Saturday, May 26, 2007

Just a Few Things I Have Learned in Mexico






Travel is supposed to expand your horizons and teach you new things about the world, and maybe even yourself. With this thought I decided to figure out just what I have learned from 10 weeks residence in Mexico. Of course, you must appreciate that I have not been in the big cities, but have covered a lot of territory and spent a lot of time in San Miguel de Allende, a gem of a destination, as attested to by thousands of world visitors, and which is often listed as one of the top 10 places in the world to visit. So just what have I learned?



The weather in central Mexico is wonderful. It gets down to the 50’s at night and into the 80’s in the daytime. Mind you, this is during the spring when the Great Northwest is swinging between rain, wind and snow and rarely gets out of the 50’s. As a bonus there are no bugs like in the tropics, and the bougainvillea bushes and Jacaranda trees are beautiful.


Even when immersed in a country with a foreign language I realize I can get by with about 50 words of vocabulary and the natives figure out my problem. My words are also mostly nouns and very few verbs. You know the words I need, like: banos (bathroom); caballeros or hombre (men); cerveza (beer); mas (more – to be used as mas cerveza = more beer!); por favor (please as in por favor banos); cuanto cuesto (how much – needed for helping out Mary Ann, the world’s greatest shopper); la cuenta por favor (the check please). Well, you get the picture, and with a lot of hand signals I get along just fine.


For those of you who have been following my semi-daily travel blog on the internet (http://tomoffthebench.blogspot.com/), having to write regularly has really improved my writing description skills. You have to consciously record what you are seeing, as you see it, and for the “Quirky Living Notes” you have to study those things that are different and contrast with your normal living style.


At least in San Miguel, you feel completely safe. There are a lot of helpful police officers (who I try to avoid), but there seems to be very little crime. Graffiti is minimal and the government requires removal within 72 hours. In any case the locals seem to keep everything very well painted in the vibrant colors of Mexico.


I have found all of the Mexicans courteous and polite, even drivers in town who will always stop to let you cross the street.


In every town there is always an eclectic colorful Mercado, which contains the stalls for fresh fruit, vegetables, flowers, meat, chicken and a lot of handicrafts. If you are brave you can also try the food stands and get tortas (sandwiches) and a wide assortment of Mexican dishes which are unrecognizable to this gringo eye.


Mexico has the most beautiful well behaved small children and a lot of them. Mary Ann is continuously taking their photos and has quite a collection of adorable pictures. They are always clean and the little girls are always the best dressed of anyone in very pretty dresses.


You do see the contrast of the wealthy and the poor, although it is not as apparent in San Miguel de Allende as in other communities we have visited. On the streets you do see the begging Indian grandmothers sitting on the sidewalks and the small children selling Chiclets and Indian dolls. It really however, is just part of the color of the town and part of the excitement of being outdoors and part of the life of the community.


When driving on the highways you get to see the most amazing things, as you can see from the attached photo, such as the animal stampede that recently stopped our car.



Foreign travel is an exciting, entertaining and challenging experience for anyone. Instead of Disneyland next year, give a foreign trip some consideration.

© Thomas C. Warren 2007

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Home Safely!

After getting to Baker City, Oregon (which is a very historic and a nice place to visit on the Oregon Trail in Eastern Oregon) we realized that we were getting anxious to be home, as we drove 700 miles in one day, all the way from Moab, Utah. This put us in a position to be in Wenatchee by noon the next day, and reaquaint ourselves with the cats. Maybe they will forgive us some day.
So what is the next travel adventure for the Warren's? In September we have arranged to rent a 42 foot yacht with two compatible couples for a self drive on the Shannon River in Ireland. A few years ago we did a similar self drive cruise on the Rhine Canal in the Alsace region of France.
For those of you who have not had the benefit of my past travel writing, I will be posting my previous articles on the blog about once a week. That will just have to satisfy you until I do some new stories. Buen Viaje. Thanks to the 580 visitors that I hope have enjoyed the descriptions of our adventure to San Miguel.

Friday, May 11, 2007

The Four Corners National Parks






Mesa Verde, Arches, and Canyonlands National Parks: A couple of nights ago we spent the afternoon and evening in Durango, Colorado. I have to admit that although this was a wonderful town in the mountains and near the 4 corners national parks, I secretly wanted to visit so I could have passed through two Durango’s on the same trip, one in Mexico and one in the United States. Durango is a delightful town dating from the 1880’s, and has done a great job on preserving their historic downtown. I think it is a place to visit with more time. We did not, because of time, get to ride the narrow gauge train to Silverton. Maybe that is a good reason to return.

Most of the following day we were amazed at seeing the sites in Mesa Verde National Park. This is where you get to see all the cliff dwellings of the Anasazi Indians dating from the 1200’s. Amazing! We then went on to Moab, Utah the jumping off place for Arches and Canyonlands Parks. Arches not only have the fascinating sandstone arches, but also the sandstone pillars and carved out mountains. Then onto Canyonlands where the overlooks view the canyons over 2000 feet below carved out by the Green and Colorado rivers. Words do not do these parks justice. The photos tell the story.


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Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Safely Back in the U.S.



The Trip From San Miguel to the United States: Leaving on Saturday, we got off to a good start and everything fit into the car, much to the relief of Mary Ann who thought maybe she would have to be strapped to the top of the front fender. We laughed about the full load remarking we still had room to purchase a large piñata, but that just might obstruct the view out of the back. Our first road day was to be an easy one going through Guanajuato, Leon and Aguascalientes to Zacatecas. One thing about Mexico is that they have some magnificent huge manufacturing plants in their major cities. Just outside of Leon in Silao, there is a huge General Motors plant. On the way into Aguascalientes we seemed to drive for miles past what appeared to be a brand new Nissan plant. I assume this is all due to NAFTA and cheap labor.

We were returning to Zacatecas as we thought from our trip into Mexico that it was a city worth exploring. It is set in two canyons with high mountains above the canyons. It was originally one of the great silver cities of the Spanish conquest. After arriving early in the afternoon at the Hotel del Bosque, which is located on one of the canyon rims and the site of the Eden Mine and the base of the cable car to the top of El Bufo mountain, we walked down into the Historic City Center. It is laid out on a long boulevard between the churches and the parks. It is clean and what seems like a very prosperous city. The city is famous for the Battle of El Bufo which was the military taking of the city in the Revolution of 1910, when Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata became famous as heroes of the revolution.

Our route from Zacatecas was to be the most aggressive of our trip. We were headed to Durango and then across the Sierra Madre Occidental mountain range. The drive was difficult as it is termed by the locals as the road of 3,000 curves. I can attest that there are at least that many. However, the upside of the route is that the vistas, the rock faces, and the mountains are gorgeous. It is clearly one of the most beautiful and picturesque regions of Mexico. After descending from 8,000 feet to sea-level we reached luxurious and relaxing Mazatlan. We stayed at the Inn at Mazatlan which is beautiful RCI resort in the Golden Zone. We immediately hit the pool and walked the beach. We had 2 for 1 drinks during happy hour while enjoying the pool and soaking in the sun. For dinner we walked the Dorada Zone and enjoyed dinner along the beach at the Playa Mazatlan.

The road north from Mazatlan is mostly straight through lush farming and an improved toll road. The Mexican government is definitely into toll roads. There is always a free (libre) alternative, but we have stuck with the 110 KPH option. For the day from Mazatlan to Ciudad Obregon we traveled about 400 miles and it cost us a little over $50 (500 pesos) in tolls. Another unique part of Mexican road travel is the inspection stations you go through. This is common throughout the country, but especially prevalent in the States of Durango, Sinaloa, and Sonora. The inspections are of two varieties, one a military check point and the other a fruit and vegetable checkpoint. We must look pretty harmless as we have never been pulled to the side for a full inspection. It probably helps that as we do not speak fluent Spanish the guards mostly just become frustrated and wave us on. We did have one that looked in our trunk and who we think decided he did not want to even begin to tackle that problem.

Ciudad Obregon was hot but we had air conditioning and a pool to sit by. Our big surprise was that the trip north from Mazatlan caused a two hour time change so we had stopped at 1:00 p.m. instead of 3:00 p.m. like we thought it was. Oh well, we will probably lose the time again on the trip into Arizona.

