Guaymas’ Hidden Gems

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While I have lived here for nearly a year and a half, there are many places I have not discovered or experienced in Guaymas/San Carlos.  With the help and recommendations (and directions) from many kind friends, I am uncovering more of my new to me home everyday.  And yes, I still do “touristy” things like dolphin cruises, horseback rides, and sunset viewing from the trendy swings at the local beach bar.  But I also travel 35 minutes and brave parking in El Centro just to buy warm tortillas and the best totopitos in town.  I know where to find the freshest churros.  I will bypass the convenience of Ley or Walmart to buy fresh fruits and vegetables from produce stands at the Municipal Market.

Every once in a while, my husband and I get the chance to be tour guides to folks who know less about our home than we do.  Steve’s employer sees many business travelers, and occasionally, their visits include weekends.  When someone asks, “So, what do you do for fun around here?” we don’t necessarily want to answer with, “Well, we spend a lot of time napping and reading on the beach.”  Even if it is true.  This is our chance to show off the city we have come to love.

 

The gazebo in Plaza 13 de Julio was designed by Gustav Eiffel.  Yes that Eiffel!  Iglesia San Fernando, built in 1850, is the oldest church in Guaymas.  Its doors are open daily, and mass is still held on Sunday mornings.  Many people listen to mass from the shade in the plaza.  Plaza de los Tres Presidentes honors the three Mexican presidents from Guaymas.    It overlooks el Palacio Municipal, home of the local government.  The malecón offers stunning views of the Sea of Cortez and surrounding mountains.  A statue honoring Guaymas’ fishing history is found here.

 

Despite reviews on Trip Advisor and other travel sites that bemoan Guaymas and its failure to “realize its potential”, I love to be downtown in the middle of it all.  I do understand the criticism, however.  The beautiful, historic buildings are in severe disrepair.  No two curbs are the same height.  Sidewalks are pockmarked and crumbling in places.  Large potholes exist in the main thoroughfares.  Garbage pickup is sporadic.  Old cities in Europe manage to remain enchanting.  I have heard Guaymas described as “crummy, but authentic”.

 

And it is the authenticity of the city that appeals to me.  Every morning shopkeepers are in front of their stores, sweeping the debris from those crumbling sidewalks and washing their windows.  Those sellers without an actual storefront, unload and arrange their goods on tables, lining the main avenue- -an eclectic mix of clothing, backpacks, jewelry, mixed nuts, and fresh fruit.  Food trucks line Calle 19, and it does not take long before the enticing smells of tacos, tostadas, and churros overpower fumes from the buses.

There is a buzz of activity, no matter the day of the week.  The sidewalks are jammed withthumbnail-1 shoppers and students on their way to and from school.  Groups of men gather around the shoeshine chair to chat.  Farmers park their pickup trucks at the busiest corners, full of fresh oranges, watermelons, asparagus, and elote.  There are at least eight barbershops in a two block area, and each is bustling.  Loud music spills onto the streets from various stores around the city market, each playing something different.  Men pitch their goods using microphones and portable speakers.  A busy grocery store does brisk business.  But so does the family selling homegrown tomatoes, peppers, and onions. And the woman removing the tines from and cutting the nopal cactus into bite size pieces.

thumbnail-3It is the friendliness and the positive attitudes of the people I meet and see when I am in Guaymas that stands out the most.  There is always a smile and a “buen día” given in passing.  And due to the crowds, there are a lot of these greetings.  The beauty of Guaymas is its people.  And a closer look at them reveals that Guaymas has definitely realized its potential.

“Let’s Go Shopping,” She Said. “It Won’t Take Long,” She Said.

thumbnail-7I cannot describe how excited my husband was when I suggested we head to Empalme last month for the Sunday tianguis.  Okay, not really.  But I was certain he would get there.  Technically a tianguis falls into the shopping category, but it is definitely not a “you sit here while I disappear into the dressing room for four hours” kind of experience.

A tianguis is an open air market, albeit temporary, existing in its location on set days and at set times.  The tradition dates back to the Aztecs, when markets were set up and taken down daily so that people could buy, sell, and trade their goods.  Tianguis are not regulated, meaning there are no taxes paid to the government by the vendor.  Typically, there is a small fee paid for booth space.  In some cases the fees collected benefit the municipality, and in others, money collected may be donated to local schools or other groups.  Booth space means a series of tables set up under a canopy, some with walls, some without, or a cloth directly on the ground where goods are displayed.thumbnail

Empalme is a former railroad town, and directions to the tiaguis include “turn left at the big locomotive engine”.  While not officially in the market zone once you make the turn, there are already numerous stalls lining the streets; selling shrimp and fish, fruits, vegetables, and homemade sweets.  From here it is easy to find the market itself; follow the slow moving line of cars.

Okay, I get Steve’s lack of enthusiasm.  I really do.  I am not much of a shopper myself and would avoid malls altogether if I did not have a son who is a shopper.  But a tianguis is less about shopping, and much more about socializing; interacting with friends and neighbors.  And eating really good food.  Some of the most popular stalls at the Empalme tianguis are those where food is sold.  These booths are transformed into mini restaurants complete with tables, tablecloths, napkin dispensers, and chairs.  Music blares from portable speakers.  Bakers sell slices of cake.  There are strawberries with fresh cream.  I have heard there are at least four churro carts roaming the aisles.

thumbnail-2Shopping is most definitely possible too, for those so inclined.  Dining room tables, washers,  used tires, bicycles, toys, flowers, power tools, clothing (new and used), shoes, cazuelas, microwaves, sofas, stereos, books, CD’s, eggs, movies, statues of the Virgen de Guadalupe, and on and on and on…  I need absolutely nothing, but find myself drawn to the colorful displays. “Steve, here is a really great deal.  Need any socks?  Or underwear?”  He looks bewildered, but at least I have not started handling the fuschia, orange, and electric blue bras on display right next to them!thumbnail-6

The whole town is alive on tianguis days.  Sundays are the one day off work for many, and the sidewalks are full of people checking out the cosmetics, jewelry, produce, and seafood.  An elderly couple prepares their harvest of nopal cactus for sale.  Musicians play violins, drums, and guitars; there is dancing.  Children enjoy raspadas and horchata.  Everyone seems friendlier than usual, relaxed and happy.

thumbnail-1The average family spends about 300 pesos ($15) each week at the tianguis.  We got out of there for about 50 ($2.50).  We bought fresh onions, tomatillos, strawberries, cucumbers, and peppers.  And this non-shopper has already made her list for the next time!  Steve even looked it over and added a few things.