Tuesday, February 23, 2016

More Guanajuato

Although we have driven by the Templo de San Cayetano, or La Valenciana, this is the first time we stopped and looked around the church. It was built between 1765 and 1788 with funds donated by the Count of Valenciana, owner of the nearby mine also called La Valenciana.
The exterior of the church has pink limestone walls, typical of this area.

The interior of the church has 3 altars with lots of gold and colorful figures. All built on the backs of the miners. Up to 3,300 indigenous Mexicans were enslaved and forced to work for the Spanish and in return the Temple La Valenciana was built for them to pray in their new converted religion. Doesn't seem like such a great deal to me.

After touring the church we hiked to what we think is the mouth of La Valencia, the original mine. However, we're not really sure about that because we've also been to ruins that are referred to as La Valencia Mina.  From what I can tell, we went down the original shaft but the new shaft where prospectors struck it rich is in the ruins we saw to the west.
We joined a tour and went down a steep stairs where the original miners hauled up loads of ore on their backs. It's hard to imagine how terrible life must have been for them. It was hard enough just going up and down the stairs. The mine made the Spanish owners and the Count of Valenciana very wealthy.

There was a room with a shrine and keys hanging from the ceiling. Not really sure exactly what the significance of the keys is, but it has something to do with good luck.

There was another shrine at the foot of the stairs. I would guess the miners could use all the help they could get.

The mine is a bit of a tourist attraction and has a fully operational bar

and some rather cute statues.

Captain Gabriel de Barrera was another Spanish 'silver baron' whose family was descended from the founders of La Valenciana Mina. At the end of the 17th century he built a grand hacienda and ore processing center currently known as Ex-Hacienda San Gabriel de Barrera. It's a museum with extensive landscaped grounds.

The hacienda displays furniture from the 17th to the 19th century and is somewhat of a furniture museum.

There are 16 gardens on the grounds, each landscaped in a different style. It was enjoyable walking around them - it's a tranquil oasis in the middle of a bustling city.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Guanajuato - Museo Iconigrafico del Quijote / Don Quixote Iconographic Museum


We have always wondered about Guanajuato's fascination with Don Quixote. There are numerous statues around the city and many references to Don Quixote, his faithful companion Sancho Panza, his ideal woman Dulcinea, and his aged horse Rocinante.

Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote Man of la Mancha,seems to be the patron saint of the city. The International Cervantes Festival is held there every fall. The origins of the festival are from the mid 20th century, when short plays by Cervantes called Entremeses were performed in the city’s plazas. In 1972, this was expanded with federal support to include more events to add a more international flavor. Since then, the Cervantes Festival has grown to become the most important international artistic and cultural event in Mexico and Latin America, and one of four major events of its type in the world. In addition to the Entremeses which are still performed throughout the city, there are a variety of acts and artists performing from all parts of the world, I'm sure it would be quite an experience to attend the festival.

This year we finally got around to visiting the Don Quixote Iconographic Museum. The exhibits are presented in many different media by different artists in different styles. Paintings, statues, tapestries, even chess sets, clocks and postage stamps all feature Don Quixote and his companion Sancho Panza.

The museum has over 800 pieces scattered throughout 17 rooms and courtyards. A few of them were closed but we saw so much stuff that it's hard to imagine that we missed very much. Some pieces showed Don Quixote and his companions as beaten and battered while others showed him as the chivalrous knight at the beginning of his quest to defend the helpless and destroy the wicked.

