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Monday, June 27, 2005

Monterrey is Okay

number forty-four

Initially I was less than enthusiastic about Monterrey versus other Mexican cities as a place to live. After doing a little traveling around, and a little acclimating to my new home, I am warming to the place. 1,482 words.

[NL]—After traveling to México City and Guanajuato, and learning so much about those places in very concrete and historical ways, it feels embarrassing to admit that I still know very little about Monterrey. I was eager to start changing that, so we made the trip over the bridge and through the tunnel to town today.

Part of my trouble with Monterrey is its distance from my house: far greater than I am willing to walk in the June heat, here. Also, this ignorance self-perpetuates because it is very difficult for me to take a cab to town due to my inability to give the driver a destination, owing as much to my feeble ignorance of Monterrey’s locations as to my feeble Spanish.

Certainly there are plausible reasons for all of this, but there are also shameful excuses. We are located inaccessibly, in a cultural and environmental desert, making it easy to put off acclimation to this new place. It is entirely too hot in the middle of the summer out there, and, really, there is just not that much to acclimate to. It becomes a rather less pressing necessity. San Pedro, at least the parts around me, is pretty dull. The house is great, and there are plenty of things to do in it. Culture shock is something that one has to slowly wear away by subjecting oneself to ever greater amounts of that culture; and that is very easy to avoid here. This self-perpetuation rolls along: hard to go, sort-of don’t know what to do, not immediately interested, mildly troubled by daunting ignorance and minor cultural divide. Then repeat, with more intense qualifiers. The solution, as always, is over the bridge and through the tunnel.

Plus, I found Monterrey disappointing. This is the shameful part. There is something about travel that can be looked at as the peeling off of fanciful prejudices to be replaced with local realities. This is probably much of the reason I never came to Monterrey when I was traveling in México a decade ago. Monterrey is very real, and fantasy visions of México and Mexican culture are hard to maintain here. These are not so difficult to maintain in ancient and quaint Guanajuato, although they are just as false there. My attachment to this desire to travel in a fantasy México from movies and literature is a byproduct of my fancy of the exotic. In reality, exoticism owes more to willful ignorance than knowledgeable perception to perpetuate a thing’s mystery. Once you see real people, running about living real lives, with jobs and educations, they immediately become normal people and lose their exotic mystery. This is all very obvious, of course, but it can be a hard thing to let go of in the face of a really beloved fantasy. Conversely, once faced with these realities, often it seems that the fantasy was at best without merit, and at worst actively corrupt. If you shut your eyes when you think about México, and you see banditos and bell towers, piñatas and mariachis, terracotta and adobe, you should be aware of what I mean. That all of these things exist here is somewhat beside the point; México is a real, modern place made up of far more than these icons. Monterrey is a city with very little invested in the tourism of people interested in maintaining a vision of México’s exoticism; Monterrey doesn’t care about all of that.

I don’t mean to make myself out like an idiot clinging to some Pancho Villa romance. Or like someone who is disappointed that México is fully in the twenty-first century. México is vibrant and dynamic and real, and I like it just fine that way. But, for just a little bit, it is sad to feel my fantasies recede, and it can hurt to come face to face with my own inexplicable presumptions.

We took a cab to the Mercado Juarez, located in the central district of Monterrey, somewhere between the end of the Macroplaza and the city’s pretty, tree-lined Alameda. The Alameda is where families and teenagers would stroll in the evenings and weekends in a small, fantasy Mexican town, firing their guns in the air, and trilling loudly. Here they go to the shopping centers and watch movies, talk over crepes and baguettes in stainless steel coffee joints in palm shaded strip malls. The Mercado was very much the way I remembered them being from my trip ten years ago. A massive concrete building crammed with booths grouped by subject. In one corner there are electronics, in another CDs, and in another little places to sit and eat. Guanajuato’s Mercado Hidalgo was much the same, though more touristy and fanciful, mostly brimming with non-essentials like candles and ceramics and toys. In other parts of México, and the México in my head, the mercado is also where people go to buy grain for the livestock, browse hooked rows of butchered pigs, and pick up the hardware for the farm and the fences. The mercado is tons of fun, and filled with really cool stuff, but at all times it was impossible to ignore the reality that Mexicans do their real shopping at the grocery store.

Across the street from the mercado, we found ourselves in a piñatería, a bulk candy store specializing in the festive papier mâché figures as well as the industrial servings of brightly colored fallout rewarding the person who manages to beat them open with a stick. The candy was awesome: every conceivable shape and flavor, leaning toward the freakish. Rows and rows of chamoy- and tamarind- and chili-flavored hard, soft and gummy candy; hard pastel cereal-marshmallow scoops in the shape of ice cream cones big as a monkey’s fist. Straws and ropes of powdered sugar, figurines of crusted sugar, and toys and bottles of liquid sugar occupying a vividly-colored warehouse of boxed candy. In México, sweets stores known as duclerías produce and sell Willy Wonkan varieties of fancy confection; chocolaty, powdered sugary, and fruity fantasies of dessert living. La Catrina in Guanajuato, with its pharmacy of colored bottles of fancy syrups and candied fruit-encrusted stuff, is an example of this. The piñataria is the downscale reality, sporting every conceivable type of packaged candy product as different from a dulcería as orange circus peanuts to grandma’s apple pie. The whole warehouse is like the swag of a particularly strange and successful trick or treating, and occupies the space of a medium-sized grocery store in the US. And of course, populating the rafters like a condemned zoo are the countless swinging carcasses of frilly, crepe piñatas. Fantasy versus reality: I wanted to see piñata bulls and donkeys and cactuses and big hats, “traditional” things that make good souvenirs from my stint in this country;. The piñatas that sell however, are the ones that kids want: Star Wards, Finding Nemo, Spongebob and dinosaurs. The piñatería also sold hot sauce.

Wandering on down the road we passed numerous small bookstores and an occasional used clothing store; a paper goods store for art and office supplies and long rows of white privacy walls advertising this and that in colorful three-foot-tall block lettering. The black school-type city busses looked pretty third-world with their chicken wire and missing doors, but many of the passengers had mobile phones and PDAs. It was pretty hot out, and we began to make our way over to the Barrio Antiguo, the old area of town with the strange sushi buffet and the huitlacoche joint. I wanted to eat at a Greek restaurant Sunshine had been telling me about. This took us past one of Monterrey’s museums where I was finally able to get a few postcards of this city in the gift shop. After eating, we wandered in the cooler Monterrey twilight, enjoying the comparatively leafy and pretty neighborhoods just northeast of the building Sunshine works in. We stopped at a gas station to pick up some eggs, but they were out.

Monterrey is a good town. There is plenty to do here, and there are friendly people to do them with. There are a few museums I will venture into later, I am sure. There is a reportedly excellent planetarium and science center. There are several large technical universities, and several feats of modern architecture. The food is consistently wonderful and the water is actually drinkable. The array of things to see and do are not engineered to be spectacular to some fantasy tourists from an exotic culture; this is a real city, interested in its own people and things. It is not lovely, but it is a nice place to live. I am just not sure I would want to visit here.

On the one hand, Huitlacoche is excellent; but on the other hand, it looks nasty.

On the third hand: something from the blog of Poppy Z. Brite.

La Catrina’s website.

La Silla panorama © the Author

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Thursday, June 23, 2005


number forty-three

It’s my first foreign power out, and not it occurs to me that it is pretty important to have power in the desert in the summer. 1,172 words.

[NL]—Tonight we went to see Batman Inicia in the VIP screening room at the mall down the road. It has been a fairly movie-related week, actually. Coming home in the early am, after being up all night on the bus, has undone much of my progress re-orienting my sleeping patterns after a decade of second and third shift employment. So, in a week filled with mind-numbing domestic chores I also found myself staying up very late at night again, just like the old days.

Tony and Christene, the couple who took care of our house during the two weeks we were out of town, did a mighty job of it. The cat is alive, and the houseplants are thriving and blooming. Hector, the man who works on the grass, has the yard kempt and growing in the front, but either he couldn’t get the back gate open or the lack of rain this month has been particularly brutal, because there is a narrow swath of dead earth running the length of the back yard. So, along with the sleeping late and knocking two-weeks worth of dust and eddies of swirling cat hair off the house, I have spent a large amount of my time since my homecoming outside; watering brown nubs of brittle, dead grass in the back yard. Not as much fun to do as it is to read, really, but if I can’t bring the stuff back to life in the next eighteen months, or so, we will have to replace it.

All this excitement was made palatable by the arrival of my headphones early in the week, making it possible for me to quietly watch DVDs all night without disturbing Sunshine, who has to be asleep by ten pm if she wants to get up for work on time. Before the headphones, this meant that I could only watch movies on the weekends when she could stay up late, because it is too bright in the house to even start the projector, really, before eight pm. On the weeknights, I have about six hours of applicable darkness between the our respective bedtimes, and now I would be able to use this time to watch movies instead of skulking creepily around the house hour after aimless hour. I was very excited about these headphones, and was eager to start using them right away.

We had been planning to see the Batman movie that night, actually, but Sunshine got stuck at work a little late, and we had to put it off until today. Instead we went to an Italian restaurant near here for dinner, and then went to the grocery store. There was next to nothing in the refrigerator due to our carefully consuming everything possible before we left for México City, and then throwing all of the bad stuff out when we returned. This invasion of domesticity makes a poor substitute for going out to the movies, but at least I would have something to drink in the house tomorrow. We got home with dozens of yellow plastic grocery bags full of perishables.

