Sunday, August 26, 2012

Spanish Colonial Galore

The big drive is progressing smoothly. In the last few days I have developed a strong adaptability to the seriously whimsical, chaotic way of driving here. As I said, to the average Westerner it may look like a maelstrom of little Nissan Tsuru taxis, run-down beaters and big American imports; however, there is a method to this madness. No ones cares the slightest way about what is painted on the road, or the signals ahead; instead, what seems to reign is the simple reality of what is around you. It's almost as if you were back in the old county fair and decided to have fun in the bumper cars, without crashes. For that matter, here's the music that echoes in my head as I drive furiously in traffic, making way for my PanAmerican wagon, Livingstone.

It's not that the fast pace of Foggy Mountain Breakdown sets the mood for my adrenaline supply; in the many miles I have driven I have noticed that as soon as I get into city traffic, my eyes start to dry because I do not dare blink and miss (yet) another taxi cutting in front of me. Dandy.

From San Luis Potosí to León... no shoulders; good training for the Bolivian Road of Death.
As soon as I got out of San Luis Potosí I climbed a mountain road at a calm pace, heading towards a town homonymous to my place of birth: León. On my way I cut through a rural road to test my navigation skills; if I had to backtrack, I would; this time I wanted to build the confidence of guiding myself by map and by compass. I crossed a small village, untouched by tourists and inhabited by farmers, who stared at the 30-year-old wagon with curious, shiny black eyes. Close to half an hour later, I had been though extensive fields of crops, a bridge crossing a brook and a road fresh with the scent of trees; then merged on the main road again.

Quixotesque adventures in the peace of the village whose name I do not remember.

Against what many people think, Mexico is not a deserted Speedy Gonzalez backdrop!

As soon as I arrived to León it started raining heavily. I circled around the city and all I saw was a 30-year-old promise of modernity; a run-down concrete shell built on the plan of an old Spanish colonial town. Most of the historical buildings had been torn down and replaced by hideous –and mostly empty– high-rises, shopping centers, supermarkets and shantytowns.

"Whoever does not OWE anything, doesn't OWN anything", says this bright sign.
I will apologize in advance before saying that I went to Kentucky Friend Chicken; however, I did not do it out of convenience, but out of want: as as kid I remember being in Yucatán and loving Mexican KFC. Many years later, in the USA, I had lunch at Colonel Sanders' –twice, on both coasts– and it was sickening. This time, in the center of Mexico, I ordered their classic breaded recipe and tasted as good as I remembered as a kid: the meat looked VERY healthy, just like real chicken should look, and it was fried in a different kind of oil. I do not mean to promote KFC, but just to draw the attention from my American friends on how products like Coca-Cola and KFC are utter garbage in its country of origin and surprising delights abroad. The methods used in the US to cut cots have really affected the quality of the product, from frying oil to meat processing, from the use of corn syrup to the genetic modification of seeds and animals. Take note, USA!

My impressions of León were not favorable, so I opted to push through the afternoon to Guanajuato, two hours away. I was glad to know that it had been declared a World Heritage Site!

The upcoming promise of exciting things to come!

Many of the roads were being renovated, so that made navigation very difficult. In the end I opted to stop in the neighboring town of Marfil (Ivory) and call it a day, relaxing by the local soccer field and watching the kids play, scream, cheer, play music, ride horses and eat sweet snacks. Then, after the sun set, I tucked into my wagon and slept in the quietest of streets.

Pinche perro! Pinche perro! The emotion of soccer in the play, not the victory.
Woke up with renovated energy... what does Guanajuato have for me?
The following morning I realized how dirty the wagon was getting. I was glad, as it made it camouflage as one of the beat-up USA imports rather than a precious German rarity. I had not seen many Mercedes in Mexico; most of them were either trucks, or the latest models.

I jumped out of my wagon and took a quick pressurized tank shower, fresh from the cool night. And so, with renewed spirit, I set on to explore the outskirts of my whereabouts. The first thing I did was to visit the local church, the Parroquia de San José y Santiago de Marfil, a very colorful temple built with humble materials, rivers of sweat, and weathered hands.

Such colors! Such happiness in their display!

Rich carvings at the door of San José y Santiago de Marfil near Guanajuato.
With this little architectural gem under my belt, brushed against my spirit and printed in my camera, I walked down the Road of Marfil. I was glad to find a small brook surrounded by Spanish haciendas, one after the other, with towers, high walls, carvings and balconies to the water.

Señor Llorente, su caballo espera –Mr. Llorente, your horse awaits.
Some fierce Conquistador I seriously hope I am not related to...
Just if the church 300 meters away was not enough.
Would you imagine retiring here like a noble Hidalgo of the Kingdom?
A better belt than the one I am actually wearing.
Some of these beautiful haciendas were actually being renovated into habitable homes.
A colonial dam built by the Spanish. Notice the ornate water level tower to the left!
Towards noon I went back to the wagon and drove to Guanajuato. In a town where parking is a chore, I snuck behind the Mining Museum and left on foot towards the historic downtown. I tried to stay away from the more tourist-oriented spots and made my way across monuments, parks, narrow alleys and winding cobblestone streets. Guanajuato was a World Heritage site for a reason!

