Sunday, April 1, 2012

Big Mexico: San Miguel de Allende

San Miguel, it's like coming home.....

On the bus coming from Guanajuato, the sun was setting on the city, and I remembered finally why San Miguel is always pink, in my memory. The city's cathedral is built of a rock with a decidedly pink cast, and many of the buildings seem rosy in the early and late sun.

My friend Mike refers to his first marriage of 9 months (and then divorce) as his "starter" marriage. I like to think of San Miguel as my starter trip, the first place in Mexico I visited after a 40 year hiatus. I've now been there three times and this third visit felt like coming home. Friends live there, and friends from New Mexico are in an RV park off San Antonio, and people I met in San Cristobal live there too. I know the streets from having walked them many times, where to buy groceries, even where to get a haircut if I needed one, and the location of the best ice cream in all Mexico is a block from the RV park.  (Santa Clara Creamery for any who want to get some!)

When John and I visited San Miguel for the Bicentennial (El Grito and the Crush) we met Alexa, whom John nicknamed Miss Scarlet for her southern drawl. This trip, I stayed with her for four days and visited Joyce and George in their RV which they've named Rosinante for Don Quixote's horse. (They have a smaller RV at home named Rosi Dos). George is a guide on tours benefitting the Patronato de los Ninos, an organization that helps Mexican children. It's a volunteer position, and he does a fabulous job.  I had always meant to take that tour some time, but never got around to it. Joyce and I met up with George and his group and then traipsed all over the antique-est part of town getting the low-down on the history, politics, religion, and local cuisine. That day, the Chichimecas were celebrating.

Chichimecas in the church
Historically the Chichimeca's were a tribe the Aztecs barely tried to conquer and they put up a serious resistance to the Spaniards as well. They were primarily nomadic with a detailed knowledge of their environment and it's hiding (and attacking) places. But alas, disease got the best of them and from their perspective, the Catholic church saved them. On this day, the Chichimecas commemorated their conversion to Christianity, and were celebrating throughout the Centro area, with loud drums, singing and dancing. While the tour group was in the church, a Chichimeca group came in to offer thanks for having been converted (some 400 years ago!). They sang and beat their drums. George gave up trying to talk about the church and its history. The tourists enjoyed the spectacle. Later he took the group out of the church, but he still had to contend with the competing dance groups outside, loudly hammering their drums to different songs and rhythms.

Dancing in the streets
Such incredible costumes!

Miss Scarlet and I had a marvelous visit. She works as an interpreter for a company in the US. Because of Vonage and other miracles of global communication, she can work from where ever she has sufficient Internet. We went out to eat a couple of times, had George and Joyce over for dinner, visited and caught up, and then I went off on my own while she worked during the day.


The second day, unbeknownst to me, it was Joyce's birthday. She wanted to go out to see the Capillas, the tiny little churches out in the countryside, in the ejidos, the little communities that surround San Miguel. So George unhooked Rosinante from her water/sewer/electric moorings, and off we went bouncing down dirt roads and occasionally overtaking a trope (speed bump) a little too quickly.

Atotonilco church

Many illustrated stories in the Bible

First stop was Atotonilco, a little town north of the city with a very old and interesting church. Inside are painted the stories of the bible. The murals cover every inch of the inside of the church, the ceiling, the walls, everything but the pews and the floor. A dirt road then led us towards the ejidos and their colorful little chapels.

It's always fun for to be with someone with a vehicle because it unleashes us from the standard routes that buses and combies must take. We stopped at every capilla we could find, including some that were down a burro path off the dirt road. At one place four little girls came to talk to us. I could see a man, presumably a dad, off in the distance watching us closely. I waved at him and he smiled. The girls were so cute. Joyce asked them about school, and did they go to the Capilla on Sundays, etc. The smallest one looked to be about four and was quite talkative and bright. It turned out that she was actually seven years old, just very tiny in stature.

George and Joyce at a Capilla

A little larger Capilla


That evening, the RV neighbors were having a birthday party for Joyce. I was surprised she'd never mentioned it, but she said the trip to the campo had been George's present and she was glad I could come along. So was I.


Ben and Gerry


On Saturday I visited with other newer friends, people who had stayed next door to me in San Cristobal, who have a lovely home on the hillside overlooking San Miguel. Ben and Gerry. Ben is an artist so their home is marvelous with a huge portrait of Frida Kahlo in the living room that he "painted" with little pieces of paper! We had lunch at a nice little vegetarian restaurant, but that evening I began to experience a little revenge. I doubt I picked it up at the restaurant, but nevertheless it took it's toll and forced me to postpone my departure from San Miguel.

Next stop: Oaxaca