Monday, March 3, 2014

The mummies of Guanajuato

The second day in Guanajuato, we took a personal tour. For a mere 120 pesos. per person a local guide drove us around in his Chevy Van through streets that would have not been easy to find without him. He was chatting away in Spanish, while on the phone and swinging his bus through the narrow streets of Guanajuato. Karina was translating it all for us and meanwhile Mike noticed that both the fuel light and fuel gauge showed that the tank was empty… hmmm.

While waiting for our tour guide to arrive, we saw a group of primary school kids sitting neatly in groups. They were waiting for school busses to arrive to take them on an excursion of some kind and all very excited :-) The teachers pointed out big eagles soaring through the skies, to keep the little minds occupied and they loved watching them, see photo!
When the busses arrived they blocked one of the main roads leading into Guanajuato, causing a traffic jam yet no-one seemed to mind and everyone waited patiently until the 3 busses were loaded and the excursion began!

In the traffic jam was also our tour guide. We climbed on board and found the back seat had collapsed and resembled more an uncomfortable recliner than a car seat, but the front seats were fine. Anyway Casa de Santa Cecilia was first on the list. First built in the 17th Century as a mining Hacienda, it has undergone some major renovations and now looks like a medieval castle. It earns its keep as a hotel but the renovations are done tastefully. We roamed around the Casa for a while and made some photos :-)

We stopped at a candy store… Dulceria Mexicana. Women (and Mike!) in a candy store. Of course they tried everything, including flavoured Tequila. I saw another woman trying the same sample, which resulted in a face that displayed disgust so graphically that I had seen enough. I don't drink alcohol anyway but Mike claimed it tasted quite nice…

I took some photographs of the various jars and labels on display, which for me is much more fun than sampling Tequila and sweets.

Our guide obviously had enough of us by then and dropped us off at the horror house… Casa de los lamentos, which translates into the house of the wailing, or house of the cries. When the mining engineer's wife was killed in a failed assault, he became somewhat loopy. Claiming he was still in contact with his deceased wife, Casa de los lamentos became the scene of multiple murders of young men and women as a ritual sacrifice… The site is claimed to be a paranormal site too and multiple claims have been made about paranormal events. The tour through the casa is one past bones and skulls, screaming sounds and… screaming women on the tour :-) It's dark of course and to top it all off our tourguide looked like a vampier… scary business :-)

Mexicans are weird people! They have an affixation with skulls and bones. Just look at the main photo of our post on Puerto Vallarta, which shows 'La Calavera Catrina' a big hit in Mexican souvenirs. Guanajuato takes it a step further… real skeletons on display in a museum…! Have you ever seen anything like it? According to the brochure, the first body was exhumed in 1865 and was a French Doctor called Remigio Leroy.
I wonder if he is at all happy about the situation, but as his skin and bones are mummified due to the minerals in the ground at Guanajuato he has nothing much to say in the matter. The mummification is amazing as some mummies still wear the clothes they were buried in. No less than 119 mummified bodies are on display… and they smell too! Museo de las momias is another amazing side of Mexico I suppose?

We went into the ground ourselves too… not to find mummies but to have a look at a silver mine. The same silver mine that connects to the castle Casa Cecilia we visited earlier. The mine seems to be still in use for students of the local university, the profits of the mine goes to the university and students. We only saw a group of primary school kids leaving, they seemed quite happy so maybe they had found something.
They left just as we entered. The tour was good, I think… as it was all in Spanish. Learning Spanish is a must before coming to Mexico! We took photos and found most self-explanatory while Dany helped with the missing translation. 

From the silver mine we went to the top of Guanajuato, the Panorámica. A steep climb that proved too much for our guides' Chevy Van which came to a sputtering halt… I'm sure he was just out of fuel… the guide wasn't fazed by it at all, let the van roll back into a parking spot and said it was only 200 metres to the Panorámica… it wasn't! Two kilometres would have been a much closer guesstimate and most was uphill too.

The Panorámica shows the whole city in all its glory and colour. As our guide was unable to take us down he suggested we took the cable car which was only going to be 6 pesos… just like the 200 metres he was somewhat off the mark :-) Still, he gave us a good and fitting end to Guanajuato by suggesting Casa Valadez for a late lunch, which offers very good food indeed. Jeanette had the dish of the day, which is highly recommended. A 4 course menu which not only tasted good but also fed her for almost 24 hrs :-)

While Dany and Jeanette went with the Hotel's bell-boy to find the car back, which proved almost a trip in it's own :-) we decided to get some cash out of the wall. CiBank has ATMs that don't swallow your card (see HSBC warning on this blog) and the lowest ATMs fees yet (17 pesos). On the way back we found a couple of heavily armed security guards next to a toy shop… No indication of what was behind the door they were guarding, but I persuaded Mike to have his picture taken with them while Karina persuaded the guards to allow us to do it. Karina is one of those persons that gets things done… see photo!

Leaving Guanajuato through its labyrinth of tunnels, we headed for Monumento a Cristo Rey. Built in 1923 it looks like the statue found in Rio de Janeiro, which was built around the same time too. The Monumento we went to is 20 metres high and weighs an impressive 250 tonnes, according to the Guanajuato brochure. We've also read claims that it weighs 'only' 80 tonnes… it's heavy anyway. The original statue dates from 1922 but was bombed in 1928 by the then current government as it was deemed a challenge to their authority. In 1944 reconstruction started, which took 6 years to complete.
The statue of Christ is on top of a mountain of 2500 metres high and on top of the church building in Art Deco style. It is the 3rd most visited shrine in Mexico. Each January 5th a mass is celebrated where thousands of horsemen climb the 12 kilometre long cobblestone road up to the shrine representing their villages. The cobblestone road is a very bumpy one and must be extremely hard on the horses. Yet people also climb the long road to the top on foot!

Driving up the road is hard enough, see the video above! Going back to Guadalajara I noticed a number of large factories. GM makes cars here in a huge plant, Pirelli has a big tyre factory here too. Looking at the various labels of products we see in the shop, a lot is made in Mexico. It's this strange mixture of classic markets stall like outfits made from wooden posts and PVC tarps that sell anything from flowers to cowhides, little brick producers in the fields next to the road and modern plants like GM. We saw it all going past at an alarming rate… Karina was driving :-)

We had two great days in Guanajuato, thanks to Karina and Dany! Back in Guadalajara it was time to pack up and leave this great city… traveling further through Mexico. The next stop will be San Miguel de Allende!