Saturday, May 28, 2011


Ian and I took a "super puente" (super bridge) from May 5 (holiday for Battle of Puebla (known in the U.S. as Cinco de Mayo)) through May 10 (Mother's Day) and spent three of our days off in the old mining town of Guanajuato (hua-na-HUA-toe). Guanajuato is in an area called the Bajio (ba-HE-o) to the north of Mexico. Lots of gringos love the Bajio, and many retire there. We saw why upon entering the town: the weather is great, the traffic is limited, and the colors are lovely!

One of the quintessential views of Guanajuato. The white building is the university; the yellow church is the principal cathedral of the town. Like all good, rich colonial towns, Guanajuato has a lot of churches, but most are small. The main square is to the right of the picture.

The main church tower at night. I'm so impressed our little camera was able to take that shot!

Close-up of the bell tower of the main church as seen from the top of the university steps.

The main campus of the University of Guanajuato. It's made of locally quarried granite (pretty sure) and incorporates a mix of the colors found locally: pink, white, and green. It's about 85 steps to the top, and the view is totally worthwhile!

Teatro Juarez, a landmark and an architectural abomination! At least the stones are beautiful colors.

The Alhondiga de Granaditas - the old grain storage building. The Spanish loyalists barricaded themselves here (unsuccessfully) at the beginning of the war for independence. It currently houses a great history museum and was the site of a recent speech by Hillary Clinton.

Sometimes the legacy - or part of the legacy! - of mining can be pretty!

The funicular cars made moving between the main level of the town and the panoramic highway at the Pipila monument easy! Unfortunately, there is only one funicular and the town is long, narrow, and deep. People in Guanajuato are in pretty good shape, and most of the women wear mostly sensible shoes!

The street leading up to our hotel. We were walking down it, but we passed several locals carrying groceries and other supplies up it. One guy was carrying three eight-packs of two-liter bottles of Coke. He looked hot and bothered, and the Coke was almost certainly not for him!

Looking down the street that led from our hotel to the main level of the town.

The Pipila monument by day. "El Pipila" is one of Mexico's cherry tree equivalent founding fathers myths. If the person nicknamed "el Pipila" really existed, he played a key role in storming the city's grain storage where the Spanish loyalists were barricaded at the beginning of the fight for independence. Apparently he used a paving stone to protect his back and crept up to the door to light it on fire, allowing his comrades access to the building and forcing the loyalists into a fight instead of a siege. After his initial act of dering-do, he is rumored to have met a bloody end and had his head displayed on a spike in Guanajuato until the Spanish admitted defeat and left Mexico. His monument gives an awesome view of the city and its environs!

The Pipila monument by night.

The city by sunset, as seen from the Pipila monument. Seeing the sun set on Guanajuato is spectacular because the buildings - already pretty colors - get a much richer tint to them at sunset.

We also turned spectacular colors at sunset. This was taken by a lovely French guy who saw our camera and realized that we would be able to use his camera well enough to take a picture of him and his girlfriend. He took ours in exchange, and we're glad he did!

The city by night, as seen from our B&B balcony, slightly east of the Pipila and at nearly the same height.

Plaza El Baratillo, so called for the hawkers who call out "barato" (cheap!) to sell their wares!

The central fountain in Plaza San Fernando. This plaza was probably our favorite place to catch our breath, have a drink, figure out the map, and recharge!

A window looking onto Plaza San Fernando.

Guanajuato is in a steep valley, and most of the town lies along the valley floor. This is looking down from the Pipila monument at the main plaza. Unlike most Spanish-inspired towns, Guanajuato's main square is a) not square, b) tiny, and c) not open and spacious (see below).

The edge of the trees does not quite touch the buildings, but it's close....

And the leaves are so densely packed that spaces have to be carved out for the street lights!

Dense trees - no other word for it. They make the plaza cool, but also dark and a bit claustrophobic! I felt it at my majestic and usually very comfortable 5'4", and Ian had to walk outside of the trees to get around.

While we were eating, an "estudiantina" - a group of students singing and playing - came by. Guanajuato's university has a strong tradition of sending its music students into the streets to play for locals and tourists. They dress up like troubadours with stockings, velvet knee-britches, and fancy hats and jackets.

We sat in Plaza San Fernando having drinks, and people brought a boom box and started dancing. I believe some of the dancers were giving classes, because I think an older woman behind us got the waitress to book her a dance with one of the men!

Guanajuato is not known for having a good food tradition, unlike most of the rest of Mexico, but we managed. Being able to sit on sidewalks and not be surrounded by vehicle traffic was lovely!

Boy meets paella and falls in love!!

We visited the town of Dolores Hidalgo. This is the church where Mexican independence was born. The statue is of Father Manuel Hidalgo who realized the low-key plotting was finished on the night of September 15, 1810, and rang the church bells to call people to a war of independence against Spain. The cry "Viva Mexico!" is still given by presidents, governors, mayors, and others every year. According to people in Guanajuato, Father Manuel Hidalgo was a pro-Spain establishment type until he visited the mine La Valenciana (see below) and was so horrified at the wealth leaving Mexico that he had a change of heart. I think they also attribute horror at the treatment of the local Native Americans to his decision-making, but things didn't necessarily get better for "los indios" after independence.

Dolores Hidalgo is known for this random ice cream company that makes bizarre flavors. I tried guanabana (a sweet fruit) and beer (much like a beer slushie), and settled on chocolate! The flavor choices are: guabanana, chocolate, cappuccino, pistachio, avocado, lime, mango, strawberry, mamey (another sweet fruit), cheese, tequila, zapote, corn, cajeta, and nut. Apparently if you can ask with a straight face for some totally random flavor possibility (curry, red wine, gravy), they will reply with a straight face that they've just run out but you should try again tomorrow!

The Mina La Valenciana on the outskirts of Guanajuato. In its heyday, this mine produced 2/3 of the world's silver. It is active today, but the new entrance is somewhere else. Ian and I visited it and took the tour deep down inside the mine (see photo below).

Ian and I wore hard hats down the mine, though I'm not really sure it was required. They might have just offered it for the photo op, which I hope all viewers will agree we rocked. We're about 70 meters (220 feet) below the surface of the earth, and the mine continues down (through other paths) another 700 meters. The guide turned out the lights for a bit, and it was impressively dark and silent. I'm glad I'm not a miner, and I have lots of respect for people who work the mines!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Christmas - just a bit late....

Ian and I and my parents visited Willis and Amy in Arkansas for Christmas. We hadn't been together as a family since Willis and Amy's wedding at Christmas 2006. It was great to have chilly weather and a bit of snow as we were leaving. We got to love on their dogs and have a really relaxing time on their mountaintop.

For our fancy family dinner we went to the James Mill restaurant for some "haute Ozarks cuisine." It was delicious. The chocolate nemesis is divine!

We also stopped for a family portrait with the Arkansas State Champion Largest Black Oak tree. Arkansas has it all!

We hiked to the Hawksbill overlook and had a nice picnic. Willis and I may resemble each other a bit.

We went for a gorgeous hike that ended at a big cave with a small door. I didn't make it in, but I scraped my knuckles badly trying!

Even my mother thinks the *slight* difference in our height is amusing....

My Arkansas nieces and nephew love Christmas too. Clockwise from the top-left: Suzie, Ralphie, and Xochi!

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Rockies, two of our human nieces and nephews were also enjoying Christmas!

I made the perfect The Christmas Story-inspired bunny suit for our new nephew. He's still small enough that the joke was manageable!

Our niece also modeled the bunny suit!