Friday, August 28, 2015

Guanajuato -- Full on Mexico -- May & June, 2015

Our previous post about Guanajuato - our home for this past May and June - talked about how Euro-ish it is. Which is true. But at the same time Guanajuato is Full On Mexico.

Peregrinacion de los Mineros

May is the month that the many (many, many) local churches honor Nuestra Señora de Guanajuato (Our Lady of Guanajuato), a statute of the Virgin Mary in the basilica in Guanajuato. 

The Basilica

The statue, which reportedly spent over 800 years hidden away in a cave in Spain during the Moorish occupation, was given to the faithful of Guanajuato in the 16th Century by Felipe II of Spain in recognition of the silver paid to the crown by the area's mining interests. Hmmm. 

[Side note: To put this grand gesture in perspective consider that Spanish law required the mine owners of New Spain to pay a quinto real (a "King's fifth" of all production) to the Spanish crown. A cynic might think this gift sounds something like: "Gee, thanks for that quinto real guys. You'll be happy to know it's being spent wisely on this war with England and France. And oh, yeah, here's a pretty statue that's been hanging around a cave that we don't have a place for. . . . " But consider how fancy a statue the Spanish crown owed Guanajuato in the 18th century when the nearby Valenciana mine was producing 2/3rds of the world silver!]  

In honor of this statue various groups make a peregrinacion (a pilgrimage walk) from an entry point into the city to the basilica. The grandest of these is the Peregrinacion de los Mineros - the pilgrimage of the miners. 

Each mining company is represented by its miners, often accompanied by their families . . . 

A Miner and a statue of La Señora
(Not The 800-Year Old Version)

A Miners' Brigade

. . . and pieces of suitably decorated mining equipment:

One Humongous Flower Arrangement

Virgin In A Scoop

Miners On Safety Duty - Keeping Parade Watchers
From Being Run Over By Decorated Mining Equipment

Travel Tip: If you ask when the peregrinacion will begin you may be told when the preceding fiesta begins. Before the miners and their families undertake their pilgrimage, they party. Which should not have surprised us -- when have we seen any public event in Mexico that didn't include food and music? So - keep in mind that, regardless of the time you are given by your trustworthy cab driver or desk clerk, the parading part of the peregrinacion won't begin until shortly before sunset. We arrived at the parade route way before the show started and though at first we spent an enjoyable time watching families in the park, even our well padded butts fell asleep after an hour on metal park benches.

The mining companies also hire dancers who perform traditional morality scenes. A highly unprofessional video of one is below . . . 

Mask Up

The mining companies also hire local religiously affiliated trumpet and drum groups who perform in Onward Christian Solder attire. Our favorites were the junior members:

Junior Members
Some Of Whom Became
A Bit Sleepy Later In The Evening

The loveliest part of the event was watching parade viewers greet their mine-employee friends and neighbors by name as they marched by, proving that even with a population of 170,000, Guanajuato is a small town.

Fiesta de San Juan 

June 24 is the day the Catholic Church recognizes as the birthday of St. John the Baptist. In Guanajuato the saint's celebration lasts for ten days during which there are musical performances, wrestling and boxing matches, fun runs and a triathlon and a waiters race (mentioned in our prior post about Guanajuato)

One afternoon the students and teachers of Plateros Spanish School visited the site of much of the fiesta activities - La Presa de la Olla (trans: Pot Dam - possibly because when it was built in the 1760's it created a reservoir - or pot - of water for the city - ?). 

La Presa - With A Very Full Reservoir

And there we saw all of the makings of a proper fiesta:  

              -- Statues honoring San Juan:

A Religious Food Stall

               -- Stalls selling religious items:

La Ultima Cena (The Last Supper)

               -- Stalls selling clothing:

Setting Up Shop

               -- Stalls selling food:

Mmmm . . . Spicy Fried Crickets, Anyone?

