Monday, July 29, 2013

San Miguel de Allende, MX - Week 8

With one and a half weeks left in SMA, we're winding down but we're still on the lookout for things to do and see.

Cuna de Allende

After dinner Sunday night, we walked to the Jardin where a concert was scheduled as part of the Guanajuato International Film Festival. The first band to play was Mud Howlers. The evening was the first in a long time that we didn't have rain so the streets and park were packed with people and dogs. The music was more hard rock than we liked so we left early.

"I liked the music"

Tuesday night we ate dinner at Bahji, a curry house, and had samosas, garlic naan and some break-out-in-sweat hot Ceylon curry with chicken. Delicious!

Bahji Curry House

Our VOIP telephone rang at 3 a.m. Wednesday and woke Jamey; Ken slept right through it. There's nothing more startling that being woken by a ringing phone. Once she woke up enough to realize what the noise was, grabbed her glasses, and raced to the computer, Jamey discovered it was an unidentified caller. Ken researched the call and discovered it was a scam caller (usually originating overseas) that try to get into VOIP systems. Luckily, Jamey didn't answer the call.

Police will remove your plate if you're illegally parked

Thursday was our final day for a manicure/pedicure for Jamey and another hair cut for Ken. With only one week before our return home, we had a list of restaurants we wanted to try to get to. We chose La Sirena Gorda (The Fat Mermaid) for our dinner. This restaurant offered a casual bar atmosphere and served unique drinks like ginger margaritas or martinis and unusual bar foods like steamed artichokes and seafood tostadas and tacos. Needless to say, this was definitely a gringo hang out. The ginger margarita was delicious!

La Sirena Gorda

Saturday was a gorgeous day and we joined our neighbors Kathy and Bob and went to Ranchito Mi Sueño to watch team sorting. Fun, fun, fun and lots of sun, sun, sun! Even the children took part.

Ranchito Mi Sueño

Chuck, the owner of the ranch had a
replica of the Alamo constructed

Rancito Mi Sueño owner, Chuck, on right

Team Sorting

Contestants try to move 10 bulls from one pen to another.

A team of 2 riders enters an hour glass shaped corral and has 90 seconds to move 10 young bulls to the other part of the corral. The judge calls the first number and the bulls must be moved in numerical order. All bulls have a numbered necklace. This replicates work on a ranch when animals needed to be sorted, to sell or keep. Each team has 3 opportunities and accumulates points for the day and also for the year. Teams with the most points split the prize money, 1st, 2nd and 3rd.

Spectators become experts quickly and verbally assist the teams.

Charro waiting his turn to compete

Team Sorting action

One of the contestants was Deborah Axton, widow of country music singer Hoyt Axton. We got to meet her and she graciously gave us a lift back into town after the event.

Jamey, Deborah, and Ken

Future charro practicing his roping

Sunday was another gorgeous day. The sun was shining and the sky was clear and blue. We walked to a restaurant, Kuni Doni, for a brunch of Mexican flavors - eggs in ranchero (red) sauce, potatoes and cactus (nopales), chile rellenos, beef (res) fajita, corn (maiz) tortillas, French toast with jamaica marmalade (marmalade made from red hibiscus flower - so yummy). Then we walked back in time to rest before a special sunset dinner.

Tonight's dinner at Sicilia in Boca was the best by far for the food and the view. The cuisine was Sicilian (Italian) and superb. Jamey had traditional beef rolls, stuffed with bread crumbs, parmesan cheese, parsley, and pine nuts; the server said the beef was suave (very tender) and it was. Ken ordered chicken breast with a Sicilian tomato sauce; it was accompanied by a wonderful salad of romain, oranges, green olives, red onions, and shredded carrot with a sweet balsamic vinegar dressing. A Sicilian wine, Nero d'Avola - Syrah, was a wonderful pairing.

