 pesos); this would have appealed to less wealthy families. However, if the relatives could not pay this yearly tax for three years, the body (which had, by the way, become accidentally mummified) was dug up from the cemetery and (if the fee still wasn't paid) placed on display in El museo de las momias. [Of course, what if the person's family had moved from town--or what if the person was the last person from their family? Well, it didn't matter; the law was the law!]

Fortunately, in 1958, the law was changed. Although no new bodies have been exhumed, the museum still displays the original mummies.

According to an article in the Arizona Republic (November 1, 2005), the mummies began attracting tourists in the early 1900s, "when cemetery workers began charging people a few pesos to enter the ossuary building where bones and mummies were stored. But business really took off after the 1970 movie Santo Versus the Mummies of Guanajuato, starring masked wrestler Rodolfo Guzmán Huerta."

NOTE: The first mummy was found on June 9, 1865; the man's name was Dr. Remigio Leroy. The museum opened in 1894.
Supposedly, the dry climate and unique soil conditions caused the bodies to dry out before they could decompose--thus the natural "mummification."

When they started the tours in the early days, visitors could walk right into the room and touch the mummies. After tourists began taking home souvenirs ("a little pinky here, a little finger nail there") they decided to encase all of the mummies in glass. Good idea!

Surprisingly, the girls were not weirded out by this place.

We also went to the Monumento al Pipila (The Pipila Monument). What Mexican town is complete without their Mexican Independence statue in honor of their local hero? (I'm telling you--it is a STAPLE!).

This monument is on the mountainside, overlooking town. It gave us a wonderful birdseye view of this tangled town:

The orange cathedral in the center (Our Lady Guadalupe) is the one we took a family photo with (above). It is in Plaza de la Paz, one of the city's oldest plazas.

Next, our guide took us to a property of a wealthy mine owner from way back when. I can't even find information on it now...but it was quite the property with themed gardens as far as the eye could see. Once upon a time it housed hundreds upon hundreds of slaves. When the slaves had children, they took them away and put them in orphanages, until they were of age to become slaves and "pay back their keep." Ugh.

But...back to the amazing property. One of the roofs had wild cactus growing on the roof...
Ella threw a big fit, and hid way behind us on the whole tour--pouting.
Thus the photo without her (and Ethan strapped to my front). I'm pretty sure Maiya was picking her nose.
(oops--this is from the day before in San Miguel...but I had to post it since it is a fairly decent family photo--and that is a rarity!)
After the tour ran over several hours more than expected (and I can't feel bad--because we paid him very good money!), we had him drop us off at Mercado Hidalgo (Hidalgo Market). This building dates back to 1909, and had a ton of handcrafts as well as market-type items.

We found ourselves unable to resist some "Talavera" pottery from Hidalgo...which we had just passed through the day before (but Jared would not stop). This Talavera pottery is note quite the same as the Talavera pottery from Puebla, which is muy expensive!. You can read more about the difference here. Anyhow...we picked up two beautiful large fruit bowls for $100 pesos each...just over $8.
Alas, Guanajuato wore us out, and we were pooped at the end of the day! The next morning we packed up the car, and Carmen laughed about our "muchas cosas" (many things!). I explained to her that Americanos tend to overpack! :)

We then started the drive home...passing through Leon (famous for its leather products...particularly shoes). As we were passing through town, I read in the guidebook that the Guajajuato State Fair was taking place right then (In case you didn't know...Mexico is divided into 31 states, in a similar fashion to the US). After a bit of begging, Jared finally turned the car around (that is a feat in and of itself), and we made our way to the State Fair grounds. For about 80 cents we had entry into a fantastic State Fair that put the Utah State Fair to shame (I admit UT's State Fair is the only one I've ever been to)!

Mexicans love to cook, and there were outdoor booths with huge stacks of pots and pans for $6 on up!
They also had shoe booth after shoe booth (and other leather goods), and many other things to feast your eyes (and wallet) on. We were well-behaved, and instead did a lot of walking, got lunch and let the girls go on a few rides.

That was enough for us...and we drove home, arrived that evening, and crashed.
In our beds, that is! :-)


Julie S said...

Love the Talavera pottery! I read the link you posted and was educated :) And yes, it may be cheaper to buy it in Mexico, but how would I get it home? So now I can rid myself of guilt about all the pretty Talavera pots I bought in Santa Fe last summer :)

Lara said...

Those mummies are super creepy. I take it that's an old picture, and now they're in glass, right? I don't think I would mind being accidentally mummified. :) You guys could have me right in your living room, with you for forever!!! (Kind of like that statue you hid somewhere)

leadatortilla said...

I need to put this on my "to visit" list... you are making my list very, very long. ;-)