Música y Museos of Guanajuato

Sitting in Starbucks just inside the large floor to ceiling open wooden doors, I can hear two different mariachis bands battling it out in the Jardin, complete with dueling snare drum and cow bell.  A group of estudiantinas, strolling musicians like Pied Pipers, are conducting a sing-along at the end of the block.  There is a crowd following them, singing “Cielito Lindo,” the turn of the century song also known as the  “Ay, Ay, Ay, Ay, Canta ye No llores” song.  A woman in the chair adjacent to me is blasting “reggaton,” Mexico’s version of HipHop over her iphone at full volume, while notes of “light jazz” from the Starbucks intercom fill in the background.   It’s an insane cacophony of out of tune singers, out of sync musicians, and out of touch young Mexican hipsters.  Everyone seems impervious to the mounting din but me…

It's very common to see local bands playing in the many small plazas around town.

It’s very common to see local bands playing in the many small plazas around town.

And where there is music, there is always dancing!

And where there is music, there is always dancing!

I'm not sure what's going on here, but if you sit on the front steps of the Teatro Juarez for long enough, you will eventually observe some oddity...

I’m not sure what’s going on here, but if you sit on the front steps of the Teatro Juarez for long enough, you will eventually observe some oddity…

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If you asked me to describe Guanajuato in one word, it would be difficult.  “Hilly” comes to mind, as does “colorful.”  But I guess the one word that speaks to my soul more than any here is “music.”  It’s always playing at any hour, whether in the streets or out the windows of the townspeople.

Group of period costumed students leading an "estudiantina" or strolling sing-a-long.

Group of period costumed students drumming up business for an “estudiantina” or strolling sing-a-long.

Check out the times on the flyer posted around town. Thursday through Saturday until 4:00am!!!

Check out the times on the flyer posted around town. Thursday through Saturday until 4:00am!!!

This concert featuring a lovely young soloist from the University is taking place in the museum lobby.

This concert featuring a lovely young soloist from the University is taking place in the museum lobby.

There’s a great “Meet-Up” site for Guanajuato which lists all upcoming events and their venues.   After following it for a couple of weeks, I decide I’m going to see how many musical events I can attend before I burn out.   There’s a solo violinist, a Russian student from the University who plays in the cavernous museum lobby one night.  Next comes a duo of classical guitarists in intimate concert in the lobby of one of the upscale B&Bs in the historic centro.  The third night is Andean music in the Plazuela de San Fernando.  And Friday night, the full University orchestra is playing Tchaikovsky in the beautiful Teatro Juarez.   Four nights in a row, and I cry “UNCLE!”    I give.   Music wins!

The beautiful Teatro Juarez, inaugurated in 1903.

The beautiful Teatro Juarez, inaugurated in 1903.

It's open seating for the symphony, so you can sit anywhere.   I sit on the main floor for the first act.

It’s open seating for the symphony, so you can sit anywhere. I sit on the main floor for the first act.

For the second act, I decided to try the view from a box seat.

For the second act, I decide to try the view from a box seat.

Another word that could easily describe Guanajuato is “Museums.”   There are four in a row on one street alone!   I set my intentions to visit as many of these as possible while here.  The most historical, without a doubt is the Alhondiga, site of the first rebel battle of the Mexican War of Independence against the Spaniards, now turned Art and History Museum.

This small niche on the side of the People's Museum, built of carved pink stonework, dates back to the 19th Century.

This niche on the side of the People’s Museum. Built of carved pink stonework, it dates back to the 19th Century.

Exhibit of contemporary art.

Exhibit of contemporary art.

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Even more famous is the macabre Museo de las Momias,” or museum of naturally mummified bodies from the 19th and 20th century, largest collection in the Western Hemisphere.  These 111 mummies came about as a result of a burial tax. When a new law required residents to pay a tax for perpetual burial, if survivors didn’t pay the tax, they exhumed the body and stored it in a building above ground.  When they exhumed these bodies, they had become naturally mummified from the dry climate and high mineral content of the soil.  People actually began to pay to see this in the 1800’s.   But I opt out of both of these museums for different reasons.  The Alhondiga is a bit on the pricey side as Mexico museums go…and the ticket for my camera would cost almost as much as my own price of admission.   There are no English subtitles here, so I decide to save my money for a time when my Spanish has improved.  And as for the mummies, well, I don’t need the weird vibes from a bunch of creepy shrunken bodies, no matter how old or well preserved.

Diego Rivera Birthplace and Museum

Diego Rivera Birthplace and Museum

Entrance to the Diego Rivera Museum...quite fancy.

Entrance to the Diego Rivera Museum…quite fancy.

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Diego Rivera was born in one of the first level bedrooms in 1886.

Diego Rivera was born in one of the first level bedrooms in 1886.

Although Rivera only lived here the first six years of his life, they credit it with the formulation of his creative years.  It became a museum in 1975.

Although Rivera only lived here the first six years of his life, they credit it with the formulation of his creative years. It became a museum in 1975.

I do make time to visit what is likely the most popular museum among gringos, that of the husband of that most famous Mexican painter, Frida Kahlo.  Although Frida’s museum and house are in Mexico City, Guanajuato was the birthplace of her husband, Diego Rivera.  While Frida is likely more popular outside of Mexico, Diego Rivera is revered as one of Mexico’s finest artists, credited with beginning the muralist movement.

Museum is multi-level, with period rooms being on the first floor, Rivera's artwork being on the second, and temporary exhibits on the third floor.

Museum is multi-level, with period rooms being on the first floor, Rivera’s artwork being on the second, and temporary exhibits on the third floor.

Rivera's "cubism" period which was at its height from 1913 to 1917.  Picasso was very influential on Rivera.

