Monday, February 4, 2008

Views of Guanajuato

From a comfortable casita window, I look out on clear blue skies that sharply outline tired, rocky hills. Some hills have rounded tops and others show their weathered sides beginning to form plateaus from eons of erosion. Small pines and clumps of determined oak are separated by patches of prickly pear cactuses, their flat pods pointing spiky barbs. At the base of the fold of these hills lies El Centro de la Ciudad de Guanajuato, its houses and other buildings crawling up the hillsides with bright splashes of color. Canary yellow, yam orange, lime green and turquoise walls, stand up flat against the brown sun scorched grass and grey rock hills. Flat roofs topping stucco walls line narrow alleys, known as callejons.

Guanajuato has a unique to subterranean road system created from a diverted river following the great inundacion, or flood, of 1905. The flood was one of a long line of devastating rushes of water through the city. Cars and buses use the tunnels, removing a good chunk of city traffic from surface streets. Narrow streets with even narrower sidewalks make walking on those streets above ground that do carry traffic less than perfect, but traffic is slow and drivers generally cautious and surprisingly courteous to pedestrians. Also, there are a good number of streets barricaded to traffic which adds to the enjoyment of walking in Guanjuanto.

To reach the colonias, or neighborhoods, an extensive system of callejons twists and turns up and down along the contours of hillsides. The cobble-stoned and concrete pathways, some with hundreds of stairs, have numerous branches leading to individual houses and shops. A detailed map of the city shows hundreds of squiggly lines of callejons.

Each of the callejons has their resident pack of dogs. They lie stretched out sunning themselves, and will occasionally be roused to watch or even follow curiously, and harmlessly, sniffing you or your bags. Unlike other Mexican communities, I have never seen anyone throw a rock or yell at one of these dogs.

Our rented casita sits high off the Panoramica, a several-mile circumferential paved road. True to its name, the Panoramica runs up and down from high ridges with fabulous views of the city, then dips down and wends its way on cobblestones through colonias and back up to another ridge with sweeping views from a different angle.
From our casita, the walk to El Centro down El Saucillo Callejon is an experience between rural and urban. Near the top, several horses live in a small stable fenced with disguarded rusting bedframes. Burros graze on roughage in the steep canyon that drops off below the houses that line the callejon to the east. A corregated roof next to a freshly plowed plot shelters a farmer who tends his burros.

One afternoon two men stood in the middle of the callejon shoeing a lovely brown horse. The horse patiently waited standing on three legs during the operation. As one man soothed the horse from the front, the other hammered nails into its raised hoof. The gentle horse never moved despite the sharp hit of the shoeing hammer.

El Saucillo Callejon has many hundreds of steps, requiring cautious footing on the uneven concrete. Metal sewer and water pipe lines follow the plunge down along the edge of the concrete. Part way down the pipe moves to the center of the callejon adding another little challenge to walkers.

Further down the steps, several tiendas with open doors offer their wares for sale, while old men sun themselves on stone door stoops. Women lug plastic bags of groceries, slowing making their way to their houses, but pause to exchange “buenas dias.” Children bounce balls, and at a graded flat area down a side callejon, there's a grassed soccer field with goal posts. Tin cans hold plants in small gardens, set on top of concrete steps before wooden doors. Houses are stucco, brick or plain concrete, some painted while others are left to the weathered grey of concrete.

Closer to the bottom, a house painted bright blue with yellow wrought iron railings trimming two small balconies requires a tall person to stoop in order to pass under. A uniformed delivery man walks along rythmically calling out in a deep voice, "gas?", meaning who needs a refilled propane cannister for their stove.

Spreading out wide with three final series of steps, El Saucillo Callejon meets Paseo de la Presa, a busy urban boulevard with buses, trucks and cars moving along a lovely cobblestone street bordered by government buildings and a commercial center.

1 comment:

Louisa said...

Hi Francie, Enjoyed meeting you last night and reading your description of Guanajuato, which marvelously vivid and captured the color and energy of its callejones. I'm at to hear from you.