Hey guys 🙂 Happy Tuesday!
Did you know that the architect of the world-famous Eiffel Tower of Paris also built something unique in Mexico? Yes, that’s right!
The main entrance and clock face of Mercado Hidalgo in Guanajuato, one of Mexico’s most charming colonial cities, were designed by Alexandre Gustave Eiffel. Originally intended to be a train station, this market building was officially opened in 1910 as part of the celebration of the centennial of Mexican Independence. Interesting, huh?
Happy Reading 🙂
Mexico celebrates 20th November as Dia de la Revolución Mexicana or the Mexican Revolution Day. I had planned to visit Guanajuato, San Miguel de Allende, Dolores Hidalgo and Leon in the state of Guanajuato. So on Saturday morning, I took the bus for the state capital, Guanajuato, one of the most charming colonial cities in Mexico. On the way, while nearing the city, the girl in my neighbouring seat pointed out a hill, crowned by a large bronze statue of Jesus Christ. ‘It’s the world’s second largest statue of Christ, after Rio de Janeiro,’ she said. I had read that the statue was one of Mexico’s most important religious monuments and that the area supposedly marked the geographic centre of the country.
On reaching Guanajuato, I realized that the entire city had been overrun by tourists. For an hour or more, I looked around for hotels with available rooms. Walking along the narrow, cobbled, pedestrian-only streets was a pleasant experience as each of them opened onto charming, fountain-filled plazas.
Due to the long holiday, this charming colonial city was now overflowing with people. At one of the hotels, a manager told me about an old lady who let out a few rooms in her house to tourists. We left for her place immediately after I had booked an organized tour for the following day. The tour covered the surrounding areas including the nearby cities of Dolores Hidalgo and San Miguel de Allende. The house was located in a nice, quiet alley. The price was good too, so I took the room and later left for my exploration of the city.
Initially, the intricate and complex network of cobbled streets and narrow alleys got me confused but later with the help of a city map obtained from the tourism office I managed to get around quiet well. There were no traffic lights or neon signs and the streets were impeccably clean. At each corner, I sighted a church. The city amazed me with its beautiful atmosphere. No wonder many Mexican as well as foreign couples come to get married here, in this city which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site!
Situated at a height of 6649 feet in the silver-mining highlands of central Mexico, Guanajuato is known for its rich history and cultural heritage. The city as well as the nearby cities of Dolores Hidalgo and San Miguel de Allende, were centres of the revolutionary independence movement. Today, the high population of students and youth has resulted in a young and vibrant atmosphere in Guanajuato. In October, the city holds the annual international cultural festival, the Festival Cervantino, which attracts thousands of young visitors, mostly artists and musicians, from all over the world. Guanajuato also boasts of several museums, including the Diego Rivera Museum (the city is the birthplace of the internationally renowned muralist).
I boarded a bus for a quick look around the city. Beneath the city, the bus passed through a series of amazing underground tunnels connecting one side of the town to the other, creating subterranean thoroughfares.
This left the cobbled streets traffic free. Sometime later, I took another bus to visit a strange and unique museum, Museo de las Momias where more than a hundred mummified human corpses exhumed from the local public cemetery, are lined up against the wall in glass cases.
When I reached the place it was late evening and the thought of looking at dead bodies made me hesitate at the entrance door. But I carried on and joined the people waiting for the tour of the place. A guide led us through the dark passage with just enough light to see the exhibits on both sides and creepy music filling the air. We were told that the mummies were formed naturally in the local cemetery due to the area’s arid climate.
The mummies were residents of Guanajuato who lived roughly from 1850 to 1950. There used to be a law in Guanajuato in those times which required family members of the deceased interred at the cemetery to pay an annual fee. If the fee was not paid for five years in a row, the body was exhumed and the crypt would be re-used. In 1865, cemetery workers exhumed the remains of a body and discovered that it had not decayed, but had mummified. Over time, more bodies were found in this state, and they were placed in the cemetery’s ossuary building. As word spread, people began to visit the mummies and the museum was set up.
The mummies ranged from children to adult men and women, some of them having their clothing intact others with just their socks on. But the museum’s pride was ‘the smallest mummy in the world,’ a foetus. It was truly a strange sight! I didn’t spend much time around and quickly left the place.
The bus ride back to the Centro was hilarious too. I got a free tour of the town in a local bus, courtesy the driver, before his duty for the day ended at 7:00 pm! This was after I told him that I had missed the last tour bus of the day for the tour of the town. Back in the Centro, I was surprised to see thousands of people on the streets. It was as if the entire town had got down to the streets and not without a reason – there were food fairs, and many more activities happening in every nook and corner of the town.
