Tag Archives: Guanajuato

Playing Tourist–Guanajuato, Guanajuato

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.

gto

Guanajuato, Guanajuato

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.

tourists

Tourists!

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.

torture

Chained to the wall!

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.

thick walls

The walls were 2-3 feet thick and kept the screams from bothering the neighbors.

So we were a bit creeped out by that, but surely the next stop would be better.

mummy

Yep, it’s a real mummy.

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?

outside mine

Outside the mine in GTO.

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.

cheesy smiles

Outside the sweet shop.

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.

pipila

Pipila

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.

heads

Alhondiga de Granaditas

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.

gto 1callejon

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.

student singers

Student singers

charming gto

Charming Gto.

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Getting Legal–Trip 4

immigration office sma

Well, since trip 3 was a bust (See Getting Legal–Trip 3) I needed to go back when I had enough money. I scrimped and saved, but it wasn’t enough for the trip and the documentation. So, I asked for an advance on my paycheck and we scheduled the trip.

It started out just like the others. We woke up early, although not as early as the last one, fed or moved to pasture the animals, and had our coffee. My husband had made bread the night before so that we could take a loaf with us since we didn’t have any extra cash to eat out. My son filled a water bottle and we were off. We said our prayers, this time including the successful completion of this legalization process along with a safe journey to San Miguel de Allende and back home.

My husband had cleaned the battery cables in the hope that it would give us one last trip before dying and although we had to push start again, it seemed to be running better.

We cruised through Celaya‘s transito (traffic) verification stop and were making good time. Eleven kilometers from San Miguel de Allende the truck began to shake. We were on a bridge and couldn’t pull over. The moment we could, we stopped and jumped out to check it out. Nothing under the hood seemed remiss, so my husband went under the truck. Immediately, he found the problem. La cruceta de la flecha que va pegada el eje (the joint in the back axle that holds everything together) had come loose and fallen off. Most of the pieces were still there, but one of the clips was gone, lost somewhere on the other side of the bridge.

There wasn’t anything to be done but try and piece something together and get to a yonke (junk yard) or auto parts store and see if we had enough to buy the piece with the less than $130 to spare between us. So my husband went under the truck again to attempt this death-defying feat.

Here's the dangerous curve we managed to pull off at.  Looks so innocent free of traffic  doesn't it?

Here’s the dangerous curve we managed to pull off at. Looks so innocent free of traffic doesn’t it?

I mean literally, death-defying. We were clearly off the side of the road, however since it is common for large and heavy vehicles to straddle the solid white or yellow line (See Driving Hazards–slow moving vehicles) we were in mortal danger.

I moved 100 meters or so down the road near the curve and made myself sentinel, waving cars on the line to the right. My son said I looked like I was shooing goats into the corral, but seriously, goats are easier than Mexican drivers to direct. I was sure that any minute we would be splattered to the winds, my husband, my son, me and the truck, by an 18 wheeler or tour bus barreling down the road. Talk about hair-raising!

Only one driver stopped to offer what assistance he could, but my husband thanked him and declined, deciding not to leave my son and me with the truck on the side of the road.

An hour and six near misses later, my husband crawled from out beneath Butch (the truck). He had flattened a nail to replace the missing joint and hoped it would hold. His hands visibly shaking, he started the car and we headed toward San Miguel, eyes peeled for a place to get the replacement piece.

We stopped at Banamex to make the payment of $3815 pesos, then headed to SEGOB (the Mexican Immigration Office) with the receipt. I took a number and waited. My husband came in with me to help me keep my temper with the clerks, but he needed have worried. I was so exhausted from the adrenaline rush I had from directing traffic that I didn’t want any trouble.

I had a nice conversation with a tall, elderly gentleman in line behind me. He was there for fingerprinting and had lived 13 years in México. He seemed to think my life in La Yacata was amazing. Go figure!

Finally, it was my turn. I gave la muchacha (young lady) my receipt, but she needed 3 copies of it, plus the original, so I sent my husband scurrying across the street for those while I signed and signed. I turned the copies in, she stamped them and then, obviously remembering me (or perhaps my anguished outburst) from the last trip, asked where I lived. She said if I would wait a few minutes, she would find out what the probability was that I could leave my fingerprints today as well, thus saving me another trip. So I waited.

