The mountains of Guanajuato presented their own challenges to us as hikers and bikers, offering us other ways to get to know the city and surrounding countryside.
The first week, John seduced Deborah into circling the city by cycling the Carretera Panoramica, a 25 kilometre circuit of beautiful views, steep climbs, and thrilling downhill drops. We took 7 hours, stopping often to photograph the city below us and the mountains around us. We lunched on tacos at the famous landmark, the statue of rebel hero El Pipila, who torched the gates to allow the first independence victory in 1810. The last two hours, beginning with a jarring steep descent on cobblestone streets, just about finished Deborah’s biking career. Despite her efforts to revive herself at the traditional Mercado de Dulces (sweets), she found it necessary to walk the bike up most inclines, panting to reach the finish line. John insisted on another beer and coffee break at a new trendy hillside restaurant overlooking the city far below.
Clearly, we have different skills and approaches to biking: what is easy for John is a challenge for Deborah; what is a challenge for John is torture for Deborah. To prove this difference, John repeated the same circuit the next morning in less than two hours…!
Deborah’s very fit cousin Rachel, however, found this an opportunity to revive her cycling passion, and to repair her bike which had sat unused (because it was dangerous for a woman to bike alone). John oiled her chains, replaced the tube, pumped up the tires, and off they went for the challenging trip to Santa Rosa de Lima, Rachel cheerfully tackled the 500 metre climb and the ups and downs of the 15 Km mountainous route. Adam and Deborah, taking the easy way in the van, along with Folly the dog, cheered them on as they passed by and then celebrated their victory at their destination with a meal overlooking the valley. After exploring the exquisite tile stores in Dolores Hidalgo, we packed the bikes into the van, and all five headed back to Guanajuato.
One day John decided he needed a major bike ride (and perhaps Deborah needed some time on her own), so he took off for Delores Hidalgo, about 60 Km to the east of Guanajuato, and made it back just after sunset. The trip included climbing about 1500 metres in total and with a stop towards the end at the artesanal brewery to take out a few more of their interesting products.
The first week we hiked with Rachel into the ravines; much like Toronto ravines, they gave us a feeling of wilderness within the city except that the landscape was desert like and cactus filled. On the way back, Deborah’s discerning eye noticed a new craft brewery, offering John the perfect excuse to stock up on local beers.
Constant companions on any walk within Guanajuato were the cacophony of roof-top guard dogs, both large and small, fiercely protecting their owners’ property, and reminding us of the very culturally specific role that dogs play in Latin America. Check out these barking muts in the slide show below (and only imagine the accompanying sound effects!) However, we also made friends with our friends’ very gentle dogs, including Fernando and Hilda’s very large chocolate lab Bruno, and Rachel and Adam’s Folly.
Each mountain surrounding the city beckoned to be explored, with the requisite cross at its summit. So another day we set up to climb one of the steepest. The air was thin, and Deborah got dizzy from the altitude, so we didn’t quite make it to the top before sunset, but marveled at the layers of hillsides filled with colourful houses; with John’s zoom lens, we were even able to find our own home..!
(Click on images below for full screen view)
Side trip to Leon
The second week we were invited to nearby Leon to visit Ana Guevara, a science prof who had participated in the Food Justice course Deborah co-taught at the Coady International Institute at StFX in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, last May.
Deborah spoke with two of her climate change classes, making the links to her research on the corporate food system in Mexico as well as local and global food sovereignty movements. As both of us have been reading Naomi Klein’s new book, This Changes Everything, John entered into the conversation with students about the necessary government responses to the coming crisis. Ana gave us a tour of the very wealthy and beautifully designed campus of Tec de Monterrey, introducing us to colleagues and showing us the abandoned greenhouse where she hopes to develop a campus community garden. As a technical university training engineers and architects, it was interesting to learn about its emphasis on “ética y ciudadania” (ethics and citizenship) throughout the curriculum, and how ¾ of the student body does practical training or seminars abroad.
We walked through the Centro of Leon, another charming colonial city, and had a salmon salad lunch at a small alternative restaurant. On the way out of town, we braved an enormous shopping mall to get needed supplies for John’s avocado tree project.
Two days later, we hosted Ana and her partner Alberto for a weekend in Guanajuato; after lunch and strolling through the intimate narrow streets of the city, we produced a collective feast (and our despedida, or farewell dinner) with Rachel and Adam, which included a red corn pozole with octopus cooked in the solar oven. Ana hopes to keep in contact with Rachel and with our Guadalajara friend Fernando around her community garden projects in Leon; it’s been fun to connect our Mexican friends who share common interests..!