Friday, March 30, 2007

When is the Mexican dinner?



Wednesday & Thursday – Week 4: For a change of pace we enjoyed breakfast at a nice little restaurant (El Correo) just down the hill on Correo Street. Then off on a road trip to Dolores Hidalgo with the Boyd’s. We stopped at La Fabrica Aurora to pick up the box of Mall’s dishes. Hmmm, a bit bigger than I hoped. Maybe a rocket box on the roof of the car! Then on the road with a stop at Atotonilco. This time it was much quieter than our visit a couple of weeks ago. Because of the big procession last Saturday night the Lord of the column was missing from its usual spot in the church. In Dolores Hidalgo we stopped at the ceramic house where Mary Ann mortgaged our future for the beautiful plates. Mall appropriately approved of our selection and Tom rested in a chair. It was the same one I used two weeks ago.

Downtown was busy and we enjoyed the activity of the square. We shared our appreciation for the City Hall stained glass and murals, and the very beautiful Hidalgo church. We all stood on the first step and replicated the “grito”, the cry for freedom reminiscent of the 1810 revolution. One thing we did do different on this second trip was to visit the market. It is much smaller than the two in San Miguel, but we did see a tortilla factory in operation. It had an actual assembly line. When back in San Miguel we feasted on ice cream at the Santa Clara ice cream store after exposing the Boyd’s to the Super Gigante, stocking up on staples like tonic water, sodas, wine, bakery goods, and lots of other things probably not good for us. For dinner we splurged at what probably is our favorite, La Bugambilia. My, that shrimp wrapped in bacon in a creamy cheese sauce is good.

What Tom Boyd and I won’t do to sacrifice for our wives. Thursday was the day scheduled for the Sazon Mexican cooking school (http://www.sazonsanmiguel.com/). We were literally abandoned on the street and became wife-less for two hours. Will this result in better home cooked meals? Mary Ann went to Puebla for a week last year. Thai cooking school the year before and still not appreciable changes. Well coffee was a start, then to the Jardin and then to Juarez Park to sit, contemplate and enjoy the greenery with a good book. After the school we had a chance to all talk to Natalie Hardy, bending arms trying to give away her SPA animals. She had a recent family visit which was a whirlwind of activity in planning for Natalie’s current home construction project.

Next? Naturally it was a walk to the Mercado for some serious handicraft buying by Mall. Mary Ann got in the spirit with buying, what Tom Boyd refers to as machine tool scraps. This was the buying of small silver (?) charms (Milagros) which are used to ask for divine intervention for illnesses, broken bones, and help of any sort. They were in the shape of your request, such as an arm or leg, and then pinned to one of the statues in a church. This was all for Anne White, who obviously is in need of these things (for a gift, not a miracle).

Our weekly pattern has been to then go for a bit of a siesta and then play bridge starting about 5 p.m. until it gets dark at 7 p.m. We have gotten in lots of hands so the bridge club better watch out when the Boyd’s return! For dinner we had a very nice dinner at El Pegaso. This elegant eating out is addictive and probably fattening. But…I keep pushing the walking to keep everything in balance.

Quirky Living Note: It is hard to notice things that are not there. But I finally realized that in San Miguel there is no graffiti. I haven’t seen the building owners repainting all the time, and there sure are a lot of flat surfaces, as all the walls are flush with the sidewalks. The Latino gangs, and other kids, that seem to be defacing Chelan and Wenatchee are certainly not getting their anti-social behavior habits here in San Miguel. Maybe our police departments should do some consulting with the San Miguel authorities to see how they are controlling it.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Walking Tours, Rotary Meeting, and Dogs



Monday & Tuesday – Week 4: With guests, we now have to experiment on the activities with which we can get our friends involved. You know you don’t want to create imbalances with too much restaurant eating, or on the other hand too much eating at home. We started with a light breakfast of cereal, toast and fruit at home. Then just before 10 a.m. I walked with the Boyd’s to the Jardin, so they could get signed up for the historic walking tour. When they got off on the tour I just enjoyed myself reading and people watching in the park. Mary Ann joined me for coffee at 11 a.m. and then we went looking at panama hats for me. As an inexperienced shopper, I found there are extensive price and quality differences. Obviously, more research to be done.

We met them at the conclusion of the tour and then started what I would call a “shop around.”
First to the bakery, then to Bonanza Grocery, and we then determined that the Boyd’s after three hours of walking might need some lunch and sitting down. We stopped at Meson de San Jose, one of our favorite lunch hang-outs. The waiter, Uriel, now breaks into a broad smile when we arrive. We must have been tipping too much! Next to the market for fruit and a complete walk through of the Artesanias craft sections. Obviously, Mall needed the full orientation. Tom and I kept looking for places to sit down.

Upon returning to the casa, everyone seemed more than happy to get into the siesta mode before a couple of hours of bridge. Mary Ann tried to talk me into agreeing that we should go out to dinner. I am now in deep trouble as I insisted that we have dinner at the casa. We enjoyed quesadillas, fruit and empanadas, and I think everyone was happy except Chef Mary Ann. I will work hard tomorrow in being able to move back into the master suite.

Tuesday was a day planned with the purpose of attending the San Miguel mid-day Rotary meeting with Tom and Mall (http://www.rotarysma.org/). It is the only English language Rotary Club in Mexico and has been chartered for about a year and a half. They meet at the beautiful Villa Jacaranda Hotel and Restaurant. As guests of the Boyd’s we had an educational and interesting time. The program was an environmental water engineer from Boise, Idaho who had been doing water aquifer work in the San Miguel area for the past five years. At the lunch (see Tom & Mall above) following we had the opportunity to talk with a member, formerly from California, who as a volunteer in San Miguel was in charge of food distribution for the Feed The Hungry organization which feeds 3,000 children daily from 28 feeding sites in San Miguel and the surrounding villages. For more information visit: http://www.feedthehungrysma.org/.

The rest of the afternoon was spent at the art and design center, Fabrica La Aurora, giving Mall further opportunity to scan the art, ceramics, and crafts. How was I to know she would select and buy a ton of dishes and other kitchen ceramics? Tom Boyd now thinks my touring plan is for the birds, and holds me personally responsible. Ai, carrumba. And to make it worse Mary Ann volunteered that we would haul the stuff back to Wenatchee. Now just how big is that Nissan Maxima? At dinner I suggested that the Boyd’s make room in our car for the box by taking back on the plane, our car chains. That should make the security check really interesting! Our dinner was at the El Market Bistro restaurant. The food presentation was a work of art and even tasted great.

Quirky Living Note: There are a lot of dogs in San Miguel. These are not street dogs, but rather many very valuable purebreds being walked on a lead either by their owners or by dog walkers. I attribute this phenomena to the presence in San Miguel of a lot of very rich gringos who just can’t live here without their pets. One really strange site (or sound) is hearing a dog barking from the sky (see photo above). When looking up you will see a dog pacing and barking from a roof edge. With all of the roof patios this is just the way for a dog to check on what is happening in his or her neighborhood. I would also venture that this would also discourage any unwanted entry. It may be cheaper than iron bars on the windows!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Boyd's & Warren's Off and Running



Saturday & Sunday – Week 4: Tom & Mall arrive today as our first casa guests. The trip to the airport in Leon is now a familiar journey. Upon our getting to the terminal there was just a bit of heart palpitation when the flight was not shown on the arrival board. I then talked with the Continental “check in” staff and they said on Saturday’s sometimes the airport just does not post it, but in fact it will be arriving, give or take an extra 20 minutes. Ah, Mexico! While waiting I chatted with a couple from Chattanooga who bought a home in San Miguel two years ago. They were meeting their kids and grandkids who were making a first visit. Now do you think we could be living in a foreign country and are kids would wait two years before visiting?

The Boyd’s arrived in fine shape and we were off to Casa Tranquilidad. Mall and Mary Ann experimented in making margueritas, while Tom and I returned the car to the parking lot and caught a cab back. We certainly did not want to be late for cocktails and munchies on the patio. For dinner Mary Ann had cooked her famous chicken enchilada casserole. To keep in tune with our location she was using local chilies’ and the dish was somewhat hotter than usual. Muy caliente!

