Arriving in Guanajuato you ride on a crowded bus full of college aged kids through tunnels and across the hills of Mexico's central highlands. Around a final bend and nestled in a valley is the striking city of Guanajuato. It's history as a colonial silver mining city, once the greatest producer of silver in the world, and it's present as a cultural and artistic pioneer come together to create one of the most beautiful and vibrant cities in the world. The first and most apparent quality of the city is its walkability. Relics of its mining history are the tunnels that traverse the city drawing a majority of it's traffic underground. What is left on the surface in lieu of cars and exhaust are pedestrian avenues, tree-filled plazas and squares, great cathedrals, colonial buildings, and hundreds of miles of callejones which are the narrow alleyways throughout the neighborhoods. Cars exist on only a handful of cobblestone one-way streets in certain parts of the city.
Guanajuato is the birthplace of Mexican Independence, the muralist and painter Diego Rivera, and the great International Cervantino Festival. The Spanish novelist Miguel Cervantes is revered in this city, and by all evidence their patron saint is Don Quijote de La Mancha. For three weeks in October Guanajuato draws thousands of performers from across Mexico and the world for its annual arts and cultural festival. Cervantino is considered the most important artistic and cultural event in Latin America and among the top five best international arts festivals in the world according to the European Festivals Association. With performances ranging from a Polish dance and music group doing Chopin Rock, to the University of Guanajuato theatre group performing the original Cervantes shorts (entremeses) that gave rise to the festival nearly sixty years ago, Cervantino has something for everyone. Hundreds of thousands of Mexicans and foreign tourists flock to this modern Mexican bonanza which may may be the biggest party you have never heard of.
After the day's performances the after-party begins. Roving groups of singers band together and walk the streets gathering a parade of tagalongs. The group's numbers grow until they are a party in themselves meandering through the calles y callejones. Street music and theatre on the steps of the cathedrals are the backdrop to packed squares, bars, and salsa clubs. Stop by the Plaza Los Angeles and sit on the edge of the fountain to listen to young rock groups, or on the weekends, descend into the tunnels for DJs spinning electronic and techno dance groves. Groups of inebriated singers punctuate the infectiously enthusiastic atmosphere until sunrise.
Guanajuato and its Cervantino Festival is a portrait of a modern Mexican city. An idealic portrait yes, but vivid and accurate nevertheless. It does not paint over Mexico's problems ranging from drug violence on the boarder to poverty in Chiapas. But it is a people's city and Cervantino a people's celebration which is modern and quintessentially Mexican. It is a place where ancient and colonial history meets modern artistic culture, and looks boldly ahead.