Mexico, Photographs, Travel

One last stop in Guanajuato [Photo]

Today is Independence Day, the Fourth of July, George Washington’s birthday and the feast day of St. Benjamin Franklin! Happy 4th to all my US readers. I arrived safe and sound in the US despite some customs hiccups. Perhaps appropriately, today will be the last of my Mexico photos, at least for now.

I had to seek this one out. One day I was wandering through some new callejones (apparently other expats are scared to do this? Guys it’s just houses!) and I came upon what I call the Alley of the Flores, because every single balcony was hung with flower pots and the whole thing was painted bright colors. I wanted a picture right away but (of course) had no camera on me. I made a mental note to get return another day and take photos.

When that day came, I rounded the corner into Flores and stopped in my tracks. It was every bit as pretty as I remembered, but someone had thoughtfully parked a brand new VW that perfectly matched the trim paint of the alley. It’s like they knew I was coming.

Photo by André

Photo by André

I’m pretty happy with how this one turned out. I took a bunch of photos from different angles, and this isn’t quite my favorite but it has the best colors. What do you think? How could I have made it better?

Anyway, so long Guanajuato, hello beach town. I’m having a cookout this evening with my Texas friends. What are y’all doing?

Standard
Mexico, Photographs, Travel

The Steps of Guanajuato (Photo of the Week)

This week’s Photo of the Week was snapped from the stairs of the University of Guanajuato, which look like this:

Photo by André

Photo by André

That’s 113 stairs on one of the most stunning and asymmetrical old timey buildings I’ve seen. I don’t know what kinds of classes are held at the top, but I hope the professor gives extra credit.

The stairs also double as amphitheater space during the Cervantino, Guanajuato’s annual festival of arts, culture and theater. The Cervantino is named (and held in honor of) Miguel de Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote. Like many longstanding traditions it makes little sense: Cervantes wasn’t born here, never visited here, and set none of his fiction here. The best explanation I’ve gotten is that when one of Mexico’s presidents visited Guanajuato, he watched a live street play that just happened to be about Cervantes, and thought it was so brilliant he declared they should do a big drama festival. That kind of sounds like a folk story, but it also sounds very Mexico. The result is bronze statues of Cervantes, Quixote, and Sancho all over downtown, and costumed actors who lead tours and reenact scenes.

The Cervantino is in November so I won’t see it, but it’s a major international festival with the arts of one Mexican state and one foreign nation singled out each year. During that time, there are many performances outdoors (as well as in the city’s two historic theaters and many smaller stages) and the 113 steps offer plenty of stadium seating for one of the most popular venues.

But when I ventured up it was pretty empty, because rain clouds rumbled down the mountains just as the church bells rang 6 o’clock. I managed to catch church, clouds, mountains and a fellow intrepid photographer all in one shot::

Photo by André

Photo by André

I’m a little timid about calling that Photo of the Week. My photography skills just aren’t where I’d like them to be, and someone else could have gotten a much more dramatic shot. (I already know where I wished I would have stood instead, which is more behind her to put the focus on her view of the horizon).

But I like this shot for several reasons:

  • I finally got a candid shot of a local in the foreground, which is incredibly hard to do without them staring at you.
  • I got a foreground figure at all, whereas normally I just photograph what interests me: landscapes, buildings and moods. Boring stuff to most people.
  • I’m finally getting a sense of how to use the Dutch tilt to good effect. It used to be I’d tilt the camera A TON to kind of scream GUYS IT’S DRAMATIC (like in the first photo), or I’d realize how contrived that is and just shoot flat angles. But this picture has a slight tilt that adds movement without waving its arms for attention, and compliments the natural angle of the mountains versus the buildings.

Still, it’s not an amazing shot, and I welcome critique. By the way, that statue in the background? That’s Pípila, a guy you should totally read about. And yes, I did hike up the mountain to see him (instead of taking the cable car), but you should have already guessed that.

Any feedback on the photo, photographer friends?

Standard
Andre Sólo, Mexico, Photographs, Spotlight, Travel

Lunch, Hair, Advice Column [Photo of the Week]

I was going to post this last week, but then the rainstorm happened.

First off, I think you guys deserve a proper picture of the haircut you helped choose:

Photo by André

Photo by André

To be clear, this isn’t exactly the Lannister cut I was looking for. I did everything I could: brought pictures and learned all the haircut-related Spanish words (sideburns are patillas, by the way). But Mexico is still very much a craftsman economy. Instead of buying something mass produced you’re often paying an artisan to build you something one of a kind, whether that is an iron gate or a new laptop. Even a house doesn’t go exactly by the blueprint: the contractors have their own idea of what will work best. Apparently this attitude extends to haircuts.