Shortly before Sunshine was to turn in, the power went dead. This was our first power out in México, and it was sort-of neat. The power went out with a little tink right after I had turned on the kitchen light, so we immediately understood what was happening. The house was eerily silent. Out in the front yard we could see that the whole area was out, several neighborhoods, so there was no need to go checking breakers or anything. We made some rum and Cokes, and sat on the little patio over our front door, watching as the neighborhood was quickly candlelit. The security guards were struggling to dismantle the electric gate at the entrance to our community. I assume the natural reaction of many of our neighbors was to go someplace with electricity, and their SUVs and minivans were lining up impatiently along the street. Every kid in the neighborhood immediately congregated in an impromptu sleepover at one house right across from us, judging by the excited shouts and waving flashlight beams coming from all their upstairs windows. There was a general excitement in the air outside that contrasted with the unnatural quiet of the powerless house.

Worry set in soon, though. Domestic worry first: would Sunshine get up at six with no alarm clock? Would the thousand pesos of groceries we had just gotten make it through the night? The house was already getting warmer, and we were shutting doors and things to keep cool air locked into its different spaces. In the desert, in a rich person’s house, there is little need for a lot of insulation. Our house is made of cinder blocks, and the temperature was thirty-nine degrees (C) outside. Inside the thermometers were climbing pretty quickly. I keep the temperature in most rooms set at twenty-three or -four, and a half our after the lights went off, it was already climbing past twenty-eight in every room. The worry started in earnest, now: there was no reason to assume, even in this very rich neighborhood, that the power would come back any time soon. We’ve heard stories of power outs that last for weeks. I was a little worried about the food and the cat and the two of us all curling up and burning the same brittle brown the yard does. I was also doing a lot of whining about my new headphones. Sunshine went to bed, and I busied myself protecting the liquor and the ice from the coming inferno. The power came back on about an hour later while I was addressing a few remaining postcards from vacation by candlelight. The thermometers were reading thirty-four already. It took a lot longer to cool the house back down than it had to warm it up. Looking around San Pedro, it is sometimes difficult to appreciate the realities of the unforgiving landscape on which it has been erected. Things like this remind me that this is an environment that must be fought off constantly for survival.

So, if we had gone to see Batman Inicia yesterday we would probably have totally missed the power out, and I would have not gained all my newfound respect for the desert. Conversely, we might not have gotten seats in front of a two puzzled eight-year-olds who loudly quizzed their parents as to what was happening on the screen throughout much of the movie, as we did today. We still could never have made it to these seats in time to get the cream cheese and Manchego cheddar crepes that I have been craving, though, and that is a shame. Still, I am on top of the world. Barring any new loss of power, knock on tile, I will get to watch movies, silently to all outer perception, for as long as I can stay awake tonight. Everything is a-okay.

Click here if you are interested in my thoughts on Batman Begins.

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Monday, June 20, 2005

Our Departure from GTO

number forty-two

This is the last in a nine-part series detailing our first big Mexican vacation. This installment is about our return home from Guanajuato. 1,144 words.

[NL]—On Friday, when Sunshine ventured to the ticket agent just down from the Jardin de la Union to book our passage back to Monterrey, they had kind of laughed when she asked if the bus might be crowded. Apparently, there are not that many tourists heading from Guanajuato to Monterrey like we were doing. I suspect there are just not that many tourists heading to Monterrey from any point of departure. The ticket woman’s attitude about this was borne out when we boarded the bus: there were about four other people on it. Mexican bus travel can be pretty posh, the seats are plush and large, with plenty of foot room. The busses are dark and cool, and every window has a shade and a curtain. The busses are the large, touring variety, used by film crews and rock stars. They often have double-paned tinted glass and TV screens that automatically descend from the roof when it is time for the movie. Some even serve meals. The lack of other people on the bus makes the travel even more comfortable. The bus stays darker and cooler with only one or two of the curtains open.

Our last day in Guanajuato had been eventful. We had run around purchasing all of the things that we had seen window shopping throughout the week. We were up and checked out of the hotel by noon, leaving our stuff in the office to be picked up on the way out of town later in the evening. Our shopping took us on a last whirlwind tour of the town: to the mercado for T-shirts and a carry-on bag for the bus; to Dulcería la Catrina for candy (but more for the hand-painted gift boxes), and to various plazas and things for little knickknacks and postcards. While wandering, we swung by the weird taxidermy museum again today, with a camera; but the very same ticket guy was guarding the doorway and I felt that it would be obvious that we were smuggling in recording equipment if we returned so soon. I think that it might have been okay if my intentions were pure, but since I mostly wanted photos to prove the joint’s dubiousness, paranoia won out. It might be my imagination; but he eyed us suspiciously as we walked on by, whistling nonchalantly.

On up the hill, and back down again, and up the next, we paused to rest for awhile at the Alhondiga, were we were treated to a Volkswagen Bug show on the structure’s nearly two hundred year old plaza courtyard. México is a world leader in Volkswagen production, and manufactured the old style of Beetle until 2003 (ending a fifty-eight year production run in Puebla, México). The streets of México are infested with these cars, and it is neat to see slick, modern trappings, like well-designed interiors, decorating a design that has been produced with very few external changes since before World War II. I had thought these cool, old cars had been abandoned with the production of the New Beetle in 1998. The car show was nifty. There were other types of Volkswagens included, Cabrios and Things, but the old style Beetles, souped-up, lowered, converted, and painted in an array of colors and patterns, were really the star of the show.

Next, we took a cable car up the side of the mountain to the three-story statue of Pípila that looks over the town. Sunshine went to watch a beautifully tacky “oral” history of Guanajuato performed by animatronic dummies, and I occupied myself taking pictures from the feet of the statue itself. This overlook is another fifty feet higher than the second floor of the wonderful Italian restaurant that we had eaten at previously, and had pretty much the same view. Guanajuato is interesting looking because the whole town, as scattershot and juxtaposed as it may be, is contained in such a small place. It was easy to stand up there with this giant stone hero of the revolution and trace the last few days with my finger along the vista.

When we ran out of things to do, we killed some time in the Santo Café, then picked up our belongings. The hotel guy helped us out by flagging down a cab. I do not know why it is that I always have the feeling I need to get to the bus station so early; but I do, so we killed the last few hours before the mostly-empty bus arrived camped out there.

The ride was overnight, stretched to eleven hours, and turned out to be pretty eventful. Not only did we stop every now and then, all night long, to pick up the dozens and dozens of people waiting at gas stations, abandoned parking lots, and every little town along the moonlit way; but we were treated to a screening of Tony Scott’s terrible Man on Fire and accosted by people chucking cinder blocks off an overpass at us. The movie, basically demonizing México City and the corrupt asphalt hell of the developing world, comes early on my list of worst films of all time. But on the bus from Guanajuato it was absolutely mortifying (although, to be fair, the Mexicans on the bus didn’t seem to mind). The cinder block assault happened fast and was over, though the bus driver had to stop to shake all of the glass out of his clothes. This is when I learned all about the double glass panes in commercial busses, as the outer layer was shattered in many places down the left side of the bus, but the inner layer was only crisscrossed, here and there, by long cracks. After the noise and the swerving it took a little while for the news to filter from person to person to our row in the now mostly full bus, and by then the incident was far behind us. Far from being worrisome, it was kind of exciting and it provided a needed break from the embarrassing movie. Throughout the night, after the movie when the bus was pitch dark between stops, the occasional sound of glass falling out and swirling away on the highway behind us kept me awake.

We pulled into the Monterrey bus station in the pissing rain with a full load, still shedding glass here and there when the driver turned particularly tightly. After eleven hours I was more than ready to get the hell off that bus. From the outside, it looked like we had survived a war zone like Tony Scott’s México; come limping out of that asphalt hell in our smoking and busted-up tour bus. The driver said a couple of things to me while I was inspecting the damage, but he was speaking Spanish, of course, and I didn’t follow most of it.

And so concludes this Mexicn vacation.

Photo Illustration © the Author

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Our Stay in GTO, part III

number forty-one

This is an installment in a nine-part series detailing our first big Mexican Vacation. This is also the third in a series of numbered posts about what we did in the city of Guanajuato for eight days. Make sure to read the two previous posts, too. 1,857 words.

…and other animals.

[NL; composed from notes taken in GTO 6/14-6/17/05]-Guanajuato is the home to a world famous annual festival every October commemorating Miguel de Cervantes called the Cervantino. Originally a party for local students to stage excerpts from Cervantes’ work on the steps of the church in the Plaza San Roque, this festival has gained momentum to become a full-tilt arts festival. Once a year, this festival takes over the whole city for a number of weeks and many of the hotel vacancies in the state evaporate. People flock here from all over the world to not only see Don Quixote and other plays performed in whole, or in part, on dozens of stages around town; but also to see a global culture of live bands, artists, writers and circus performers who have also flocked here from all over the world. This is one of the reasons Guanajuato has a number of large and beautiful theaters, as well as why it is crammed with Don Quixote stuff.

Right down from the Casa Méxicana is the Plaza de Cervantes, a ellipse of stairs around a cobble stoned half circle featuring large Quixote and Sancho statues. Down the road a little from this plaza is the Teatro Cervantes, a large stone building featuring local and touring performers. On down the road there is the Museo Iconográfico del Quijote, an art gallery dedicated completely to renderings of the notorious man of La Mancha. Surprisingly interesting, this small gallery with about seven rooms crammed full of paintings, lithographs, art prints and sculptures of Quixote and Sancho Panza has amassed quite a number of world renowned pieces. These include original sketches for Picasso’s and Dali’s famous line drawings, an original-run production print from Posada’s Calavera of Don Quixote, and a who’s who of important Latin American artists. There were dozens of canvasses depicting Quixote and crew. There were many statues ranging from postage stamp sized to several stories tall, the latter propped in the open inner courtyard of the building. Everything was fascinating, each new idea and representation of the classic characters commanding attention for its uniqueness within these parameters if not its thematic individuality. It was a whole eyeful of subtle and not-so-subtle variation which was inspiring and challenging.

