My first nodermeet was enormously fun, and a great excuse to go to Mexico. The attendees of Swap's gathering were, in order of hours logged with the group:
- sloebertje's boyfriend (who isn't even a noder)
- panamaus (who isn't even an active noder)
- me (arrived last, got lost once)
- sloebertje (took a break from all the walking on Sunday)
- Wiccanpiper (first to leave, on Sunday)
- BJuarez (took some time off to visit family in the area)
- Swap (too busy to attend)
I was the last to arrive, on Friday afternoon. Swap was in school at the time so I took the opportunity to walk around Guanajuato to get a basic feel for the city. The first thing I noticed was that Guanajuato is a giant circle with several smaller circles inside of it. Walk long enough and you'll wind up back where you started (but pack a lunch). Like many cities designed without automobile traffic in mind, the streets are narrow and twisty-turny, which (combined with a lack of street signs), make the place difficult to navigate for a first-timer. I found my way back to the hotel early and flipped through the TV channels until I found the "U.S. sit-coms with Spanish subtitles" channel and the "Cartoon Network dubbed in Spanish" channel and saw a couple of shows. Close to 8:00 PM, I headed off to my first actual face-to-face meeting with actual noders at a nearby restaurant.
Wiccanpiper and panamaus were the first to arrive after me, and I instantly recognized Wiccanpiper from his homenode picture. Shortly thereafter we were joined by Swap and then BJuarez, followed later by sloebertje and escort. Service was slow, which was a trend that continued throughout the nodermeet at all the restaurants, but the food was delicious and the company was wonderful.
Over the next few days I learned several things about Guanajuato.
The city is in the mountains, about 2 km (1.2 miles) above sea level. The air is rather thin and walking up and down its many hills can leave you out of breath pretty easily until you learn to breathe deeper. The view, however, is incredible from the top of any of its high points, whether looking out over the city or the picturesque mountains around it.
The city, like many older cities, was built without automobile traffic, natural gas distribution, or electrical service in mind. All of these things are tacked on after-the-fact. Many of the streets are one-way and very narrow, and since the city is built in the mountains there are several bridges and tunnels. The city is almost bi-level in places. Gas for cooking and heating is provided by portable butane cylinders which are lugged up and down the city's narrow alleys and numerous stairways to residences and businesses, doubtlessly by very large men. The electrical system is a tangled mess of wires that isn't waterproofed very well, and Swap says that blackouts are common during heavy rains.
The people are very friendly and most who work in the service industries speak at least some English, certainly better than my atrophied Spanish. Street vendors were selling food at practically every corner, I could have eaten my way across the city. Everything was delicious, with the particular instance of a vanilla milkshake which completely blew me away. I can only assume that in Mexico real vanilla is more common than the artificial vanilla flavor we generally use in the U.S.
Everything is about half price compared to what you'd pay in the U.S., from food to taxi service to souvenirs, and the exchange rate was about 10 pesos to the dollar. Bus service was readily available but the busses were rather cramped.
The Mummies of Guanajuato - when Swap first mentioned them I thought this was going to be a showing of various native Incan mummies, of the sort occasionally found preserved high in the mountains by the cold, dry air (like Otzi the caveman). Nope, these were former residents of Guanajuato whose families couldn't afford to, or didn't bother paying to, keep them buried. High alum levels in the soil naturally mummify some of the bodies, and when they are dug up to make more room in the cemetery the remains may be moved to the museum, where they're put in glass cases resting on velvet pillows. Memento mori, indeed.
Street entertainment - street vendors selling various foods, clowns doing tricks, bands playing, mid-air gymnastics dangling from a long ribbon, and a group of musicians doing tours dressed in period garb from Spain were only some of the attractions on the streets as we wound our way around the city. We didn't stop to watch any of them for very long but they attracted quite a crowd.
Monument to El Pípila - A huge statue dedicated to El Pípila (real name Juan José de los Reyes Martínez) overlooks a magnificent view of the city, from which all the major buildings and historical sites are clearly visible. El Pípila was a miner and a hero of the Mexican War of Independence in 1810. Under the cover of a stone slab on his back, he managed to survive gunfire from Spanish solders shooting from the windows of Alhóndiga de Granaditas to set the door on fire, which allowed the rest of the revolting peasants to storm the building. Also here is a show with quite impressive animatronics depicting an exorcism, a drunk man meeting undead monks, the heroism of El Pípila, and that urban legend about the ghostly hitchhiker, among other scenes. I couldn't understand a word of it and it was easily the most surreal experience I had at the nodermeet.
The Nexus of Guanajuato - There was a certain garden square with several restaurants and an area for street performances near the middle of the city. It deserves mention because we kept finding ourselves there over and over again for drinks. No matter where you were or where you were going you would pass by this garden. It appeared to be the nexus of the city.
Concerts - We attended two concerts held in a large, open venue with stadium seating and room for a few hundred people. The first one was a few DJs mixing samples and spinning records, but we left that one early. I learned that when meeting people at an event with several hundred people, setting up a specific meeting place is a good idea, as I didn't find the group until they were on their way out. The second concert was much better; a rather talented marimba band playing a variety of songs. They knew how to please the crowd, too, as I recognized the Mexican Hat Dance slipped in there, and according to Swap a few bars of Streets of Guanajuato, which got quite a reaction from the audience.
Swap's apartment - I mentioned that the streets were twisty and had many narrow alleys and steep stairways. The most extreme example happened to be the path up to Swap's place. Fortunately, for a reason I did not dig into, the name "Owen" happened to be written on the walls all the way up the labyrinthine path to Swap's, which guided our way. Once there we enjoyed Swap's hospitality, conversation, and a vegetarian stew (with textured vegetable protein) he had spent half the day preparing while the rest of us were at El Pípila and then some shopping.
Rootbeer277's travel tips
If you make plane reservations nine months in advance, chances are the details of the flights are going to change. Double-check the week before you actually leave.
Set up meeting times and ways to contact each other before you leave.
Try to find a hotel with comfortable beds and a good shower. These are the most important parts of your hotel experience and will, all by themselves, determine whether or not you will enjoy your stay. Also, doors that rattle at night can be silenced by putting a t-shirt in the frame when you close it.
Do not check baggage unless you absolutely have to. American Airlines is holding my bags for $139.00 ransom, to be dropped off in a briefcase in small, unmarked bills under a bridge. They will call me with further instructions when they have the cash. I had to check it for the return trip so I could take my souvenirs as carry-on bags.
Airport security is running a nifty scam with the Tax & Duty Free shops. You can buy liquor cheap in the airport, but you can't actually bring it through security into the departure gate area due to the recent terrorist liquids paranoia. I assume the bottles are returned to the shop to be re-sold, and the government takes a cut.
I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed visiting Mexico, and Guanajuato was as different as can be from what I've heard about the cities near the US border. The people were friendly and quite willing to work with my limited Spanish. The food especially was first rate all the way.
It was also fun to finally meet some other noders. Wiccanpiper and Swap were pretty much how I expected them, based on my interactions with them here. I had a chance to talk to sloebertje about Holland (did you know wooden shoes have an actual, practical purpose?) and really got along well with her boyfriend. Panamaus was a bit quiet but a really nice guy. BJarez was someone I didn't know, as he took a hiatus a year before I joined, but everyone in the group was great. I can't wait for my next nodermeet.
My pictures are at: