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Holiday, Vacation & Tour

 

Guanajuato: Se Habla Español

In my first book about issues involved in expatriating to Mexico, I wrote rather extensive diatribes about how American gringos need to understand that Mexico is not America. In elaborate detail, I spelled out exactly what I meant. Some readers think I went too far.

One lady from New York, which explains a great deal actually, was so incensed about how I emphasized "Spanish is spoken" in the town in which my wife and I live, she wrote a “review” on Amazon.com and threatene...

spanish,guanajuato,mexico,espanol,central Mexico,puerto vallarta,resort towns,tourist, tourism

In my first book about issues involved in expatriating to Mexico, I wrote rather extensive diatribes about how American gringos need to understand that Mexico is not America. In elaborate detail, I spelled out exactly what I meant. Some readers think I went too far.

One lady from New York, which explains a great deal actually, was so incensed about how I emphasized "Spanish is spoken" in the town in which my wife and I live, she wrote a “review” on Amazon.com and threatened me with physical harm. She said she ought to come to Guanajuato, find me and slap me. But, cut her some slack. She’s from New York.

In the book, I tried to make heads or tails at the utterly shocked surprise gringos seem to go through when they find their way to central Mexico and discover that Spanish is the language of choice here. Many apparently are not aware that Mexicans chose Spanish as their preferred language centuries ago. They have been very satisfied with that decision ever since. You would think that by the way many gringos act when they finally find their way to Guanajuato, that this fact takes them totally by surprise.

What I want to know is how in the world did they manage to get to central Mexico in the first place?

Once, my wife was in the center of town running some errands. A frantic, panicked couple rushed up to her and asked, in trembling voices, if she spoke any English. You see, we gringos, pale-faced and pasty-legged, are dead ringers for English speakers. My wife found out that these two were in mild shock over the fact that they could not find anyone who spoke English in Guanajuato. They were rendered helpless linguistically.

Well, one has to ask just what they expected.

What I have postulated in almost everything I’ve put in print is that gringos, especially the American variety, simply do not get that Mexico is not America.

That has got to be the only logical explanation. That’s all I have been able to surmise in all the years we’ve been watching American gringos who miraculously find their way into central Mexico. Just what else can it be?

There was a time when going to a foreign country to visit or to live was truly a foreign experience. You flew into a place where everything was different. The language was strange, the customs baffling, the accommodations substandard compared with American hotels, and the food, though delicious, mostly threatened to make you sick. Not so anymore!

Now, when you fly into Vallarta or another resort town, you encounter everyone speaking English. From the cabbies to the hotel staff, everyone speaks English as though they were born and educated in the United States. The customs seem Americanized to the point of being indistinguishable from America. The hotels have been so Americanized. There are no differences about which to complain.

The food? Well, McDonalds or KFC is just a block away for your Americanized eating pleasure. If American tastes are what you came to Mexico to experience, then tasty American things are here in all their Red, White, and Blue Glory.

There is also all the American television you can stand, by cable and satellite, so you don’t have to miss any of your favorite shows.

Coming to a resort town in Mexico is like taking a trip from Kansas City to Saint Louis. Nothing changes. Nothing’s different. The foreign in the foreign country has been sterilized clean for American tastes.

All I am able to deduce is that this so confuses Americans, they think they are still in America. They thought they were going to some place foreign and what they hear is English being spoken massively, everywhere, and seemingly by everyone. They are confused.

Then, when they finally tire of watching the surf while drinking round after round of margaritas on sandy beaches, they think it’s time to explore more of Mexico.

The fun begins.

Just the other day, my pal Walter told me he was sitting in the plaza, El Jardin, when he heard an American tourist whip out his cell phone and start talking.

And, let me pause this story right here. This has to be another source of mind-numbing confusion for Americans. They come here and can call home on their cell phones as if they were at the mall and not in another country. But, I digress.

This guy called home to the U.S. of A to exclaim in a voice loud enough that he certainly could have been heard back in America without using one of its imperialistic technologies, that,

“…you just wouldn’t believe it. All these people speak Spanish and I can’t find a soul that speaks English.”

