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Mexico Journal 12/06-1/07


Flying a Mexican airline (Aeromexico) is a much more pleasant and culturally rich experience; it felt in some ways as if we were already in Mexico. Boarding, we were offered several different Mexican newspapers and magazines. On the plane, only about five percent of the passengers were Americans of non-Mexican ancestry (though this may have as much to do with flying the day after Christmas as anything else). All announcements were made first in Spanish; some, but not all, were then translated. The inflight magazine was bilingual, but many of the ads were Spanish-only. And not only is this one airline that still feeds its passengers an actual meal, but wine and beer were free on the drink cart. They even came around offering generous portions of Gran Marnier or Amaretto. And while all the flight attendants had some minimal tourist English, for the most part, that seemed to be all they had.

Arriving at our hotel (the Cátedral, near the Zócolo) after 13 hours of travel, we discover that yes, they have our reservation, but no, they don't have a room. But they've made arrangements with another hotel a few blocks away to give us lodging at the same price, and they'll call and pay for another cab. We're upset, but they calm us by offering us a free dinner (which, at 10:30 p.m., we decline) and then a free drink, which we accept. I try a beer I haven't had before, a Modelo. It's considerably more hoppy than the Corona that Dina takes. I like it, but it wouldn't be a favorite in this land of Tecate, Bohemia, and other fabulous beer.

The kids get orange juice, which taste fresh-squeezed and strained; they're delighted.

The other hotel, the Gillow, is spotlessly clean and has comfortable beds. And the staff is friendly, though the next day at check-out time it takes quite a bit of explaining for them to understand that we were promised a much-lower-than-standard rate. Dina has them call the other hotel, and we negotiate successfully; they offer us the two small rooms we had for 40 pesos more ($4 US dollars) than what we were to pay for the one large room in the Cátedral, and we accept.

Even though we're exhausted, after we settle in, we walk to the Zócolo, an amazing hub of activity at 11 p.m.: thousands of people, a vast and gaudy array of electric Christmas decorations that outdid the sensory stimulation of Times Square, at least in the days before all the New York ads incorporated motion. Vendors were doing a brisk business in seasonal toys, assorted very tempting looking foods…quite the party.


We're just about to leave the kids a note that we went for a walk when they knock at our door. It's only 8:30. Still, by the time they shower and we pack, it's quite a bit later. We take a walk around the neighborhood, seeking breakfast, and see a huge basket of interesting looking breads on the table of a large cafe—one with a non-smoking section. We decide that the breads plus coffee will be enough, but that to avoid being rude, we'll order one "real food" item and share it. However, before we can decide, the waitress brings around some wonderful and very rich looking cakes. We share a mocha tart with a whole lot of cream, and it's fine for the four of us. Alana and I order cafe con leche, which arrives as a juice-sized glass of milk and a shotglass of extremely intense espresso.

Raf gets a typical Mexican hot chocolate, laden with sugar and cinnamon and with a rich chocolate taste. Dina orders black tea.

After breakfast, we take the subway to the Frida Kahlo museum; we saw the Salma Hayek movie, "Frida," last week, so this is fresh in our minds. It's about half an hour to the Coyoacan metro stop; the trains are efficient and crowded (on the return trip, absolutely jammed)—and then fifteen minutes of walking and asking directions. The house is quite lovely, and the museum nicely laid out with a good representation of her work, a few somewhat atypical Diego Riveras, and a number of pieces by other artists, both contemporary and preceding them. They also collected quite a number of pre-Columbian art pieces.

To me, some of the most interesting pieces were a few of the paintings Frida did shortly before her death; it's clear to me that she knew she didn't have long:

  • A self-portrait of a much younger Frida
  • A family portrait of living and dead relatives, where she is placed among the living but seems to be lifting toward the dead, in a regal pose similar to the one in the movie poster
  • Twin portraits of Frida and the recently deceased Josef Stalin (who, to Frida as a friend and lover to Trotsky, would have been reviled)
  • A still life of macabre images inside a gourd or winter squash

    All of those were dated 1954, the year she died—but also, if the movie is accurate, the year of her first solo show in Mexico, and thus a very productive time.

