Three Ex-Haciendas, a house, a temple, a torture museum, and a Palm Sunday Parade – Guanajuato!

We have had a busy few days here in Guanajuato.

On Saturday, we headed out on the bus to visit the Ex-Hacienda las Trancas, a former 17th century fort now converted to a luxurious hotel, about 15 kilometers outside of the city of Dolores Hidalgo, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. We’d not heard of this place before; the owner, Kelley Wilkinson, left a note on one of my blog posts, and after a bit of an email conversation, invited us to come out and spend the day at the hotel – we were delighted.

We were amazingly lucky with the bus – just as we purchased our tickets and got on, it pulled away – huzzah! Suzanne greeted us at the Hacienda and gave us a tour of the whole facility, showing us the eleven very large and beautifully appointed guest rooms, the dining room (with seating for 30), the spa, the gym, the horse stables, and the pool.

After the walkabout we had an incredible lunch in the gardens and spent a couple of hours enjoying the pool.

After a taxi ride back into DH, once again, just as we purchased our bus tickets and jumped aboard, the bus pulled away for the hour and a half ride back to Guanajuato.

For more info on the Hacienda las Trancas, click here.

See more pictures here.

Yesterday, after my friend Heather had told me about a printmaking studio and artist’s residence here in Guanajuato, Ty and I paid a visit to Piramidal Grafica, the ex-hacienda and studio of Jim and Jenny Hibbert.

Originally from Portland, where Jim taught printmaking and drawing in a university, they now make their home in what used to be an old tanning factory from the 1700’s. The wells and pools from the old tanning era can still be seen in what is now their garden.

They purchased this place, just about at the top of the hill on the opposite side of the city from our house, as a ruin in 1989 and moved down full-time about five years ago, with all their many tons of art gear.

The hacienda building itself includes their living space, an artist’s apartment which they rent out, a studio area upstairs, a gallery, a huge printmaking studio, a workshop, and an outdoor area which could be used for sculpture. Jim was kind enough to show us around the workshop and gallery – what a wonderful place!

For more info on Piramidal Grafica, click here.

After a coffee at the Italian Coffee Company next to the Basilica, we made our way over to Calle Barranca to visit Carl, the innkeeper that I’d met outside the grocery store when we first arrived here.

Carl is the host of a B&B without the B which occupies a full block of real estate in the Centro area.

He, and his little dog Millie, showed us the four rental suites and the beautiful roof deck,

which has a stunning view out over the city.

On the roof they are experimenting to see which flowers will be able to flourish in the dry heat of Guanajuato. The furnishings, decorations, and colourful design of the house are really beautiful; this would be a great place to stay while in the city.

See more pictures here.

For more information on Carl’s house, click here.

Last night we joined the crowd down at the park below our house to watch the Domingo de Ramos (Palm Sunday) Parade. Including marching bands (which we’ve heard practicing for 2 weeks),

costumed characters in tableaux on the back of trucks re-enacting the life of Jesus,

full-size effigies of Jesus on a donkey and Jesus crucified carried by townspeople,

and a crowd of folks carrying palm fronds, the parade, put together by the Jesuits, snakes its way through the city from the Park, along the main drag of Benito Juarez, to the Templo of the Compania de Jesus, taking about an hour and finishing just before sundown.

Today, to complete our round of Ex-Haciendas and churches, we visited the Ex-Hacienda del Cochero, otherwise known as the Museum of the Holy Inquisition, and the Temple of San Caetano in Valenciana, in the hills above Guanajuato.

The Inquisition Museum contains quite a few dark installations of figures being tortured in various ingenious ways, many instruments of torture, skeletons hanging and lying in graves, cages swinging from the ceiling, and three dimensional holograms (whose purpose here was mysterious to me), all displayed in lurid red, blue, and green coloured lights.

The Templo de San Caetano is a few blocks further up the hill from the Museum and is a stunning salmon-coloured Spanish baroque confection, containing three floor to ceiling golden altars

and a small chapel with a reclining Jesus in a large glass case and a severed head of Christ in a tiny one.

After perusing these, we headed back down the steps to the local loncheria, a small spot with a grill and three plastic tables, where we had a delicious lunch of tortas for about $1.75 each.

Tomorrow morning we leave for Puerto Vallarta; I’ve arranged for a taxi to meet us at 9:30 at the Museo de las Momias – hopefully he’ll show up! I have really, really loved Guanajuato and hope to be back in the not-too-distant future.

See more pictures here.

Colonial Day Trip: Dolores Hidalgo, Atotonilco and San Miguel de Allende

On the patio of our colonial house, we have a tree; as a result of Guanajuato’s water shortage, in which we only have water 4 days out of 7, this poor tree isn’t really getting enough water to do more than barely survive. Since we’ve been here, I’ve been giving it the gray water from washing dishes and this treatment has enabled it to generate more leaves and a few tiny buds. Perhaps it will flower before we leave. I decided to decorate it with ribbons and colourful paper cut-outs as a substitute for the flowers that it lacks.

In addition to ex-haciendas converted in museums, Guanajuato also has ex-convents; the one pictured below is the Ex-Convento de la Societad de la Compania de Jesus (the Jesuits), and is now part of the University of Guanajuato.

