Guanajuato, Mexico, 2016
When I first stepped into Mexico City, 5 years ago now, I came across Matteo, a Finn who regularly spent 6 months of his year there.
When asked how he managed to talk his way through customs, he said the first thing he learned in Spanish, was how to express his appreciation for the country.
México es el país más hermoso del mundo.
It really is. Beautiful, I mean. Mexico. For more than the facades sold to you by travel ads and this blog post. In my photo archives of the last few years, it’s always those pictures I come back to, again and again. I think some of this attachment is owed to milestones. I never traveled before deciding to become a nomad in 2013. Mexico City was my first solo destination, my first real travel experience, and I got to find out who I was, unencumbered. I found life there, hardships and all, to contain a peculiar grace I can’t quite put my finger on. But maybe it is that I lived there for that short time, being completely receptive to everything.
The country exerted a pull, outside of its borders. I was thrilled to finally head back there with Flemming in 2016. We were in Guanajuato city for nine weeks or so, the historical UNESCO heritage listed capital of the state with the same name, and incidentally, the birthplace of Diego Rivera, Mexico’s most famed muralist and husband of Frida Kahlo. Flemming hadn’t been to Mexico before this, and neither of us could remember much Spanish at that point, so it was a perfect spot for a “soft landing.”
Guanajuato is visually breathtaking. It was very wealthy back in the day, owing to the riches that lay under the mountains it sits on. The Spanish found gold there in the mid 1500s, and by the 1700s, Guanajuato was leading the world in silver production. La Valenciana, its most important mine, sits just outside the city limits, and “was one of the most productive silver mines in the world, accounting for 2/3 of the world’s production at its peak. It produced 80% of all silver mined in the state of Guanajuato and one-sixth of all Mexico. For over 250 years, it produced about 30% of the world’s silver. The mine continues operation today. Production is much diminished, but one ton of rock is still extracted every six minutes.” (Source: Wikipedia)
Much of the city’s architecture was built on the back of those mineral riches. With the most distinctive in the city center being the distinctive pale stone monument that is Universidad de Guanajuato’s main building, and the golden Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Guanajuato (Basilica of Our Lady of Guanajuato).
Guanajuato was built on the mountain side, sloping into the bottom of the valley carved by the river, which was later diverted. Its bed was paved over and the underground river tunnels are now roads. Most of these tunnels have a little walking lane on one side where parking and bus stops are found, and we found them a useful byway for the really hot days.
A large part of the city is a maze of stone and brick cut through my narrow alleyways and steep stairs, following the gradient of the mountain. At about 2000m above sea level, it would be a stretch for the sedentary, because there’s very little level ground. You’re either going up or down stairs or cobbled slopes, with a bit less oxygen. Our home in that time offered plenty of exercise from simply coming and going. You get fit really, really fast.
It was a real photographer’s trip. All Flemming and I did was walk around for hours, every single day of those few months, actively looking for pictures, which are everywhere. I remember those days as ones having far more hours than the standard twenty four, with plenty of time to attend to the holy trinity of walking, resting and working, which never otherwise happens. Maybe I just drank more coffee and rum than I realized.
I loved the sharp, crisp shadows, cutting the reds, blues, greens, purples of the alleys. Breaking for lunch on lazy afternoons to bread and soup, watching people go by, squinting in the evening sun. Started by odd sight, like a silver dog guarding the entrance of Museo y Casa de Diego Rivera, and the changing face of colour as the hours travelled.
It was heaven.