Grape leaves in Guanajuato

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The bar in the Teatro Juarez where Porfirio Díaz once imbibed. Set ’em up, José.

WE RETURNED from Guanajuato yesterday evening. We fled there Saturday to escape Carnival in our hardscrabble barrio where the natives go berserk.

It’s so bad during Carnival — also called Mardi Gras elsewhere — that a high, chicken-wire fence is erected around parts of our neighborhood plaza to keep drunks corralled.

Chicken wire. So we hightail it out of town.

Though Guanajuato is only about three hours away from our Hacienda, it was just my fourth visit, and the first in over a decade. My initial visit was in the mid-1980s with my second ex-wife. We made the obligatory trip to see the mummies who were stacked up against the walls in a carefree manner. Absolutely lovely.

Flash forward about two decades, which was my 2002 honeymoon. I returned to the mummies, but the exhibit had been sanitized. The corpses were behind climate-controlled glass cases. Most of the grotesquery had been eliminated. Damn shame.

We did not revisit the mummies during this trip.

This week we stayed in a great hotel directly downtown because we did not drive the Honda. Driving in the middle of Guanajuato is a nightmare, which is why I had not visited in a long time. The streets are narrow, bend all over the place and often vanish into ancient, underground tunnels. So we traveled by bus.

Visit highlights included dining at a Vietnamese restaurant, something that cannot be found even in our nearby capital city. I love pho. There was also an Arabic restaurant where we enjoyed stuffed grape leaves, pita bread and hummus! Yum.

Guanajuato is hyper-touristy, very different from my initial visit in the 1980s. Especially on Sunday, I felt like I was in Venice, Italy, due to the horrendous mobs of people. It improved on Monday and Tuesday, but not all that much.

It’s a nice place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there, even for Vietnamese pho and stuffed, Mohammedan grape leaves. It’s good to be home again.

Some of the chicken wire is still up, but the drunks have been carted away.

Morgue, jail, home. Who knows?

Ms. bones
In case you missed them at the mummy museum.
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Guanajuato from on high. In color, of course.

Sick unto death

catrinaFOR MANY years before relocating to Mexico, I was a big fan of the Day of the Dead tradition. In my Houston condo, I had a ceramic Catrina on my bathroom counter, one that a Mexican crafts store outrageously overcharged me for, which I didn’t know then.

It had been marked up about 10 times. Double is the norm. Those crafty Mexicans.

By pure dumb luck I settled in one of the two most popular and highly publicized towns in the entire republic for Los Muertos, as the Day of the Dead is commonly known in Mexico. The other is Oaxaca.

This really tickled me 19 years ago. Now I’m just ticked off. The tourist mobs have grown to stunning levels and, for that reason, this year we are fleeing for the first time.

We’re riding a bus to Guadalajara late next week.

I have not been to Guadalajara since 2000. Our mountaintop town is located about halfway between Guadalajara and Mexico City. Actually, it’s a bit closer to Guadalajara. In spite of that, I have visited Mexico City a gadzillion times, and I have not returned to Guadalajara since my mother (R.I.P.) and my sister visited in that long-ago summer. I picked them up at the airport there, and then returned them a week later.

We’ll be staying in a downtown hotel that’s two blocks from the Hotel Morales, which is where I stayed three nights after flying to Guadalajara from Atlanta on January 19, 2000. It’ll be fun to take a peek into there for ole times sake. I tried to book a room at the Morales, but nothing was available for the dates of our visit.

We’ll be visiting the famous zoo and eating some Vietnamese pho, which I love. Other than those two things, nothing much is planned. We’ll just wander around. This will be our first trip to someplace “new” since our 2013 visit to Mérida. We don’t travel much.

What I remember most about Guadalajara is the atrocious quantity of pigeons that pollute the downtown plazas. I’m not a fan of pigeons, nasty birds.

But there will probably be more tourists here next weekend than there are pigeons soiling the center of Guadalajara. Gotta pick your poisons.

Memories of days gone by

Eronga
Town of Erongaricuaro.

NINETEEN YEARS ago, I received the first and last visit from family members above the Rio Bravo. My mother and sister. I picked them up one evening at the Guadalajara airport and, as we drove to a downtown hotel, my sister asked:

Are most of the people who live here Mexican?

She was 59 at the time and had never been to a foreign country. It was her first and last trip outside the United States. She’s 78 now and, I imagine, will never leave her homeland again. She prefers the craziness of California.

After one night in the Guadalajara hotel, we took a bus to the neighboring state’s capital where I was renting a house. A couple of days later, we boarded another bus to the mountaintop town where I live now and stayed in a hotel for four nights.

We were tourists.

And during that time on the mountaintop — before I moved here, mind you — we took a taxi to a small town on the edge of our large lake, a town with the mouthful of a name Erongaricuaro, also known simply as Eronga because it’s easier to say.

We walked around a bit, but it began to rain, so we returned to the main plaza to catch another cab, but no cab was to be found. We sat on a bench and waited … and waited … and waited. No cab appeared. It was about to get dark.

A chicken bus pulled up, one of those ancient, smoke-belching, retired school buses that were common in these parts back then. They have since disappeared, replaced by smaller, nicer, more modern forms of local transportation.

We climbed aboard the chicken bus and returned to our hotel on the mountaintop.

Two days later, we went back to the state capital for another night, and then we bused to Guadalajara again for their flight back to Atlanta. Neither ever returned, but they did come that once. My daughter has yet to visit.

Yesterday afternoon, we drove to Eronga, parked the Honda on the small plaza, bought ice cream and sat on a plaza bench, the same steel bench on which I sat with my sister and mother 19 years ago. Facing across the street, I snapped the above photo.

I think about the visit of my mother and sister every time I sit on the plaza of Erongaricuaro, which I do now and then because it’s not that far from the Hacienda. But on that late, rainy afternoon 19 years ago, it seemed to the three of us that we were in the middle of nowhere. And then there was that ride on the chicken bus.

My mother is long dead. My sister lives, I think, in Arcata, California, and my daughter lives in Athens, Georgia. I have no other Gringo relatives.

But I’ll always have Eronga.

Sidewalk shoppers

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SITTING AT A sidewalk table abutting the plaza with a nice café Americano negro and nothing but time on my hands allows me to notice things.

Just up from where I sit are lines of  sidewalk stands where people we call hippies (they don’t care for the term) sell wares like earrings, handmade drums, things you tie around your wrist to look artsy, stuff you move to make the sound of rain, Indian incense, that sort of gear. It attracts tourists, especially on weekends.

I took this shot last Saturday. The two women cannot be from around here. They just don’t look like mountaintop people. They look like big-city gals, maybe from the nearby state capital or Guadalajara or even Mexico City.

I’ve spent 40 years, more than half my life, living in tourist towns. New Orleans, San Juan and now here amid the cobblestone streets and bougainvillea. People from more prosaic spots visit and think, “I could live here,” but then they go home and die in Dubuque.