I pressed my head to the window of the bus that was carrying me the few hours from San Miguel de Allende to Guanajuato. As always, moving from one place to another overland is one of my favourite parts of travel. It gives me time to think – to process my experience of where I just was, to anticipate and daydream of the place I am heading. I savoured those quiet moments with myself, my thoughts and my music playing in my ears. We were arriving in Guanajuato, known as the City of Alleys- la Cuidad de los Callejones. There are over 3000 alleys here – tiny narrow paths winding through the city and up the mountainside and under the streets. I had booked us an airBnb here, in a lovely room with a beautiful view over the city below us in the valley. Our host was wonderfully warm and welcoming, and we were even able to join in on a group dinner they were hosting. They had friends from India living in Guanajuato going to school, and they hosted monthly traditional Indian dinners for a very reasonable price. We got to mingle with about 12 other folks and eat an exciting array of traditional Indian dishes that were absolutely delicious, while at the same time learning about their culture. It was a really lovely experience to be able to share. And here we were in Mexico, taking part in Indian culture and food – Mexico is more multicultural than you might think!
We spent a day or two exploring the city and of course seeking out the famous El Callejon del Beso: Alley of the Kiss. The Romeo Juliet-esque tale of tragic romance goes that two lovers from very different social standings fell in love, a love forbidden by the girl’s father. Their secret liaisons around town were risky, but lucky for them, the boy was able to rent a small room across the very narrow alley from where the girl lived- and the two balconies of their rooms nearly touched! So at night in secret they would meet on their balconies, and he would hop over to hers so they could love each other. The father caught wind of the towns whispering rumours and caught them – the boy tried to flee back to his room but the father caught his foot, and the boy tripped and fell to his death in the alley below. In his rage, the father also killed his own daughter. His wife never forgave him and he went mad, dying a few years later. Thus the tragically named Alley of the Kiss was born and tourists are sure to find it and share a kiss in the alley as it is said the spirits of the dead lovers haunt the alley and bless lovers who kiss here. Leave it to the romantic Mexicans to take a tale of such tragedy and turn it into a beautiful story that leaves people from all over the world coming to kiss in this tiny little alley!
With only a few days in the city, after exploring the alleys, grabbing some phenomenal chocolate coffee from Cafe Tal (El Beso Negro, try it!) we had two things on our bucket list. A trip to the Museo de las Momias (Mummy museum) and a hike up in the hills outside the city.
How can one describe Museo de las Momias without sounding deathly macabre? Impossible.
Due to a cholera outbreak in 1833 in the city, many of the inhabitants died and were buried. A bizarre government law required families to begin paying a perpetual burial tax in order to keep their deceased family members buried. If the tax wasn’t paid… yup, the government dug the bodies up and made the families move them elsewhere. Due to the incredibly dry climate and soil, and thanks to some embalming efforts on some of the corpses (but only a few of them), the bodies were grotesquely preserved and mummified. Skin lay stretched out over the skeletons, toenails protruded from leathery feet, and hair hung limply over parchment faces that looked frozen in a perpetual scream of agony. It is bizarre, horrifying and utterly fascinating. Most disquieting is undoubtedly the pregnant woman and the tiny mummified infant the size of a football. The museum is really well done with the mummies protected behind glass, black walls with soft yellow lighting, quotes about death all around, and little stories regarding some of the bodies. It was very busy, but we were still able to walk through and see everything and gape in a mixture of both awe and horror at the strange and morbid scene before us. Again, the ease and lightheartedness with which Mexican culture deals with death amazes and inspires me.
After the somber mood of the museum I needed to get into nature to bring me back to life so to speak. We asked our host about good hikes in the area, as on our drive in we noticed the surrounding mountains looked perfect for hiking. He suggested El Cerro de la Bufa.
We packed some snacks and water and began walking out of town. By looking at MapsMe, we figured out where the summit was, but the trail leading there was another question. We decided to just wing it ourselves! We cut into the side of the mountain from the highway and just made our own path easily through the dry landscape and headed up, up, up! The hot Mexican sun pounded us relentlessly as we wandered upwards, quite steeply, picking our way until we crested and reached a ridge, offering us spectacular views all around of the arid countryside. We followed the ridge to la Bufa where we clambered over the hot rocks to perch ourselves on the cliff where the large metal cross stood sentinel. Another couple were nearby enjoying their hike, having taken a totally different route up than us (probably the actual route!), but otherwise we were alone, atop the mountain overlooking Guanajuato city. Just us, the wind, and the view!
After admiring the view and eating our snacks, we figured it would be best to start heading back as the sun was brutal and even with sunscreen we felt like we were burning. We decided to take an alternate route down as or route up was very steep – and besides, I always prefer a circle route as it allows me to see something new. However, MapsMe wasn’t entirely helpful in showing us any real routes and we ended up getting a bit lost up there trying to find a way down the mountain. In the end it was fine, and is now of course funny to look back on. We weren’t lost per say, because we could see the city below, we just couldn’t get to it! Cliffs, dead ends, impenetrable bush, and other obstacles kept halting our progress, but after much backtracking we finally made it out, with a few scratches, and perhaps a few heated words, which we blame entirely on the heat and our quickly diminishing water supply! We made it home safely, feeling content with our exploration of this beautiful area and packed up our bags for our departure the next day.
Tragic kisses in alleys, mummified babies, thick sticky chocolate coffee, and perilous treks up the mountains: Guanajuato you are agem, a perfect last destination to our four months in Mexico!