Naturally we wondered why Eulalio Ferrer was so obsessed with Don Quixote that he became the patron of this museum. Ferrer was born in Spain and became a journalist covering the Spanish Civil War. He was on the losing side and imprisoned in a concentration camp. In July 1940 after being released he wrote (rough translation) "When I entered the camp Argelès sur Mer, an exile who lost the Spanish Civil War, a militiaman gave me a book in exchange for a pack of cigarettes; I am wearing one that had been given to cross the border and did not smoke; then I changed it by the book. I got the bag and went to the concentration camp, where there were no seats or anything; I had to sleep on the sand and my pillow was the backpack. The next day, remove the sweater she wore to wrap myself because it was so cold, I saw the book, it was Don Quixote, an edition of Calleja, 1912. Imagine a 19 year old boy reading daily at Don Quijote as one book and an almost religious obsession, because everything idealized." One room of the museum is devoted to various editions of the book that Ferrer has collected, including the one that he read to his fellow inmates in the concentration camp. It's well-worn.

Ferrer also wrote in his diary from the concentration camp La Barcares in 1939 "There are moments when the sands of this beach transform into the plains of La Mancha and I see Don Quixote and Sancho riding along as though theses characters were real. I can touch them, hear them, they are with us. Cervantes created them to be immortal. What great solace I find in reading Don Quixote. Reading this novel in a concentration camp is like a minute hand marking human hours, like the discovery of ideas that justify the madness of this genius to summon the control of reason." After his release from the concentration camp Ferrer was exiled to Mexico.

We found this history of the museum to be not only interesting but touching. The idea that this book helped Ferrer cope with being in a concentration camp gives it a whole new meaning.

As we were leaving the museum we came upon a couple of unique exhibits. The first was a huge, room-sized mural depicting Cervantes and the characters from Don Quixote.

The other exhibit was a carving of Don Quixote. The stone used for the carving was found inside the wall it is now mounted on during the remodeling of the building.

Obviously we enjoyed our visit to this museum. Very fascinating and informative.

Sunday, February 21, 2016


Elegant buildings, colorful homes, individual plazas, and winding alleys and streets make Guanajuato one of the most beautiful cities in Mexico. Until the beginning of the 15th century it was home to a settlement of Otomi natives, and the name Guanajuato in their Purepecha language means 'hilly place of the frogs.' The Spanish discovered rich silver mines in 1548, and silver has been mined there ever since. At one time 50% of all the silver produced in the world came from this area, and now it's about 25%. In the 16th century it was the richest city in Mexico and this is reflected in the many magnificent buildings.
One of the pleasures of Guanajuato is wandering around its twisting streets and alleys. Because of the steep hills and rough terrain, buildings are placed where they fit. Unlike most Mexican cities, there isn't one central plaza (not enough flat ground for one) but rather a series of plazas. 
The Plaza de la Paz, Peace Plaza, is one of the oldest plazas. It's located in front of  the Basilica of Our Lady of Guanajuato, one of the most recognized landmarks. 

We enjoy wandering between all the plazas, each with its own unique character. Recognizing the different plazas help us get around without getting too lost. There is a network of alleys (callejons) almost like a web throughout Guanajuato which connect just about everything (as do the tunnels beneath). Guanajuato is made for walking. Driving is next to impossible as the streets are incredibly narrow.

Jardin de la Union is one of the busiest plazas in the city. The carefully pruned trees form a triangle with a garden in the middle, and restaurants around the sides. The Teatro Juarez and Church of San Diego are in front of the jardin. We visited the Teatro several times and I blogged about it and other parts of Guanajuato  here  http://briansue2.blogspot.mx/2013/03/guanajuato-and-on-to-arizona.html  and here http://briansue2.blogspot.mx/2012/03/guanajuato.html

We had lunch at a restaurant with balconies overlooking the jardin and surrounding area. Great place for people watching.

As we wandered around the city we kept coming across a variety of sculptures. On further investigation we found that many of them were part of a special exhibit by Leonara Carrington. The exhibit was titled 'Las Posibilidades De Los Sueños', or 'The Possibilities of Dreams'.
The exhibit is part of 'Art Outside the Walls', a program of the Museum of Art and History of Guanajuato. The exhibit opened in 2015 with ten bronze sculptures born of the 'fantastic imagery of artist Leonora Carrington, one of the highest representatives of the surrealist movement'.This exhibit was awarded the National Prize for Arts and Sciences, the highest distinction awarded by the government of Mexico in the field of Fine Arts. Carrington was an English born Mexican artist, surrealist painter, and novelist. She lived most of it her adult life in Mexico City, and was one of the last surviving participants in the Surrealist movement of the 1930s.
Her sculptures did seem to come from dreams. We didn't find all ten, but some of the sculptures we saw in the city are shown below.

