Eyes Wide Open

IMG_0822
Juárez Theater

Ugh.  I spent two and a half hours writing yesterday and decided just before clicking “publish” to delete it all.  If you want to know about the Juárez Theater, Jardín de la Union, Basílica Colegiata de Nuestra Señora de Guanajuato in Plaza de la Paz, The University of Guanajuato, The Mummy Museum, Callejón de Beso, and Diego Rivera’s childhood home, you can look them up on the internet.  No more boring history lessons from me on this trip!  Don’t get me wrong.  All of these places were beautiful and absolutely amazing and make Guanajuato the unique and special place that it is.  Historical facts just do not adequately express how much I loved being here.

In fact, I was so taken with the city that I soon as I returned home, I immediately started fantasizing about returning to enroll in Spanish classes.  Never mind that I have a teacher here in Guaymas.  Or that Steve would probably miss me for the two to six months I planned to be gone.  Or that it would cost a lot of money that we do not have.  Or that we had family coming to visit, and they were expecting to see me.  My dad suggested that Hermosillo, a bit closer to home, might be a more realistic option for my Spanish immersion. It was not really about the lessons.  I wanted to be back in Guanajuato: exploring the nooks and crannies, mastering public transportation in the tunnel system, enjoying festivals and performances, sampling every flavor of ice cream offered in the corner shops, and then maybe, improving my Spanish.

 

I loved stepping out of a narrow alleyway into a small plaza, surrounded by brightly painted homes and businesses.  I was constantly making that little surprised “ohh” with my mouth and murmering “wow”.  The blues, purples, pinks, greens, and yellows added a depth to everything I saw.  I have tried to describe what I felt using words.  I just cannot.  The city was vibrant.  It was cheerful.  The cobblestone streets made me feel as if I had stepped into the past.  I saw more people walking than I saw cars.  I excitedly followed the curves in the streets as they wound their way between buildings and eventually became staircases, climbing the hillsides.  Papel picado was strung between the balconies of homes across the street from each other.  I loved that as Guanajuato grew, no one attempted to change it- -make it move in organized, right angles or straight lines.   Being on the streets made me happy.  I felt lighter here.

It was impossible for me to photograph what I was seeing well.  I mean, honestly, I

IMG_5960
University of Guanajuato

struggle taking good pictures of Caleb opening his presents Christmas morning, never mind doing justice to what Guanajuato offered.  I tried though.  I really did.  And I was incredibly grateful for the stranger who reminded me to put my camera down, to look- -with both eyes and remember.  “Your memories are better pictures,” he said.

IMG_E5984
Callejón de Beso

Before this trip, I had no idea just how many beautiful places there are in our world that I had never seen.  I mean I did, but I was not spending a lot of time thinking about it.  It is funny in a way.  Guadalajara, Chapala, San Miguel de Allende, Atotonilco, and Guanajuato have been here all this time.  Had I not been gifted with this opportunity to live in Mexico, would it ever have occurred to me to visit these cities?  How lucky I was!  What else is out there waiting to be discovered?  What other surprises will I find that I am not expecting?  Do not worry.  I am not going to start a list- -that actually might depress me.   But I am definitely going to use both eyes a lot more once I get there.

 

Having a “BOWL” in Guanajuato

You know that saying, “saving the best for last”?  That is exactly how I felt about Guanajuato, the final city on our central highlands tour.

Guanajuato was a silver boomtown.  It was discovered almost by accident by a group of men moving through the area.  They stopped to rest overnight during their travels.  They built a fire to keep themselves warm.  In the morning, they found molten silver under the rocks they had used in their campfire ring.  Word quickly spread, and the city grew like mad, as everyone wanted in on the riches silver mining could bring.  

IMG_0876It was that seemingly overnight growth, a city planner’s nightmare, that gives Guanajuato its rich character today.  Separate communities were built around each of the mines, complete with their own churches and plazas.  Where one town ended, another began. As a result, there are many areas of the city where there are no streets – -just alleyways or sidewalks – – connecting the neighborhoods and making a lot of places throughout the city completely inaccessible to cars.  Miners designed elaborate tunnels under the city to move their silver, not roads

And today, believe it or not, that tunnel system is the road system!  (So maybe the miners built roads afterIMG_0863 all…)   Every time we needed to move from one side of the city to the other, we headed underground.  I was utterly amazed to see cars parked along the curves of the old tunnels, as their drivers waited for buses to bring them to the surface and drop them off as close to their destinations as possible.  Had I been driving, there is no doubt in my mind that I would still be down there.  The majority of tunnels/roads are unlit and signage is at a minimum.

To better appreciate Guanajuato we headed to the scenic mirador.  We were greeted with the most impressive view.  The city is shaped like a narrow bowl.  The bottom is filled with churches, plazas, schools, museums, and theaters, while homes and buildings in every shade on the color wheel creep up the mountains which make up the sides.  Most of these homes are reached by steep staircases built into the side of the mountains.  Of course, living in a bowl has its downside, particularly during the rainy season.  The Guanajuato River used to flow under the city, leading to very frequent flooding.   A dam was built in the 1960’s that finally put a stop to this.  Today, Calle Miguel Hidalgo, one of the underground roads built using the mining tunnels, follows the river’s original course.

IMG_5983

 

IMG_0810

IMG_0809

The scenic mirador is also the site of the statue, El Pípila, in honor of a local hero during Mexico’s War of Independence.  Juan José de los Reyes Martínez Amaro, el Pípila (so nicknamed for his freckled face) was a miner originally from San Miguel de Allende. IMG_5917 Shortly after Don Padre Miguel Hidalgo rallied Mexicans to rise up against the Spanish, the first battle took place in Guanajuato.  The Spanish barricaded themselves (and all their riches) in a stone grain warehouse.  Their fortress had one weakness; a wooden door.  Legend has it that el Pípila strapped a stone tablet to his back for protection from musket fire and snuck up to the door of the granary.  Once there, he tarred the door and set it on fire, clearing the way for the freedom fighters to gain entry and bring defeat (and death) to the Spanish hiding inside.  I did not locate any of the 260 “Road to Independence” markers on this trip, but I am certain they are there.

Standing above the city, I could not help but fall in love.  Gunajuato looks like I feel most days:  chaotic (in a good way), creative, and festive!  I finally pulled myself away from the view.  I was ready to take my chances in those tunnels again.  Ah… to stand in the middle of the bowl, and to add my own colors to the mix.