This guy was in a state of red-faced confusion and anger that “not a soul spoke English in Guanajuato.”

Americans apparently really do believe, and most sincerely, that because English is massively spoken in Mexican resort towns specifically designed for English-speaking monolinguals, that all of Mexico is bilingual. And, by the way Americans act out once they find out they are stuck in a land where Spanish is the language of choice, you would think it never occurred to them to open a Spanish phrase book and learn a few phrases before coming to Mexico.

There is point that must not be missed. America, supposedly the land of milk and honey for so many foreigners who want to live and work there, is massively monolingual. Less than 9% of Americans can speak a foreign language fluently enough to get by in a town like Guanajuato.

The horrible indictment is that in Mexican resort towns, in a country that most of my American friends would call a “third world country,” where locals do not have the opportunity nor the money to take English lessons or study English in an English-speaking country, the locals become fluent in English.

They do not have the money, much less the opportunity, Americans have to become bilingual, yet they do.

The vast majority of American expatriates who move here, some having lived here for thirty years, cannot string enough Spanish words together to engage in the most rudimentary life tasks. They have the money, the time, and the opportunity to become bilingual and yet they don’t.

Do not miss that point!

 

Guanajuato: The Death Of Heritage

Gentrification is “the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces earlier, usually poorer, residents” (Webster’s).

Gentrification is occurring in Guanajuato.

When we decided to move to Guanajuato instead of to one of the many cities in Mexico, it was because it was, at that time, “still Mexico.” Gringos live everywhere in this marvelous country. The largest populations are in...

guanajuato,mexico,san miguel de allende,

Gentrification is “the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces earlier, usually poorer, residents” (Webster’s).

Gentrification is occurring in Guanajuato.

When we decided to move to Guanajuato instead of to one of the many cities in Mexico, it was because it was, at that time, “still Mexico.” Gringos live everywhere in this marvelous country. The largest populations are in Mexico City as well as in the resort areas of the West Coast. It is estimated that around 25,000 gringos live in Puerto Vallarta.

San Miguel de Allende, in the state of Guanajuato in Mexico’s heartland, has about 12,000 Gringos—most of whom come from the USA.

We didn’t want to live in any of the areas where Americanization has taken over to extent that they are barely recognizable as Mexico. San Miguel de Allende is a perfect example of how the influence of such a large, and might I add, excessively demanding American enclave has changed the town from colonial Mexico to Gentrified Mexico. Americanization is its defining theme. San Miguel de Allende “looks” Mexican. It is, however, Mexican in facade only.

We wanted to live where that wasn’t happening or where it hadn’t yet happened. We chose the city of Guanajuato.

Did we err?

Late in 2006, the first signs of Gentrification in colonial Guanajuato began. A Mexican version of a “Super Wal-Mart” opened. We now have a Mega superstore. It is an anchor store in an indoor mall that contains what you would expect to see in any mall in the USA. There is a Blockbuster video store, General Nutrition, and various other stores that no average Guanajuatense (someone who lives in Guanajuato) could possibly afford. There is even an exclusive men’s store with clothing imported from Italy. And, to top it all off, there is cholesterol-laden, heart tissue-destroying, obesity-inducing MacDonald’s selling seven-dollar hamburgers. They’ve also throw in a multiplex movie theater for good measure.

Just as in America where the arrival of these superstores has all but ruined small downtown America, these stores in Mexico are causing the same problem. Whether it is a Wal-Mart (and Mexico has plenty of them), or the Mexican version, Mega, they have come into towns without a thought about how they will effectively alter the lives of hundreds, if not thousands. What happens is a way of life, one that works, one that enriches, one that promotes community and the fellowship of its members, is destroyed.

Heritage is lost forever.

What has happened all over America is happening here. In America, Wal-Mart has become the new “downtown.” In the days of yesteryear when I was a kid, it was a custom to go downtown. We would walk the sidewalks, stare at the window displays, and end up where everyone did—the drugstore. There we sat, drank sodas and ate ice cream while our parents caught up on the neighborhood gossip. It was there where relationships were forged and strengthened. It was there where those in trouble found comfort and solace. It was there where you would find reassurance that, though the world seemed to be falling apart, you could survive with the help of your friends. It was true community.

