This was not the usual sort of Christmas this year, to say the least. No friends or family gatherings, just me and several million Mexicans. Was quite interesting actually and, despite some initial anxiety about loneliness, I was well distracted. During the day I cycled into the centro to watch the goings on there. As I'd heard, there was a big ice skating rink in the middle of the Zocolo, there were ice inner tube runs and there were thousands of people having a ball.
All of it was free, skates included, and was probably the only opportunity that most of the kids and their parents would have to do these things. Quite a sight, hundreds of people ice skating in the warm Mexican sunshine. Later I made myself a nice Christmas mole dinner and, after it got dark I rode back into the Centro to see the lights. On the way I encountered quite a good little jazz quartet on the street in front of the iconic El Populara restaurant. Stopped to listen for quite a while, admiring some nice guitar work.
The Christmas lights were quite impressive, pretty much surrounding the Zocolo. The people were still skating away and the mood was very festive and congenial.
Alfonso had suggested taking me to his family's ex-hacienda last year when I was there. It didn't happen then but this year it did and was quite an experience. Located in the very north part of Guanajuato state, the family home there is part of what was a massive hacienda created originally by the Spanish overlords centuries ago. The land is agricultural, wild and very sparsely populated. Not quite the middle of nowhere but you can see it from there.
It was a five hour trip from Mexico City and along the way we passed through Dolores Hidalgo and stopped there for a carnitas lunch
and to see the church where father Miguel Hidalgo started the revolution against Spain in 1810 with his famous "Grito", the cry for independence.
The town was packed it being the holiday season which they really drag out in Latin America. Lots of visiting family from the states, lots of big new pickups with Texas plates.
The other signature feature of the town is its unusual ice cream flavours: chicharròn (pork rind), whiskey, cheese, corn, rose petals, avocado, tequila, shrimp, mole, shrimp with octopus and the more mundane, strawberry, peach, chocolate, vanilla, etc. I had a mantecado (a Spanish shortbread) con frutas secas (dried fruit). Pretty tame but the sample tasted good so I chose it and wasn't disappointed.
The other notable event of our trip was getting pulled over for speeding. Alfonso got a little carried away in his new Mazda at the wrong time and paid the price. But it freaked me out, especially watching Alfonso and Sylvia search frantically for their registration which they finally produced after an uncomfortably long search. A brush with Mexican law enforcement wasn't on my list of experiences to have in Mexico. As they rooted around for the documents, I was envisioning the car being impounded, being thrown into a Mexican jail, but it turned out to be no big deal, pretty much like it is in Canada or the States. And Alfonso was suitably contrite and charming and succeeded in getting the fine lowered.
The family home is in the tiny town of San Ignacio, maybe a few hundred people and is like going back in time, but with modern bathrooms and kitchen. No heat, unfortunately and it was very cold at night. The layout was typically Spanish colonial, rooms arranged around central courtyards with fountains.
Before dinner I suggested going for a walk but instead of just going out and walking around the "neighbourhood", Alfonso had us pile into the car and drive to El Còrporo, a fairly new archeological site all the way across the valley. At the park, they were getting ready to close but Alfonso used his formidable persuasion skills and long family history in the area to sweet talk us into the site accompanied by one of the staff people.
It was getting dark by then so we didn't have time for more than a brief introduction before we had to head home. On the way home, Alfonso and Sylvia decided it was a good opportunity for her to practice driving. She is learning to drive and this occasion with no traffic to contend with seemed ideal. To say she has zero aptitude for driving would be an understatement. We crawled along the dirt road at around 5kph and when Alfonso attempted to show her how to use the high beams, she melted down. That was an interminable trip. I hope she never braces the streets of DF. They'll eat her alive. We made it home, had some dinner and got under the covers. Separately. Don't get any ideas. Next morning we returned to Còporo to get a proper tour of the site before Alfonso drove me to Guanajuato.
The site was only officially discovered in 1967 but Alfonso told me of exploring around there when he was a kid and finding pot shards and other remnants. Now the visitor centre is nearing completion and the excavations and restoration continue. The site is beautifully located with the ancient living quarters and some of the official edifices at the base of craggy cliffs (under all of the forested area are more ruins, we were told)
and some pyramids and other structures at the top of the cliffs with commanding views of the immense landscape.
A group of us (all Mexican except me) were driven to the site in the back of a pickup and guided around by a young man. I prefer going on my own to these places, especially when the explanations are in Spanish and my understanding is poor, but I managed to get off on my own a bit and was able to enjoy some relative solitude.