City 1: Guanajuato
Mexico is as wicked as it is wonderful.
After Guadalajara, we stayed one night in a state campsite near Ayotlán. We made a lovely homemade pizza and margaritas.
The next morning, I was sick. Really sick. And we wanted to get to Guanajuato. I groaned for the entire two hours on the road.
Driving in Guanajuato was no easy task! Edd gunned it up the steepest hills we have ever navigated, which were also narrow, cobbled, and curvy. He beeped before every turn (everyone else did this too). The van roared hard but we made it to Morrill RV park on the northern edge of town.
And in such an enchanting city, our first two days there were spent sleeping and reading. I really felt grateful to be in our van for giving me shelter, a bed, a bath, and tea. I also was grateful to Edd, who trudged up and down the hill to fetch groceries.
On the second evening, we walked up to the lookout in the old mine, Mina de Rayas.
Then the next day I felt even better so we explored beyond our neighborhood. The walks up and down through the mazes of colorful houses is enough to lift anyone’s spirits.
If you want a city which offers you plenty of beautiful places to sit, then Guanajuato is for you. The plazas were always full of life.
Jardín de la Unión was almost impossible to walk through for the crowds of diners, mariachis and tourists who wandered through. Jardín de la Reforma had workers resting on their lunch break. And every plaza had at least one couple making out on a bench.
Guanajuato is known internationally for its Festival Cerventino, festivities originally inspired by Miguel Cervantes, the Spanish author of Don Quixote. Unfortunately we arrived about a week too late.
But it seemed like tourism was still thriving, as well as Shakespearean costumes!
Some university students sirens their free time dressing up in tights and velvet, puffy-sleeved tops. They strum lutes and try to gather a group of random bystanders and lead them in a callejoneada (for a small fee). I think they are compared to tunas, another tradition which has been carried over from Spain.
We paid 60 pesos each for the privilege of walking through the horror show which is the Museo de las Momias. It is one of the most popular destinations in Guanajuato.
This old seminary shows contorted bodies which were dug up periodically over the course of the (20th!) century from their vertical crypts. Guanajuato’s unique soil conditions has preserved them, as you may regrettably see below.
The bodies were disinterred because the families of the deceased hadn’t paid the tax which would guarantee the bodies an eternity under the ground.
The museum was a disappointment because there wasn’t much context or information. As long as these bodies are on unabashedly on display (including their well-preserved pubic hairs), it would be nice to know the age of death, year of death, etc. It was difficult to take away anything other than a desire to be cremated.
We also went to the Diego Rivera Museum, which is in the muralist’s childhood home. However, I think more of the works on display were from other artists. It was cool that the house was decorated with period pieces from the turn of the century.
One of Guanajuato’s gems is the Guanajuato Symphony Orchestra! During their season, they play a concert every Friday and a ticket to see them costs 80 pesos! (around 4 USD).
The first opus they played confirmed that we made a good decision to come. They had a visiting director from Holland, and a funky visiting percussionist from the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico (UNAM).
Interestingly, the majority of the audience members in the Teatro Principal was not Mexican. It was made up of older American, Canadian and British expats. They greeted each other like this was something they all did weekly. I guess I don’t blame them.
A few young Mexican couples made it too! Good! It was a great date night!
Downtime at the van
I was getting better, but then took a turn for the worse and one day I couldn’t walk very far without the feeling that I would shut my pants (I know that sounds crazy but sometimes it feels like Mexico and my gut chemicals have a deeply-rooted rivalry).
So we hung around the van and I gave Edd a haircut under the awning. Edd often asks me to do it for him because he likes the ‘bonding’ time. But after I finish, he usually spends two days fuming about how bad it is.
And so it was with the following haircut. Look, I’m not a professional, and trimmers are a little confusing to me. But I thought I’d try out a “trendy” look anyway. And hey, it was free! Fair game!
Also, we used our Camco Swivel Stick for the first time! It’s like a sprinkler extension for your hose that goes down your RV toilet. Donna and Tom brought it for us to Nueva Vallarta. The sensors inside the tank had been reporting that the tank was full, even when it was empty. It was about time to tackle those turds.
The sprayer seemed to help clean the tank. The sensors showed 1/2 full instead of 3/4 full. We will keep at it to see if we can get them to show an empty tank!
Monday marked one week since I had fallen ill. Plus I had deepening worries about a bumpy rash thing on my face which was spreading and bruise-colored scaly thing on my left leg. Both of those had been there for a month, since we left sweaty Mazatlán. I had to find a doctor or I would start to go insane.
The private doctors we found online were closed, so shopowners in town directed us to Farmacias Similares. It’s a pharmacy chain that has doctors on-site. They writes a prescription which you can fill right there at the pharmacy. It’s brilliant business for them, and a good deal for you, because a consultation only costs 35 pesos ($1.75).
We waited in a lounge with an indigenous family who spoke something not Spanish, maybe a Huichol language. I was happy about everything until I walked into the office. The doctor was wearing jeans and a plaid button-up, except the buttons were holding on for dear life. His belt buckle was a cheesy marijuana leaf. He spent five minutes on his cell phone arguing over an electric bill with someone.
I scanned his certificates on the wall from the UNAM and hoped they were real. I stuck my head out the door and asked Edd to come in with me!
After explaining and showing him everything that was wrong, he wrote me a huge list of drugs. This included:
- A week’s worth of antibiotics for the angry bug that was eating me alive
- A steroid/anti-fungal/anti-bacterial cream for rash and scaly skin on leg
- Flora-balancing Probiotics (two month’s worth)
- Anti-inflammatory guava pills (two month’s worth)
- Face soap
The total for all of the above: Twenty (20) US dollars. I can only speak for basic medicines, but don’t be afraid to go to the Mexican doctor. As crazy as they may seem, you are going to get the medications you need at a fraction of the price as in the USA. (Are you listening, USA?)
Now let’s see if those drugs work!
After the surreal doctor visit, we took the funicular up to the statue of El Pípila, a miner who burned down the door of an important Spanish building, (now the Guanajuato Regional Museum) to let the revolutionaries through soon after Miguel Hidalgo made his famous call for independence.
On the top we met a German couple (Germans are everywhere). They were in their 50s and had been to Mexico nearly twenty times. This was their third or fourth visit to the city (they couldn’t remember). Apparently these are views you never get sick of! You can see them here:
No wonder UNESCO approved of this place. If you do plan on driving in, take the much wider Panoramico road as far as you can! You’ll also pass by the old mines and some massive brick buildings, holding onto the hills with the help of buttresses and arches.
San Miguel de Allende
Can I call it San Miguel de los Gringos? There are so many of them here!
I don’t blame them for coming here to retire. It is a crisp, clean city with a lovely park, cutesy gourmet restaurants, art galleries, and real estate offices. There was even a jazz festival going on.
Sadly we couldn’t partake in San Miguel’s luxuriously-priced activities. We parked on the street Calle Cardo and slept there. We did our laundry, cooked benign baked potatoes, and just enjoyed walking around.
If you still wish to enjoy the aesthetics of this city but are on a budget like us, head to Mercado San Ramírez. I was able to eat some lovely homemade broth with potatoes and carrots and a banana shake. Edd had chicken in a rich mole sauce with beans, rice and tortillas. Varied, delicious and affordable. Total: 5 dollars.
Also we went to El Pollo Loco one night (Edd’s choice). It is probably the cleanest restaurant in Mexico, and they seemed militantly proud of it.
Every day on the road cannot be perfect. You can’t always go go go without some rest, modern drugs and cheap brandy in between. But Mexico never stops. So here’s hoping I recover soon so we can see more!