Nestled in a bowl amongst the semi-arid hills of, what I think is considered, the Central Mexican Highlands is the lovely city of Guanajuato. The very tidy, vibrant city is rich in history, architecture, museums, theaters, universities, and references to Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra and his Quijote de Mancha.
I traveled to Guanjauto early last week by intercity bus, taking the ADO line from Xalapa to Mexico City and the ETN line to Guanajuato. Thanks to my sister-in-law; I’ve not seen in twenty five years; and my wonderfully grounded niece, I’ve not seen in ten, for the invitation to join them in their visit.
The Mexican intercity bus system, like its intracity systems with which I am familiar, is comprehensive and economical. The luxurious ADO GL bus I took for the four and a half hour trip to Mexico City was $246 pesos; and included a very comfortable seat, a refreshment, and a movie. The even more luxurious ETN bus I took for the four hour trip to Guanajuato was $350, had only three seats across the cabin, padded leg rests, and included a sandwich, refreshment, and movie. There are, I learned, less expensive carriers which I did not find online but of which I learned at the stations.
There are four major intercity bus stations in Mexico City. I changed buses at the Mexico Norte station on the way to Guanjuato and on the way back took a $75 pesos taxi trip from the Norte station to the TAPO station in the East part of the City. The TAPO station was quite nice and convenient, constructed in a circle with the various terminals radiating from the circle; and with restaurants and an internet café at the center.
I had a tasty, authentic breakfast at the Norte station served by a friendly fellow who speaks English quite well. He explained that he had lived for a time in Salt Lake City where he operated a stucco business which employed six folks and where his wife and child continue to reside. He had been expelled from the USA by the immigration service and his wife is now processing the paperwork necessary for his return, a process, he said, would take three months to a year.
I arrived in Guanajuato about midday last Monday and, after a $50 peso cab ride, checked into my room at El Castillo de Santa Ceclia, a sprawling castle complex of stone and brick, complete with arches, towers, surrounding defensive walls, and suits of armor standing guard in the common spaces. One could even ascend a tower, via a spiral staircase, to the top of the entrance gate and enjoy a panorama of the city below.
Santa Cecilia, I have since read, is the patron saint of musicians and of the blind.
There is in the hotel courtyard a bronze statue of Quijote de Mancha, which, the accompanying sign explained, was symbol of liberty. I later learned that the city hosts an annual Cervantes festival and encountered references to Cervantes and Don Quixote statues throughout the Centro area.
I should also note that the hotel provides wireless internet service which one can access while sitting on the patio around the pool enjoying a morning cup of coffee from the Extra store around the corner. The hotel restaurant offered coffee that was tepid and a bit insubstantial for my taste at $20 pesos per cup, thus the morning trip to Extra.
The hotel was at about only 20 % occupancy, as it is now the off season. I was told that the hotel is full during August and September, as well as during Semana Santa and Christmas.
When I again visit Guanajuato I will seek out more economical accommodations in one of the many older Centro hotels, but a stay at the rather pricey El Castillo ($120 USA per night) is well worth the experience.
Guanajuato and the nearby pueblo of Dolores Hidalog figured prominently in the revolutionary war that ultimately ended Spanish colonial rule. The Alhondiga de Granadies (granary), now a museum in the city, was the scene of the opening battle of the Mexican revolution, a couple of weeks after Father Miguel Hidalgo issued his famous El Grito, or call to arms, from a balcony in Dolores Hidalgo on September 10, 1810.
Towering over the city is a huge, cantera stone statue of El Pipila, Juan Jose de los Reyes Martinez, who on September 28, 1810 set fire to the gates of the Alhondiga de Granadies, where Spanish soldiers were stationed, enabling rebel forces to enter the granary and to win the first battle of the revolutionary war.
There are at least three major theaters (below is the El Teatro Juarez) in Guanajuato, many museums, and the University of Guanajuato, all contributing to a rich art and musical atmosphere. The buildings housing the theaters, museums and university feature locally quarried beautiful pink and green caltera stone, as are the opulent churches in both Guanajuato and Dolores Hidalgo.
Cantera stone, a well as brick, was used also to construct the deep, arched beams that support the streets and building above Calle Hidalgo, a subterranean, serpentine roadway network constructed in 1965 through a river bed under the city, with the aim of relieving traffic congestion on Centro streets.
City buses ply the tunnels taking on and discharging passengers waiting at the many underground bus stops accessed by periodic stone stairways to the surface. It is a quite stunning engineering, construction, and artistic feat.
There are a number of well tended plazas and parks in Centro Guanajuato, surrounded by cafes with outdoor seating, pubs, and shops. Particularly in the evenings these public areas are filled with families, university students, diners and shoppers. The parks and plazas also provide a location for some of the public art that pervades the city.
Fronting on the Jardin Union, the largest downtown park, we encountered a pub which featured beer and 100% blue agave tequila brewed and distilled in a nearby city. The pub offered four beers, one which included tequila and lime, one which included coffee and chocolate, and more conventional dark and light beers. The street side entry way of the beautiful colonial building housing the pub contained a sales room for a variety of fine 100% blue agave tequila and gifts, and in the rear was a beautiful antique bar in which was an old copper still and a stained glass ceiling. It was all very well and very beautifully done.
Amongst Guanajauto’s many museums is the four story home of famed Mexican artist Diego Rivera, where there is on display many, many of Rivera’s works, as well as some of those of his wife Frida Kahlo and three of his students. Rivera moved with his family when fairly young to Mexico City, where he entered art school at the age of eleven. He was officially shunned for many years because of his communistic sympathies but is now recognized for the exceptional artist he was. The museum is well worth a visit.
I also visited the Museo de las Momias, the famous mummy museum. There seem to be various explanations as to why the bodies were disinterred but the bodies were apparently naturally mummified as the crypts in which they were buried were sealed such that oxygen was not present to enable the growth of agents of decomposition.
Amongst the other museums in the city, which I did not visit, are the Alhondiga de Granadias; Casa de las Leyendas, a museum of legends I’m told is fun; the nearby Mina de Valenciana, a still active mining operation; a couple of haciendas; and the Museo Iconografico del Cervatnes.
Guanajuato annually celebrates Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, the author of Don Quixote. I was told by a taxi driver that 30 or so years ago some university students conducted some sort of Cervantes celebration and that some time later the city adopted the cause. Today the city contains many references to Cervantes and a number of statues of Quijote de Mancha. I guess I will now have to read the book.
A visit to Guanajuato, I think, would not be complete without a bus ride to the nearby historic pueblo of Dolores Hidalgo, famous not only for Hidalgo’s El Grito but also for its brightly painted talavera ceramics. The bus may be boarded along the Avenida de Valenciana. Look for a bus with Hildalgo noted on the front window.
Colonial centro Hidalgo includes a beautiful, tidy central plaza across the street from a truly magnificent cathedral (and, given the grand cathedrals in every Mexican city and pueblo, that’s really saying something). The church is constructed entirely of pink cantera stone, with the stone around the entry way intricately carved.
Hidalgo has shop after shop vending talavera ceramic bowls, planters, dishware, shot glasses, ashtrays, and etc., etc., etc. One shop had an entire talavera bathroom set, including a toilet, basin, and towel and toilet paper racks. Should I ever build a house here, I will definitely go to Dolores Hidalgo and fill my little pickup with tiles and household furnishing.
I don’t know what else to report, except that I will certainly return to Guanajuato for further explorations, as I like it very much. Even better, though, than exploring the city was spending time with and getting to know my sister-in-law and niece.