pre-Easter festivities in Guanajuato

Thursday 26 to Sunday 29 March

Guanajuato in Mexico is another classic town – much like Dubrovnik in Croatia, Brighton in UK, Barcelona in Spain.  It is the most visited tourist destination in Mexico, but we were left thinking that it is popularity is more with the Mexicans than international tourists.  We found little English was spoken and the lady at the official Visitor’s kiosk didn’t speak English at all.

We now know a few words in Spanish, and can order meals and pay and understand quite a few written words.  But we have also found that English is in most parts, the universal language of travellers.  We feel somewhat embarrassed using our mother tongue to communicate with other people who are German, French, Chinese, Japanese – always in English.

Guanajuato is set in a valley surrounded by steep hills and sits at 2000m above sea level. The main attractions are its colourful houses and a rather macabre installation at the cemetery of mummified bodies – more about that later.

Guanajuato became rich because of its mining.  The Aztecs had mined gold and silver here and the Spanish moved in to take advantage of its rich good and silver deposits.

Guanajuato was also the cradle of the cry for independence when Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla raised an insurgent army in nearby Dolores and marched on San Miguel de Allende, and then onto the city of Guanajuato.  The Spanish troops and elite took shelter in the Alhondigas de Granaditas granary, but Hildago and his men attacked them in what was thr first battle against the Spanish troops.

We were lucky to arrive in Guanajuato for their special Festival of Flowers which happens on the Thursday before Easter Week.  School children had already finished school for the Easter break and flowers were being sold on every street corner.  Many shrines to the Virgin Mary had been built in front of shops and houses, and they were decorated with flowers.

People were out on the streets with big bunches of flowers, either giving or receiving.

The festival is a romantic time for young people.  Young girls were out in short, pretty summer dresses and the boys were dressed up with their coiffured hear.  And of course, many had a bunch or more of flowers in their hands.

Street stalls were set up selling trinkets and food stalls were a popular place to stop and take a break.  Music was in the square, roaming Mariachi Bands competed for musicality and even volume.

In fact after the town returned to normal on Palm Sunday it looked rather bland.

As well as the colourful houses, Guanajuato is famous for being a three-dimensional town.  Set on a high plain, rain did not escape, so ditches and tunnels were built under the city to provide drainage.  In time the tunnels were replaced by more sophisticated drainage systems and a dam, so they were no longer required.  The tunnels were converted to underground roadways which criss-cross the city.  Like any city roads, they have pedestrian footpaths and crossroads.  It is quite bizarre to take an underground walk.

Guanajuato’s other claim to fame is the Museum of Mummies. In 1870 a tax was placed on burial places, so those crypts where tax was not paid were emptied.  Some of the bodies were found mummified.

There is much speculation about why some bodies become naturally mummified, however researchers believe it is due to the warm, dry climate of the area, which dried out the bodies rapidly.

The museum displays a number of bodies where some or all of the skin has remained on the skeletons, although organs had broken down.

For our second last day we took a tour to San Miguel de Allende, which is another story.

We left Guanajuato on Palm Sunday – the beginning of Holy Week.  Instead of trinkets and food stalls, palm woven crosses and flowers were being sold outside the Basilica de Neustra Senora de Guanajuato.

Sources: Lonely Planet; Triposa; Wikipedia