Queretaro was picturesque. San Miguel was even prettier. I was wondering if could get any better. Well, it did: Guanajuato is my favourite place in Mexico so far.
It has all the features that made my previous stops so nice, but then packs them all into a steep-sided ravine that means there are stunning views in every direction. The ravine is so steep that there are just three parallel and interlocking main roads at the bottom, with all the major sites squeezed between them. These roads all run from west to east – there’s simply no room for two-lane traffic, so that all runs the other way in a series of tunnels underground. All roads perpendicular to these ones (i.e. up the sides of the ravine in either direction) are basically steep staircases. And every inch of the city is beautiful – in colonial times, Guanajuato was one of the richest cities in the Spanish empire, thanks to the rich silver mines in the surrounding hills.
On arrival, I was a bit disappointed to find out that my hostel was at the top of one of these narrow callejones, meaning a steep walk back home every day. I shouldn’t have been: the view from the roof terrace was amazing, looking out across the whole valley. It wasn’t just the terrace that was great – the hostel (La Casa de Dante) is easily the nicest I’ve stayed in so far. It’s a family-run hostel, and Dante himself is the eldest son. He was the perfect host, giving us perfect advice on all the best things to do by day, including clueing us up on the Good Friday procession, as well as helping us find all the best bars by night. The attention to detail was amazing – right down to putting flags up over the hostel for every nationality staying – and best of all, his mother, Irene, made the most fantastic breakfasts every morning – huge plates of fruit, amazing freshly squeezed juices, and plates of mexican specialities like chilaquiles and huevos rancheros. They really make you feel part of the family (and I loved the way Irene called me ‘joven’ (boy) – it’s a long time since anyone called me that!).
Apart from the Good Friday procession, the other highlight was the Museo de las Momias (the Museum of Mummies). A while ago, the municipal cemetary was running out of space, so they began to exhume some old graves, and were amazed to find that rather than finding skeletons, the chemicals in the soil had mummified the remains. Rather than cremate the remains like they may have done in many countries, they took a very Mexican approach and stuck them all in a museum. Mexico famously has a very different attitude to death (as shown by the Day of the Dead being their most famous holiday), treating it in a far more positive fashion. This attitude translates into quite an amazing atmosphere at the museum – rather than being a sombre place, everyone was laughing and joking, holding their babies up to the mummified babies and taking photos of them together. Quite an experience.
After six days in Queretaro & San Miguel talking mostly Spanish (which was both mentally exhausting and rather frustrating, as my vocabulary runs to about 200 words), it was nice to be in quite a social hostel where everyone spoke English. The city has great bars, so I spent a very pleasant few days with a mixture of Swiss & American people. Just what I needed after a quiet week (and which also explains why the blogging took a bit of a back seat for a while!)
You can see more of my photos of Guanajuato over at Flickr