Dec 312011

As you’ve probably noticed by the recent dropoff in post frequency, within hours of arriving in Guanajuato we decided to get comfortable and stay awhile.  Prior to arriving we had heard many rumors that this quaint town was a beautiful spot and although we had originally planned on staying only 4 days, we ended up staying for almost 4 weeks.  We were so struck by Guanajuato’s uniqueness upon arriving that on a whim we sent out an invitation for my mother to join us the day after Christmas a full 3 weeks away.  Within 24 hours a flight was booked.

Guanajuato is a silver mining town crammed tightly into the creases between the surrounding hills.  An historic town that dates back to the 16th century, it played a major role in the initiation of the Mexican revolution.  The town is incredibly restricted geographically, thus the layout of the city could not be redesigned with the increased use of the automobile.  As a result the city is comprised mostly of narrow pedestrian walkways called callejons, with only a few one way streets navigable by car.  This left the city isolated as time went on forcing the residents to come up with an ingenious solution, which the generations of mining experience made simple:  they created a maze of tunnels running underneath and around the city.  The tunnels not only allow access to the city’s central district but also work to preserve its colonial feel.  With its narrow walkways, brightly painted houses full of right angles, and cobblestone streets the city would not seem out of place if transplanted to the shores of the Mediterranean.

Having the combination of history and beauty, when you throw in a one of a kind attraction like Guanajuato’s Mummy Museum the result is a tourist magnet.  The city’s number one industry is tourism, which was made obvious the week between Christmas and New Years when the city exploded with visitors.  However, most of the visitors were Mexicans which made the crowds much more tolerable as observing locals while on vacation was just as rewarding as observing locals within their normal routine.  As a comparison, we spent a few days in the neighboring city of San Miguel de Allende only a few hours away.  It too is an historic town full of beautiful churches and colonial architecture.  The difference is that San Miguel has a very significant ex-pat community.  Now, depending on one’s preferences as a traveler this can net a turn on or a turn off.  The presence of so many expats means that businesses cater to their English speaking clientele.  Therefore you find many more locals speaking our language and many more comforts of home, such as wine and cheese shops.  However, the cost such an influx is a watering down of the local culture.  We don’t normally go out of our way to be with other gringos but, in this case, having people around to socialize with was a much needed benefit around the lonely holidays.

Slowing down presented new challenges not yet faced during our travels.  When each new day brings a new list of activities our life takes on a certain pattern.  The process begins the previous night with researching and planning the next day’s events.  Once we’ve crossed off the items on our to-do list we end the day documenting our experience, cataloging our pictures and starting the process over for our next stop.  Our lifestyle, although non-traditional in many respects, parallels that of our lives prior to the trip in that routine fills the hours of the day and down time quickly disappears.  When we decided to stay for a few weeks in Guanajuato our routine was demolished.  We were now inundated with excess time that we were not quite sure what to do with.  We did not realize the need to proactively deal with our new situation and the space quickly filled with negativity.  Without the daily distraction of routine, our loneliness grew, only to be exaggerated by the fact that we were spending the holidays far away from our families for the first time in our lives.  In addition, we had feelings of guilt for being unproductive in the context of what we had become accustomed to during our travels.  In essence we had to re-teach ourselves how to deal with our new situation.  It wasn’t that we needed to change our situation, only that we needed to shift our perspective and realize that every coin has two sides.  The excess time, although lacking the landmarks of how we had previously defined a productive day, gave us the much needed space to be reflective of our experiences and the progress we have made since beginning our trip.  We began to know and understand the city on a more intimate level.  We could observe its changes day to day.  We soon learned when the pastries were fresh, when certain items were available in market, and when the crowds ebb and flow.  We quickly found our favorite spots for coffee, a meal or an after dinner drink.  Slowing down in Guanajuato provided a sense, if only ever so slight, of the feelings one gets when in their home town.