My Misadventures in Guanajuato

I was cooped up in a minivan in Guanajuato with two Mexican families for company, and I didn’t have a good feeling about the tour when the driver didn’t say anything in English after his introduction in Spanish. A few minutes in I tried to ask him and the other passengers for a translation. I made out the words ‘no’ and ‘ingles’ in the replies.

What have I got myself into?

I’d been keen to visit Mexico since the start of my student exchange in San Diego in 2010, and the WRC rally taking place in Leon was a great excuse to do more than just drive to Tijuana. With none of my housemates keen on joining me, it was the second time I was in a foreign country on my own.

The three days at the races were brilliant, the leather goods were incredible value for money. Fortunately, I befriended a few local students who explain and translate almost everything.

I set aside the last day for a solo visit to the state capital nearby knowing only three things about it: a UNESCO World Heritage site, colourful buildings and mummies. It wasn’t one of my wisest travel decisions.

Had I done my homework, or even asked the students, I wouldn’t have been surprised that the bus terminal is outside the city centre. I wouldn’t have looked lost and, when approached, agreed to a tour of a place that I can easily cover on foot. And I would’ve been prepared for the absence of services in English.

Street procession
A street procession outside the Mercado

Quit the self-loathing. You’re in a foreign country, live the moment and don’t waste it.

Instead of trying to decipher the running commentary, I focused on taking in as much of the scenery as possible. For now, every structure was a brightly colourful shape in a Cubist painting, devoid of historical significance in my head. Every time we darted into one of many underground tunnels, I had no idea what to expect at the other end. I was beginning to enjoy the surprises.

It must have been what the world seemed like when I was 2 years old, except now I had no desire to put it all in my mouth.

I remembered being told that Guanajuato sees plenty of tourists, but just as in Leon (outside the rally service park) I couldn’t spot another Caucasian or Asian on the streets. Perhaps the visitors were from other parts of Mexico, like the families in the minivan, and it turned out to be a blessing. Despite the language barrier, they extended their kindness to me. They even paid for my ticket to a museum when I indicated that I had no pesos left (I was saving them for the bus ride back to Leon).

A Catholic shrine in the Mercado

Post-trip epiphany

It’s only after I return home that I learnt that the tour covered a respectable number of the city’s attractions, which you can view below. Goodness knows if I could have found half of them without a city map or a smart phone. Perhaps I would have preferred to be somewhere other than the Tia Aura haunted house, but the children on the tour seemed to enjoy it.

I still don’t feel satisfied, however, without walking the alleys and cobblestone streets, visiting the macabre Museum of the Mummies or entering the magnificent Basilica and churches which all that silver mining funded. A longer return visit is definitely on the cards, and this time, I’ll be better prepared!

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