About 10 minutes later, she came back to say that if I came back before 1 p.m. (when the office closed) I would be able to get fingerprinted. As it was only 11 a.m., we headed out to look for the truck part and see if we could get that done in the meantime.

We had to tell our son, who had waited with the truck, that we would not make it back to Moroleón before school started that afternoon. (See Homeschool Variation) He had worn his uniform and done his homework on the trip, and was a bit worried what the maestro (teacher) might say, but my husband said he would take him to school for his assignments when we arrived home.

So we set off in search of the piece. The first auto parts store had the piece, but it was too big for the make and model of our truck. The second two didn’t have the foggiest idea what my husband was asking for. The fourth place had the piece but wouldn’t sell just the clip, so $100 it was for the whole thing. My husband was pleased and ducked under the truck to do the repairs. Ten minutes later, it was fixed. With our remaining $30 pesos, we bought some oranges for lunch and some elotes (ears of corn) for later.

We went back to SEGOB and broke our bread, peeled some oranges and drank some water, grateful for our abundance and fortune this day. At 12:30, I trotted back inside because entrance would be denied at 1 p.m. for anyone that isn’t written in the big appointment book at the front desk. Just shy of 1 p.m. the muchacha (young lady) called my name and had me leave my fingerprints on the application that would now be sent to México City for processing. She told me to check online in about 3 weeks to see when I could come and pick up my document.

I thanked her sincerely and left. We cruised through the SMA verification checkpoint and then through the Celaya verification checkpoint without incident. We arrived home, exhausted but with a feeling of accomplishment that was lacking the last trip.

One down, one more to go.

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Getting Legal–Trip 3

SEGOB office in San Miguel de Allende

SEGOB office in San Miguel de Allende

I had been aiming to make the third trek to San Miguel de Allende around the 13th of the month, thinking that time and finances would be better. However, my husband started worrying me about the trip, asking me when was the last day I could go and what I had to do in this next step and hence I started having nightmares that I had missed out on getting my papers by one day or that I completely forgot to go and then was thrown out of México. So I moved up the date of the trip, after having checked on the official website to see that my papers had been approved for the next step on the 10th of this month, a mere 12 days after I submitted them (See Getting Legal–Trip 2) I remembered seeing a sign in the office saying I had 30 days for tramites so just to be safe, we would go the 9th. Maybe even stop in San Pedro for some shoes.

My husband woke up and started marching around at 4 a.m. that morning, for who knows what reason. He was worried about taking care of the animals before we left. However, that whole process (taking Beauty and Shadow to pasture and moving Shrek and Fiona to a fresh grassy spot) took a whopping 15 minutes. The goats, chickens and ducks were not awake yet, so no point in throwing food at them so early as food lying about is an open invitation to ants.

So we left the house super early. Each of us said our prayers for a safe journey and we were off. Well, not quite. Our truck battery had decided to call it quits, so my son and I gave old Butch (the truck) a good shove to get her going and then we were off.

We stopped for gas as it doesn’t do to start a trip without a full tank (see Driving Hazards–Gas and Illumination) and the truck wouldn’t start again. Fortunately, at that hour, there was little traffic and we could push-start.

Having gotten up at an unearthly hour, my husband needed an extra cup of coffee, which then required an emergency pit-stop just before we got to Celaya. As the battery was still giving us fits, we had to give it another push to get going again.

We made it through Celaya without a transito stop (See Driving Hazards–Police stops) but we weren’t too worried since our verficación sticker (inspection sticker) was still good until the end of the month. (See Getting Legal–Trip 1)

We arrived in San Miguel de Allende at 8:30 and parked in the bus stop area near the immigration office because it was on a slight downhill slant. My husband stayed in the car in case transitos (traffic police) came cruising by and I went to stand in line.

The office opened at 9 a.m. and I marched myself to the little window for a number. I was #6, so it was only 9:30 or so when it was my turn. The business tycoon in front of me gave the girl a hard time about his papers not being ready and I was feeling smug about how my papers were all in order until she told me that although I had been approved for processing, the next step was to make the payment of $3815 pesos.

