I had a few days to kill before I was to meet my cousin in Mexico City, but hadn't until the morning of my departure from Guadalajara settled on a destination. I decided to follow a couple of strong recommendations in the direction of Guanajuato, an old town known for its odd geography as a mining town and alternately as having a bustling college scene.
It was hard not to be instantly smitten. The historic center of Guanajuanto is cradled in a valley between mountains and cheerful homes of every color spill from the mountainsides and collect in the middle so densely there's only but a little room for vehicular traffic. The cars are driven away from the surface to underground tunnels passing each way through the city, leaving the intimate cobblestoned alleys and passageways between buildings for feet and bicycles alone. The city's years as one of the world's leading silver producers treated is well, as is evinced by the grandeur of its cathedrals, theaters, and civic buildings.
Being a university town, there's no shortage of hip cafes with good food and coffee – often playing American music. I've frequently found there's a latency effect in the way music is enjoyed geographically, and I was hearing a lot of the indie tracks that were hot when I was in college five or six years ago: Radiohead, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, and the like. Live music is abundant as well, and there are popular outdoor film screenings in and near a few of the vibrant public squares.
One of the city's greater tourist attractions is el Museo de las Momias, with a permanent collection of unusually mummified corpses disinterred from local cemeteries. The experience is made all the more gruesome and strange by its playful irreverence – many plaques adjacent to specific mummies have monologues detailing what the mummies had been through since being buried, and all in first person narrative. One of the museum's prizes is the smallest mummy in the world, a four to five month old fetus.
More than once I found myself underestimating distances in the city's very not-to-scale tourist map, and I'd then be panting and sweating for hours only to forget what I was working so hard to see and caring much less by the time I arrived. I think it behooves someone visiting Guanajuato's outlying sights to figure out the local bus situation.
A Japanese traveler by the name of Kaz I had met in Guadalajara ended up in my same hostel, and we met up for dinner and drinks. I had molé enchiladas and dark beer. Here and a few places elsewhere, dinner is preceded by cuts of bread with a terribly bland tomato sauce – like salsa without the heat. Kaz explained to me how competitive eating is out in Tokyo and renting karaoke booths and going out singing solo is in. I taught him how to make and “L” sound.
Excited to share my love of mezcal, I pulled Kaz into my our first mezcalria, and then another, only to be wildly disappointed each time. Mezcal, with its complex layers of smoke and tropical fruit, is enjoying a new respect and reverence from New York's bartenders, and in my mind, mezcalrias ought to be dimly lit smoky affairs with only a couple of wizened old Mexicanos huddled over the bar with a veritable library of local hootch on the walls. Instead, both of the Mezcal bars featured not a wealth of Mezcal varieties, but rather a long list of a single cheap mezcal mixed with sugar and different artificial flavors and served in plastic cups. I ordered a peanut and an Oreo, and couldn't be bothered to finish.
The owner of my hostel I checked into is one cool Mexicano. His English is probably excellent, or at least it seemed so... but he refused to use it. Instead, he scales his Espanol based on the proficiency of his guest, forcing them to improve. His place had a very homey feel and an excellent view from its rooftop patio where its myriad guests meet and swap war stories. I met another American bartender who was aiming to be on the road over a year and had already spent about a month in Guanajuato at that point.
By the time I left, Guanajuato was one of the most interesting destinations I had never prior heard of that I've now visited. I'm going to miss its narrow alleyways and vitality and I look forward to returning one day.