Guanajuato: A city of tunnels
During my stay in Mexico, every one of my friends always tells me: “Hey Henry, you should seriously go to San Miguel one day. It is one of the most beautiful cities in Mexico and you’ll enjoy the colonial-like city there.” I honestly don’t remember how many times someone tells me this. Since I know that the Mexican Independence day is on Sep 15 and 16, and our office will be closed for two days, I have decided to make good use of the holiday and travel south to San Miguel.
The full name of San Miguel is San Miguel de Allende. Another good reason to travel to San Miguel is because the first free-city from Spanish rule was actually in San Miguel. Technically speaking, San Miguel was where independence first took place. I’ll explain the history behind it in the next blog.
Embarking this 5-day journey with me include my good friends Aaron, Adriana (Adry) and Mamta. Aaron has been to San Miguel before and he recommended to visit Guanajuato City as well since it is very close-by.
We set off our journey at 9:30 pm, leaving from the main Monterrey bus station. Normally, this trip should take about 10 hours only. However, due to untimely thunder storms, countless half-way bus stops, and very annoying police inspections (yes, they have multiple police inspections in the middle of the night), we arrived at Guanajuato City after 14 hours.
Aside from the annoying bus light that the driver never turned off, I think I had a pretty good sleep.
Adry is already excited to be at Guanajuato City already!
As soon I got off the bus, I could feel one thing very apparent – the altitude. In Guanajuato city, the city is about 2 km higher than Monterrey. Nonetheless, I could manage because I had experience dealing with altitudes from before (namely Bolivia).
While navigating the city through a local bus, we could see the impressive city design and architecture. Aaron has mentioned this before but I could not believe it until I saw it with my own eyes – the city is built on top of tunnels.
Historically, flooding has caused serious problems in Guanajuato city during the 1700s. As a result, the Spanish government constructed large ditches and tunnels that were used to divert overflows during rainy season. When modern dams are built, these tunnels lost its original purpose and have all been converted into underground roadways.
Me chilling by the hotel.
The alleys at Guanajuato City are very colonial-like and similar to the ones in Europe. I remember clearly that these alleys resemble the ones at the north of Barcelona. Some of these alleys are so narrow that I often see big SUVs having trouble passing through.
Nearby our hotel, we ordered many Micheladas (comes with either clamato, lime or hot sauce). After this trip, I discovered that Micheladas is Mamta’s favourite drink. On the other hand, I also discovered that Aaron really dislikes the Russian beer Baltika.
We signed up for a city tour package that will take us to various parts of Guanajuato City. The package only costs 150 pesos which I think is a pretty wicked deal.
On our first stop, we went to the Museo de Las Momias de Guanajuato (a mummy museum). Normally, I am not scared of mummies or the sight of mummies. However, after discovering how these mummies arrived at the museum, I got really creeped out. Through Aaron’s excellent translation, I discovered that these “mummies” were mummified around the early to mid 1900s. I quoted “mummies” because they are technically not the real mummies from Egypt where mummies were being wrapped with bandages. Instead, the ones that we saw only had water and organs completely sucked out from the dead body – no bandages wrapped around them. Surprisingly, we could see the excellent preservation of the body with clear features of the dried skin.
The disturbing part is that these dead bodies were dugged from the grave yard close to the museum. Given the year that these bodies were “mummified”, it is very possible that some of the bodies I was looking at are grandparents of a resident in Guanajuato. When residents of Guanajuato had no money to bury the ancestors, they had to give the full right and usage of the mummified bodies to the government. As a result, these bodies are on display. I think we were all creeped out and that’s why I decided not to take any pictures. Sorry guys!
After a visit to a serious place, we went to a more lighter-tone destination of our tour - a market of gem stones. Instead of spending our time looking at gem stones, we went to a candy shop instead! Everyone besides me couldn’t express more on their enjoyment of local Mexican sweets.
After, we went to visit one of the abandoned non-functioning tunnels. Keep in mind that Guanajuato City’s very own existence was because of the discovery of silver. The silver city of Mexico had large amount of success during its height of silver production. Now, several of these abandoned tunnels are being used for research purposes.