Still, it’s close and overall I like it. It seems like other people do too. You can generally tell a haircut is a success not so much by whether people compliment it (they’re sort of obligated) but by the attention you get from the gender of your preference.

In my case I could immediately tell the difference in the second looks from Mexican women as I walked down the same streets I’ve walked for a month. I went to my favorite lunch counter at the public market, and the lady who usually serves me didn’t even recognize me at first. When she did, she made a big deal and started conversating [sic]. In the past our only real interaction was her taunting me when I asked for hot sauce, a routine that never gets old. Now she wanted to know if I had a wife or girlfriend. Subtle.

She then told the younger woman working there to try land me as a boyfriend. The younger girl nearly died when she realized I understood them. She spent the rest of my visit blushing and doing her best to make only fleeting eye contact.

Not too bad, Lannister.

Here’s the whole crew from the lunch counter:

The one in the yellow apron is the trouble maker, and the one on the left is the shy one. Photo by André.

The one in the yellow apron is the trouble maker, and the one on the left is the shy one. Photo by André.

So that’s the photo of the week. My time in Guanajuato is now half over. I’m still making friends here and discovering new places, while also scrambling to plan what happens next.

As a side note, I recently shot a pilot for an advice podcast:

It ran longer than we hoped, and we need to get sharper audio next time. But I’m happy with how it turned out. It wasn’t long ago that shooting videos terrified me, whereas now it seems easy. Of course, Cole (my co-host) is the real secret to success. She’s just naturally warm and funny, and we get pretty ridiculous when we’re together.

We’re going to shoot at least a few more of these to see how it goes. If you have a problem you need advice on, leave a comment and let us know! Meanwhile, I will get back to posting Road Logs here soon.

Standard
Adventure, Andre Sólo, Mexico, Photographs, Travel

When It Rains in Guanajuato (Photo Tale)

So far almost everything I’ve written about Guanajuato, Mexico has been positive. But that was on days when it wasn’t raining. If I had known what it’s like when it rains, what I wrote would have been five hundred times more positive.

Guanajuato in a heavy rain is like an adventure board game. It’s like you’re trying to get across this square and if you don’t roll at least a three you fall in the water trap and lose a turn. Meanwhile someone is spinning a little wheel that changes which alleys you can use this turn and which ones you can’t. If you get trapped in an alley you will be warped to a random fountain somewhere else in the city, which may get you closer to home or farther. Feeling lucky?

And this place is a desert. But it’s the rainy season right now. Usually that just means beautiful days with brief, late afternoon thunder showers. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday while I was working all day, it was gorgeous outside. Thursday when I had errands to do: gorgeous. Today was my free day and crackoom! The storm of the century rolls out of nowhere just as I step out of the public market. Let’s do this, Quetzlcoatl!

You may remember that Guanajuato is a giant spaghetti-shaped mess of narrow, steeply slanted alleys, with staircases going up to mountaintop neighborhoods and steeper stairs descending into the city’s subterranean abyss. It’s serious Shoots & Ladders even on a good day. (Remember, the whole reason the city has a subterranean abyss was to try to stop waves of water rushing down the mountainsides from just blowing it all away once a year.) Now if you take a metric eff-load of water and toss it down the top of one of those streets, the result is that people downstairs better start making saving throws.

It’s awesome.

To put it in perspective, here’s my alley on a normal day:

Photo by André

Photo by André

Here is it about an hour ago:

Photo by André

Photo by André

No problem, I thought. Because my neighborhood has a second entrance, which is much wider. The water shouldn’t be as deep or fast there because it’s spread out more. I’ll just go up the back way!

Denied:

Photo by André

Photo by André

And my neighborhood isn’t even the worst. Check out the alleys I had to wade past just to get to my own Adventure Island challenge:

Photo by André

Photo by André

Photo by André

Photo by André

The difference between the people in the two pictures is that the lady in the second picture is either really, really desperate to get home or—like me—she doesn’t have a lick of sense in her head. The guy in the first picture knows the score: you use an umbrella and stay inside, because umbrellas won’t actually help you outside. (But yes, based on my experience in the fully roofed public market, you should still keep your umbrella ready when you’re inside.)

Umbrellas don’t help outside because the water comes from all available directions. The streets are no better than the callejones, because all the callejones dump into the streets. You know that thing in the movies where a car speeds through a puddle and shoots water all over the unlucky pedestrian (usually Meg Ryan)? I’ve gone thirty years and never had that happen. I lost my v-card like four times in 20 minutes. No one is slowing down in this city, even when they’re driving up a 45-degree trough with six inch water rushing through it at Niagara speeds.