On the other side of the Jardín de la Union, up from the post office (which we visited almost every day of the week), past another damn sixteenth century church, along the road past the immense, crenulated university building, was the Museo y Casa de Diego Rivera. This is the house that the famous muralist was born in, and even though the Riveras had been driven from town when Diego was six, even though he so hated the memory of Guanajuato that he never returned (indeed, only admitting his ties to this birthplace very late in his life), there is a simple memorial museum there. It is fantastic. Certainly, it is also modest. The bottom floor of the ancient hacienda is a re-creation of what it probably looked like when Diego was living there, with restored rooms and reclaimed Rivera family furniture. There is also a gift shop with many great books on Rivera and Frida Kahlo, plus all sorts of key chains and postcards. The upper two floors house the art gallery, filled with very enlightening lesser works and production charcoals. These serve to illustrate an autodidactic career which bounced through many established schools of modern art (derivative canvasses include impressionist work, fruity bowls of still life, and, believe it or not, some surrealist stuff) before he found a footing in the styles of narrative illustration that made him world famous. Many of the little charcoal and ink sketches for his illustrations or murals show obvious ties to modern works and indicate the depth of the inspiration he’s provided to many artists working today. As I walked along the timeline of Diego Rivera provided by this collection of work, it was possible for me to see the development of a style of artwork still very much alive in Latin culture today.

There were some upper-floor galleries in this beautiful house that were devoted to temporary installations of work by other artists. Possibly chosen because of their contrast with Rivera’s collection, these were mostly surreal or abstract figures, or totally non-representational fabric dyes and collages, and I wasn’t overly impressed with them.

Besides the temporary shows, the only thing disappointing about the Diego Rivera house and museum was the stifling mugginess inside. It is a little silly to have a fortune in artwork hanging on thick concrete walls that retain moisture. Plus, if there was any air conditioning in there I didn’t feel it at all. Outside the breeze on the street was refreshing; and even though it was sunny, it was still cooler than inside Diego’s house. So we strolled down the other side of the hill, toward the bus stops, to the famous Guanajuato Alhóndiga de Granaditas.

The Alhóndiga, the grain warehouse used as a makeshift fort by rich criollos at the outbreak of revolution in 1810, is a huge, two story stone square with an open courtyard. The name Alhóndiga was derived from a Moorish word, making the North African style architecture seem appropriate. When rich Spanish colonial silver barons were constructing this place, they were expecting to wow the world at a town so rich that even its grain silo was more like a mansion than a warehouse. Because of this, it is finished with decorative arches and marble tiles on the inside. It is easy to see why the frightened overlords turned here when Miguel Hidalgo’s troops marched on the city that historical September day: the Alhóndiga was so overbuilt that it is damn near impregnable. Of course, since it was not actually built to be a stronghold, it was built onto the side of a mountain more accessible than defensible, and the outside doors were made of wood allowing Pípila to burn an entrance for the rebels to take advantage of.

Today, the building looks very much the same as it did then, only instead of floor to ceiling grain, corn, cotton, and livestock feed, the giant stone rooms are filled with museum exhibits. After listening to a forty-five minute history of the Alhóndiga delivered by a very charismatic guide (who only spoke Spanish), we were let loose in the place. The building contains exhibits on diverse subjects including the municipal history of Guanajuato, seal beads from ancient Mesoamerican civilizations, and modern photography. In one room hung the cage that once held Miguel Hidalgo’s head on a corner of the building. It is a simple, rather spare museum housed in an awe-inspiring relic of the revolution, and I learned a lot of what I know about the history of that revolution, and Guanajuato, inside its slightly post-revolutionary wooden doors.

Back up the hill (and down the other side, and up another hill) toward the post office, is the Universidad de Guanajuato we had walked past of the way to the Diego’s house. Here, in the main building, is where they keep Guanajuato’s Natural History Museum. Natural history museums interest me because I like dead animals. I think animals are pretty cool when they are alive, too, but I have always held an artistic interest in bones and taxidermy. Wonder cabinets of labeled trays filled with exotic beetles and spiders in a dusty side room are sort of like a treasure chest; glass display cases filled with lacquered dioramas of local fauna are like a creepy children’s book illustration come to life. Looked at in this way, the Natural History Museum in Guanajuato was very satisfying.

After paying the seventy-five cents each to get in, we walked around the corner where there was a little annex with some educational texts on biology and taxonomy. The books were mostly dusty and old, and looked as if they were part of the display. This was an excellent sign of things to come. Walking through the next door, we found ourselves in a wooden room with those glass display cases. It was arranged much like a dissection classroom from the nineteenth century might look in a movie. In a glass cabinet in the front of the room there was a human skeleton, and lining the walls were darkened displays of stuffed raptors and felines; rodents, bugs, and etc. Many of the birds were exceptionally well made and arranged. The cats were not so well done: morose, lumpy taxidermies that squatted awkwardly in cramped cages filled with other objects suffering afterlives more or less lifelike. Every now and then we would come across one of those et ceteras: animals of such poor craftsmanship that they managed to be indeterminate. Between the beaver and the happy-looking groundhog, for example, rose an asymmetrical foot of salt and pepper fur with glass eyes above its black snout. Hulking over the armadillo was a long, four legged spotted brown thing, deerlike except for the carnivorous muzzle. Some of my confusion over these vague specimens was the probably byproduct of a lack of familiarity with the length and breadth of variety within the animal kingdom. Some, I believe, can be attributed to the same lack of familiarity from these animal’s artists. A third possibility, of course, is that the hollowed out veneers of a wide variety of critters had been stretched like a canvas over whatever frame was handy. It might explain why some of the large cats seemed to be pointing out game, the small cats were tipped up like prairie dogs, and the unknown things just seemed at odds with whatever coat hangers or hat trees were puppeteering at the time.

All in all, it is fitting that our week of visiting museums would end here, after starting with the impressive show of mummies at the top of that sunny hill west of town. We had, in a way, come around a thematic circle of preservation. But what the ground in Guanajuato spits up naturally preserved, the natural history scientists in a third room of the museum labor to make, working in tight alleys between cluttered shelves of wired-together parts and handy jars. Here, under fluorescent lights, with tools and textbooks, naturalism is perverted to greater and lesser degrees by the hands of people with varying talent for the job. Maybe, at long last, this is the answer to many of the questions I posed about the mummies, too. Maybe the cemetery ground in Guanajuato just gets some specimens catastrophically wrong. Maybe there is a darkened fourth-room closet in the natural history museum filled with items deemed less than display-quality, locked away for further tinkering; or for cremation. Or maybe all of this is wrong, and the university students have just been burying their pets in the Guanajuato soil, and the joke is on us.

Many thumbnails from the Museo Iconografico del Quijote

A close-up of José Guadalupe Posada’s Calavera of Don Quixote

A panorama of the Museo Iconografico I happened to find online

The official site of Museo Alfredo Dugés, the natural history museum

Next up: the end of the long road.

More pictures form Guanajuato © Cavin

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Our Stay in GTO, part II

number forty

This is an installment in a nine-part series detailing our first big Mexican Vacation. This is also the second in a series of numbered posts about what we did in the city of Guanajuato for eight days. Make sure to read the previous and subsequent posts, too. 2,168 words.


[NL; composed from notes taken in GTO 6/11-6/17/05]—Looking forward to our vacation in Guanajuato was as easy as getting excited about seeing mummies and museums and a side of México that is not evident in San Pedro. It is strange that it never dawned on me to also look forward to the food there. There is no reason for this, food has been generally excellent everywhere I’ve eaten in México. One of the things I really love about travel is the opportunity to eat new and exciting things. But under the daunting shadow of those museums, a very striking Spanish colonial plan, and mummies for Pete’s sake, food just got overlooked as something I should have been getting excited about. I didn’t take long to remember to be excited about it, though, after that first night.

Our first full day in Guanajuato, after spiraling down from the mummy museum, we ate in a little unnamed cellar off the Jardín de la Reforma, across from the Mercado Hidalgo. The food was exceptional and I wish that I had been able to eat it, frankly, but it was full of chicken. The bite I had before I realized this, however, was really spectacular. This had happened to me in México City, too—twice in the same restaurant. In Guanajuato I thought I was getting good at asking first, but when I ordered the enchiladas de nata—explained to me as a cream and cheese paste with peppers—it came with the unadvertised chicken anyway. Sunshine got to eat it, and I got to eat her French fries. The French fries were also exceptional.

