Amidst my grandma duties, the travel bug was eating me up. I have been in Guadalajara, Mexico since Oct 12th and was itching to explore. I was looking forward to exploring the city and its environs when my son surprised me and said he had booked for me to go to Guanajuato! This amazing Unesco World Heritage city of Guanajuato was founded in 1559 due to the region’s rich silver and gold deposits.
I am so glad that I didn’t know much about this simply out of this world city. I have said before and I repeat myself again that I grew up on a heavy dose of fairy tales with gallant knights and princes. And here I was in Guanajuato which felt as if my book of fairy tales had come alive.
I took the bus and believe me what a bus it was. A Volvo with interiors which looked like any Boeing plane with recliners, footrest, adjustable air vents, monitors and and a washroom!! Before boarding, we were given refreshments by two heavily made-up hostesses! Living in south India I always thought that we had the best bus services. How wrong I was! As usual, I had my nose glued to the window and kept clicking pictures of the changing topography. Time just flew and I reached Guanajuato and took a cab to the Airbnb I was booked into. The reception had a skull on the mantelpiece and I should have understood what was in store!
I looked agape at all the vibrant architecture and colourful city that was Guanajuato. El Bessito where I was staying was right in the centre of the Plaza de la Paz where all the action took place. The city is spread across cliffs and hillsides down to the arrangement of tree-shaded plazas where the sidewalk cafés and street life are unparalleled. The city is built over a labyrinth of tunnels which are intricately connected and have parking space inside and also seats for commuters to sit on. There was previously a river running across where the tunnels are now located. The road just plunges into a tunnel which goes on for kms.
Guanajuato is a city with a very exclusive identity its history, location, unusual geography, a monumental city of history, where the past is a part of the present and both create harmony, mystery and beauty. I stepped out into the streets to look for lunch but I ended up admiring every nook and cranny which is worth admiring,
My camera kept clicking and my hunger pangs were now clouding my senses. I stopped at one of the roadside cafes and asked for a vegetarian meal and I was looked down upon very strangely. I had to repeat No Carni a few times before I was understood. I remembered my go to Mexican dish of Chilaquiles and ordered for the same. When I ordered it in Guadalajara the beans in the sauce were mashed totally but here they were whole just like rajma.Under one roof there were ten different cafes and the competition was so palpable. The waitresses tried to woo the customers to their side.
I stepped out and window shopped to my heart’s content. I paid for a musical walking tour for the night and slumped into my springy bed for a well-deserved nap.
In central Plaza de la Paz, there are many magnificent buildings that one can just admire such as Basilica Colegiata de Nuestra Señora de Guanajuato, the City Hall and the Lawcourts, which is one of the most ancient buildings in the city, the monumental complex of Juarez Theatre and San Diego de Alcala baroque temple are architectural wonders.
Guanajuato is not only a visual bonanza; music is its heart and soul. The sound of music echoes everywhere and it just becomes a part of you. The streets are full of mimes, minstrels and mariachi artists.
The tree-shaded avenues had myriad of cafes which are side by side and each boasts a mariachi band. Music starts from one cafe and then another and yet it isn’t jarring. People make music on every street and every corner of Guanajuato. Even while I was trying to sleep at 3 am I could hear the music fill the air. Street musicians of every age and music instrument strolled up and down, playing for tips.
A sculpture depicting the famous Callejoneadas (what a mouthful to pronounce) beside the Juarez Theater is a favourite place for a photo-op and even I succumbed to it. An alley is a “callejón” (cah-yay-hone) and they are alley singers. The ticket was 120 pesos for the nightly song-walk through the alleys and if I ever went back I would do it again. We went to the Music Plaza and were given mini sombreros to pin on our shirts and we were led to an open area where I saw a group of men. I felt I was walking through one of my childhood fairy tales when I saw the walking minstrels dressed in knee-length breeches, puffed sleeves with gold trimmings and flowing capes. So these were the Callejoneadas de Guanajuato and they all looked so handsome in their renaissance garb in bright maroon and gold trimmed dresses carrying lutes, mandolins and stringed instruments. We gathered in front of the majestic Alhóndiga de Granaditas Museum.This old grain store was built by the Spaniards at the end of the 18th century and is now a regional museum with many historical exhibits and artefacts.
The night was young and the music addictive and the band of men with their humour and music was all so romantic. One of them took the lead and started his wisecracks in Spanish. I couldn’t understand a word but I was just mesmerized by them. I always thought that we Sardar and Punjabis were loud and our dance was so energetic but I found that the Mexican music was catchy and we were asked to sing Cookarakoo which is so much similar to Punjabian di ho gayi Cookadoocoo during Baari Barsi.They engaged the onlookers with crazy antics and songs and they took us through the streets. We met other groups of musicians on the way and the competitive spirit was tangible. Couples were made to dance with each other and serenade their partners with roses. Some of the alleys like the Callejon del beso or the Alley of the Kiss was dark and most of the couples stole a chance to kiss their partners. PDA was quite common.At one point the men were whisked off and the Callenoeadas took the chance to do a real sexy dance with their wives and girlfriends and even smooched them at the end of it.It was more than two hours yet no one wanted to leave and the band dispersed but a couple of guys stayed behind to entertain us for a little while longer.
What a riot it was and such fun. This started back in the 70’s when a group of students from the university gathered in the alleys in the evenings singing songs and downing a few drinks and later this became a ritual.They gifted all of us with ceramic wine goblets.
Guanajuato’s Cervantino Festival takes place every year and is famous internationally and includes operas, drama productions, film showings, art and live music with celebrity guests from all over the globe.
If you plan to go there then book yourself around the Plaza as it is always abuzz with activity.
More of Guanajuato in the next blog.