SAN MIGUEL DE ALLENDE
"Wow, there are a lot of white people here!" I said to Aaron as we entered the central plaza of San Miguel de Allende (SMA).
He nodded, adding an observation. "Old white people." I looked again. He was right. A lot of them had to be over 90 years old (and I say that with admiration - I know that decade is not as far away as it seems - and way-y-y in the distance for you Mom and Dad!)
"They must be expats," I said. "90 year olds wouldn't be coming here on a holiday with the cost of medical insurance." Expats or 'expatriates', people who'd left their own country and taken up residence in another. Ten percent of SMA's population were expats, mostly Americans (some Canadians) who'd left chilly environs in the USA and taken up in sunny, warm SMA.
The colonial town was certainly prettier than the land we'd travelled through to get here, all dry gullies and rolling hills covered with cacti and agave plants, foot trails and ruts from hundreds of years of wagon crossings. Donkeys and goats dotted the scrubby land, and small towns interrupted it occasionally, their dirt roads leading cement homes with corrregated metal roofs and loaded laundry lines, unpainted for the most part, a dull grey, but here and there a surprising pink. "That's that hippy lady," I could imagine the rest of the town gossiping. A highway full of funny surprises, like the truck that passed us jammed with sleepy pigs all lying sideways, upside down, all over each other.
I'd heard wondrous stories about the beauty of San Miguel de Allende. And, as usual, high expectations are hard to live up to. Especially when the travellers judging you have just come from what they considered one of the most beautiful cities ever, Guanajuato. To us, it was a little too crowded with tourists, and a tad expensive. It was easy to see why it was expensive. Expats want good restaurants, high-end clothing, art and gorgeous stuff for their homes. Which is what the place is full of. But, besides those things, SMA was still very pretty with its wide, cobblestoned streets, and buildings coloured in a palette of gold, burnt sienna, and cream.
SMA grew on us over the three days we were there. The locals were so friendly, our thighs greatly appreciated the flatter terrain, and we found some unexpected gems.
Charco del Ingenio is a nature reserve that preserves and educates on threatened and endangered flora that’s been heavily impacted by development, intensive agriculture, and climate change. After a week of pavement, it was a breath of fresh air to walk along its paths soaking up the silence and the earthy smell of nature.
Guided tours in English were offered from 10-12 every day. Which we didn't know about, and even if we had, wouldn't have paid 300 additional pesos for. BUT...after reading what a friend had learned on his guided tour a few days later, I almost wish I had. Almost. additional 300 pesos.
Fabrica de Aurora with its fifty-plus galleries of paintings and sculptures left me in awe of the incredible talent in the community. I so wanted to buy a painting, a sculpture. “No, I seldom sell anything,” James Harvey, an American artist now living in SMA, told me. I couldn’t understand it; his paintings were phenomenal. Expensive, but phenomenal.
If I had an extra $2000 US lying around, I’d have bought one of his works in a minute. Loved his portraits!
The place is massive, though and my legs were aching after two hours of looky-loo’ing.
“Should we go home and take a nap?” I asked Aaron, as we sat for the third time in an hour. I was surprised at how necessary it was to sit, and sad at how little it helped.
We decided to try a restaurant recommended by a local . She'd clearly mistaken us for well-heeled tourists. Mamma Mia was a gorgeous Italian restaurant whose ambiance lured me in, and whose menu made my purse strings scream. But, the thought of creamy linguini carbonara was too much for Aaron to withstand, and so, we stayed. I fought the little voice in my head that said, "Wine?" and got a lemonade instead, and thoroughly enjoyed it with my scrumptious goat cheese ravioli with pesto. Our budget was quickly going the way of the dodo bird. We've got to get ourselves back on track, I thought, as I wiped up the last of my pesto with a warm, yeasty bun.
Napolo - cactus - is big here as a side dish. It tastes like green beans, slightly pickled. Our first sampling was from a woman at a street cart, who dug into her big pots and handed us filled plates: shrimp patties which I didn't love but Aaron did, slices of the cactus, beans, rice and a warm, sweet drink. All for 4 bucks a plate.
The 46-yr old mom serving us was a funny one. “Tengo 4 hijos y 4 nietos,” she told me. 4 kids and 4 grandkids. “My daughter keeps getting pregnant,” she said wryly.
I laughed then changed the subject. “What do you think about so many expats living here? ” I asked.
“They are very nice,” she answered. And then, after a moment’s hesitation, added, “Except for a crazy woman up the street who yells all the time. I don't like her. But the rest, yes. I like learning how other cultures are," she said. Too bad she's learned that some of them yell.
We both got a big hug from her and I grinned as I left, feeling like she'd enjoyed the conversation as much as I had. Conversations, for me, are the best part of travelling, and colour my memory of a place sunny yellow. So despite being too expensive, and a little like a Mexican city smeared with a lot of Sedona, Arizona, that basic but very real conversation with a sweet food cart owner makes San Miguel de Allende a hit with me.
I hope you've enjoyed travelling to San Miguel de Allende with us. Stay tuned for Queretero and Bernal, our next stop.
Salud! And happy travels.
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