Note: I thought I’d posted this when I wrote it over a week ago… That’s how I know I’m having a good time simply being in the experience of Guanajuato! It became a bit of a novel…
A week gone by just like that! I think I’m finally beginning to get my bearings – just slightly. At least I can figure out how to find that darn tunnel, and then from there which street to huff and puff my way up to The Golden Bee.
Yes, this town is riddled with underground tunnels, carved out of the rocky mountainside and they are the automobile thoroughfares – which is nice because it leaves a few of the downtown streets car-free. (I wish more of them were! And let’s just say they don’t have the emissions rules that we enjoy in the U.S. So Pee-Uuu!)
I have grown intimate with one of these tunnels – known as Tunel Santa Fe – as I must walk through it to get into the Centro. It takes about 5-7 minutes to briskly walk through the long, dank, and slightly stinky tunnel but fortunately there are usually several other people taking the hike too – so not too scary. Wouldn’t attempt it after dark though.
Time change, altitude, recovering from flu… still feeling groggy I checked the time to see it was already 9 AM. And Liz was picking me up at 11 to take me to the SuperMercado so I could stock up on some groceries without having to haul them back up that hill.
And, she had to show me the dog-feeding routine.
Sara, my landlady, and the owner of this place – which is still a work in progress she and her husband designed and helped build – had picked up two street puppies while she was living here last year. Being a quirky artist type in construction mode at the time, she named them Tullia Tool Box and Galaxy Hammer. Two Doberman mixes, they look like they came from the same litter. They were both overjoyed to see us. And not just for the food, I could tell they were starved for human company.
Then, off to the supermarket, where Liz said, “I’ll meet you out front.”
Hmmm, what to get? And how to tell what anything is. I wandered through the aisles squinting and labels trying to call up my limited Spanish vocabulary. Were the produce prices by pound or kilo, I wondered as I picked up familiar and exotic looking fruits.
In my fuzz-brained state it probably took me over an hour to make it through the store (Poor Liz), but I got out of there with several bags of staples, produce and even a couple bottles of booze for about $75.
Back at the compound, Liz helped me carry my bags to the door and hopped in her truck and sped away. Annoyed at how long the whole thing had taken I’m sure.
The Great Key Debacle
Then ensued my first ‘adventure’.
I pulled out my keys and inserted the giant weird looking one into the main deadbolt lock. Turning it one way and the other, I kept trying to get that door to open. The knob wouldn’t budge. I tried the second lock – which I hadn’t locked when I left, but none of the other keys fit it. But, I reasoned, that shouldn’t matter since I hadn’t double locked.
Well, apparently it did.
Sweat began to bead my forehead, and I’d wished I’d found a bathroom at the super market as I stood there in the hot sun, surrounded by plastic grocery bags, trying to get the @#$#@% door to open! What was I going to do? Liz had given me her card with her number, but I’d left it up in the apartment. And I didn’t have a working cell phone yet anyway.
Did I mention I’m on a rather busy street, the Panoramica, a main thoroughfare for buses and cars? Assorted locals hung around across the street, waiting for the bus, or heading into the Centro, staring at the flustered Gringo.
Soon a young guy came over, taking pity on me. Oh thank you! I couldn’t understand a word of his rapid fire Spanish, but I got the gist that he was asking if I couldn’t get the key to work. He tried and tried – but no go. The damn thing was not going to open.
Why oh why hadn’t I tried out my keys when Liz was around??
Now I had two ‘helpers’, both gabbling away in muy rapido Spanish, but neither of them could force that door open (and I didn’t possess the language skills to discourage such forcing!)
Finally through pantomime I managed to communicate that I needed to send an email to get a key. He pointed out an internet place right across the street. I headed over there and managed to fumble through sending an email on the strange keyboard.
I sure hoped Liz would be checking her email soon!
I raced back across the street, belatedly realizing I’d left the keys with those guys. And fortunately the two were still there. The first guy had found a ramshackle ladder and – much to my dismay – commenced climbing up to the overhang above the door (while the other guy held onto it, barely preventing it from keeling over.)
