Guanajuato, Mexico: City of Mines, Music, Muses, and Mummies.
The thing about Mexico that any visitor who travels any distance will soon find the diversity that is embedded in the country. Due to the fact that Mexico is a cradle of an original civilization and thus millennium in age this is inevitable. The modern mixes with the ancient, colors collide, and food mixes in new ways never imagined. Then there is Guanajuato.
So, we arrived in Guanajuato in the very early dawn of the morning. Mexico is not really a morning country. If you want to see silence wake up in any city of Mexico really early and you will find yourself soon by yourself. Maybe if your lucky you might find a rooster, but even the chickens sleep in late in Mexico. We say this to say to let you know that when we arrived no one was there to greet us. Luckily there were a few taxis in operation and we were able to get a ride into downtown. We told the taxi we weren’t exactly sure where we wanted to go but wanted to go downtown. I had heard that there was a funicular in town and I figured that was a good place to start. He must have looked at me pointed and then looked at my T-Shirt because the next thing I knew we were at the San Diego Church.
The scene was classic tourism. A bunch of Americans on the corner with a bunch of bags in tow. Being Mexico we were promptly approached by a tour guide. We had no idea what we wanted to do, but he said he had a tour that was leaving soon that was 4 hours long. It was only 150 pesos (about $7.25 USD) and we said why not?! So we that we soon packed into a white van with 10 total strangers. Sounds like the begining of a kidnapping story but here I am writting this blog so it couldn’t have been that bad.
The van was packed but we did learn a lot of things about Guanajuato. Guanajuato is a very old city. It was an ancient Aztec city that means “city of frogs.” You’d think with a name like that we would have seen lots of frogs but it is nothing like that. Apparently the city got it’s name when the Aztecs looked at a bunch of rocks in a valley and said they looked like frogs. They figured it was the goddess of frogs protecting them and so the name stuck. I saw the rocks they kind of look like frogs, I guess it works.
Speaking of rocks Guanajuato is a ancient mining town. Even before the Spanish arrived the locals were mining copper and silver from the surrounding mountains. Of course you know what happened when the Spanish found out about that. Mines, mines everywhere. At one point there were over 4,000 of them. We went to the oldest one called La Valencia and the second oldest one called Bocamina San Ramon. At La Valencia there was not much to look at, but at Bocamina San Ramon they let you go down an old mine shaft which was pretty cool. All I can say is I am really glad I was not a miner in the 1500s. They dug for 5 days at a time in the dark and if the debts were inherited to your heirs (luckily my ancestors were not Mexican miners). Needless to say the life expectancy was not long. Today there are only three mines in operation and surprisingly they are owned by Canadians.
More plentiful than abandoned mines in Guanajuato is music. Music is the rhythm of life in Mexico and Guanajuato takes that to a whole other level. Music in Guanajuato has been going on for several millennium. Whether it is the beat of the drum, the twang of a guitar, or a trumpet sounding music is everywhere. It is in the plaza, it is on the streets, it is in the restaurants. My favorite singers were the wandering minstrels dressed in medieval garb. It was like going right back to 1600s and Shakespeare’s bards had come out to make life merry. They play, they dance, and it is joyous.
With the music in the air it is no coincidence that the arts flourish in Guanajuato. The colors are everywhere. The streets tunnel and wind and inspire the mind. In fact there are 3,200 what they call “callejones”, little street ways that can only be accessed by walking. The most popular of which is called “El Callejon del Beso” where lovers can climb up to two balconies and kiss from each side. All of them have names. My favorite was the one called “Salsipuedes” (get out if you can), if your big like me you have to suck in your gut a bit to get through that one (it has the record for the narrowest alleyway). It was in this enviroment that world renown muralist Diego Rivera was born. His childhood home has been preserved and is now a museum. Also, it should be know that the people of Guanajuato are big fans of Miguel de Cervantes. The most popular character of Cervantes was Don Quixote, put there are many others. The have a museum and festival entirely dedicated to his works and the playhouses often stage productions of his works.
In Guanajuato there is a mummy mine. To understand why this is you need to understand two things: how burials in Mexico work and the water. In Mexico cemetery plots are not bought for all time, they are bought in 7 years increments. If you have a trust set up or your family renews the contract, all is well, you rest in peace. If the seven years come up and no one pays, they dig your body up and your are cremated, that is that. Regarding the water, there is a phrase that says “it must be something in the water.” In Guanajuato it really is all about what is in the water. As mentioned before, there are many mines in Guanajuato, thus it is not hard to see why the water naturally has a lot of minerals in it. If you live in Guanajuato long enough these minerals will get in your bloodstream and when you die, you will not rot, you will be preserved and become a mummy. And if this happens and your family doesn’t pay for you, you will be put in a museum in Guanajuato and people will pay to see you forever and ever. Kind of strange at first glance, but it is a small Mexican reminder to that life is short and it is to be lived.
Do describe Guanajuato in just words does it an injustice. It is really a place that needs to be felt, it is a moment of time and space that comes and then it is gone. If only to sit in the Union Plaza underneath the trees and slowly watch the sun set while the children play in the gazebo. The music will come to your ears, the smell of the food will come to your nose, you will feel the air around you and you will feel alive for a moment and then the moment will be gone, but it will be there for another such time, because as they say in Guanajuato, “don’t worry the mummies are not going anywhere.”
The day was long, we got back to the bus station late. We ended up taking an overnight bus to Mexico City. $40 for the three of us to take a 6 hour bus ride.
I’d love to see the Diego Rivera stuff, and I think that the enchiladas mineras look yummy.