It was the end of February, and two old broads from Michigan were sluggish and worn from the sub-zero windchills and the constant forecasts of snow. So, they boarded a nonstop flight from Detroit and five hours later, landed in Mexico. Not the sandy beaches, warm water, fruity drinks México. Instead, they traveled to the colonial city of San Miguel de Allende (SMA) in the highlands (6300 feet) where the days are sunny and warm and the evenings are cool and comfortable.
In SMA, the OBs joined the thousands of retirees from Canada and the US that have made SMA their home, drawn there because of the year round climate and the relaxing vibe. OBPam (OBP) has a high school friend living in SMA, and that’s the real reason for the visit. OBKathy (OBK) is more adventurous than OBP, and together, they researched and planned but nothing prepared them for the hills and narrow, rocky streets. Proof? On the way from the airport, the driver asked OBP to open the passenger window and pull in the rear-view mirror so it wouldn’t scrape a wall.
While sightseeing, the OBs discovered some fun facts about SMA. In the 1930’s, an American artist and Mexican artist opened an accredited art school and after WW 2, many veterans moved to SMA to stretch their GI dollars at the school. It was the foundation for SMA’s lively arts scene. Today, you can still take any kind of art class, and it hosts a major writing conference every year. SMA is also a UNESCO designated city, which has allowed (and required) it to keep its rustic charm. The OBs aren’t sure how a Starbucks opened there.
During most of the days, the OBs walked the Centro area and nearby hills (calf buiders), discovering shops and galleries tucked into alleys and behind narrow door openings. They especially liked the ceramics and folk art. And hats. They took turns stopping on the hills, blaming their shortness of breath on the altitude. They also stopped in churches and marveled at the artwork and craftsmanship. And the meditative space.
One day, the OBs traveled to the community of Delores Hidalgo, home of beautiful Talavera pottery. It also calls itself the home of Mexican independence.
OBK loves masks so she arranged a tour of the mask museum owned by a couple from Maine. A lesson on Mexican folk art followed, and OBP began counting her pesos.
Both OBs report the highlight of the trip was the Lord of the Conquest Festival always held on the first Friday in March. It featured ceremonial drumming and dancing around the town plaza from at least a dozen indigenous groups, all day long, and it celebrates the melding of the Catholic faith from Europe and traditions of the Mexican cultures. OBP called it a “pinch-me moment”.
When OBK was asked her most memorable experience beyond the festival, she said “The bull fight we attended. It’s about experiencing a culture. The pagentry and drama was intense, and because it doesn’t happen too often, it draws quite the crowd.” She enjoyed sitting next to a young man from France who was in Mexico for five bullfights, and tutored her throughout the evening. OBP initially kept her eyes on the sidelines and the “rich and famous of SMA” audience, but eventually, willed herself to watch. And she survived!
OBP will always remember how safe she felt day and night, and the kindness and helpfulness of the local people including the cab drivers. She was surprised English was not often spoken by shopkeepers or the tourist information center.
“We also realized we saw very little of SMA because so much of it is behind closed gates and walls. The homes and buildings we did see all had beautiful courtyards, but it takes work to see that,” OBK said.
Both OBs had disappointments.
“We never did find the music I’d hoped to hear,” OBK said. “Lots of flamenco and guitar playing but I was hoping to hear the next Santana.”
OBP, whose alter-ego is a dancing diva, added, “I practiced my paso doble and rumba for nothing. The closest I got was doing a modified cha-cha to the mariachi band on the corner.”
They later learned from their airport driver where they could have found the music they were looking for.
Eight days later, as the packed for the return trip, OBP realized they’d become “them.”
“What do you mean, them?” OBK asked.
“You know, the people who board a plane with an absurd amount of stuff in those cheap plastic shopping bags.”
“Makes up for the carry-on tours when we didn’t bring anything back.”
Who should visit SMA? People who like a little adventure, who want to take an art class, and still have cargo pants from the 1990’s. The OBs realized they didn’t see a single person wearing a sports/ college shirt of any kind. SMA is also a great destination for solo travelers.
Who shouldn’t visit? If you need make-up, perfume, resort wear, and a sports bar to have a good vacation, SMA isn’t for you.
The OBs returned to Michigan, and after heavy doses of Vitamin D and daily cardiac workouts walking the cobblestone and rocky roads, they felt more energetic and renewed. They also returned hungry for fresh salads, fruit and all the cold tap water they could drink. They’ll pass on tacos for a while.