Photo by André

Te amo Nayeli! If I was Nayeli I’d want my name in a more prominent location. Like try a little.

If you can stay on the sidewalks you’re at least not walking in the white water rapids (which are brown, not white), but narrow passages often require you to close your umbrella, and wide sidewalks are target ranges for roof drains. These drains don’t go down a vertical gutter like in the US, they are just spouts that stick about a meter out from a building and then let ‘er rip like Gulliver after too much coffee.

Spouts shooting criss-crossed pee streams at my alley.

Spouts shooting criss-crossed pee streams at my alley.

All of this was great fun, and I managed to keep a respectable portion of my middle-torso dry. More impressively, at no point was I swept off my feet. Although I was disappointed to discover that my cowboy boots are not waterproof at all. Who makes boots that aren’t waterproof?

Anyway, I think we can all agree that what really matters is I got a plaid umbrella:

Photo by André

Photo by André

…and that’s that new haircut you guys chose! What do you think?

Standard
Mexico, Photographs

Photo of the Week: Two Way Tie

For this week’s Photo of the Week, I can’t decide whether I like Photo 1 or Photo 2 better:

Photo 1 by André

Photo 1 by André

…or:

Photo 2 by André

Photo 2 by André

Photo 1 is more dynamic and shows more of what’s going on. It’s an action picture. But it also kind of makes me motion sick. Photo 2 is easier to look at and I enjoy looking it over to see what I can spot in the picture. But it’s just a boring, squarish composition.

Which one should be photo of the week?

Standard
Mexico, Photographs, Travel

My Life in Guanajuato

Me in Rogue Casona.

Me in Rogue Casona.

So far Guanajuato has been a peaceful time of rest and reflection. I arrived by bus, then taxi to my neighborhood, and managed to call the property manager after a kindly old Mexican man explained why the pay phone wouldn’t work. (Answer: it’s because of Mexico’s many and shifting area codes, which change what you need to dial depending on where you’re calling from. Convenient.)

I love Rogue Casona. The kitchen has 12 foot tall windows that open onto the balcony. It’s my ideal work environment, flooded with light all day long, and it was actually these windows that convinced me to rent this place rather than a cheaper one. I don’t regret it.

Kitchen of the Rogue Casona.

Kitchen of the Rogue Casona.

I’m still a little stunned: the Casona is without a doubt the nicest place I’ve ever lived on my own. I mean, I’ve lived in nice places before but always with a roommate or girlfriend. And it’s been a long, slow climb to a successful freelance career; for much of the last three years I either lived in starving artist conditions or scrimped and hustled, or both. Waking up in these surroundings each morning is a tangible reminder that I’ve started to succeed.

In the morning I practice yoga. Then I have granola, yogurt and coffee while I read. In the afternoon I focus on client work (Monday-Wednesday) and my own writing or projects (other days). In the late afternoon I wander the city and explore.

Exploring is my favorite. A map of Guanajuato looks like someone threw spaghetti on a plate:

Seriously.

Also, there are no street signs.

Notice how some streets are shaded and don’t form normal intersections? Those are underground tunnels. The city is basically a canyon, and the tunnels were dug as subterranean canals to prevent flooding. Dams have since stopped the flooding problem, so now the tunnels are used for driving. Seriously.

(In equally surreal trivia: Guanajuato’s most famous attraction is a large population of mummies who were evicted from the cemetery when their families couldn’t pay a grave tax. I’m not kidding. The house of the mummies is about 2 streets from my house.)

Many of the surface streets are pedestrian only. Guananajuato (GTO) has more plazuelas (little hidden squares) than plazas, and more callejones (narrow winding alleys) than streets.

The alley I live on is Transversal de la Concha, which apparently is the parakeet raising district. Actually, for all I know, maybe everyone in GTO just raises parakeets. All I can say is that every house on my alley seems to have five cages’ worth. They hang the cages out of windows during the daytime, high above the callejon, so the birds get fresh air and the neighborhood fills with chirping. Be careful where you step.

The owner of my building told me that the flat is “about 150 steps” up the callejon from the main street below (I count 76). He assured me “it’s not bad if you take it slow,” which is probably true, but I don’t walk slowly. I’m usually winded a third of the way up, and I’m not the only one. Whenever you see someone coming up the stairs to our neighborhood they’re sweating and panting. The person coming up and the person going down just grin at each other and laugh.