The drive from Ciudad Obregon to Nogales was uneventful. We drove through Guaymas and Hermosillo. North of Hermosillo the country becomes rocky, mountainous, and a lot of cactus. It was very picturesque to people who obviously enjoy dry terrain. We did see a very serious accident outside Guaymas where a bus ran into the back of a semi truck. It looked like there was a resulting fire. When we arrived on the accident all of the bus passengers appeared to be watching from the nearby hills.

Our worry was to accomplish the border crossing with as little delay and problems as possible. Mary Ann really did not want to unpack the car at U.S. customs. When we had entered Mexico in Juarez we had to register and pay a tax for use of the car in Mexico. You pay the tax with a credit card so they have the numbers in the event you do not remove the car from Mexico. At that time we received the six month authorization papers and a permit for the car window. The AAA advised us with no uncertain terms to make sure we got our car checked out` of Mexico, otherwise they assume you sold the car in Mexico and charge the taxes to your credit card. Today when we were about 15 miles south of Nogales we were diverted to a very nice young lady who checked our papers, handed me a razor blade to remove the window sticker, and then processed our car departure. It was much less painful than the entry.

At U.S. immigration and customs the only problem was the long line and delays in getting to talk to the Immigration and Custom Enforcement lady. She was very nice and passed us right through. Ironically our impression of driving in Mexico was that it was easier and safer than U.S. freeway driving. Phoenix freeways are a real bear so close to rush hour. In any case we were safely back in the U.S.

A Final Mexican Quirky Living Note: You will recall my moaning about the topes, the speed bumps that are endemic to all of Mexico. After crunching over hundreds of them on the way back to the U.S., I just want to raise the question of what came first, the topes or the fruit juice stand at every topes. You are always offered the chance to buy fruit, juice, and unrecognizable eatables at each slow topes (Mary Ann thinks they should be called bumpies). At least they are not as objectionable as the kids at stop lights who jump out and try to wash your windshield!

Friday, May 4, 2007

The Last of San Miguel?


Caitlyn says goodbye!

Thursday & Friday – Week 10: You might have noticed from the blog that San Miguel does a lot of celebrating. Tuesday was a holiday to celebrate world wide Labor Day. The San Miguelese do it one better with a celebration today of Holy Cross Day (Dia de Santa Cruz). You know it is a beloved holiday as the firecrackers and rockets started about 2 a.m. this morning. This is a kind of a construction holiday also referred to as the day of the masons and builders. The workers take altars and crosses to be blessed at a morning mass and then erect them at the construction sites (see photo above). Employers are supposed to provide food and refreshments, and then disappear, and naturally no work will get done today.

As Friday will be the final packing day, on Thursday we transited all the favorite handicraft spots and did some “cultural” buying. Some things we had delayed purchasing so as to confirm that our tastes at the beginning of our visit would still be something we would still want just before we left. How did I know that one of the purchases would be another pair of San Miguel sandals? I think that we have just about bought out the town. We will be well stocked with gifts, and handicraft decorations for the Chelan condo.

Thursday evening in the Jardin was starting to look pretty classy, as Rotary District 4160 was starting their District Convention. Looked like a reception or check in at the Municipal Palace and then an outdoor cocktail party around the bandstand in the Jardin. Looks like it will be a busy and liquid convention for the Rotarians. We also succumbed to the Jardin vendor we have been fending off for 10 weeks. We bought one of the foam US and Mexico State puzzles. A little parting gift for Caitlyn to play with.

Friday is finish the packing day. Will it all fit in the Maxima? Will I be able to see out the back window? Why didn’t I buy a rocket box? Will I be able to walk after carrying the suitcases and boxes from the upper floors? Stay tuned to see if we actually leave San Miguel. I think that Mary Ann wants to pack up the lap top. I will try to post something along the trail to home, assuming we find an internet connection at some hotel. Check up on us. I have been writing an inventory of Quirky Living Notes and I have some left over. Thus you get to see all that remain:

Quirky Living Note: A very practical solution has been provided for all the San Miguelese who do not own cars, but need to haul things to their homes. One of the options for a taxi is a Nissan combination crew cab/truck. The vehicle will fit as many passengers as one of the regular Nissan Tusuru cabs, but also has the open pickup back end to haul larger items. One day we saw a family who was having a refrigerator hauled to their casa. These combination vehicles are painted identical to the regular taxi’s, but as I haven’t needed to use one (Mary Ann just hasn’t bought anything big enough) I don’t know how much they charge.

Quirky Living Note: When walking along Zacateros Street one day, and looking in the open doors, I came to a complete stop. The business was a funeral home and in the open area they were constructing a wooden casket. Obviously a full service mortuary and they certainly offer a discount box! Now this is something that Jones & Jones and Telford’s in Wenatchee need to look into.

Quirky Living Note: I can assure you that I am not addicted to Mexican wrestling, or U.S. wrestling for that matter. However, here in San Miguel you can buy versions of the masks that the wrestlers wear on TV. I guess they are to show ferociousness or maybe to remain anonymous. To my surprise, my son-in-law, while visiting, bought three of them. He explained that he and two of his friends are going to be a real hit at Halloween parties this year.

Quirky Living Note: On most of the street corners of San Miguel, near the street name (they are very good here with putting up the names) there is often a reference to “Manzana” and a number. In Spanish this means “apple” but I don’t really think they are promoting Washington apples, although we see Central Washington apple boxes all over the Mercado. Apparently, prior to naming all the streets, or at least putting the names on the buildings, each block was numbered, thus a reference to Manzana #.

Quirky Living Note: As part of the scenery of San Miguel you see ancient Indian grandmother types, often with grandchildren, sitting on the sidewalks, with their hand out begging for donations. Sometimes they will be selling some unrecognizable vegetable or small native dolls. I do not see a lot of people who give to these women, but it must be a worthwhile pastime, as there is obviously an agreement about location and space between beggar ladies. You see the same ones in the same location every day, however moving with the shade from one side of the street to the other. It seems very sad, but it must work or they would not spend hours and hours doing it.

Quirky Living Note: When walking the sidewalks of San Miguel you find early on that two people cannot pass without turning sideways. This is due to very narrow sidewalks, in most cases about 2 ½ feet wide or less. The sideways passing is known here as the San Miguel tango.

Quirky Living Note: Upon our first arrival in San Miguel I was convinced that they did not have home mail delivery. I know, everyone has a mail slot in their door, but I thought that was just a historical anachronism. In addition I saw all the lines at the Post Office (on our way to the Jardin) so naively thought everyone had a box or picked up their mail as general delivery. Besides I knew most of the gringos received their mail through a mailing service where their mail actually went to Laredo and then was trucked to San Miguel. But aha, we have actually received two letters at the casa, and I saw a mailman…he was delivering on a motorbike. Take that US Postal Service!


Thursday, May 3, 2007

Instead of the Grammy's, Here are the Eaties!


The Favorite Restaurants of San Miguel
(According to Mary Ann & Tom
)

A careful reading of the previous 46 postings on the blog will reveal that a conservative estimate of our 75 days in San Miguel about 25% of the time was spent eating. With this kind of gastronomic research it is only right that we pass on our findings to all future (or present) residents or visitors to San Miguel.

Favorite Coffee Hangout: Café Montenegro-Correo #12A. It also has the advantage of being on the way to the Jardin, has comfortable chairs, and really clean bathrooms. Oh, by the way, great coffee.

Favorite Italian Food: Romano’s-Hernandez Macias # 93. Great classic Italian dishes, and a wonderful second floor with roof top views.

Favorite Cheapo Place: El Ten Ten Pie-Cuna de Allende #21. Good for a light meal for lunch or dinner. Specialty is tacos and you can order the number that your appetite demands.

Favorite Pizza: La Grotta-Cuadrante #5. No it is not Domino’s, although you can have Domino’s deliver in San Miguel. La Grotta is a small second floor restaurant with some excellent pizza, including some unusual selections.

Favorite Breakfast: La Puertecita Hotel (Santo Domingo #75) and Casa de Sierra Nevada en el Parque Hotel (Santa Elena #2). Both locations just ooze with morning ambiance with breakfast in gorgeous courtyards and at very reasonable prices. We just love breakfast in San Miguel as you always get large quantities of fresh squeezed orange juice. No colds for us!