Restaurante Sicilia en Bocca

El Centro

A wonderful meal and view

We started our dinner by sitting on the terrace overlooking San Miguel, but as the rain moved in, so did we. We finished our dessert (chocolate mousse with chili) and watched the storm, including lightning, move across the town below. This was a perfect evening!

Rain storms moving through San Miguel

Fond memories of San Miguel de Allende:
  • Multi-colored bougainvillea in full bloom. When the breeze blows, it tosses the petals around like confetti.
  • Hummingbirds
  • Cool, dry air and blue skies
  • Thunder rolling over the mountains, warning of rain coming with big fat drops
  • Walking - everywhere (SMA is considered a healthy city, as mentioned in an earlier blog)
  • Amazing surprises behind ornate wooden doors set in colonial period rock walls

Lavados en El Chorro - where many in the
community still do their washing

This will be our last posting on this blog as we prepare for our departure on Thursday (Ken's birthday). We bid you hasta luego and leave you with these gorgeous sunset views  from San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico.

The setting Sun illuminates clouds over mountain

Hasta Luego, San Miguel

Sunday, July 21, 2013

San Miguel de Allende, MX - Week 7

The blues' concert we went to last Sunday night was pitiful and we left early. The evening was too beautiful to go back home immediately so we walked slowly and stopped in the Jardin (park) to people-watch.

Mexico is a "pluricultural" country. Spanish is not the only language of Mexico; there are over 62 indigenous languages spoken by the 12 million indigenous people (11-13% of population) of Mexico. These people were pushed out, down, and away into undesirable lands just like we did the Native Americans.

Tuesday, July 16, we had an appointment to tour the mask museum. This was a private collection of over 500 masks by the owner (Bill) of the B&B, Casa de la Cuesta  (house on the slope). These were masks that were actually used in dances/ceremonies by the indigenous people, the majority living in extreme rural areas where tourists do not travel.

View from Casa de la Cuesta

Masks were mainly introduced in the post-conquistador era and their role was social and ceremonial. The ceremonies, or festivals, were (and still are) performed on the feast day of a village's patron saint, major religious holidays, and other major holidays for Mexico.

The sales area of the Mask Museum

All of the masks were hand crafted (wood or paper-mache). Jamey had been wanting a mask (not to wear but to display) and, luckily, Bill had some for sale. We did not leave empty handed.

How do we know something special is coming up in MX? First clue, the band practices in the evenings; second clue, the fireworks and church bells wake us up at 6 a.m. on the day of the event. We had no idea what made this Tuesday special until we were walking home from the mask museum. We saw a gathering of people along the sidewalks and in the streets. There was a procession of people carrying a statue and banners; the band was playing; people were singing. Jamey asked a couple of people and was told this was a celebration of Virgen del Carmen.

Procession through the streets of San Miguel

The procession marched around the square and as they entered the church, boys in the belfry started ringing the bells. Hopefully, they had ear protection because those were big bells and they were loud.

After some R&R and a brief afternoon thunderstorm, we walked to the nearby Ten Ten Pie (pee ay) restaurant for dinner. All their meat was grilled. Ken had arrachera and Jamey enjoyed a kabob of beef and shrimp. Jamey started with a glass of red wine and then switched to a top shelf mezcal (Jaral de Berrio Reposado). She insisted she had to have some chocolate with it and so we did - delicious chocolate cake. Just after we returned home, it started raining again.

Lupe, a wonderful and dependable young woman, came Wednesday to clean the condo. She does the laundry first so she can hang it on the line (no dryer) early in hopes it will dry before the afternoon thunderstorms begin. However, on this Wednesday, the 17th, the thunder started earlier than anticipated and boomed loudly and repeatedly, warning us of the imminent rain. Jamey dashed out and hauled in wet sheets and towels. We had bannisters, chairs, and other surfaces draped with wet laundry.

