I am a planner. In preparation for my travels, I research my destinations, outline detailed notes, and even make my own maps of the places I want to visit. Upon my arrival in the charming hillside town of Guanajuato; however, I totally disregarded my research and allowed myself to get completely and hopelessly lost.
Located near the geographical center of Mexico, the colonial Spanish built the prosperous city of Guanajuato using the great mineral wealth of its prolific silver mines. This capital city of the state of the same name blankets a steep-sided valley, with homes and businesses jam-packed onto its inclined topography.
The arterial transportation network that connects the city includes an intersecting web of underground tunnels and a maze of narrow alleys called callejons. There are supposedly 3,200 callejons of various lengths and widths in Guanajuato. Each has its own particular charm, and many come with legends, tales, and traditions.
Since most of the callejons are too steep and narrow for vehicle traffic, they are ideal for wandering on foot and getting lost. Like a rat with a whiff of cheese, I entered the labyrinth of twisting cobblestone callejons to sniff out the city’s enchanted nooks and niches. Delightfully disoriented, savory new experiences presented themselves to me at every turn.
Clambering up, down and across the precipitous topography, I squeezed past the city’s close-packed residences and small storefronts. Above my head, guard dogs growled viciously at me from their terrace lookouts. Wherever callejons crossed, tiny plazas materialized, sometimes only large enough for a pair of chatting neighbors.
The facades of Guanajuato are brightly painted in a full spectrum of pigments, as differentiated as the colors in a large box of Crayolas. All of my favorite crayons were there: electric lime, carnation pink, cornflower blue, hot magenta, and atomic tangerine.
Muddling through the warren of tangled alleyways, I stumbled across a dark stairwell. As I descended, I could hear the reverberation of internal combustion engines, as if they were revving inside an echo chamber. To my surprise, I had vanished into one of Guanajuato’s many crisscrossing traffic tunnels.
Originally dug using local mining expertise to control frequent flood waters, the tunnels were later converted to divert vehicle traffic away from the narrow and congested surface streets. Like the barrels of interlaced mine shafts, the rough surfaces of the tunnels appeared chiseled out of solid rock.
When I eventually resurfaced, I headed toward the faint sound of music. As I drew closer, I could clearly hear the voices of a troupe of musicians leading a group sing-along. Upon reaching the chorale, I ascertained that bands of young minstrels in old-style dress gather each night to lead musical walking tours called callejoneadas.
Like a rat trailing the Pied Piper, I followed the music, jokes and laughter out of the maze of callejons, and reverted back to the familiar streets of the city center. On this afternoon of uncharacteristic improvisation and dead reckoning, I left behind my maps, and was pleasantly immersed in the strangeness of new, lost in Guanajuato.