Now in America, no one drives to downtown if one even exists. No one walks anywhere. Wal-Mart and all its derivatives are the new downtown. Instead of going downtown to shop, everyone heads to where the products are offered at prices the old local Mom-and-Pop shops cannot possibly beat. Instead of catching up on the gossip, instead of forging relationships, instead of finding comfort, solace, and strength to get you through a crisis, instead of community, you find a cold and impersonal factory where you recognize no one. You find a sea of people rushing in and out of a warehouse filled with goods. No one talks. The employees barely acknowledge the customers. Everyone rushes through the store trying to get their stuff as fast as they can so they can leave and get back to what has become a miserable urban existence.

Too harsh? I don’t think so.

Just think of this.

When was the last time you waltzed into Wal-Mart to buy a pair of socks, a transaction taking mere minutes, but left refreshed and more energized than when you went in? When was the last time you spent an hour, maybe two, in Wal-Mart (and all you came to buy were socks) because you saw someone you knew and took the time to talk and minister to one another’s needs?

When was the last time you went to a Wal-Mart superstore because you knew you might meet “so-and-so” and get to see what’s happening in her life and share what’s happening in your life?

That’s what we saw in Guanajuato: a life we remembered, loved, cherished, and missed from our childhoods in the 50’s and early 60’s.

Downtown Guanajuato, or El Centro, is not so much a place to go but a place to find friends, to relax, to recharge. Shopping in small, Mom-and-Pop shops here is more than an activity to forage for your daily bread. These shops are places to forage for souls, for companionship, for support.

Do you remember when America was like that?

Superstores come into towns like plagues. They are able to buy products at such huge wholesale discounts and in such quantities, the small, traditional, and heritage-sustaining-Mom and-Pop shops cannot keep up. Soon, they are run out of business. They die.

Downtown becomes a fantasy land. It becomes a theme park like Disneyland where tourists come to see how people “used to live.” The city planners rename downtown as the “historic center” where people come to see “history” and shop at insidious little boutiques that target the rich tourists. The point I am trying to make is that downtown Guanajuato is not a “historic center” but it is alive and is where life still goes on, businesses are run, and people live. It has history but is very much alive as it was hundreds of years ago. It is where life is being lived and not now history.

Superstores will change all of that.

The locals in a city like Guanajuato think superstores are a good thing—at first. Then reality sets in. They are forced to shop in these superstores because the small neighborhood stores are dead and gone. The locals have to get their food somewhere. It is the superstore or nothing. It seems rather diabolical to me. It seems well planned. It seems to be done on purpose.

Superstore overlords know what they are doing.

Not only do the locals have no other alternative but the superstore for sustenance, they also soon realize they cannot get to the store conveniently. So, they reason, we must get a car to get to the poorly located superstore. Thus, car traffic increases in a city where there are already too many cars with no place to put them. It is a city that is becoming increasingly polluted because American car manufacturers have convinced Mexicans that you haven’t arrived in the world unless you own a car.

I cannot help wonder how much Americanization has to do with all of this.

The Mega store that opened here is nothing more than a Super Wal-Mart on steroids. It also has a dubious history in Mexico of forcing the Wal-Mart business model on Mexico and her people. And, they employ the American Wal-Mart business model.

Open a huge megalithic warehouse of a store, buy products at wholesale prices, and the people will come. No matter that these stores destroy the heart and soul of a city. The almighty dollar (peso) reigns supreme. There is no doubt in my mind that these giants can and do offer better prices at what the Mom-and-Pop shops can. No doubt!

But, at what cost?

A way of life is threatened. A way of life that sustains and nourishes is lost. Life is irreparably broken.

Something that works—life—is messed with and is consequently ruined forever.

There is no going back.

Lest you think I am bitter in attributing this to Imperialistic Business Americanization, listen to this:

I was in the mall in Leon, Guanajuato, and asked a man why he liked coming to the mall. The response blew me away,

“I come here,” the Mexican man told me, “because it is here where I can pretend I am in America.”

Need I say another word?