The rain continued through the afternoon and dinner time. There was a brief break so Ken went for a walk. The Jardin is the place people gather. This night there were people dressed in costume, performing living history tours. The tours were in Spanish so he did not follow the troupe but sat in the park and listened to mariachis perform, watched children play, and observed people strolling around. Raindrops roused him and he got home before the heavy rain began once again.

Templo de la Tercera Orden

Rain continued through the night and Thursday morning began as a gray day; but the sun was shining before 10 a.m. - the time most people come out to begin their day and work. (2 more weeks left in SMA) That evening we ventured out, clutching umbrellas, to try pizza at El Grotto. The chorizo sausage and mushroom on a cracker-crisp crust was delicious and there wasn't even a crumb left behind. As we ate, we could watch the street below from our upstairs table in a quiet corner.

The rain returned for most of the night and Friday's forecast was a little "iffy". That afternoon we walked back to into town to The Pocket (or The Petite) Theater. There were only 20 seats and the price of a ticket got you a bag of popcorn and drink of your choice (mixed or otherwise).

The Pocket Theatre

The foyer of the Pocket Theatre

Ken had noticed that a British "comedy", Sightseers, was playing. What he didn't notice in the review was that it was a "dark" comedy. After the first hour, Jamey got up and walked out; there was too much brutality. Two others (there were only 4 in the theater to begin with) had gotten up and walked out earlier. Ken was the only one to watch the movie to the end and he didn't reveal the ending. Thunder and rain returned while Jamey was waiting on Ken and we, carefully, walked home on slippery stone sidewalks.

Beggar woman, San Miguel

The elote (corn) man was walking up our street as we neared home so we bought an ear of corn to have with our homemade tamales for dinner while the rain continued.

Saturday, July 21, we had reservations for dinner at La Zarzuela Restaurant, for paella. This restaurant was located in what was the stable area of the 300-year-old Hacienda de Landeta. This was a beautiful setting. Even with the insectos buzzing around, the paella, a bottle of Spanish wine, and the chocolate volcano dessert were wonderful.

Hacienda de Landeta

Paella & Vino Rioja

Because of the location of the restaurant, we had to take a taxi. On our way up to el mirador (the overlook) we noticed how the hillsides had turned a vibrant verde (green) from the marron (brown) they had been when we arrived, June 1. The rain has been doing its thing, giving life back to the earth

Sunday, July 14, 2013

San Miguel de Allende, MX - Week 6

We've had quite a bit of rain tossed over the mountains from Hurricane Erick on the Pacific side. The rain makes the flora more vibrant, the air much cooler, and the joints creak as if rusty. So far, July has felt more like the Pacific Northwest (US).

Cafe La Ventana (The Window)

Because of so much rain, we haven't ventured out as often or as far as in the past. Monday, July 8, we did go out to get more coffee, to the FedEx shop to check on shipping charges, through the Escuela de Bellas Artes and in and out of several shops. Shipping from MX to US is very expensive. We had found some beautiful ceramic vases; they were too large and heavy to pack in our suitcases. The shipping to the US was more than the cost of the vases so we'll leave them on the shelf in the shop for another buyer to enjoy. We still have no souvenirs.

Escuela de Bellas Artes

Mural in Escuela de Bellas Artes

The skies over the mountains were very dark and Jamey urged Ken homeward. We walked as briskly as the cobblestone streets and narrow sidewalks would allow as big fat raindrops began to fall. Just as we walked in the door, the bottom fell out; later, the sun came back out for a brief bit but the clouds soon covered us again to unload the rain through the night.

Los Portales de San Miguel

Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday were beautiful days. Thursday, Ken met Jamey after her manicure and we walked to Mercado de San Juan de Dios for lunch and we ate huaraches, "a popular Mexican dish consisting of an oblong, fried masa base, with a variety of toppings including green or red salsa, onions, potato, cilantro and any manner of protein such as ground beef or tongue, and then finished with queso fresco cheese". (Wikipedia) The word also describes a sandal worn by the Mexicans; the masa base is formed like the sole of the shoe, thus the interpretation. We had our masa grilled, instead of fried, and topped with picadillo.

