Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Guanajuato: Historic, beautiful...and just a little creepy.....

Roger had to do a site visit in Guanajuato this weekend, and suggested I come with him.  He had been there to look at another project in November and said it was a really neat place - so of course, I took him up on it.  Guanajuato is a World Heritage Site, and I can see why.

We flew in Friday evening and I fell in love with the place.  I'm a pushover for cobblestone streets but this had that and much more.  Strolling minstrels and mariachi bands, throngs of university students sitting in cafes, and incredible architecture.

We stayed at the Posada Sante Fe (in the background, below) that faced the main plaza.  The plaza had incredible gardens with spectacular poinsettias and trees that are so manicured, they looked like a perfectly formed wall.  The hotel, a previous mansion built in the 1800s is known for its art and couldn't have been better located.  It did however, lack heaters and when the temps dipped to about 2C at night --- it was a little chilly!


The stained glass skylight was beautiful, the staircase made me picture myself living in the house 140 years ago, and there was an eclectic collection of statues and furniture.

When Roger went on the site visit, I started exploring the old part of Guanajuato.  Churches built in the 1700s still stand, narrow alleys, and monuments made it feel like I was back in Europe.  The town also has an extensive underground road system through ancient tunnels (entrance shown below) -- complete with intersections and parking and the traffic screams along like it was a highway!

Every corner I turned, there were interesting and neat things to see.

I love people watching, and while sitting in a small plaza, saw these two gentlemen whose faces told stories I would have loved to have heard.

When Roger returned to the hotel, we set off again.  While having lunch in an outdoor cafe, we saw a small group of  people get out of a car in front of a church.  A beautifully gowned young woman emerged (below).  We couldn't tell how old she was, and there wasn't a groom in sight, so we think it must be part of the celebrations when girls reach 15 years of age.  Apparently the parties are lavish, and the dresses are over the top.

We also saw a large crowd by one of the churches with several young girls dressed all in white -- presumably for their confirmations.

The engineer Roger had met that morning at the site, suggested we tour the Museo de las Momias - a well known museum that is home to over 100 naturally mummified remains.  Now, this will go down in Kinley Travels history as one of THE most weird sightseeing places we have, or ever will have, seen.

We decided to walk, and there were traffic signs pointing the way -- but no distance was mentioned.  After close to an hour of walking up hill Roger stopped an extremely old, extremely wrinkled, toothless woman standing outside her house.  He asked, in Spanish, where the Mummy Museum was and she went into an animated description of how to get there.  I then asked her how long would it take to walk, and she replied 5 or 10 minutes.  I bet she spent the whole afternoon laughing.... It took another 30 minutes to finally reach the museum, and by then, my feet were killing me as I was wearing high heeled boots (I know...what was I thinking....).

From what I've learned on the internet, this museum began in 1865 by an enterprising gravedigger.  At the time, Mexico had a grave tax and families were expected to pay an annual fee.  Unfortunately some families could not keep up the tax (or moved away or died) so the bodies were exhumed to make room for the paying customers.  When doing this, it was discovered that many of the bodies were naturally mummified and so the gravedigger began putting them on display.  The tax ceased being charged about 50 years ago.

So here they are.....a couple of examples (or just the "bare bones") of all the pictures I took....

The gentleman seen below was one of the first mummies to be exhumed in 1865 and is still wearing the original clothes he was buried in.

It was interesting in a creepy kind of way but some exhibits left you feeling fairly unsettled --- like seeing the woman who it was determined when exhumed that she had actually been buried alive by a misdiagnosis.  At that point I reminded Roger I wanted to be cremated.  It was pretty bizarre though, watching people take family snapshots beside some of the mummies --- perhaps for their 2010 Christmas card?

We took a cab back to the hotel and had a wonderful taxi driver, Roberto, (seen below) who tried valiantly to talk to us.  He asked if we needed a ride to the airport in the morning, so we made arrangements with him.  Just as he let us off (a couple of blocks from the hotel as cars are banned in certain areas) Roger gave him his business card in case he was delayed picking us up.  As we started walking, Roger realized he forgot his jacket in the taxi.  Since Roberto didn't give us his phone number (and as it turns out, he doesn't own one) we had to hope he would find it and we would get it in the morning.  Two hours later, Roberto was at our hotel with the jacket.

I am never surprised by the many kindnesses shown to us in Mexico.  Everywhere we go, everyone we meet.  What an amazing experience we are having.

Guanajuato is as beautiful at night as it is during the day.  The Teatro Juarez is spectacular and I hope that one day we will return and be able to attend the many concerts and festivals it hosts.

After only 40 hours in Guanajuato I have a problem.  Over the years I've told Roger of five places I want him to take my ashes when I die.  The list has evolved as we've explored new places, except for the Pend O'Reille River in Idaho which has always maintained the #1 stop.  Now it looks like Guanajuato might be bumping off one of my other resting places.  Let's hope I have a lot of good years ahead of me before I have to make my final selections.

I would love to spend more time exploring Guanajuato.  But next time, I'll be wearing more comfortable shoes.

Hasta luego.

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”                
                                                                                                     Henry Miller

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