Every now and then we have a chance between disasters to have a mini-vacation or two. Unfortunately, they never seem to be as relaxing as we would like.
Some time ago, we had some business to complete in Guanajuato, Guanajuato. Our business was done early, and we had the whole day free. So we pulled over to this side-of-the-road tourist booth to get the grand tour. We followed the guy into town to a parking garage where we could leave the truck and hopped in a minivan with about 10 other people, all Mexicans (except for me) strangely enough.
Our first stop was the Museo Ex-Hacienda del Cochero built in the late 1600s. It seemed mild enough from the outside. However, we were in for a surprise. Our guide, dressed in monk robes, led us from a beautiful garden to the dungeon to see the devices the Spanish Inquisition used to torture infidels, indigenous, political dissenters and anybody else that was in need of torture.
We saw iron maidens, chastity belts, guillotines, garrotes, hanging cages, the rack, and even a person’s remains that had been walled up alive. Our guide explained that some of the mummified remains (I wasn’t sure here if these were really mummified remains or just props) were identifiable as witches because of the red skirt and artifacts they were buried with. There was even a graveyard in the back. I guess they had to put the bodies somewhere. All this torturing supposedly went on without the neighbors knowing anything about it for years due to the thickness of the stone walls.
So we were a bit creeped out by that, but surely the next stop would be better.
Nope–we headed to the Museo de las Momias de Guanajuato. Yep, mummies. Lines and rows of naked, crumbling mummies. It seems between 1865 and 1958, the local government required relatives of interred patrons to pay a tax to provide maintenance for the tombs. Those who had no family members, or whose family members did not pay the tax were dug up. The grave diggers discovered that the bodies had been naturally mummified due to the unique soil composition of the area. They started charging a few pesos for entrance into the shed where the bodies were stored. Eventually, the present museum was constructed.
So basically, it was horrible. The clothes had been cut off most of the mummies to cut down on the stench–although most still had their shoes on. There was a horrible section of infant corpses and the mother and child buried together after dying in childbirth, and the woman whose final resting position gave rise to the speculation that she had been buried alive. And did I mention the rows of glass cases with the naked men and women left without a shred of dignity between them?
We hurried through that museum and waited outside with the tour van driver. Next stop, the San Ramon Boca Minas, silver mines where the Spanish exploited the indigenous men, women, and children for private gain! By this time, we were out of money, so couldn’t go on the tour, which was a disappointment as it seemed the only one worth taking.
The tour van also took us to a regional sweet shop and an artesian store, which would have been more exciting for us if we had any funds to purchase anything. After all, each museum was about 35 pesos, plus the tip for the tour guide and the bus guide and the parking garage where we left the truck. It added up. We did take a picture or two though as mementos.
The driving tour also took us past the giant statue of El Pipila. This statue was in honor of Juan Jose de los Reyes Martinez Amaro. He was a miner who became a revolutionary hero when he carried a giant stone on his back to protect him from musket fire and used a tarred torch to set fire to the door of the granary known as the Alhondiga de Granaditas. Once the door was destroyed, the rebels entered the storehouse and killed every single man, woman, and child who had taken refuge there. This occurred on September 28, 1810.
We were also driven past said building where the blood from the massacre could still be seen as late as 1906 on the pillars and main staircase. The morbid history of this building did not end there. The revolutionary leaders Miguel Hidalgo, Ignacio Allende, Juan Aldama and Jose Mariano Jimenez, were executed by the Spanish firing squad on July 30, 1811, and their heads hung on the four corners of the Alhondiga de Granaditas for 10 years, the time it took for Mexico to finally win its independence from Spain. In 1867, the Alhondiga de Granaditas was converted into a prison by the reigning French emperor Maximilian. It remained a prison until it was converted into a museum in 1958.
Thus ended the tour. This wasn’t the Guanajuato I remembered! I had visited the city as an exchange student some years ago and was charmed by the picturesque architecture and romantic stories like the Callejon del Beso. I even took the walking tour of the callejones (alleys) carrying a jug of sangria and listening to mariachis. After all, Guanajuato is a UNESCO World Heritage Site! I guess it just proves the truth that for every beauty there is an equally ugly underside.