A Winter’s Visit to Guanajuato, Mexico

Subimos un callejon y encontramos una panaderia anticuada…

On Sunday, January 14, 2018 we landed in Guadalajara airport, found a taxi to Ajijic, and met friends from Colorado. Our reservation for our casita in Guanajuato would begin on Tuesday, so we had a full day to explore some of the villages along Lake Chapalla. Lake Chapalla is the largest lake in Mexico; along its shores are many small villages- each specializing in an industry: berries, woodwork, etc. Ajijic is a popular destination for expats from the US, particularly retirees living on a fixed income.

Tuesday morning, after much map studying, we set off in our friend’s rented car to Guanajuato. Despite all our map studying, we still needed the phone GPS to navigate the roads whose ancient origins create confusion for foreign drivers. We arrived safely, unpacked, and headed out to explore our new neighborhood.

Guanajuato is a beautiful Baroque city, with a population of three quarters of a million people. It is know for its beautiful architecture, winding pedestrian-friendly streets, and a wealth of cultural offerings: museums, art, rich traditions of handicrafts, three theaters, (including the international Cervantes festival), music, & dance. Though many people visit Guanajuato each year, it does not cater to tourists. There are few panhandlers & aggressive vendors selling tourist trinkets. Living here, one gets a true sense of Mexican life. Not much English is spoken here; is is fun to test my Spanish skills. (I have been studying every day since visiting Guanajuato last year. After spending just 5 days here last year, having 6 weeks and my own casita is heaven!)

With our friends from Ajijic in the casita next door, we spent a few days wandering, sightseeing, visiting museums, sampling restaurants, and shopping. When they left, it was time to truly settle in. We did laundry, stocked up on sundries at the Mega, scoped out the local markets, and did lots of exploring. We rearranged our casita, made room for our art supplies and groceries, and I cooked my first meal in Mexico.

We are learning how to navigate a city that has no grid- just a spider web of streets and callejones- narrow alleys that quickly become staircases- they are everywhere!  We’ve been brave, taking lots of narrow streets & callejones- even did a few tunnels!  We’ve discovered that the Panoramica is a road that circles above the city. When you think you are lost, wandering the callejons, and find yourself out of breath above the city, find the Panoramica to navigate a way to the zone you wish to go. Besides walking/climbing, there are 3 ways to get around in Guanajuato. Take a bus or taxi, or walk to Zona Central, take the Funicular to the Panoramica, & navigate from above the city. The third option involves walking, but not so much climbing.

It was on one of these early exploring expeditions that we found a delightful baker- el panadora Pedro. As we were descending a callejon from the Panoramica, I began to smell the delicious aroma of baking bread. I thought it was a housewife. Much to our surprise, we discovered a tiny shop tucked into the alley with an authentic large clay oven. As we peeked in, the baker bid us enter. We remarked on the old oven- “horno viejo,” and he said proudly that it wasn’t so old- only 20 years. He allowed me to photograph him with his oven, which became the inspiration for my first sketchbook entry.

The first drawing shows the callejon that leads to the Pedro’s bakery. It shows the entry of the callejon, where you turn off Paseo de Presa, (where we live for these 6 weeks in Guanajuato), and head to Pedro’s. In this first drawing I wanted to emphasize the color of the city, particularly this location. Some homeowners paint their houses in bright tropical colors, many walls are bordered with red paint, and bright flowers, mostly poinsettias and bougainvillea bloom profusely throughout the winter. To this end, I used ink to depict the masonry, and experimented with watercolor pencils to add the colorful accents. To get the deep colors I was after, I found the need to dip them directly into water and paint with the tips. Applying them like pencil and using water to blend the pigment did not allow the rich effect I was after. Pedro’s portrait was done with 4 values of ink. He stands beside his traditional domed clay oven. An undecorated cake sits on the counter, and collection of rolls are bagged for sale. The rolls are called “bolitos”- taken from “bole,” a large round loaf.

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