I don't think I've told you about the Festival Internacional Cervantino. Held each fall in the city of Guanajuato, El Cervantino is a lively, eclectic and truly multinational celebration of music, art, dance and theater. Being in the neighborhood this year of its 40th birthday, I decided to take a day trip into Guanajuato from San Miguel and get a taste of this famous festival.
Want to come along?
I showed up at the San Miguel bus station bright and early on Friday, October 12th, where I bought a ticket on the 8:40 ETN bus to Guanajuato. I'd heard good things about ETN but had not taken one of their buses before, so opted for it instead of the Primera Plus. It pulled into its slot five minutes before departure time.
As is customary, the attendant handed me a little sack lunch as I boarded, along with the drink of my choice. I got settled into my assigned seat and was soon handed a tiny pillow like the ones you used to get on airplanes before the world went loco. The bus left seven minutes late, according to the clock mounted above the driver, which also told the temperature.
I pulled open the darkening drapes: my goal was to see the countryside and anything else I could on this one hour ride. The mists were rising over San Miguel as we pulled away. Off in the distance, I watched a hot air balloon rise into the morning sky.
I find the countryside in the state of Guanajuato to be breathtakingly beautiful. San Miguel is on the plateau at an elevation of 6200 feet. In this hour's drive, we would climb another thousand feet to the city of Guanajuato. The land becomes a bit more arid as the elevation changes, but the views are captivating.
I had an appointment this day: tickets to a concert at the Templo de la Valenciana, fifteen minutes or so on the other side of the city from the bus station. I found a taxi who took me there for seventy pesos.
I was early. So I took some pictures.
Guanajuato was the site of huge productive gold and silver mines during the Spanish Catholic rule of Mexico. This history still informs much of its tourism.
Here, a sign to the mouth of the San Cayetano mine.
I had a nice visit with two firemen who showed me their excellent Jeep firetruck, a gift from a fire department in the United States back in 1967, when the truck was new. The firemen assured me that it runs beautifully and that they love it like a favorite horse.
The crowd was mostly older-ish except for a bunch of artistic-looking college age people. I heard several languages, although the biggest percentage of attendees spoke Spanish, and it was apparent from conversations overheard (okay, eavesdropped) that this was a cultured group come to see Accademia del Piacere y Arcángel.
Personally, I had no idea what I'd come to see. The bits of information I could find told me not much, but I knew this small orchestra came from Spain and were performing in a spectacular venue on the one day I could attend.
Boy, am I a lucky woman sometimes.
The Accademia, all men at this performance, has focused their considerable talent on interpreting ancient music. This performance took us back to the 15th century through the Baroque roots of Flamenco, tracking the music through history and telling us, through their own music, of their journey and discoveries. With two cellists, a percussionist, a flautist, a Baroque guitarist, a Flamenco guitarist, and a truly indescribable male singer named Arcángel, they set the place alight with intelligent, inventive, glorious music that had the whole crowd cheering and applauding and calling for more.
We weren't allowed to take pictures. But when one brave and irrepressible soul in a forward row lifted his camera high toward the end of the performance, he started a wave of rebellion which I joined, managing a couple of quickies. I really wanted you to see where they were performing.
You see that altar? Entirely covered in thick gold, mined from the hills within a few miles of the church. A fitting setting for the return of the Spanish, who gave a lot back that day to those fortunate enough to hear them.
Walking on air, I left the concert and found a taxi into the city. I've visited Guanajuato before...but I'd never seen it during El Cervantino.
The city was packed. My taxi driver let me off several blocks from Teatro Juarez, a landmark I know, and I wandered through the streets agape to my favorite spot, Plaza de San Fernando.
The plaza was full of spectators. The array of music and performance was...mind boggling.
There was a levitator.
A belly dancer.
A clown on a cellphone.
And musicians of every stripe.
Back out on the main streets, there was more to see.
The crowd loved it.
I walked well out of the center of town and found another taxi back to the bus station and San Miguel de Allende.
All in all, it was a swell day.