Thanks to the tangled mess of alleys there are actually two staircases I can take: the “easy if you take it slow” one and a shorter, but much steeper one. I like to mix it up.

But the location is pretty much perfect for someone like me. It’s what I would describe as a Mexican middle class neighborhood. A Canadian friend I met asked me, “Yeah, but it’s kind of hood over there, isn’t it?” I didn’t understand. My neighbors consist mostly of sweet older ladies carrying shopping bags or trailing niños. It seems safe and friendly.

The callejon leading to my flat.

The callejon leading to my flat.

The bottom of the callejon lets out on a main drag into the centro. I’m about a 10 minute walk from both the public market and a giant supermarket. I prefer the public market but the super gives me options for less common items like unsweetened granola. About five more minutes of walking gets me into the central historic district, home of GTO’s two famous theaters, one famous university, numerous plazuelas and cafes, and the Kissing Alley, which I’ll leave up to your imagination for now.

Walking around this city is a challenge on many levels. For starters, I find myself deeply appreciative of my sense of navigation. It’s not that I never get lost, but I can sense whether that second right-hand turn has me headed back toward the main street, or running parallel to it. I can usually retrace my steps (either to get home, or to go back to a spot I discovered by chance). This is a skill you can learn and practice like any other.

The real challenge is the terrain. You’re walking on very narrow sidewalks with uneven cobbles and there are people going both ways. Even if you’re all going the same way not everyone goes at the same speed (fast walker, remember?) so you constantly dive around each other in the politest way possible. It’s normal to step out into traffic to go around sidewalk crowds.

I love it.

The other night I met up with some new friends who are local to Guanajuato. It’s nice to have friends so I reached out on Couchsurfing. Sure enough, a local student named Sergio invited me out for drinks and dancing. I really need to improve my dancing skills. I’m fair-to-good by US standards, which amount to “if a guy is actually willing to dance, he is the best dancer in the room.” I’m terrible by Latin America standards and want to take lessons. Women are enthusiastic capable dancers here and deserve a good partner.

The hardest part of my first week was finding good food. Don’t get me wrong, Guanajuato has great food, but as a newcomer you’re kind of just sampling places at random. I had a lot of hope when I found Plaza de San Fernando, a long sloping plaza lined on one side with affordable open-air restaurants. (Interestingly, Google Maps mislocates this plaza, and all the plazuelas around it, by about 1 street each.) But after sampling three of them, I can vouch that they’re really just capitalizing on their great location. The food is mediocre at best.

The real tragedy for me was not knowing a good taco place. I love street food and little taquerías, but most of the ones I spotted my first week didn’t pass my skeev test. I had a few good meals at the public market, but there’s only so many times you want to walk 15 minutes for the outdoor equivalent of a food court.

Then I found it: Taquería “El Pato” which means Taco Stand “The Duck.” Only five minutes from my house, I’d passed by its wood-shuttered doors numerous times without knowing it. They don’t serve duck tacos, but they do have two giant murals of Donald Duck dressed as Pancho Villa, plus one mural of that starfish guy from SpongeBob SquarePants, who is not a duck but they’re both maritime creatures so I guess they’re all buds.

A different mural at El Pato.

A different mural at El Pato.

El Pato represents the end of a years-long quest: the perfect pastor. Al pastor, a form of marinaded spit-roasted meat, is my favorite filling for tacos, sandwiches, and my tummy in general. It also varies widely in quality. El Pato has the greatest al pastor I’ve ever tasted in or out of Mexico; if someone can do better I volunteer to judge the cook-off.

The Pateros also make amazing tortas with crusty bread reminiscent of a baguette, and serve up a free glass of agua fresca (house made fruit drink) with every order. Amazingly, at The Duck they don’t sweeten it; if you’ve traveled in Mexico you know how rare this is. I was floored the first time I tried it (guayaba flavor—I’m a sucker for guayaba).

The server gloated. “Es natural,” he said.

I’m grateful I get to live here in Guanajuato. I can put up with a few hundred desecrated mummies and the long jog up the callejon stairs. I don’t know exactly what’s happening when I leave here after June, but I know I have an adventure waiting for me and I wonder often what the next leg will be like.

Standard
Mexico, Photographs

The Rogue Casona in Guanajuato, Mexico (Photo)

I’m going to have to write a whole post about my new city, Guanajuato, and what it’s like living, writing and exploring here.

For now I’ll just offer you a photo showing why I love my new apartment:

Photo by André

Photo by André

That’s the view from my balcony.

I’ve named the flat Rogue Casona, and I promise to share stories from my new home soon.

Standard