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A Visit to Three Cultures: The Art and Architecture of Guanajuato


Driving to Guanajuato, the capital city of the central state of Guanajuato, from SM d A seemed simple enough. Head northwest to view Atotonilco, then continue northwest until the highway junction where you head southwest to Guanajuato. Trusty iPad map, road map and guide lulled us once again into thinking it would be easy. Many miles later, we realized that we’d headed SOUTH at the junction, even though we were on Hwy 67. Seems there may be TWO highways with that number, or all the maps were wrong. Now we were entering Guanajuato on the main toll road, traffic zipping right along, and darkness descending. Looking, looking for the road up to Panoramica, a tunnel yawned in front of us, and I trusted Nikk’s reflexes when I called out in rather a panicked voice, “Take this exit!”. The little rental car made the exit, we curved up a steep hill, and there was the sign pointing to Panoramica, the road that goes around Guanajuato above the downtown part of the city in the picture above. Unfortunately, there were no more signs to Panoramica or Monumento de Pipila, where the parking area for our B&B was located. After stopping to ask directions, we took the road downhill marked “Policia” and there it was, the gigantic monument to Pipila. As soon as we stopped a man asked us if we were staying at Casa Zuniga, he must wait for the guests to help them find parking and the B&B. He did help us park in the Monument parking lot, and find our way down steep stairs to Casa Zuniga, our fabulous B&B.


Rick and Carmen Zuniga began building Casa Zuniga from the bedrock about eight years ago. It is still a work in progress, and is truly a marvel of hospitality, artwork (Rick creates metal sculptures as well as designing and supervising the construction of the rooms on many levels), stunning views, and beautiful rooms. I must have some really good trip karma going (except for the map and road snafus), because I found Casa Zuniga on the net, read about the Margarita room with windows on three sides, emailed just to see if that accommodation was available, and magically received a quick reply that it was, and that “our home” would be waiting for us. Having a room with a stunning view high on a hill was just perfect for Goat Woman and her most excellent driver and loving companion. I realized after a day of exploring that two days in GTO was not enough, and we extended our stay another two days. We were in GTO during a non-holiday and non-tourist time of year, luckily. Every day we began our day with coffee from the kitchen, and at the civilized hour of 9am sat down to breakfast. The first day we looked in amazement at the huge bowl of fruit salad, dishes of guacamole, beans, and salsa, a pitcher of juice, and then were even more amazed when we were served Huevos Mexicanos (eggs scrambled with tomato, pepper, onion and mushrooms). Another day it was enchiladas, and we were the only guests until the third day when four Australian women arrived. The food was absolutely delicious. Our last morning we needed to leave at 8am for the drive back to La Cruz, and Rick made sure we had sack lunches to take with us. Add to all this a long swimming pool, WiFi, and the king-size bed with about three times the area of the V-berth on the boat, and we were in heaven. Actually, it was a bit disconcerting to wake up and have Nikk about five feet away instead of right next to me.

Nikk getting ready to take the plunge

Silver mining began four hundred years ago, GTO was the main site of the wealth that went back to Spain from Mexico. Silver mining is still going on today, we didn’t visit the mines on this trip, but did take a picture of artwork depicting the Indians forced to work the mines.


The downtown area of GTO has a lot of students who attend the university, and the average age in GTO is seventeen. The downtown area also has few cars, which makes GTO a paradise for walkers. Where are the cars? They are underground in tunnels, some of which used to be mining tunnels. When it rains I imagine it is a bit dangerous to be down in a tunnel. There is also an underground river flowing beneath GTO. Every October GTO hosts the Cervantes Festival, adopting Don Quixote as a city symbol, even though Cervantes never saw GTO. The Festival is three weeks of music, theater and art, I hope we can return next October.

