The road to Guanajuato, an important colonial city which sits slightly more than 2,000 meters above sea level in a central Mexican highland valley (that’s about 6,500 feet for those of you still fumbling around with the Imperial as opposed to the Metric system of measurement) was one long, slightly climbing grade followed by one long, steeply climbing grade. Wesley chugged along in third gear, and sometimes second gear, wagging a long tail of more powerful vehicles behind it. When the opportunity presented, I would pull over to allow these very patient drivers to pass, and at one of the stops, at the crest of what we hoped was the apex of our climb (not!), we got out to enjoy the view over green hillsides with nothing to hear but our own words and the occasional car going by. The xx of the land as changed from the hot, arid, brown of the northern deserts where we started our visit to more lush farmland, shade trees, and green hillsides as we’ve moved south and this was a beautiful vantage point to enjoy some solitude and vistas - if there was a way for us to pull Wesley off the road so it could not be seen we may have had our first free Mexican camping experience.
Instead we headed for an “RV park” we had read about in the city of Guanajuato that turned out to be some guys’ driveway. We called it camping in the “yonke” (Spanish for junkyard) because in addition to allowing camping, the place also looked to be a final resting place for some other once proud scraps of metal. So, although the site itself was underwhelming, it did come as advertised – semi-clean bathrooms, lots of barking dogs, and only a short jaunt down some very steep alleyways to el centro historico. It was convenient to find camping within the city so we didn’t have to pack up Wesley to drive to the sights so it worked out perfectly – Morrill RV Park; recommended! Part of the draw also was that it came with a great view of the city spread out on the hillside and – bonus - neighbors from Canada who just arrived in Mexico for their own months’ long road trip. This was our first meet up with fellow travelers and we burned the midnight oil and drank quite a bit of the tequila while swapping stories and dreams for our respective trips.
We planned to spend only one night in Guanajuato on our way to San Miguel de Allende, but after not pulling in to camp until late afternoon on Wednesday, we decided to spend all day Thursday as well. While we were standing around at the curbside taco joint waiting for our 5 peso tacos (1 peso currently equals about 6 cents) I was tapped on the shoulder by an American who recently moved to Guanajuato with his wife and two young boys from LA. Hector’s work allows he, Adelaide, and the boys to live remotely from its US location most of the year and they’ve been taking advantage of it with stints in Brazil, Germany, and now Guanajuato. We spent some nice time with them as they showed us the best place to get strawberry juice, nutella tacos, filled us in on some of the history of the city, and helped us navigate the streets to our planned activity for the day – the mummy museum.
We are trying to implement a system of taking turns picking daily activities and any day your kid chooses to go to a museum you have to do it even if you’ve heard it’s a distasteful, morbid, and creepy spot, and might give you nightmares. Due to the make-up of the soil, when the town had to exhume bodies from certain portions of this cemetery near the turn of the twentieth century, it found that the corpses had been naturally mummified so someone had the interesting idea to put the unclaimed bodies on display so those willing to pay 57 pesos (that’s eleven tacos at the 5 peso taco stand with leftover for a 2 peso piece of bread) could come and gawk at their empty eye sockets, flaccid and flaking skin, and straggly hair. Coconut and J spent a lot of time reading the English language displays which speculated about who these people were in their lives and how they died – one guy was stabbed, another drowned, and one was suspected to have been buried alive based on the position of her hands (covering her face) and the bruises on her arms where she may have beaten them against the stone of the crypt in a desperate, panicked, and unheard, call for help. Apparently it was not uncommon during this time for folks to be buried alive when doctors mistook various epileptic or other seizures as death. Some folks would have a string tied to their finger and attached to a bell above ground so if they woke up from their blackout they could ring the bell and be dug back up – this is where the phrase saved by the bell comes from.
Coconut chose to visit the Mummy Museum but she and J both seem to enjoy the macabre. Here they are reading the stories of these three souls.
After the museum we walked around the plazas and saw some of the sites – old churches and opulent homes built by the former silver barons – before stopping for a game of cards and bowl of guacamole. J and I had purchased churros – fried bread sprinkled with sugar - earlier in the day, and now, later in the day, the churro vendor showed up to talk to the fruit guy for about twenty minutes with his half sold tray of churros balanced on his head – Mexico’s got talent!
The yonke where we camped was down a steep graded driveway and I had well-founded nightmares not about mummies waking from the dead to pull me to the netherworld, but about driving Wesley up the driveway to the street and then out of town. Coming into town we had a harrowing experience when Wesley stalled out when it didn’t have a enough power to navigate an almost ninety degree switchback up a ridiculous hill. I had to slam on the brakes and R pulled the emergency brake to prevent us from rolling back over a nearby pedestrian and into the car following right on our tail. I probably took a few thousand miles off the transmission gunning the engine in first gear to make it up the hill.
It took me three tries to get out of the driveway and we had an uneventful drive after that to a hot spring near San Miguel where we met R’s friend Sean and his friend Mittie. We are now comfortably holed up here, in their house, until Tuesday while we plot our next move and the only thing I’m dreaming about is clean clothes and a hot shower.