Saturday, 26 July 2003

History Lesson

My last day in Guanajuato has almost passed, and although it is the nicest town I have been to, it is also just about the smallest and pretty much every nook and cranny can be explored at leisure in three days. The people here are a funny old lot, as they tend to be for different reasons across Mexico! This is the first place I have been to where the natives seem genuinely unfriendly, despite it being a fairly touristy/studenty town where many of the population come from elsewhere. They speak the best English I have encountered so far too, but are utterly unwilling to use it! Nevermind.

Having ditched the Gap year Brits I have met up with a few other travellers to wander around with. The town itself is really like an oasis of calm in an otherwise turbulent country, with gangs of Mariachi bands all kitted up in their glittering ceremonial gear strolling the streets all evening, playing for anyone with a few spare pesos. The climate is just about perfect, with long warm sunny days, low humidity (we're up at over 2000 metres here) and refreshingly cool evenings. Mexico has a very diverse ecology and a fascinating history by the way, which I may as well mention. People oft seemed perplexed as to why I wanted to go to Mexico, I guess due in part to their perception of the country.

My own knowledge of Mexico was pretty limited this time last year, and consisted mainly of the impression of a few mega beach resorts (Cancun, Acapulco et al), filthy cities, and vast barren empty spaces inland. I knew it had been a Spanish colony of course, and that there were a few old ruins around from Aztecs or whatever, but always assumed these to be lesser sites than those in Peru and Central America. In fact, Mexico contains 10% of the worlds bird, plant and animal species in just over 1%of the the worlds total land mass. Its coral reefs have some of the best diving sites on the planet, and beaches to match (if only all the Americans would go away so you could see them!).

Two thirds of all plant and animal species reside in less than a dozen countries, and Mexico is one of them. There are huge barren spaces further north, but I have otherwise been amazed at how green the country is, even in the baking hot Yucatan. History wise, there has benn much going on, from Spanish conquests and colonialism, the War of Independance, the war against the USA (where Texas was won and annexed), numerous revolutions and a horde of limited invasions by the USA, Spain, France and occasionaly Britain. And every event has at least a dozen monuments to commemorate it. I had read that Mexico City contained more art than anywhere in the world, and after a 4 hour tour on the Autobus Turistica (an open topped double decker from Blighty wouldnt you just know!) I can believe it.

Statues galore, big and small and often colossal. As many museums as there are cafes and Mexican flags in every town centre so large that you could quite comfortably build a marquee from the material and house 1,000 people. As for the ancient civilisations, well Im not sure they are all quite as ancient as some of the more famous south American Inca chaps, but their ruins are on a scale to match anything, including the worlds third largest pyramid at Teotihuacan. I also doubt any one has surpassed their mind numbing scale of mass heart ripping sacrificial ceremonies. On occasions, 20,000 people have parted company with their tickers earlier than planned in a single session in an effort to appease the chosen gods of the day. Anyway, glad to have provided this little dose of education, but Im hungry now, so here endeth the lesson...