What??? I thought the next step was to leave my fingerprints to send to D.F. for approval and then the 4th step was the payment and told her as much. About this time, my husband came in (I expect to check on me) and said that it wasn’t the girl’s fault, so I shouldn’t take it out on her. I thought I was calm about it–ok, so deep down I knew I had transformed into the type of annoying ex-pat that I feel superior to when he or she starts in on the inefficiency of the Mexican immigration process. But I couldn’t help it.

So my husband took over. He asked when the last day was that I could process my papers. She looked it over and said I had about a month. She also said that it might be possible to process my fingerprints the same day as the payment so that I would not have to make another trip. She was helpful and polite. However, my blood pressure had already risen and I was having some problem getting ahold of myself.

I had canceled all my classes for the day for this trip. I had spent money I didn’t have to spare for gas for this trip. I had been awake since 4 a.m. for this trip. I didn’t have the money to make the payment today. Yaddy-yaddy-yah.

My husband took hold of my arm and escorted me from the building. He pointed out that being upset wouldn’t change a thing. Since when has he been the paragon of virtue in the patience department? I certainly didn’t need any lessons from him. So I sat in silence and stewed in my own juices until we got to Celaya in mourning for my new shoes.

In Celaya, of course, there was a traffic stop for verification stickers, but we breezed through without incident. I started to calm down a bit. We stopped in San Pedro as we had planned. I didn’t see any shoes I liked, so I felt a little better about that loss.

Then we went to the roadside buffet we liked, but again I was out of luck. Usually, I get rice, beans, and huevos rancheros or nopales, but today everything was pork. Pork in mole. Pork in tomatillo salsa. Pork in red sauce. Blah! So just beans and rice for me thank you. Disappointing. Then the pushing of the truck took longer since there was no incline and my son and I huffed and puffed nearly 1/8 of a mile until it started, but it did start and we made it home safely.

I suggested that next time we pray for a safe journey and successful completion of the task at hand. Perhaps we had not been specific enough in our prayers. I was so tired and down that I took an afternoon siesta that afternoon. Maybe the next trip would be better.

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Driving Hazards–Gas and illumination

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”–Bilbo Baggins

I’m an East coast girl and thus driving through major headache areas like D.C., Phili or NYC are old hat. However, nothing in my experience ever prepared me for driving in México.

Take, for instance, this last trip to San Miguel de Allende for my residency papers. (See Getting Legal-Trip 1)

It is not uncommon to send a representative to get gas for rural communities that are not near a PenMexWe started out in the morning with a full tank of gas in the truck just in case. Gasolinera (gas stations) are not always where you think they should be. Residents in smaller towns sometimes have to go quite a distance to get gas. It’s not uncommon to send a representative to the gasolinera for several families. Various types of plastic containers are often reused as gas receptacles. I admit, one of our garafones (water jugs) has been converted to a gas container and we keep a second plastic jug (I believe it had windshield wiper fluid in it once upon a time) with a bit a gas behind the seat, just in case.

There have been occasions when we have run out of gas. (See Failing at your own business–Fruit truck) There is nothing to be done but hitch a ride to the nearest gas station and fill some sort of gas receptacle and hitch a ride back. No need to mention that this makes the trip much longer than anticipated.

Then we waited until it was nearly light to begin the trip. Driving at night is not advisable. Very few roads are lit. Cattle, horses, goats and other livestock may be tethered right next to the road for night feedings. This provides a sort of roadside maintenance as well. Bicyclists and walkers are nearly invisible as they head to work.

Puentes de peatones (pedestrian bridges) are not necessarily the shortest distance between two points.

Puentes de peatones (pedestrian bridges) are not necessarily the shortest distance between two points.

In the early morning, chickens, dogs and children may run wild across the road in desperate haste to get to the other side. There are puentes de peatones (pedestrian crosswalks) along high traffic areas, however, the shortest distance between two points is often not over the pedestrian bridge. So it is important to watch for those taking a “short cut” across the highway.

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