Some of the sculptures, like this one in front of the University of Guadalajara, had very similar cat-like faces.

Dreams or nightmares, I guess it's all in the eye of the beholder.

Some maps....

The city of Guanajuato is very confusing to navigate. This map shows some of the streets - dotted lines represent tunnels and alleys, you never know which is which until you get there.

Our route from Roca Azul to Guanajuato, 212 miles

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Spending Time in Familiar Places


Our first stop after leaving Cholula was Patzcuaro. It's a 300 mile drive (long way for us), but much of it is on cuotas (toll roads) including the Arco Norte which loops around Mexico City. Our Streets and Trips mapping program doesn't have the newest western section of the Arco Norte, but Brian was able to show our route using the Streets and Trips "Create GPS Trail" function. The thinner blue line is where we actually drove on the Arco Norte.
We've always loved Patzcuaro and keep going back. We like staying at Rancho la Mesa which is a restaurant, hotel and RV park. There's a fabulous view of town and Lake Patzcuaro from the RV spaces.
The island of Janitzio is the largest island on the lake, and is ever changing as the fog rolls in and out.
There are boats that run from the mainland to Janitzio. On previous years we have gone over to the island and climbed all the way up into the top of the arm of the statue of Jose Maria Morelos.
We've written quite a few posts about this area. To see more about the history and our adventures, enter Patzcuaro into the search box on the right hand side of the blog page. This will bring up prior blog posts with more information and pictures.

Valle de Juarez

The drive from Patzcuaro to VdJ is 147 miles and takes pretty much all day. The road we take is curvy and goes through lots of towns, all with their share of topes. It's a beautiful drive and provides an opportunity to slow down and appreciate the view.
Both Brian and I think that VdJ is one of the prettiest towns in Mexico. It's just one of those places that make you feel good while you're there. Hard to explain, we love it and we love being there.
While in VdJ we chose to stay at Chema's instead of Hacienda Contreras where we stayed on previous visits. Since the ownership of HC has changed we thought we'd give the other RV park at Chema's a try. We enjoyed our stay there - sorry I forgot to take pictures. We had a great time visiting with friends Sal and Barb who still have their lovely house in town, and with Heinz and Ulli who have given up RVing but are renting an apartment in town.

Roca Azul

Roca Azul Resort on Lake Chapala is 50 miles from Valle de Juarez. The closest town is Jocotepec, and it's not far from Ajijic, Chapala, and Guadalajara.
The resort has several pools, a sauna, a tennis court, huge soccer field, and large RV spaces.
 We found a nice spot for the Bus with a view of our neighbor's garden. There are several spaces here with long term renters.
There has been some kind of a soccer camp going on during the time we've been here. From what I understand, the kids are from Guadalajara and they are here for six weeks. They practice during the week and teams come in from other areas for games. Fun to watch.
We made a repeat visit to the Women's Cooperative in San Cristobal Zapotitlan with our friends Kris and Ken. It's about 6 miles from Roca Azul, directions can be found in a previous entry  http://briansue2.blogspot.mx/2014/01/day-trips-from-roca-azul.html
The women in the area make fantastic dolls and flowers out of cornhusks, and a wide variety of baskets woven from reeds.
Everything is very affordable and it's worth a visit when in the area.

While we've enjoyed our stay at Roca Azul and had fun with Ken and Kris, as well as our friend Micky who lives in Ajijic, we're ready to hit the road. Next stop, Guanajuato.