San Miguel gets an early beginning on Holy Week. Starting at midnight a procession starts in Atotonilco and walks the 12 kilometers into San Miguel carrying Our Lord of the Column, a statue of the beaten and bloodied Christ. The statue is normally housed in the Shrine of Atotonilco, but is brought to San Miguel for each Holy Week. It is credited with miraculous powers. Hundreds of believers meet the procession early Sunday in San Miguel with rockets, fireworks, church bells, and with the streets bedecked with purple and white decorations and flowers. We told Tom and Mall that all the loud noises would just be welcoming them to San Miguel. And welcomed they were with the rockets starting about 3:30 a.m.

Sunday morning we started with a wonderful breakfast at Antigua Villa Santa Monica. The others enjoyed the house specialty which was an egg dish in a bowl with crème cheese. I enjoyed my Sunday favorite, Eggs Benedict. Following breakfast we walked through Parque Juarez and through town to the Biblioteca. The Home and Garden tour this week had two homes but with multiple parts. Both were amazing in their own way. We however really were enamored of a home downtown at Pila Seca 7. It was owned by a couple from Aspen and had 5 bedrooms and was exquisitely designed and decorated. Casa Seis Fuentes is rentable for only $7,000 a week, but if you were sharing with 5 couples it is doable, and clearly worth it
(http://www.mexicandestinations.com/store/p40details32.php). Besides, it comes with a staff of seven. Maybe in the future. To solve a great thirst from all the walking we had a nice libation in one of the rooftop bars, before returning for our siestas.

For our late afternoon entertainment we finally broke out the bridge cards and enjoyed refreshments and cards on the patio. When it became too dark to play, we headed down to the centro and had a very nice dinner at Pueblo Viejo. See, all that research has paid off.

Quirky Living Note: As I read the guide books, the Atención newspaper, and the free giveaway booklets, it appears that every event, every casa for rent or sale, and every store is within just 2 ½ blocks from the Jardin. Now I appreciate that many of the blocks are really long, but this just has to be a stretch of the imagination. It has been my suspicion that this little ruse comes from the minds of realtors, and their always creative descriptions. To increase the value of local properties you always want to be near the center and the historic ambiance.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Just How Cute Can You Be?



Friday – Week 4: Today was designated preparation day for the Boyd’s arrival. Mary Ann planned to do some cooking for the weekend. It also was Betti’s day for the weekend cleaning, so we vamoosed in the morning. We have been enjoying a morning coffee at Café Montenegro and then went wandering. This is risky business! The risk was wandering into a shop that Mary Ann had previously really, really liked some Mexican ceramic canisters. On our previous visit the salesman had obviously spotted a real buyer, as he had set them in a cupboard so they would not be sold to someone else. Now that she has seen something like 10,000 pieces of pottery over the last three weeks, it was just a case of presenting the credit card. So, they could be safely wrapped and boxed, for easy delivery in what surely will be the two and a half ton truck returning to Chelan, Tom the burro was sent back in the afternoon to carry the box up the mountain.

After helping the San Miguel economy we returned to the casa to find Caitlyn, Betti’s four year old daughter, on the premises. Previously, on our two brief visits with her, we thought she was very shy. Wrong! Today she turned into a chatter box and is really enamored of having her picture taken, and then seeing the photo on the camera. After every photo she then needed to show it to me. She then really took a liking to the computer and playing with the mouse. When Mary Ann started cooking, Caitlyn became an assistant and really enjoyed pounding the grated cheese. Did you know grated cheese needed pounding? I don’t know who had more fun today, Caitlyn or Mary Ann. We are obviously are going to have to pick up some Spanish children’s books so this child has something to entertain herself with.

Quirky Living Note: In various café’s that we have been frequenting, we have found a piece of furniture that is very unique. At least I have never seen one prior to San Miguel. When you sit down the waitress brings a four foot stand that looks like a miniature hat rack. It has four turned up arms. What is it for? It is for the ladies to hang their hand bags on. Very practical, so the table remains free of such items and the lady customers (or male ones with a shoulder bag) are comfortable during their coffee or meal.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Tom "the burro"?



Thursday – Week 3: As we head towards the weekend the planning for the arrival of Tom & Mall Boyd speeds up. On Thursday, we did have the opportunity to meet our rental agent Jennifer Rockett. She had stopped by in the morning to show the casa. It was nice to put a face with the voice (and email address) that had put us into this wonderful casa. No realtor wants the current tenant hanging around, so we hot footed out and down to the Mercado to start the food shopping for the weekend festivities. Mary Ann really went after fruit and vegetable selection. We also bought from our favorite strawberry lady, bought tortillas and other goods from Bonanza, and made a sweep of the bakery. Tom “the burro” was properly loaded. In the Jardin, the animal shelter was showing off their adoptable animals. We talked with Natalie, who assured us that their veterinarian could put together all of the paper work so we could take a wonderful puppy back to the U.S. I think NOT!

In the evening we went out to dinner (research you know!) and had a very nice dinner at Bella Italia, just a block away from the Jardin. Being typical Americans, we have a tendency to want to eat a lot earlier than the Europeans and apparently the Mexicans. We always seem to one of the first to grace the tables of any establishment. On this occasion we had lasted until 7 p.m. and were the third group in the restaurant. We did not have a reservation, so we were put to the side of Bella Italia, which was just fine as we could see and observe everything that was going on. By 7:30 p.m. the restaurant was mostly filled and by 8:00 p.m. there were no tables left. Interestingly, most of the diners were groups of four or larger, so it was a place you plan ahead for. How was the food? Excellent, Mary Ann had ravioli and I had fettuccine di mare which came in a skillet with mussels, shrimp, squid, clams and other unidentifiable fish, some still in their shell.

Quirky Living Note: The Blue Door Bakery, our favorite located on Hidalgo Street, has an interesting selection system. You grab some metal tongs and a metal tray and then wander all over the bakery, wherever you see anything you want, pick up your selections and then find an employee. You are permitted to go behind the glass counters, to the back shelves, to the dinner roll bins, and fight your way around all of the other customers with their trays and tongs. It is very social as you discuss with others what is really good. When you are finished the employee (a nice Mexican lady) wraps up your selections, puts them in a bag and yells to the cashier how much you owe. You pay some small pittance in pesos and off you go. It is very efficient and fun. At the Super Gigante and Mega Food Store, you also get a tray and tongs to make your selections, but the ambience is much different.

Friday, March 23, 2007

We Just Sort of Fall into Some Very Neat Stuff



Wednesday – Week 3: It really is better to be lucky than smart. We planned a road trip to Querétaro (keh-REH-tah-roh) today. When walking to the parking garage we were crossing Juarez Park and a big event was being organized with school children, military and police units, flag units, dancers, and drum and brass bands. It became apparent that this was a program in honor of Benito Juarez, as this was his actual birthday. It was a fascinating event and we felt very privileged to be able to enjoy it. Lots of patriotism, the national anthem, multiple presentations of the Mexican flag, school groups presenting segments of Juarez life, speeches, marches, school girls presenting native dances, release of live birds, and the bands playing. The program was about an hour long and we stayed to the end. There were not a lot of spectators, but it appeared everyone had a good time and all the kids were apparently dismissed from school after what was a very well prepared program. I checked back in the Atención newspaper and the San Miguel Portal website, where event announcements are made, and no mention was made of this program. Too bad, as it was a great insight into the schools’ curriculum, and Mexican patriotism.

Although our road trip was a bit delayed it is only about an hours drive East to Querétaro. We are getting so good at finding our way around Mexican cities, that we drove in (and out) without being lost or a single argument. Querétaro is a city of about 600,000 people, but has a beautiful preserved historic center. It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1996. It seems our most serious problem with these road trips is finding a parking place. Parking is always at a premium in central historic districts, as they really did not plan for the automobile back in the 14th, 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. Go figure.

We parked up the hill near the Convent of Santa Cruz, and so had a nice walk back into the center. The center is a series of squares and gardens connected together with pedestrian only streets. It is very well done, and seemingly a much quieter pace than San Miguel. We stopped for lunch at a very nice sidewalk restaurant (Restaurant 1810) located in the Plaza de Armas, across from the Government Palace. Mary Ann had originally encouraged me to park in the nice garage under the Palace, but the policeman seemed to have other ideas for me.

Altogether it was a very pleasant and educational day. Betti was back “maiding” today so all was right with the world – clean clothes and clean house.

Quirky Living Note: One amazing thing about San Miguel is you are never more than about 30 seconds away from an available taxi. They are everywhere, just driving around looking for a fare. They are used equally by the Mexicans as well as the gringos. Don Reichert (aka Reichert Nissan) will be happy to note that about 90% of the cabs are Nissans. This says a lot about the durability of a Nissan. The preferred model is called a Tusuru with some Sentras mixed in. The taxis are all the same price in the central district ($2) during the day and ($3) at night, no matter how many passengers there are.

Thursday, March 22, 2007


Quirky Living Notes: During our first week in San Miguel we came across a most unusual parking notice located in the parking lot of the Super Gigante grocery store. What a great idea for those ladies finding themselves in such a condition. I have sent a copy of the photo to Mayor Dennis Johnson in Wenatchee, suggesting this is just the thing to wrap up the pregnant vote in an election year. Dave Fonfara, the city administrator of Chelan should also take note.

An Education Day - Doors & Windows



Tuesday – Week 3: Nothing big on the schedule today, other than a slide show by a noted local photographer this evening. In the late morning we explored some different streets on the northeast corner of the historic district. Mary Ann joined me in this climb and decent, but I am not too sure how happy she was about it. We ended up at the Artesanias market and we did find a nice Mexican style shoulder bag for me. This had been an object we had been searching for, so that the “male pack animal” would have proper equipment.

Following the purchase we headed for La Biblioteca so Mary Ann could start thinking about what books could be checked out when she proverbially hit the wall of no reading matter. I encouraged this kind of research as it would ultimately be cheaper and easier than psychiatric counseling. The library contains the Santa Ana Café and we stopped in for a liquados de fruta and sandwich. The liquados is a blended fruit drink like a smoothie, but at room temperature. As Mary Ann says, it was probably much better for us than a Coca Cola. In the La Tienda gift shop in the library, we bought the Gringo Mexican cooking book, in order to expand all of our local cooking options.

La Biblioteca Pública is really quite a place, and serves as a community center, particularly for the expat community. There is always something going on to include lectures, plays, movies, computer center, cultural activities, home tours, all sorts of classes, ticket sales, and of course the checking out of books. It is always humming with a lot of people, both Mexican and Anglo. I don’t believe I have ever seen an institution quite like it. It certainly makes San Miguel de Allende a unique place. They have an excellent website, with a lot of information and photos: http://www.bibliotecasma.com/

In the early evening we returned to the Biblioteca Santa Ana Theater for a slide and oral presentation by Robert de Gast, a photojournalist who has been living in San Miguel for 12 years and has had several books published with his photos of San Miguel. His books include The Doors of San Miguel and Behind the Doors of San Miguel. His slides of doors and windows of San Miguel, and his narrative about them, and his new projects were very enlightening. Now I suspect Mary Ann will be taking photos of nothing but doors!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

A Holiday! Just Like the U.S. Monday Holidays



Monday – Week 3: As near as I can tell, the national holiday for Benito Juarez (see photo above), is like a Monday holiday in the U.S. The banks, government offices, and some businesses are closed, but otherwise it is business as usual. Our maid has the day off, so Mary Ann has been in with-drawl, not having her laundry done for two more days. Ah, the lazy life south of the border. Like at home, the holiday is on a Monday, but President Juarez’s actual birthday is on Wednesday, March 21. A short information piece from Wikipedia follows, so you will know a bit about the importance of Benito Juarez.

Benito Pablo Juárez García (March 21, 1806July 18, 1872) was a Zapotec Amerindian who served five terms (18581861), (18611865), (18651867), (18671871), and (18711872), as President of Mexico. For resisting the French occupation, overthrowing the Empire, and restoring the Republic, as well as his efforts to modernize the country, Juárez is often regarded as Mexico’s greatest and most beloved leader. He is the only full-blooded indigenous national to serve as President of Mexico.

In our walk today to the centro we discovered that although a holiday, it is business as usual. Maybe it was even busier with all the natives out and about who have the day off work. We restocked our pastries as the bakeries were closed on Sunday. We walked on down behind the Artesania market along Loretto Street, and found several shops to Mary Ann’s distinct liking. We seem to have taken an interest in pewter, thus the purchase of a nice inexpensive serving tray just could not be passed by.

I probably should mention that no walk is without photo opportunities. With a digital camera it is so easy to take a lot of photos, eliminate the bad ones and save the good ones to your computer. Sort of buried in one of last weeks postings, was the website to our picasa effort of approximately 75 photos. If you did not check them out, be sure to do so. We actually now have hundreds of photos, and eventually will try to select the best for viewing. You can view the website as a slide show by clicking one of the options. The internet website Is:

http://picasaweb.google.com/mawarren.chelan/SanMiguelAllende2007

Dinner this evening was down our hill at a restaurant between us and the Jardin. It was the El Pegaso. It was a nice neighborhood bistro. Mary Ann had chicken enchiladas and I had a smoked salmon with cream cheese bagel. We both had tortilla soup as a starter. I might mention that we try to have one meal a day at a restaurant. We have been trying to discover favorites so we can have a good selection when our guests arrive. On and off throughout the evening there were fireworks above the city in celebration of the birthday of Benito Juarez.

Quirky Living Note: On our walk to dinner, at one of the intersections near the centro, there was a scarecrow man hung in effigy high above the street. There was no identification on him and he did not particularly resemble anyone we knew. Human nature being what it is, the Americans walking by all assumed it was President Bush, and I can only presume the Mexicans thought it was President Calderon.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

A Beautiful Sunday - Planning For Our Guests


Sunday – Week 3: Although the bells on Sunday go crazy starting at about 6:30 a.m., we successfully ignored them until about 8:00 a.m. With a lazy start we dressed and headed out for breakfast at Casa de Sierra Nevada en el Parque. This hotel has only five suites, but has a beautiful garden restaurant that had cried out to us for a casual Sunday breakfast. The day was warm and sunny and it was a fine time. The hotel and restaurant is located in a very quiet location, at the top of Parque Juarez and at the bottom of the Cultural Center in the Chorro area. The photo above is a worker in the restaurant garden manicuring the shrubs.

After breakfast we were off to church at St. Paul’s. I really do have a fondness for the Anglican Eucharist service, and the one at San Miguel St. Paul’s is very special because of the insertion of portions of the service in Spanish. Father Michael Long has a great sense of humor and a twinkle in his eye. It is always nice to find a cleric that is not “too much of himself.” We hopefully will return depending on our schedule as the “visitors” now begin to arrive this coming Saturday. The church is very involved in outreach efforts benefiting the community. You might even think it was a Methodist Church considering the amount of time they offer the church for community music and social events. For a look at what they are doing check out http://www.stpauls.com.mx/.

On our walk up to the Jardin, Mary Ann started to think about what she might cook for the “visitors”, especially on the day of arrival after a long flight. She realized that our casa kitchen does not have anything you could cook a casserole in. As we passed various shops, Eureka!, a small Sunday miracle occurred (we don’t ask for much). She found a very nice ceramic Mexican pottery dish that would just do the job. I had no fear that we could not solve this domestic crisis! You might think that we seem to buy at least one item each day. Now we are here for 70 days, hmmm, that trailer may still be needed. Maybe we can load up our kids on their return from being the “visitors.”

The remainder of the walk included some grocery shopping in anticipation of the Benito Juarez holiday tomorrow. This afternoon we changed into our shorts and enjoyed a very nice warm day.

Quirky Living Note: Ironically, you can get a daily U.S. English language newspaper here, with an excellent Mexico section. It is the Miami Herald in partnership with El Universal. The paper is completely up to date, with sports results (NCAA tournament coverage from the previous day), business section, travel section (especially for me), cartoons, and all for 7 pesos per issue.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Buses and a New Friend



Saturday – Week 3: A slow start today as I took my siesta in the morning – well it is Saturday! Mary Ann gave me a bad time, but I assure you I slept poorly last night because of her snoring. Ouch, quit hitting me! When we made it out we adventured on to the public bus going up the mountain. There is a bus stop about a block from the casa and a bus comes by nearly every five minutes, if not sooner. We took the bus up to the Super Gigante even though we did not really need anything. We explored what is only a partially filled new open air mall, with the anchor stores being Super Gigante, Office Depot and MM Cinema. From the signs it appears a McDonalds is coming soon. We stopped at the Italian Coffee Company, which is a Mexican chain, and I had an oreo frappacino in Katy’s honor, as I know she is partial to such things.

