Monday, June 10, 2013

San Miguel de Allende, MX - Week 1

The Summer Under Sombreros
San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, MX
June 1 – August 1, 2013

Sombreros come in many designs with different colorings, woven patterns, and decorations. This could also be a description of Mexico. San Miguel is one of the many colorful cities in Mexico. It is a beautiful colonial city, population of about 140,000, located in the central part of the country. We had visited here for 4 days in 2002 during our life as full-time RVers. We were impressed with it then and we’re even more impressed with it now. However, it’s not an easy destination to get to.

San Miguel de Allende

First of all, we had to get up very early. Thanks to a wonderful friend, we got a ride in the wee hours of the morning to the airport and had plenty of time to go through security. But, we were some of the last persons to board our flight because Ken “drew the short straw”. He had a carry-on packed full of electronics (to make life and communication easier while in MX). We had anticipated he would get checked, and he did! He was patted all over and up and down, scanned with a wand from head to toe and the security guard took out and wiped down every item in his bag. Of course, she didn’t put it back; she just piled it up for Ken to repack. This delayed us to the point that we didn’t have time to grab coffee (grrrrr!) or anything for breakfast. But the good thing was we didn’t miss our flight. The flight actually boarded early and took off right on time. Thank goodness, Delta served a package of free cookies with a drink. We got into Atlanta earlier than scheduled and had plenty of time for Ken to dash off and grab a sandwich to take on board our connecting flight to Mexico City. To our surprise, Delta served a free sandwich snack with a drink on this flight too. We definitely weren’t hurting for food/drink any more.

We landed in Mexico City, retrieved our luggage and sailed through customs. We had thought that Ken would be red-tagged and we would be stalled again. Then, we boarded a Premium bus (luxury bus line) for a 3 ½ hour ride to Querétaro. Prior to boarding though, both of us were patted down and scanned, not once but twice, and our carryon bags were searched. Luckily, this time Ken had released the bag with all the electronics to be placed in the luggage compartment underneath. The bus offered free WiFi with an Android computer at each seat so this kept Ken occupied during the journey.

From Querétaro, we had a one-hour taxi ride to San Miguel. Things were going smoothly until the driver made a major wrong turn. Oops! Once he noticed his mistake he did what Mexican drivers do - he just backed up on the highway and down the ramp until he could get us going in the right direction. Once in San Miguel, the driver wasn’t familiar with the street address for the condo. Fortunately, Ken had saved the directions and a map on his tablet and was able to direct him. The electronic gizmos were coming in handy already.

Ken had found and rented a townhouse condo for our 2-month stay. It was in a walled development of 7 condos with beautiful gardens and was very comfortable. Two of the neighbors (Kathy and Bob, originally from Kansas City) greeted us with homemade beef and barley soup, bread and cheese, and 2 bottles of wine. This was perfect since we got so involved in getting settled we were way too tired to go out and had nothing to prepare.

Townhouse exterior


Our condo had several roof-top terraces. A beautiful breeze blew through the opened doors on either end, upstairs and down and it seemed quieter here than at home.

Happy hour on mirador (rooftop terrace)

Sunday, June 2, we went out for breakfast and walked to the Mega (very nice large grocery store) to do some major shopping. Instead of walking back with our huge load, we took a taxi, got groceries unloaded and headed out again to walk to Guadalupe, an artists’ section in the community, for a walk-through of 11 different galleries in the artists’ homes. After so much walking, we settled on another easy dinner – a fresh rotisserie chicken and simple tossed salad. After a little computer time and TV, we were ready for bed.

With all the beautiful flowers in bloom, Jamey watched hummingbirds as she woke up Monday morning, June 3. This was a day to catch up on some rest. Ken had some local telephone calls to make (since he’s the Spanish speaker). He had to call Lupe, the maid and arrange weekly visits; he also had to call Eloy, the water delivery vendor, to get more bottled water. We’ll use this to drink and make coffee with; we’ll use filtered water (cold only) from the sinks, which comes from a tank on the roof that is purified with a tablet bacteria treatment, to cook and brush our teeth with. Water straight from the faucets is not treated and is used for showering, washing dishes, and laundry. Hot water comes from an on-demand heater. Supposedly, the stronger the flow/pressure, the hotter it will be. We’re having trouble getting the hang of this. Showers are extremely hot to biting cold. We don’t linger too long.

Tuesday’s are the weekly Tianguis (a big flea market) where one can find anything from fresh fruit, electronic items, to a live chicken. No live chicken for us; we opted for fresh honey, strawberries, garlic, and a cable so Ken could connect his tablet to the TV to play music. We ate at one of the several lunch counters and each of us had a pork and a barbecued beef taco. This barbecue was different than ours; it wasn’t as sweet.

Strawberries at Tuesday tianguis

To get to the tianguis we walked back to the Mega supermarket to catch a bus. To get home, we opted for a taxi ride from the tianguis. It was a hot (dry heat) day. After coming home and resting some, we went back out to get some fresh ceviche for our dinner. We also found a bakery which carried meat empanadas which Ken likes better than the fruit-filled ones we usually find. Alas, they were out of them.

Our neighbors had told us there were no barking dogs or roosters here like we’ve heard in the other areas of MX. However, there was a pack of dogs somewhere close by last night that kept Jamey awake and she swore she heard roosters’ crows blended in. Because there’s no air conditioning here, we sleep with the doors and windows open for a cross breeze. Unfortunately, this allows the street noises to drift in, especially upstairs, where the bedroom is.

Lupe, our maid, came today (Wednesday). This condo really needed a good cleaning; the owner had left the first of April and it was very dusty. This is such a nice luxury to have here; the best part is she will be returning weekly while we’re here.

Ken went out after his afternoon siesta to get some of the meat-filled empanadas we had wanted and to get a refund for being overcharged on the rotisserie chicken we had gotten on Sunday. Being gringos, we have to watch out for being charged higher prices.

Thursday was another beautiful day and we chose to relax at home. That night we walked down to the Longhorn Smokehouse for dinner. Their special of the day was filet mignon, baked potato, salad, garlic bread for about US$8.25. Everything was absolutely delicious. The owner of the restaurant was British and his daughter had attended University of Texas, Austin – thus the name of the restaurant. Since our granddaughter is also attending there (earning University Awards for her freshman year) we took some photos of the UT paraphernalia decorating the walls.

Each night, starting around 9 p.m., we have been hearing a man walking up and down the street calling out the same thing over and over. We can never understand what he’s saying and the neighbors can’t tell us either. Ken’s curiosity was aroused so he went out tonight to see what the man was doing. He was yelling, “Elote amarillo” (roasted yellow corn). Ken said he was carrying 2 buckets filled with this corn he was selling. We could hear him for at least an hour and don’t know if he ever sold any of his corn or not. This is another nuance of the Mexican lifestyle.

Friday, June 7 – It’s hard to think we’ve been here almost a week. Time is flying. It was an easy walk through some different neighborhoods to check out other rentals Ken had come across while searching. We walked to the San Antonio neighborhood to see the beautiful church. The famous Instituto Allende (Art School of San Miguel de Allende) had several galleries open. International artists come there to teach and their work is displayed in the galleries.

Courtyard at Instituto Allende

Tempting aromas of several taco stands on the street pulled us towards them. These tacos had different fillings than what we were used to. Both of us thoroughly enjoyed a pork and poblano taco each and Jamey got a chicken molé and rice as her second choice while Ken enjoyed a barbecued chicken (this barbecue was different than the one before).

Tonight was the Art Walk at Fabrica la Aurora (a design and art center). This was a free-to-the-public event. “Before its renaissance as an art and design center, Negociacion Fabril de la Aurora, known as La Aurora, was a leading manufacturer of premium cotton "manta" and textiles for almost a century.” “Generations of San Miguelenses worked in the factory since 1932. At the time of its closing, La Aurora was the largest employer in San Miguel with a work force of over 300, and it had become an integral part of the daily lives of its workers and the San Miguel community.” “Free trade agreements brought many changes to the Mexican textile industry and La Aurora was not an exception. Cotton imports began flooding the market and domestic production was greatly affected. As a result, the steam generated whistle which signaled the start and finish of each shift and was a notable sound in San Miguel for almost 90 years blew for the last time on March 11, l991.”

One of the galleries at Fabrica Aurora

In 2001, the owners of La Aurora allowed the warehouses to be renovated to house galleries. The renovations were done around some existing equipment. Artists from all over the world come to create, display, and sell their art work.

