Guanajuato

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.

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The university building was also impressive, literally shining in the sun with its stone accented white walls and grandiose stairs.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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Guadelajara

January 27, 2002. Puerto Vallarta and Guadelajara

We arrived in La Cruz, Banderas Bay (close to Puerto Vallarta) at 4:30 PM on January 23 and moved into Paradise Village marina (same as last year) the next day. They had a new dock where the power was still sporadic due to ongoing construction, and the rent was half price, which suited us just fine. We got settled, checked in with the port captain, and went shopping for boat supplies to repair a new oil leak in the engine. The next day, Clark fixed the oil leak while I went shopping in old Puerto Vallarta in a specialized grocery store for the hard to find good Mexican chocolate and canned meals for crossings (such as ravioli). In the afternoon, we both got our teeth cleaned downtown Puerto Vallarta before catching a screening of the Lord of the Rings. Unfortunately, it is a rather long movie and we were unsure exactly when the last bus was leaving, so we missed the last hour of it (but we knew the story).

Saturday, we packed our backpacks and hopped on a long distance bus for Guadelajara. I (Birgitta) wanted to see more of inland Mexico as I suspected that it might differ somewhat from the coastal resorts we usually see. A friend had warmly recommended Guanajuato and Guadelajara was a major city on the way with the best folkloric ballet according to our guide book.
During the 5 hours bus ride, we crossed prime aguave growing lands and saw blue field after blue field of the plants used for making tequila.

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After arriving at the large bus station outside of town, we took a city bus to go downtown. We picked the “cheap” bus and it was an error. It wandered for an hour through depressing neighborhoods which looked like a labyrinth of concrete (actually abode covered bricks) with no gardens or trees but peeling paint and graffiti.

In the evening, we strolled around Guadelajara and came upon an open air, free, folkloric ballet demonstration from the ballet of the state of Veracruz. 
A friendly Mexican with impeccable english translated the titles of the dances and told us that this was a better ballet than the one from Guadelajara since the former choreographer had left. He was eager to discuss the bad influence of american culture on the mexican youth. He was proud of his country and “felt 100% Mexican…even though both his parents were of Spanish ancestry”. Our guide book says that ancestry still matters in Mexico and I guess it does. In any case, we decided we did not need to see the University of Guadelajara Folkloric Ballet which had a show in the theater the next morning.
Guadelajara has numerous squares and parks in its center, surrounded by formal buildings of various and sometime mixed architectural style. Our guide book says the cathedral lumps baroque, byzantine, greek, moorish, churrigueresque, gothic and neo-classical styles together.

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We did not identify all of them (I do not even know what churrigueresque is) but we could see quite a few. The town center is very lively in the evening with Mexicans of all ages strolling about, street vendor selling sweets and musicians playing in the square.

The next morning, we had a great breakfast, served ultra fast, with real good crusty bread (a rarity in Mexico) at La Chata. Then, we visited the Instituto Cultural Cabanas which was built as an orphanage, covers 6 acres and has 23 patios! It is now a museum featuring among other things large murals by Jose Clemente Orozco. I was impressed with the mechanical horse shown on the following picture, which was on the ceiling of the chapel.

 

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In the plaza in front of the museum were several of the sculptures from Alejandro Colungas depicting a magician (often alien-looking) transforming himself into a chair.

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I really like his creations, which also decorate the waterfront walk of Puerto Vallarta (see last year for pictures those).

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After the museum, we went to the large city market where Clark purchased a spendid pair of eel-skin cowboy boots in dark red. It gives him a dashing air. Finally, we went back to the bus station, this time with the slightly more expensive but more direct city bus, and took a long-distance bus headed for Guanajuato. Conclusion: we had a nice time visiting Guadelajara center but outside the central parks, the city is very noisy and rather unattractive (this applies only to the few neighborhoods we saw).

At Sea

1-23-02 11:30am Partly cloudy skies
N 21 00’17” Air 90F Water 76F
W105 38’02” Motoring 164 5knots

We left Isla Isabella about 1:30am. Isabella is a beautiful place but quite often a very bad anchorage. We spent 2 days there and were never comfortable. Even with the rocker stopper out we rolled a lot. There was a guy there named Sean on a Ranger 23 named “soon come”, he was a very hardy soul to be out on such a small boat. He was enjoying himself on his little boat as it rolled rail to rail with a very fast motion and living on only fresh fish he speared and some potatoes, beer and such he bought along the way. He had to cook everything on his barbecue and only carried about 12 gallons of fresh water. We topped up his water tanks while we where there so he could spend a bit longer at Isabella. His budget forces him to live off the land and the fishing south of Isabella isn’t what it is where he is now. Hope he does ok.

We are now more then half way to PV and the seas have really flattened out. Birgitta is even smiling now and again as she listens to her book on tape (mp3). I’m glad I was able to coerce her into listening to it. She is much less bored with something to do while we are moving and doesn’t have to actually read so she doesn’t get seasick. 