The next night, still trying to stick primarily to places which would take Sunshine’s credit card, we searched out a Hindi restaurant up in the alleyways off the main roads. The Hindi restaurant was advertised as a vegetarian place called “Restaurante Vegetariano Yamuna.” The central roads in Guanajuato all run parallel to one another, and end up coming together in a central area down from the basilica where the busses stop. These roads all pretty much occupy the area that would have been Guanajuato’s river before the dam was built. Servicing the scattered jigsaw of precarious housing jammed teetering on the surrounding hills are all these little alleys called callejones. In places these alleys are so narrow that the balconies on either side would touch if they hadn’t been so strategically built. In places they also seem to lead straight up, sometimes becoming a flight of stairs for a while before leveling back off to merely steep. Since they are the primary access to the sides of the mountains, these alleys all have official street names and are dotted with frontage: little grocery stores, bars, and supposedly, Indian food. The interesting thing about the callejones is they never seem to dead end, leading instead to another callejon, then perhaps another. Occasionally, the alley’s street signs will indicate that its name has changed at these right angles. Sometimes, the name will not change. Sometimes there is no sign. Someone searching for a Hindi restaurant is eventually spit back onto a main road somewhere far from his hotel.

We have not been able to find Indian food in Monterrey. The place is teeming with the odd sushi joint, huitlacoche, and one can hardly eat anywhere without having a choice of different types of crêpes. But no Indian stuff anywhere. This is why, when we discovered mention of a Hindi restaurant in our travel guide, we jumped at the chance to climb the side of a mountain to find it. Alas, when we finally located the place, the sign for the Indian restaurant still painted over the door, we discovered that it had been replaced by a menudo stand, sides of beef swaying beneath the word “Vegetariano” painted over the door. The woman with the big bowl of tripe told us that the Indian place was gone.

This was sad, but certainly no tragedy. We ended up eating at a large place off the zócalo where I had the worst meal I ate in this city: an excellent grilled vegetable sandwich with nata. We were seated in front of a large open window where we could look out on Guanajuato’s lavish Teatro Juárez (commissioned by emperor Porfirio Díaz to be the most resplendent theater in a town full of them). The theater is a popular gathering place for local college students and tourists alike. People congregate on the theater’s wide stairs to gaze over the scene on the plaza. Since we were eating on that plaza, it meant that about two hundred people were idly staring right in the large window at us. Luckily, the whole time we were seated, there was a clown entertaining the people assembled on the steps by doing improvisational comedy skits between us and this crowd. He was earning big laughs mocking passersby (and traffic) in the street right outside our window. This was actually far less annoying than it sounds, and we really enjoyed watching the clown while we ate. At one point, while hassling a passing police car, all of the clown’s change fell out of his pockets and landed in the middle of the busy street. He didn’t notice. From then on I spent my time evenly divided between watching the clown, and watching his change on the ground six feet from our table, sparkling beneath the wheels of backed-up traffic.

Intermittently, random small children would walk up to our table and stand on our unused seat to watch the clown outside. These kids would watch in silence, a look of awed concentration on their faces. Regularly, children of about the same age would try to sell us Chiclets through the open window as they walked by outside. These kids would plead silently, holding their cardboard boxes of gum in at us. The clown show went on for a really long time and occasionally I would spot a pedestrian, fleeing the clowny side of the street, stoop to retrieve an abandoned peso in the middle of the road. The clown packed it up and headed off after an hour or so. The kids inside drifted back to their own tables while we finished our dinner. By the time Sunshine got her credit card out, all of the clown’s money had been taken.

By Monday, cash advances from the bank meant that we were able to eat anywhere we wanted. By Wednesday we had discovered a cool little courtyard coffee shop and very cool little courtyard bar. The coffee shop was in a whitewashed villa just beside the university apparently built by two European brothers who had immigrated to Guanajuato and subsequently fallen in love with the same woman, a soap opera that left one dead and the other in the local jail for life. The ice lattes were great, and they served these little veggie baguettes with tapenade that were messy but tasty. The bar, the Clave Azul, or Blue Clef, was a dark brick warren located on a callejon just off what was quickly becoming our favorite plaza, San Fernando. After nightfall we would go for a walk because the weather was so much nicer in Guanajuato than what we had gotten used to at home. On many nights, bands of musicians dressed in ceremonial uniform and called Callejoneadas, would meet beside the large Templo San Diego on the Jardín. They would sing bawdy songs and hand out wine as large groups of revelers followed them up and down the alleyways for hours. When all is said and done, the spectator would be drunk and very winded, but deposited back at the Templo. When we tagged along for a while, the group consisted mainly of a large group of drunk young Puerto Rican tourists and the women they were trying to impress. When we finally departed it was long before the route had gotten us near the Templo again, and we had to find a new way home. We new we were heading in the right direction when we passed the menudo restaurant with the sides of beef advertised as Hindi Vegetarian food.

Plazuela San Fernando is larger than the Jardín de la Union, and paved with slate tile. The center is a large stone fountain and here and there it is decorated with ancient, rusting mine cars that have been turned into flower pots. It connects with two other plazas, the middle of which (Plaza San Roque) sports a sixteenth century church. Roving mariachis and Norteño musicians solicit table to table or sit in front of the fountain. The bands come in sizes ranging from three to five players, and can be grouped together by the color of their uniforms. Plazuela San Fernando mostly had green and gold mariachis, but occasionally a red band would wander through. In the course of our stay in Guanajuato, we ate at a majority of the places situated around that plaza, and talked to quite a number of mariachi. When we were tired of being solicited, we would retire to the Clave Azul where it was always dark and cool, and they were always piping Louis Armstrong or Ella Fitzgerald.

By midweek, Sunshine was really beginning to come around to my strategy in regard to vacationing. At first, the hours that I would sit around in the shade reading or working on postcards was driving her nuts. She felt as though maybe we should be busily doing all of the things that the city offered us to do. I wanted to relax. I won, and we began to relax more than do. One of the nicer places to sit for an hour or two and read or write postcards was the Clave Azul, and in our short week, we sort of became regulars. Of the other regulars, my favorite was the thirty-something guy who sat at the bar, impersonating (or caricaturing) Armstrong whenever one of his songs would play. It really never stopped being funny to hear him phonetically belt out gravelly song lyrics.

Two doors up the callejon from the Clave, around a little corner, and before the alley became a steep stairway, we found that the Indian restaurant had not closed, just moved to another location. We were elated, and decided we would come back first thing the next day when it was opened. Inside, it was painted a shade somewhere between peach and Caucasian, and it had two-foot-thick adobe walls. When we sat down, the waitress asked if we wanted two meals, and we agreed, although with the luck I have had getting food without chicken, this lack of control made me nervous. The sign over the door, though, said “Restaurante Vegetariano Yamuna,” so I took a chance. All in all the place was really good. The meal consisted of a great salad and soup, and strange but acceptable appetizer of goat cheese and veggies stuffed in a pickle, and rice. There was a apple yogurt dessert. It did not consist of any chicken. The weirdest thing about the meal was the drink they served, and while other parts of the menu changed on a day-to-day basis, this drink remained. It was some kind of celery juice (or maybe melon) with lime, fennel, and anise. Maybe a little mint. It was really strange, and served sort-of lukecool. I didn’t really dislike it on the first taste, and I liked it better and better as I went along.

But the best food that we ate in Guanajuato was the place we finally found on the second to last day we stayed there. Up past the menudo place, teetering high on the side of the same hill that the Callejoneadas serenade by night, perched directly below the feet of the huge Pípila statue that looks over the city, is el Gallo Pitagorico, home of the most excellent Italian food I have eaten in México. We ate looking out a window with a splendid view of the whole valley; a vantage point from which we could see just about every place that we had been. All of the cool museums and plazas and churches and restaurants were arrayed before us like a collage of the city. The salmón carpaccio and penne alfredo were superb, and neither contained the rooster from the restaurant’s name. All of the table sets were hand carved Michoacán furniture depicting moons and suns and corn and Posada Calaveras. The staff was friendly and attentive. After dinner, to get away from a group of young women drinking diet rum and cokes and speaking loudly in English about many dull and uninteresting things, we headed up to the terrace for drinks. If anything the view here was even more spectacular, encircled with twinkling Christmas lights in a much darker room. We hung out here for another hour, as the sun set on Guanajuato and the Callejoneadas started singing loudly in the valley far below us.

stay tuned for part three.

Click images for pictures from Guanajuato © Cavin

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Our Stay in GTO, part I

number thirty-nine

This is an installment in a nine-part series detailing our first big Mexican Vacation. This is also the first in a series of numbered posts about what we did in the city of Guanajuato for eight days. Make sure to read the two subsequent posts, too. 1,946 words.


[NL; composed in GTO 6/11/05]-We went to the mummy museum on that very first day. The Guanajuato climate was crisp and warm and very sunny. My sunburn from the DF was beginning to come off my face, and I thought it would be a very good idea to come up with some indoor activities for the day. A museum seemed to be in order, so we headed out into the Guanajuato day. The sky in México City, famed for its smoggy haze, had seemed pretty normal after so long in Monterey. This is because Monterrey has also become famed, to a lesser degree, for its sky. Looking up in Guanajuato was sort of a revelation. It was crystal clear: beep blue with little puffballs of white cumulous wafting in a gentle current. Nothing like the sometimes bright yellow sky of Monterrey, dense enough to cut visibility like a fog. It was also very sunny, of course, and I could feel that on my skin acutely.

We soon discovered that three of the five directions leading away from our hotel took us to the zócalo. Down what seemed to be the main road there were more shops and plazas and restaurants. This road took us past a number of several hundred year old churches before it joined other roads in a centro of sorts in front of Guanajuato’s enormous basilica. From here, the main road was obvious, and we wandered along, taking little detours through adjoining plazas. At one point, we came across what we later learned was the Plaza de San Fernando, where there was a whole pedestrian walkway filled with booksellers under stall-like tents. We browsed here for a while, and then wandered farther along the main road, called Avenida Juárez, which took us past the Alhóndiga, the Mercado Hidalgo, and about every other thing I had read about in the guide book. I realized that we were heading in the direction of the Museo de las Momias, about a kilometer west of the edge of the guide book’s map. Well, okay, so if I wasn’t going to be spending the day indoors, then maybe I could at least walk on the shady side of the road. Sunshine seemed game to attempt a walk to the distant Museum, even though about every other bus was heading that way. We crossed to the shade and continued to wander along Juárez.

