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 (, 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.


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

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:

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:

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?