At the end of the tour, we went to the most exciting place of Guanajuato City – the Mirador (look-out spot). We had a clear night view of Guanajuato City and the view was spectacular and breathtaking. The Cathedral church of the silver city stood out to me with its bright shiny golden rays.
The city is so beautiful that Queen Elizabeth II decided to visit in the past.
Behind the Mirador stands a large stone statue called El Pipila. According to the Aaron, the history of El Pipila took place during the Independence War of Mexico. When the insurgent army tried to take one of the strongholds of the Spanish army, the Spanish royalist had strong rifles and gunfire the insurgents from approaching the only entrance. A brave miner named Pipila strapped himself with many stones onto his back and crawled towards the entrance uninjured. When he approached the door, he burned the door and allowed the rest of the insurgent army to take over the stronghold. Though Pipila died from a horrible death, the city built a large statute to commemorate his bravery.
Taco night for dinner!
The next day we went to one of Guanajuato City’s famous market – El Mercado Hidalgo. The market sells various of art crafts, clothings, and food. Though instead of looking around the items at the market, I was paying much attention at Adry’s Quinceanera story, which I will explain what it is in future blogs.
Nearby Mercado Hidalgo is the main cathedral of Guanajuato. Unlike churches in Europe or in North America, many of the churches in Mexico feature the Lady of Guadalupe. Guadalupe is a symbol and a unique icon of Catholic churches in Mexico.
Unfortunately, the Diego Rivera museum was closed.
After, we walked to Aaron’s favourite and most excited destination – El Callejon del Baso (the kissing alley). Legend of Guanajuato says that the alley lived two people in love named Carlos and Ana. Ana was a rich Spaniard and Carlos was a poor miner. The two houses in the alley were so close that the distance between the balconies was only 70 centimetres. As a result, it was often seen the two couple kissing on the balconies. Unfortunately, the disapproval from Ana’s father was apparent and the father warned her daughter that he would kill her if he sees another kiss. The legend says that the daughter ignored her father’s warning and continues kissing Carlos. Eventually, the father did kill Ana.
Close by El Callejon del Baso is a long staircase (Las Escaleras) of the Universidad de Guanajuato. I personally cannot imagine students carrying their heavy school bags walking up the staircase for class every day. Las Escaleras is probably built for the grandeur look and students probably enter the building using the back elevator. Nonetheless, the architecture is fantastic.
At night, we went to a restaurant bar at the city center for some food and entertainment. At the restaurant, we met up with Agatha from Brazil who travelled all the way from Mexico City, D.F. We ordered different kinds of Mexican food. Aaron challenged me to eat a piece of a grilled jalapeno. After accepting the challenge and ate a tiny piece of grilled jalapeno, both my hands and feet were numb. It was so spicy that my body overreacted and I couldn’t feel my limbs. Aaron suggested that I put salt behind my ears to ease the spiciness but I didn’t listen to him.
There was a live band performing music on the stage in the restaurant. During the night, Aaron asked if I wanted to go up the stage and sing. I thought that was a ridiculous idea. However, after a few beer, tequila and Micheladas, I agreed to do it. On the stage, we asked if the guitarist knew a few English songs. After flipping through a few classic English songs, we settled on “How deep is your love” by Bee Gees. Aaron opened the floor with an introduction, then passed me the mic and I sang.
After my song, I received several cheers and applause (probably because everyone was already tipsy and borderline drunk). When I went back to my table, a Mexican beside me tapped my body and asked.
“Hi, where are you from?”
I responded. “Monterrey.”
“No. Really, where are you from?”
I responded again. “Monterrey.”
Clearly, this conversation was not going to go anywhere. I laughed. Then, he decided to ask me the second question.
“What is your name?”
I answered. “Kike.” Since, my name is Henry, the Mexican version is Enrique, which stands for short Kike.
Again, he didn’t believe my answer. “Really, what is your name?”
That was a fun night.
Oh by the way, that night Adry broke her phone. Very very sad. :(