Magic Pueblos of Central Mexico - Part 1
Updated: Feb 27
Oh my god, I gasped, collapsing on a rock step. I didn't remember reading anything about a 45-degree goat trail when I booked our Airbnb! I pressed my hand to my chest to slow the heartbeat that pounded into my ears.
We were in Guanajuato, the first of five pueblos we'd visit over two weeks. A You-Tube video had described Guanajuato as ‘way more beautiful, way less touristy,’ and… (my favorite phrase ), ‘way cheaper.’ It was, it was, and it was.
How did we get there?
Little did we know, but Mexico has an awesome rideshare service! Blabla Car Mexico is half the price of the Primera Plus or ADO long distance buses, and a couple hours quicker. The app is easy to use and, like Airbnb, lets you see past reviews of the drivers. Very safe, in my opinion. We've used three times and met super nice people.
Most of the time within town, we walked. And you know how that went if you read my Navigating Mexico City. blog. I was lost most of the time. In Guanajuato, it was no different. One morning I’d ventured out to buy my sore-throated, aching-eared Aaron a COVID test and a good mask. All I had to do was walk down the centro to the farmacia then walk back up the same street. So why did I find myself a mile up the hill on the wrong side of the valley? Sigh.
We'd take city buses for 8-13 pesos to places too far to walk to. Way cheaper than the 50-70 pesos that taxis or Ubers charge. We did take an Uber one day, however, when Aaron was feeling horrible. I could tell the thought of walking to the centro and searching with our heavy backpacks for the local bus was exhausting him before we even took a step. “It’s only five bucks,” I said to Aaron and to myself, arguing with that cheap devil on my shoulder that was yelling “NO, take the bus. It's only 8 pesos!” But we Uber'd, and crap. It was way too easy. Everything went through my Paypal account, even the tip. Damn, a slippery slope had shown its face.
Anyways, Guanajuato was GORGEOUS!!
The town lies about 1 hour 45 from Mexico City. In the heat of the afternoon, we emerged from the exhaust-belching local bus we'd caught from the terminal and navigated to the urban goat trail that our Airbnb was located on.
My lungs and thighs were screaming after two minutes of climbing the Everest-steep, lung-bursting, toe-stubbing, barely navigable rock staircase that google map said our Airbnb was on. Finally, though, we saw our host, waiting for us on a rocky outcrop.
"Bienvenidos," he said with a smile, led us to a small courtyard with a hammock (that had my name written all over it) and handed us a bottle of cold Crema de Mescal and two glasses. Hello!
After standing a moment to gaze over the gorgeous colonial town of Guanajuato that climbed in pastel blocs across the valley and up the hillsides,
I collapsed into the hammock. “Thank you,” my thighs whispered.
It was dark when we finally went down into town, and the centre was ablaze with light from several gorgeous churches, the cobblestone streets packed with people.
Tons of Mexican families were celebrating 3 Kings Day, we found out, the end of Christmas celebrations and when gifts were given representing the gifts given to Jesus by the three kings.
Some were also celebrating the Fiesta de Quinceaños,’ a ‘fifteen years party,’ a rite started by the Aztecs and Mayas to mark the time when 15-year-old girls turned into women. The pretty, dark-locked chicas in their rainbow-coloured princess dresses made me feel as if I was in a fairy tale.
Such an atmosphere of celebration and fun, everywhere we went. Under the gleam of yet another beautiful cathedral (there are 23 churches or religious buildings just in the historical centre!), we found a band of musicians dressed as medieval minstrals, and watched as they, like pied pipers, with their lutes and mandolins lured a large group of tourists into the dark.
Plaza Hidalgo. We loved just perching ourselves on one of wrought iron benches in the plaza's pretty park, the grand, golden cathedral beside us. Just sitting there in the warm sun and watching people. All the tourists in their snazzy-go-on-vacation clothes, the tiny Mexican women, hunched, and with more wrinkles on their face than on my sundress, the old men in felt hats and shined up shoes chatting in the shade of buildings.
