I live in Mexico and Mexico is NOT Cancun, Puerto Vallarta, Tijuana or Cabo. If you want to go to a magical city in Mexico you must go to Guanajauto, 345 km NW of Mexico City.
Let me tell you of this fascinating city: It looks like a cross between San Francisco and Europe. The city is hilly and set in a bowl and if you stay at one of the upper houses you can see the entire cityscape. Many of the houses are painted bright green, red, blue, pink and a combination of all those colors. Since the city is situated in a bowl sound carries (see acoustics 101) and it’s a calming experience to sit out with a cup of coffee and look out and listen to the morning nuances of the city all around you.
However the streets look designed for an episode of The Twilight Zone. Forget maps. Streets twist and curve into alleys, bend apart into stairways, bisect each other at obtuse angles, disappear and reappear in M. C. Escher optical illusions and open to secret little plazas with the eerie stillness of water fountains and no people. Some streets are so narrow it’s either you or the on coming car and in Mexico the car wins. Guanajuato is one of the most photogenic places not only in Mexico but in the world.
There is also the Museo de Los Momias (Mummy Museum) where you can walk through darkened rooms and see the preserved remains of people hundreds of years old. Tour guides delight in showing torture memorabilia and telling gruesome stories of how some of the natives were “converted” to Christianity or sent to their Pagan gods. The Mercado (market) is housed under a huge metal structure that was designed and built by Eiffel. The city, founded in 1559, has a university that is one of the oldest in the western hemisphere.
If all this is not enough, the strangest part of Guanajuato is under the city. There are tunnels under the city, old silver mines where the industrious Mexican have turned them into subterranean roadways. These tunnels were used in the movie The Mexican.
Now let me tell you of the witches. Two years ago I was in Guanajauto to attend the International Cervantes Festival, the largest festival of its kind in Latin America. I was sitting on the Jardin Union (Garden Plaza) on a bright and clear morning having breakfast, when this young woman who said she was a student at the university and wanted to practice her English, sat down at my table. The gentleman that I am, I said yes and this beautiful creature with perfumed, shinny black hair, sparkling, dark seductive eyes, skin the color of shimmering mocha and full red lips that looked like they could…use your imagination…joined me for coffee. I know most Mexican women to be conservative but I knew she might be different when she started smoking cigarettes that were hand rolled. I wonder why she was talking to me. Agreed that I am a tall, nice looking man with blues eyes and a great white smile. But I was also twice her age. Then again, that doesn’t seem to both Mexican women. She called herself Guadalupe.
Her eyes twinkled and she asked if I have I been to Guanajuato before? No, I had been all over Mexico, but not Guanajuato. She asked if I have been in the tunnels under the city. I knew they had mummies on display somewhere and I thought she might be hustling me for a ticket on some macabre bus tour.
Do you want to see the dark tunnels with me she asked? My mind raced. Trick question? She said we can drive down there. In what, I ask? She laughs and says a car. I do have a car? Of course. As we walked to my car she mentioned she was a witch. I just smiled not really finding danger in her words. There really is a magical realism to Mexican thought and behavior. It would not be the first time a Mexican told me of an X Factor in their lives. I was more worried she was going to lead me down into a deserted mine shaft where banditos were going to rob me, tie me up and leave me for dead. Another part of me hoped she going to take me down into some dark mine shaft and… remember those lips? Just as long as it didn’t cost me money, give me an incurable disease or take my soul.
So anyway, we get into my car and we’re driving down the street and she says go that way and suddenly like “Mister Toad’s Wild Ride” we take a left turn and quickly descend into this dusty road under the city. The light is pall orange and makes everything strange and grotesque. I look at her and she really does look like a witch. Her long black hair is swirling in the wind like a Medusa and she is smoking again; the smoke whirls up and around her head. She is laughing hysterically and waving her hands around in good fun. It was like she had never been in a moving car before.
Then we see these other girls walking on the darkened road. Guadalupe says they are her witch friends and before I know it four witches piled into my small car and they are all talking, playing music and having a great time. Magically a tequila bottle appears and some more rolled cigarettes and it’s witches gone wild and the gringo boy on wheels. Now I’m picturing me naked and staked to the ground in some pentagon with candles all around as they cut my heart out with a black obsidian knife, chanting verses from The Book of Shadows.
I’m frantically driving with both hands on the wheel looking for road signs and anything else familiar that says I am not about to be swallowed up by this madness and darkness of the tunnel. She points to the road and I drive up into the city street again and into bright sunshine. I’m happy figuring the worse is over and what an exciting ride it was. Before I can blink she says turn here and we go down again into the tunnels and nearly hit a car coming up.
When I ask her if we’re going in the right direction she says this is Mexico and there are no right-of-ways. She yells, speed up! What if we hit a car and are killed I shout? We are protected she yells. Protected by what I yell back? She says I am riding with witches and holds up the Tequila bottle. We will become mummies together in eternity! No thanks. The other witches give out yelps and go into Saint Vida tremors.
Suddenly we hit a stretch of tunnel where there are no lights and I struggle to find the headlights knowing if we hit a huge truck head on we will be mummies in another hundred years. Is this the way the modern mummies meet their death? For another 30 minutes we go in and out, up and down, dodging, swerving cars, trucks and death wish motorcycles. All the time the witches are screaming and the radio blasting Mexican pop music and me thinking, hoping this is all foreplay for an orgy at the end of the ride with the women. I can dream can’t I?
Finally we surface once again and damn if we are not back to where we started. I said that was some ride and ask her if she and rest of the witches wanted coffee. They all laugh and say they have to get back to class. Will I see you again I ask, hoping there was some payoff from this ride of the damned. Guadalupe gives a little laugh and says I should look for her in my dreams. And she meant it.
For the rest of the morning I stayed in my room trembling and afraid to go out and wondering if it was a dream and did I really ride with the tunnel witches of Guanajuato.