Pretty soon we had to cross back again because the road forked left and then curled up a mountain, and we had to fork with it. After about twenty minutes of trudging up this steep incline, we stopped and bought a drink and some sunscreen at a tiny little grocery. Farther up the hill we stopped for no good reason at all. Then we began to stop every few minutes. It took a while to get to the top of the hill, but once up there we saw a sign for the museum, and we got a little of our confidence back, so we kept moving forward. Interesting word, forward, as related to directions. It holds no expectation of up or down, straight or corkscrewing up the side of a precipice. It just means moving in the way you happen to be looking. Eventually forward got us there, but for a while we had been totally corkscrewed up.

At the very top of a treeless, sunny path in Guanajuato, México, there is a cemetery hidden behind sixteenth century stone walls. In this cemetery, all of the possible plots have been filled for over a hundred years. In Guanajuato, there is no room to expand, really, which is why the roads are mostly underground. Along about the same time Guanajuato ran out of room for roads, it also ran out of room for burials. Of course, people kept dying; so, in this cemetery, when they ran out of space to bury more people, they decided to exhume older graves to make room for new tenants. The first time this had to happen it was already pretty obvious it was going to become common practice, so they instituted lease agreements on the graves: everyone gets one for a little while, and after that, people who could afford to keep loved ones interred could pay the rent. Others were dug up to make space. This system has been in place here since the end of the nineteenth century. What makes it really interesting, of course, is that because of something about the cemetery—be it the high-altitude air pressure, the minerals in the soil, the high silver content of the mountains, or the very dryness of the atmosphere most of the year—the cadavers buried here mummify. Put someone in the ground in this cemetery, and within a few years (the typical stay seems to be between five and seven), chances are good that they will have desiccated into a leathery, anatomically correct brown husk. Being that this is México, where society often celebrates life with the memento mori of skeletal imagery (examples include calavera candy at el Dia de los Muertos time, the work of José Guadalupe Posada, or the long tradition of taking posthumous portraits of loved ones—especially stillborn children), there was nothing to do but put these dried cadavers on display. Mummies that are dug from the ground were, with permission assuming there were still family around to ask, propped in a hall of the catacomb for people to view. Remains deemed unfit for viewing, for whatever reason, were cremated. The paraphrase “unsuitable display quality,” keeps popping up in research, and is somewhat ominous-sounding. I have identified no explanation or definition for this label. Besides familial disinterest in turning a loved one into an attraction, what catastrophic ruination is deemed too unsightly by cemetery staff? Is this classification owed to the occasional violent mutilation before burial, or some perversion of the earth’s rendering of various specimens? I don’t know if I want to know, but thinking about it is keeping me up.

After these many years, the earth has provided so many quality specimens that the hall of mummies has become a whole museum. At the tip top of this steep hill, we finally spotted this museum along with several dozen stalls selling refreshments and souvenir trinkets. There were mummy key chains, mummy postcards, and mummy t-shirts. Admission price was a couple of bucks, including permission to photograph the displays.

Inside it was pretty dark and much cooler. The floors are cement, and the ceilings are arched. The rooms are part of the outer walls of the cemetery, and while freshly painted, are obviously very old architecture. The adult mummies are, for the most, laid out on glassed-in shelves. Initially, I thought that this was to provide humidity and temperature control for the specimens, but on closer examination I noted that the panes of glass are cut away in the corners to provide ventilation, instead. Just think, I could poke my fingers in there. Some of these vents were big enough for me to put my hand inside. All of them were big enough for a child to reach into. Some of the adult mummies were standing upright, secured here and there by twine. These glass coffins also had the ventilation cutaways. Most of the children were lined up in curio cabinets. In the cabinets there were no gaps in the glass, possibly because the children were all dressed up in expensive, if also mummified, little burial dresses.

The mummies themselves lie in various degrees of arrested decay, possibly based on when they were buried in relation to the rainy season. Some are merely mummified strips of flesh over filly exposed bone, others are whole with identifiable facial features and genitalia. While some of the mummies sport old clothes, most of the mummies are naked except for socks. Another thing to wonder about on those late nights: why are most of these mummies wearing socks? Is it because no matter how fast the world dries a mummy out, animals love jerky? Is it because after years of propping unceremoniously in the hall we were standing in, some of the mummies’ feet had just worn away? Is it to make them warmer? Quieter? I don’t know the answer to this, either.

The mummies have a number of different expressions, because, I assume, muscles and things had constricted as the moisture left them. Some of the mummies have a drawn rictus making them look like they are screaming, or smiling, or singing. Some look quite peaceful. Some of them have their hands or their feet tied together with dark twine, but it is impossible to conclude whether or not it was there for the burial or added for the display. These mummies are natural phenomena, unlike the hollowed-out and fussed over mummies of Egyptian antiquity. Like the bog people found in Denmark, or ancient men found frozen in ice, these people just happened. They were not adorned or expected to enjoy this afterlife. Their bodies were not prepared for this: they are unshaved, un-sewn; they retain their organs. There is a lot of evidence of this. The children are all terrifying. They look less human by dint of less deformity: most are propped there looking like darkening china or stained plastic, blotches that look like bad artistry; their funeral dresses are ludicrous.

A little side museum, another two bucks, was dedicated to tales of horror. This had what my travel guide called “hokey horror-show” exhibits dedicated to the illustration of local or Hollywood legends. Of course, these were all constructed with real bodies. There was a Count Dracula in the floor with a stake through him. There was a witch in her coffin, her herbs and flowers arrayed around her, an explanation of their use in her potions on her plaque. There was a finger that had haunted a young lover or murderer. There were also fake displays of torture devices and one lone wax dummy getting guillotined. I was entranced. Here was a real body, man, and someone had filed the teeth down into fangs, and staked it right through its dusty, dried-up heart.

The trip through both museums took us about forty minutes, and I took forty photographs. Some of these I threw away immediately because it was so dark the camera had been unable to focus correctly. It had been an excellent experience, making me want to walk around in the sunlight some. Sunshine kept talking about how, apparently, things that she thought had not looked realistic in movies actually did look real after all.

When we finally left the cemetery museum area, we looked around for a way to get into the cemetery itself (because I really love Mexican cemeteries), but we never did see a way through the giant walls. I admit that we didn’t try too hard because we were hungry and tired. Or maybe because for one day we’d had enough. It was still pretty hot even though it was almost four-thirty, but the trip back down the mountain was much easer and it was finally possible to find some shade along the walls that lined the road. Back at the Plaza de San Fernando, we ducked into a dungeon-like basement restaurant, and downed a lot of cold refrescos. My face was coming off pretty hardcore now as my sunburn peeled. Sitting there in that restaurant, it was impossible not to feel like this had some correlation with my day and my proximity to that cemetery that dries people. But there was no correlation, it was just the effects of the sun.

Stay tuned for part two.

Click image for guesome mummies © the Author

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Our Arrival in GTO

number thirty-eight

This is an installment in a nine-part series detailing our first big Mexican vacation. This installment is about our travel day between México City and Guanajuato. 2,106 words.

[NL; composed in GTO 6/10/05-6/11/05]-We pulled into the bus station in Guanajuato a little before eleven. The trip had been pretty great; I have always really liked traveling by Mexican bus. It had taken a predictably long time to get away from the DF, over an hour heading northwest from the Centro del Norte, and the light had held out throughout much of the five-hour ride. Occasionally the bus would stop to switch drivers or let on some new passengers. Once, when heavy traffic had us stopped for a while at an underpass, a woman had gotten on the bus to sell taquitos from a brown paper bag. The half-empty bus was well air conditioned and comfy. In case the five hours seemed too short for the ticket price, two terrible movies were screened. The first was an action adventure I had seen before, the second was a cowboy comedy that I had never heard of and wish I had never heard of still. It had a talking horse. So I did my best to spend the whole trip looking out the windows at México gliding by.

The bus station in Guanajuato was friendly, but mostly closed. The people from our bus had scattered immediately, leaving us nearly alone on the platform. We walked out of the terminal, and to a waiting cab who quoted us the expected price for the ride to town. This was a nice switch from the long lines at the taxi stands in México City: worry free and immediate. It took us about six minutes to get far enough into Guanajuato to start seeing how very interesting this town is. Wedged into the crevasse-like valley formed by a number of rolling hills, Guanajuato quickly ran out of space and began to dig its major thoroughfares below the city. Originally, this had been a city plan: one way roads heading west were to be on the surface of the city, and roads going the other way were to be underground. As Guanajuato progressed, it was realized that the narrow Spanish roads on the surface were not going to be able to handle even half of the traffic, and more underground roads were completed. This was pretty easy for a town with a long and uninterrupted history of mining: they just used their tunneling machines to dig some roads for street cars. The older sections of the underground road system are about one story under the town, and look much like asphalt canals where the surface of the city breaks into deep stone trenches overhung by flowers, bridges, and houses. The newer subterranean roads are tunnels through the mountain.

Eventually, we drove onto the surface of Guanajuato where people were strolling and lively music was playing. There were restaurants and little food stands and things to do. I wanted to get out of the cab immediately, but we needed to get to our hotel room first. The cabbie took us to a dark, unmarked building and asked us: “is this it?”