Ride, ride Don Quixote and Sancho Panza

Casa Zuniga is just a short walkway from the funicular, the transport down into the main area of GTO. After 10pm when the funicular closed, taxis would take us up the hill to Panoramica, right above Casa Zuniga for 50 pesos (about $4 US). We had the same taxi driver two nights in a row.
Our first five rides on the funicular were free, courtesy of Casa Zuniga. We also walked down into town, following the curving stairs between buildings, and even walked up again a few times, Goat Woman was panting and puffing and sweating.



The green building at the bottom of the funicular is the Teatro Juarez, we didn’t attend any plays or concerts inside, but saw several student performances on the steps. Across from the Teatro Juarez is the canopied Jardin de la Union, the town triangle of trees, benches and restaurants. The restaurants have outdoor seating where patrons are serenaded by strolling musicians or accosted by vendors. Our last night in GTO Nikk and I luckily opted to eat at one of the restaurants recommended to us by friends in Portland who have traveled to GTO several times, and chose to eat inside.
My dish was Enchiladas Frida Kahlo, a colorful, tasty concoction which was filled with deep red jamaica leaves cooked in what I think was a mole sauce (that’s pronounced “moh-lay”, NOT like the critter that lives in tunnels). Any dish named after Frida Kahlo should definitely be colorful.
The best part of the meal, though, was the piano player, who entertained us with show tunes and old standards from the 40’s and 50’s, and even played “My Way” at the end of our dinner, right after I said, “Well, he hasn’t played My Way yet”. We went up to put money in the Tip Jar after dinner, and while chatting with him in English, found out that he’d studied at Julliard. He invited us to come hear a rehearsal of the GTO Symphony at the Campania, a church next to the University, the next morning. So we went.

Casa Valadez is in this building, with the Jardin de la Union the greenery on the left

In the picture at the top of the blog, you can see the Church of San Diego at the bottom of the picture, with the Jardin above it, then the Cathedral de la Nuestra Senora, the deep yellow church above that, the white Universidad above that, and the Campania to the right of the Universidad. Walking in a straight line is not possible for long in GTO, but you can see how close all these attractions are. We sat in the Campania at 10:30 am, twisted around to face backwards in a pew of polished wood, watching and listening to the symphony practice as the sunlight streamed in through a window high above. Within a few moments the sunlight focused its rays on our musician friend from the night before, he put on his sunglasses, and we had a marvelous picture.



Diego Rivera, the husband of Frieda Kahlo, was born and lived in Guanajuato when young. He was an extremely large man, “gordo” en espanol, and painted famous murals of workers in the 30’s in Mexico and the States. The figures in the murals have large, powerful bodies, a style echoed in the murals of other artists we viewed in GTO, including this Jose Chavez mural in the Alhondiga de las Granitas, the “Corn Palace” which was the hiding place of the Spaniards in 1810, until the fortress was breached by peasants and military when Pipila carried a large stone on his back to shield him from bullets, and torched the main gate. The Alhondinga also has a collection of artifacts from the many cultures which occupied this valley in the centuries before the Spanish came.


Monumento Pipila

Our last day in GTO we strolled along by the university, bought espressos at a tiny coffee shop, and visited the Diego Rivera Museum, located in the three-story house he lived in until he was eight. I hadn’t realized that he began painting in the European style before he developed his powerful murals. On the top floor we were surprised and somewhat shocked to view some contemporary art which included a video of some pretty graphic oral fixations. After reading about Diego Rivera, and his lusty appetites, perhaps he would have approved. I will just show the readers a more circumspect picture of us in the house.


So go to Guanajuato, stroll the streets, enjoy the music, cuisine, Baroque and Churrigueresque
architecture, the colorfully painted homes marching up the hillsides, the history, the art, and of course people-watching. You can even visit a Museum of Mummies, if you’re so inclined.


A Visit to Three Cultures: Part 2


High on a hill above San Miguel de Allende is the entrance to El Charco del Ingenio, the botanical gardens of local plants which flourish at elevations above 6000 feet in the Sierra Madre mountains. Some of the plants, like this barrel cactus, have been rescued when they were due to be destroyed during construction of dams, highway projects, aquifers, or buildings. Some barrel cacti live hundreds of years, and I was amazed that they could be transplanted and survive.