Inside the Jesuit Church (next door to the University), we encounter another of the tortured Jesus effigies (these all look as if they’re crafted from the same model).

See more pics around Guanajuato here.

Although we’d decided to stay in Guanajuato during our time in the mountains of Mexico, we also wanted to investigate some of the other colonial cities in the neighbourhood. While walking around downtown, we came upon a sign advertising day tours and decided to get on the microbus visit to Dolores Hidalgo and San Miguel de Allende.

Our departure was scheduled for 10:30 am but, naturally, after waiting for several people to arrive, 12 of us rolled out of town about half an hour late on the green magic bus. On our way out of town we passed the Valenciana mine and temple (built between 1765 and 1786), the mine once upon a time the most productive silver mine in the world and the temple erected for the workers’ spiritual edification.

Our first stop was the small colonial city of Dolores Hidalgo, made famous in the War for Mexican Independence:

“On the night of September 15, 1810, Miguel Hidalgo y Costillo, the 57-year-old parish priest of Dolores, and Ignacio Allende learned that their plans for insurrection against Spain had been discovered. They decided to act immediately and soon after dawn the next morning, September 16, Padre Hidalgo delivered his now famous Grito (Cry for Freedom) from the Parroquia of Dolores. This was the beginning of Mexico’s struggle for freedom from Spanish rule which was to drag on until 1824 and take some 600,000 lives.

Dolores of that time was a poor, largely Indian village, but the ragged army of Hidalgo and Allende marched from here to San Miguel, then to Celaya and Salamanca until finally, having grown to a force of some 20,000 men, they had their first real confrontation with royalist troops in Guanajuato.

Hidalgo was captured after a final defeat in Guadalajara, then executed and beheaded on July 30, 1811. His head, along with those of Allende, Aldama and Jimenez, hung from one of the corners of the building in Guanajuato where that first battle had taken place”.  (

All the others on our bus were Spanish speakers (from other parts of Mexico, as well as Spain and Colombia) and the tour was conducted entirely in Spanish. I’m sorry to say that my Spanish was not up to the details of the fight for Mexican Independence and Mexican history so, after trying mightily to follow the guide’s talk for a while, I just let the words wash over me and enjoyed the visual experience. We visited the museum-house of Dolores Hidalgo’s second most famous son, the 50s musician Alfredo Jiminez, a guy I’d never heard of before,

the parochial church of Our Lady of Dolores Hidalgo, another museum (which Ty and I didn’t enter) and wandered around the main square trying to find a café.

Strangely, unlike Guanajuato and Merida (another colonial city we’ve visted), this city has no cafes or outdoor restaurants around its main square, only ice cream vendors on every corner vying to sell us the most outrageous flavours of helado:

“Aside from the usual and more mundane flavors such as vanilla, chocolate, strawberry and pecan, how about something a bit less common, like avocado ice cream? No? Then try some corn ice cream. And if that doesn’t appeal to you, how does fried pork skin ice cream strike you? Still no? Oh, maybe you’re in the mood to imbibe at the same time as you eat your ice cream, then perhaps some tequila ice cream or, another popular fermented drink, pulque appeals to you. But the final word in unusual flavors, it would seem, must be shrimp ice cream. That’s right, shrimp ice cream”.

We did find a restaurant nearby, the El Delfin, to tomar un café, but, when we asked for café con leche, were brought warm water, a jar of Nescafe, and a giant container of Coffee-Mate …

On our way out of town, after what seemed to me like too much time in DH, we stopped briefly at a ceramics warehouse to view the talavera products for which this area is known, and then rolled along to the Sanctuary of Atotonilco, just outside San Miguel de Allende. Although I wasn’t familiar with it, apparently this complex is known as the Sistine Chapel of Mexico:

“The Sanctuary of Atotonilco (Santuario de Atotonilco) is a church complex and a World Heritage Site, designated along with nearby San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico. The complex was built in the 18th century by Father Luis Felipe Neri de Alfaro who, according to tradition, was called upon by a vision of Jesus with a crown of thorns on his head and carrying a cross. The main feature of the complex is the rich Mexican Baroque mural work that adorns the main nave and chapels. This was chiefly the work of Antonio Martinez de Pocasangre over a period of thirty years. The mural work has led the complex to be dubbed the “Sistine Chapel of Mexico.” The complex remains a place of worship and penance to this day, attracting as many as 5,000 visitors every week”. (Wikipedia)

While we were there, we were the only visitors. The frescos are beautiful and the atmosphere of the interior called for quiet contemplation.

Outside the main door were several beggars, mostly old people but also a woman with her son; other than these folks, the place was bereft of people. On the white-washed exterior of the church, burnt siena coloured sinopia under-drawings of saints and Christ can be seen emerging from the paint.

We arrived in mid-afternoon at San Miguel de Allende, stopped first for something to eat, and then wandered around the historical centre for a couple of hours before rolling back again. Ty and I had been interested in seeing how San Miguel compared with Guanajuato, since originally we were going to make it our base. After exploring the city this day, both of us agreed that we preferred Guanajuato. San Miguel, while lovely, has a much more wealthy-North-American vibe and is about three times as expensive as Guanajuato and not nearly as beautiful (IMHO).

See more pics here.