Wednesday, August 29, 2012

From San Miguel de Allende to León

Vamos de mal en peor. We go from bad to worse. This is one of my favorite phrases that I have learned since arriving in Mexico and something that I used to toss around with Monica, one of the Foreign Service Nationals, before she ran off to have her happily ever after with on of the previously departed officers. She taught me the saying, and it always pops into the forefront of my mind anytime something irritating happens at work. But it's never been said over anything serious.

So...what do you do when you wake up on Sunday morning and find that things really have gone from bad to worse? In our case, learning that 22 narco bloqueos had occurred in the Guadalajara consular district within the past 24 hours (it was actually 28...the news agencies apparently lack math power), causing our peers to lock their doors and stay inside, simply meant continuing our getaway weekend as normal. Ah, the benefits of out-of-district travel! Our friends and colleagues were all safe and accounted for, so nothing to worry about there. A committee would be meeting later that morning to determine a course of action. We were planning to explore San Miguel de Allende for a couple of hours before heading back to Guadalajara anyway, so now we would just be exploring until we found out whether or not we could go home at all.

TJ, Ernesto and I began our day with a delicious breakfast at the Villa Rivera Hotel. TJ and I had chilaquiles, our old stand-by, while Ernesto tackled this massive pancake concoction that was curiously smothered in corn flakes and fruit preserves.

We then made our way over to Museo Casa de Allende, former home of town hero Ignacio Allende and current regional history museum...which I must say does a much better job of representing the town's roots than its Guadalajara counterpart.

The house features a number of "dressed up" rooms that give you a feel of what life was like back in the day. TJ commented that it reminded him of the Palacio Real de Madrid from our 2007 European excursion (alas, pre-blog days). Favorites included:

The Pulpería, a small store where products from the family's haciendas, ranches, and mills were sold;
The Apothecary, which provided medicines for the sick and wounded;

The Formal Drawing Room, where much conversing occurred;
and The Bed Chambers, which featured a scary wax boy playing marbles.

Through staged rooms, carefully preserved artifacts, video presentation and detailed text spaced thoughtfully throughout the house, Museo Casa de Allende does a wonderful job relaying the town's history and it's role in the Mexican War of Independence...through all the highs and lows. A plaque at the entrance introduces visitors to the house, which was built in 1764 to be the home of Ignacio, his parents, and six siblings. Ignacio was born on January 21, 1769. "Forty-one years later," the plaque states, "he became the main instigator of the 1810 insurrection. He sacrificed his life for the freedom and well-being of his country, after rebelling agains the government based in Mexico City, which he regards as illegitimate following the arrest of viceroy de Iturrigaray." Fearing that France would take over New Spain, Allende helped set in motion a series of events that would eventually see Mexico free of European control. Museum exhibits bounce forward and backward in time, simultaneously telling the story of the War of Independence and the older history of the town itself.

One final scene, depicting a captured Allende awaiting his fate, reminds us all that freedom comes at great cost, and that glory usually requires a death sentence. Below we see a defeated Allende. His side eventually won, but not before he lost his own life. This wax figure sits beside the very doors of the prison that held Allende in his final hours. A quote above loosely translates as "I was accused of high treason. I thought of myself as committing high loyalty."

After leaving the museum we dragged Ernesto around town for over an hour while we shamelessly shopped for souvenirs (we got coasters, a menorah, sun & moon wall art, a shirt and a coffee mug...he got nothing), before he quietly snuck off to shower and pack while I made a Starbucks run and TJ received an expected (and somewhat exciting) phone call: our security team had determined that the lock-down would continue at least until the following morning. This meant that our peers in Guadalajara were to remain behind closed doors and we were not to return to the state of Jalisco until otherwise instructed. In a stroke of tourist genius, we asked if we could travel to the town of León, reducing our travel time home once the ban was lifted. Located 221km east of Guadalajara, León lies in the state of Guanajuato and therefore out of the "danger zone." To our immense please, permission was granted.

Unfortuantely, Ernesto had to return to his hometown of
Tepatitlán, Jalisco. Not many employers are as security-focused as the US Government, you see, and business waits for no man. We packed our bags and immediately departed for León, where we placed Ernesto on a bus headed toward Guadalajara. There were no direct routes to Tepa and we wanted to get him home as quickly as possible, preferably before dark, when the narco blockades typically occur. That wasn't possible, but he thankfully made it home safe and sound all the same.

We felt absolutely horrible that we were unable to take him home. We apologized a million times and even offered to pay for the ticket, but he understood that it wasn't our fault and vehemently opposed the offer.

I adore my friends. Especially the friends I've made since this crazy life of ours started. There are so many things we can't talk many things we can't many things we can do today but maybe not tomorrow. Yet, for the most part, our friends take it all in stride. It's just the quirkiness that is Aaron and TJ, and they embrace it.

I'm sorry we had to part ways in such a fashion...but he had to return to work, and we had to stay behind.

It was Sunday afternoon and our Foreign Service peers were holed up in their houses. The consulate employees were probably looking forward to the following morning, as work was the only thing that would allow them the freedom to leave their homes.

But us? We had a new city to explore...

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