Days 15 and 16: Sunset over Guanajuato

And so it ends.

After 16 days in Mexico I head home tomorrow, Continental Airlines and a 6:15 a.m. taxi ride to the airport willing. It took me about a half hour tonight to figure out the proper protocol for calling a Mexican cell phone from Skype, and in a half-English, half-Spanish conversation I arranged with the taxi driver where to pick me up tomorrow morning (there isn’t actually a passable road by the house). I’d put the odds of actually seeing the taxi driver at 6:15 a.m. tomorrow somewhere around 20%, but I’ve left myself enough wiggle room that if I have to walk into town and find a taxi I should be OK. If I’m posting tomorrow night from Guanajuato you’ll know this theory didn’t hold.

I finally kicked my cold to the curb today and spent the better part of the afternoon on one last walk around town. I did some small souvenir shopping, took a last turn around Mercado Hidalgo, walked through a part of the city I hadn’t visited and stopped at a restaurante on the main plaza to have a bowl of soup and do some people watching. My verdict, to quote Depeche Mode, is that people are people.

Before stopping for soup I spent some time sitting on a bench in my favorite plaza, just enjoying the warm afternoon sun. I was joined on the bench by a guy named “Brian” from Guanajuato, who looked to be in his 20s and who proceeded to strike up a conversation in English complaining that Guanajuato was “too boring,” had “not enough nightclubs” and that Mexican women were not as interesting as American women. I wasn’t sure if he was bored, looking to practice English, trying to hit on me or just a general chatty Cathy, but we had a lengthy and amusing conversation in English and Spanish.

On my way home I took the funicular (a Spanish word meaning “tiny rickety mountainside cable car operated by what looked to be a 12-year-old”) up to El Pípila, a famous monument overlooking the city. El Pípila was a hero of the Mexican War of Independence, and the monument (and the view) were both quite spectacular.

Conveniently, the monument is also up on the same mountain as my casita, so it was a 10 minute walk and descent on a staircase to get back home, instead of the usual climb. A very nice way to cap off the trip.

Reflections On This Trip

Overall I consider this trip a marvelous success. I’ve had fun, I was able to work seamlessly with my office back in the U.S. (and very productively), it was delightful to spend the dreariest part of the Portland winter bathed in the Mexican sunshine and I never got overwhelmingly lonely or homesick thanks to the Internet.

Some key learnings and pluses:

It was a great decision to pay a few more bucks and get the casita I wanted. Having a comfortable home with a great view made being here extremely pleasant. The difference between the place I stayed for the first three days (decent) and the second place was night and day. It was also much better to be within five minutes walking distance of downtown.

Skype is my friend. I brought my iPhone but kept it in Airplane Mode the whole time so it wouldn’t get any calls, texts or data (the AT&T international rates are obscene). But with Skype on my iPhone, which works via wi-fi, I was able to make calls for a nominal two cents per minute that were better quality than regular phone calls on my iPhone at home. Seriously, the quality was stunning. I also used a service on my iPhone called Line2, which works via wi-fi as well. It was not nearly as reliable as Skype, but came in handy the last two days when Skype blew up worldwide for 48 hours. The only negative to the whole communication plan was that I was incommunicado any time I was away from wi-fi. For the most part that was fine, as I could always have popped into an Internet cafe or other place with wi-fi if I’d needed to while I was out. In practice, I didn’t need to.

I was worried that everywhere would be filled with smokers, but very few people were smoking here, and nobody smoked in restaurants or anywhere else I was in public. It may still be a problem in other parts of the world, but not here.

Coming to a town that is a cultural hub was a happy accident, but a great one. Going to see awesome and cheap concerts in beautiful venues was one of the highlights of being here.

I think I picked the right amount of time to be here. Long enough that I had time to settle in and stop feeling like a tourist (and I didn’t have to feel disappointed for losing a bunch of days to being sick), but not so long that I got too homesick. I do miss my gal, though.

And a few things to improve on for next time:

Guanajuato was sunny, but cold. The nights here get down to the mid-30s, and insulation is non-existant. I was cold a lot, even during the day. I think my next winter trip will be to somewhere warmer, or at least somewhere that has more insulation and heat. 🙂

I’m not an extrovert, so I didn’t spend a lot of time striking up conversations with strangers. I might arrange for language lessons or some other kind of forced socializing the next time I travel, just to have a reason to meet people.

Speaking of Spanish, with a little more effort I could actually be much more passable in the language. I think future trips to Spanish-speaking countries would be enhanced by considerably more practice than just listening to an hour of podcasts on the plane flight down. I did fine, but I could do way better. And I think more confidence in Spanish would help with the above point about meeting people.

And finally, while the iPhone camera is decent, I wish I’d had a real camera. I don’t think I completely captured the beauty of the city.

As I was walking down the callejon into the city this afternoon I was feeling wistful about leaving. The beauty and peace that I’ve found here have been renewing and invigorating. I reminded myself that, sad as I am to leave, I can always come back another time. But on reflection, I doubt I’ll be back. Not because I don’t love Guanajuato, but because there’s so much more of the world to see. This trip has opened up doors for me. And for that, I will always remember my time here with a special fondness.

Thanks for reading.

Andrew Berkowitz
Guanajuato, Mexico
December 2010 

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