Saturday, March 29, 2014

Road trip: Guanajuato

We left the town of Tlaquepaque in the early afternoon and arrived at the outskirts of Guanajuato around 4:00 pm. It's not a very large city, with a population of around 154,000 in the municipality, but it is tightly packed into a narrow and steep-sided valley. The original town was built on the banks of the Guanajuato river way back in the 1500's.  During the rainy season the river often overflowed its banks and flooded the town. By 1905 the place had been flooded 68 times. The federal government then stepped in and rebuilt the city on ruins of the old town, and in the process created a system of tunnels beneath the streets of the new city. Some of these were based on the course of the river and some were dug out of hard rock. Since the town was originally the site of some of the richest silver mines in the world, there were plenty of miners around to do the work. The result is a truly unique city with most of its thoroughfares underground. It makes a lot of sense and for a few moments I tried to imagine what LA would be like if its freeways were all underground.

Aside from its network of tunnels, Guanajuato is famous for its confusion of narrow streets and "callejones", which are really just alleys too narrow for motor vehicles. We were unprepared for this and immediately got lost searching for our hotel. Eventually a local climbed onto the back of our car and, shouting orders from the rear bumper, guided us through a couple of tunnels and bunch of twisty little streets to the staircase that led up to the Hotel Chocolate, which was perched on a steep hillside at the top of a row of tiny hotels and restaurants. It was sweaty work lugging our baggage up what amounted to about nine flights of stairs to the hotel lobby, then to our rooms which were three flights further up. But the view was spectacular and we enjoyed our brief time there.

Hotel Chocolate. The views from this quirky hotel were splendid.

View of the Jardin Union (Union Garden)  from the Hotel Chocolate. This is ground zero for the incredible festivities that go on every night. With lots of loud music and throngs of people out until around 4:30 every morning, it's a tough place to get a good night's rest.

We could only stay one night at the Hotel Chocolate so we moved down to the Hotel San Diego, which was across the street from the Jardin Union. We could see all the festivities from our third story balcony and of course it seemed like the band was playing right outside our window.

The narrow streets and classic architecture of the city give it a distinctly European flair that was an enjoyable change from the more modern and Mariachi flavored Guadalajara. Because of the confusing streets and tunnels, and the fact that the car was parked miles from our hotel, we hired a guide to give us a tour of the city. This turned out to be a great way to see the place. With the four of us, the guide and a driver in a van, we visited many interesting places and quickly got acquainted with the lay of the land. After the tour we were able to explore central G-town without getting lost.

The church bells in town toll every fifteen minutes 24-7-365.
A pair of mermaids guard the entrance to a home next to the Hotel Chocolate.
Guanajuato Cityscape. The building with the beautiful facade on the left is the University of Guanajuato. 

Main mercado in G-town.
Parrots waiting to be sold at the mercado.
The city of Guanajuato has adopted the classic novelist, Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra. His most famous work is Don Quixote and the city has built a museum in honor of the author and the book. It was interesting to learn about the author, but is was far more fascinating to wander the galleries and see modern artists interpret the the main character of the book, Don Quixote.

A whimsical interpretation of Cervantes' Don Quixote.  
A bust of the Man of La Mancha

Pipili became the city's most famous hero when he strapped a large stone on his back as a shield against Spanish bullets and set fire to their fortress way back when Mexico was fighting for independence from Spain. He is everywhere in Guanajuato.

Pipili, the hero of Gunajuato stands guard on a ridge overlooking the city

Guanajuato is by far the most interesting and beautiful city we have visited in Mexico. We would have liked to stay longer and learn more about this fascinating town, but after three days it was time to move on to Morelia.

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed this glimpse of Guanajuato, its history and the pics are great. Hope Mark and I can catch up with you and Lisa soon!