On the bus back down the hill we got off at the El Mirador scenic view point. I, silly man, thought it was to take photos, but really it was to check out the artesania shops located at that location. We did buy a small picture frame to put Caitlyn’s photo (from yesterday’s blog entry) in for a present for Betti and her daughter. El Mirador is on our street, so we just walked back down the hill.

In the evening we had the wonderful opportunity to join a San Miguel expat for cocktails before going to the theater. For those of you who know Pat Malone in Wenatchee, her sister Natalie Hardy has lived in San Miguel since 1999. Natialie and Mary Ann our shown on her patio in the photo above. She has a beautiful casa in the Guadiana district of San Miguel, which is just south of Parque Juarez (and our car park). Her casa is a three level home with an attached casita (apartment) which she rents out. Natalie is the volunteer leader of the local SPA (Humane Society) and has two very spoiled cats. You can find Natalie in the Jardin on Thursdays, when the SPA is showing off animals and encouraging adoption. For more information about the San Miguel shelter and how you can help, visit their website at http://www.spasanmiguel.org/. Following excellent hors d’oeurves we went to the theater at La Biblioteca. Performing was a terrific group of young people who presented a series of humorous skits culled from the best of several years of performances. Lots of laughs and great acting experience for the performers.

Quirky Living Note: Although the local city buses are a bit noisy and seemingly belching lots of fumes, they are everywhere and an easy ride for the locals and the gringos. It is my understanding that the buses are all privately owned, but licensed by the city and any fare on any route is limited to 4 pesos (40 cents), Because each bus is unique to the driver, the pay system changes on each bus. On some you pay when you get on, on some you pay when you get off, and on some the driver’s wife or another helper collects when you sit down.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

The Children Of San Miguel Are Very Precious!



Friday – Week 3: What a great start to our day, when our maid Betti, brought her beautiful daughter, Caitlyn by the casa to show her in a pre-school bumble bee costume. We found out that the entire city pre-school and kindergarten children were today dressing up as exotic spring creatures, and having a parade through the city for the Annual Spring procession. Although we missed the parade (darn-it) we saw a lot of the little gremlins though-out the city walking with their mothers. What a delight!

On the continuing saga of the parking lot, and our trying to get the long term deal, yesterday when we left for the road trip to Guanajuato, our license plate number was not on the In/Out list. Mary Ann, in her inimitable style and persuasiveness talked our way out of the lot without another payment. Today our first and major project was to return to the lot and get it all straight with the oficina. These little domestic problems just drive me nuts, so ‘Mary Ann the navigator’ confronted the office staff (while I sat in a park and read a book) and came away with a payment receipt showing parking good until May 9. Now, at least, we have some documentation to show the kid at the gate when we head out on our explorations.

Our exploration today was to an Art & Design Center at the north end of town in a district we had not yet visited. The center is called Fabrica La Aurora and is a former fabric manufacturing plant that closed in 1991, due to difficulties with the free trade agreements. At the time of its closing it had 300 employees and was the largest employer in San Miguel. It is now resurrected as artist workshops, restaurants, and galleries all mixed in with all the old manufacturing equipment. It is very well done and we saw a piece of art or two that may end up in Chelan. They have an excellent website that you might want to browse through for a few moments: http://www.fabricalaaurora.com/

We walked back into the centro district and picked up a lot of silk and paper flowers. Mary Ann seems to think that although the fresh flowers are nice, they just are not lasting long enough. This should solve the problem.

We had lunch at Hecho en Mexico, a very nice spot near the Instituto. Having eaten a lot of Mexican food lately, we went totally gringo bizerk, with Mary Ann’s Reuben sandwich and my cheeseburger. We then made the 14 mile walk up the mountain to collapse, and spent some time working on the blog and Mary Ann organized her photo collection.

Friday, March 16, 2007

A Road Trip to Guanajuato and the Airport


Thursday – Week 2: Today was selected for our second road trip. We wanted to check out the Leon-Guanajuato Airport, as we would be picking up guests there. The drive from San Miguel took about an hour and a half. The airport is very nice with a brand new terminal. We inspected both arrivals and departures and are now ready to greet our visitors without any surprises.

The rest of the day was spent exploring Guanajuato. This is a very unique city as it is set in a narrow canyon and portions of the access roads are in tunnels under the city, cut from a diverted river bed. Fortunately, we had picked up an excellent city map at the tourist desk in the airport. We went right to the parking lot we wanted and did not get lost. Amazing! We did end up on the sixth floor of the parking garage which then entailed walking down, and later walking back up. Guanajuato has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, for its beauty and history.

Our parking garage was near the Central Mercado so we started there, then proceed up the centro checking out the various plazas, State Capitol Building, Churches, parks, theaters, and ultimately the Jardin Union, which is the center of community life. We had lunch at an outdoor Jardin restaurant and watched the parade of people walk by. The main campus of the University of Guanajuato is in the heart of the central area, so you see a lot of young people. There are about 8000 students on this campus. The city is built up steep canyon sides and the buildings are all painted bright colors which make for a unique and beautiful city. Guanajuato differs from San Miguel as there are few gringos and it is not a shopping Mecca like San Miguel.

The road between San Miguel and Guanajuato is quite a curvy two lane road, so it was certainly an adventure to drive. There were lots of maniacs passing in order to save five minutes on the drive. It seemed like it must be mostly open range as we saw cowboys, horses, cattle, sheep, and burros often right on the road. On the toll road from Guanajuato to the airport there was a herd of horses running to an open fence. You need to keep your eyes open!

Upon arriving back in San Miguel we went shopping at the other huge grocery/shopping store called the Mega. One of the unique free enterprise efforts in Mexico is the washing of cars, right on the street or in a parking lot. While in the supermarket we had our car washed for $4. For portable water buckets, they did a nice job. Rather than drive back to the casa with our groceries, as we were near our parking garage, we parked the car and caught a cab to the casa. So sophisticated! Besides there was no way I was going to get Mary Ann to carry groceries on the 20 to 25 minute walk up the mountain.

After the busy touring, the gourmet cook heated a store bought pizza and we enjoyed dinner on our patio.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Flowers and a Haircut - Meet Baldy!



Wednesday - Week 2: We had noticed that all of the fresh flowers that were in our casa upon our arrival had now seen better days. First thing this morning we headed for the Mercado and purchased a large bouquet of fresh cut flowers. Then back up the hill so that Betti could properly display them in our entry way and dining room. Jennifer Rocket, our rental agent, was coming by at 11:30 a.m. with a prospect for a renter after our term, and we surely did not want to look like we were neglecting the beauty and ambience of Casa Tranquilidad.

We then returned to the centro, tried out another coffee café (Les Cooper will need these sites in April) and had an excellent café mocha for $2 each. We then explored a couple of streets south of the Jardin, which had not received our proper attention. The World’s Greatest Shopper found a very beautiful pottery flour and sugar container, which will be in consideration for a future purchase. On Jesus Street we discovered a very fine English Book store, Libros el Tecolote (The Owl Library). It has a large section on Mexican history. We then headed for our morning grocery shopping. We found a second bakery near the Mercado with excellent pastries at a lower price than our usual stop. We stopped by the Bonanza and bought our weekly loaf of Bimbo bread and then on to the big project of the day – a hair cut.

My last haircut was in El Paso, and Mary Ann caused me severe trauma by forcing me into a salon (a salon for God’s sake) where a lady worked me over, hair washing, careful trimming, and then clipped me for $30. Geez, everyone knows I am really a barber shop kind of guy. The salon effort really did not get my hair short enough, if you can believe that, so it has been looking kind of shaggy. There are a lot of “salons” around San Miguel, but a couple of days ago I spotted a real hole in the wall, open to the street barber shop, albeit a lady barber, on the same calle as the Mercado. Well….I no longer will need to worry about my hair being short enough. This haircut will last a lot longer. The shearing took 5 minutes and cost $5. My kind of deal! The photo of my tonsorial effort is above. Mary Ann is now calling me ‘Baldy.”

Mary Ann and Baldy went to dinner at Pueblo Viejo on Umran Street, which had a nice Mexican cantina décor. On the roof there was a tapas bar which will be fun to visit in the future. Mary Ann enjoyed chicken fajitas and I had a very nice filet mignon in mushroom and bacon sauce. The entrees went down well with frozen margaritas. We stopped in the Jardin for awhile to enjoy Mariachis serenading. To make up for our slacking off yesterday we made our third climb of the hill after dinner.