I sampled few of the dishes and basked in the party atmosphere. When I returned back to the house, I met my landlady’s daughter, Laura, who had come over to stay with her mother for the long holiday.
The cool and stylish girl in her 30s, offered to show me the attractions of the Centro, including its nightspots and acquaint me with the city’s main tourist draw – the organized callejóneadas or walking tours. I was thrilled!
We walked around for almost three hours and I discovered many interesting things about the city and its landmarks. The uniformly colourful-dressed student minstrel groups called estudiantinas led the callejóneadas singing and performing rituals along a traditional route winding through the side streets and back alleys. This is a daily happening started in 1962, by a few local youths who were inspired by the centuries-old estudiantinas of Spain. The city’s nightlife was booming. We entered a popular disco for some drinks and partying. When we left the place past 2:00 am, I was surprised to find people still on the streets, some gathered around the charming small plazas dotting the town.
The next morning, I took an organized tour of the surrounding areas including Dolores Hidalgo and San Miguel de Allende.
The parish church of Dolores Hidalgo is of great significance. On 16th of September, 1810, it was here that Father Miguel Hidalgo raised the ‘Grito de Dolores’, the cry of rebellion against the Spanish, and with 80,000 armed supporters, commenced the independence struggle. Apart from being known as the cradle of the Independence movement, the place is also famed for its Talavera pottery. I also remember the place for its mouth-watering ice creams which are sold around the centre square. Besides the various fruit and nut flavours, I sampled some unimaginable flavours like tequila, cerveza (beer) and jalapeño!
A short distance away from Guanajuato, San Miguel de Allende is a beautiful colonial city with the highest influx of foreign expatriates (mostly gringos) in Mexico. The charming city has all the trappings of a genuine tourist destination with narrow, cobbled streets, lovely tree lined squares, a stunning colonial architecture and elegant colonial-style houses and patios. Like I had seen in the town of Ajijic, in San Miguel too, there are many beautiful spas, art and language schools, chic boutiques, classy restaurants and numerous art & craft outlets, all thanks to the high population of American expatriates. To me, San Miguel seemed to be a truly beautiful place to live. I really felt disappointed at being able to spend just a few hours here.
When I returned back to Guanajuato at night, I was fascinated by the party mood of the city. In addition to the activities of the previous night, there were rock concerts, and firework displays.
Thousands of people flooded the streets. The restaurants were overflowing with people, the plazas were overcrowded, deafening rock music filled the air and beautiful firework displays covered the skies.
That night, I met up with a local member of the youth association, a young girl called Laura. When I recounted to her my previous day’s experience of not finding a good room in any of the good hotels she told me that I was lucky to get a room in a nice house as most houses which let out rooms to tourists also ran out of rooms during the holidays. I wasn’t surprised because all the rooms at my landlady’s place had got occupied by the first night itself and she even had to turn away a young English family due to lack of space. The previous night, Laura had told me that hundreds of late arrivals in the city sleep in their vehicles or on the streets due to lack of accommodation. Even the luxury hotels face the problem of unavailable rooms during the holidays.
Next morning, I witnessed a parade of little children and youngsters in colourful costumes with music bands, dancing and more.
The entire town was in a celebratory mood.
Laura had offered to take me to the 18th century church, Templo de San Cayetano de Valenciana known for its extraordinary architecture; and the Boca Mina San Ramón, one of the oldest silver mines open to public.
Guanajuato was for centuries the wealthiest town in Mexico – silver was discovered here in 1548 – its silver mines pouring out the bulk of silver that was sent to Spain for royalty. I bought a few crystal and other stones from a rock-seller; and a silver pendant in the shape of an eagle at a shop near the Boca Mina San Ramón. The mine had some wonderful displays and pieces of old mining equipment, but the most exciting part was descending the steps into a mine shaft 60 meters deep.
Guanajuato is an extremely enjoyable and peaceful place, yet bursting with plenty of life. Even after a three-day stay, I longed to return back for more! The large city of Leon is located between Guanajuato and Guadalajara. So I took the bus till Leon, deposited my bag in the luggage storage room at the bus terminal, and went to shop for leather goods — the city being Mexico’s number one destination for leather goods. Just opposite the terminal, there were special malls and numerous shops selling all kinds of leather accessories. I purchased a mustard leather jacket, black knee-length leather coat and matching gloves for the cold winter.
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I now leave you with this awesome song by Enrique Iglesias: Bailando Enjoy 🙂
Take care… hasta luego 🙂