Wild shrieking and giggles carry from the pool down below this roof I’m writing on. Maniacal children have hollered and screamed for hours now, but work has been the order of my day, and somehow I’ve endured the insanity. Now, though, I smile and laugh as I type, remembering my own days of bliss with yearly “pool parties” in elementary school. I’m glad to be reminded of what fun sometimes sounds like.
I’m older now and fun doesn’t happen often. Instead, I’m happy to simply find satisfaction and accomplishment bookending my days, like they have today. I’ve met a deadline that has dogged me for months but was always delayed because it was my deadline for me, and real-life work trumps the artist’s own endeavours. Deadline done, I now find myself with a kind of weightless elation I frequently long for and seldom actualize.
And so the frenetic joy of pool-splashing children fills the air around me as my keys clack and distant fireworks boom. It sounds like a summer Friday on the Mexican high plateau, where silence is never a natural state. If not the shrieking of child’s play, it’s fireworks exploding, brass bands thumping, dogs yapping at anything that moves, crickets chirping into the night, thunder rolling, hawkers selling food and more in the street, and on it goes.
I’m not a writer who succeeds in silence. I enjoy it sometimes, but I ultimately find excess quiet puts a damper on my inspiration. Mexico, then, should be quite inspiring.
This, though, is a new Mexico to me, for I have changed states.
A New Town, A New Vibe
My time in Oaxaca came to a close. I’ve been here in Guanajuato now since a week ago yesterday. My travels were auspicious. I caught an early cab to the airport, and, en route, traffic snarled to a crawl. What should’ve been a 10-minute drive took over 40. Nefarious striking teachers had taken over all 3-4 lanes leading to the airport. Arriving at the first of my day’s destinations, I learned they had high iron gates for a reason – to keep protests out of the essential artery, the Oaxaca International Airport. There, riot police waited by the dozens at the gate for the teachers, who were less than a kilometre behind me. It takes about 10 minutes to walk a kilometre, 15 if you’re a slow-going walker like the protesters, so my timely arrival avoided the clash.
I don’t know the outcome to that drama, because when I left, I left it behind me, as I usually do. Like the band Boston sang:
Don’t look back
A new day is breakin’
It’s been too long since I felt this way
I don’t mind where I get taken
The road is callin’
Today is the day
And so, the future in mind, I flew to Mexico City, killed off my layover, and crossed the tarmac to my next plane. Heavy and black skies rife with ominous warning, I wondered if I’d fly through my first electrical storm.
After my seatbelt clicked, the skies loosed with furious vengeance. Rain battered the plane hull like none I’d ever heard before. It was dark as nightfall despite being 4pm, and lightning lit the tarmac and brought silence throughout the plane as we all watched nature’s wrath unfold through our tiny windows.
After 40 minutes of uneasy patience and a simmering of the storm’s temper, we got the all-clear for lift-off.
That’s how I came to arrive in Guanajuato; some turbulence, some fury, some luck.
It’s a 45-minute cab far from the airport. Some dig the frugality of buses, but when I’m at the end of a long travel day, I take the easy way out. Fatigue is when injuries happen and I’d rather be a little broke than broken. Speaking no Spanish, I enjoyed a silent ride through the high desert plateau, until I reached my little mountain town. Arriving, I was exuberant with possibility.
Guanajuato was always the first town in Mexico I wanted to come visit. I don’t know how I changed gears to Oaxaca but I’m glad I went there first and left, because something about it isn’t my vibe. Oaxaca, for me, is the kind of town that as great to visit as it is leave, it clicks along at a pace jarring to me. Still, I know I’ll return one day.
Part of the “wrong vibe” is that Oaxaca’s main scene is all on the plains of the Oaxacan Valley. It’s flat and easy-going. There’s no challenge to walking, and for me, it’s similar to what was the problem before I left Canada: All the same, all the time. Sameness killed my body in Canada, and Oaxaca wasn’t working for me physically. I had arrived from Vancouver for Oaxaca Part Deux with a pinched nerve or ligament in my knee and spent my final three Oaxacan weeks limping and suffering various levels of pain in part because I never had to change gears, really.