Favorite Splurge: La Capilla-Cuna de Allende #10. The roof top restaurant located on the side of the La Parroquia Church. Wonderful atmosphere and great food – at a price.

Favorite Churros: San Agustin-San Francisco #21. Great for coffee or lunch and then overdose on the fried churros sprinkled with sugar. Les Cooper liked churros so much that I am sure he will be opening a churros shop in Chelan.

Favorite Everyday: El Pegaso-Corner of Correo & Corregidora. Lots of interesting sandwiches and the waiters really push the drinks. Aiyiyi, mas margaritas and cervezas. I always went for the smoked salmon and crème cheese on a bagel. Very Mexican!

Favorite Ice Cream: Santa Clara-Ancha de San Antonio #1. Not only very good ice cream cones, but also tables and chairs for a rest and free bath rooms. You always need to know where those clean free baño are when making the mid-day stop.

Favorite Steaks: Casa Payo-Zacateros #26. An Argentinean steak house that has great steaks and very nice live guitar music.

Favorite Lunch: Mesón de San José-Mesones #38. We found this restaurant on our first day in San Miguel when our historic walking tour guide told us it was his wife’s favorite lunch spot. It is kind of hidden across from the Civic Plaza, but has a wonderful picturesque courtyard and a very pleasant place for lunch. Uriel will be your waiter and will always recognize you if you return again. I think we took all our guests there after they completed their walking tour.

Our All-time Best Favorite Grand Winner: Bugambila-Hidalgo #42. This restaurant (photo above) has been feeding the San Miguelese and its visitors for 62 years. We think this is the restaurant we had dinner in when we were here 25 years ago. A very romantic courtyard setting and excellent food. The shrimp wrapped in bacon with a mild chili sauce is to die for.
Quirky Living Note: One of the unofficial religious holidays celebrated here around the 2nd of November, but which we haven’t experienced is called “The Day of the Dead.” It is really “All Souls Day” where the locals decorate their homes and cemeteries to create a communion with departed loved ones. Elaborate altars are built and trails of marigolds are spread from the cemeteries to homes so the departed can find their way. There is a Mexican belief that the past is not dead and they mock death. There is quite a local handicraft effort making elaborate decorated skeleton statues seen in many of the stores and Mercado. Saint Paul’s Anglican Church gets in the swing of this celebration by sponsoring a charitable fund raising tour which looks like it would really be fun to be a participant. Check out “tours” at http://www.stpauls.com.mx/.

Garbage Trucks & TV Cable VW's



Wednesday – Week 9: San Miguel is becoming very quiet as we start into May. This morning I walked to Parque Juarez to read and I was one of the few people there. I am currently reading “The River of Doubt” which is the story of President Theodore Roosevelt’s journey of discovery of one of the unmapped and undiscovered rivers of the Amazon. It is an exciting and scary combination of travel literature and history. Appropriately I was reading in the high canopy of the park.

When walking up to the Jardin I observed the garbage truck on Aldama Street. There is parking on one side of the narrow street and the travel portion of the street is not wide enough for the truck to pass. At this point one of the garbage men takes a block and puts it in front of the right front tire, so the right wheels of the truck can get up on top of the sidewalk. They then proceeded down the street at a slight tilt using the sidewalk as part of the road. It was all very ingenious.

While I am out and about having fun observing garbage trucks, Mary Ann was starting the tedious business of getting us packed up for our departure on Saturday. We will miss this wonderful city and beautiful casa. We plan to return by a different route than our drive down (surprise!). We will return to Zacatecas the first night as we want to spend more time investigating what looked like a fascinating town. Then there will be a long drive across the Sierra Madre mountains to Durango and then on to the coast where we will stay in Mazatlan. The next day we will drive to Ciudad Obregon and finally on the fourth day exit Mexico at Nogales. Back in the United States we plan to go to Phoenix, on to Durango, Colorado and a visit to the National Parks around Moab, Utah. The final two days will be to Twin Falls, Idaho and then back to Chelan. A nice website describing various Mexican cities including Zacatecas is: http://www.advantagemexico.com/.

Quirky Living Note: One very quaint thing you notice around town is the cable TV vehicles. Back in the U.S. you see the repairmen or pole climbers using midsize vans with several ladders or often trucks with a motorized bucket lift to get up to the wires. Not in San Miguel! Here I suspect that trucks that size would often not even get down some of the streets and alleys where they had to work. The Tele-Cable Company has outfitted all their crews with Volkswagen bugs, with one long ladder fastened to the roof extending from the front bumper to the back and a line spool at the back of the ladder rack.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Off to Patzcuaro



Sunday, Monday, & Tuesday – Week 9: Before our children returned home, Mary Ann made the comment that she really had not bought much since being in San Miguel. When I heard this I thought I was going to choke. On Sunday, after recuperating on Saturday from having visitors, Mary Ann moved into Type A buying mode. I think she is now realizing that we will be leaving San Miguel next Saturday and there are few shopping days left. We began Sunday with the Home and Garden tour and visited three completely different homes. One had wonderful art work. One had beautiful native handicrafts (which Mary Ann quizzed the owner about) and the third was in our neighborhood and was fun to see what was hidden behind the walls.

In the evening we returned to the centro district to pick up our packages and have dinner at what we referred to as the poor man’s La Capilla. The name of the restaurant is La Posadita and is across the street from La Capilla, which is probably the most expensive restaurant in San Miguel. Both have roof top dining areas and overlook the Parroquia Church. We had dinner and drinks for about $10 a piece, so felt very righteous in saving the money after the shopping splurge. The restaurant is not listed in any of the guide books, so we also felt very adventuresome. As May approaches the Rainey season is upon San Miguel (they hope) and about 9 p.m. we had a wonderful colossal lightening, thunder and rainstorm. The storm was right over the top of us and I don’t recall ever being so close to so much electricity. We lost power two or three times for a few minutes but the CFE (power company) efficiently got everything running again.

On Monday we started early on an overnight road trip to Patzcuaro, which is about 150 miles southwest of San Miguel. We traveled south to Celaya, then southwest through Morelia, both which are large cities. Getting through the cities is always a challenge for us, as there seemingly is an absence of road signs at critical points. As our children will tell you, the only time Mary Ann and I ever argue, is in the car and about what direction to go. This trip was no different, having been challenged in Celaya with a main road that came to a complete stop because of construction and no directions for where to go. We did however arrive in Patzcuaro in about four hours plus another half hour being lost in finding the hotel.

Patzcuaro is a wonderful picturesque town of about 40,000 people located on Lake Patzcuaro in Michoacán State. On hotel was the Mansion Iturbe located right on Plaza Don Vasco Quiroga. The hotel was fun as it had 14 rooms, must have been built in the 1800’s and was decorated for that period. (See photos above.) It was a great day as it was Children’s Day for the Mexicans and there were literally thousands of children in the Plaza for live music. We had a great dinner at one of the restaurants on the Plaza with Mary Ann having the local soup and fresh trout from the lake. Because of my conservative nature I went for the Filet Mignon with mushrooms. We walked the whole historic downtown including the Gran Plaza, visited the Basilica, and braved communication at a shoe repair store to repair a tear in my shoe, which was the only pair with me.

Tuesday was the return day from Patzcuaro and of course we would never return the same route. We went west along the lake, then eventually north on some crazy back roads ending up in Silao (near the Leon airport) and then back into San Miguel on our usual route. The mileage was about the same as Monday, but because of the mountainous back roads it took us a couple of extra hours. For a look at Patzcuaro take a look at the following website:
http://www.patzcuaromexico.com/

Quirky Living Note: The street our casa is on is a little bit schizophrenic in the naming department. The primary name is Salida y Queretaro (exit to Queretaro). It is also named on some of the street signs as Real y Queretaro (royal road to Queretaro), but on some of the local maps the lower portion of the street where our casa is located is called Calle Pedro Vargas. Pedro Vargas (1906-1989), was from San Miguel, and was one of Mexico’s most beloved tenors and movie stars. In 1964 he performed at Carnegie Hall and he appeared in over 70 movies. He owned a house somewhere along our street. Could it have been our casa?

