Monthly Archives: August 2012

Building Dreams in Guanajuato, Mexico: Economic Development and Tourism

A social service project high on a mountain top about forty-five minutes from Guanajuato city, is changing lives.  Up the hill past Valenciana and Mayolica Santa Rosa, lies the pueblo of Mineral de la Luz.  About 750 people live there today, from a peak of many thousands a hundred years ago when mining was at its peak.  (Still, Mexico is the number one silver producer in the world.) Many who make Mineral de la Luz their home are young men employed by the Endeavor Silver Corporation, a Canadian mining company that has took over  the rights in 2011 for extracting silver from the rich veins that lie deep within the earth.


Some say Mineral de la Luz is a ghost town, but with active silver mining, gorgeous views, historic adobe buildings, nearby ex-hacienda Jesus Maria (a restored elegant boutique hotel), and a population determined to improve themselves and their village, most know otherwise.  Adriana Cortes-Jimenez, executive director of Fundacion Communitaria del Bajio, is one of those people.  Adriana is a tireless advocate, passionately committed to helping local families find resources to improve education and start small businesses.  Adriana believes there can be a partnership between tourism and economic development.  She has many ideas.  So do the men and women of the village.


On this  weeklong trip together I rode shotgun in Adriana’s VW van, zig-zagging the backroads, high desert plateau, mountains and valleys of Guanajuato state.  We went from Irapuato to Guanajuato City and back again then to Valenciana, Sangre de Cristo and Mineral de la Luz, on to Trancas and Dolores Hidalgo, and finally to Mineral de Pozos, stopping to visit individuals and families in each location who are slowly building their dreams.  Many of Adriana’s 50+ projects have been in development for three to seven years, mostly because resources are scarce. In Mineral de la Luz, she has helped with the restoration of over 35 houses.  This gives people a lot of pride and hope.

During our time together we talked a lot about what visitors would be interested in seeing and doing, and what can be accomplished more quickly to stem the tide of out-migration.  So many have left in search of jobs and livelihood — a process that destroys families and communities.

I’ll be sending  Adriana my ideas in a report later this month to add to the great plans she already has in mind.


In Mineral de la Luz, we had a home-cooked lunch of delicious, fresh quesadillas. I watched our host prepare lunch and learned a new technique for chopping onions without crying!   The women of the family want to open a restaurant.


Their daughter, Alma Liliana Leon Araujo, is a talented 19-year old potter who brought together other teenagers like herself.


They formed a small cooperative studio and built two simple kilns — one gas-fired, one wood-fired.  Together, they dig the clay from local sources.  They have no way to gauge the temperature — there is no electricity.  Their pre-Columbian design pots are shaped by hand and then stone polished.  They are resourceful and talented and deserve to be encouraged.

This week, Adriana is making a visit to Asheville, North Carolina to see the arts trail through the Blue Ridge Mountains, once remote, but now connected through an economic development and tourism partnership.  She will also establish a 501(C)3 non-profit that can help support her endeavors in the U.S.

If you would like to help support this project, let me know and I’ll pass your name along to Adriana.  Or, contact her directly by clicking here!

Tunnels of Guanajuato City: UNESCO World Heritage Site

Who needs to leave North America to discover the richness of culture, architecture, archeology and history?  It’s here in Mexico.

For the past week, I’ve been traipsing around the State of Guanajuato with Adriana Cortes Jimenez, executive director of Fundacion Communitario del Bajio (without internet).  One of our first too brief stops was Guanajuato city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site or Patrimonio de la Humanidad, so designated in 1988.  It was built-up through the wealth of silver extracted from mines deep in the folds of the surrounding mountains.  The city itself is situated in the valley of one of those folds with outstanding examples of Baroque and neo-classical buildings wrapping up and around narrow alleyways called callejones and into the surrounding foothills.


I think what astounds me most about this extraordinary city are the tunnels.  Miners, skilled in digging deep into the earth to extract silver and gold ore, created underground passageways to traverse the mountainous city more easily.

