July 18, 2016
It was midnight as I set my alarm for 5am. I intended to go to bed earlier, but time slips away faster than anywhere else here in Mexico. At 1:30am, I woke up thinking it was item to get up. I think it was my excitement for the day that awaited me. I tried going back to sleep and awoke at least two more times before my alarm actually went off. When it did, I was relieved that morning was finally here!
Why was I so excited to get up at 5am on a Saturday morning, you ask? Because it was my last Saturday in Mexico and I had big plans to explore Guanajuato with my best friend, Alex. Guanajuato is somewhere that I have had a countless number of locals tell me is a must-see before I leave Mexico. I am so thankful that Alex, undenounced to me, rearranged a lot of things on his schedule to be my guide through Guanajuato. He absolutely went above and beyond for some foreign-girl he just met four weeks ago, and I could not be more thankful for today or the friendship that we share.
The adventure began when he and his sister picked me up from my house at 6am. His sister dropped us both off at the big bus station that resembles an airport in many ways. By 6:30am we were seated in our comfy seats on the bus. Unlike the big bus I took to San Miguel, these buses do only sell enough tickets for the number of seats on the bus, so everyone is guaranteed a spot.
I admired the rise of the Mexican sol and dozed a little bit for the first hour or so of our ride. When I woke up, I saw that Alex was reading a book. Taking a peak at the page, I expected to see Spanish and was curious if I would be able to read any of it. It turns out I could read all of it; because it was all English. Alex was reading a book about American Finances. I was really surprised by the choice until he told me that he is currently working on a Master’s Degree in Finances and that he only has class on Saturdays. (One of the major things he sacrificed missing in order to make this day possible for me). He asked me what the word “haddock” meant and I was not sure until he read the sentence for context. In case you to do not know, it’s a type of fish. As the bus ride continued, I got more excited to visit Guanajuato. I had no idea what Alex planned for us to do for the day, but I was excited and ready for anything.
Once we got off the bus, Alex flagged a taxi and we had a short ride to the city center. On the way, we went through the largest tunnel I have ever seen in my life. It was so large, you could not see straight through and there were multiple cross roads running perpendicular and intersections and lanes for people to park their cars for the day. It made a lot of sense when Alex said this used to be a big mining town.
The first thing we did once we arrived in the centro was head to a restaurant for desayuno. We went to a place called Casa Ofelia where the tables and chairs are painted bright colors and the walls are heavily decorated with crosses and other art. I expected to be ordering breakfast food as it was only about 10am, but I became overwhelmed by all of the choices once I learned that I could be ordering either an omelet OR enchiladas at this time of the morning; yet another reason why I love Mexico. After several minutes of looking the menu over, and over again, I ordered Enchiladas Negros made with Pasilla chilies and Alex ordered his favorite, Enfrijoladas.
When out food arrived, I was unaware of it at the time, but the waiter had swapped our plates and Alex was too polite to say anything. Once I figured it out, I already had half an enchilada down. I felt super bad about eating Alex’s food, but he made the point that he was eating mine, too. In the end, we split the four enchiladas that we each had and shared. I preferred the Enfrijoladas and think that they may be the best meal that I have eaten in Mexico so far. While we ate, Alex mentioned that I eat with very good manners, cutting each bite separately and such. I said thanks, but also admitted that I was just actually trying to stall myself from eating super-fast like I usually do and did last time we went and got pizza together.
After eating a huge breakfast of four enchiladas plus sides a piece, we began our exploration. Alex has been to Guanajuato before, but usually he is the one following friends, instead of leading friends. None the less, I think he knew his way around very well! Our first stop was beautiful church called la Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Guanajuato. It was built in 1673. I was as awestruck as I am every time I visit a church in Mexico. The details that cover every square inch of space are incredible and the ever present, holy feeling immediately centers my mind on who I have to thank, above all others, for this incredible life that I am so blessed to be living.
After the church, we toured Teatro Juárez, built between 1873 and 1903, which is tied for the top place of my favorite sites of the day. The theater is the most grand I have ever seen. The main floor is full of many seats, and above there are four levels of continuous balconies that circle around the stage in a horse shoe shape. Alex says that only wealthy and important people come to watch performances here. It is officially on my bucket list to return to this theater someday, dressed to the nines, to see a performance. As I looked around, I could picture ballerinas on the stage, a live orchestra playing, and every seat filled with classy-looking people.
It is truly impossible to capture all of this theater in a single photo, or several photos or even a panorama. (I tried all methods). It is simply something that must be seen in person. As we took in a last look at the red curtains, gold gilding, and snapped a selfie to capture the moment, we continued our journey.
As we walked through the streets, Guanajuato was beginning to wake up as the sun heated up. The next thing I knew, we had bought tickets for what exactly I was not sure and then boarded a small little gondola car (El Fuicular) above which I could see a very steep rail. All around Guadalajara mountains frame the old cityscape in the most beautiful way. We were headed up the mountain side to get what truly was a bird’s eye view of the city below. The ride up was about two minutes long (I know because I took a video of the way down) and at the top was a gorgeous view point which features a monument of Al Pípila, a famous person of Mexican history.