Sunday, April 29, 2007

The San Miguel Charities



While spending the last nine weeks in San Miguel de Allende, we have been introduced to several charities that are worthy of support. On occasion in the travel blog I have mentioned them, and have often given a website for access to more information. For anyone who might be coming to San Miguel and wants to volunteer, or who wants to contribute to a good cause I thought it might be helpful to put all of this information in one place. All of these organizations seem to have U.S. tax deduction clearance, at least according to their websites. Most seem to be prepared to give a 501(c)(3) receipt to anyone who contributes. There is so much help we can give to the poor of Mexico it is worth yours and our consideration. The list includes the following:

Feed the Hungry: It is my favorite as it seems to be touching so many children. The organization has build 27 kitchens at rural schools in the San Miguel area, trained and hired the cooks, and feeds over 3,000 school children every day. It is operated by over 60 volunteers. They are constantly expanding and it apparently costs $65 a year to feed one child. Website: http://www.feedthehungrysma.org/.

Sociedad Protectora de Animales (SPA): This is the humane society for San Miguel (not the dog catchers) where abandoned cats and dogs are temporarily housed until adoptions can be arranged. For all you animal lovers, this is where you can help financially, or help out at the shelter when in San Miguel. They provide veterinary assistance for abused and injured animals and have a weekly public adoption program on Thursdays in the Jardin. Several hundred cats and dogs are adopted by both Mexicans and Americans each year. Website:
http://www.spasanmiguel.org/.

San Miguel Lions Club: The Lions Club is an English language club which pursues the same national goals as Lions International. The major effort is eye sight screening and diabetes detection. The treatment site is on Correo, just around the corner from our casa, and is open for free diagnosis every Thursday, all operated by volunteers. Website: http://www.smalions.org/.

Patronato Pro Niños: A wonderful organization which is very visible in the community as they raise much of their money by the volunteers conducting the historical walking tour of San Miguel every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. In addition to the $10 for the tour, they raise much of their operating funds by donation and the acceptance of volunteer services. The organization provides approximately 2500 medical and 2000 dental visits and services to low income children in the municipality of San Miguel. They also appreciate Doctor and Dental volunteers. Website: http://www.patronatoproninos.org/.

Midday Rotary Club of San Miguel: The English language Rotary Club, which is one of the very few in Mexico, is only a couple of years old, but is growing rapidly and has a very active list of service activities. They meet weekly and always have a very interesting and provocative speaker. They promote the club and their programs weekly in Atención. In the 2006-2007 year they have had over six major projects. If you are a Rotarian, I am sure they would appreciate help from your club. Website: http://www.rotarysma.org/.

San Miguel Educational Foundation: A U.S. Tax Code 501(c)(3) tax exempt conduit foundation for contributions to worthy projects and programs in San Miguel. They support the other worthwhile organizations of the community, while providing sound investment of donations and oversight of worthwhile charitable activities for the benefit of the San Miguel community. It would appear to be similar to U.S. community foundations, like the North Central Washington Community Foundation in Wenatchee. In the 30 years of the foundation they have received $6,000,000 which has been donated and disbursed for the benefit of San Miguel. Website: http://www.smefmx.com/.

Save the Laja: For those of you who have ecological interests, this foundation is dedicated to preserving the watershed of the Laja River which flows, or does not flow, as is often the case. They are very active in watershed education, preservation, and restoring the aquifer which serves the valley. Website: http://www.rio-laja.org/.

Saint Paul’s Anglican Church: The Episcopal Church in San Miguel, which we attended while in San Miguel, has an extensive human outreach program conducted by their volunteers and their church giving. They are a strong supporter of Feed the Hungry (see above) which they helped found. Another program they have established is Centro Infantil San Pablo, which is a pre-school program for a San Miguel neighborhood modeled on Head Start. Websites: http://www.stpauls.com.mx/ & http://www.centroinfantil.org.mx/.

Biblioteca Pública: Probably the most impressive volunteer organization in San Miguel is the Biblioteca – the English-Spanish library and much more. It is the center for most all expat activity in the community and reaches far beyond its library shelves, which are the most extensive in Central America. They provide children’s art classes, computer classes, language classes for Spanish speakers, drama classes, theater and movie presentations, and hold hundreds of community events at the library. One very visible fundraising event is the Sunday Home and Garden tours which raise thousands of dollars to provide scholarships for Mexicans to go to Mexican Universities. Website: http://www.bibliotecasma.com/.

anYél, escuela de música: AnYél is a free nonprofit early childhood music program for the children of San Miguel. When we first arrived we enjoyed a concert in the Jardin of several grades of children. Into each child, anYél instills the belief that they are musical beings, and that music matters in every life. They have a wonderful website with lots of the kids enjoying music: http://www.anyel.com/.

All of the above are worthy of your interest and support. It is not an exhaustive list as there are many other charities in San Miguel, they just have not yet reached me during our short ten week stay in this delightful and caring community.

Quirky Living Note: In addition to the exquisite antique doors of the casas in San Miguel, you soon notice the wonderful and unique door knockers on many of the classic wooden doors. I suspect this is due not only to the age of the doors, but practical need, as the living areas are often far from the front door because of the courtyards and living levels. We have a door knocker, and when someone is at the door they always bang it hard and loud so it can be heard throughout the casa.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

A European City in Central Mexico?



Friday – Week 9: Guanajuato is clearly one of the most fascinating cities you could ever visit, and it is right here on our continent. Our kids were leaving early Saturday morning so they were staying at a hotel near the airport. It was a convenient day to visit Dolores Hidalgo and Guanajuato and then drop them off at the end of the day before our return to San Miguel.

Guanajuato is the state capital of the colonial area and dates from the 1500’s. It is built in a steep canyon and all the buildings go right up the sides of the canyon and are gaily painted in multiple bright colors similar to the Mediterranean. When the Spanish arrived it became one of the three greatest silver cities of the empire. The city of about 100,000 has a very European flavor. It includes the prestigious University of Guanajuato with 8,000 students founded by the Jesuits in the mid 1700’s and is famous for its music and theater.

A unique feature of Guanajuato is that they have converted a river bed and mine shafts under the city into automobile tunnels. They criss-cross all over and have made it so we have never parked in the same area twice (because we are usually lost). What this has accomplished is allowing most of the city to be pedestrian only on the surface. This provides for beautiful squares, parks, vistas and beautiful public buildings and theaters. There are many outside restaurants and it makes it feel very Parisian.

Above the city on one of the mountain sides there is a huge monument of El Papila, one of the hero’s of the battle of the granary in Guanajuato during the Revolution of Independence in 1810. It is accessible by a very steep funicular that starts behind the Teatro Juarez and Union Square. We all took the funicular (even Mary Ann, but I suspect with her eyes closed) and enjoyed the wonderful views of Guanajuato. It was all a very wonderful final day for the family. Geoff was advocating that we should buy a home in San Miguel. Oh sure! A website with several excellent photos is at: http://www.mexconnect.com/MEX/mxc/gto.html.

Quirky (but Important) Living Note: Because of the involvement of a friend, we learned of the role of an organization called the 24 Hour Association. Because of the large population of Americans and Canadians in San Miguel, and as most are retired, there inevitably will be an occasional death. This can be a major problem when in a foreign country, because of the different laws, regulations and requirements. For instance, Mexico requires burial within 24 hours of death. Thus a wonderful association was formed to help the expats with such problems. For a modest joining fee, the association members and staff will immediately take over and handle all of the problems, arrangements, and details when a death occurs. An excellent article about the association was written by Natalie Hardy, who is the sister of Pat Malone in Wenatchee. You can read the article in a recent issue from the archives of Atención newspaper: http://www.atencionsanmiguel.org/index.php?engarchives.

Friday, April 27, 2007

How about an award for helping the Mexican Economy?


Wednesday & Thursday – Week 8: And I thought Mary Ann could shop. Today I saw the four of them (Katy, Amanda, Geoff & Mary Ann) roar through San Miguel like there was no shopping days in the future. After a nice walk through the Chorro Casa Cultural, breakfast at Sierra Nevada en la Parque, a walk through Parque Juarez, the shopping frenzy began. Up San Antonio and Zacateros stopping in every shop (and buying in many) it was on to Loretto and into the Artesanias. What a list: bedspread, Mexican wrestling masks, tile and tin mirror, pewter platters, crosses, metal day of the dead statues, ceramic suns, children’s finger puppets, Mexican style bingo with photos, and it goes on and on.