We were unsure. I handed him the address we had written on the back of a receipt. He said, “no, I guess not,” seeming unsure himself. Then we headed through the exciting little town some more, and stopped right beside a arena with giant statues of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, which we took to be the Plaza Cervantes reportedly near our hotel. Still, there was no sign of the hotel itself. To the driver’s credit, he seemed rather concerned for us. We obviously didn’t know our way around, and it was getting to be eleven o’clock. We had called ahead to let the Casa Méxicana know that we would be arriving pretty late, but we were going to have to find the place sometime before dawn. Actually, the cabbie was going to have to find it for us.

He got out of the cab and tried to hail another cab to ask its driver where this Hotel was. At last someone stopped for him, but that guy didn’t know either. So the driver walked down to a grocery stand, and then on down the street. He eventually came back to where we were parked in the middle of the busy street, and said that the hotel was back behind us about a block. There was no way to get the cab pulled around in the other direction on this one-way street, so we were going to have to walk that block. Then he gave us detailed directions. Then he apologized. We already felt like this guy had gone way over and above the call of duty, so we tipped him really well, loaded up our stuff, and started to walk in the dark and uphill direction that he’d indicated.

Of course the hotel was right there beside the statues. I am glad that Sunshine noticed the very small plaque that said “Casa Méxicana Guest House” above the narrow wooden doors, because I was already heading past those doors and starting up a pretty severe-looking hill when she did.

The door was locked and no one was coming to answer it. She knocked for a while. I sat the heavy luggage on the curb and then I sat down on the curb, too. Sunshine walked to the adjacent grocery shop, and asked about the place. They told her to knock loudly; that there was supposed to always be someone in the office at night. Sunshine then knocked loudly. The bar next door was louder, with live music and celebration, so she knocked even louder. I was beginning to embrace my new homelessness by the time a young man answered the door and ushered us in.

The way Casa Méxicana works is that guests are given a key to the room as well as a key to the outside door. There is no one letting people in and out all night. After looking for a while, the young man told us that he was unable to find our reservations, and that we could wait until the morning to work out our room charges. The night guy didn’t seem to want to deal with our money, but was willing to get us hooked up with a room. He took us to a very big, tiled, geometric shape awash with hideous flesh-colored fluorescent light that was, Sunshine pointed out, both too bright and too dim at the same time. Luckily, there was a cactus-shaped lamp on a bedside table with a more normal light. There were three beds, but we were assured that we were not going to have to share the room with anyone else. Casa Méxicana is a travel hostel as well as a real hotel and they sell bunks to less privacy-minded people for sixty-five pesos a night (right around six bucks). The night guy handed us our keys, and told us good night.

We then unpacked some stuff, planning to take a small walk around the neighborhood and get a bite to eat. We’d see the things we had ignored while we were trying to find the hotel, now that we were more relaxed. While sifting through her belongings, Sunshine noticed that her ATM card was missing. She’d just used it in DF to get cash for our trip, and now it was nowhere to be found. Relaxation went right out the window. We began tearing through our baggage, emptying everything out onto the blue bedspreads and sorting through it all piece by piece. The card never did turn up. We began to suspect that it had been left in the ATM machine in México City, of all places. Sunshine called the desk at the Galleria Plaza, and they said that no one had turned in a lost card. Then Sunshine called her bank and was told that there was no one around to cancel a lost or stolen card, and she should call back Monday morning. It was Friday night. Sunshine said that her local branch would be open until noon the next day, even though it was Saturday. Then we began to count our cash. We had a good deal of money, but nothing like what we needed to stay at a hotel for eight nights and also eat food. It reminded me, as everything seems to, of traveling in México before: the constant attention to monetary reserves, the planning and budgeting. Somehow, though, the nostalgia was losing a battle with the fear of poverty for my mood. Or the fear of having to return from vacation early.

We still had a credit card, though, and that small stack of cash. Nothing more could be done tonight, so we headed outside to see what we could see. What we found that first night was that we were staying about three blocks away from what the guide book calls the “beating heart of Guanajuato’s social scene,” its verdant and lively zócalo, el Jardín de la Union. Here, under trees cut so cubically, and grown so close together, as to make a ceiling; on very old tiles worn so slick and flat that they looked more like a kitchen floor, we ate our first meal in Guanajuato. It was a charming little plaza restaurant with outdoor tables chosen primarily because they took credit cards. I had a XX Lager, crêpes stuffed with mushrooms and cream cheese, some sauce called queso fundido, and another XX Lager. The night was wonderfully cool compared to other Mexican places, and the air was crisp and utterly clean. There were night birds twittering about, children and dogs frolicked. Mariachis played in a gazebo in the middle of the plaza, and grown men and women were dancing. After our meal, the walk back was peaceful, and it was hard to remain as concerned as we should have been about the bank card. At a little after one am it looked as if Guanajuato was already closing up for the night. The bar next to the hotel was quiet, and the adjacent grocery was locked up. We let ourselves in with our key, and headed to our room.

The next morning started earlier for me than some because of my early bedtime the night before. Sunshine had been up for a while, calling the bank and getting her card cancelled. She was just stepping into our room’s freakishly triangular shower as I was stirring. In the past, I have stayed in Mexican hotel rooms where the bathroom was a toilet and a sink with a drain in the middle of the floor and a shower head in the wall over the other fixtures. This bathroom was a little less severe than that: the right triangle of the room sported the sink and the toilet at right angles from one another—the doorway was directly between them—and the shower head was tucked into the acute angle to the left. The other acute angle incorporated a tall, thin window with smoked glass. Along the hypotenuse was a little wooden table, carved with flowers. There were no towels, and Sunshine dried off with a t-shirt.

I took the opportunity to explore around the hotel. Upstairs from our room (number ten), there was a little laundry room, a little wooden shelf with dozens of folded towels, and a rooftop terrace with plastic tables and chairs. The room across from us (number eleven) was a better color, had nicer tiles, and a bathroom with a tub and a sliding glass door. It was a better room. Downstairs, there were more rooms arrayed around a two-story courtyard filled with plants and tables with umbrellas. It seemed like every room was empty except for ours. All of the rooms had a large number of beds, but many also had more lamps. When I got back to our room, I told Sunshine about the other rooms and the roof while she dried off with a t-shirt because there were no towels. Then I told her about all of the towels I had seen. While I took my oddly acute shower, Sunshine went to the bank to see about getting a cash transfer, and was told that we could do that on Monday. This meant that we only had to get through two days of rationing our tiny amount of money. This was good news, and pretty much put to an end our worries of the night before. Sunshine also signed in at the front desk, and paid for the hotel through the weekend. By the time I had gotten out of my shower, she had also rented some towels.

Museum of the mummies, next!

Panorama from Casa Mexiana rooftop © the Author

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About Guanajuato

number thirty-seven

This is an installment in a nine-part series detailing our first big Mexican vacation. This installment provides back-up information on the history of the town of Guanajuato. 1,813 words.

[NL; partially composed in GTO]-The area now known as the Mexican state of Guanajuato was probably first settled by nomadic tribes wandering in from the state of Michoacán to its south. One of these tribes was the Purépecha people, who have been linguistically tied to tribes in South America. They were the creators of an artisan culture originally centered around Michoacán’s lake Pátzcuaro. Here they had engineered several pre-Aztec cities and trade communities, prompting certain sources to refer to their modest hold on the area as an empire. The Purépecha, later renamed the Tarascans by the Spanish, eventually became territorial enemies of the competitive Aztecs who were gaining a foothold to their southeast, causing them to seek friendly trade territories to their north and west. By the time they had ranged as far north as the lowlands west of Guanajuato’s rocky offshoot of the Sierra Madre, the area was already home to numerous indigenous tribes, possibly laboring under the yoke of Aztec production tariffs. One of these tribes, choosing to settle in Guanajuato’s river valley because of its frog population (or: some sources indicate that a particular mountain was thought to resemble a frog), had named the area Quanashuato (or Quanax-juato), which means “place of frogs” in Tarascan.

There is difficulty in distinguishing the contributions of individual tribes in this area because when the Spanish arrived here during their conquest, they categorically renamed the various indigenous peoples under an umbrella term: the Chichimecas. This was a Náhuatl word indicating that these long-time Aztec serfs were descended from dogs. This term was applied to any and all indigenous peoples in the Guanajuato area—including the northern Tarascans, the Guachichiles, the Guamares, the Pames, and the Otomíes—serving to obfuscate who did what in the region before its Spanish history.

By the time Spain had set its sights on the colonization of what is today northern México, military subjugation of Guanajuato had proven costly and illusive. Heads of southern territories began to offer treaties in an effort to settle peaceably with the stubborn tribes, as well as divert dwindling resources to unconquered areas. This worked, the Chichimecas were willing to share the land they had always shared, and soon Spain was free to build a small village in the valley of Guanajuato to provide ranch land for livestock. Discoveries of silver and gold in the mines surrounding the settlement of Guanajuato in the early 1550’s changed the sleepy settlement from a bucolic ranchland into a boomtown, fueling the Spanish colonial machine just in the nick of time.

Things really got rolling for Guanajuato at this point. Silver mines were thriving here and there all over the region, but flourishing in little Guanajuato, helping to keep Spanish colonialism afloat over the next two hundred years. During his time, Guanajuato delivered higher and higher amounts of wealth from its seemingly inexhaustible silver veins (the town’s mines are still alive and well today); providing, at times, forty percent of the whole world’s silver. The small town stretching along the shores of the valley’s river grew exponentially as people gravitated to this fount of wealth. Silver barons built hacienda estates and Guanajuato climbed the ladder from town to city to capital of its own eponymous territory. As the silver kept pouring in, Guanajuato became so important to Spain that these silver barons were elevated into the colonial nobility.

