Guanajuato is a place worth exploring. I had never heard of it before a few fellow overlanders traveled there after we met up in Puerto Vallarta. Song of the Road and Desk to Glory both spent some time here… more time than we did… and we are still a little jealous of this fact.
SO… Morill Van Camp…. good luck finding this one without a GPS, a fantastic map, AND a fantastic navigator (ahem, let me be clear on this… I am a FANTASTIC navigator). Guanjuato is a big twisty, tunnelly, narrow-streeted city that requires all three if you have a specific destination. This is especially true if your Spanish sucks as much as ours does and/or you do not have an internationally capable GPS. Upon arrival (a short 3-4 hr drive from Teotihuacan) around lunch time, we found no one. It looked pretty deserted, but the signs were there, so we parked and waited… and waited… and waited… A lady did eventually come out (I swear we knocked like 3 times on that door…) and we figured out the rate and she gave us directions to the plaza and market. Patience is a commodity you will never have enough of when taking this journey. If you are an impatient person… please stay home (or, at least learn some patience… worked for Mike… sort of).
Also, please note the signs on the gate come from both directions, and the street it is located on is a one-way. That’s just how they roll in Mexico.
The view from camp is fantastic, but there is little shade on this mountainside… and it gets HOT during the day… and freaking cold at night. FYI. Can’t really argue about the view though.
And if that isn’t good enough for you, take the short walk up the hill to the Mirador. There is an old fort and some old silver mining machinery as well as yet another fantastic view.
The walk to the market/plaza is not that bad… Just a few hills…. and some uneven pavement. Just wear comfortable shoes and bring water… and maybe a walking stick… and a respirator…. You get used to it though, I’m sure. I just never did.
Exhausting walks aside… the city is among the prettiest I’ve ever seen. If I weren’t such a fan of the ocean, I would have wanted to buy something here. At the very least, I hope to spend more time here, someday.
The city has its fair share of tourists, usually Mexican families and couples. The main plaza is home to street performers, mimes, those guys that pretend to be statues, some delicious food and, of course, there’s always a few kids hawking chicklets. We only got to spend two and a half days here but we crammed as much as we could into those two and a half days. We shopped (obviously, we needed to bring home some souvenirs for ourselves and our families, and the prices here were surprisingly low), strolled, ate, drank some fantastic coffee, and we went to the museum.
Not just any museum, mind you. The Mummy Museum. Its creepy to say the least, and while we went and photographed and whatnot, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the way I felt the whole thing was an immoral excuse to make money off the dead. Also, the end with the kitchy house-of-horrors nonsense really drove the point home. Had I known this ahead of time, would I still have gone? Can’t say for sure, but… probably.
So a little background: The museum (website here) was founded after they had already exhumed several bodies. Due to the nature of the soil, bodies mummify quickly after burial. The bodies were exhumed when families of the deceased could either, not be identified, or could not pay the grave site tax/fee. So, when we start there are bodies from a hundred or so years ago… makes it seem less creepy and more museum-y. The bodies are mostly bare of clothing but some still have theirs and some even have hair. There are also some, ahem, members of the anatomy, that are also plainly visible. Ick. And lets not forget the ones they point out were clearly buried alive. ohmygod. This is the stuff of nightmares. This is also the most popular tourist destination in Guanajuato.
The further you progress the more recent the bodies become. There are guys with elastic in their boxer shorts. The fact that there are in boxer shorts at all should be an indication of more recent history, the elastic is just another sign.
And then, of course, there are the babies. Babies. Plural. And, the crowning glory, the smallest mummy in the world. The fetus taken from it’s mother’s womb after burial and exhumation. So… how enraged, creeped out, grossed out and annoyed are you? Just in case you need more prodding… here are some pictures: (If you’re squeamish, scroll quickly – but seriously, they’re not that scary or gross)
The things to avoid in Guanajuato, from our brief experience would be (1) the vendor shops around the museum and (2) most of the (tourist type) vendor shops in the mercado. The prices there are astronomical for some things. Yes you can bargain, but if it doesn’t seem like a really good price, you’re probably paying too much.
