Tuesday, April 16, 2013

No. 415 – Gel

Performer: Collective Soul
Songwriter: Ed Roland
Original Release: Collective Soul
Year: 1995
Definitive Version: none

When I moved to Chicago, I made a collective (ahem) decision as to which CDs I took with me and which I left behind. In 2007, I moved up the rest of my stuff and went through a bit of a rediscovery period. This song was a regular spin around the time Laurie and I went to Mexico at the end of March 2008.

Laurie’s aunt, Ann, thought we’d be bored just being in San Miguel, hiking around and eating and drinking, when in fact that was all we WANTED to do after we got there and found how cool it was. Nevertheless, ahead of time, she arranged for a local to take us on a driving tour around Guanajuato state.

Early on Wednesday, Fernando came by in his Toyota, and we were off. Fernando was a genial chap whose English wasn’t the best, but it was acceptable (and far better than our Spanish). He knew about Chicago; in fact, he had family who lived there. He used to live there, too, but he moved back to San Miguel long ago.

Fernando took us to the namesake capital, which is situated close to Leon. Consequently, we retraced almost the entire route we took from the Leon airport, but as we got to the outskirts of Leon we bore to the right to head to Guanajuato.

The only thing I knew about Guanajuato, aside from that it’s Spanish for frog, was that back in the 1960s it was a hitters’ paradise in a low-level minor league. When you consider that San Miguel is 1,000 feet higher above sea level than Denver is, that makes sense. The ball would skyrocket in that thin air.

The first stop were the ruins of a sugar plantation that was built soon after the time of the Conquistadors and was overgrown enough that you had no idea from the road that it was there in the valley until you got to it. Fernando pulled off for a siesta in the parking lot while we toured the grounds.

After that, Fernando took us into Guanajuato, which he explained had been victimized long ago by horrific flooding, so a series of tunnels were built under the city. Later damming eliminated the problem, and the tunnels were turned into underground streets that allowed you traverse the city. I didn’t close my eyes in fear one time as we whizzed around the one-lane roads.

The main thing to do there, Ann had explained, was the funicular, which was a tram that went up the side of the mountain and allowed you to overlook the city. Fernando said he would drop us off at the base and find a place to park, and he would meet up with us at the bottom of the funicular in an hour.

As he drove off, it occurred to Laurie and I that, OK, we have no idea where we are. If we never see Fernando again, we’re in a big city, so we can call Ann to come and get us. Of course, we’d have to negotiate a Mexican pay phone.

The funicular was far scarier than the drive under the city, and when we arrived, we quickly were descended upon by several hombres. For a second there was a sense of, uh oh, we really ARE alone now. But they just were looking to pick up a few pesos by taking pictures of the gringos at the overlook.

And there was a lot to see. Guanajuato wraps around and over hills and mountains, and is a really pretty city, full of pinks, oranges, yellows, blues and the odd purple or green. I could see why Ann said we should do this. It was worth challenging my vertigo.

When we came back down, we found that Fernando didn’t leave us after all. He took us to this funky museum that was all Don Quixote related art, history and whatnot. I don’t remember much about the museum; what I remember was that Guanajuato was alive with activity, far more than the supposedly more touristy San Miguel.

I suppose it would have been fun to further explore it, but it was time to head to our next stop—Valenciana, even higher up in the mountains. We stopped to see the San Cayetano Church, but first we had to have lunch.

I can’t remember the name of the restaurant that sat just outside the stairway up to the church, but we sat outside in this cheery courtyard, and the owner of the place went out of his way to take care of us. After awhile, Fernando came by to see how we were doing, and we invited him to join us. He and the owner conversed easily.

At that point, Laurie and I determined that we had been had: Fernando had some arrangement with all of the places he took us, whereby he would get a cut of the action by bringing his unsuspecting tourists to certain businesses. Neither of us cared. The restaurant in particular was excellent, so what was the big deal if that were true? Everyone wins.

After lunch, we toured the church with its ornate gold and wood altars, and before we left, Fernando took us past a stone-cutter, whom he knew, who gave Laurie and I each a large amethyst crystal.

At that point, Fernando said he could take us home, but, if we wanted, he also would take us to Dolores Hidalgo, where the Mexican war of independence started and also was home to great porcelain and ice cream. Let’s do it.

Laurie partook of the ice cream, but we had been warned by Ann that the street vendors weren’t for the gringos. Fernando insisted the ice cream vendors were OK for us. Given my normal stomach issues, I thought: Why chance it? But the ice cream looked good enough that I took a taste of Laurie’s, and, obviously, I lived to tell the tale. We didn’t buy any porcelain, however.

As we headed home, the sun was setting behind the mountains and the light was fading from the sky. It was almost dark by the time Fernando pulled up in front of our casita. Even though the trip had been on Ann, we gave Fernando a huge tip for a most excellent adventure.

Although our day trip around Guanajuato took away valuable eating, drinking and hanging out time, we definitely weren’t sorry we did it.

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