We were sitting outside a cafe in Plaza de San Fernando when Pepe approached us.
He was clad in a black-velvet Spanish troubadour costume – similar to the characters we’d seen singing in the main square.
We had been approached by these men countless times as we walked past Teatro Juarez (which, we were disappointed to find out, didn’t actually host any live performances).
They were clearly trying to sell tickets to something, but their speedy utterances in Spanish quickly ended with a quick “no hablo español” from us.
But when we said that to Pepe, he just started speaking English – a first from the troubadours.
He explained that they host singing alley tours through the city, ending at the Alley of the Kiss – a romantic little spot where Mexico’s answer to Romeo and Juliet supposedly came to an end.
Pepe suggested the 9.45pm tour (“because the sun has gone down”) and Adam, who had been itching to take some night photography, got excited.
“How much?” Adam asked while I shot him an awkward look.
“$100 pasos per person.”
“But isn’t it all in Spanish?” I said suspiciously. I don’t like buying the obvious souvenirs or buying into the obvious tourist traps. It makes me feel like an ignorant, gringo tourist.
“If you go to the 9.45pm one, I will be there and I will translate for you,” Pepe promised with a smile.
I turned to Adam. It was only 3pm and we were usually in bed by 9.
“Come on, babe,” he said. “It’s Friday night.”
I didn’t want to argue. What’s the worst that could happen? We lose $20 on a scam and I win some pride points for knowing better.
“As long as you promise to be there,” I said to Pepe sternly. “I want to know the story.”
“I promise,” he said as he handed us the ticket. “Meet at the Teatro Juarez around 9.30pm.”
It was 9.30pm and we had already seen one band of troubadours sing and dance from the Teatro into the alleyways. We couldn’t spot Pepe anywhere.
“I think we’ve been duped,” I said half-jokingly.
“Nah, he’ll turn up,” Adam reassured me.
At least we knew our tickets were real. We showed them to a Spanish-only troubadour who pointed us to the adjacent Iglesia de San Diego where all the tours were leaving from.
As we sat watching another group sing, dance and joke to the Spanish-speaking audience, we decided we had two choices. Either give up and go home, or follow the tour anyway and just try and decipher what we could – of course we picked the second option.
As the group of people on the tour stood up and gathered together to show their tickets, we joined them.
A costumed man asked us something in Spanish – “no hablo español”.
“Where are you from?” he asked.
Aha! Another English speaking person who might be able help us.
“New Zealand,” we said optimistically – not everyone in Mexico appears to have heard of our little pair of islands.
“Even you?” he asked looking at me. “But you look Mexican,” he said with a big friendly smile.
We asked him about our ticket.
“You’re in the right place,” he confirmed. “But you don’t speak Spanish?”
“Someone called Pepe said he’d be here to translate for us,” we explained.
He promptly went to talk to the head of our troubadour group.
“Pepe’s coming,” he said. “Until then, I will walk with you even though I’m not supposed to.”
He explained that each group of troubadours, of which there seemed to be an endless supply, was different and they weren’t supposed to mix. They were mostly university students.
“Hello!” We looked up to see Pepe bustling through the crowd. “Sorry – I thought I would meet you outside the Teatro. I was there waiting for you!”
I felt terrible for doubting him.
“Have you got your souvenir yet?” We hadn’t.
“So, you know Guanajuato means The Land of the Frogs…” We didn’t.
He proceeded to tell us heaps of things we didn’t know; he translated the crude Mexican jokes the performers were making (puñal means both knife and gay man), told us the history of the city and explained the story of the Alley of the Kiss.
We spent the evening dancing and singing behind the troubadours, while walking down beautiful alleyways and listening to Pepe tell us all sorts of stories.
It was, I’m not ashamed to admit, well worth the money we spent.
TLDR: Sometimes, take a chance on the tourist traps. Cliches are cliche for a reason.
The tour is focused around love – not surprising considering Guanajuato is considered one of the most romantic places in Mexico.
The tour behind us was a wedding party who had hired several troupes of troubadours to sing and lead the massive tour group.
We danced up and down the alleyways, the same way the men would have serenaded the Spanish women out of their homes. Although, I’m assuming with plenty more jokes and giggles.
All the singing and joking was warming up to the story of the Alley of the Kiss:
There was once a rich Spanish girl who fell in love with a – Pepe’s translation – “poor, f***ed miner”.
They would meet on their opposite balconies and share a kiss. That is until her father found out.
“How dare you kiss this poor, f***ed miner,” said Pepe, translating the performance happening in front of us.
“If you do it again, I will kill you.”
It seemed extreme but, like all romantic tragedies, someone’s got to die, right?
Of course the dad catches the girl kissing the “poor, f***ed miner”.
*Insert some joke about the dad using the puñal from behind*
And the poor girl dies in her lovers arms on the balcony, losing 3 drops of blood on the steps below.
So, obviously, if you kiss on the step you get 8 years (some people say 7 but we’ll take 8) good luck.
So we did.
Tickets for our tour were $100 pasos per person. You buy them directly from the troubadours roaming the central city – there are different groups which charge different rates.
Check out the group’s Facebook Page – Apparently Pepe responds to the messages and we highly recommend you try and get hold of him to translate it all for you. Give him a good tip, too 🙂
All photos credited to Up An Adam.