This afternoon was haircut day. After lunch I received another of my 50 peso specials. I am afraid of what Mary Ann will say when she sees it. When my lady barber asked about short, I did not realize that meant sheared bald. Katy and Mary Ann were also getting their hair cut, but certainly not for $5. I have a barber, they were at a salon. Following my haircut, Amanda, Geoff and I brought all the packages back to the casa. They went on to more shopping or looking, and I stayed at the casa, hoping I would still be solvent when all returned.

Dinner out was to be at the funky little café, El Ten Ten Pie, but surprisingly it was being renovated. This time of year, after Holy Week, lots of stores and restaurants go on vacation, so things are a little problematical. We ended up at El Pegaso, which is always good and not too expensive. On Thursday, breakfast started at La Puertecita hotel up the mountain. It always is great and makes you feel like the rich and famous. As this was to be the kids last day in San Miguel, it was serious shopping, guided by the Worlds Greatest Shopper. We started at La Fabrica Aurora, and then walked downtown. Geoff and Amanda bought an excellent modern bull painting. While I was in wait and stand mode during all the shopping, I was caught in a photo (above) making friends on the street. Everyone stocked up on a lot of handicraft gifts.

In the late afternoon Katy and I took the local bus to Super Gigante to stock up on fresh orange juice and other necessities for breakfast. You sure wouldn’t want to starve around here. For the last dinner in San Miguel for the kids, we took them to our favorite restaurant, Bugambila so they could enjoy the shrimp stuffed with cheese, wrapped in bacon and in a sauce to die for.

Quirky Living Note: On a couple of morning occasions, I have seen a service that I thought would have ended years ago. At the side of the street will be a pickup loaded with several of the large milk cans that they fill at the farm. People then came with their pails or containers and bought what is obviously un-pasteurized milk. Now you don’t see that in Wenatchee or Chelan these days.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Bicycle Fun!



Monday & Tuesday – Week 8: One thing you rediscover about having children is that when they are visiting you seemingly can be eaten out of house and home. The first event of Monday morning was that Katy, Amanda & Geoff were sent off on the historical walking tour, while Mary Ann and I spent our morning at the grocery stores and bakeries. After really loading up we took a cab back to the casa with all our bags. Now all stocked up we could face a few days as properly provisioned parents. We met the now fully informed historical buffs at the end of the tour and had them relax with noon refreshments at La Buena Vida. One of life’s little crises happened today, and that was our DSL line and TV failed to connect. My goodness, no internet, no publishing to the blog, and no American baseball with Spanish play by play. Curses!

Next we did some back street walking, heading for Bici-Burro bicycle shop. We had offered Geoff, for his birthday present, a bike tour while he was here. We had previously talked with the very nice young owner Alberto and he was trying to put together a tour of a few people while Geoff and Amanda were here. When we got to the shop, Alberto said he had called us and had another couple scheduled for Tuesday. We immediately signed Amanda and Geoff onto the tour. One of the family jokes is my wanting to bike the Dingle Peninsula in Ireland, but I thought this might not be the best time to start my training regimen. Katy also begged off saying she did not want to slow them down! Bici-Burro has all sorts of tour options and Alberto is a delightful guy. If you are a biker and visit San Miguel take a look at http://www.bici-burro.com/.

Tuesday, we sent Amanda and Geoff off on the bike tour, left Mary Ann (#1 crisis solver) to solve the internet and TV problem, while Katy and I headed to Juarez Park for her run and my sedentary relaxing with a cigar and book. We met Mary Ann later for coffee at Café Montenegro who reported no progress on the electronics. Katy and Mary Ann went off to shop at the Artesanias and I stayed at the casa, hopefully to let in any computer guru’s. Ah, what sacrifices we must make in life.

Amanda and Geoff had a wonderful bike trip and got on famously with Alberto and the other couple from Toronto. Katy and Mary Ann spent the afternoon shopping for gifts and yours truly awaited the computer guy. We were reconnected in late afternoon after everyone had returned. Mary Ann cooked burritos for dinner and then the young visitors went out for drinks with the Toronto couple. Now why did they not want us along? Mary Ann and I consoled ourselves by sitting in the Jardin and then having an ice cream cone.

Quirky Living Note: From the blog photos you may have noticed all of the roofs of San Miguel are flat. Many of them have elegant patios on the roofs, along with a lot of trees, flowers and vegetation. As a result all of the buildings have spouts that extend off the sides of the building, theoretically at a distance to put excess water onto the street. However, my experience has been that many just pour water onto the sidewalk, so even if it is not raining you can get showered from the patio being washed or the plants being watered.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Family Reunion!




Sunday, April 22 – Week 8: Bright and early, and on time Katy, Amanda, and Geoff arrived on Mexicana Airlines flying from Seattle through Los Angeles. They have voted LAX the worst airport in the world. Noisy, chaos, and it was a completely aggravating experience. Of course, it was all worthwhile so they could join their loving parents! Your humble tour guide paid no attention to jet lag, or such lame excuses. Upon arriving at the casa we had breakfast and then the kids had a short nap, shower, and then off to explore.

As this was the only Sunday they would be here, the mandatory event was taking the Biblioteca Home and Garden Tour. This week it was three homes in the Atascadero neighborhood atop the mountain behind Casa Tranquilidad. Mary Ann and I were delighted this was the selection as we had not had a chance to explore this neighborhood due to its being an intimidating climb for us, or anyone. The three homes were all different, and fun to visit. The problem, is although our casa is a delight, seeing these upper end homes makes our home look just a bit humble.

After the tour we hit the churros and bebidas at San Agustin. That got everyone revived for a walk abound the centro area. Amazingly enough, Katy was the first to buy shoes. She must have had a real need. Everyone crashed for a couple of hours siesta, before the required margarita hour. No rest for the wicked.

After evening refreshments and a lot of political talk we went to dinner at El Market Bistro. On the way back through the Jardin a theater with lots of seats had been set up and there were hundreds of people watching Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth, the Oscar winning documentary. It was in English with Spanish subtitles. I am always amazed as to what is happening around here.

Quirky Living Note: I hadn’t thought about it being strange, but it is a bit surprising to look out of your bedroom and see a hot air balloon nearly at eye level (photo above). There is a local gentleman who gives balloon rides in the early morning, usually on weekends, over the church spires and history of San Miguel. Most often he is quite a distance from us, but yesterday it looked like he was about to land on our patio. If you are so inclined a ride is $150 per person and they throw in breakfast if you survive.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Day Trip to Leon


Saturday – Week 8: Last night we went to dinner at Casa Payo, an Argentine restaurant. Strangely, I think it is about the first time since coming to San Miguel that we have had steaks. They were delicious and the dinner was accompanied by an excellent guitar player who we talked with after dinner. At the conclusion of dinner we were given complimentary Bailey’s Irish Cream which topped off a fine evening. Friday night in the Jardin is definitely devoted to the teenager mating dance. It was packed with groups of young boys and girls walking the Jardin and giving the eye to each other.

Saturday was a trip to Leon and some investigating of the big city. Leon has over a million people in it, and it seemed that large. Although we had been to the Leon/Guanajuato airport several times, the airport is on the San Miguel side of town, so we had never been into the city. We found out that they claim to be the world’s largest shoe manufacturing center. I suspect they are not kidding, as all the billboards advertise shoes, and the downtown is loaded with shoe stores. I think it was just plain overwhelming for Mary Ann, too many to choose from. The downtown historic area is very nice, with a couple of huge squares and a very large pedestrian only area (photo above). Mary Ann says that all the people we saw were wearing very nice shoes. Go figure? We stayed at a hotel near the airport so we would not be driving in the dark to pick up the kids who were arriving from Los Angeles on Sunday morning. It was a nice relaxing day before the frantic business of entertaining our children.

Quirky Living Note: All over San Miguel you see internet cafes, and signs for selling internet service. I am convinced that everyone is selling access so they can pay for their high speed DSL line.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Finding a Parking Lot in San Miguel



Friday - Week 8: When I advised our rental agent that I would be driving a car to San Miguel de Allende, I thought she might have a heart attack. Most people are satisfied with just being in this wonderful city, and taking the transport to and from the Leon/Guanajuato Airport. For those of you who know me well, that is just not the style for Mary Ann and Tom. We have to explore and create adventures, and that means going far beyond the city limits of San Miguel. Thus we have a car in a walking city!

