Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Dark Side Of Guanajato

The other day as I was walking around Perth I saw a billboard advertising an exhibit at the Western Australian Museum. As I looked at the picture I was transported to another time. No, not to 79 AD when Pompeii was buried under several meters of ash, nor to our 2005 visit to the historic ruins. I was taken back 16 years to what was Mark's and my first trip together. We both were seasoned travelers. As such, we brought diverse experiences and expertise to the trip. However, where we really varied was in our expectations of the experiences that we desired as we traveled south of the boarder to the largest city in the world and its neighboring state of Guanajuato.
I envisioned culinary feasts at small cafes and restaurants. Mark looked forward to the delicacies bought from the street vendors (an amoeba or two thrown in at no extra cost). The romantic in me wanted to find accommodations at renovated historic buildings, mansions, and villas, places steeped in history and mystery. Mark was after convenience. The closer we were to the bus station, the less distance we had to lug our luggage. I could spend hours on end at the markets, looking at the exotic foods and spices and the endless quantity of textiles and ceramics. Mark felt shopping was a four letter word and was ready to hit the local cantina.
After a week of fits, tantrums and compromise, when we pulled into the city of Guanajuato and, after finding a convenient hostal that didn't rent rooms by the hour, we knew it was time to let someone else take over the decision making for us. We justified a full day tour by signing up with an operator who spoke only Spanish--it would be good language practice. So, we had a jam packed day of visiting churches, plazas, gardens, theaters, mines, and the University. We were driven up the steep hill to the Mirador (lookout) where we were able to admire the city below. We enjoyed a yummy lunch at a typical restaurant where we were able to practice our Spanish with our fellow travelers. Then at the end of the day we were taken to what our guide claimed was the highlight of the trip--the Mummy Museum. It should be noted that Mark and I are not fans of horror and/or death, and we weren't thrilled about the prospect of having to walk around a building that housed a bunch of human remains. However, it was part of our tour and we sucked it up. Our visit began with the history of the local scene and how the mummies came to exist.
The naturally occurring mummified corpses (mumification owed to the characteristics if the soil in which they rested) were all victims of a Cholera outbreak in 1833, during which time bodies were buried immediately in order to control the spread of the disease. Unfortunately, some burials occurred prematurely. Expressions of horror frozen on the corpses faces suggested that they may have been buried alive--a reminder of the horrific and tragic ending of a living life.
The mummies in the museum were disinterred from the Guanajuato's Graveyard between 1865 and 1958 when  family members could no longer pay the tax required to keep the bodies in the cemetery. Not all the disinterred bodies were mummified, but the 2% that were, were stored in a building and eventually they began to attract tourists.
With the brief history lesson over, we were invited to stroll through the narrow passageways at our own pace to enjoy the exhibit.  Because the museum had started out as a storage facility, the bodies are not displayed with dignity, and it didn't take long for Mark and I to become spooked;  we decided we needed to get out of there pronto. As we ran through the narrow, dark passages past over 100 mummified bodies, our own faces mimicked those surrounding us.  However, our contortions were not from agony, but rather disgust.
When we were finally able to escape the building and sit in the warm sun on the plaza, we knew that even though our future travels would involve plenty of comprise there would be no more visits to mummy museums.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Maya, what an interesting post. It is funny how we seem to enjoy different things while traveling. But I would say that most people would not enjoy seeing 100 mummified bodies and would join you and your husband in the sprint to the exit sign on this one. I remember visiting Pompeii and til this day I can still remember how I felt seeing those frozen images. Very sad and a tad creepy.