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.

Live Life like Someone Left the Barn Door Open

thumbnailWhile I know very little about horses, I am always up for a horse ride.  Horses seem pretty smart to me; they know that  I have no idea of what in the heck I am doing.  Granted, most of my rides have been pretty tame.  The horse follows the one in front of him on a trail so well known, he could walk it in his sleep.

Except my horses always seem to be the ones that stand around a lot, laughing at me while I mentally run through my options.  Do I squeeze?  Do I pull the reins?  Do I swat?  Yeah, usually, I am just rescued by the professional—or my son.  My horse is also the one that experiences technical difficulties.  I have spent more time leaning 45 degrees in the saddle because of equipment malfunctions that I am too embarrassed to mention.  (As if The Leaning Rider of Horses is a thing, and no one notices.)

Steve does not ride, so it is up to me to accompany Caleb and our guests on the trail.  Our first ride was a two hour trip into the desert and back.  Hidden throughout areas of the desert are “ojos de aqua”, or deep holes that fill with rainwater, creating mini ecosystems within a larger one.  The hole we were searching for was filled by a waterfall no less.  I rode Mariachi, who was preoccupied with the smorgasbord on the side of the trail.  The guide had discussed the horses’ snacking habits prior to the trip.  I knew I was not supposed to let him munch on the trees and grasses.  But, kind of like me at a Pizza Hut Buffet, no one was going to get between this guy and his lunch.  This meant the guide was paying a lot of attention to me (and my lack of ability).  Caleb actually moved  a spot or two in line to distance himself from the troublemaker and obvious amateur.

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The set of Catch 22 in San Carlos, Sonora.  The movie was based on the novel written by Joseph Heller.

While it was apparent that these horses knew the route, they were not nearly as programmed to follow one another.  We did not move through the desert nose to tail.  This allowed riders more time to focus on the beauty of the desert than the bathroom habits of the horse in front.  I experienced moments of solitude which allowed for quiet time to reflect on nature and my place in it.

I had never been allowed to trot or gallop on a guided horse ride in the U.S.A.  On these trips, however, our horses were encouraged to pick up the pace.  I am still on the fence about whether or not that is a good thing.  I am pretty sure I looked like a rag doll in the saddle, and I felt like a bowl of Jello.  But I did not care!  I opened my eyes wide, let out a “WHOOP”, and pretended to chase an old time stagecoach robber.  I was at the end of the line, in my own world, and oblivious to the coaching (or reprimands)  I was receiving at this point.

Our next horseback ride passed right through the set for the movie Catch 22.  Part of the old airstrip is still visible.  Some of the buildings that served as the base are still standing.  Many of the stones used to build them have disappeared over time, probably serving a more functional purpose in someone’s actual home today.   Since I had never read the book, Catch 22, I needed to watch the movie, especially knowing now that it was filmed in my own backyard.  I watched long enough to say, “Yep, I have ridden my horse through that arch,” before falling asleep.  Then I read the synopsis published on Wikipedia instead.

thumbnail-2I loved watching my mom ride.  The smile never left her face.  Her joy was pure.  Her laugh while her horse ran across the desert was beautiful music- -and she even looked like she knew what she was doing.   At the end of the day that is what is most important about experiences like this.  It is not how well you handle your horse or how competent you look doing it.  It is about being able to let go, if even for just an hour or two, and living life in the moment.  It is about leaving insecurities and worries at the ranch.  It is about appreciating what you are seeing, even if you happen to be looking at it from a 45 degree angle.

Hello, It’s Me…

By the time my husband signed his contract, accepting a new position in Guaymas, Mexico, we had about two and a half months to organize and move.  For me, this included finishing up the school year and packing a classroom; in addition to finding a new house, selling an old house, deciding which of our belongings to sell or store, selling and storing those items, visiting the Mexican Consulate in Indianapolis, finding Mexican car insurance, packing, and saying goodbye to family and friends.  I know there was more, but I’m exhausted just typing this.