The rental agent, Jennifer Rockett, was however gracious and told me that although the casa did not have a garage (I secretly think our owner has a car in our inaccessible garage) there are public parking lots for long term parking. I have now become very knowledgeable about the lots in San Miguel and thought I could save you a lot of research (or grief) if you bring a car, or rent a car, while in San Miguel.

First, disabuse yourself, for the most part, of thinking of a car lot in the sense of a U.S. car lot. The majority of the lots here are an empty space behind a wall that is incredibly difficult to get in and out of. All but one (the lot we use) are not open and available 24 hours a day. As I have not actually used any of these lots, I don’t know what they cost on a weekly or monthly basis. Watching people try to get in and out of some of these lots, from some of the narrow streets of San Miguel would make a strong man cry!

Second, there really are not a lot of parking lots in San Miguel. To give you an idea of the lots I have seen are as follows:
Ø On Mesones between Reloj and Juarez, across the street from the Bonanza Grocery;
Ø The west side of Recreo, just south of Correo;
Ø The northeast corner of Hidalgo and Insurgentes, just west of the Biblioteca (this however seems to be closed as the owner is building a controversial 4 story parking garage on the site);
Ø The east side of Quebrada between Canal and Insurgentes;
Ø The east side of Calz. De La Aurora on the way to La Fabrica; and
Ø On Pila Seca just west of Zacateros.

But, there is hope beyond this list of antiquated choices of parking lots. With our usual dumb luck we found the brand new, state of the art, municipal parking lot that does not appear on any map currently printed in San Miguel. This lot is located on Cardo, just east of Ancha de San Antonio, just south of the Instituto Allende and nearly next door to St. Paul’s Anglican Church. This is a huge lot of very recent construction. It includes underground covered parking, gorgeous clean free public bathrooms, electronic in and out, and 24 hour access.

Although the lot is some distance from our casa (about a 25 minute walk) if you don’t want the exercise the $2 taxi ride will get you there in about 10 minutes. My suggestion is that at your first visit to the lot you arrange with the office (at the bottom of the ramp to the underground parking) for your weekly or monthly rate. They will give you a receipt for your payment, which will show the time period for your access. You just show the receipt along with the plastic parking card you received when you entered the lot, at the time of exiting the lot. The monthly rate is $45.

We do not use the car for getting around San Miguel. For that we walk, but we take the car out at least weekly for our day trips to nearby towns and cities, giving guided tours to our guests, picking guests up at the airport, and taking groceries to the casa after a visit to Super Gigante or Mega. And…we have the car for our return adventure to Chelan at the end of our stay.

Quirky Living Note: If you should park illegally in San Miguel, the police don't just issue you a ticket and put it on your window. Instead they guarantee you will pay it by removing the license plates from your car. A sure fire way to get you to stop into the traffic police office for a little chat! The photo above shows two policemen removing plates in front of the Instituto Allende.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

It was inevitable!



Wednesday – Week 7: Now today was to be the day of collapse and rest. Life always has its interesting twists and turns. I took off for Parque Juarez to read a book and have a leisurely cigar. As I was walking one of the paths, to find a nice sitting spot, I ran into Dale and Gail Foreman from Wenatchee. I knew it was inevitable that I would sometime bump into someone from Wenatchee, it being such a small world. He is an attorney and orchardist who I have known for decades. It turns out they are conducting their own tour of the colonial area of Mexico, traveling by buses, no less. We chatted about their trip and our residency, and I went on to an hour of reading and cigaring (is that a verb?).

I planned to meet Mary Ann in the Jardin at noon to do a little grocery shopping (make that bakery shopping). When we met we walked to the corner of the Jardin, and there is Dale getting his shoes shined. Gail walks up from checking some shops and we offered to show them around some of the favorite sites of the World’s Greatest Shopper. Poor Dale, he never knew what hit him. Off to the Mercado and Artesanias we go, and the buying begins. In addition to the Foreman’s purchases, Mary Ann gets into the swing of it with; I’m sure, a one in a million unique handicraft object. It was all good fun and enjoyed by the Foreman’s. We then suffered with a lunch at Meson de San Jose. Uriel, the waiter there, now greets us like long lost relatives. Next time I am going to ask for a commission.

So that Dale and Gail could get a feel for what is behind the walls, we took them back to Casa Tranquilidad, so they could see how we have been suffering here in San Miguel these past seven weeks. The first entry into the Casa is usually a real gasp from our visitors, as you can only imagine what a beautiful home it is, especially when they find out our daily rate is less that their hotel room. They received the full tour and it was fun to just talk about their lives and our San Miguel experiences.


In the evening, Mary Ann and I went to a french/vietnamese restaurant named Chamonix. We do have to keep up the eating investigations.

Quirky Living Note: In what must now be hundreds of visits to the Jardin, I have never been there day or night, when there haven’t been the balloon sellers wandering the park, enticing the small children to get their parents to buy a balloon, or other small plastic colorful toy to play with as the family enjoys their time and stroll in the park. There must be a balloon sellers union as the number of vendors increases proportionately with how crowded the Jardin is. On weekends, Sunday evenings, and holidays the regular sales force is augmented by the opportunists.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Airport Commute


Tuesday – Week 7: Today we took the Cooper’s to the Leon/Guanajuato airport. That 65 mile trek is becoming a very familiar road for us. It is somewhat ironic that the restaurant in the airport has now been visited by us more than any other eating establishment in Mexico. Fortunately the airport is a very nice one, and the restaurant is the only place that non flying people can see the runways and airplanes. Having guests for a week is always fun, but also is hard work. We seem to sort of collapse after we have sent them back home.

The road between San Miguel de Allende and the airport is pretty interesting, because it is so typical Mexican. It is very narrow, up and down, and lots of curves. Now, if I only had a sports car it could really be fun. You have to keep your eyes and wits about you, as there are a lot of animals grazing on the shoulders with no one keeping track of them. Today we slowed for goats, steers, cows, horses and burros. Also there are a lot of people about, both walking and waiting for the local buses. Often you will see an honest to gosh cowboy on a very good looking horse. When you do get into a village you have to keep your eyes open for the topes, the speed bumps, or you will leave your muffler behind. There are a lot of mofles shops around.

I kind of suspect that the next four days will be serious relaxation days until our children arrive on Sunday. Then back into the tour guide mode!

Quirky Living Note: Previously, I have commented about how clean San Miguel is, and all the waste cans that the city government has put on most corners. Many citizens go one step further. Because of most home walls being flush with the sidewalks, there are also a lot of windows in those walls which are recessed about a foot into the very thick walls. Most often there will be steel bars over the window. However, many of the home owners will put a small waste basket on the ledge of the window. This then gives the passers-by the opportunity in mid-block to discard anything they might be carrying, rather than drop it on the sidewalk. It thus benefits the homeowner, the pedestrian, and the city.



Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Can the Tour Guide Always be Perfect?


The Cooper Week (Part III) – Week 7: In recollection you might think we are eating gourmet meals all the time. Au Contraire, we are doing that just most of the time. Actually, we try to limit ourselves to two meals a day, making the third meal just a snack or an ice cream cone in the afternoon. We are just trying to be culturally sensitive with the ice cream thing, as everyone else in town is also having ice cream. We are just blending in. Most mornings we do have a light breakfast at the casa rather than going out for breakfast. One breakfast essential is the fresh squeezed orange juice you can buy here. It was one of our first discoveries upon arrival in San Miguel and you can buy it in gallon jugs. This of course, is purely medicinal so we do not catch a cold in the 80 degree heat.

The big event for today was the Home and Garden Tour sponsored by the Biblioteca. This is an amazing effort which happens every Sunday afternoon. I have mentioned it before but it bears repeating, that this event, put on solely by volunteers, raises thousands each year for the charitable efforts of the Biblioteca. The tour probably requires 30 to 40 volunteers each week, working as ticket sellers, bus guides, and room guides in each home. There are two or three casas that are visited each week out of an inventory of some 250. The event costs $15 per person and when you multiply this by the thousands who attend (about 4,000 this year up through the second week of April) you are seeing a significant fund raiser. Besides, it is just a lot of fun, both the start with mariachis at the Biblioteca, the bus rides with the guides giving you insights into life in San Miguel (and their personal lives as expats), and then viewing the beautiful homes. Seeing these homes gives you quite a look at the architecture of this colonial city, and how the rich and famous live. For a virtual tour of the second home on the tour check out http://www.casa-san-francisco.com/.