    Another picture that I found very striking was called "El Marxismo Dará Salud a los Enfermos" , which translates as "Marxism will Give Health to the Sick": Frida throwing down her crutches while a portrait of Marx beckons to her. And of course there's the very famous one of two Fridas side by side, connected by blood vessels, the older one staining her white dress with dripping blood.

    From there, of course, it's just a few blocks to the house that Trotsky bought after leaving the Rivera-Kahlo household.

    This was a heavily fortified and guarded dwelling, though still, the bedroom walls show numerous bullet holes from the unsuccessful drive-by murder attempt. Trotsky was quite a scholar, with his study and office filled with old volumes in several languages—but also quite athletic. His wife Natalia wrote about going with him on hikes and collecting heavy cacti for his garden, and that even much younger people (he was 60 when he was killed) had a hard time keeping up. And much of the exhibit brings attention to Stalin's murder not only of Trotsky and most of his family, but all the other people in the 1917 Central Committee.

    An art gallery attached to the house was also worth seeing, with a solo exhibit of large and colorful canvases on themes related to Trotsky's work and death.

    Coyoacan is mostly a quiet neighborhood of two-storey homes, many trees—though the north end of the colónia is very busy, with big boulevards, large shopping malls, and tons of traffic. A welcome change after being right downtown.

    And it's walking distance to the south bus station, which we needed for Cuernavaca. But of course, we had stored all our gear at the hotel, since it's not legal to bring large suitcases on the Metro. So back we went, and then out again by taxi, getting to practice Spanish with our talkative driver Salvador for an hour, as we crawled through choked streets in the downtown. But one advantage over the Metro is getting to actually see the neighborhoods—one of which was the musical instrument neighborhood along Bolivar, which Raf of course wants to visit on our last day (not too likely, from my point of view).

    We discovered the hard way that these days, Mexican buses may be for a particular departure time and even an assigned seat. So we missed our bus after stopping to make a phone call and buy snacks! Fortunately, it wasn't difficult to change the tickets, but it did mean we were nearly an hour at the bus station.

    Alfredo picked us up at the Cuernavaca station. He and his wife Lilia are very charming and welcoming, and we talked for several hours about life and politics in the two countries. They keep plying us with food and drink—I tried a new and very pleasant beer called Victoria, one of the Modelo brands. By about 9 p.m., I'd pretty much lost the ability to speak Spanish, though.


    Cuernavaca is new territory for all of us, and with 1.2 million inhabitants, a lot bigger than we were led to expect. Alfredo's sister Laura (pronounced, in Spanish, Lau-ra), who is a dentist but lost her practice when the building was sold by her father and grandfather, manages a large bridal dress shop. She took us downtown in a cab, gave us a brief orientation, and told us to meet her back at the shop in five hours.

    At a little after 9, the city was very quiet, with few stores and markets even open yet. So we just walked and explored, starting outside the palace of Hernando Cortés (which we'll probably visit today). First we walked down the hill, along a picturesque shopping street and then around the back of the palace, then uphill toward the Cathedral, stopping along the way to visit a Sanborn's department store: spotless, modern, and featuring such high-tech toys as laptops and wide-screen TVs, and with prices fairly comparable to what we see in the U.S.

    The Cathedral is a sprawling complex built around the large 16th-century main building constructed by the Franciscans. And the walkways from the street to the buildings are lined with vendors, mostly selling some quite beautiful bark paintings, some selling incense, and some just begging.

    While most Mexican churches we've seen are ornate to the point of gaudiness, this gray stone (granite?) interior was simple without being stark. There was evidence that it had once been full of frescoes, inside and out, but the peeled and faded remnants were almost invisible, actually adding to the feeling of simplicity. Oddly enough, it reminded me of the super-modern Church of the Rock in Helsinki, Finland—a very different building architecturally.

    In the back of the main worship hall there was an area I couldn't quite figure out. A stone basin of water about two feet high and several feet wide, surrounded by a circle of marble-edged benches. Perhaps a baptismal font? But right in the central worship hall?

    One of the doors exits to a courtyard with a sculpture of birds, high above the door. A number of actual live birds were flying and perching in and around it.

    Bordering the street, there's a smaller church with whitewashed interior, a good deal of art on the walls (paintings, not frescoes), an organ, and some more elaborate decoration, but not to excess. There were a few people praying in the main cathedral, but this very peaceful and welcoming church was empty.

