Time is either my enemy or my friend. To successfully complete a journey such as I’ve set out takes both patience and diligence. After nearly a month in Mexico, I feel I’m not getting anywhere. Yet one could spend an entire year here and not truly get a taste of its rich diversity of people, architecture, history, climate and geography. My extended stay in Baja, plus an unplanned journey to Chihuahua and the Copper Canyon have put me far behind my original schedule. I thought by now I’d be chasing the elusive fresh water sharks of Lago de Nicaragua. But no. I’m still in Mexico.
But timing is everything.
I’m not sure if a blessing or curse, but my trip through the time tunnels of Guanajuato landed me in this rich historical town just as the most popular and widely attended festival of the year was winding down to its grand finale of a close. Mexican people young and old travel far and wide to the Festival Internacional Cervantino – a massive arts festival dedicated to the memory of Spanish writer Miguel Cervantes, most famously known for his epic work Don Quixote. Originally the festival consisted of simply sketches from Cervantes work performed by students. But today it’s one of the largest and most exciting arts festivals in all of Latin America. The swelling of the people crowding the narrow streets and normally peaceful gardens and plazas wreak havoc on this normally peaceful town — not unlike perhaps how the hurricanes of Stan and Wilma have changed the complexion of Chiapas, and the Yucatan.
Worrying about weathering the storm and the condition of roads to Guatemala wracked by these intense storms that will certainly put 2005 in the history books as one of the worst ever, I mentally let go realizing I’m in Mexico — so enjoy it.
With my feet and mind ready, I immersed into the streets of glorious Guanajuato where I was feted with rock bands, parading horses, string quartets, folk singers, a Japanese drumming troupe and more. Most of the events are free while others required tickets long sold out before I arrived. Yet the streets were on fire. Gorgeous women and wanting men, hawkers and parading mariachis all lended color to this Cervantino canvas.
But perhaps more alarming were the warnings of our hotel, passersby and police about the influx of people coming to party in Guanajuato about safety and security of our motorcycles. Because of the steep, serpentine and narrow streets and 300 year old buildings, parking in the historic city centre was practically non-existent. Non of the hotels save the most expensive offered parking. And the single parking complex in town charged more than $20 to park each motorcycle. But it pays to make friends and communicate with the transit cops. Two of such took Jeremiah and me under their wing and guided us through parking on the street. Problem is, we’d have to unpack everything from the bike. This may not seem a big deal, but hauling panniers, top boxes, tank panniers, dry bags and a spare tire up and down staircases that would have made M.C. Escher jealous to a 2nd floor room that barely fit two single beds proved a challenge we’d just have to accept.
All the streets in Guanajuato go one way. The tunnels go the other way. This means there’s no going backwards. But our friends the cops held up traffic for us so we could spin our motos the wrong way on a one way street to a parking place thankfully labeled “Motos Only” where their watchful eyes would allow us to relax and enjoy the party. Staying in Mexico isn’t so bad after-all. I love these people.
Photos: (1) Perhaps the best view of the madness on the streets of Guanajuato is on the terrace of the Basilica de Nuestra Senora de Guanajuato as these young children have; (2) the streets everyday were a feast for the eyes, stomach and ears; (3) our friend the transit cop; (4) motorcycle only parking… you gotta love it!