Flor Lona, an architect friend who works with the Guanjauato Patrimonio de la Humanidad, took me on a driving tour through the tunnels that crisscross the city’s underbelly.  She explained this is the fastest way for cars and pedestrians to get from one place to another.


Having grown up in earthquake country (Southern California) and now living in the active earthquake zone of Oaxaca, I kept asking, “Is it safe?  Are there earthquakes here,” each time we went under these ancient excavations!  Another friend Berta said that this part of the state is solid rock and the city is structurally very sound.  No worries.  I still held on to my seat as we descended into the underground.


Above ground are Porfirio Diaz era grand epoque-style structures that house concerts, plays, outdoor cafes, upscale shopping including beautiful silver jewelry shops.  The jardin (garden) is a manicured space with winding passageways leading to small squares and courtyards where one discovers another cluster of stunning buildings, churches, and abuelas looking over balconies in houses where they were born.


It is a perfect pedestrian experience!  Very European, very much like an Italian hill town with a bit of Rome added.  Who needs to leave North America to discover the richness of culture, architecture, archeology and history?  It’s here in Mexico.


An Hour with Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera at Casa Azul

The line snaked around the corner of Casa Azul, home of Mexican artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, in Colonia del Carmen Coyoacan in Mexico City.  Now a museum, the home is a mecca and tribute to the talent, strength and perseverance of a woman who endured pain and suffering in privacy while consorting with the intellectual elite of the world.  Her likeness and style is replicated throughout Mexico.  As a social, cultural and political icon, she could be considered akin to a contemporary Virgin of Guadalupe in many circles, revered, honored, even worshipped.  She stands as a role model for women’s fortitude in the face of insurmountable odds against survival.


It was late Sunday morning when I arrived at Casa Azul and thank goodness, because the traffic was light and it only took the taxi twenty-five minutes to get there from my little hotel in Colonia Roma.  (Sunday is a good day to travel the streets of Mexico City quickly.)  Thankfully, I could squeeze in an hour before leaving at 3:15 p.m. on the ETN bus to Irapuato, Guanajuato.  Not enough time, but enough for a taste of Frida Kahlo‘s life as a painter and her tumultuous relationship with Diego Rivera.

It’s common knowledge among Frida fans that she was in a terrible accident at the age of 18, when a streetcar ran into the bus she was riding in, and a metal rod penetrated her body.  She began to paint as an antedote during her recuperation and then later taught art, met Diego Rivera and married him in 1929.


Kahlo’s self-portraits convey the despair, anguish and uncertainty of her existence.  Her wheelchair sits in front of the easel.  On it rests a luscious painting of fruit (note the Mexican flag), a juxtaposition to other paintings that depict her naked, exposed, splayed on a bed, bleeding from life’s emotional and physical wounds. There is a universality in the message that each of us can identify with, which is what makes her paintings so powerful.


Naturally, it is easy to romanticize these two figures of Mexican art and politics.  And, Casa Azul allows us a glimpse into their romantic relationship — note the kitchen with the little ollas spelling out Frida and Diego’s name along with the two palomas (doves) connected to each other.


And, the museum tells the truth about the Rivera-Kahlo relationship by exhibiting the two clocks that Frida painted that tell the story of how time stopped when she discovered his affair with her sister, their subsequent divorce and then their remarriage a year later when time began again for her.

Above is an unfinished self-portrait done while she was visiting Detroit, Michigan.  Below are some drawings by Rivera that were recently discovered.


Frida Kahlo called Diego Rivera “Frog.”  A reflecting pool in the garden has a mosaic tile floor with a frog swimming, there are frog motifs throughout the house and garden, and in Frida’s happy bedroom (she also had a sad bedroom with a suspended mirror where she painted during confinement in her body cast) on a side table is the frog urn that contains her ashes after cremation.

Of course, an hour is not enough to savor the experience of being in this astounding home, and I will return again for much longer during my next visit to Mexico City — which, by the way, I found to be safe and friendly!