    Its dome visible from the cathedral grounds, the vast Borda estate a block further up the hill was our next stop. This enormous compound takes up more than 27,000 square meters (well over 200,000 square feet). The house has a long and colorful history, having served as everything from a stagecoach tavern to the summer residence of the Emperor Maximilian; a few of his furnishings are on view, in the historical museum on the grounds.

    Much of the building is given over to a very diverse contemporary art exhibit, with a wide range of styles in both painting and sculpture. Many truly beautiful pieces, primarily by artists I'm not familiar with (though the gallery rooms themselves were named for more famous artists)—and this part of the exhibit is accessible without paying admission.

    I am continually amazed by the dualist Mexican sensibility. On the one hand, the urge to make even ordinary and humble objects beautiful, and to fill the empty spaces with color—through art as well as through flowers and trees. No matter where we go, we see murals on walls, art galleries with brilliant but unknown artists, stunning textiles, brightly colored and gaily decorated homes—and yet the litter, the stench of sewage, the art and architecture that's allowed to decay. I don't really understand the tension between these elements, how the same culture that can create such beauty can also make itself so ugly.

    But back to the Jardin Borda. The gardens themselves are worth the small admission price (which also includes the historical museum and the "lake"—a man-made promenade a few hundred meters long for people and rowboats, lined with unusual ducks and the occasional egret, and with an outdoor theater in the middle). The trees are lush and well manicured, some of them shaped to resemble animals. And they stretch for quite some distance. Even wandering for close to an hour, I don't think we saw it all.

    The restaurant inside the garden (somewhat overpriced and the food is not all that great) has a very pleasant patio facing into the gardens, and during our visit was playing a CD of classical hits (e.g., Vivaldi's Four Seasons, Brahms Hungarian Dance) in mariachi style.

    Our final stop before meeting Laura was the silver market, where we saw dozens of vendors selling everything from simple earrings to elaborate necklaces. Not just silver but many semi-precious stones. Some of the prices were quite reasonable, but nothing called out to us.

    Late in the afternoon, Alfredo took us to the local pyramid, about twenty minutes walk from his house. Unfortunately, it closed at 5:30 and at 5:15 when we arrived, they weren't letting anyone else in. From the fence, it appeared small but well-maintained.


    At Alfredo's recommendation, we went to La Casa de la India Bonita, the house where Emperor Maximilian brought his Indian lover. It's now a museum of traditional herbal folk medicine, with an exhibit building and extensive gardens with signage describing many of the plants by name and medicinal uses.

    But when we asked our taxi driver to take us there, he thought we meant the India Bonita restaurant, in the center of town. I had been wondering why he had gone into a long digression about his favorite foods. We cleared up the misunderstanding but he was completely unfamiliar with this location, and it took quite a while to get there.

    The museum exhibits were quite informative, though all in Spanish and some in quite archaic and challenging Spanish. Their focus was not on the specific remedies but on the general idea of good health as a balanced of forces and other concepts that are widely accepted in modern U.S. society. The grounds include not only medicinal gardens but also ethnobotany and decorative plantings. Among the plantings: a bamboo grove so high that I couldn't find the top, huge mango trees with their furry bark and philodendron-like leaves, and an orchid garden, although either we missed it or nothing was blooming at the moment. Admission is free.

    On the way back, we encountered a "milagrito" (small miracle); we asked the gate attendant how to get back to the center and he told us to take a taxi. Since this was not a location where taxis were likely to come, we asked him where to get one. Just then one drove up, empty, and the attendant pointed and said, "here's one." This driver knew his way around and it was only about ten minutes to the Zócalo (central plaza).

    From the Palacio Cortes, the Zócalo is so completely camouflaged behind a small wooded park that we had completely missed it the day before. Coming from a slightly different direction, entering onto the commodious, colorful and crowded plaza, teeming with craft and food vendors, gaily lit with Christmas decorations—we were astounded that in all our explorations the previous day we had somehow missed this spectacle. It took a good half-hour just to walk the perimeter and see the crafts.

