After arriving in the Mexico City International Airport, we headed straight for Guanajuato, Mexico, a place that juxtaposes the architecture of a sleepy European town with the vibrancy befitting its importance as a cultural capital. Over the 5 1/2 hour bus ride, I got to see a lot of Mexico City and the outlying countryside, as well as a first glimpse at Guanajuato.
The first thing that was certainly striking was the constant reminder from staff and tour guides: don’t drink the water in Mexico. The Camino Real hotel we were staying at in Guanajuato provided a couple of water bottles for free with your room, and we were able to buy water for cheap at the local Oxxo (think 7/11, but everything is in Spanish). Even locals drink bottled water a lot of the time, although more of them are acclimated to using the tap water. Although many other countries around the world have similar recommendations for foreign travelers, this was the first time I was in a place where the potability of water, something I take for granted in the United States, was not guaranteed. In the US, non-potable tap water for a town is considered a “crisis” (even if the officials in that town don’t actually take steps to solve the crisis); for Guanajuato, and the entire country of Mexico, non-potable tap water is just a way of life.
Of course, I did a lot more than just ponder about tap water. Here are some of the fun things I did in Guanajuato:
Performing at Templo Oratorio
Our big performance in Guanajuato was at Templo Oratorio de la Compañía de Jesús, a church that also serves as a large performance space for the nearby University of Guanajuato. As part of a cultural exchange, we got to sit side-by-side with musicians from the university, during which I became the de-facto translator in the 2nd violins (who knew so many of my violinist friends studied French, not Spanish, during high school?). The concert itself was standing-room only, and even the standing room was starting to get scarce!
After intermission, Maestro Anna gave a speech to explain our performance of Mark Applebaum’s piece Xenophobe: in Memory of Democracy. The local press loved her commentary, which ended with “build bridges, not walls!”
Exploring downtown Guanajuato
During our first visit to downtown Guanajuato, our guides took us around, highlighting places such as the Diego Rivera Museum, statues of significance to pre-colonial history, and multicolored houses that lined the narrow streets. I went with a small group of people to try some local food, including pan dulce from a panderia and gorditas from a store owner who said she’d been selling food from her little building for 30 years!
Another really fun thing that we found scattered throughout the city were our concert posters. On occasion, we’d overhear people talking about how they were looking forward to seeing us perform!
On our second visit, a couple cellists from the University of Guanajuato took us to grab food at this really good taqueria. Guanajuato is incredibly cheap for U.S. tourists – I ordered multiple tacos and a couple quesadillas (which at this restaurant translated to “bigger taco”) for about 50 pesos (less than $3).
Our hotel had a swimming pool, so a lot of us jumped in during the evening to beat the heat. Pool parties became a common theme for the rest of Tour as well.
On a rehearsal-free Monday night, we headed to Plaza de la Paz to check out the nightlife. I went with a reasonably-large group to La Diabla, a place that had 17 peso shots of Mezcal, fluorescent green lighting at the entrance, and a dingy, gritty, authentic feel. A lot of my friends had fun with good-quality, low-cost drinks; I contentedly sipped on a glass of orange juice.
Of course, Guanajuato was only the first stop on our tour. To learn about the other places I visited, check out the links below: