San Miguel de Allende
By Brigitte Meuwissen
In the middle of Mexico nestled in between a hilly landscape is a town where so many foreigners find a second home. A waiting place for God the locals call it.
Is it the light, the food or the inspiration tourists get attached to?
San Miguel de Allende is a charming colonial town with an agreeable climate. A town where people live in the street, where the festivals are part of daily life; a town that became a center for intellectual and artistic ideas. Dancing, singing and eating is what brings San Miguel to life.
The night had fallen when I arrived from the Leon-BJX airport.
For a long time before arriving into San Miguel, I could already see the town lights against the black sky. I was wondering, like more people on the bus, what this place had to offer.
As the bus bumped over old cobblestones, I was captured by the colored walls with decorated entrance doors and windows; even the streetlights covered the town in magic yellow.
The next morning I could see that life behind these old walls was far different than my impression the night before. Wonderful mansions and gardens were hidden from my eye.
Moving though the streets in flat comfortable shoes I saw old women selling flowers, dolls and jewelry at every corner. Children played and song in front of the church. Beggars held up hands. Hands that come out of old dirty clothes wrapped around skinny bodies.
A daily sight in San Miguel.
San Miguel is famous for its artists. Every store window displayed an amazing piece of local art. A tourist can barely resist the handicrafts, especially if you have American dollars.
On one of my first evenings out I went with some friends tourists to the restaurant Mama Mia. I had moved away from the place they were living and so there was some catching up to do. We had a wonderful dinner with lots of talks and stories to tell. I liked to talk about Los Angeles, a place I start to love. They were more than willing to listen to the crazy stories I offered. There was also live music in this place, which made our dinner even more enjoyable.
Later that night a few of the older ladies went to bed; the rest went for a coffee in a local bar. Finally three of us headed for a dance club. La Luna well known for its salsa music. The singer was not too fancy and the music was coordinated from a computer but it sounded right and I had a great time dancing and feeling special, free and cared for.
The time came to let go the evening, when a man came to ask me for a dance. I was in a good mood so I jumped out of my chair and went back to the dance floor.
It was this gentleman, Pedro, who would become my driver, guide and friend in this lovely town.
The next day I saw parades with dancers in costumes from different parts of Mexico filling the streets. The local people were coming out with the entire family to show off and be part of the celebration. I could tell that these days, filled with sights, sounds and stories, would be passed on to their grandchildren.
The night was filled with the biggest fireworks of the season to commemorate St. Michael's fight with the devil. This predawn battle is known as the " Alborada"
The celebrations are mainly based on Catholicism; with the number of different churches and saints, there is lot of celebration happening.
On a Sunday afternoon, following the line of people in the street, I was led to the bullfighting arena. I had never entered an arena or thought to watch bullfighting. When I saw the excitement from the people, I could not resist buying a ticket for 100 pesos.
Last words are spoken to the brave slender fighters, as they move toward the arena.
They are dressed in beautiful outfits full of color and glitter. Proud family members cheer them with beer and cigars, shouting Olé over and over.
Bulls, with real names, coming out into the arena are absolutely blinded by the sun after three days being left in the dark. They have no idea that they will die, but they will.
For a tourist it is hard to understand the cruelty, but for the local people this is a lifestyle that will never disappear. Bullfighting is part of their culture their pride and their heritage.
The population of San Miguel is estimated at 80,000 with approximately 8,000 North Americans.
Americans live in houses as big as they would live in their native land; even the prices are the same. Ten years back in time, you could find real bargains, but these days it is more difficult. I went to visit some of the new homes and was convinced that the builders performing a great job to make life attractive for foreigners.
The question is; are they so comfortable?
When I saw Americans walking their dog, holding on to sticks and even ski poles to protect themselves and their dog, this question grew.
Also food is still a problem and the tap water you can not drink. As a foreigner you have to be careful no matter what they say.
Driving in a pickup truck was a very handy thing. My pickup truck drove me to the old parts of San Miguel, where the history is made and the name started to exist for travelers on their way from Mexico City to Zacatecas.
During pre-Columbian times this valley was home to groups of Tarasco, Otomie, and Chichimeca Indians. In 1542 Juan de San Miguel, a Franciscan friar established an Indian mission in the Chichimeca territory, naming it "San Miguel de los Chichimecas." Soon after this mission, the hillside town practically disappeared due to the constant attacks it suffered at the hands of the Chichimecas. However, in 1555 the "Villa de San Miguel" was established raising the village to the status of a provincial town, soon to be renamed "San Miguel el Grande." During this period many wealthy mine owners and landowners took up residency in this fertile town, and some of the mansions they built are still among the towns architectural treasures. In 1779 Ignacio de Allende was born in San Miguel and became one of the leaders of the fight for Mexican independence, which began in 1810. The Spaniards executed Ignacio de Allende in 1811. When Mexico achieved independence in 1821, it honored its heroes. San Miguel el Grande became "San Miguel de Allende". Still today a piece of this history is still remains.
The day I wanted to escape the crowd. I went to see the San Miguel de Allendes natural legacy. El Charco del Ingenio
It is a few minutes away from the historical center and carries a 200-acre botanical garden and a plant nursery. It is environmentally protected and managed by a local nonprofit association. Through comfortable trails, I could reach different outlooks and see from the top of the canyon the magnificent landscape that embraces San Miguel at the foot of the hill, the wide valley of Laja River and the distant horizon of Guanojuatos mountain range. I saw exceptional cactuses and plant collections and a pond with amazing birds and floral grow, this place was letting me indeed forget the world.
Another place to relax is the natural hot water spring. Natural pools are located next to ponds with colorful lilies. The spa itself has three indoors warm water pools connected with a narrow entrance covered with a roof and stained glass. The last pool is round and covered with a dome. In the middle there is a hole trough which the sky looked down on me. It also has a hole in the wall where the hot water pours out and will give a back massage to those who stand under it.
The pools are light and bright with everyday fresh water.
After the bath I lay down on the grass in the open air together with my fantasies. I still feel the breeze that touched my body. A perfect place to stay.