It is amazing how the conditions change from the sea of Cortez to the central Mexican mainland. Up there, there is wind and even a bit of wind causes a steep wave to form. Down here, there is much less wind and seldom much of a wind wave but we are exposed to the oceans swell. All and all the swell makes anchorages rockyer but is easier to move the boat through. We both slept fairly well during our off watches and feel much better today then we have lately felt after a midnight departure. The big downside of the central mainland, and I expect most of the rest of our trip until we go through the Panama Canal, is that there will not be much wind and we will have to run the engine a lot.

 

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Isla Isabella

1-21-02 12noon Clear skies
N 21 50’29” Air 78F Water 75F
W105 52’56” Anchored

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We arrived at Isabella shortly before sunset last evening. We had to motor through sloppy seas most of the day with only about an hour of real sailing at the end so we ran the radar all day. When we got within about 25 miles of Isla Isabella the radar alarm would go off for about 3 sweeps which almost always means a boat. It sometimes goes off just once for an especially big wave. I would go down to watch the scope expecting the target to come back but I would see nothing. A while latter the same thing would happen. I had the alarm set to 6 miles and sometimes a little panga will only show up sometimes at that range. A while latter this happened again. Really annoying. We started seeing a lot of humpback whales as we went and had our closest daylight encounter yet. A pair of humpbacks were swimming toward the boat at a right angle and sounded when they were about 100 feet away and swam under our keel. We saw a lot of showy breaches and splashes. While we where watching one especially high jump and the succeeding splash we noticed our radar had gone off again. It turns out that the radar is a good humpback whale detector. They jump so high and make a splash that stays up so long that the radar sees them as a target.

We forgot to mention that on a previous sail we saw a school of what looked like bright red small goldfish out of a kid’s aquarium, swimming near the surface next to the boat. We had never seen them before. They looked somewhat out of place in the middle of the sea of Cortez, far from shore.

When we arrived and anchored at Isabella, we found that we were especially tired. I made some jambalaya and a drink for us. We ate and went to bed. Birgitta was asleep by 7:30pm. I guess we are so very tired because we have traveled over 500 miles in the last week without much of a rest. Since we have always really liked Isla Isabella, I think it is about our favorite place in Mexico, we have decided that today will be a lay around day and tomorrow we might explore or dive and leave late that night for PV. We have only one more night and day to travel to get to PV where we will be putting the boat in a marina and taking a bus trip inland. Tiring in itself but a different kind so we should be ready for the rest of our rush south. We plan to keep moving quite fast until we reach Zihuatanejo (also called Ztown by spelling challenged cruisers). We have some friends there and we haven’t visited that part of Mexico so we will start cruising more slowly again at that time. Though we will probably still move quite fast until we get to Costa Rica.

1-20-02 11:30am Partly Cloudy skies
N 22 20’06” Air 90F Water 75F
W106 03’57” Motoring at 5.5knots. Little wind. 4 foot waves.

Pretty sloppy here. The wind has been blowing from the north for the last couple of days, while we were in Mazatlan, and now we are out here with no wind but waves from the old weather. Just a bit uncomfortable, rolly and pitchy. Also we would much rather not be motoring. On top of the noise the fuel prices at Mazatlan had gone up a lot. Last spring we paid 3.9 pesos/liter. This time they wanted 5.4! That’s more then $2.00/gal. We came up to the fuel dock with our jerry cans and asked for fuel. It turns out they were nearly out and we were able to get about 8 gallons before the tank ran dry. We were told that more fuel would be available on Monday. When we paid, the bill came to over 170 pesos. We were glad that we didn’t get more. We have enough to get us to PV, though I expect the fuel to cost as much there. We will probably get just enough to get us to Manzanillo as we understand that prices are more reasonable. To put this in perspective we bought fuel in San Carlos last week at a fuel dock for under 4 pesos/liter.

I have been dragging the fishing lines for over 100 miles now with no bites. I was hoping to catch something for Birgitta. She likes dolphin or Mahi-Mahi as it is known in the restaurants.

Yesterday we went into town and did a bit of shopping, but forgot our camera. We got some food and I bought a Mexican wedding shirt. They are considered formal here but look like a barber jacket with embroidery. We visited a dance theater Birgitta wanted to see and thought we would see a Flamenco dance concert. But it turned out that it was being held at another location. We had lunch in a nice restaurant on a plaza, sort of like a European restaurant but the food wasn’t anywhere as good of course. Also I had my hair cut. Birgitta usually does it but doesn’t really like to. It takes her about an hour and by the end my back is really tired sitting up straight on a bench the whole time. Well this guy wasn’t much faster. I came in with a lot of hair and I don’t think he knew what exactly to do. He did seem to feel my hair needed a lot of watering because he must have sprayed over 2 cups of water on me. So much that it was running down my face and neck. I imagine my finer northern European hair is not what he is used to. All and all he did a fine job.