    With our remaining hour, I was the only one who wanted to see the museum of the Palacio Cortes; the others stayed around the Zócalo. But I was glad I went; this was $3.30 well spent. Much of the first floor is given over to a very nice exhibit on the various pre-Hispanic cultures, with many artifacts. Upstairs begins with the arrival of Cortes, including indigenous pictographic accounts of the European invasions and enslavement, and continues with a 500-year retrospective of life in Mexico. The terrace contains a grand Diego Rivera mural of the history of Morelos state, focusing heavily on the effects of the conquest.

    Alfredo and Lilia wanted to take us to lunch at their favorite restaurant, so back we went. This was a home-style place featuring comida criolla, the set-price meal of several courses with limited choices. The first course was a nice-looking vegetable soup, but we skipped it because it had chicken broth. Instead, they brought us the second course (Mexican rice) while the others had their consommé. Few comida criolla restaurants have a vegetarian main dish, but we had the option of batter-fried chiles rellenos (stuffed chiles) or batter-fried cauliflower, followed by a small slice of half-flan, half-Jell-O, inseparable (I imagine they were baked together).

    After lunch, our second host, Marie, came to pick us up. She and her husband Octavio live up in the hills, in a village called Huitzilac, with two young daughters and five dogs, all strays. They're both veterinarians; he works on a sheep ranch, and she's working on her doctorate in Mexico City, studying in vitro fertilization of bighorn sheep. She jokes that her Basque ancestry put sheep into her blood. They're very charming and gracious. Unfortunately, their cottage has no heat. I am writing this wearing both the sweaters I brought as well as my hat, and I'm still pretty cold. I was warm enough in bed under a pile of blankets and a sleeping bag, but last night as we sat around the table and talked, it got colder and colder.

    They're from Mexico City and have been back-to-the-landers for only a year, and they joke that we know Cuernavaca (about 20 minutes drive) better than they do, because their work is elsewhere and they rarely go into town.


    The pyramids of Xochicalco, near Cuernavaca, are a completely different experience than the pyramids of Teotihuacán (near Mexico City). To get there, it's best to find the Lasser terminal adjacent to the crowded and unpleasant Central Market and catch one of its hourly second-class buses that stops directly in front of the exit gate from the pyramids. We didn't know this and took Estrella Blanca's first class bus, which was not only considerably higher in price (18 vs. 11 pesos per person) but also left us at the bottom of the road to the pyramids, requiring either a cab ride or the full hour of walking that we chose (thinking it would be about half that). Well, at least the kids got to experience a Mexican country street with goats and horses in the yards, people slowing their cars to shout hello to their neighbors, and so forth.

    Either way, be prepared for a slow crawl down Highway 95. Traffic was so heavy that it took nearly two hours from the center of town to the turnoff 22 miles down the road.

    Arriving, finally, we headed into the museum to buy our tickets and take in the exhibits—mostly pre-Columbian artifacts that I believe were collected on the site, but also during our visit a solo exhibition by a very gifted folk painter with an intense sense of color. Its less than five minutes walk to the actual site, which features one large and several small pyramids as well as ruins of numerous outbuildings.

    The pyramids are on a high plateau that offers stunning views; we were told there's an observatory point with a great view of Mexico's celebrated twin volcanoes, Popocatepetl and Iztaccíhuatl but we didn't find it.

    And it's almost deserted! While at Teotihuacán, years ago, the entire vast plaza was jammed with thousands of tourists and we were accosted by vendors every few feet—here there were only about a hundred visitors in the whole sprawling site, and not a single vendor outside the refreshment stands and actual shops, You'd look up at the top of a pyramid and see a person, or a group of five or six—instead of hundreds.

    We climbed the smaller structures, but when we started up the big one, we were all hit by an altitude reaction and turned back.


    For a sense of just how much Mexico has changed, spend a few hours on an intercity bus.

    On our last trip, the first-class coaches were certainly adequate, if basic, but most of the routes we experienced twisted through narrow mountain passes and two-lane roads. Our bus trip from Mexico City to Guanajuato started with a security check: bag inspection, pat down, and videotaping of everyone seated in the bus. Everyone got a snack bag as we boarded, and we entered the most luxurious coach I've ever been in. The seats were nearly three feet apart and had fold-out knee rests, and in the back was not only a bathroom but also a hot and cold pure water station. The driver pulled a curtain and door closed to make his own compartment completely private, and proceeded to show us movies and TV episodes the whole way.

