No-one expects the Spanish Inquisition after an art tour

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North America » Mexico
October 2nd 2018
Published: October 3rd 2018
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So this morning we have decided to be a bit more adventurous. We are taking the local bus to Guadalupe...pronounced Guh-wad-a-loop-eh, not Gwad-a-loop, very useful to know when asking for the bus.

We make our way to the place we ‘think’ the bus departs, crossing over the dual carriageway via a handy concrete walkway. It’s actually quite chilly this morning and the mist is hanging thick over the hill top. You can tell who the farang tourists are...the idiots in short sleeve tops - all the locals are wrapped up in thick woolies and anoraks!

It’s 8am and we have found the bus stop with reasonable ease after a 10 minute walk from our hotel to the edge of town. The first bus we attempt to board is not the right one, but the driver admirably engages in some sign language to tell us we should wait here, but for a different bus which will be coming later. He has barely departed as two more buses pull in. The latter bus has GUADALUPE written in large letters on the front so that’s a huge clue. :-)

We get on...dos, Guadalupe, par favor. I hold out a handful of coins and the driver takes what he needs. We find two seats on a reasonably comfortable bus with padded seats - it takes the main road and gets us to Guadalupe without too much fuss. Ian recognises the monastery where we are headed so we alight at just the right place.

The guide book has very little information about this place other than that we should make the effort to visit, so we’re a bit ‘on our own’. What it does state is that the town is 10km east of Zacatecas and it has a monastery confusingly called the ‘Convento de Guadalupe’ which was established by Franciscan monks in the 18th century. We can get a bus there and visit the church and museum. Other than that, we assume there is little else to do!

It’s only 8.30am, so we set off in search of breakfast. There isn’t a lot open but we find a little cafe off a side street and sit down. Everything is in Spanish so we just point at ‘ham tortillas’ on the menu. They arrive and are a bit like a Mexican version of a toasted sandwich, ie a tortilla with ham and cheese that has been cooked on a griddle to make it a bit crispy with warm ham and melted cheese inside. Anyway, it’s yummy. Also, a plate of nachos, a dish full of chillies, some plain tortillas and a host of other dubious looking fillings. We decline the extras. Ian has ordered a coffee and they bring him a mug of boiling water with a jar of Nescafe, sugar and powdered milk so that he can make his own. My orange juice disappointingly turns out to be a bottle of fizzy orange. Maybe ‘jugo’ does not mean ‘juice’ after all...or maybe they have a wide interpretation of the word. :-)

It’s now 9.15am so we head for the monastery, stopping off at the church with its ornate basilica on the way. The dome is currently under renovation and we note the difference between the completed panels and those yet to be worked on. We go inside and to view the interior - the dome is stunningly beautiful.

Now we arrive at the monastery which turns out to be largely an art gallery. If you are a lover of religious oil paintings and/or a Spanish speaker, this would definitely be the place for you! As we are neither, it is slightly disappointing and a bit of a waste of the £15 entrance fee. There are detailed explanations of each piece so art lovers could spend weeks in here without even touching the sides! Most of the pieces include blood letting, beheading and torture. Not ideal straight after breakfast. The bathroom facilities are great though. :-)

We spend a bit of time exploring the quadrangles. There is access to part of the library stuffed full of 9000+ dusty books and well protected from the inquisitive public by means of glass panelling. I meet a curator who is keen to practice his English on me whilst Ian is exploring. He tells me that there are a lot of problems with drugs in this area and we should take care when taking a taxi. I tell him we have been using Uber and he seems to approve. He also tells me that the monastery was used as a boarding school before they decided to make it into an art museum and that the long rooms we are now standing in were crammed full of bunk beds. The school still exists but it has moved to another location. He used to live in The States, hence he can speak a little English. He wishes he still lived there but he needs to work and he has a good job here! He wishes us well and with that he leaves us to continue our tour.

We end our visit on the ground floor where there is a collection of early 20th century vehicles and even a mule train (mules excluded). This is the end of our visit so we collect our daypack from left luggage and go off in search of our bus back to Zacatecas.