Dusty feet wandered miles of dusty paths above a green and verdant valley floor, which terminated at a dam above a rocky chasm.


This was the point where Mateo and I lost Nikk and everyone else. Nikk had gone scrambling down some huge boulders while Mateo and I waited at the dam. We finally continued back across the dam, down a long trail, to suddenly reunite with everyone in a spectacular canyon. According to a map, the canyon continues it’s steeply winding way until it ends at a cliff above SM de A.
If you look closely at the next picture, you’ll see an American Coot (that’s a bird, not Nikk) down in the canyon pool.


After this, unbeknownst to me, Nikk climbed down a metal ladder bolted to the cliff face to the pools in the bottom of the canyon. My sprained foot was barely able to hike, and not to be trusted on ladders or for too much boulder scrambling. Luckily everyone made it back to the entrance for much-needed drinks and snacks at the little cafe. I found out that I’d also missed the trail that went to the overlook above SM de A, with a sweeping view of the city and valley.

I must have been inspired by the botanical gardens, because I actually purchased a dress from a little shop in SM de A.


The next day we said goodbye to San Miguel de Allende, without even beginning to explore the art galleries, and barely sampling the coffee shops, cantinas, restaurants and blocks of artisanal crafts and foods. Now we were headed for Atotonilco and then Guanajuato.

Fourteen km from SM d A is a turnoff to the little village of Atotonilco, population 597, with a World Heritage Site designation due to the Sanctuary of Atotonilco, a complex built in the 18th century under the direction of a Father Neri. Most of the walls and ceilings are covered in murals, oil paintings, and decorated with sculptures in the Mexican Baroque style. Many of the murals were painted by an indigenous native, Antonio Martinez de Pocasangre, and have given the site the name of “The Sistene Chapel of Mexico”. “Atotonilco” is a Nahuatl word meaning “the hot springs” due to the profusion of hot springs in the area. Unfortunately, the presence of the hot springs at the sanctuary has caused severe deterioration of the buildings and artwork. Very recently federal and World Heritage monies have paid for restoration of some of the buildings, artwork, and the draining of some wells to decrease humidity. Some of the images of Jesus are very bloody, and some murals depict Jesus rewarding some recently deceased humans with heaven, while sentencing others to hell, where they already spout horns. One site I read said that the painting style mimics the Flemish school of painting, because of some paintings brought to the site with that style. You decide what you think after looking at some of the images. Due to our time around sailing ships I’ll include one ceiling mural depicting a battle between Spanish and Ottoman ships, I didn’t expect to see ships on the ceiling of a church!






This last picture shows how the parts of the site not restored have deteriorated.
On our way out we kept following the same road we came in on, and soon passed a sculpture carved from a tree root, sitting on a wall. It was one of many roads taken which did not go directly to Guanajuato, and that was the reason we arrived in Guanajuato at 8pm, somehow managing to find the Monumento Pipila, the parking lot, and our wonderful bed and breakfast, Casa Zuniga. But that story and the story of our time in Guanajuato will have to wait for the next blog, which I promise will be either tomorrow or by this weekend at the latest.



A Teaser from Guanajuato


From the room with a view……


Scenes from Cabo San Lucas





The view of hotels and beautiful beach from our anchorage





Scenes from Bahia de Santa Maria


Nikk paddling with Balance and Midnight Blue anchored in Bahia de Santa Maria.


Fishing and lobster-growing camp in the estuary


Ethereal Little Blue Herons (white is immature, blue is mature) in the estuary


Weird spider (anyone know what this is?) that captured a yellow butterfly


Reddish egret and Western Gull having a standoff over a fish in the mud


Beautiful succulent that looked like an orchid


What will this become???


The cave that was a tempting resting spot


Looking across Bahia de Santa Maria to the white sands and Bahia de Magdalena in the distance.

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