Published: January 10th 2012January 10th 2012
Well hiring a car in Mexico was easy. Finding our destination was definitely not.
We left our happy little hostel at 6.30 am from Oaxaca and flew via Mexico city to Guadalajara, where we then picked up a rental car and thought that we would arrive in the pretty little town of Guanajuato by about 3.30 pm, after an easy drive through the Mexican highways.
How wrong we were. The car hire was easy, and the lovely man at Budget was very kind to us. Firstly we got an upgrade, from what must have been a midget car to a small car, and then he gave us all manner of advice about driving in Mexico, including telling us not to give the gas station our credit card and if the police should stop us and ask for our driver's license and car registration, do NOT give it to them.
Finally he gave us a map and clear instructions on how to get to where we wanted to go, and wished us well, with an anxious fatherly glance as we merrily drove away.
Our first concern was making sure that we were driving on the right-hand side. Our
Who would've thought such a huge monument would be so hard to find?
second was to find the correct turn-off. We thought we were well prepared, with step by step instructions courtesy of Google maps saved on Lucy's iPad. These instructions turned out to bear no relation to the roads whatsoever, although ever hopeful, I kept referring to the iPad as if the instructions would miraculously mirror the road.
In hindsight, the instructions from the Budget rental man were actually quite good, however they didn't make sense to us at the time. After an hour of exploring all of Guadalajara's highways and bi-ways we finally found a sign back to the airport to start all over again, where the instructions from the Budget rental car man began to make more sense. With enormous relief we finally found the right road, but our attention wavered for a mere moment and inexplicably we veered to the left and before we knew it we had been inadvertently syphoned off into a different direction and although we'd found the right road we were heading in the opposite direction. It was like a farce. Another 30 minutes went by, during which time I had given up all hope of ever leaving Guadalajara. But then there was a
small miracle, we found a "retorno", a very good friend to us during the dark days of Guadalajara, and we were off on the right road, in the right direction. Finally.
The next couple of hours were uneventful, as we managed to find our way quite easily on the highways in the countryside. And then we met Guanajuato. The first confusion was that we were going to the town of Guanjuato, which is in the county of Guanajuato, so a sign to Guanajuato did not necessarily mean that we were going to the right place. But we found the town and felt quite pleased with ourselves. This was our destination for the evening, and we had been told to head to Pipila, a large monument on the hills overlooking the gorgeous town. We had googled it beforehand so knew what we were looking for, and it was a very large monument. How hard could it be?
Things were going ok, or so we thought, but the town has a network of underground tunnels which firstly are very uncomfortable to drive in for two claustrophobics, and secondly just when you thought you'd got your bearings, one wrong turn later
Our elusive B&B
you were sucked into the subterranean world of the narrow bricked tunnels and by the time you were spat out again all sense of direction was lost. Even after we'd stopped for directions twice, and had circumnavigated the town several times, we couldn't find the goddamn Pipila monument - why didn't they have better signs we lamented? Why the hell couldn't we see the damn thing? Just as we thought we were finally on the right track we took a wrong turn, found ourselves back in the tunnels, and were sucked out to the road heading back to where we'd come from. This was not a happy time.
But then we found our faithful friend, the "retorno", got back to the town of Guanajuato, and called the owner of the B&B. Finally, we managed to avoid the roads out of town, the roads under the town, and found a road above the town which led to the Pipila monument and our destination for the evening. We arrived exhausted, having turned a three hour journey into a six hour journey, and feeling like a competitor in the Amazing Race. Not suprisingly the first stop was the bar for a well
The next day, all our driving trials seemed worthwhile, as Guanajuato is simply gorgeous. Not keen to get back in the car just yet, we spent the day walking the city, exploring the tiny little alleyays, or callejones
, the churches, the town squares, some museums, and admiring the beautiful colourful houses clinging to the hillsides.
We found the birthplace of Diego Rivera, which is now a small museum, the central market, and also went to the Museo Iconografico del Quijote, on the recommendation of Rick, the owner of the B&B. This was a curious place, dedicated to the story of Don Quixote and displays statues, murals and paintings of this famous literary figure. It also had a very nice coffee shop.
Rick was extremely knowledgeable about the history of the local area, and we got a good introductory lesson into the Mexican independence story, including the story of El Pipila, a local hero. He became famous for an act of heroism near the very beginning of the Mexican War of Independence, The Spanish had barricaded themselves, along with $30 million of pesos in silver and money in the Alhóndiga, which however had a wooden door.
Pipila tied a stone to his back to protect him from Spanish missile fire and carried tar and a torch to the door of the Alhóndiga and set it on fire, which allowed the Mexicans to storm the Alhóndiga, kill the soldiers and get to the riches. Since El Pipila had caused us such grief the day before, we naturally had to see the monument as well, despite the fact I still held a grudge against him. It helped that we didn't have to look too far, our B&B was right next to the monument.
We also asked Rick about the constant explosions we are hearing. He told us that in Mexico people don't celebrate their birthdays, they celebrate their Saints day, and it is common to hire a bottle-rocket launcher guy to help you do so. "Catholic online" tells me that today the "saint of the day" is St Thorfinn, which is curious, because while I've yet to meet a Mexican called Thorfinn, I've heard hundreds of rockets go off today. St Thorfinn clearly shares his name with Jose or something similar.....
After two nights we braved the roads again, this time for a day trip to
San Miguel de Allende. We really thought we'd nailed it this time - and we almost did. We found the right road immediately. We weren't to know it was the right slow
road, so 40 minutes after we set off we made it to the other side of Guanajuato. Sigh. The drive to San Miguel de Allende was uneventful. The scenery was interesting - dry, barren and vast, and occasionally a few houses flung together posing as a town.
San Miguel itself was very pretty. Not short on churches, we walked past four or five in the first five minutes alone. Big on gringos, it's known as a shopping town, so we headed to the Mercado de Artesanias to see what was on offer. There were lots of beautiful weaving from Oaxaca, colourful pottery from Puebla and a village in Guanajuato, as well as jewellery, leather goods, local sweets etc. Not having much room in my suitcase was very helpful as an incentive to not purchase. All in all it was a lovely little town, but we were happy to have stayed in Guanajuato.
We headed back in plenty of time, which was just as well, because believe
it or not we got fooled by Guanajuato for hopefully the last time. Although we are getting better as this time it was only a 20 minute diversion. Here's to a quick getaway to Guadalajara tomorrow!
There are more photos below