San Miguel de Allende Snapshot: From your reading of my blog, I am sure you now want a lot more information about San Miguel and the possibility of traveling to this beautiful city. The following resources might help:

http://www.portalsanmiguel.com/
http://www.simplysanmiguel.com/
http://www.atencionsanmiguel.org/
http://www.thesanmiguelguide.com/

There are a few books used locally which are essential resources for American’s that are visiting or residing here:

The Insider’s Guide to San Miguel by Archie Dean. This book, which is like an encyclopedia of things to see, do and find, is in its sixteenth edition. I had purchased a copy last year in our planning phase for this adventure and it was a great help.

The Best of San Miguel de Allende by Joseph Harmes. This book is in its first edition (2005) and is a format of the “best” of about everything. Half of the book is in English and half in Spanish.

juARde by Robert Fangue. You think that this title is Spanish, but it is really just a play on the English words “Who are they.” The book is primarily a listing and directory of the English Speaking community with addresses, phone numbers and email. It also includes a lot of other valuable information, business directory and advertising. The copy I found here at our casa is the 46th edition (2006). From information on the publisher’s page, the business is now for sale after 50 years, so here is a great business opportunity for you in San Miguel!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Entertaining, Guests and Settling In



Blot Alert: So that you can enjoy a lot more photos of our stay in San Miguel, Mary Ann has set up a separate website on Picassa. On the internet, check in with the following site:

http://picasaweb.google.com/mawarren.chelan/SanMiguelAllende2007 For easy viewing click on the slide show feature just above the first line of photos. It will then automatically click through the enlarged photos every couple of seconds.
The photos above are the visit of Bob and Anne White.


Monday - Week 2: Here in the middle of our second week we are starting to get a bit of a routine. We do like to get out of the casa when Betti comes to clean. Off down the mountain and into Café Monte Negro for a cappuccino. We were just doing primary research for when Les & Carol Cooper arrive, who need their 11 a.m. coffee fix. Next to the Mercado to check out today’s supply of vegetables and fruit. Actually, Mary Ann has a favorite fruit vendor which is just down the street from the Mercado. We bought papaya, strawberries and oranges. As we expect to be entertaining later today, we bought Mexican tortilla chips for nachos at the Bonanza grocery.

Then over to Canal Street where I spend some time in La Europa wine store while Mary Ann was off to the bakery and to the church cookie store. I purchased what appears to be a nice Chilean merlot and chardonnay. They were not real expensive (about $7 dollars a bottle) so we will see how they turn out. With this pile of goodies, we made our first taxi trip back to the casa (bad, bad, I know) for the outrageous fee of $2 dollars. You surely would not want us to carry all the daily shopping up la Montana?

Today we had our first visitors and were able to entertain in our casa prior to going out to dinner. Bob and Anne White were visiting San Miguel on a tour. They were staying in La Puertecita further up the hill. They had been in Mexico City for a couple of days, two days in San Miguel and then on to Taxco and Queretaro. It was fun to show them the casa, have bebidas (drinks) and discuss Wenatchee politics. Bob is a tax attorney in Wenatchee and Anne is a major player on the board of the Wenatchee performing arts center. She made a subtle pitch at dinner for a donation! Dinner was at Posada Carmina Restaurant, just off the Jardin on Cuna de Allende. Anne, Mary Ann and I enjoyed garlic shrimp and Bob had a rib eye steak. I particularly enjoyed the tortilla soup as a starter. Bob and I were surprised when we ordered a beer to be delivered two each as it was still happy hour when we arrived. Ah, the tough life.

Tuesday – Week 2: A very lazy day until the afternoon. We met Bob and Anne White in the Jardin after their morning travel group tour. We then headed for the Mercado and around the city. Anne had decided she needed tin stars for her trees at home at Christmas time. After some serious negotiation with several vendors in the Artisans Market, she became the proud owner of 26 stars, the complete inventory of that shop. They were all packaged up in a rather substantial box and I found out that Mary Ann had agreed to transport the box back home on our return. At this rate I am now looking to buy a trailer for what will be a substantial commitment, considering all the people who will be visiting us. Maybe I will need some kind of common carrier permit. In the photo of Bob with the skeleton (he is famished from shopping) you can see the newly acquired box!

The afternoon proceeded to be one of substantial store browsing. I am not sure whether Mary Ann was leading Anne, or vice versa. They both seem to have endless energy when confronted with shopping opportunities. Finally, Bob and I felt we needed refreshment, so we stopped for lunch. The fact that it was the siesta time and many stores were closed was just a coincidence I’m sure.

This could have gone on for days, except that the White’s had a tour dinner back at La Puertecita. We hopped into a cab, Bob with the big box, and up the mountain we went. Without having climbed the mountain today I feel a little guilty, but not much. We had a glass of wine at the White’s hotel unit and then we returned to our casa, with the big box. It was a wonderful visit and a pleasure to get to know them better. Their tour goes on tomorrow to Taxco, then to Puebla, and finishes in Queretaro. When in Queretaro they hope to take a day and make it to Guanajuato.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

A Weekend of Art & Culture



Saturday -Week 2: Because of the advertising in Atención we were aware that there would be two art sales today. One was in the Parque Juarez and the other in the Instituto Allende. We walked down in to the Chorro neighborhood where the San Miguel Cultural Center is located, along with the lavandorio, which is an area for the locals to historically publicly wash their clothes. The springs from the Chorro district were some of the first water sources for San Miguel. The Chorro area is the upper end of the Parque Juarez. At the first area that we found artists, actually in the lavandorio area, we spotted a very nice limited edition photograph of bougainvillea and a window that we were actually looking at on an attached building. The photo you see above was taken by Mary Ann, which is an approximation of the professional photo which we purchased.

We continued a leisurely morning walk (we had been going down hill or on the flat) through the Parque, so we could move without pain! We arrived at the Instituto and it was a major madhouse. The open courtyard and the walkways of the building around the courtyard were filled with what seemed like hundreds of vendors. Every type of local arts and crafts were displayed and being browsed by hundreds of gringos. Such a packed house, where you can hardly move is not my cup of tea. Mary Ann could have spend a lot more time there, but she being the discerning esposa, new I was becoming just a bit grumpy. The show apparently is put on monthly during the spring tourist season, so maybe it will be better next month. I did escape having to purchase and carry a couple of native rugs. Grumpy is sometimes good!

We walked up to our now favorite bakery (La Buena Vida), across from the Bellas Artes, and then to the Biblioteca to purchase tickets for a play for tomorrow at the Santa Ana Theater. Only three hours of walking before the siesta. Clearly not up to par.

In the afternoon Mary Ann got some time on the computer to start organizing all of her downloaded digital photos. We seem to have a little bit of a running battle as to “hands on the laptop” time. I, of course, am writing pithy travel comments. I suspect she just wants to play solitaire. We planned to go out to dinner but upon our going outside we felt light raindrops and saw some lightning and heard thunder. Back into the casa! The first rain we have experienced in Mexico. Plan B called for macaroni and cheese with hot dogs, a very traditional Mexican dinner. Ah, there is always another day to go out for dinner.

Sunday -Week 2: This morning at about 11 a.m. we walked down to the Biblioteca. Each Sunday at 12 noon the have a home and garden tour of two or three homes in San Miguel or the suburbs. They charge 150 pesos ($15 dollars) per person and it is huge deal (about 300 people per Sunday) with the proceeds going to the literacy programs at the library. While waiting to board the buses, everyone is wearing their ticket with first name and their State. I talked to several other Washingtonians, while a mariachi band serenaded the waiting crowd. The event is very well organized with volunteers on the buses, at the doors of the casas and all the floors of the homes. The owners were greeting all the visitors and it is a very nice event. It gives you a nice appreciation of the local art and what is behind those wonderful wooden doors.

Walking to the Jardin from the last home, Mary Ann sniffed out a wonderful artesania shop and a very nice runner leapt into her hands and then landed on the caja (cashier) desk. What a miracle! We celebrated this “find” by having a splendid lunch at Tio Lucas, located across from the Angela Peralta Theatre. Next, the repeat walk up La Montana (the lovable mountain) for a short rest before going to a play at the Santa Ana Theater. Those 4 peso buses are starting to look a lot better.