Following the tour, we naturally had to have cappuccinos and lattes to satisfy Les Cooper’s need for caffeine. No Starbucks here, so we go to real cafés. After this pick us up, off to shopping as the shopping days for the Cooper’s were running out. How come then they only bought some children’s T-shirts, and Mary Ann ended up with candle sticks, table cloths, and other assorted stuff. This must be how she maintains her famous reputation as the “World’s Greatest Shopper.”

It is now somewhat of a tradition that on the last full day of a visit, our guests are encouraged to return to those parts of San Miguel where the may have seen something they wanted or thought they wanted to purchase. In the Cooper’s case it turned out to be a very nice Mexican tin and tile mirror that looks like about the length and width of our car! This required some negotiations about what they would take back of our stuff, while we would take the mirror. I was advocating the tire chains, but we ended up with their agreeing to take our winter coats and sweaters. For the remainder of the day we felt the Cooper’s were safe to be out on there own without chaperones or guide dogs, so we all went our separate way for the day. I explored a couple of different neighborhoods, Mary Ann went (of course) shoe shopping and the Cooper’s seemingly tried to emulate mountain goats.

For the final dinner we planned to go to Villa Santa Monica but they were closed on Monday night. The travel tour guide was a total failure. As a back up we went to Hecho en Mexico and saved a lot of money. We finished off with Santa Clara ice cream, a walk to the Jardin and then up the mountain.

Quirky Living Note: Who would ever figure that if you were a dedicated bridge player, San Miguel is the place to come? On the other hand, it might be expected when there are thousands of retired Americans, all of an age who grew up when bridge playing was a required social necessity. In the English language newspaper there are weekly notices for the organized duplicate bridge clubs, which are seemingly operating every day. There are two locations available, one in a bridge dedicated room in one of the large hotels, and the other in there own club house. I even found out that our next door neighbor, Fred, is a regular duplicate player. Need a partner? No problem, they will match you with someone.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Attacked by a Raging Bull!


The Cooper Week (Part II) – Week 7: Friday was designated as road trip day, and it actually happened that way. Because of the previously aborted visit to Guanajuato, we planned this trip for both Dolores Hidalgo and Guanajuato. We headed out for Dolores Hidalgo, all being brightly awake due to the exploding rockets and cherry bombs that started about 5:30 a.m. It seems that the natives celebrate with fireworks for just about anything, like a wedding, birth of a child, funeral, you name it. All day it sounded like the start of the Mexican revolution of 2007. We were not sure of the event, but suspect a wedding because of all the flowers at a church we visited in El Chorro last evening.

The stop in Dolores Hidalgo was a success as Les and Carol Cooper found some very nice wall tiles for accent in their new bathroom in their home at the Chelan golf course which they are remodeling. Our route from there was the direct (!) one over the twisty curvy road that comes into Guanajuato from the north. I loved it and it is very picturesque. It was a new road for Mary Ann and I so that was a travel plus. Guanajuato is built on hills and in a canyon so it is very hard to navigate. Underneath the city they have tunnels for streets. We tried to get into the same car-park we used last time but it was full. We continued to traverse the tunnels and actually came upon a parking place on the side of the tunnel. The stairs to the surface actually came out at one of the main plazas.

All of us enjoyed several hours of exploring this historic city which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We relaxed by having lunch at an open air restaurant in the Jardin Union, the main green square in the city. We extricated ourselves from the tunnel with no problems and headed for San Miguel de Allende in the late afternoon. The trip became exciting when we came around a corner in a small village and were being confronted by a running steer coming head on. We stopped and the steer turned out to be the lead of what I would term a stampede of steers, goats, burros, horses, dogs and their handlers racing across the road. Mexico is a constant surprise!

I do not think you can come to San Miguel without having breakfast at La Puertecita, up the mountain from the casa. The best way to do this is by taking a cab up and then walking down, which we did Saturday morning. This hotel dining area is as classy and pleasant as it gets. For the rest of the day we made sure that we got our walking mileage in, doing a large circle of the city, doing a lot of looking in the shops. Not much buying yet, but the Cooper’s have their eyes on a very nice tile framed mirror. For dinner we went upscale with cena at Bugambila, Mary Ann’s favorite restaurant.

Quirky Living Note: Because all of the homes in San Miguel have nondescript fronts, the only way you can really tell what is an expensive restored casa is by looking up at the roofs. If you see trees and plants you know that there are roof top patios, with fantastic views of the city, and that this is not just a run of the mill hidden house. When walking you always want to look in every open door, as often you will see wonderful exotic courtyards.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Entertainment Mode


The Cooper Week (Part I) – Week 6: When you have criss-crossed and explored most of your vacation community, you then feel obligated to put together the best itinerary for your visiting guests, and try to make it interesting for yourself. Thus, for the Boyd week and now the week of Les and Carol Cooper’s visit (friends from Chelan) I set out a very detailed written schedule which usually gets blown apart right at the start. For instance, on Tuesday, we planned to take them to Guanajuato in the afternoon as their flight arrived at noon. I could thus avoid another driving trip to Guanajuato during the week (we never made it to Guanajuato with the Boyd’s!). I should have accounted for the airlines running on Mexican time, as the flight arrived 1 ½ hours late. We really did not have time to do Guanajuato justice, so the plan was aborted. We did make it downtown for a drink at the rooftop bar at Pueblo Viejo, then one of Mary Ann’s exquisite Mexican dinners at the casa. As the Cooper’s had flown on the red eye, they then crashed, having made it to 9 p.m.

The visitor plan always calls for taking the historical tour the first Monday, Wednesday, or Friday following arrival. Having left the cold Northwest, the Cooper’s were happy to do some walking in 65 degree weather increasing during the day to 85 degrees. The tour is a great orientation for the city and as the city has really quieted down there were only 10 people on the tour. As usual we met them at the end of the tour at the cookie convent. By that time Les required a coffee stop. Off to San Agustin (you remember the Margarita Gralia hot spot – still no Margarita on premises, but our waitress was very nice) for a plate of delicious churros and cappuccinos.

The forced march then requires a walk through the Mercado and Artesanias; just to see what the Cooper’s could dream up for packing into our car. I have been advocating with our guests that a quid pro quo will require them to haul our winter tire chains back home with them. As an alternative stop I have been hoping to have lunch at Ole-Ole, a restaurant near the Mercado and today its selection worked out perfect. We had an excellent leisurely lunch of fajitas of various types. We next shopped for fruit and other essentials and then hopped a $2 cab to the casa for siestas. Tonight we obviously will have a light dinner. The light dinner turned out to be tacos at El Ten Ten Pie which apparently means “a little something to keep you on your feet.”

Les and Carol Cooper are seemingly indefatigable and so we are nearly always on the go. Les cannot get enough of all the wonderful photo opportunities. We started the day with a walk to El Chorro and the Casa Cultural and a leisurely breakfast at the Sierra Nevada en la Parque. What a wonderful time and place to just enjoy being alive. The march then went through Parque Juarez and on to some of the south end streets as far as the Instituto Allende. Then a walk up Zacateros until we caught a cab to Fabrica La Aurora. While at the design center we of course had to be refreshed with a cappuccino, refresco, or liquados. We walked back to the casa on La Aurora and Reloj, in order to collapse during siesta time, and recharge for the evening walk and dinner.

To catch the evening sun angles we returned to the Chorro and Juarez Park areas. To recover we had a fine large dinner at Romano’s Italian restaurant. After dinner we enjoyed watching young people doing round dancing in front of the Parroquia.

Quirky Living Note: San Miguel is obviously the Mecca for retiree volunteers. Because of the large foreign retirement community, they have a real pool for charitable volunteers. There are lots of skills and lots of time for the local Anglo residents. Whether it is the historical walking tour, running the Biblioteca, the home and garden tour, the humane animal shelter, the Save the Laja River group, the Feed the Hungry program, and the list goes on and on.



Wednesday, April 11, 2007

How to Find a Vacation Home in a Foreign Country


Now that you have read the Casa Tranquilidad home tour, you may wonder how we found this place. In fact, I am frequently asked this question. The trick is the wonder of the internet. You can go to Google and type in “vacation homes in…(name the country or city).” That will bring up all sorts of options which will get you started on your search.

