For the past four weeks, John has been completely inundated with work. While he stayed home, Lydian and I went out to explore the city of Guanajuato on foot. Most of our day was devoted to classes, but during the three hours when we had no scheduled events, we tried to find the museum and the Jardín, just for the fun of it. Each night, we would return home to John to tell him about how utterly confusing the city is.
John was incredulous. He’d only really been down the stairs to the people selling water and bananas and then back up again.
I like being lost under certain conditions: 1) my group and I aren’t hungry 2) we aren’t thirsty 3) we aren’t tired and 4) we aren’t in peril. It’s also good to know a little of the language if you’re in a place where no one speaks English. This is key to finding one’s way back home, actually. So, given that all the conditions are met, I generally enjoy not knowing my precise location on the globe. John, on the other hand, isn’t as keen on being lost.
Not having him with us, made me very nervous on the first outing that Lydian and I did together alone in a foreign country. Technically, it was not the first. Our first outing was in the middle of the night in the medina in Fez (an equally confusing place) when John was afflicted with what we thought was traveler’s diarrhea (it was cyclosporiasis) and we needed water and provisions. I knew from this prior experience that Lydian had a good inner compass. She and I can both defend ourselves well enough (we have black belts and pepper spray), but it’s really nice to have a big guy with us. And John is compulsive about keeping track of how to get back home when we carelessly toddle off into the fray. When Lydi and I were alone, we wouldn’t have Compulsive-John-the-Walking-Compass with us to make sure we made it back at night. And I wasn’t sure if John would ever find us in this city, if we got really lost even if I called him on the phone and told him exactly where I was.
But Lydi and I did okay that first day and we even walked through a fairly dangerous part of town with no major scares. At home that night, we told John about how we kept ending up at the Templo de
San Francisco as we searched in vain for a street named del Truco. He thought it was just because we weren’t paying attention to where we were going (because we do this sometimes). I assured him that Guanajuato is a confusing city. We weren’t entirely sure how we found our final destination that day (Casa de las Brujas) or anything else that we stumbled across. Walking through Guanajuato was like playing Legend of Zelda. You go in one place, turn north and then mysteriously pop out on the south side of the city.
Yesterday was John’s second day off in many weeks and Lydian and I decided to take him out for a walk. We let him lead us around for a while. Our initial goal was to go to the Alhondiga. We could see the giant structure from our terrace at home, but getting there was, of course, not a straightforward process. In Guanajuato, it’s common to turn right to go left and go up a giant staircase in order to get down to a lower level.
There were signs throughout the town directing us to the Alhondiga and we found it without much issue, but after walking up the stairs John said, “I don’t understand how we just got here.”
“Right.” I said. “It’s fun, isn’t it?”
I told him that Katie, an English language instructor at Escuela Falcon told us that when she went to school in Guanajuato, one of her favorite things to do with a group was just wander around the city without any particular destination. It’s fun to embrace the unknown (as long as you’re not hungry, thirsty, tired, or running from something at the same time).
So the rest of the afternoon, we spent doing just that: wandering.
It was Buen Fin (the Mexican version of Black Friday) that day and so the streets were crowded. We took this as a cue to try out some of the subterraneas (tunnels) in the city. Lydian and I walked past several of them on our daily trek to and from the language school. People were regularly descending the stairs and disappearing into the ground as Lydian and I walked past. Who knew where they were going or where they would end up. Because we don’t know Guanajuato that well, it was exciting to consider the possibilities (another planet perhaps?).
One subterranean in Guanajuato descended along one of the major thoroughfares just beyond the big yellow Nuestra Senora Basilica. We joked that for all we knew, we’d go down the stairs and find our front door at the bottom of them (instead of at the top of the 100+ stairs that we climb several times a day).
Down we went into a dark tunnel. Randomly, we took a left turn. At the bottom, Lydian took the lead. Soon, we arrived at an arched portal with sunlight coming through it. We climbed up the stairs.
“Wait! Wait!” Lydian said as she emerged at the top. “I know where we are!”
I knew where we were too, but I didn’t have words to describe it. It was a place we’d passed through before but I wasn’t sure when or why (had we been lost at the time?). Lydian carefully studied the street map provided on the corner and felt confident that she knew the exact location of something we’d been to before in the vicinity. We followed her.
Sure enough. We’d been there before. But we had turned north and ended up on the south side of the street.
John said, “That’s weird,” and laughed. (Now he gets it.)
It’s rare to be in a place that invites you to find your way without the use of grids, patterns, and regularity. Guanajuato is magical in that way. Everyone is lost and so the locals are prepared to offer directions to foreigners. In that sense, it’s an incredibly friendly and interactive place. You may not be able to find that little tienda you were looking for, or the museum on your first try, but chances are, you’ll find a glimpse of yourself you wander through the twisted streets and narrow corridors of Guanajuato.