This was great! There was art from all different media. Then it was on to the Venus Lounge where we thought we were going to hear a Russian guitarist playing gypsy and flamenco music. But he didn’t show. We got to listen to a guy playing the blues while we had delicious Thai food for dinner. On the way home we made a stop at the park in front of La Parroquia (beautiful Catholic Church) in El Centro (the center of the city). Mostly young people were out, getting ready to enjoy a Friday night.

La Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel

It was nice and quiet when we got home. But when we got in the bed and turned the lights out, someone decided to set off some fireworks close by. Luckily, they didn’t last long this time.

The last 2 mornings have been cooler than normal and this morning (Saturday) is no different. Today is the morning for the organic tianguis. We bought fresh broccoli and peas (peas was planned for dinner), 2 meat-stuffed empanadas and a slice of quiche (for Sunday’s breakfast). It’s a good day to do some laundry too. Rain is predicted for tomorrow. Is the rainy season finally beginning? Because this is a dry climate, the clothes on the line dry quickly. There is no clothes dryer.

French quiche vendor at Saturday organic tianguis

May and June are reported to be the warmest months here. This week has definitely been warm during the days and early evenings but the mornings cool off nicely. Several people have said that once the rains start it will cool off and gringos that leave during the warm months will start returning.

Our neighbor, Kathy, came over and invited us to go to another friend’s house for dinner. There were 7 of us in all – George (from San Francisco), a friend of Kathy and Bob’s; Kathy and Bob; us; and Jane and David (our hosts from Irving, TX). Jane and David have permanently relocated to San Miguel and are renovating a condo. From their mirador (roof-top terrace) you can see the whole city and at night it is a dazzling sight. Needless to say, we did not eat our fresh peas.

While at Jane and David’s, we all decided to meet for Sunday brunch (so much for the quiche planned for Sunday’s breakfast). But who could pass up an opportunity to be with friends and eat out.

First it was the church bells, then the fire crackers, then the thunder, and then the rain. Okay, okay, we were up. It’s Sunday morning – no sleeping in (said the bells and fire crackers as they continued to sound off in all directions). I dare say the weather may keep some pious souls inside. San Miguel definitely needs the rain to quench the the thirst of the flora and calm down the dust. The rain only lasted about 1 ½ hours and the skies quickly turned blue again. Another beautiful day in San Miguel de Allende.

As we were getting ready to go meet our friends for brunch, poof, the lights went out upstairs and in the downstairs bath. Ken checked the breakers and, sure enough, one was off. When he switched it on, a light, with its switch in the off position, came on. It wouldn't turn off. Thus is the way with the wiring and electricity in MX.

Ken and I jumped on a bus but missed our stop so we stayed on until the bus reversed it's route. Everyone was waiting for us at Hank's (used to be Harry's until there was a lawsuit from another Harry's). Hank's is a New Orleans' style restaurant, serving Sunday brunch which includes a mimosa. Eggs Benedict is on the menu, which Ken and I shared, but these eggs are on top of sliced filet mignon instead of Canadian bacon. Coffee is good and strong, made with chicory. Beignets were served as well. Service and food was excellent!

Brunch with our new San Miguel friends

After brunch, we walked home with George. Ken returned to George's rental to investigate why his internet was so intermittent. Ken's expertise with computers follows him.

While Ken was gone, our neighbor, Kathy, came over and invited us over for dinner.  Bob had been smoking a pork roast all day and they were going to put out the meat and bread for everyone to make sandwiches. Jamey, of course, accepted, and put our planned dinner back in the freezer - once again we did not eat those fresh peas. Luckily, we didn't have to go empty handed; we had just purchased some fresh salsa and had a new bag of totopos (tortilla chips) which we took over along with our drinks. George and David (one of our other neighbors) came.

Just before we were to go to Kathy's, the power went out. There was a storm close by and thunder was rolling. It was still out when we got to Kathy's and she had a house full of lighted candles. We only got a light sprinkle but the air did cool off while the thunder continued to sound its fury. Soon, the lights came back on and all was right in the world once again.

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  1. Really enjoying the pictures. Great depth of field (new camera?).
    Jim C.


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