Rivera’s “cubism” period which was at its height from 1913 to 1917. Picasso was very influential on Rivera.

Frida, or one of his many other muses?

Frida? Or one of his many other muses?

Frida and Diego

Frida and Diego


But no museum has more significance in Guanajuato than that of Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote, namesake for the city’s largest festival.   Since the 1950’s, the Festival International Cervantino, born out of Cervantes one act plays, is now one of Latin America’s foremost arts events. Come two weeks in October, over 200,000 visitors descend on Guanajuato to attend this music, dance, and theater festival, all for the love of the arts…and one author and his El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quixote

Statue of Don Quixote.

Statue of Don Quixote.


Bronze statue of Diego Rivera near Cafe Conquistador Coffee Shop.

Bronze statue of Diego Rivera near Cafe Conquistador Coffee Shop.

Temporary exhibit on the third floor of the Diego Rivera museum...photographs of ballerinas in Havana, Cuba.

Temporary exhibit on the third floor of the Diego Rivera museum…photographs of ballerinas in Havana, Cuba.

Music and an unwavering dedication to the arts are common all over Mexico, where one can hear laughter and merrymaking wafting from inside bars, private homes and rooftops on almost every corner of every town.   But the difference in Guanajuato is, all those festivities and merrymaking are taking place on the OUTSIDE!    On any given day, there’s a party taking place on the Teatro steps, in the Jardin, or one of the many small plazas throughout Centro…and everyone is invited.

“Where there’s music there can be no evil”  ~ Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote

Note:  Click HERE for a video of Guanajuatos’ strolling musicians leading one of the nightly “Estudiantinas.”

Mountains, Missions, and One Massive Monolith

We make one last stop before leaving the Huasteca Potosina region at the Sotano Golindrinas, or Cave of the Swallows.  Falling just six feet short of being 1,000 ft wide at it’s widest point, this air pit cave is over 1,200 ft drop from its highest karst ridge overhead, making it (according to wikipedia) “the largest known cave shaft in the world.”  Although swarms of birds are reported, Continue reading

A New Meaning to “Concrete Jungle”

As we continue our southerly loop around the Reserva de la Biosfera Sierra Gorda, we stop in the Pueblo Magico, or “Magic Town” of Xilitla.   I have written about Mexico’s Magic Town campaign before, whereby towns are chosen by the Department of Tourism for their natural beauty, cultural riches, or historical relevance.  I make it my goal to see as many as I can, because each offers up some gem of interest or beauty usually worthy of an out of the way stop. Continue reading

Canoes, Cascades, and Cameras…Huasteca Potosina, Part Two

Huasteca Potosina is often referred to as a “water wonderland,” or place of “aquatic adventures.”    For the next two days, we will be spending time canoeing and floating down rivers, swimming in caves, and jumping off waterfalls.    A photography enthusiasts dream!  So one would think what a great opportunity Continue reading

Huasteca Potosina — Part One, Laguna Media Luna

I’ve quickly learned to not ever say “no” when an invitation comes from my newly acquired group of friends, as I am sure to regret it.  At the conclusion of a recent violin concert, I am chatting with Karen, the friend I hiked with in Santa Rosa.  She asks if I would be interested in joining a group of friends on an upcoming trip to Continue reading

I Don’t Always Attend Beer Festivals, But When I Do….

At the first mention of “Mexico,” ones thoughts instantly turn to “cerveza!” Mexico has recently overtaken Germany in beer production to become the fourth largest brewer in the world. Beer production was up 8% last year. Of course, much of this is attributed to the duopoly of the two well-known Mexican brands, Continue reading

Hiking the Hills of Santa Rosa

As much as I love Guanajuato, there are days that the “verticality” of it all starts to get to me. Everything is either up or down, including the three stories of the house where I am staying. The callejones are steep, the buildings stacked on top of one another, and I can’t see up over the “rim of the bowl” that is the valley of Centro. If I let myself start thinking about it, I can imagine the walls of the valley closing in. I feel the overwhelming urge to take my arms and push against the opposing hills so I can see out. A “verticalilty attack” has me feeling a little like Rapunzel up in the tower who has just pulled out all her hair.

When I get an email from newly made friends asking if I am interested in a Saturday hike, Continue reading

Field Trip Fun Around Guanajuato

One of my favorite offerings at Escuela Falcon, my Spanish School, goes beyond the “escuela” (school)  part.  It’s the field trips.  I still remember the excitement of a field trip as a kid…getting a break from school, time to hang out with other classmates, an exciting adventure, and even refreshments!

At Escuela Falcon, these are typically organized in the afternoon following the class schedule, and are led by one of the instructors.   Though the instructors may not be official “guides,” they are a wonderful resource in helping translate and interpret Continue reading

Escuela de Español – Choosing a School

Guanajuato is known for its language schools. Being a smaller city somewhat removed from the heavier touristed locations where English is more widely spoken, it offers more opportunity for immersion without the crutch of English speakers on every corner. The renown University of Guanajuato with its over 34,000 students also makes for a higher concentration of foreign students than one would typically see in a town the size of Guanajuato, many of them seeking accelerated Spanish immersion. The town manages to support five different Spanish schools in addition to the University’s language curriculum. Continue reading

Finding My Way

No printed maps, android apps, or TripAdvisor Listicles can help when it comes to easily finding one’s way around Guanajuato.  Not even the Lonely Planet guide, which allocates Guanajuato a measly seven out of 896 pages in their Mexico Travel Guide, can be much help.  No, it takes lots of insider tips, landmarks, and a few good games of “Estoy Perdido” (I’m lost!) to finally learn one’s way around this crazy city. Continue reading