I should have started to worry when the taxi driver asked me three times which street my hostel was on. First of all he stopped outside number 109, when I’d quite clearly said (and showed him) that the address was 99.
‘No esta’ I said. ‘si, esta aqui’ he replied.
I then pointed out the hotel we were outside also had the wrong name. He still insisted we were in the right place. At that point, I spotted the name of the street: we were on Calle de 5 Mayo, not Calle de 16 Septiembre. I pointed this out to him and he reluctantly agreed to move on. I showed him the map in my book, even pointing out how to get there, but he clearly didn’t trust the gringo and stopped to ask another driver. Eventually we got their, and much to his delight, the street was closed for roadworks, and so I was forced to get out.
Walking around at midday in mid-30s heat is never my favourite activity; with a big backpack it’s even less so. Anyway, after shlepping down the street to number 99, I was faced with a building with no sign, no door-bell, and blocked out windows. Surely some mistake. Then I noticed the building next door had an address that said ‘101 Oriente’ – i.e. 101 East. Meaning that there was almost certainly another 16th of September Street, this one being Poniente (West). So I trudged all the way back down the street, to find the other street. Except on this one, the numbers only went up to about 50 before reaching a large square. Feeling a bit worried by now, I crossed the square to find yet another 16th of September – this one being the western one (I presume the second was a ‘central one), with the numbers starting from scratch again. And this time, they only went up to 81.
By this time I was getting increasingly sunburnt and not a little sweaty. So I turned round, and walked all the way back up the first street, asking various locals along the way, none of whom had heard of my hostel. Eventually, I found myself accidentally barging into a private house, where luckily the rather understanding owner finally pointed me in the right direction: yes, it was of course the abandoned looking building I’d first stopped at. A few bangs on the door later, and the owner appeared, letting me into what turned out to be a stunning colonialm house with a massive garden, full of beautifully coloured Bougainvillea, not that I was in the mood to appreciate them by this stage.
Finally relieved to be able to ditch my bag, I headed out into town, tired and not particularly able to appreciate my surroundings. Being apparently the only gringo in town, I then found myself being hassled by waiters from every cafe I passed. Eventually I cracked, sat down and ordered a beer, too late to realise my mistake: I was sat in a cafe with a cheesy organist singing away. I was beginning to hate Queretaro.
As I was about half way through my drink, a large party of Mexican tourists turned up, and the matriarch wasted no time in jumping up and insisting the organist accompany her while she sang. And boy did she sing: in equal measures hugely passionate and wildly out of tune, she soon had the whole restaurant mesmerised, and I couldn’t help but love it. I’d reached a turning point.
In a slightly better mood, I returned to the hotel to shower and change, and headed back out for the evening, to find the town transformed: whereas the streets had been empty earlier, by now it was thronged with families, students and couples.
As I wandered round, grabbing tacos from the various stands that had appeared from nowhere, I first of all began to realise how attractive the city is – it’s all beautifully preserved colonial buildings in glowing yellows and reds, and lovely, tree-lined squares – and it soon became apparent that there was something going on almost everywhere. In the first square I came across a band playing, while lots of sprightly older couples jived away in front of an audience of youngsters. At the next square, were a troop of clowns humiliating various visitors (I swiftly moved on before they spotted me). The third square was best of all – it turns out a festival of student dancers was happening, and on a stage in the middle of the square was a group performing some traditional Mexican dances from different regions.
Best of all was the final dance: the men were dressed in tight brown cowboy-style suits and ridiculously over-large, wide-brimmed hats. The ladies were dressed like little Bo Peep, with ribbons in their hair and big flowing lacy dresses. The dance seemed to consist of the men performing a sort of Mexican riverdance, but with lots of foot stomping and more latin passion and a lot of random shouting,, while the women twirled around them. Ever so often they’d pause to tilt their heads to one side (as this was the only way they were able to kiss, thanks to the hats). It all seemed far too energetic for the (still warm) evening, but it was great fun to watch.
On every corner it seemed there was someone singing or dancing or doing some form of comedy routine, while the streets just got busier and busier. It seems I can’t hate this country even when I try.