The Telerifico–We took a glass-sided gondola that rode a track up the mountain, and got a spectacular view of Guanajuato.
At the top of the hill, stood Al Pipila a huge stone figure that we had seen from town, and a local hero, we were told, said to have set a building filled with Spanish soldiers on fire, and single-handedly (as the story goes) killed them on behalf of his fellow rebellers.
El Callejon del Béso or Street of the Kiss, is a metre wide if that. It was said that once upon a time, a young girl from a rich family met and fell in love with a humble miner. Her father, who wanted her to marry a rich nobleman, was furious when he discovered they’d been seeing each other, and locked his daughter in her bedroom. Her thwarted lover saw that his love’s bedroom balcony faced the balcony of the home across the alley and spent every penny of his savings to buy the home. 'the continued their tryst. One night, the girl’s father saw the two embracing. He raged. He grabbed a dagger and stabbed her. What? Okay, it’s a legend, I’ll go on. When the poor miner saw his love lying dead, he jumped from his balcony toward hers, fell and broke his neck. Or, as some say, was so distraught that he committed suicide in the Valenciana mine where he worked.
Valenciana Mine was most interesting. Ignoring the expensive tours offered, we caught a local bus for 8 pesos each. Our 75 year-old tough-as-nails ex-miner guide took us through the 500-year-old tunnels of this 500 metre deep mine (the deepest in the country). “I worked with poor Indians down in the mine,” he told us. “They were slaves, paid only with a small amount of food, no masks or lamps as I was given, just torches…fire,” he said with a frown. “They died before they were 25 years old,” he told us. His voice changed then, from concern to pride. “This mine provided 75% of all of Spain’s silver at the time. Canadians own the mine now. The silver goes to Canada and other places. Aaron pulled out his translator, unable to hold his question back. “Do you want your silver back? he asked our guide. The guy thought that was hilarious.
In a market at the far end of town where roosters crowed, the bloody smell of hanging meat and sewage mixed with the lemony smell of cleaning solution, and nary a tourist could be found, we found the best deep fried 50 cent bean-filled empanada.
And at Enchiladas Mineras, a tiny hole-in-the-wall on yet another dark, shadowy street, we found saucy and spicy enchiladas covered with carrots and potatoes. Up to her elbows in greasy deliciousness, this woman was a force to be reckoned with.
And then…an obstacle to our frugal beings. “Los Campos es muy rico,” our Airbnb host told us. Yep, and expensive. At least compared to the $10 we usually spent on both our meals. This one would set us back about $42. We dithered and dallied, then dithered some more, and then we sat down. My chili relleno in mole sauce and Aaron’s breast of chicken set tenderly on a cylinder of rice and swimming in verde sauce were delicious. As was the chilled glass of wine I thought I may as well have since we're going all out. And dessert was chocolate filled churros from a cart in town. So fun, so delicious. I was feeling that slippery slope again – it was getting too easy to spend.
On our last night, we studied the Airbnb options in our next destination. I found myself cringing at the choices. Yuck. Can’t get anything decent for $30; the bedspreads look so thin and old. Oh my god, what is happening to me? I’ve slept at the bottom of construction holes to save a buck when I’ve travelled, in hammocks, on hard-as-a-rock barely-there mats in tents. Why am I asking for so much all of a sudden?
"Here's one for $40," Aaron said. "It looks nice."
It's not like I don't have money to get a nicer place. I'm just unable to open up my purse strings and spend it. I've spent 35 years travelling, long trips, a year usually, on as little as possible, and it's a hard habit to quit. My soft, aging body seems to be making the choice for me lately, though.
"I guess that's only $20 bucks each," I said. "OK, let's get it."
And so, with the promise of a hotel with its bathroom on the same floor as our beds, and on relatively flat terrain, we headed to San Miguel de Allende, a place that was said to be 'not to be missed.'
Hope you've enjoyed following us through Mexico.
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