    And the roads were Interstate-quality superhighways the whole way starting just a couple of miles from the north bus station—which, like the south station from which we departed to Cuernavaca, has been significantly modernized) and continuing all the way to the edge of Guanajuato. Other than the occasional toll booth, we never needed to stop and never felt even a hint of mountain driving problems.

    I'm pretty sure the bus station in Guanajuato used to be right in town; now it's several miles out, up near the turnpike. And U.S.-style development has begun. There's a Holiday Inn Express (and several other large hotels) just off the highway, a large infiltration of U.S. chain stores, and even in sleepy Querétaro we'd noticed a large modern shopping mall (we'd seen several others in both Mexico City and Cuernavaca).

    Most of our way to town was along the Subterraneo (underground highway). I hadn't realized on our last trip that this is not just a single road but a vast network connecting many points of the city.

    And when we walked around the center, it was clear that Guanajuato had changed quite a bit. It's now a major Mexican tourist designation; few foreigners but vast crowds of vacationing Mexicans. There's a yuppie flavor that hadn't been here before, with lots of fancy restaurants, Internet cafes at least one cellular phone store, and numerous boutiques selling U.S.-style fashions. Our pre-arranged accommodation was not satisfactory, so just on a lark, we walked into a not-that-fancy hotel lobby and asked the price of a room: One thousand pesos (about a hundred dollars) a night for two people (and there are four of us); when we stayed here before, we'd paid just six dollars a night for a hotel just a block from the Jardin del Union (on Calle Alonso)! That same hotel, then called Casa Kloster and now called Casa Shoenstadt (pretty town, in German), offered us a single room with two double beds for 500 pesos (~$50 U.S.). It's a very basic room with a shared bath, but it's clean and the plant-filled patio is beautiful. We spent two comfortable nights there, and the staff was consistently helpful. There's even free wireless Internet. Considering its central location, it's reasonably quiet—except for the folk music bands (in costume) that performed around the corner, and led their entire 300-person audience on a parade through the alleys around the hotel, directly under our window.


    I continue to be amazed at how modernized and international and discovered Guanajuato has become. The entire town seems to be getting repaved (with elegant flat cobblestones that are far easier to walk on than the ancient and uneven round ones they replaced). International restaurants—Italian caffes, espresso bars, karaoke, a creperie, pizza places, etc.—abound (two that we can recommend: Bossa Nova Crepes, on the San Fernando Plaza, and the Italian restaurant Chao Bella, Pocitos #35, near the Diego Rivera birthplace). Where 22 years ago, changing travelers checks was at least a half-hour ordeal, today we did it in about 8 minutes. Decent coffee is freely available. Making a long distance call within Mexico is a simple matter, once you find a payphone that accepts and reads your phone card (I've experienced several that didn't). But at the same time, the majority of people, and the majority of clothing stores, follow U.S. fashion. Hardly anyone wears traditional Mexican clothing, and only a few stores and market stalls even offer it. Most of the little bookstores and craft vendors have disappeared, to be replaced by souvenir t-shirt shops. There are still quite a number of bars, as I remember, but most of them are American style, rather than the old cantinas. And the few restaurants along the Jardin del Union have morphed into dozens all over downtown; it seems to be becoming a foodie destination.

    Also, the town is absolutely jammed with tourists—the majority Mexican, but a significant portion of foreigners.

    We tried two more places that are well worth a stop: Cafe Tal, Temezcuite No. 4 (a few blocks uphill from the Teatro Cervantes)—featuring a splendid and rich, thick, and flavorful not-too-sweet hot chocolate, in neither the Mexican nor the American style, as well as good croissants, roasted-on-premises coffee, and other treats. It reminded me very much of my old Oaxaca haunt, the Casa Del Chocolate. Inside, the sitting area is cramped but cozy. The experience is somewhat marred by the constant noise and fumes from a never-ending string of local buses, but for real chocolate lovers, it's a must.