Town of Guanajuato from the local Congress Center.
Skyline from a hill close to the famous Guanajuato Mummy Museum.
Classic Mexico Tourist pamphlet photograph. Ah, the flavour of their streets!
Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Guanajuato... true colonial beauty.
While some areas look like a little piece of the 19th century...
...others look as if you had walked into the Middle Ages!
Towards lunch time, I scouted around a 19th century square populated by Western-style cafés, and soon found a little makeshift cart that was serving gorditas (enclosed tortillas stuffed with meat) to some local Guanajuatans. With courteous Spanish I asked for two, and grabbed a guava soda to go with it. So far in all my travels, they have been the best $2 I have ever spent on a meal: boosting with flavor, juicy and laden with spices; calmed by short interruptions of sweet, sweet coldness out of a glass bottle.

This marveous meal was followerd by a much-needed haircut. I went down a couple steps in a hole-in-the-Spanish-colonial-wall establishment, and was greeted with a smile and fast, professional hands that left my head stylishly well-ventilated for a whooping $3. Happy and fresh I left Guanajuato for the next destination, San Miguel de Allende.

Onward to another mysterious, historic gem of a town!
Looking good from far away...
...until I realized it was a rich gringo trap.

What seemed like a beautifully renovated Spanish colonial town was soon revealed to be a theatrical set from a fictitious Mexico, a surgically clean town designed to accommodate wealthy Americans for vacation or retirement. In the neighborhood where I parked I found a few properties carried by Sotheby's, and soon found out in a local Real Estate office that some of these haciendas were million-dollar homes with all the luxuries of the Western World. I even heard some remarks on the radio about Superbowl, coming from a discrete stone palace and a camera-ringer. 

I parked in a plaza next to a Massachusetts Camry and a California Land Rover. It felt strange to be in a place so far away from home amongst more Americans than Mexicans. The only natives that I could see were chauffeurs or dog walkers... and that started to annoy me somewhat. The last straw came went I looked at a fifty-something woman, an obvious New Yorker given her accent, sporting a wide Pamela and walking in a wide, airy stride. She looked at my unshaven self and then –literally– turned her nose up, ignoring this wanderer next to his Kansas relic.

While my mind was kept busy in the deep dislike of the uppity, oblivious attitude of these tourists and their dark-skinned, submissive servants, I tried to look for some shreds of non-politisized beauty; and shot with my camera away from what –otherwise– I should've shot with a salt pellet.

Even that clean-looking Ford Crown Victoria belonged to American tourists!
Found it by accident and framed it not-so-incidentally.
For those curious on how much these properties are, they range from $150k to $1.5k in the historic district.
The next day I left this whitewashed town for Morelia, home of EVEN MORE Spanish colonial architecture, with special mention of their fabulous cathedral in the Churriguera Baroque style.

A very scenic drive indeed... full of tolls.
Morelia has nothing watered-down to it, even when it rains!
One of my first sights was this majestic aqueduct running along an entire avenue!
I parked in a quiet street, a few blocks from the cathedral, and set on my day-long walk across the big collage of 17th, 18th and 19th century buildings floating in the extensive cobblestone sea.

There were so many similar churches I lost my direction for 45 minutes!
And sure enough, the mother of all Spanish colonial churches in town came to sight.
Saint Peter's emblem carved at the main doors of the Cathedral.
The interior was very similar to the big basilica of Saint Peter's in Rome!
Touches of Art Noveau in this large stone maze...
You will notice that a large majority of the signs in Mexico are hand-painted. Much better!
The Alhambra? Nope, just a beautiful kindergarten in the historic district!
The first time I wanted to take this picture there was a couple making out. I did not blame them.

For the rest of the afternoon I managed to find fresh horchata (rice milk) and felt so tired after all the trotting of the day, I sat down in the local theater and watched Batman: The Dark Knight Rises, a movie that, despite not living up to the narrative solidity of its prequels, was more than entertaining and spectacular in its breakdown and redevelopment of Bruce Wayne's character. The new cat-woman, impersonated by beautiful Anne Hathaway, did not disappoint either.

The next day was the big day where I would enter the big monster of Mexico Distrito Federal, one of the most polluted and populated cities on the planet. I was up for the challenge to see my mariachi/economist friend Daniel, visit my grandfather's heritage, give the wagon a few mechanical touches, and feast my –and your– eyes on even more architectural candy.

Until then, I leave you with this curious picture I took of an abandoned 1960's propeller airplane by the side of the highway... just one of the many little treasures that hide in my secret album, accessible only by a minimum donation of $1 (cuppa coffee?) on my online fundraiser!

For those who have donated already: a thousand thanks! The proceedings of the campaign are currently going towards fuel, a few meager living expenses, and very soon to a get camera battery charger that has gotten lost somewhere along the journey.

Until then, thanks for following! I remind you that I have an extended invitation to meet anyone who lives along the route, so let me know if you want to be part of my story by sharing yours!

Capn', cap'n... where are we? Can anyone identify the airplane model?

1 comment:

  1. I am very happy for you Miguel. You, and Livingston have done well in your travels thusfar. Everytime I read a blog of yours, I pretend that I am there as well. It all seems very fun. There is surley conquistador dna in you. You have conquered many towns already, and have a strong thirst for more.
    I eagerly anticipate your next blog. May God keep you safe on your journey.
    As I am sure he has a purpose for it.
    David the mechanic