The very last thing on my mind was checking out cell phone plans.  To be honest, the only reason I had a cell phone in the first place was to communicate more easily with my son, as his days and nights became busier beginning in junior high school.  Well, that and to look things up on road trips.  (All those brown signs with someone’s names on them?  Yes, I am the one person who actually used my data to learn about who they were.)  After 10 years I still need to look at the keyboard to type, and I text with one thumb.  So calling Verizon to find out if I would have phone service in Mexico and how much it would cost were not priorities.  I turned off my cellular data as soon as we crossed in Nogales and drove off blissfully into a world with no Google Maps, Trip Advisor, or AAA.  This also meant I could not call my husband, who was in the lead car, to tell him he was going the wrong way again.

After about a month, I came to the conclusion that I would probably benefit from a phone that I could use outside of the house- -just in case I had car problems, or got lost, or needed to look up a word on my Spanish Dict App.  Rather than investigate my Verizon options, I decided to buy a “burner”. 1) I was watching too much Narcos on Netflix. 2) I loved using the word burner.

I became easily confused with the options available in the United States, so I have no idea what convinced me I could handle a phone purchase in Spanish.  Off I went anyway to the nearest Telcel store.  They had a “Plan Amigo”, two words I could understand at the time.  I was in and out in about 15 minutes, feeling rather pleased with myself.  That lasted until I charged the phone and got dinged with multiple texts from Telcel, presumably welcoming me to the Plan Amigo, but I don’t really know because they were all in Spanish.

I started carrying my phone with me whenever I left the house.  I used it to check Facebook while I was getting my hair done.  I used it to take pictures of the octopus for sale in the seafood department at Walmart.  I used it a couple of times to text my husband at work, just because I could.  I used Whatsapp to message my son, my mom, and my aunt.  (They rarely checked WhatsApp or didn’t recognize the number.)  It did come in handy during Hurricane Newton when we were without power for three days, she says sarcastically.  (See above about not checking WhatsApp.)

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Poor little burner can no longer even be charged after mistaking its cord as an extra for a Kindle and disposing of it!

And like presents kids receive at Christmas, after the novelty wore off, I more often than not forgot all about my burner when I left the house.  I took a book to the hairdresser instead.  I enjoyed looking at new discoveries through my own eyes, rather than through the lens of a camera.  My husband is pretty busy at work; he can text me if he needs something, right?  (He might have to wait a long time before I answer.)  If I have car trouble or get lost?  Well, the only local number in my burner phone contacts is Captain Steve; captain of a boat, not of the Policía Municipal.  I am sure I can figure it out.  It is not like the great explorers before me had cell phones either.  (We are going to ignore the fact that some were forever lost at sea, eaten by cannibals, or never made it out of the jungle.)

I did take it with me on a recent trip North.  My phone stopped working while I was taking a picture of a roadside restroom that charged five pesos for toilet paper.  Lesson learned.  Leaving the house with a roll of toilet paper is much more important than leaving the house with a cell phone.

How we got here…

My husband first traveled to Guaymas/San Carlos Sonora, Mexico for business in 2003.  Over time,  his trips became more frequent.   I was excited for his experiences and proud of his hard work. I was even more thrilled that he could bring back authentic souvenirs for my elementary Spanish classroom.

I had never traveled to Mexico.  I did create a Mexico unit for my kindergarten students.  We pretended to visit thanks to great imaginations, YouTube videos, and clever lesson planning.  So basically, what I am saying is that I had the knowledge of a kindergartner when it came to Mexico.  And while I truly knew that Mexico was so much more than the resorts of Cabo,Cancún, and Cozumel; in my mind, Guaymas/San Carlos was one big all inclusive resort.

I imagined that Steve spent his workday in a hammock at the Soggy Peso Beach Bar, sipping margaritas between conference calls. Winter cold, darkness, and isolation  added to my grand illusion. (Why were these trips always planned for the months with the most snow anyway?!) While pulling on a third layer before heading out to cover my morning shift in our school’s carline, I could practically see the tequila shots lined up on the conference table and the unlimited breakfast and lunch buffets he was eating. While I slipped and slid, flinging heavy shovels of snow off the driveway, Steve was surely flinging sand into his bucket on the beautiful beaches.

And then along came a job opening, an interview, and an offer of an incredible opportunity.  We moved to San Carlos, Sonora in June of 2016.  While definitely not an all inclusive beach resort, San Carlos is an amazing place.  You are welcome to join us on our adventure, as I share our experiences here.