Mountain terrains can be hazardous to your health. There’s the obvious heart-galloping hikes up the hills, which are survivable with a bit of huff-’n-puff and a slower pace.
But in the mountains, Mother Nature has a few arrows in her quiver which aren’t so controllable: rockslides, avalanches, and in the case of Guanajuato a century ago – floods. But this city hasn’t survived without tenacity, and the solution to Guanajuato’s flooding problem has to be one of the best lemons-to-lemonade projects I’ve seen.
For hundreds of years, the Rio Guanajuato flowed right through the middle of town. Routine, rainy season floods were an annual problem, not only for property damage, but loss of life. Eventually, the town grew tired of the threat, and decided to do something about it. The first step was digging tunnels to route the river below the city (these were miners after all). The drainage tunnels worked for a while, but weren’t ideal. Next, engineers rerouted the river, totally removing the flood problem, but then the city was left with a bunch of empty, underground tunnels. And it’s these tunnels that transform the lemons … to lemonade.
In a master stroke of civil engineering, the tunnels were reinforced and paved, and now carry much of the vehicular traffic that moves through Guanajuato. Underground sidewalks and bus stops were added in the tunnels for pedestrians.
Underground traffic alleviated congestion on the surface streets, cut down on pollution, and enabled city government to pedestrianize most of the historic district.
And this pedestrian area forms the calm, relaxed heart of the beautiful historic area.
If you visit, you’ll notice that maps of the city include both the surface streets as well as the tunnels, and they can look downright intimidating. Surface streets wiggle up and down the steep terrain, and the haphazard tunnels zig and zag right through town. So basically, the street map looks like drunk day at the worm farm. But don’t worry. The quiet streets and romantic alleyways of Guanajuato make getting lost a pleasure, and we’ve truly never seen anywhere quite like it.
As travelers, we’re always on the lookout for new ideas and creativity. It’s a pleasure to see that city government in Guanajuato was thinking outside the box decades before it was fashionable. And what a huge difference it made.
4. By Gussisaurio via Wikimedia Commons
5. By hexodus via Wikimedia Commons