From the time the valley was discovered by the Aztecs until the early nineteenth century, the indigenous population had borne the horrors of a subjugated class. Captured, enslaved, laid claim to, these original Guanajuato Valley inhabitants suffered and skirmished but never got much of a toehold in colonial Spanish society. Franciscan monks acting as missionaries were the only champions of well-being for the poorer classes. Generations down the line, after it had become illegal to keep indigenous people as slaves, these lower classes became wage-slaves, working to pay off their debts to their landlord employers. As time passed, new social classes were born of mixed blood between the Mexican-born pure-Spanish overlords (the criollos), and pure-blood indigenous Indians. These new classes, the mestizos, can be regarded as the first generations of what we think of today as Méxicanos. These were another poor working class, less suppressed than the indigenous population, but otherwise refused the right to govern or, in some places, even own land.

These new generations grew under the spiritual tutelage of the Franciscan Catholic church. The Franciscans had long frustrated the process of keeping the common man down in early México, and by the late eighteenth century had succeeded in converting much of the country to Catholicism. During this time, there were certain changes taking place within the Franciscan order. There were movements to both modernize and reform the Franciscan way of life. Many of the people pushing for modernization were also pushing for civil equality for the Indians and mestizos. In the meantime, the New World was at the mercy of Spanish overlords who were finding themselves more and more estranged from the guidance of home. Spain had her attention diverted by the Napoleonic War, and the New World was going to have to solve its own problems. Liberal-minded people were suddenly becoming the vogue, and theories of equality were beginning to spread. In the United States a new revolution had reordered civil society from the bottom up, and the ripples caused here were impossible to ignore. In the state of Querétaro, a literary club was formed with the advertised aim of “intellectual discussion,” but in fact began sowing the seeds of Mexican revolution.

One of these new liberals was a well-read and progressive parish priest named Miguel Hidalgo. Hidalgo had been modernizing the area just northwest of Guanajuato from his church in the little town of Dolores. Learning that the Literary Club de Querétaro had been forced underground by the threatened criollo boot heel, he felt compelled to speed up the timetable of Mexican revolution. Calling his parishioners at dawn on the morning of September 16, 1810, Father Hidalgo delivered what is called the Grito de Dolores, the words of which have been forgotten, but the message of which remains clear: Take México! Viva la revolution! The amassed mob of mestizos and Indian peasants then marched on another mining tiown, San Miguel de Allende, which fell without much of a fight, and then headed south to Guanajuato. Hidalgo’s mob now consisted of nearly twenty thousand people, armed primarily with farming equipment and slings. The Spanish had holed themselves up in a newly finished, fort-like grain warehouse called the Alhóndiga, where the outlook for weathering a siege was pretty good. The Spanish, morbidly outnumbered, still had a small number of firearms and all the food storage in Guanajuato.

On September 28, after suffering setbacks due to Spanish gunfire, Hidalgo convinced a man (with the nickname Pípila) to strap a stone to his back for protection against the hail of bullets, and set fire to the entrance of the storage warehouse. He succeeded, and the proletariat army of Miguel Hidalgo flooded the Alhóndiga and slaughtered every last person in it.

The considerable wealth of Guanajuato, in food and silver, then came under the control of the rebels. Hidalgo created a foundry for making armaments in Guanajuato (he raided Spanish houses for bells to melt into cannonballs), and then headed south, attacking and taking the towns along the way to México City. Reaching the outskirts of the Capital, Hidalgo managed to take a few outlying neighborhoods, but neglected to march on the City itself, even though his army had reached upwards of fifty thousand men. This would prove to be a mistake. México, shocked that Guanajuato had fallen and it had very nearly suffered attack itself, managed to rally and send a giant army out to rebuff Hidalgo. But Hidalgo was retreating already. Skirmishes ensued, as advance patrols came in contact with Hidalgo’s receding army, and Hidalgo found it necessary to return to Guanajuato to rally his troops and gather his resources. Here the Mexican forces caught up with him in earnest and completely routed his army; retaking Guanajuato and forcing the rebels to flee north. Hidalgo was betrayed in Chihuahua by a former conspirator; excommunicated, tried, and shot. Then, in an effort to quell the remaining lust for revolution in the masses, his head was hung, along the heads of three of his generals, on the corners of the Alhóndiga, looking out over the compass points of Guanajuato.

This put the rebellion into a setback that lasted for about ten years. During this time, the Spanish wreaked vengeance on Guanajuato’s rebellious population through lotteries of death, where names would be randomly drawn and the winners killed. Eventually, the revolution was won, and the heads of the fathers of that revolution were taken down and buried under the monumento a la Independencia in México City. Then Guanajuato returned to an existence very much like the one it had before the war. Silver was taken out of the mountains, and people got rich. In 1905, after numerous floods over the years, a great flood inundated much of the city and killed hundreds. In 1960, Guanajuato built a dam, and paved the river bed to accommodate increasing traffic. During the rein of Benito Juárez, Guanajuato was briefly the capital of the country, the first time this honor had moved out of the Valley of México since before the days of the Aztecs. Guanajuato is the birthplace of Diego Rivera (though he only lived there until he was six), and the place where President Vicente Fox kicked off his political career. It is the scene of a yearly festival dedicated to Cervantes, it is known for its annual strawberry crop, and it is an object of pilgrimage for people seeking to walk the paths of México’s national identity.

Today, it is possible to imagine what Guanajuato must have been like a hundred years ago. Silver mines still dot the surrounding hillsides, sixteenth century churches still overlook about every block. The city is jammed into the very same ravine it has been in for almost four hundred and fifty years. The bus station is located a few kilometers outside of town in the only area where Guanajuato has managed to creep away from its mountainous perch. It is a beautiful city filled with history, culture, and art; populated by friendly people. Still, it is the roots of Mexican independence that remain the city’s most evident feature, demonstrated throughout its Spanish colonial design with national monuments and a people blended from indigenous and Spanish blood, categorically renamed Mexicans, who are also monuments to this revolution.

A nice overview of Guanajuato, including some photographs of the city.

The beginnings of a rich education in the History of Mexican independence.

More in-depth information on the indigenous people of the Guanajuato river valley.

Next: our vacation in Guanajuato.

Guanajuato panorama © the Author

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The Trip is Half the Fun

number thirty-six

This is an installment in a nine-part series detailing our first big Mexican vacation. This installment is about our air travel to—and cab travel in—México City. 2,711 words.

[NL; composed in GTO]-Originally, we had planned to take our vacation in May, just ten or so days after I arrived in México. We cast about the map for a good place to go (not terribly difficult to do in México), and finally settled on Guanajuato. Other things came up, and the vacation was put off until June. We were to take the bus, and spend the week between Wednesday, June 8th, and the following Tuesday. However, because one of Sunshine’s coworkers had unavoidable wedding plans, the opportunity to attend a conference in México City in her stead pushed the vacation another three days away. This worked out very well for us, because not only were we going to get to take a business trip to México City, but now our vacation week was book ended by weekends, making it two days longer. Of course, for me, this whole thing was a vacation, since I didn’t have to attend the conference. So, instead of one week, I got to go on holiday for almost two.


We arrived in the DF in the early evening of Tuesday, June 7th. Travel day is always a little exciting and stressful for me. It is hard for me to enjoy the world while I am concentrating so far forward. It was a long ride to the airport, after a day of cleaning the house, and just generally getting it ready for the people who would be caring for the cat and the plants while we were away. The temperature was in the mid thirties, and the crazy half broken-down cab we had hired wasn’t noticeably air-conditioned. Due to having to stop at the gas station and a couple wrong turns, we had been in the cab for over an hour by the time we arrived at the airport. All of this should have been a great time: seeing a lot of outlying Monterrey for the first time, talking with a really friendly and knowledgeable old cabbie; but I was only focused on my goal, ticking through check lists, and a little apprehensive of the flight.

I have been on non-US air carriers before, and shouldn’t worry me any more than any other airline. This was a brand new brand with what certainly turn out to be brand new planes. There was nothing to worry about. And heck, the flight was fine, no real bumps of turbulence, no flickering lights, no mid-flight seatbelt warnings. They even served a lunch, unheard of in American fifty minute flights. The schedule to México City is pretty funny, as the plane must climb a whole lot farther up than it then descends to land, and because this the trip is fairly dramatic: spiraling up and out of Monterrey’s congested airspace in a dogfight maneuver taking us to 35,000 feet, and plunging about half of that (okay, okay; three-fourths) into a city which sprawls well out of sight, even viewed from above. The plane did not turn out to look very new, though. It had large black stains issuing from seams in the wings. I spent the trip gripping the armrests. What scared me was that I was scared. I have flown a good many times in my life, and the only fear of flight issues I have ever suffered through seemed to be pretty rational. After the whole flight of reading or staring out the window, as the ground rushes at me during descent, I get a little nervous and tell myself all of the things that might go wrong. No big deal. It’s normal. But this time, take-off was very difficult. I had to resort to reading a book and pretending like I was on a bus. This is a little irrational, and worse than I was expecting. It was my first flight since 2000, and I think most of the world developed some flight issues overnight on September 11th. Most of the commuting world had the opportunity to work these issues out. I am hoping that a flight or two more and I will come out of it. It is going to be a short life if I cannot: this future of mine will have me flying to and fro across the globe regularly; and that will have my heart thoroughly dead and gone but quick.

