Guanajuato

Leaving Durango we opted for another quick one-nighter in Zacatecas. It isn't that Zacatecas doesn't warrant a longer visit, but we had enjoyed a longer stop here on our 09/10 trek, and it was pretty well covered on that trip. You can look up our recollections of that trip here. We did however look up an old aquaintence by the name of Juan Antonio, an extremely energetic artist who operates a restaurant with the unlikely name of "Lucky Luciano's". I'm not kidding. The place is covered with hardly an inch of space to spare with his paintings. He remembered us and on leaving presented us with one of his prints. If you make it there look him up.


The panoramic view of Guanajuato is as good a place to start as any. On our last trip through here the town was in the throws of its annual Festival Cervantino. This international celebration of theater with a side of astronomy draws such crowds that we were able to find a small rooftop garret for one day only, and we were forced to go on without a real chance to see this amazing town. This is a place with as much going on below the surface as in the labyrinthine callejons above ground. The town's center sits above a network of tunnels originally constructed to relieve flooding. After a dam aleviated that problem, they wer converted into thoroughfares, without which it would be even more difficult to navigate the town's narrow one-way streets. We were determined to spend at least a couple of days here this time. This visit, however, was not without its own festivities, and it seems there is always something going on here.


On this occasion it was a competition of street art performed with a crayon-like pastels made specifically for this purpose. The photos above and below are just a handful out of the hundreds we encountered.















There was even a whole section dedicated to kids as young as seven and eight years old. Their work was displayed here with the image that inspired it.


Next to one of Guanajuato's principle theaters Teatro Juarez there is a narrow passage that will take you to the funicular to ride up to the statue of El Pípila. Another of Gunajuato's many famous structures is the Alhóndiga, a huge former grain warehouse that dates back to the late 18th early 19th centuries. It was the sight of the first significant victory of Mexico's independence fighters over Spanish forces. The Spanish had converted theAlhóndiga into a fortress, and legend has it that under orders from Miguel Hidalgo El Pípila tied a stone slab to his back to protect him from Spanish bullets and was able to set fire to the doors enabling victory. To really grasp why the battle here at Guanajuato was so significant you have to understand that Guanajuato is a 500 year-old town, and for more than 250 of those years it produced 20% of the worlds silver. More than anything the fight for independence was meant to throw off the yoke of Spanish fiscal control and the fattening of the king's coffers. The funicular ride brings you to the base of the statue of El Pípila (below), and provides the lookout at the rim of the "bowl" that Guanajuato sits in for the panoramic view at the top of the page.



If there is a down side to Mexico's recent growth in national tourism it is that, while more Mexican city dwellers are starting to discover their own country, where you could once find handmade crafts they are rapidly being replaced in some places by cheap chotchkies. In Guanajuato's elaborate mercado building (above), however, the real Mexico is still very much alive.