Guanajuato – one of Mexico’s most precious towns
The Spanish discovered silver here. They needed a town. Guanajuato was born.
There was lots of silver through these mountains and the place was prosperous. The colonialists had lots of money to throw into lavish churches and haciendas. Life was good for the mining tycoons and Spain was enjoying its cash cow, for awhile delivering almost half of the supply of silver in the World.
The locals got poorer and poorer. Spain got greedy and even the Mexican-born Spanish population got fed up. Independence movement was on its way. In 1810 priest Miguel Hidalgo rang the bells of his church in Dolores, not far from here, and called the people of Mexico to revolution. With a bunch of people he descended onto Guanajuato. After fierce fighting, they managed to get into the very new granary building, that was now used as a make-do fortress, and killed the few hundred men, women and children that were hiding in there. So was marked the first battle for independence.
Awhile later we arrived.
History is flawed that way. It relies heavily on the person that tells it and flexes easily under the pressure of prejudice and personal interests. Nowadays it is used mainly to instill national pride, keep hatred alive, and of course, to draw tourist crowds.
Guanajuato is charming all on its own. I think just the colorful houses climbing the hills are enough to warrant a visit.
The Cathedral is another popular stop. Notice the chandeliers, a new feature for us, almost sparking a bit of excitement in our europe-church-exhausted senses.
Don Quixote iconographic museum?
Market with a clock tower designed by Eiffel? Sure, come right here.
Old channels that used to guide the rivers and streams through the town are now freed to foot and motorised traffic by the dams high in the mountains.
Visit the lavish theater, few more churches, peak at the alley of the kiss, where a local legend was born…
and you have done Guanajuato, the famous tourist destination.
History is here, supported by museums, legends and enough tourist attractions to keep people coming.
I say “meh”.
Here is what was fun in Guanajuato.
Walking by the old women, who sell fresh produce every day just outside of the tourist hub.
Being lured by the smells of the numerous tortillerias and trying them out to find our favorite. This one ;)
We stocked up on new warm batch every day – less than a buck.
The buzz of overcoming the apprehension of squeezing through the small smokey entrance, almost plugged closed by the roasting chickens over hot coals, to find out what is hiding behind it – a smokey space, where an elderly man swiftly cut up a chicken for me and loaded a bag full of it along with salsas, rice, roasted poblanos and coleslaw-looking cabbage.
And afterwords combining the tortillas with the contents of the bag to deliver a delicious lunch for the family with greasy fingers and a big smile.
Hiking up and down the back alleys of the city, peaking through open doors and reading fading notices, was another highlight, especially the laughter we shared with an elderly woman after Mr.Blab offered to carry her bags up the street and it turned out that her hesitance was because her house was 3 doors up.
Very little shine and glamor in those alleys, but so much character and opportunity to discover something for yourself.
Like a small corner delivering homemade corn breads?
Celebrations and squeals accompanied the discovery of a good sushi place in one of the alleys in the historic center. And anyone that has tried to find this rare beast in Mexico can truly appreciate the significance.
I doubt we will forget also the woman carefully picking bees from the fruit stand like they were delicate flowers and collecting them in a bag. For “therapeutic” purposes, she said, showing me a sting sticking right in the middle of a slightly red area on her hand.
And certainly, not lastly – Jose.
I struck a conversation with him in a little eatery selling “menus of the day”, quite economically, as the woman at the Diego Rivera museum told me. The food was cheap, but the company was priceless. We talked moles, gorditas, about his travels around Europe, his retirement home and unwillingness to accept that this is it for him. He was slightly disappointed by his green mole, while I was too busy soaking him in to not enjoy mine.
Guanajuato may be one of the jewels of the traveling crown that is Mexico. It may hold an important place in the history that is told in various forms here and there. But what made it interesting for us were, yet again, the unassuming details lurking on the streets and behind the opulent buildings. We managed to touch at least a little bit of the pulse that keeps the place going today, not hundreds of years ago.
From now on, Guanajuato will not be precious to us. It will be very real, familiar and endearing instead.