One thing you need to keep in mind is lead time. I was surprised when I started searching in San Miguel in October for a March arrival. It seems that in locations where there is a heavy snow bird population, that many properties are just renewed year to year. Thus you have to reserve a year ahead. In various websites when I selected a home I found out there were not a lot of vacancies. Most websites of this type of subject will break down into location, price range, photos, and on the best sites there are calendars showing availability.

For a little tutorial let us go to the website where our casa is found:

http://www.vacation-homes-san-miguel.com/

This company has a very helpful agent by the name of Jennifer Rockett who lives in San Miguel de Allende. We have met her while we have been in San Miguel when she has brought by folks to look at the casa, I assume for next years or next falls rental. Next click on “search rentals” and then go to the section on monthly rentals of $2,000 to $3500 a month. Scroll down until you see Casa Tranquilidad and then click on the name. That will take you directly to the description and information about our casa. The full website for that view is:

http://www.vacation-homes-san-miguel.com/rentallistings/casatranquilidad/index.html

Directions show you how you can work your way through the possibilities available for this company. Be sure and click on more information and photos at the bottom and you will see a complete description of the property. From my writings you know we usually are the happy recipients of dumb luck (except for certain exceptions like 4 days in Chihuahua and the robbery in Johannesburg) and that was the case with the rental of Casa Tranquilidad. After I enquired about of couple of properties Ms. Rockett quickly responded that the properties I requested were not available, but she had a new casa just coming available, that had never been rented before. She sent photos and the description and the rest is history. We have been the very first “guests” other than the owners and hope we have been good stewards of this magnificent home. In searching for a property we actually had very few requirements. We wanted a home with a washer and dryer (little did we know that the maid would do all the laundry), access to an internet DSL line, and a place to park the car. The only thing we missed on was the car garage, but you know our parking lot saga from the blog.

You might wonder (as a lawyer and a Judge I did) about the legal parts of the rental. We entered into a lease with the rental company and not with the actual owner. In fact I did not know who the owner was until a phone bill arrived at the casa. We paid half of the lease payment at the time of the acceptance of the rental and the other half fourty five days before our arrival. There is also a $500 damage deposit for such things as excess phone bills, DSL line, etc. The rental payment covers all the utilities and the payment of the maid, gardener, and ordinary repairs.

As for San Miguel de Allende, there are a lot of rental opportunities on the internet. Other companies that you might look at are:

http://www.sanmiguelrentals.com/
http://www.premiersanmiguel.com/sitepages/pid1438.php
http://www.atenearealty.com/
http://www.goin2travel.com/sanmiguel.htm
http://www.greatrentals.com/san-miguel-de-allende/s/8032/fa/find.squery
http://www.casaselegantes.com/
http://www.san-miguel-house-rentals.com/

There are, with a little searching around the internet, a lot of individual properties that seem to be rented by private owners without using a rental company. One site that fits this category is:

http://www.internetsanmiguel.com/vacation_rentals.html

Quirky Living Note: As you wander around San Miguel natural curiosity draws your eyes to the property for sale flyers in the windows of the many realtors. When you read these flyers, or the real estate ads in Atención newspaper, your eyes become very large. The prices are extraordinarily high. When talking with some of the natives (meaning Gringo residents) they advise that this price inflation is solely due to the gringos with all their home sale proceeds from the United States. Over the last few years the prices have been driven up by sums paid by foreigners with just too much money in their pockets. Apparently, the market is a bit soft at the moment, following the slow down in U.S. real estate. If I was buying, I would be very reluctant to pay any listing price.

Monday, April 9, 2007

The Easter Weedend Festivities



Easter Weekend – Week 6: Thursday evening we had a wonderful dinner in a restaurant named Romano’s located on Hernandez Macias on the far side of the Jardin. You might think we eat out a lot. We do, but I can assure you that it is scientific research to guarantee good eating locations for our guests. Romano’s is Italian and we had delicious entrees of manicotti and linguini with clams. The room was very colorful and we had a great view of a Jacaranda tree in bloom. Mary Ann is trying to figure out how to make a Jacaranda tree grow at Lake Chelan.

As you may have noticed, the Holy Week celebrations are building up, and the Good Friday procession was quite something else. It is a somber affair, with a lot of black worn by both men and women. The procession is called the Holy Burial and is the longest of Holy Week. The estimate is that there are 2,000 participants. The uniformed Roman soldiers, young girls dressed in white as angels, women with black lace mantillas, and black suited pall bearers accompany carved statues of archangels, a life size figure of the Virgin of Solitude and the figure of Jesus. The procession included priests saying blessings, an orchestra playing somber music, and a children’s and men’s choir. The procession moves very slowly with a lot of stops, so it took over an hour and a half to pass our viewing position. The centro and all the procession streets were jammed with spectators.

Saturday we climbed to the top of the mountain on a stairway up the street. Some very nice homes are there, but difficult to get to. The city is mobbed with visitors, with the locals complaining about all the Mexico City folks invading for the weekend. We attended St. Paul’s early service on Easter and then went to breakfast. We needed to be in Jardin at noon for the exploding of the Judas papier mache 6 foot figures strung between the park and the Municipal Building. This Easter tradition started in colonial times and has been kept alive by local craftsman. The effigies represent hated politicians or persons in authority and hang throughout the morning. At noon small rockets are lit and one by one, each figure twists and turns until a loud explosion shreds the figure into bits of paper and cane.

Quirky Living Note: Day and night in the centro area and the Jardin you see brigades of uniformed Limpia (cleaner) ladies sweeping the streets and park with their wonderful old style brooms. The LImpia name is on the backs of their blue and florescent contrasting uniforms. Like at the end of parades in the United States, the Limpia ladies bring up the rear, in the case of the processions, sweeping up all the flower petals that have been spread on the streets by the young angels.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Casa Tranquilidad Home Tour - Part 2










Moving from the kitchen, or the glass doors from the dining room entry, you start up outside stairs in a wonderfully sunlit area, full of plants and decorative architecture. The colors in this space are a soft green and bright yellow. In my opinion this may be the most satisfyingly designed space in the casa. The stairs have a left turn at a landing, and you then arrive at the main patio. This patio is surrounded by a wall keeping the noise of the city at bay, but seems to have sun all day. The space is filled with flowers, cacti, and a tiled table with umbrella. The patio is situated above the casa entry way, and contains glass bricks allowing sunshine into the entry. At the back of the patio, away from the street is the guest suite.

The guest suite is not quite as bright in color, but has a wonderful red bathroom with a floral tile motif. What is surprising in the bathrooms is a combination of colors divided about waist high. The guest suite has a walk-in shower. The bedroom has a wood beam ceiling, a fireplace, ceiling fan, double bed and a single bed, so it could handle a group of three. There is a nice big chair in the room so you could rest or read comfortably. It also contains a large walk in closet for the storage of both clothes and suitcases. Now up to the master suite.

You just can’t miss the steps to the top floor, bright yellow color with inlaid diamond red accent. Outside of the master suite there is a smaller patio that is enclosed with glass that can be opened light sliding glass windows on three sides. There is a two person patio table and chairs and the most gorgeous view of the city that you could imagine. The view is straight at the La Parroquia church and the centro historic district. The Casa faces west and the evening sunsets are often breathtaking. Our view, because of the location on the side of the hill, overlooks all of the adjacent buildings. The bedroom has glass double doors and floor to ceiling windows, permitting you, if you wish, to have a full view of the city while lying in the bed. The room has a king size bed, soft overstuffed chair, fireplace, desk, boveda ceiling with a skylight and ceiling fan. We have a lot of built-in storage and cupboards in the bathroom ante-room and a full size dresser. The bathroom is an orange/gold with bird design accent tiles throughout the room and shower/bath. In the bathroom there is a boveda ceiling and in the tub/shower there is a skylight.

My description of the casa has left out one very important factor. It is decorated with some very nice artwork and art objects. It is a visual surprise, as every day, in every room and space, you see something you had not noticed before. The owners have excellent taste in Mexican and colonial art objects. In addition Mary Ann has given them her ultimate complement, as it is all hung and placed at the proper height. There would have been serious trouble if the art work was all too high!