Busses are not allowed in Guanajuato because the streets are so narrow. That meant we had to be divided between two vans for the tour of the city. The one I rode in was extremely cramped. If I sat up straight and pressed my spine against my seat back it would keep my knees from pressing too hard on the seat in front of me. The city is over 6,000 feet above sea level with very low humidity so even with the temperature in the high 70’s it did not feel too warm. The van I rode in was not air-conditioned but the windows could be partially opened to allow air to circulate and that was enough.
After the Spanish founded Guanajuato in 1559 it became very wealthy from mining gold and silver.A third of the world’s silver came from this region during the 16th through the 18th centuries. The mine owners became so rich they purchased titles of nobility. The city’s population is now 159,000 and it remains one of the wealthiest cities in Mexico.
Because of repeated flooding of the city, the Spanish diverted the river, turned the riverbed into tunnels and rebuilt the city above the tunnels. There are about 5 miles of intersecting tunnels beneath the city that help move the traffic, allowing some of the city streets to be pedestrian only.
Speaking of streets, I don’t believe there is a straight one in the city. The city is hilly and the streets are laid out in curves and angles and the buildings are just as irregular. We got a good view of the city from a scenic overlook called El Pílipa where the multicolored buildings are laid out before you in the valley below.
In the center of the city is a small triangular-shaped plaza, the Jardín Unión, which is lined with closely spaced trees whose foliage has been shaped like a hedge. As you walk around the plaza the trees shade you from the sun. If you are much taller than 6 feet you may need to stoop a little to keep your head out of the leaves.
One of our first, and weirdest, stops on the tour was the Mummy Museum. The mummies were of people that were buried in a Guanajuato cemetery during a cholera outbreak in 1833. They were dug up between 1865 and 1958 because their relatives did not pay a required tax in order to keep the bodies buried in the cemetery. The naturally mummified bodies made up only about 2% of all the bodies that were disinterred. In 1958 the law was changed to prohibit digging up any more mummies. The mummies were stored until a museum was built, which has become one of the biggest (and by far the most morbid) tourist attractions in Mexico.
We had lunch at a very nice restaurant, Real de la Esperanza, located in what was once a church. It was built by miners as a place to rest and pray before going into the mines. The restaurant was on a hilltop overlooking the town. While we were there, a large procession of people carrying religious icons and pictures of Jesus and Mary came down the road in front of the restaurant. They had a police escort and seemed to be on some kind of pilgrimage (it was Ash Wednesday).
After lunch we “toured” a mine ($20 pesos per person) that is now only used in the training of mining engineers at the University of Guanajuato. We were led into a mineshaft and shown some old mining equipment. At the end of this shaft was an old elevator that once took the miners a half-mile straight down into the earth. Before we started back out of the mine, the “tour guide” took off his hard hat and indicated through our interpreter that we should tip him. I was afraid that if we didn’t tip him we may never see daylight again so Carol Ann dropped a coin into his hard hat. I don’t know the denomination of the coin but he did tell someone that whatever they had tossed in was not enough! You might say that this was the third time we had been experienced a bandito.
The vans dropped us off near the central plaza once we escaped the mine. While at the plaza we saw the same three rug sellers that had been at the RV park the day before. We wandered around shopping and taking pictures for about an hour before boarded the vans and heading back to the RV park. On the way to the park our van was pulled over by the police and we all began wondering if this was going to be another attempted shake down. It turned out that the police just wanted to check the driver’s papers to make sure he was authorized to haul tourists.
When we returned to the park we were once again greeted by the rug sellers, who had somehow beat us back to the park. We got out our chairs and drinks but this time the rug sellers remained with their truck and didn't bother us. Still, some from our group (namely Pat, Kim, Billie, and Gloria – I apologize if I left anyone out) managed to buy a few more rugs.
Tomorrow is a free day and everyone is heading in different directions. Some are going by car to Delores Hidalgo and San Miguel Allende while another group is hiring one of today’s vans, driver, and guide to visit the same towns. They will probably be gone most of the day. Michel and Ellen and Bob and Billie are going back into Guanajuato by cab, which sounded good, so Carol Ann and I are sharing a cab with Bruce and Karen to go Guanajuato’s Hidalgo Mercado (market). We will shop around, have lunch, and probably be back at the RV park around 2:00 PM in order to rest and get ready for Friday’s 290 mile drive to San Pedro where we will spend our last night in Mexico before day’s another drive of 295 miles to the border.
We are hoping that our car will make it to the border within a day or two of our crossing back into the U.S. Yesterday we heard that the last part had been obtained and repairs would be completed mañana (Supposedly Spanish for “tomorrow” but it really means “not today”).