How the heck was that going to help, I wondered. But of course I didn’t know how to ask.
At the top of the ladder he kept making noises and grimacing as he seemed to be pushing something out of the way. Later I realized it was planters that had been studded with broken glass!
In another couple of minutes he was on the other side and the door swung open.
Umm, so much for the first level of security.
But what sweet relief that I was in! He jabbered away pointing at the locks, indicating a separate bolt that we’d not been able to open.
Just then Liz showed up.
Together we determined that I in fact did not have a working key to that 2nd lock.
WTF? I did feel a sense of relief that it wasn’t just my ineptness with keys though.
Proper keys in hand, I hauled my stuff up the four flights of stairs, and soon was collapsed on the bed.
Still groggy after my nap I perked up when I witnessed the first of many stellar sunsets followed by the lights of Guanajuato winking on one by one.
Day 2 – The Centro
Since Liz’s partner George had offered to take me on a walk around the town and show me some of the key places, I got my shit together in time for pickup.
We were joined by a Canadian couple who had just arrived to stay a few weeks at their Air BnB – so I got a chance to connect with some fellow travelers. Oscar and Joy were both mostly retired, but being Canadian they had lots of travel adventures under their belt. Six week yearly vacations will give you that opportunity!
George guided us through the winding cobblestone streets, pointing out his favorite cafes and restaurants, the grand theaters, churches and museums. It only took me a minute or two to realize there was no way I’d remember where anything was. The narrow streets curved around and circled back on each other – a challenge even for someone with a good sense of direction. So, I just took it all in, figuring I would know my way around by the time I’m ready to leave in three months.
Wow! I’d forgotten how easy it is to make friends when you’re traveling. When we sat down at a (Japanese!) restaurant – one of George’s favorites where you can enjoy a delicious, healthy lunch for about $4 – we struck up a conversation with some fellow North Americans at an adjacent table. The Canadian gal had moved to San Miguel de Allende (the well-known ex-pat destination about an hour away by bus). And the couple were visiting from Vermont. They’d been spending a couple of days in Guanajuato.
Turned out they were staying at the B&B owned by Barry and Louisa Evans from Eureka! How I love synchronicities. Although I’ve never met Barry and Louisa in person, I’d read Barry’s columns in the weekly paper, and was thrilled before I left to find out they spent half the year down here. I’d been planning to reach out to these world travelers.
Now I knew they were actually back in Eureka at the moment.
I visited the phone place to get my SIM card and Mexican phone number… so I can really be like an ex-pat for the next few months, and George pointed me in the direction of Santa Fe Tunnel so I could attempt my first walk home.
First though I had to stop at Cafe Consquitador right next to the mouth of the tunnel for a Cafe Americano – and to buy some ground coffee to take home. As I sipped my coffee, in walked the other couple we’d encountered on our walk. They were also staying at LIz’s AirBnb, but leaving the next day. Lisa and Cy chatted with me, and I got the scoop on a good Spanish school in town.
Wired from the espresso, I decided to wander down the narrow street before heading up the tunnel. The crowds were out on a Saturday afternoon, and I peeked into and poked around the tiny tiendas and fruit stands. Music blared out of tiny shops, where brightly colored clothing both modern and traditional jumbled together.
I discovered the Mercado again – which was great because now I knew exactly how to get there from the tunnel. I decided I’d return in a day or two to explore the big Marketplace.
I stopped at a flower stand and bought 5 carnations to take home (because every girl should have flowers on the table!) and made my way back to the tunnel. On the other side I searched for the tortilla place that LIz had told me about – and stumbled upon it right when I was about to give up. A half kilo of fresh warm corn tortillas set me back a whole 6 pesos – a little less than 50 cents. Of course it was way too many.
Miraculously I chose the right upward climbing street, and my heart rate climbed as I climbed up up up the steep rocky street. I was pretty much out of breath by the time I reached the top – gratefully gazing at The Golden Bee right there in front of me.
I guess I don’t to worry about where to go for runs after all. I’ll get quite the workout just walking back from town!
