January 30, 2002. Guanajuato.
We arrived in Guanajuato on January 27, 2002, in the evening, after 4 hours of travel. We had chosen the ETN long-distance bus company, even though they were 25% more expensive, because they had a bus leaving within 10 minutes. It turned out that it was a luxury bus with seats as wide as in first-class in planes and fully reclining with leg support (ony 3 across the width of the bus). A lunch pack was provided and coffee and tea were available in the back of the bus. We had earphones providing good sound for the movies. It was very nice!
Guanajuato is built on several hills and the city is partially terraced giving it the air of a fortress when first arriving at the bottom level, driving along a tall stone wall. Many streets run underground, spaghetti style. Guanajuato was (still is to some degree) a mining town, built when its mines were providing the world with 50% of its silver supply in the 18th century. This meant a lot of money, of course, and some of the profits were used to build one of the finest towns for colonial architecture in Mexico (according to the guide book). The entire city was designated a “World Heritage Zone” in 1989. We really enjoyed the beauty of the streets, the many small parks, the well maintained buildings of consistent elegant style, and the lively young crowd as this is also a college town with a major university. We did not see many foreign tourists. The temperature was very comfortable, cooler than Puerto Vallarta, since we were at 6500 feet (2000 meters) of elevation but still not requiring a sweater until the evening.
The first evening we strolled around the city and visited the theater before having diner. I was very impressed with the interior decoration of the theater. It seemed like no surface was left undecorated. The bar had beautiful wood and stained glass. The theater itself had painted walls with a red flower pattern, carved ceilings in red and gold, damask covered furniture, a grand chandelier from Paris and carved wood balconies. It was a jewel in itself.
The university building was also impressive, literally shining in the sun with its stone accented white walls and grandiose stairs.
We had diner at a nice restaurant on the “jardin”, the main park in the city, where many people were strolling, having a drink, or were kissing on the benches with musicians senerading to them.
The next morning, we visited the cathedral on the way back from breakfast. I liked the cathedral interior which had a lot of light filtering from the coupola cover the choir, butter and white wall colors, crystal chandeliers shimmering and what looked like a lot of gold leaf accents.
We also changed hotel as the first one we picked had uncomfortable beds and hard pillows. The second one was noisier but the beds were good and we took a nap right away. For lunch we went to the market and I (Birgitta) tried baby goat stew which tasted rather like lamb and was quite good. The market building is very interesting also. It used to be the train station and has a french style with wrought iron stairway leading to a balcony. On the way out, we bought a beautiful wool blanket in the typical colorful mexican weave. Cheap copies are available everywhere there are tourists but they are usually cotton. Guanajuato is close enough to the central wool region of Mexico to offer real wool versions.
Afterwards we took a city bus to the most famous of the Guanajuato mines, La Valenciana, which is still active, although at a very small scale. We visited the grounds near one of the mine entries, with a guide supposed to speak english but who was completely unintelligible. We saw the pumps providing air at a depth of 525 meters and draining water, the shaft with its electric winch and a curious wall looking like a crown. We leaned later that it was supposed to have supported a cable and cloth cover to prevent rain water from entering the mine shaft. The mine is still operational and provides mostly quartz, iron sulfide and amethysts.
Next we went to the old mine entry, used before winches, when men hauled 70 kg (or 150 lb) of ore on their back walking up the carved rock and stone stair steps. We had another guide who did not pretend to speak english and laboriously explained everything in spanish and with hand gestures. He had worked 28 years in the mine and was intensely proud of it, telling us that it provided 75% of the precious metals (silver and gold) world supply and contained an ore particularly rich in those metals. He explained that the mine had been started by local indians before the Spaniards arrived and that therefore that it was truly mexican. The Spanish discovered it in 1557 but not finding gold readily, abandoned it until the 18th century when a persistent prospector finally found the precious metals. Spain took most of the riches generated at that time. He told us about the poor working conditions, the low wages and long work days (we did not understand all the details). He absolutely wanted to convey to us, and to all the tourists in the world, the importance of this particular mine. His enthusiasm and pride made us work real hard on understanding his spanish and follow the visit.
On the way back through town, we purchased the famous local candied strawberries, which were excellent, as well as other sweets. After all our linguistical efforts, we felt we deserved a drink and enjoyed a Planter’s Punch in another nice plaza before having pizza for diner. This is truly a college town: alcoholic drinks are listed on all menus and there are numerous pizza outlets.
Tuesday, we took another bus to visit the Ex-Hacienda San Gabriel which is a very large villa with extensive gardens showing the live style of the wealthy 3 centuries ago. It is nestled in a small valley, next to a little stream which must have provided the water required to water all the gardens. The house is furnished with period furniture of spanish, english and french origins. It was designed to be cool with tall rooms, thick walls, extensive covered balconies, and shaded terraces.
The chapel was small but housed a rich painted wood carving with gold leaf.
The grounds were divided in many theme gardens from the roman garden to the asian garden, passing by the italian, mexican, english, etc. it included numerous fountains, shallow pools, shaded rest areas and private corners dedicated to meditation. We really enjoyed strolling around the hacienda.
After lunch, we visited the small Diego Rivera museum located in downtown Guanajuato in the house where he was born. It includes many of his sketches and paintings although not the most well-known ones. Then we went searching for the store selling computer keyboards as our laptop keyboard refused to type 8 and 9. We had seen it the day before but after walking all around Guanajuato, we could not find it anymore. It was quite frustrating but after finally finding it late in the afternoon, we realized that many stores were closed from 3 to 5 PM, pulling large wood shutters over the windows so that we had no idea what, if anything, was sold at that location. Magically, after 5 PM, many stores reappeared along the busy central street. I (Birgitta) also bought nice high heel short boots and rose-shaped earrings, and Clark bought a very elegant silver necklace to be hidden until my birthday.
This was a very pleasant visit and we recommend Guanajuato to anyone visiting Mexico!
Wednesday, we took the bus back directly to Puerto Vallarta (with a transfer in Guadelajara) and found the boat safe, still floating in the marina.