The play was a melodrama titled “Time Still Wounds All Heels”. Inserted through out the melodrama, taking place in San Miguel in 1906, were skits, comedy routines, singers, musical groups and dancers. In the end the scamming villain is arrested and the lady school teachers get their bogus silver mine investment returned. The play was a fund raiser for Jovenes Adelante which provides university scholarships to financially poor students from San Miguel. Currently they have funded 22 students in 10 different Mexican universities. It was all good fun.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Maybe this Map of San Miguel will help with my writings!

El Centro" of San Miguel de Allende, is otherwise known as the Districto Historico. It's often easiest to orient yourself from the Jardín, San Miguel's central square, next to the Parroquia. From there, San Francisco and Correo run up the hill to the right on the map, while their extensions Canal and Umarán run down the hill to the left on the map. At right angles to these, Cuna de Allende (whcih becomes Aldama after one block) and Solano lead you to the Parque Juaréz, while Hidalgo and Relój on the other side lead down to the Biblioteca Publica and on to the Mercado.

Like most Mexican cities, street names are usually on the corners of buildings. Ignore the numerous "Manzana" labels. They are left over from a time when the city blocks, or manzanas, were numbered and labeled.

Our casa (Casa Tranquilidad) is to the right on the map from the Jardin, on Correo up to where it changes to Santo Domingo. The street showing to the right (down the map), marked as Pedro Vargas, is actually our street, although it is known as Salida y Queretaro 8, further down the map. A larger and clearer copy of the map can be seen at the following website:

Enjoying the Jardin, the Civic Square & a Road Trip



Thursday: Yesterday, a lot of the day was spent in setting up the travel blog. Hopefully it is now fully operable and all my travel friends can access it on the internet. The Jardin seems to have something different happening everyday. Today secondary school kids were participating in various events, including running races around the square. As near as I could tell from the signs, March 8 is an international woman’s day. There were also booths with educational materials concerning domestic violence prevention. To keep the small children busy they had puppet shows being put on from the band stand. I am continually amazed at how active the downtown is, as compared to the average American town.

Today we were on a mission to find cotton cosmetic facial cleaning pads for Mary Ann. We had struck out in the pharmacies and grocery stores. Personally, I think Mary Ann is totally beautiful without makeup, but this usually gets me hit when I say things like that. In our wanderings we finally hit pay dirt (again no pun intended), at what seemed to be a cosmetic store. Boy, what a relief! Now a more perfect Mary Ann.

Next we entered the civic square, just past the Loretto Church, and found that a Thursday street fair was going on. When out on these walks you just never know what important things you need to buy. Today it was a native shoulder purse, a smaller hand sewn change purse, and a ceramic napkin holder. Are we ever getting decked out or what? On the way back to the casa we were finding all the bus stops near our casa. The buses cost 4 pesos (40 cents) and will obviously be a future adventure. They apparently go everywhere and always come back to the centro, so it would be a fun way to explore.

This night we went out to dinner for the first time. We enjoyed an excellent courtyard dinner at Bugambilia on Hidalgo Street. Mary Ann enjoyed her favorite meal which is shrimp wrapped in bacon in a delightful creamy chili cheese sauce. I started with a creamy corn poblano soup. My entrée was steak fajitas. I had the chance to use my favorite Mexican phrase, “mas cerveza porfavor”! For entertainment they had an excellent flamenco guitarist. We bought his CD. It was a pleasant night and we walked back through the Jardin (no one was paying for the mariachi’s) enjoying the very picturesque lighting of the Parroquia Church.

Quirky Living Note: In the good old USA we just take garbage collection for granted. They come and pick it up for goodness sake! Here in San Miguel (I think to avoid litter) you don’t put out your garbage. The truck comes three times a week and you know it is coming by hearing a distinctive bell. You (or in our case our maid) then takes the garbage to the front door. I am told that in some cases a small boy rings the door bell or knocker, and comes in for the garbage, and is paid a few pesos for the service.

Friday, Week 2: We had a very busy day as we took our first road trip out of San Miguel. We picked up our car at the spiffy new car park and were very surprised to be charged $140. We had a lot of language problems. When we brought the car back, the price problem was apparently straightened out. They had our license plate number and indicated we had now paid for two months with in and out privileges. Hopefully, this works out. We will see when we take the car out next week. Just a small problema!

We decided to visit Dolores Hidalgo which is a town (about 40,000) about 30 miles northwest of San Miguel and is very famous for its ceramic pottery. We picked up the car and headed out. Dolores Hidalgo is considered the heart of colonial Mexico. Father Miguel Hidalgo made the cry for independence (Grito de Dolores) from the city’s Parroquia in 1810. Father Hidalgo is now is one of the most admired heroes of Mexico, second only to Benito Juarez. The four heroes of the 1810 revolution were Hidalgo, Allende, Aldama and Morales. We visited the Jardin, which is very light, large and obviously a centerpiece of the community. Next on to the Parroquia, and we stood where Hidalgo made his cry. Then on to the City Hall to view the beautiful murals and ceiling. The major ceramic pottery dealers and manufactures are a few block from the Jardin, which was our next stop. The work was beautiful, but we escaped without a single purchase.

In our casa is a beautiful set of pottery dining dishes from Dolores Hidalgo. Sub-consciously, I believe Mary Ann and I were looking for that pottery maker. On the way out of town we hunted down the last pottery factory on our list. and he was the one! After spending some time with the owner/designer and his wife, we made a selection and a beautiful set of ceramic pottery dishes will be shipped to Chelan in the not too distant future. I admit that often I give Mary Ann a bad time about being the world’s greatest shopper, but I was as much a culprit in this purchase decision as she was. So blame me for this love of very bright pottery. The more color the better, even if Mary Ann has to reign me in because of a slight color blindness problem.

On the way back to San Miguel we stopped at the small village of Atotonilco to view the unusual Church frescoes painted on the walls and ceilings of the shrine and chapels. In 1810 Father Hidalgo stopped during his march to San Miguel to pick up the standard of the Virgin of Guadalupe. The church is a United Nations World Heritage site and attracts thousands of pilgrims every year. Upon our arrival there was a group of Indians doing native dances at the entryway to the shrine.

Upon our return to San Miguel, after parking the car, we wandered to the Jardin when as usual we found new events taking place. This time a group of musicians and dancers from Cuba were performing. Their performance of Latin music attracted many dancers from the crowd, and it was a pleasant conclusion to a very nice day.

A San Miguel Note: The centro district of San Miguel is very clean and without litter. I have been told that this happened because the previous young and dynamic mayor, Luis Alberto Villarreal put through many reforms to include litter cans on most corners, and the requirement that everyone sweep and wash their sidewalk each day. Generally throughout Mexico there seems to be an effort to pickup litter and encourage the use of litter cans (basura). When driving from Chihuahua to San Miguel we often saw litter pickup crews on the sides of the highways.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Conquering Our Hill (Mountain?)


Tuesday – The gas man did return despite our rejection of him yesterday. They park the truck in front of the casa. One of the men goes to the roof outside our guest suite, drops a rope and pulls up the hose from the truck. They then fill the tank and drop the hose back down with the rope. All very quick and efficient. Our local contact/manageress, Pilar Morales obviously straightened it all out. The gas man referenced Pilar on his arrival. We heard via MSN messaging today that Chelan has had 15 inches of snow recently. Darn shame! I don’t think San Miguel knows what snow is, even at our elevation of 6100 feet. We spent most of the morning working with Les Cooper on MSN Messenger setting up and making sure our cell phone worked. We eventually got all the numbers correct and made a call going both directions. Eureka! All this new technology. Above you will see the outside view of our casa.

For a couple of hours we proceeded on an investigative walk up the hill (mountain?) on Santo Domingo street (around the corner from our casa) to check out the La Puertecita Boutique Hotel (http://www.lapuertecita.com/) which is a 4 diamond AAA rated hotel. It is gorgeous and has a wonderful restaurant. We had a soft drink in the bar and decided this was a definite selection for dinner when we have visitors. It is about a 20 minute walk up and 15 minutes back down. As you start up the street you pass by a school, of course behind the walls as is the architectural style here in San Miguel. In the mornings, before a lot of traffic starts, we can hear the announcements at the school and the children playing.