Huaraches at Mercado de San Juan de Dios

Meandering towards home, we found new shops we had not been in before and stopped to peruse them. It always amazes us what you find behind these beautiful doorways in the walls along the streets. They hold such wonders and treasures. But then dark clouds rolling across the mountains made us quicken our steps and direct our sights towards home.

Templo de San Juan de Dios

Friday was a simple day of replenishing the larder, doing laundry and staying in.

Saturday was a gorgeous day and we made the best of it by heading out to breakfast and more wandering with the purpose of accomplishing specific errands. Across from the restaurant, there were arts and crafts set up by local Mexican artists. These native artists' works often get lost in the fray of the large artist community that has established itself in San Miguel. There were beautiful colorful handmade woolen rugs, dyed naturally; wooden utensils; jewelry made from leather, glass beads, and stones; pictures and books made from handmade paper; handwoven baskets; and so much more. We were lucky to find some items here.

Breakfast at Maison de San Jose

We checked on shuttle pick-up times to transport us back to Queretaro on the morning of our departure, purchased tickets for Sunday night to a blues concert at the Teatro Angela Peralta, and ran several other errands. We had eaten a late breakfast so were not hungry for lunch but were ready for something to drink as we headed home. We stopped at a nearby stand and shared a blender of fresh juices - naranja, pina, y fresa (orange, pineapple and strawberry). That quenched our thirst and gave us the pick-me-up to continue home.

Teatro Angela Peralta

Templo de la Inmaculada Concepción

Trimming shrubbery at Hotel La Aldea

Girls in a window


Sunday, July 7, 2013

San Miguel de Allende, MX - Week 5

Time is flying. Here we are reporting on our fifth week in this beautiful colonial city of San Miguel de Allende (SMA). Each day has been gorgeous, even with the afternoon thunderstorms that roll in over the mountains. We certainly wouldn't be able to sit out on rooftops in Florida like we do here.

Friday night, June 28, we joined friends and went to a gathering for game night. Now those of you who know Ken know that he is not a game lover. But he was a trooper and went along. We joined a table playing Mexican Dominoes and really had a good time.

As mentioned earlier in our blog, SMA is known as a city for/of women. El Refugio De Los Recuerdos (The Refuge of Memories) is being built on the outskirts of SMA to celebrate the many talented women who have come to SMA. It is modeled from The Little Chapel of Guernsey, UK. Like the Little Chapel, the Capilla will be covered with mosaic made up of mementos, pottery, tile, and seashells. Stained glass mosaics were made by girls from Ojala Ninos, a non-profit program that provides free classes in art, music and literacy to over 100 children living in poverty in rural SMA.

Chapel at El Refugio De Los Recuerdos

On Saturday, June 29, we attended a party to celebrate this contribution to women, as well as celebrate a man's birthday who contributes to the volunteer efforts of Ojala Ninos. One famous woman, now living in SMA, Olivia Cole, was also an attendee and we got to see her. You may remember Olivia from her role in the TV movie, Roots. She played the character, Matilda, who marries 'Chicken George'.

A private home located on the same piece of property where the Refugio is being built provided a baño, bathroom, for the use of mujeres,women (the señores, men, had to go behind the red tent). In every place we have visited in MX, we have been told that the locals often build homes without a finished roof so that it can't be permitted as complete; therefore, the owners do not have to pay taxes. We don't know if this was the reason but this private home did not have a completed roof. The bedroom and bath were roofed. The house bath had modern fixtures but no running water. To flush the toilet, one had to pour in water from a bucket. With all the women there, the buckets kept running dry; where the water came from to fill the buckets, we never knew. (The house was unfinished in more ways than one.)

