Guanajuato: Stranger in a Strange Land

Hey, I'm way too high here.

Hey, I’m way too high here.

Color me stupid. I was high above Guanajuato Centro, sweating and panting, totally lost, with no Spanish to ask the way back home. I’d intended on doing a quick loop of the downtown core, with a stop to peek at the Alhóndiga de Granaditas, one of the first sites of the Mexican War of Independence. Somehow, I’d missed a turn and climbed much higher than I’d expected. There didn’t seem to be anything akin to a cross street up that high, so I said a quick prayer and headed down one of the small, vertical alleys. I must have appeared like something out of a bad movie to one of the local women. She started when she spotted me; most gringos don’t venture up here. Guanajuato is a tourist destination, but not normally folks from the United States. They all end up an hour and a half up the road in San Miguel de Allende, or as my driver from the Leon airport termed it, Gringo Land.

The lady scurried off and I stumbled down the hill until finally found the Alhóndiga which was orginally used to store grain. The Spanish troops used it as a fortress in the early 19th century until the local residents stormed it on September 28, 1810. Mexicans remind me of the Irish, in that they are very attuned to their history. When I referred to the attack as the opening of the war of revolution to locals, they quickly corrected me, it was “a war of independence.” Point taken.

Guanojuato, El Pipila

Guanajuato stairs

Guanajuato attracts Mexicans, because of sites like Alhóndiga The city is the cultural and historic center of Mexico. I wanted something different: an adventure, and Guanajuato is it. They don’t cater to Americans down here. My daughter wanted me to bring home postcards, but I spend a couple of hours searching for some. Postcards are a gringo thing. If you travel in Europe, a smattering of French or Italian will stand you in good stead. There, when I fumble with the language, more often than not, the waitress will take pity on me and speak to me in English. Alas, I have no Spanish other than el baño por favor, so communication is difficult, but it would be arrogant of me to expect the locals to speak English. So, I muddle along as best I can.

VW in Guanajuato

VW in Guanajuato

Perhaps what I savor most about Guanajuato are the smells and sounds. Walking through the Centro, you smell sugar and spices and just a hint of something sour. In the morning I lay in bed and listen to the roosters crow and the dogs bark. At any hour, you may hear the melody of a Mariachi band. Perhaps they are practicing for the coming evening’s performance at the Jarden de la Union, the vibrant heart of the city. Perhaps they are just living the moment.

I’m still in Guanajuato, still exploring, so there will be more later.

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