Lost In the Guanajuato Twilight Zone
A couple of days later I ventured down the rocky road on a mission to explore the town a bit more and check out the big Mercado. Since it was lunch time I figured I’d grab an authentico Mexican lunch – maybe there at the market.
By the time I got through that tunnel though my stomach was grumbling and it was past 2. I began to look around for inexpensive eateries, as I walked up the only route I knew would lead me to the market. Slim pickings on this street.
Then a sign caught my eye, “Hostal”, and “Menu”. Was it a hostel that served food? I could understand enough Spanish as I scanned the Menu de Dia to see that this looked like a full course lunch for 40 pesos. I pulled out my converter app, and calculated that this worked out to all of about $2.74. Yes! This was the Mexico I was looking for!
Reasoning that if this was a hostel the food was probably safe, I turned up the narrow staircase.
Well, no sign of a hostel anywhere, and the room was empty save for a young girl and the counter and a wizened Mexican lady surrounded by bags sitting a table with a bowl of soup.
I didn’t care – sun streamed in a window, gleaming on the worn vinyl tablecloths. From my seat I could view the rooftops of the city and I sighed with contentment as I dug into my Sopa Azteca. I’d had no idea what it was but took a chance – and wasn’t disappointed with a tomato chicken broth with rice and slices of avocado. The food was far from gourmet, but satisfying. I did hold off on eating the small salad of iceberg lettuce and a sorry-looking slice of tomato. Just in case.
After touring around the Mercado and scoring a pile of veggies for something like $1.25, I made my way back through the tunnel, feeling pretty sure of myself as far as finding my way home. After all, I’d done it the other day and ended up right in front of the casa. And I couldn’t wait to kick back and relax. Getting lost in town is tiring!
At the end of the tunnel you get to a cobblestoned roundabout surrounded by little shops and often swarming with people. Several roads fan out from the roundabout and I knew mine was toward the right. It seemed like a reasonable assumption to think that even if I took the wrong one, as long as I headed uphill I’d end up either slightly lower, or slightly higher on the Panoramica than where my place was.
Umm – unless you enter the Gunajuato twilight zone.
I plodded up, up and up – and then in a shorter time that I remembered I saw the Panoramica up ahead. It’s already getting easier to climb this hill, I thought.
Um, yeah – because it wasn’t the same hill. Shoot! Where was my place? Was I above or below it? I scanned the view of the houses and mountains… yeah, I was not in the right spot. It didn’t look the same. But which way to go?
I headed up, walked about a half mile and realized, nope, none of this looks familiar. Shoot, must be the other way. So… down I went, past the road I’d come up on following the main road, looking for landmarks.
This shouldn’t be this hard – I’d walked both up and down the Panoramica the first couple of days. You’d think I’d recognize some landmarks. But everything looked totally unfamiliar. Yes, the colorful houses on the hillsides opposite told me I was still in Guanajuato – but everything was configured differently.
I’d headed right and uphill and the roundabout… how could I possible be on a completely different part of the Panoramica? (a road which circles the entire city with lots of bends and turns.)
Well, apparently it was. Either that, or I’d entered the twilight zone. I was completely flummoxed And exhausted.
Crap!! Nothing for it but to go back down the road I’d come up and try again.
Which I did. Arriving at the roundabout I still couldn’t tell which of the little roads might be the one. That first day had been beginner’s luck apparently. My legs were beginning to ache, the sun was low in the sky, and the last thing I wanted was to find myself in the twilight zone again.
Spotting a taxi, I held up my hand. Somewhere in my phone was an email with instructions from Sara on what to tell a cab driver who was driving me home (since the place has no actual address!)
“Barrio Nuevo y la Panoramica,” I informed the driver in squinting at the phone as I climbed in the back seat.
He looked at me funny – pointed to a little road off the left, gabbling away incomprehensibly. I just nodded and repeated.
Bumpity, bump, bump, twisting and turning , and there we were – much to the driver’s mystification. I really does look like there’s nothing there but a stone wall – unless you look hard.
In my exhaustion I couldn’t even remember how to say ‘here’, or ‘this is it.’ But I finally managed to get him to realize I was at my destination.
Home sweet Home. Just in time for another sunset.