The Man on the Mountain

As far as I can tell, they keep their chickens on the roof in Guanajuato. I can hear them, but I can never see them. The city is amazing. It’s what I always thought of when I thought about Mexico. The houses are familiar to me after living in Guadalajara, but this is a tourist town. They have kept up with the damage over time, and the city isn’t falling apart like it is in Guadalajara. The people are friendly, the places are beautiful, and it’s very relaxed.

It doesn’t have that feel like Sayulita, the danger lurking beneath the surface. No one tried to sell me drugs, the sales people aren’t as pushy as they are in Ensenada, and most places are clean inside the city.

This morning I walked up to the top of the stairs outside Casa de Dante. It’s a serious staircase, and we’re much higher in the mountains than we are in Guadalajara. I can make the steps up, but it’s about ten flights up to the hostel, and another ten up to the main road circling the city. The road has an amazing view, and I walked away from the city toward the mountains. That part of the city is for the locals, none of the touristy feel of the center of town, no taco carts, or sales people, but it’s also Sunday. This is still Mexico, and it’s the day for family.

I made it to the top of one of the smaller peaks and found the man of the mountain. He was an old Mexican practicing Gojo Ryu Karate named Geronimo. We talked for a bit, but I wasn’t expecting to find someone like that to practice with here. He told me a bit about the town, and that today was a special day in town, that there was a big celebration in the afternoon on top of the mountain. He pointed out a trail around the mountain that people sometimes exercise on, running or hiking through the mountains, making a complete circuit of the town and the surrounding peaks. I thought I understood most of what he said, but I’m guessing I got the time of the party wrong. When I went back up to the mountain later it was already empty, and night had fallen.

I wandered through the upper city all morning, wandering through back alleys and cul-de-sacs. This city is a warren of dead ends and hidden passage ways. Unless you walk all the way down the road you can easily miss where the path continues. These parts of the city are obviously older, showing the brickwork and cracks where the city has changed over the years. Even there, nothing is really in bad shape. The only places I saw that were, were either being renovated or torn down. There were signs of renovation projects, places where the large areas were being maintained or repaired, but only the upgrades showed that chaos in construction that I have become used to.

The power lines are a mess, far too many down many streets, blocking the view. There is a large power junction point in the mountains near where Geronimo was practicing. Up there you can hear the power humming in the lines. That’s one of the big differences for me here. There is always noise, but not the noise I’m used to. There isn’t much traffic, and no buses in the city. The roads are extremely narrow, but without the larger vehicles it’s not as much of a problem. The noise here is mostly life. There is some music, especially at night, but you can always hear the dogs barking, the birds singing, and people moving around. During the day you can hear the roosters crowing, and not just at dawn.

The city is in the space between two mountains, covering all sides, but the echo from the city has bounces back and forth between the narrow corridors. The sound that might be lost in Guadalajara or San Diego is caught here, less of it lost to the sky. Even the crickets echo here.

There is a giant statue looking over the city, la Estatua de Piplia. It’s a strange statue of a man, possible a warrior, looking down at the center of town. There you can find some of the typical tourist carts and stores, but also a few things that are more interesting. This was once a mining town, and although the mines are closed even to tourists now, you can still find interesting rocks and minerals for sale. There are also a number of artists with drawings and paintings throughout the city. The most interesting thing was the children playing soccer in the middle of everything.

I met Martin while looking through his work. He had a few originals, not as cheap as many of the places with copies, but still nowhere near what I expected to pay for that kind of work. I also picked up a few random things that caught my eye, I just have to figure out who to give them to.

This city has an almost unhealthy obsession with Don Quixote. Maybe that comes from el Museo Iconografico del Quijote, a beautiful building filled with paintings, statues, and drawings of Cervantes and his work. I took pictures of every single piece in that museum. I was torn between wanting to see more of the city and not wanting to miss anything. I ended up going through the museum twice, just looking at everything. It’s nice to know that some people have the same obsession with the myth that I do.

The most interesting thing was the children playing soccer in the middle of everything. They didn’t care who or what got hit by the ball, they just kept playing. The only person who even took notice just started to juggle the ball with kicks, then sent it back to him.

After that I just wandered around, looking at everything, taking pictures until my camera died. This is the first time it’s died so early in my travels. It’s nice because I can stop trying to capture everything and simply enjoy the city. It sucks because I can’t capture everything. In a way the camera is a way to connect, to bring along people who can’t be with me. On the other hand it simply interferes with the moment, pulling me away from what I am trying to see. My glasses always annoyed me because I can see the edges sometimes, reminding me that I am not seeing the world as it is. Now I travel with an extra filter, and I find I enjoy it as much as I hate it. Where is the balance? You can never really capture life with a camera, so what are you really saving?

I passed through the city, looking at buildings, eating anything that looked interesting enough, and thinking. As old as this city is, I still found everything I would look for here. There is a jiu-jitsu school and a tae kwan do school near the center of town. There are places to eat, not just for the tourists. I wound up at Mercado Hidalgo, the biggest market in the city. It’s a lot like San Juan De Dios back home. A massive indoor market, but it’s nowhere near as large. They sell a lot more Don Quixote themed statues and pictures, and a lot less religious ones. The food is about the same as in Guadalajara, some good, some okay, but the people are interesting.

At the restaurants I passed, the people would wave the menu at people to get them to come in. I found it amusing so I went in. The tortillas weren’t hand made, and yes I know Santa Tere has spoiled me, but the soup was good, and the enchiladas were filling. It’s always easier to find food when you have the time to make mistakes. Traveling around following your nose and looking for the busiest restaurants doesn’t always work during the holidays.

After leaving the market, I wandered into a random parade, the most religious parade I’ve ever seen. There were children walking, dressed in religious garb, waving incense. Next came drummers, and a child dressed as a bearded Jesus on a donkey. There were trucks afterwards, each with its own scene from the bible being played out in the back. The last thing was Jesus carrying the cross, followed by two prisoners and roman soldiers whipping them. It was all a show, but I’ve never seen anything like it in Guadalajara.

As the night closed I could hear a donkey in the distance, and they do sound like they’re laughing at someone. There was the sound of bagpipes earlier, and one of the people in the hostel is a violinist. I talked with a Korean girl from the States for a while. She was surprised at the concept that you can find danger here if you wander around alone at night. It does seem like such a safe city, but you still don’t want to do anything stupid. After that I talked with a German couple from Guadalajara. I didn’t recognize them, but one of them is a German teacher at ICI. It’s a surprisingly small world.

I still get stopped here and asked for directions, and the place is calm and relaxing. I could see living here for a while, and I wish I had decided to stay longer, but there are miles to go before I rest.

I’ll add in pictures when I get somewhere with better internet access.

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