 

Guanajuato: The Land Of Frogs

When theme parks, beaches, scuba diving, and whale watching have lost their charm after multiple Holiday, Vacation & Tours to Mexico, perhaps a visit to The Land of Frogs in Central Mexico is in order.

The City of Guanajuato, which is called The Crown Jewel of Mexico’s colonial cities, was named The Land of Frogs by a group of indigenous people. By some accounts, the indigenous took one look at the terrain and said, “Nothing but frogs could live here!” Some say the indigenous found thousa...

mexico,guanajuato,live mexico,study spanish,spanish,retire mexico,san miguel de allende

When theme parks, beaches, scuba diving, and whale watching have lost their charm after multiple Holiday, Vacation & Tours to Mexico, perhaps a visit to The Land of Frogs in Central Mexico is in order.

The City of Guanajuato, which is called The Crown Jewel of Mexico’s colonial cities, was named The Land of Frogs by a group of indigenous people. By some accounts, the indigenous took one look at the terrain and said, “Nothing but frogs could live here!” Some say the indigenous found thousands of frogs in the mountainous terrain. Other accounts say it was the shape of the mountains that reminded the indigenous of frogs. Whichever account is true, Guanajuato is a place to get to know.

Guanajuato earned its place in world geography when the Spanish found the surrounding mountains rich in silver deposits. In fact, at one time more than one-third of the world’s silver riches were mined in Guanajuato. Though none of the usual summer Holiday, Vacation & Tour activities exist in Guanajuato, this city exudes history with every unsteady step you take through its cobblestone streets.

The state of Guanajuato is the Cradle of Mexican Independence. It was here Mexico began its quest to become Mexican. Guanajuato is the perfect spot to see where and learn how Mexico began to fight for its hard-earned independence from Spain. Although small, the city of Guanajuato has outstanding colonial architecture built with the silver revenue from times past. With modern museums, cultural events almost year-round, one of world’s oldest universities, and an almost perfect year-round temperate climate in which to enjoy this country’s Crown Jewel, Guanajuato can be the perfect alternative to the usual Holiday, Vacation & Tour fare.

Many first-time visitors we’ve interviewed have expressed amazement to find that Guanajuato defies their stereotypical expectation of Mexico. Many who have traveled extensively throughout Europe have told us Guanajuato could be a town from Spain or Northern Italy that was somehow magically transplanted to this side of the planet.

Depending on whom you ask, The City of Guanajuato has a population of between 100,000-120,000 people. It is nestled in a ravine with the city literally built up the sides of the bowl-like surrounding mountains. If nothing else, a trip to Guanajuato would be worth the time and expense just to marvel at how the Mexicans figured out how to build this city. To call it a marvel is a gross understatement.

Another marvel to behold is Guanajuato’s system of underground tunnels. Originally, the Guanajuato River flowed through the center of town. Numerous devastating floods occurred over the centuries, and engineers decided to divert the river away from the middle of town in the early 1900´s. After diverting the river, the riverbed was turned into a maze of underground streets--this time to divert traffic.

How To Get Here

More American tourists we meet are driving to Guanajuato. This is not as difficult as one might imagine. Go to Google.com and type “driving to Mexico”. You will find numerous articles on the logistics of driving here. The only problem you will encounter when arriving in Guanajuato is parking. Although city officials are working to solve this problem by building more parking facilities, it is a nightmare. Parking is at a premium and you will rarely find adequate and safe parking near your hotels.

The best way to arrive in Guanajuato is to fly to Leon, Guanajuato. From there, you can take a cab for about $25.00-$30.00 to Guanajuato. It is about a 45-minute ride.

A way to combat the difficulty of your Leon cabbie knowing where your lodging is located, especially if you have arranged a private apartment for your Holiday, Vacation & Tour stay, is to have the Leon cabdriver take you to the Guanajuato’s Holiday Inn or to the bus station. From there, it is a simple matter of switching to a Guanajuato cabdriver who will know where everything is in Guanajuato’s confusing maze of streets.

Lodging

Guanajuato has a large influx of wealthy travelers to whom the hotel industry caters lavishly. You can find accommodations to boggle the mind and pocketbook.




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