    Our other discovery was El Abue, a unique Mexican-Italian fusion restaurant in a handsome old building near the University and the Plaza de la Paz. We tried homemade fettuccini with a salsa verde cream sauce, truly fabulous enchiladas in mole, and the best tortilla soup I've ever tasted. Prices were quite reasonable, considerably lower than in the Jardin del Union just a few minutes walk. The bread was also home-made and quite tasty. An extra bonus; this restaurant had a much better map than the one the tourist office on the Jardin del Union currently gives out (though I still miss the old back-and-white one the tourist office used to have, with every street actually marked and nearby villages on the back).


    On the third try, we finally found the right place to stay: in an apartment on the grounds of the Academia Falcon, where we're studying Spanish this week. It's clean, has a great bathroom, and they've even brought in a space heater (very-much needed, as the mornings are downright chilly, and most buildings have no heat). The Academia is located about half-way up the hill of Paseo de la Presa, about ten minutes walk from the center and ten minutes bellow the Presa de la Holla. This morning I walked up the hill to the Presa.

    Falcon is toward the beginning of a neighborhood of vast mansions and villas (the school is located in one); many of them are now luxury hotels, schools, restaurants, and government offices. One oddity: an 1875 church in a sort of vaguely American Victorian style, now one of the many designated historic landmarks in town. Falcon's own dormitory is another oddity, very much in the Victorian style and painted a deep blue; there are a few others in the neighborhood, but none as striking.

    Near the top is a beautiful little park with many trees and flowers. Above that, an artificial lake (clearly a popular recreation spot with boats, restaurants, ducks, geese, etc. You can walk across a bridge at the lower end, and one side has a building that looks like a castle, and on the other there's a sort of clock-tower-like edifice.

    Above that, a much smaller and nearly treeless park, then a small natural pond, and then trailheads into the mountains that ring the city—which border directly on the end of the road. Very nice walk.

    I think the city sanitation and police departments must be among the largest employers in the city. Every morning, a vast army of cleaners descends on the city streets with their brooms and pans and pails—and not just in the center, it turns out, but up here as well. And cops are everywhere in all three cities on our trip. Many of them are directing traffic.

    In the "who would have thunk it" department: the best market we've found is at the busiest tourist spot in Guanajuato: the huge statue of Pípila (Mexican freedom fighter in the War of Independence) that looms above downtown. An easy climb from the center (and even easier by the inexpensive funicular railway), this spot is a magnet for tourists both Mexican and foreign. Since our 1985 visit, a large market complex has sprung up on the plazuela around the statue, and to our amazement, not only were prices more reasonable than in town, and with a lot less hard-sell pressure, but we found a number of high-quality items that we hadn't seen anywhere. I bought a set of three identical butterflies in different sizes, apparently of painted aluminum. Alana bought some very cute ladybug sculptures. Dina found an Aztec sun calendar on ceramic tile for 60 pesos; the ones I priced in town were over 100. And Rafael snagged an exquisite and colorful bark painting of a large and beautiful bird, for 70 pesos. The afternoon was clear and the views, of course, remain stunning in every direction. I suspect a lot of the pictures I took will duplicate those I took back then, but that means I'll have both digital and 35 mm transparencies.

    Another great find today was the amazing Catrina store, directly across from Teatro Juarez. A large and diverse line of private-label exotic Mexican candy and liqueurs, with lots of free samples—and two or three galleries of high-end Day of the Dead statues and accoutrements! We enjoyed several of the samples, including guava with chile powder, a coconut and fig concoction, and another of tamarind and almonds, and then brought a large bag of goodies back. Catrina, by the way, is a famous ghost of Mexican legend, much-featured in local painting and sculpture, including a place in Diego Rivera's "Sunday in Alameda Park" alongside numerous other figures from Mexican history and legend, including several presidents. (A miniature version of the mural is the best reason to visit the birthplace museum).

    Following shopping, we tried our first museum in Guanajuato this time around: the Iconográfico, devoted entirely to representations of Don Quixote. While at least half the artists were Mexican, the other half were from throughout Europe and North America; periods ranged from not long after Cervantes to the present: styles for every taste. We found the quality of paintings and sculptures very high, especially considering this museum was built around one person's private collection. It's in a beautiful building, too, and both teachers and students get free admission.