Guanajuato, though, is Mexico’s stairclimber. A city built vertically, there’s no street to walk where you won’t see a hill in the distance. Homes rise on slopes around you. With altitude nearly 7,000 feet, or 2,100 metres, it pushes new gears in me all day long. A week of walking here and five weeks of pain in my knee have been undone thanks to newfound strength.
As a woman who’s over 250 pounds, I came here to challenge myself. It’s my writing town, my stairclimbing town, my breathing-life-in-my-career town.
Right now, my legs hate me. Every inch of ‘em hurt (except my knees), either from the hill-climbing, or from the hours of stretching done to right my body after climbing-wrongs.
But that’s the price to pay. I’ve been here before, the path to fitness, and “hurt” is what I do for weeks. It’s about whether suffering is worth the outcome. If I hurt for a while in order to stop feeling like crap and having far-too-low self-esteem every day, then, yeah, I’ll pay up.
The reward for me is all these hills and interminable huffing/puffing come replete with colourful local life. The architecture and colour feed my soul.
Oaxaca taught me that I like the food aspect to travels, but I’m not as intrepid as souls like Jodi of LegalNomads.com, who’s a walking food historian and is passionate about food in a way I’m not sure I’ll ever be. I thought I was that kind of food-devouring traveller, but Jodi has helped me realize I like to eat but I’m not that adventurous about it, and my favourite part of travelling is photowalking. (Photowalk: v. to walk for no reason other than to take photos.)
Between the blocky-block square traditional Mexican buildings and the elaborate colonial remnants of Spanish occupation, color is the unifying factor that makes Guanajuato one of Mexico’s most photogenic cities.
I’m so in love with the colour. It inspires me shoot photography every time I leave my home. It’s less impoverished than Oaxaca, somewhat middle-class since it still has industry like mining to keep the locals employed, and the result is a rich and vibrant core with a bit less dissent and distrust than one finds in the political firecracker of Oaxaca.
I’m in this town for the colour and the curvy, confusing streets, and the peekaboo alleyways filled with surprises. Throw in the stairs and hills that challenge my body and I think I’ve found a city great for my soul, setting the stage for me to become a stronger, healthier, wealthier Steff in the coming years of travels.
I’ll be here for three months. Will it get dull after a month or so? It might. I don’t think so, though. I think I’ll find comfort, solace, and inspiration here, things I’ve needed for some time, and I can breathe a sigh of relief that I’ve maybe gotten the travel mix right for a spell.
And Other Things
This week I’ve sent the final changes to my web designer and any day now should bring a relaunch of this blog in its snazzy new digs.
When it does relaunch, it still won’t be done, as there’ll be an E-store to fill with my photography and other things you can purchase to help me sustain this dream of mine.
The main thing about the relaunch will be the ease with which you’ll finally be able to navigate my blog and search for articles. I sought a cleaner, easier-to-read design that makes reading and thumbing-through my blog a more pleasurable experience for you. I hope that’s what I’ve achieved.
Thanks for all your support. Stay tuned for the Further Adventures of Steff.
Hi Steffani I came across your post today as I am trying to figure out if I should spend my one week vacation in April in Oaxaca or Guanajuato. Your article is perfect. I share many similar interests as you. Thank you for solving my dilemma. Also reading your “about” reminds me of my desires. At 40, being a physician who is not unhappy with my job but long to travel I admire your courage. I see this post is from 2016, I wonder how your 3 months in Guanajuato went.
Hi, Niloo! I enjoyed that time in Guanjuato but was personally spiralling into a depression, so that made it a bit tough that summer. I went to San Miguel de Allende when my apartment had a rat and a friend had offered their empty place for dirt cheap, and I found myself missing Guanajuato, which I felt was much less touristy and expat-y than SMdA. I hope you have a great time! My suggestion is to make sure you live in the pedestrian center for the best experience. Get ready for steep hills! 😀