This evening we proceeded down Hospicio Street and checked out some very nice B&B’s and the Hotel Sierra Nevada. We then proceeded to the Jardin and then viewed the interior of the Parroquia Church. It is a very large parish church and is very attractive in a modest style. One of the high points of any day in San Miguel is to just sit in the Jardin and watch the people, the kids, and the birds, which we then proceeded to do. On our way back up Correo Street, we stopped in and looked over the Sazon cooking school and kitchen store (http://www.sazon.com/). I suspect that Mary Ann and some of our visiting friends will soon be enrolled for some of the classes.

Wednesday – Every day has its little challenges. We had been unable to get the TV to work for us. When our maid arrived, she solved this problem, and now we are receiving several English language stations. Today’s big event was to take the walking historic tour of the centro district. The gringos here are very active in creating projects to fund charities that have been organized to benefit the community. For 100 pesos per person ($10), a volunteer guide takes you to all of the historic buildings and churches in the central part of San Miguel, and tells you of the history of the city and its people. The charity that runs this tour is Patronato Pro Ninos, which is a group of volunteers and staff that seek out needy children in San Miguel and its surrounding villages, and then help the children get the medical and dental care that the low income children require. We had about 45 people in three groups on the tour. It is offered 3 times a week. I calculate that this makes the charity about $6,000 a month. You can learn more about the charity at http://www.patronatoproninos.org/.

Our tour guide has been coming with his wife to San Miguel for 15 years. She is a singer and puts on an annual sold out concert at the Bellas Artes. Richard was (and is I suspect) a composer, and a former African safari tour operator from New York. He gave our tour group lots of local advice, in addition to the history, such as the best bakeries, music events, and restaurants. He mentioned one that his wife particularly liked, Meson de San Jose, and our group must have been paying a lot of attention, as when we walked in for lunch the total was 7 of our tour group of 14. He was more than willing to answer personal, as well as San Miguel questions and was a delight to spend two hours with. By coincidence we noticed in the restaurant a man who had participated in the church service at St. Paul’s Anglican Church. I had a few minutes to chat with him and made another friend. He, of course, encouraged our continued attendance at St. Paul’s.

On our way back to the Casa Tranquilidad we found (on Richard’s advice) a wonderful bakery and then bought fresh strawberries from a very small vegetable/fruit store. As we approached our casa door we had a chance to meet Fred, our next door neighbor, who is a long time San Miguel resident and had just returned from two months in Puerto Vallarta. I suspect in the future we will learn a lot more about Fred. When we entered the casa Betti, our pretty Mexican maid was just ready to leave. Mary Ann then realized that the best thing that happened today was that Betti had done all of our personal laundry. I am very afraid that she could really be spoiled here!

Quirky Living Note: The church bells! The bells from the churches of San Miguel seem to start ringing about 6:30 a.m. They however, are not all on the same time schedule. The bell wringers obviously need to be given computers so they can all be on the same wringing program. We learned today that the only bells actually on the hour, half hour and quarter hour are those from the Parroquia Church in the Jardin. Thus because of the bell start hour we are up by 7:00 a.m. everyday. I guess that is why the natives (and us) need a siesta

Saturday, March 10, 2007

A Church Service in English?


Sunday – The plan for the morning was to go to church. There must be a Catholic church every four or five blocks, but we thought the best plan would be to attend a protestant church, preferably using English. As our guide for all these events and explorations, we have been using a book titled “The Insider’s Guide to San Miguel” written by Archie Dean. He has now published the fifteenth edition of where every thing is, and everything to do. Living in San Miguel must be impossible without this guide. We had purchased a copy prior to our trip to San Miguel, but our owners also had a copy here at the casa.

Our choices of protestant churches were Unitarian, Jewish, Mormon, Jehovah’s Witnesses (by the way we had a Jehovah’s Witness visitation Saturday morning), and Anglican. As I grew up as an Episcopalian and we on occasion attend the Chelan Episcopal Church, the Anglican St. Paul’s Church was our selection. St. Paul’s is located near where our car is parked, but we walked a different route on Sunday morning. The ruta took us through Juarez Park, which is the largest green space in San Miguel. There was plenty of activity including a girl’s basketball game, uniforms, referees and admiring boys. St. Paul’s is a very pretty stone church with lawns and trees. Very English traditional. I think it must be serving most of the Americans in San Miguel as they have three pastors and a music director. The church was full, very welcoming, and the service was mostly traditional Anglican but with portions of it in both English and Spanish. The senior pastor, Michael Long, had a great sense of humor and wonderful voice, which is important in an Anglican service. We stayed for the coffee hour, and met several people, including a lady artist originally from Omak. She was looking for us as all the visitors had introduced themselves in the service.

After church we had a leisurely walk up to the Jardin (on a different street). Walking with the world’s greatest shopper is no brisk run. We went into the Art Institute Allende with its great courtyard, and stopped and looked through a lot of shops. I’m sure we were only scouting out the prospects for Les Cooper. We barely made it back to the Casa Tranquilidad by 2 p.m. for our siesta!

In the evening we proceeded down the mountain (no longer a hill!) to the Jardin for a children’s music performance in front of the Parroquia Church. It was a concert put on by ANYEL, a charitable music program provided to pre-schools and orphanages. They had about 100 kids singing children’s songs before proud parents, and a lot of Anglos working the crowd for donations and helping with the kids. Next to shopping there is nothing Mary Ann likes better than taking photos of children.

Monday – So how did we know the gas man comes before 9 a.m. on Monday morning? Our maid had not yet arrived so we sent the man away. Later we found out he is expected before nine, so he can provide gas before the street gets busy. Our three day a week Betti arrived soon after. She works from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. for us, on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. She will also shop for us, and cook for us, upon special request. Mary Ann decided to stay home with her to check on some casa details, but I suspect she really didn’t want to face the sore legs so early in the day. I however, was off on a 3 ½ hour jaunt, planning to investigate various important matters. The first important matter was to sit in Juarez Park and have a cigar. I chatted with various folks who looked mighty cold this morning while doing their morning walk or run. The day started cold and overcast, but became sunny and pleasant by the afternoon. I actually wore a sweatshirt. One guy mentioned that it was still far better than Michigan in the first week of March. He was wearing shorts.

I then walked up Aldama Street looking for the Villa Jacaranda Hotel (very nice) so I could get the Boyd’s to Rotary when they visit. Next I stopped into the Carmina Restaurant for coffee, and breakfast with coffee, orange juice, rolls, and French toast was such a reasonable price that I opted for the bundle, besides it was warm in the breakfast room. Besides, we had arisen late (you know those retired folks) so my favorite breakfast cook had fallen down on the job.

Then on to checking out various hotels (mostly their restaurants for future reference) and on to the Mercado (Mercado de San Juan de Dios) on the west end of the Centro district. It was not nearly as busy or as interesting as the one we visited on Saturday (Mercado Ignacio Ramirez). Working my way back I took a look at the Bellas Artes building and courtyard, and the Angela Peralta Theater, which was built in 1873. Near the theater I happened by the American Consular Agency with a nice line of folks, both Mexican and American. My next stop was the Bonanza grocery on Misiones Street, to find a place we could buy food without driving or taking the bus or cab. I bought some bread (Bimbo brand of course) and headed back to the casa. I surely do not want to miss the siesta.

In the late afternoon Mary Ann and I headed to town on the mission to buy a sim (GSM) card for international use of our cell phone. After three discussions, including the bi-lingual man at the tourist office, we found a cell phone store with a young man with enough English to accomplish the task. We have not tested it yet, but think we have mobile communication. We then again visited the grocery so Mary Ann could check out the choices. We celebrated these minor victories with some ice cream. It was surely deserved after all the calories lost from walking!

Quirky Living Note: When we get up in the morning we always hear loud children’s voices that are seemingly playing and having a great time. The sound is coming into our suite and patio and clearly deserved further investigation. Just around the corner from our casa is a primary school which apparently backs up close to our casa. Promptly at 8:00 a.m. a loud speaker is heard making the daily announcements and getting the kids into class. After that we no longer hear the joyous voices until the next morning.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Safe Arrival in San Miguel de Allende


Friday - We left the very nice Hotel del Bosque in Zacatecas bright and early traveling to San Luis Potosi. San Luis Potosi is a very large (600,000 plus) industrial city, so we skirted the ring road and saw mostly a lot of smog in the city valley. Then we went south towards Queretaro and into San Miguel de Allende on highway 111, as our casa is on the east side of SMA on Salida y Queretaro. We thought this would be the easiest way to find our home. Aha! Construction on the road and we were diverted. We however diverted on the ring road and came up through the center of the town which was not our best decision. Driving in town traffic, with some streets closed because of the pedestrianization of the Jardin (the main square), the changing of street names every few blocks, many streets being one way, some streets being two way but not wide enough for two vehicles, and heat of about 92, is not the best formula for marital harmony. My navigator became just a bit cranky, but of course I never get testy in these situations. (BULL says Mary Ann.)