Below, I saw a city that “looked like Mexico.” The houses and buildings were every color imaginable and then some. The churches and main plaza were visible, and the mountains framed the town along the horizon where Earth meets infinity. As I took in the incredible sight and pondered where people park their cars since the houses seemed to be built one on top of the other, slightly off set all the way up the hill side with skinny paths winding in-between, Alex commented that I wasn’t saying anything. And, if you know me you know that even in a second language, I pretty much don’t ever go silent for a long period of time. I hadn’t noticed until he mentioned it, but I truly was speechless. Speechless because of the beautiful sight I was witnessing with a beautiful person I admire and love; speechless because I was in Mexico when six months ago I had no idea I would be; speechless because my time here has gone by so fast; and speechless because I am so blessed and cannot comprehend fully why. I could have sat there all day taking in the view and pondering these things and more. But, Alex and I had many more amazing places to see! After an all too short ride back down the hill side, we were back exploring the streets that were gradually becoming more populated.
Our next destination was the University of Guanajuato. I can’t imagine climbing all of the stairs of the university to class every morning, but it sure would make every day leg day! At the top there is another incredible view of the city. Alex has a friend from Querétaro who is studying at the University of Guanajuato.
After more photos at the top of the university, we walked to a large covered market space. It is called Mercado Hidalgo. It is two stories and I was so mentally occupied by trying to process all that I was seeing, I didn’t even have my mind set on shopping and walked out without buying anything. But, this is just as well. The memories that I have from this day are priceless and could never be bought or sold.
After we went through the market, we made it into a museum for free after showing our student IDs. The museum was called La Alhóndiga de Granadinas and featured many artifacts, photos of old important people, and more. One of my favorite artifacts was a very old leather saddle with a guard around the side and only one stirrup. It was for a woman to ride side saddle in. I cannot imagine riding side saddle at any pace faster than a walk but so many women did with grace and elegance in dresses made from yards and yards of fabric. I think that one of Alex’s favorite parts of the museum were the large murals in the stair cases.
Next, we walked up to a monument and another theater, but we did not go inside.
By now, we had been walking and seeing and doing for hours and were ready for a little rest. We found an ice cream shop after a little more adventuring. With ice cream cones in hand (flavored Cookies ‘N’ Cream for Alex and Chocolate Chip for me) we headed to find a spot to sit for a bit. We ended up on a bench in the Plaza de Union. This plaza is triangular shaped with many cafes and nice restaurants on all three sides with a gazebo and beautiful fountain in the center. As we finished our cones, Alex got a message from his friend (the one studying in Guanajuato) that he happened to be in town for the afternoon even though he is currently living at home for the summer. He and another friend of Alex were showing a third friend, from Germany, around Guanajuato for the afternoon. (It’s a little confusing to explain, but not critical to this story.)
We all ended up going to a restaurant that the German friend was excited to see and recognize from (I think) travels through Spain which is where he originally met one of Alex’s friends. It was called 100 Motaditos. Alex and I were both still full from our delicious and large breakfast and had just satisfied our appetite with the ice cream, but we enjoyed sharing drinks with the others.
I finally found an alcoholic drink that I would love to have again any day, any time! As advised by Alex’s friends, I ordered Tinto de Verano and loved it. It is a sweet fruity drink that only has the slightest flavor of alcohol. It was very refreshing as described. Alex ordered Sangría, which was actually my second choice. We both ended up preferring the Tinto de Verano. I am not sure how common of a drink it is, but I hope to find it again at other places.
It was great to meet some of Alex’s friends, but once we had all finished, we split ways to continue our tours of the city. Alex and I had seen by this point the main places he wanted to be sure to bring me to. We had seen so many incredible sights. I loved the Teatro Juárez and view from high above the most. For the remaining hour or so that we had left, we wandered the streets and took more photos. We also visited another beautiful church.
Finally beginning to get hungry, we went to a restaurant for a snack before the bus ride back to Querétaro. As we sat and waited for menus, the early morning, heat of the day and many miles walked hit us both. Our time had been incredible, but we were both ready to get back on the bus and sleep a bit (or a lot) on the return trip to Querétaro. As Alex checked his watch, he realized it was later than we both thought. To keep from missing out bus, we both just ordered cold drinks (Agua Verde for him and Agua de Jamaica for me) and we hit the streets again wondering if we would ever see a taxi drive by.
Unknown by each other, we were both silently whispering prayers that a taxi would drive by on the nearly completely empty street that we were walking and that we would not miss our bus, which was the last bus headed to Querétaro for the day. Moments later, a taxi drove right by and we bailed in. We made it to the bus station with only ten minutes to spare. It was actually perfect timing in the end. We had maximized every moment of our time in Guanajuato and had a perfect day.
The entire bus ride back, we did not sleep a moment. It was much like any car or bus ride with friends you really enjoy, non-stop talking about anything under the sun the entire way. We hardly noticed when the bus ended up stopping on the side of the road for about half an hour because there was some sort of hose issue under the hood that needed a quick fix.
I am so thankful for my day with Alex in Guanajuato. There is no other tour guide or best local friend that I would have rather seen it with for the first time. Alex’s generosity and willingness to miss a day of Master degree classes, put off hours of work until we returned after nine at night, and research history and places for us to go see is over whelming. Several times over the course of the day, we had to change the subject from the overly obvious elephant that has followed me everywhere the last week and will continue you to until I leave. I am so sad to have to return to the USA in less than six days. But I am so happy to have made such strong connections with so many people here in Mexico.
I have no doubt that Alex and I will go stay in touch after I am forced to leave Querétaro (for now). We already plan to exchange many post cards and meet up again whether it is in the USA, in Mexico, or any other place in the world. Friendships that are built this strongly in four short weeks don’t end when the trip is over. They last a life time.