Funny thing is, that when we got to the ground and headed through the airport, the things I was supposed to be terrified of didn’t bother me in the least. I am fairly undaunted naturally, so the airplane nerves really got to me because I wasn’t really used to it. By turns the taxi ride, which should have terrified me, was actually pretty fun. Maybe it was near-death euphoria: I was on the ground, and simple Earthbound death didn’t scare me anymore.

See, the thing about Taxis in el DF, is that many of them are stolen. The State Department sent out an official warning speculating that at any time there are thousands of stolen, or otherwise fake, Taxis cruising the streets of the city looking for fares. Typically, once the passengers are seated in the back of the evil cab, the driver will pull over and let armed accomplices into the car. People have been held hostage for days, riding from ATM to ATM, draining their bank account. There have been assaults and murders. It is not safe to hail a cab in México City. What is considered mostly safe is hiring a sitio cab. In other words: calling for pick-up. Most dispatched cabs are on the up and up. Plus, cabs gotten at taxi stands and hotels are driven by people the establishment are familiar with. Often, the passenger is given a form with the cabby’s name and identification number printed on it. The prices are fixed in advance, and there are no grey areas. So, the City is doing everything it can to make choosing a cab safer. What happens after the passenger is slapped into the backseat, however, is under nobody’s control but the maniac bouncing to and fro behind the wheel. City things scream by the windows and careen in parabolic tracers; hopefully, people and animals manage to dodge out of the way. Our cabbie had a TV for us to watch, mounted on his dash board. I am pretty sure he was watching it too. Luckily, I was untouchable because I was on the ground.


México City is no more of a realistic view of México than the trendy streets of San Pedro are. While home resembles a landscaped hamlet with all of the existential vibrancy of a golf course, the DF is a teeming, kinetic den of near-lawlessness, occupied by big city people and big city issues. Much the same way that the spirit of the US probably rests around the midpoint between Aspen and the Bronx, México City represents merely one polar extremity of Mexican culture. Still, this city is a big world all to itself, and everything that happens in México, happens here first.

The nice thing about this first leg of my vacation being a business trip is that Sunshine’s employers put us up in a really swank hotel right in the middle of the Zona Rosa. This “pink zone” is a district chock full of restaurants and clubs and shops. It is home to el DF’s gay and Korean scenes. It is made primarily of cobble bricked pedestrian walks shaded by enormous five-story palms. The hotel is called the Galleria Plaza, and it is simple and elegant. We were staying on one of the executive floors, so we were told to check in at the honor bar on the eleventh floor. In the rooms, the door key cards fit into a slot just inside the door which activates chosen settings for the lights and air conditioning. The view of the City from the picture window was astounding. I would have been able to see the entirety of a smaller town. México City’s twinkling early evening lights stretched beyond the curve of the world.

I was really happy to be here. So far, living in San Pedro has been about finding a domestic identity: moving furniture, cooking, and buying household wares. It is a whole different type of adventure than the traveling I had done in México before. This trip to México City was more nostalgic, and I was having a ball. I spent the time Sunshine was working walking around town (well, walking around the tiny slice of downtown that comprises the Zona Rosa, the Centro Historico, and the area in between), getting sunburned, and just taking in as much as possible. The first day I was there I made my way several miles from the hotel we were staying in to the Zócalo in the center of the Centro. I love going places I have seen in dozens of movies.

The Zócalo (la Plaza de la Constitución) is a city-block sized square of pavement with a huge flag in the middle. Of note: zócalo means “base”, and the nickname comes from a point in history before the plaza was paved. There used to be a statue in the middle of the square, but it was moved to one of the traffic circles along Paseo de la Reforma, a busy street accessing el Centro, la Zona Rosa, the posh neighborhood of Polanco, and the large city park called Chapultepec. Reforma is riddled with traffic circles and statues. Many large Mexican demonstrations march down this very busy thoroughfare to the Zócalo. For a long time, the base of the statue remained. People out for a stroll, or mounting a rebellion, began to refer to the square as el Zócalo, the base, rather than by its lengthy official name. Not only has this moniker stuck long after the removal of this famous pedestal; but, in other parts of México, the word zócalo has been adopted for cities’ central plazas. Most zócalos are a place to stroll in early evening, hanging out with the community. The park-like central plazas of many Mexican towns are green with trees and sport burbling fountains. Adolescents court each other here and their chaperones do the same. In México City, where the trend was founded, the plaza is a hot, paved blank used for demonstrations and unrest. If you want what most of México is talking about when they say “zócalo”, you will need to walk about seven blocks west to the Alameda.

Also on the Zócalo is the national Cathedral (la Catedral Metropolitana), and the Palacio National, México’s White House. Admission is free, but you must show ID. The Cathedral was begun in 1573 and was supposedly finished up two hundred and fifty years later. It is smack on top of an Aztec temple, and because of this it sinks even faster than the rest of the city. This is also why it seems to still be under constant construction almost two hundred more years later. The Palacio is notable for its many world-famous Diego Rivera murals, as well as for being the seat of the Mexican federal government. Nestled between these two historical sites are the remains of the Aztec Templo Mayor. The Templo was thought to be the exact center of the universe, where the Aztecs saw the eagle eating the snake. It was rebuilt seven times over the centuries, and then the stones were used to make colonial buildings by Spanish conquerors. Of the once-grandiose pyramid of the sun, only the base structure remains; the only uncovered remnant of ancient Tenochtitlán in central DF. This is not surprising since, to uncover more of even this temple, they would have to tear down the national symbol of Catholicism, the federal government, and the giant slab.

The nearby Alameda is a three-block long network of parks, each with a central fountain intermittently spraying green water onto tile mosaics. Vendors sell refreshments and couples stroll in the lush shade. The park is patrolled by mounted Mexican police who travel in threes wearing enormous sombreros. The triangle made by this park, the Zócalo, and my fancy hotel includes México’s block-long Chinatown, the Café Cuadrilátero, Latin America’s first skyscraper, and el Monumento a la Independencia (el Ángel), where the heads of Mexican rebellion are buried. This was my stomping ground during my stay in DF. I saw many of these things on that first day, and then returned to photograph them on the second. Several things I returned to with Sunshine in the evenings after she got off work.

I kept planning to see some of the many museums during my stay, but never managed to go to even one. Walking around with no plan at all was just too seductive. Museums I missed include: anthropology, history, Diego Rivera, José Guadalupe Posada, Mexican medicine, culture and wax. I missed Frida Khalo’s blue house, where Leon Trotsky once lived. I missed the Trotsky house, where Leon Trotsky was killed with an ice axe.

My favorite dinner over the next three days was in the Café Cuadrilátero; Super Astro, proprietor. It is, as far as I know, the only restaurant owned and operated by a retired luchador. It is a humble little sandwich shop with seven tables and dozens and dozens of donated wrestling masks displayed in box frames on the wall. On other walls were photos of Super Astro in the company of a parade of famous luchadors. Café Cuadrilátero is the home of the enormous el Gladiador, a torta as large as a human thigh and free if you can eat the whole thing in under fifteen minutes. There is no wall of fame for the defeaters of el Gladiador, by the way. I am pretty sure that no human being has ever beaten it. Super Astro met us at the door, and told us to make ourselves at home. After we had eaten some merely huge sandwiches, Sunshine got to talk to him a little bit. He seemed like a really nice man, and just looking at him, I am sure that he was a técnico and not a rudo before he retired.


Sunshine got off early on Friday, about noon, and without much more ado, we packed and left the hotel. We had not really investigated the bus schedules, but the travel guide had seconded the opinion of the concierge that the busses to Guanajuato rolled about every hour. The cab was rather harrowing again, but this time because the bell man had hailed an unmarked car, and the trip took much longer than I was given to believe it would need to reach the station. Whenever we slowed down, I anticipated the arrival of armed gunmen. This makes no sense, frankly. A decade ago, not wanting to deal with this immense and dicey city, I had nevertheless needed to take a bus through it. México City actually has a central bus depot for all four of the cardinal compass points, and heading from Guadalajara to Oaxaca meant that I needed to get off in one, and then gat back on in another. Between the Western and the Southern bus centers, I took the Centro Estacion de Autobuses bus. Not counting my brief waits inside the stations, I figured that I was passing México by in a bus for better than three hours. Three hours to ride right through it. This taxi ride to the station took about thirty minutes, and this makes all the sense in the world. Eventually we got to the Northern bus center with all but one of our important belongings. The next bus to Guanajuato was a little over two hours away, but hanging out in the bus station is really pretty cool. There is plenty to eat and drink, video games, and souvenir shops. The time went by quickly. It is slightly annoying that in México, mostly there are pay toilets in the bus stations (oddly, the airport toilets all seem to be free). The cost to visit the typically unsanitary facilities is three pesos. It costs more to play the toilets than it does to play Super Street Fighter III.

Some excellent photos of the inside of the Café Cuadrilátero.

Next up: a brief history of Guanajuato.

Click image for better view © the Author

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It's that time again. Beginner headquarters is picking-up house and relocating back to the United States on July twenty-fifth, 2009, to enjoy a month at home with family and friends. By the end of August we'll have set-up a semi-permanent household in Washington, DC, near the Cleveland Park metro stop on the red line. [DC metro map] Then, sometime after Labor Day, our boxes and boxes of stuff should catch up with us. After that it'll be smooth sailing till sometime in July 2010, when we will be moving abroad again, this time to Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina for a little real winter.

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