               -- Games of "skill"; one where the "prize" was a rabbit (and second prize was two rabbits?):

Los Estudiantes y Profesores y Conejos (Rabbits)

                -- And various entertainment venues: 

A "Cars" Ride

For Molly the highlight of the fiesta was that she overcame her Fear of Elote Elote (pronounced ey-Low-tay) is a Mexican street food dish: roasted corn slathered in mayonnaise, sour cream and crema (cream), topped with crumbled cotija cheese (sort of like feta), tajin (a lime-chile salt) and a squeeze of limón (lime). While it may sound reasonable to fear the cardiac effects of this dish - Molly's fear has been that she would be doomed to wear the elote toppings for the rest of the day. Happily, at the Fiesta de San Juan she was introduced to: Elote In A Cup (roasted corn cut from the cob and layered with all of the above-mentioned heart-stopping deliciousness)! Of course eating elote out of a plastic cup with a tiny plastic spoon doesn't guarantee a clean shirt - but it does improve one's odds.


Another Fiesta de San Juan event was a charreada - a Mexican rodeo. We have been trying to see a charreada for years but always seem to be in town a week early or a month late or.. . . something. But this time we were in town on the right day, and best of all - this charreada was a local affair rather than something being put on for tourists by professionals.

On the appointed day the weather looked fine and we had slathered ourselves with sunscreen in anticipation of being outdoors all day. We picked up Chris and Joe, two of our Plateros classmates, and began following the somewhat sketchy directions we had received from a variety of sources. The charreada was being held in a bullring located on private land somewhere behind our apartment, over a small mountain, up a mine access road, turn left down a dirt road . . . you can't miss it. 

The roads became more and more rural. We passed a group of mountain bike riders (another of the fiesta events) and soon joined vehicles pulling horse trailers. Yeah, we were not lost! When we arrived the crowd had already gathered and we were lucky to find a place: leaning against the back wall of the grandstand. 

The crowd was prepared with seats (the grandstand was all concrete) and coolers. They seemed to know or be related to the performers and to know each other well.

Ready For The Show

Many audience members were junior associates of the performing groups:

An Associate  Member of the "Turquoise Gang":

Someone Aspiring to the "Orange Gang"

A Charro In Training

We watched four different groups of women performing precision maneuvers on their beautiful horses. It all looked so simple, until one remembered that the horses probably weighed 1,000 pounds!

Three of the groups wore beautiful costumes.

The Turquoise Gang
The Orange Gang 
(Note The Rain Coverings on Their Sombreros)

And The Gang That Works Hardest
To Keep Their Costumes Clean!

Most rode side saddle reminding us of the old Ginger Rogers / Fred Astaire line - that Ginger did everything Fred did, just backwards wearing heels. These women could really control their horses!

No Fancy Dress - Just Fancy Riding

You may have noticed in the picture above that some of the women riding with what we called the Turquoise Gang weren't wearing the same hot pink sash and sombreros that other members of their team had on. After their performance they were presented their sash and sombrero by their parents. We weren't able to determine whether this signified their first public performance or some other milestone - but it was a very sweet moment, and the parents were clearly very proud of their daughters.

Becoming A Full Fledged Turquoise Rider

Another moment we enjoyed was the introduction of one of the teams - we forget which color - by name. The vast majority of the team were named Sanchez. Clearly a group of sisters and cousins!

Between the women's acts, there were some "previews of coming attractions" by individual male riders:

The Screeching Dead Stop Trick

The Circle To The Left Trick

We were looking forward to the men's group performances but, alas, clouds had been gathering throughout the first hour of performances and just as a large group of riders lined up to show their stuff -- it began to pour.  At first we huddled together under the grandstand. Some of our fellow attendees had checked the weather before they left . . . 

Local Knowledge - A Good Thing

The performers huddled where they could find shelter.

Any Old Horse Trailer In A Storm

And some just toughed it out.

Sombreros - They're Not Just For Sun

Cowboy Movie Shot?

After about an hour our knees were knocking and the weather was not improving. The MC continued to assure everyone the show would eventually go on - but we just couldn't tough it out. So we STILL haven't seen a charreada en su totalidad. Just one of our many reasons to return to Mexico!

Next Stop

Our next post will be about a weekend trip we took from "home" in Guanajuato - to Querétaro.  

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