    For dinner, the nearby Refugio de Angeles restaurant, a very good value for the touristy center. Attached to a hostel and decorated with wooden angels, this quiet eatery was very accommodating. Of the four dishes we ordered, two were normally made with chicken, but they cheerfully prepared vegetarian versions. Particularly recommended: the mushrooms with garlic and chiles appetizer, as well as Mexican-style hot chocolate so tasty we asked for the brand name (Abuelita, made by Nestlé, it turns out). Very nice bread, too, served with a rack of butter and red and green salsas (both mild). Cantarranas #38. Before tip, our bill including an appetizer, three main courses, a refill on bread, a beer, and three hot drinks was only 182 pesos.

    Speaking of bread, a few doors up the hill toward the Teatro Cervantes (although officially on a different street: is the Paneria Infantiles, whose baguette-style rolls are excellent quality and only two pesos each.


    Today was our final day of classes, and a beautiful day. So after our final class, we grabbed a couple of water bottles and headed up the hill to the hiking trails. It took about an hour from the school to hike to a low peak with a man-made metal tower (we actually came out a bit above it). There were stunning views all the way up, and from above the tower, the whole city was spread before us, and the mountains were all around us. I'm guessing it would be two more hours to the actual summit.

    Almost immediately, the landscape becomes very dry, almost desert-like, except for a small oasis a bit up the hill. We began to see more cacti and scrub grasses, and none of the lush plants that adorn so much of Guanajuato, including the Jardin de Acacias just a block from the trailhead. On the way back, though, we were on a different trail, very tricky because it was badly eroded and quite slippery, and it terminated in an ugly section of once-paved road, and then in someone's driveway with several dogs, one of whom bites. Fortunately, no one was hurt and it was easy to get back to the public road. All in all an hour and a half well spent.

    Three Kings Day Eve in Guanajuato is a hoot. Everybody is out on the streets, and a few women were even wearing traditional rebozos or ponchos (something we haven't seen at all this time). Stores and restaurants are jammed, and a series of clowns take turns performing to large audiences on the steps of the Teatro Juarez. The parade, which is rumored to include the kings riding a live elephant, camel, and horse, is to start at 6:30; we are just about to give up on it when it arrives, an hour late. Most of the floats are decorated pickup trucks, with streamers, crèches, little kids in their finest clothes, and more. There is one rider on a live burro, and a few others including a group of dancers in matching uniforms and neon green display lights, walk; everyone else is in a motorized vehicle, though at least one of the four or five immaculately restored antique cars in which the Kings ride (an original Ford Thunderbird convertible) is pulled by ropes instead of driven. Last in the parade is a 30s or 40s era fire truck, painted parakeet yellow, donated by a town in California.


    Our last full day at Guanajuato got off to a late start. We left our room around eleven, walked up the hill to show Alana the park and reservoir, and then walked halfway down the hill to the Corazón Parlante, a cafe/jewelry gallery. This attractive and probably architect-designed establishment (Paseo de la Presa #52-A) serves only cafe drinks, specializing in a wide selection of exotic teas, including organic chai, a floral/fruit herbal mixture. Art magazines on the tables, an attractive courtyard set a bit back from the belching buses, and even fair trade coffee, but only if you order American-style.

    From there, our familiar walk into the center, but this time continuing to Diego Rivera's birthplace. The lower floor features period furniture; it wasn't clear whether it was actually the Rivera family furnishings, though the portraits are almost certainly of his parents. Upstairs, a number of Rivera paintings as well as a few in homage to him. the best parts for me were a series depicting pre-Hispanic creation myths, pictures of the explosion of the Paricutín volcano exploding, and the auditorium with a smaller replica of the famed Sunday in Alameda Park mural, featuring numerous figures from Mexican history. There were also a couple of sweet photographs, much-enlarged, of Frida Kahlo. Still, this museum was somewhat disappointing after the much stronger and better explained collection at Kahlo's own house in Mexico City.

    Related Stories:
    Studying Spanish in Mexico
    A Cooking Class in Mexico
    Guanajuato in 1985
    Mexican New Year

    Shel Horowitz is the editor of Global Travel Review and the author of seven books including The Penny-Pinching Hedonist: How to Live Like Royalty with a Peasant’s Pocketbook.

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