After lots of circling and retracing we found our casa, and met our maid Betti. We dumped all of our luggage and everything else from the car, and headed back up the hill towards Queretaro and the suburbs, to visit the Super Gigante supermarket in order to stock up on all the staples and the first few days of food. We also located an ATM machine at the Pemex gas station, so all the essentials of life could go on. Mary Ann and I love grocery stores and supermarkets in foreign countries, as it gives you a flavor (no pun intended) for how the natives live, and it is such a challenge to figure out what everything is. We brought all the food back to the casa, and then went off to find a secure public parking lot, as the car would not be living with us.

With relatively little trauma (only one stop to ask questions) we found the lot, left the car under cover and hopefully will see it safe and sound when we return for it. We then walked up to the Jardin (the central square), we found that a festival was going on. Dumb luck on our part! The first Friday in March is the Feast of our Lord of the Conquest, celebrating the Spanish conversion of the natives to Catholicism. All over the square in front of the huge parish church, the Parroquia, native Indians were dancing in gorgeous costumes enhanced with plumed headdresses of peacock feathers. It was all very colorful. We then walked back up the hill to our casa to fix our first meal, recover from the walking, begin the unpacking and appreciate the beautiful casa and our safe arrival. The photo above, overlooking centro San Miguel, is taken from the patio of our master suite.

Saturday - We had our first breakfast in the sun on the second floor guest patio. Not surprisingly, Mary Ann gave me a bad time about not bringing coffee to her in bed. The 35 steps to our suite may have given me pause! I think she may be becoming just a little too comfortable in this retirement mode. We spent part of the morning just enjoying the casa and waiting for our maid to arrive to give us some appliance instructions and for the internet kid (always a kid for the computers!) to come by to hook us up. With the washer-dryer and the laptop working life is sooo good. Everything is now put away and it looks like we are really living here.

We then went out exploring, of course always going on a different route, we headed for the Jardin, watched the locals, and then went on to find the Biblioteca, the privately funded library. The library here is a very big deal with the largest English book collection in Central America. The resident gringos are big supporters and many are volunteers with the reading and cultural events of the library. The local weekly English language newspaper, Atención San Miguel (http://www.atencionsanmiguel.org/), is published out of the library. The newspaper is something to behold as this weeks issue is 112 pages, plus the supplement called que pasa, which lists and discusses all the upcoming events in San Miguel for the coming week. The newspaper is obviously a must buy each week.

Leaving the library we walked through the civic plaza (different from the Jardin) and on to the Mercado. This is what Mary Ann really lives for when traveling to foreign cities. This Mercado contains hundreds of fruit, vegetable, meat, poultry, and flower vendors all under roof. In addition there are many sections of the market selling crafts and other absolutely essential items. As Mary Ann had noticed that our casa kitchen did not have a butter dish, she made the important purchase a flowered Mexican ceramic mantequilla dish. We are adding to our casa owner’s assets! In the market there are also lots of the lunch stands where all of the locals are eating foods that I cannot even begin to describe. Maybe we will try those later when we have a native with us. It was now time to wander our way back home, slowly for sure, as it is now all uphill.

Mary Ann prepared our cena (dinner) and we relaxed looking at the sunset from our master suite patio and the wonderful view of the centro of San Miguel from our hill. Altogether a very fine day.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

The San Miguel Experience

Personal Note: How did we decide on a 10 week stay in San Miguel de Allende? We had long ago decided that instead of buying a destination time share condominium or a home at a foreign resort (for goodness sake we live in a resort town) we would plan to spend part of each spring or winter at a different destination somewhere in the world. Many of our world travels have partially been motivated by the desire to check out places where we might like to live for a few weeks or months during some of the cold times in Chelan. About 20 years ago we did a central Mexico driving trip with our children that included Guadalajara, Patzcuaro, San Miguel de Allende, and Guanajuato. We just loved San Miguel and we now have returned.

Geography Note: San Miguel de Allende is in the high plateau and hills of central Mexico known as the Colonial District. It was designated as a national monument in 1926 by the Mexican government to preserve the historic architecture and cobble stoned central district. Modern construction is prohibited and crumbling old buildings are restored. The city is 171 miles north of Mexico City and the bigger nearby cities are Leon and Queretaro which are respectively 65 and 40 miles west and east of San Miguel. The altitude is 6100 feet and the population is 65,000 plus. The average high and low temperature is 78/50 in March and 81/54 in April. Other colonial cities nearby are Guanajuato and Dolores Hidalgo, which are both good for a visit. Most people fly into the Leon/Guanajuato airport. San Miguel is known for its art and culture and has attracted a large resident population of Americans and Canadians. Many travel magazines rate San Miguel as one of the top travel destinations in the world.

What Do You Do For Four Days in
Chihuahua without a car?


Driving to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, for our first winter retirement retreat we surely did not contemplate such an extended stay in Chihuahua. Our first overnight in Mexico was scheduled for Chihuahua as we drove through the interior of Mexico. When departing this very large city on Sunday morning our car decided to completely stop running. Knowing Mary Ann’s love for shopping, the car did quit in front of a huge shopping department store that was open early on a Sunday morning.

As Mary Ann can accomplish miracles in a department store, even with language barriers, she recruited a very helpful bilingual security guard. He arranged a call to our Mexican insurance company to provide for a tow truck. When the tow arrived he interpreted our options, which on a Sunday morning were not great. Eventually, we were towed to a mechanic (who just might have been a relative of the tow truck driver) who would work on a Sunday. We arrived at the mechanic’s home/garage in a very dusty neighborhood on the edge of Chihuahua. Oh, lordy! Hector “the mechanic” found a young friend, Alan, “the interpreter”, and they went to work.

The diagnosis was a failed fuel pump. I then rode to the parts store (I have a credit card!) with Hector and Alan in what could only be described as a late 50’s/early 60’s Mexican decorated Ford pickup. We felt fortunate that we found a match for the fuel pump. However when installed the car still did not run. This required that the car be checked on a diagnostic computer (now where would he find that?) which had to wait until Monday. We then returned to our previous hotel to extend our stay and wait for calls from Alan “the interpreter”, for progress or lack thereof. By Monday afternoon the part failure was diagnosed and the search was on for the part. No replacement was found in any of the parts stores, but then they moved on to the wrecking yards. Hope for Tuesday?

As we were waiting for calls we were stuck full time at the hotel, albeit a very nice new Holiday Inn Express (you can check out my review on Tripadvisor.com). Another crisis then arose as Mary Ann was running out of books, and her supply remained in the car in the wilds of Chihuahua. She was reduced to reading my books, a whole different genre. One bright spot was having our laptop (yes Mary Ann, it was a good idea to buy and bring a new laptop) and the hotel had free internet. These days I select hotels with free internet and wi-fi. This gave me the options of canceling hotel reservations down the line, communicating with family that we had dropped off the face of the earth, and keeping up with the news (CNN World can be tolerated for only so long) and emails. On the previous Saturday, before the car crisis, we were able to check out the historic center of Chihuahua and enjoyed the locals walking the streets and observed the bike race through downtown.

A call came from Alan. The only part is in Juarez and they need us to send money. Uh Oh! At that point the handsome bilingual desk clerk Fernando (soon to be referred to as “the savior”) took me in tow and we visited parts stores, his mechanic and then the biggest Nissan dealer I have ever seen. We discussed the part, the situation, and Hector (the Mechanic) with the Nissan folks, and the next thing we were doing was traveling with the Nissan car hauler to Hector “The Mechanic’s” house/car garage. My savior negotiated the car ransom and by early evening it was safely at Nissan.

Hurrah, a call from the Nissan Service Department. The car was running. You don’t even want to ask what all of this cost! We were now off to our next night in Zacatecas. What was the bright spot? We met some great people who went out of their way to help us and the car did not break down in the middle of the Sonoran desert between one of our nightly destinations!