Thursday, May 27, 2004

Leon, Mexico--Days 115-118

The past week has been wonderful here in Mexico. After getting the hippo photos in Leon, I was off for a few days and headed to Guanajuato, which is about 45 minutes away from Leon and is absolutely beautiful. I spent an entire day walking around the town taking loads of photographs, visiting a museum entirely devoted to Don Quixote as well as several impressive churches, and rode a cable car type thing up to the top of a huge hill which overlooked Guanajuato down below. I decided that I wanted to find a day tour to several towns nearby and to my luck, found a full day tour for the next day that would visit San Miguel de Allende and Dolores Hidalgo, both towns involved in shaping Mexico’s history during the revolution. The only problem was that the entire tour was going to be in Spanish! I figured that I could manage.

Anyways, the next morning (on Wednesday) I got up and had to get another taxi down to Guanajuato from my hotel in Leon. I arrived and went to meet the tour and found another girl like myself, Melanie, who was in Guanajuato for two days and visiting for a friend’s wedding from Ireland. What a relief to find someone my age and in the area for the same amount of time! We chatted while we waited for our tour and at 10:30am we were escorted down one of the alley ways to meet up with our tour guide. Soon thereafter a suburban whizzed up and we hopped in, greeting our Spanish speaking tour guide as we left to pick up two other passengers who turned out to be these really nice middle-aged women from Chile. We set off for our first destination (Dolores Hidalgo) and already I was feeling great about going on this tour and happy that I had met some nice people!

Basically we had a private tour the entire day. Driving through the mountains to get away from Guanajuato, we then hit up lots of cool sights. On our way to Dolores Hidalgo we stopped by a brightly colored grave of the creator of Mariachi music, and proceeded onwards to Dolores Hidalgo where we got a full on tour of the area and its history regarding the Mexican revolution, and picked up some tequila flavored ice cream while we were at it. So far so good, I was understanding (most of) what was going on! But my suave Spanish was unfortunately not enough to really help Melanie (who didn’t speak quite as much as I did but was still getting along) understand all of the history that our tour guide was explaining to us which, try as I might, went in through one ear (which was straining to pick up every last word) and out the next.

After Dolores Hidalgo, we stopped at a few tiendas to buy souvenirs. Basically this meant that the women that we were with would stop and chat chat chat with everyone in the store and Melanie, myself, and our driver would be sitting in the car waiting for them. I thought it was pretty funny because they seemed to have no concept of time (which didn’t seem to bother out guide) and that the younger members of the tour were the ones on time, rather than them! Anyways, afterwards we went to a great buffet place for lunch which was fantastic. We were able to help ourselves to wonderful dishes and drink horchata to cool ourselves from the hot sun.

After lunch we headed towards San Miguel de Allende where we were give almost two hours to peruse on our own. San Miguel de Allende is a beautiful small town and Melanie and I had no trouble taking those few hours and walking along the cobblestone streets and taking in the numerous churches. We wanted to find this particular lookout point and found a nice man to help us, but then realized that we had to go back to the car and meet up with the group.

We found our guide in the suburban and climbed in, but what’s the rush really? Melanie and I sat there for a good 20 minutes or so while our guide (a little more impatient this time) went in search of the other two from our group, who were inevitably off shopping and chatting away. Eventually he finds them and basically steers them towards the car (to prevent further stopping points!) and we are driven up to the top to the lookout that Melanie and I were looking for earlier to get a few shots overlooking San Miguel de Allende.

Funny enough, some smart vendor had a shop at the top of the hill where lo and behold, our favorite shoppers ventured in never to return. Again, while Melanie and I sat and waited in the car, our guide went off into the shop to gather the ladies up again and bring them back to the car. At least the two bought stuff in every store that they stopped and chatted in, so at least the time really wasn’t wasted…and who needs to be on a schedule anyways? J

The drive back to Guanajuato was about an hour and half and I had to struggle to keep my eyelids open! What a busy day. Anyways, we made it back and after dropping off the ladies and making it back to the Centro, we said goodbye to our guide and Melanie and I went off to find some dinner to eat, stopping at her hostel first. We picked up her friend (a.k.a. girl she met the day before) Helen, who is from England, and another girl Yuki from Japan (from Osaka! I’ve been there!) and the four of us went off to find some dinner.

Dinner turned out really nice (we accidentally found a place that turned out to be recommended in someone’s guide book) and then while Yuki went back to the hostel, Melanie, Helen and I watched the most bizarre street performance I’ve ever seen (literally a man in a wedding dress and a mask who was falling over drunk while several others played a flute around him and chased another person dressed as a cow--I’m sure it really meant something but I could not get over the strangeness of the drunken man in heels) and then we took the gondola/street car thingy back up to the top of the hill overlooking down onto Guanajuato, which was really cool at nighttime. I had seen in during the day and was happy that we came back up at night.

After walking down the hill this time back to the city center, I realized just how late it was and how unsafe it would be for me to catch a cab back to Leon by myself. With a little persuading (not much!) I decided to stay at the girls’ hostel for a night rather than risk going back. So we went back to the hostel and I got my bed and luckily Melanie had a spare toothbrush (unused I promise!) and the three of us chatted away until we all fell asleep.

The next morning, Melanie and I hopped on board a 1st class bus to Leon. She was heading back to Aguascalientes where her friends’ wedding was to be, and I needed to shower, get dressed, and check out to get to the airport to catch my flight to Puebla. The bus ride was very plush and nothing to worry about (its like a super fancy greyhound). We got into Leon and said our goodbyes, and then I walked back to my hotel, feeling proud of myself for making it there based on my memory of the area.

Jumping ahead a few hours, I made it to the airport and got my flight down to Puebla. I had to transfer flights in Mexico City, and with all the time that it took me to get there and wait for my next plane, I really could have taken my new favorite mode of transport (the bus) and gotten there quicker. Never mind. The Mexico City airport is very confusing (at least initially) and I had quite a time trying to figure out which airline I was on (why would I be on the airline that my ticket said?!? Of COURSE I’m on a different airline, duh!) and finding my gate. After lugging all of my stuff around the airport for a while, I had finally found my correct airline, got my boarding pass, eaten something and was sitting at my gate ready to leave.

Now the only problem was that there were no signs saying that my flight was going out of the gate that my boarding pass said, and on top of that, several different flights kept boarding out of the supposed gate. So I sat there with pass in hand, checking my ticket every single time the girl got on the loud speaker to announce the outgoing flight.

Finally it was my turn and I walked down the runway and got onto a bus, which then took us to our plane on the other side of the airport. Our plane was this small turbo prop jet which looked very cool, yet very much like something out of the 1950s. We boarded and took off, whizzing away into the sky. Literally, the plane was making this whizzzzzz sound that only old airplanes could possibly make.

A short time later we arrived in Puebla. I got my bags, got my taxi, and was off to my hotel.

And what a hotel it was! I walked in and couldn’t believe that I was staying here. It was absolutely beautiful. Walking into a huge courtyard with a large fountain in the middle with people sitting outside under the stars listening to jazz music while sipping their daiquiris. It was straight out of a romance novel, and there I was, all disheveled and by myself.

I checked in (the woman checking in was definitely suspicious of me--giving me one of those, are you sure you are staying HERE? looks) and I was whisked off to my room with the help of a bell boy who told me that the hotel used to a convent and was over 400 years old.

Well that explains it!

My room was just as great and I set down my things then headed down to the courtyard and sat down to have dinner. Romance was definitely in the air, and I sat there doing quite a good job of looking like I too had someone who to share this beautiful night.

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.