Things to enjoy repeatedly (1) people watching in the plazas – The mime got Mike and I twice… once chased me with his imaginary dog (it barked by the way… so I’m not sure that he was really a mime), and once made fun of Mike’s beard/baldheadedness (basically told him his head was on upside-down). That one had the crowd roaring! (2) Outdoor food and drink – try something new people – sometimes you end up with Menudo (wretched, awful stuff), but usually its tasty, even if you don’t want to know what it is (3) Getting lost. This is a city of tunnels and twists and turns. I will probably never see the shop with the most awesomest dresses in the windows again, but it was fun trying to re-trace our steps. Plus, if you don’t get lost, how would you find the best coffee/candy shop/pizza place etc??
After catching some Zzz’s we headed to our last stop in Mexico. Mazatlan. We stayed here the so long ago it seems, but not that long ago at all. We found an RV park, very near the hotel we stayed at, with way better amenities. And cheaper… How did we not find this? To our very happy surprise, Carnival (Spanish version of Mardi-gras) was happening that weekend! We kind of got caught up trying to navigate the city with half the streets shut down, and party-goers already crowding the streets, but found our way eventually.
The RV Park had a bunch of regular “snowbirds” who happened to have a key, so we decided to hit the parade for some drinking and debauchery.
Mike likes to creep on the Ferderales. But can I just say that I love that the one guy is clearly texting or playing a game on his phone?!
OK so really there wasn’t so much drinking (there was a serious lack of banos and the walk back to the RV park was no joke – we ended up in a taxi), and the debauchery was limited to walking around, trying to break through crowds to get from one side of the street to the other, and then there was some fence hopping to get out of the street fair all together. That part was not fun, and seriously challenged my atrophied arm muscles – I essentially had to do a press-up of my entire body weight and then pull my legs over without resting my knees because the fence posts were pointed and that would have hurt. All while avoiding kicking small children in the head and apologizing in Spanish rapidly at the same time (it was a tight squeeze, someone got kicked but I think it was a drunk teenager). I’m fairly certain I said “I can’t” at least 30 times and whined at Mike (who was already over the fence and couldn’t really help me at that angle) while the security guards just watched me struggle (yeah 2 of them, watching this mess). But, it kind of makes a good story, right?
Honestly, i was expecting a little more from Carnival. The one in Rio looks so cool on TV, and even Mardi Gras looked cooler than this. Perhaps it was the expectations that made it seem so lame. Or maybe we weren’t drunk enough…
After another lazy day at the RV park and some last-day tacos from Jaunita’s we hit the hay for our last night in Mexico.
And, as a parting gift, we woke up to the Godzilla of all cockroaches making himself comfortable in my hair on my pillow. I’m cringing and holding in a little vomit just thinking about it. You wake up really fast when someone tells you there’s a cockroach in your hair. Thankfully, we had very few bug incidents in the tent – one giant spider, two cockroaches and a few rouge skeeters… not bad for 5 months of living (mostly) outdoors. I was also thankful that after our first night in the states, we were either staying in hotels (thanks Sue and Steve!) or with friends (thanks Amy and Jordan – and Gunnar and Maggie too!) and would have no further bug incidents.
We headed to Nogales, turned in our sticker at a little roadside Banjercito a few miles outside of town, hit a gas station to spend the last of our pesos (after paying a zillion tolls we asked if there were anymore – we got the jist that there weren’t). Officially peso-less we got to the border to discover that, yes, there was one more toll. I can’t remember how much it was, but to do the fast crossing toll make sure you have an extra 100 pesos on you, otherwise you need to go through town.
There’s always people selling snacks and newspapers… and some blind guy being led around on a portable karaoke machine asking for donations.
And of course… if you go through town you have to sit in line for at least an hour.
And then, you talk to the nice customs agent, get an agricultural items search (or at least we did) and then proceed to enter the great state of Arizona. Nogales as a border crossing (either through town or at the fast pass side) seemed to be perfectly safe to us, so we would probably use it again if we ever drive through Mexico again. And we just might… you never know what this life holds in store for you.
We may have finished our adventure a little early, and didn’t get to cross all the countries off our list that we wanted to, but we had a fantastic journey, made new friends, saw new places and made new memories. We left Mexico a lot poorer in the bank account but we are much richer in spirit. Appreciate what you have, live every day, make mistakes, get messy, and whenever faced with a decision, always pick the one that makes the better story. One day you might be telling people all about that time you quit your job, sold your house and drove around the world….