Now it would seem logical that we should get our return bus at the stop opposite to the one where we were dropped? Not so it would appear. We did not think to look at the bus number when we came so we really don’t know if we should be here or not. There is a young lady who cannot speak a word of English trying to impart her knowledge of the bus system. We both end up in fits of giggles as she repeatedly tells me the same thing in Spanish...well at least I think she is saying the same thing! Anyway, we think she is telling us to wait here for bus number 14.

Bus number 14 has arrived and it has no place name on it. The lady motions that we should get on. Dos, Zacatecas, por favour. I open up my hand with all my small coins in it. This bus driver is not so friendly. He refuses to take the cash from my hand. The lady takes over. Non Espanol, she tells him and he grunts. She kindly takes the coins from my hand and counts all our small coins out loud - uno, dos, tres...and so on. I think it might be short but we literally have no other small money as no one seems to have any change here - including the well over-priced art museum that just cleaned us out on most of our small change. She takes it all and waves us on down the bus handing our money to the driver who chucks it into his wooden cash box with a thundering clatter. He doesn’t quite spit on it, but we think he might want to! Meanwhile, we are praying that we are on the right bus!

Google maps appears to be taking us in the direction of Zacatecas albeit by a different route than this morning. This bus is a bit of a chicken bus, without the chickens. We have hard plastic seats and mucky windows - some of which have cracks in them. On the up side, at least we have a seat. The bus makes its way through the local streets making plenty of stops on the way before joining the dual carriageway.

We are relieved to see that we are back on the outskirts of Zacatecas. We don’t get off at quite the right stop which involves a bit of a walk uphill. However, the traffic is thick and we walk it almost as quickly as the bus! Back at the concrete walkway, we are now sure of our bearings and return to the hotel with a take away coffee and a yoghurt bought from a street vendor for lunch (I hope that won’t turn out to be a mistake!). It tastes nice, natural yoghurt with fresh strawberries and a small bag of granola. The yoghurt is a little on the thin side so I pray it hasn’t been thinned down with tap water! We have a longish bus journey tomorrow and I don’t want to be ill!

Next task is to get printouts of bus tickets purchased online. Not quite sure why they will sell to you online but demand a printout in order to board the bus. The hotel owner is very obliging and we have a nice long chat whilst his receptionist prints out our tickets. He wants to upgrade our room to one at the front, but I tell him it’s fine...we are leaving tomorrow!

Now to collect our laundry, with a visit to the interior of the Cathedral on the way. Today it is open though it doesn’t take long. To be honest, the exterior is far more impressive than the interior. The washing is collected and everything is in order: nothing missing, all bone dry and neatly folded so it almost doesn’t need to be ironed!

What to do now? It is only 2pm.

OK, against our better judgement, we will make that visit to the Museum of the Inquisition that we missed out on yesterday. We turn up and we are the only ones there - this is starting to become a bit of a theme. We cough up our £3.20 entrance fee and the young man on the desk (who doesn’t speak English) commences our tour. It’s another gory trip - though we believe that at least these are only models and not actual corpses! It’s been thoughtfully constructed to give the ambience of an inquisitors prison. We are led through a series of darkened rooms where various instruments of torture are carefully illustrated. It’s hard to imagine why such a wide variety needed to be used when I am sure that even one of these horrible methods of torture would illicit an immediate confession. Surely hanging or the guillotine (though maybe not burning at the stake) would have been a welcome relief!

So, now to dinner. We decide to visit the 1950’s diner again as it has comfy seats and serves up pretty good Mexican fare, so why chance anywhere else? We both select Zacatecaen regional dishes which are both filling and delicious despite their appearance. I choose a chicken burrito dish in a rich red Mexican sauce. It comes with puree beans (which I’m less keen on - they are inoffensive but a bit bland) and a sour cream side. Ian chooses a slightly more spicey chicken with rice and cheese shavings. Not that either of us had a clue what we were ordering!

Back at the hotel, it’s time to pack our bags again. The Uber is ordered for 8.15am as we have a 9.30am bus tomorrow.

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3rd October 2018

I see Ian's diet is going well... :) It's good to be able to keep up with your travels - glad you're enjoying it, even the gory bits!

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