Men's Baño

As in all our travels, eating is a big part of our enjoyment, as the photos taken by Ken attest to. Brunch at the Posada Corazon, a beautiful B&B, was recommended to us and we went Sunday, June 30. The property and views were gorgeous. We selected a table outside on the terrace and enjoyed the gardens as smells of jasmine wafted towards us in the breeze.

Sunday brunch at Posada Corazon

Water Lily at Posada Corazon
Courtyard at Posada Corazon

The temperature was in the 70's and there was a gentle breeze blowing. After eating and photographs were taken, we walked down to El Jardin to people watch and then strolled down to the Parque Principal (main park). Walking back home, we popped in and out of shops. Jamey found 2 tops to buy - no souvenirs yet though. This was such a great way to spend a Sunday.

The Parroquia, alway a good subject!

We're into our second month, July, already so we decided a second trip to the Tuesday tianguis (market/flea market) was called for. On July 2 we went with Bob and Kathy there on the bus, standing room only, and back in a taxi. We came home with freshly made ceviche, tomatoes, potatoes, poblanos, bananas, plantain, limes, fish and shrimp. We enjoyed the ceviche and crackers for lunch with some left over for tomorrow. This was the best ceviche we've had since we've been in SMA.

That evening we had invited several people to join us on our mirador (rooftop terrace) for happy hour; however, most had prior commitments. But Bob and Kathy and we got together; it was a beautiful evening with a continuing breeze which cooled us off. We just relaxed up there and talked and shared stories. It was a great evening!

Restaurante Meson de San Jose

Wednesday morning, Jamey returned to the mattress stuffing gathering. There were quite a few more people and many were first timers, like Jamey had been last week. Several were visitors to SMA and had read about the charity in the weekly newspaper. We finished stuffing the mattress we had worked on last week and actually got another one more than half stuffed.

For dinner, we walked to the restaurant, Ole-Ole. Can you guess what the motif was? We shared an order of chicken and beef fajitas. There was a  breast of chicken and a beef fillet, each flattened to about 1/8" and grilled. Then they were scored into thin strips. There was a little grilled onion, a grilled jalapeno and some raw carrot slices. They were not brought out smoking and sizzling like in the states but were very good.

Dinner at restaurante Ole-Ole

With all the pictures of bull fights, matadors, and mounted bull heads on the walls, I asked our waitress if all the bulls were killed. She just nodded her head. For all we knew, we might have been eating Taurus or Fernando.

Feliz cuatro de Julio (Happy July 4th). Even though this is not a holiday in Mexico, the firecrackers and cannons started at 5:45 a.m.. We don't know if these were in honor of all the gringos here in SMA or for some other reason. We got up and went out of breakfast and then grocery shopping and stayed in the remainder of the day because of off and on thunderstorms.

Friday morning, after a brief rain shower, it looked like it was going to clear up. Ken went out and finished the shopping expedition and Jamey stayed home to get some laundry washed and hung on the clothesline. Just as we sat down to lunch, a big clap of thunder made us both jump up and race outside to gather in the wet clothes. The condo had laundry hanging anywhere feasible the rest of the day and night.

Lantern and Bougainvillea

During a brief break in the showers, we walked down the street to a Chinese restaurant, Golden Dragon. There's just something appealing about eating hot steamy Chinese soup and dishes on cool rainy evenings. The clouds burst open again just as we walked back in the condo and continued through the night.

With constant storms swirling in the Pacific and Gulf, we expect off and on rain for several days. Today, Saturday, during a break in the downpours we went out to an art/craft fair at the Instituto (The School of the Art Institute Allende). Ken was smart and had not gone to the bank to get another cash advance. The vendors were not accepting tarjetas (cards, i.e. credit cards) so even though Jamey was oohing and ahhing and wishing and hoping, there was no shopping to be done except for a blueberry tart for our dessert tonight. She made Ken circle through the throngs twice though.

Art/Craft fair at Instituto Allende

Guitarist performing at Instituto

Cigar Maker at Instituto