Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Ups and downs of Guanajuato

"Hilly place of the frogs" is what the Otomis called Guanajuato. Its silver mines were the "Mother lode"  to the Spanish who made it the richest city in Mexico during the 16th century.

A challenge is what Levelers will consider its steep hills and winding streets.

My new favorite place is the way I think of it. My calves and hip disagreed at the time but they've come around.

Tip: Its streets were not made for 21st century transport. Given a choice between bus or car tour, always opt for a car which will get you closer to where you want to be.

Wherever you choose to stay and whatever you choose to see, there will be stairs. And hills. Fortunately cabs are cheap so use them to get up the hills, saving your energy to negotiate the stairs.

Tip: Don't make reservations at a hotel unless it has an elevator or you have a room on ground level ("ground level" is an oxymoron here).

Start at the center of town, the favorite meeting place where the Juarez Theater and the Church of San Diego face Union Garden with its trimmed canopy of Indian laurel. Cafes and restaurants front the garden, mariachi bands stroll and play and students from the university gather on the Teatro steps. It's also flat. Enjoy while you can.

That green triangle is the tops of Indian laurel trees.
 Underneath their canopy of shade is stroll and relax central.

Tip: To get a great overview of the city, take the finicular behind the church and theater to the Carretera Panoramica. I highly recommend doing it in late afternoon for the best light although it's pretty spectacular at night, too. You'll have to climb some steps up to the finicular, stand during the ride up and climb more steps up to the overlook but it's worth it.

You can't miss the monument to El Pipila, a hero of Mexico's struggle for independence. The Spanish stronghold, Alhondiga de Granaditas, a massive edifice of stone high above the city, was thought to be impenetrable. Pipila volunteered to breach it. He camouflaged himself with a slab of stone, crawled up the hill and set fire to the massive wooden doors. The Mexican army followed and the sanctuary fell.

If you can look down into Guanajuato without smiling at its colorful buildings and itching to investigate its winding alleys and streets, plazas and cathedrals, stop because you're in the wrong place.

I'll give you reasons to test your goat muscles in the next post!


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