Last Day in San Miguel de Allende

Seven full days in San Miguel, but nine blogs to describe it. Overkill? No, not at all. We managed to fill every day with something fun or interesting or both.  I can see how San Miguel has even more to offer and why it would be appealing for many to live here.

We began our last day with breakfast at El Pagaso and then spent time in El Jardin.

There is a webcam in El Jardin. That’s the four of us win at the camera.

After breakfast, we tackled one more market.  Tianguis de los Martes (Tuesday’s Open Market) takes place every Tuesday just out of the center of San Miguel de Allende. It would have been a long uphill walk so we took a taxi. This market was different. Getting out of the taxi, we faced acres of colored awnings covering tables, shelves, and vendors. It was enormous, paralyzing to a novice like me. It is like a hybrid farmers market and flea market.

First impressions

Hundreds of vendors were spread out selling anything and everything: fresh produce, fish, chicken, CDs, DVDs, cassettes, clothing (old and new), kitchenware, souveniers, cleaning supplies, radios, cell phone cases, live birds and other animals. This was definitely where local people do their shopping.

Hardware and Houseware

Anything and everything — produce, grains, beans, pork rinds, candy …

Hot food stalls serving Mexican dishes were side by side with junk vendors.

People taking a break from their shopping to eat.

The man is scraping the prickles off of the nopales (cactus). Evidently, it is cooked and served as a side dish.

I was overwhelmed. I get overwhelmed in the Christmas Tree Shops, so this was tenfold worse. But….. if there is something you need, Tianguis de los Martes is the place to go!

I must describe one more park, Parque Juarez. Whenever we left Casa Garza to head in the direction of El Chorro, slightly southwest instead of north and down into the city center, we uaually found ourselves in Parque Juarez. Parque Juarez is the largest green space within San Miguel’s city center. It’s got fountains, winding paths, basketball courts, and public classes in tai chi, yoga, and zumba. It’s quiet, peaceful, and seemed very safe.

The park grounds were once full of plentiful orchards and vegetable plots thanks to the water coming down from El Chorro. Dr. Hernández Macías wanted San Miguel residents to have a place for recreation, and so, from 1895 to 1904, he bought the orchards one by one and put them together to create this park, an extraordinarily beautiful sight when it opened 100 years ago. Now, in mid-January, there were few blooms, but plenty of green.

The paths wander in and around gardens, exercise stations, playgrounds and fountains.

Artwork along another path.

I had to use the internet to try and understand most of the words on this cross, although some are obvious. (Ok, I didn’t have to, but I was curious and wanted to know.)

LEFT: humanos (people),  tierras (earth),  plantas (plant)
TOP: aire (air),  fuegos (fire),  luz (air)
RIGHT: animales (animals),  agua (water),  insectos (insects)
BOTTOM: pensamientos (thoughts), emociones (emotions), sentimientos (feelings)
The yellow base: yo soy nosotros  (I am us)
The bottom: Todo lo que ves oyes sientes hueles piensas haces …. Y aun lo desconocido y lo invisible es la manifestacion de dios. Fluye con amor actua con respeto y eleva tu consciencia   —–Everything you see hear, feel, smell, think, do… And even the unknown and the invisible is the manifestation of God. Flow with love, act with respect, and raise your awareness.

Carved tree trunks

A poinsettia bush, still blooming after Christmas. Rather nice to see one in nature instead of just a pot that gets thrown out after the holiday.

A zumba class and children playing basketball

Bridges take you over what is now a dry bed. In the rainy season, water would be flowing through there.

We walked through Parque Juarez one last time on our way to dinner that evening.

One of my favorite photos of Kayda and me, taken in Parque Juarez, that last day.

The four of us went to Hecho en Mexico (Made in Mexico), one of Sam and Kayda’s favorite restaurants.

Another beautiful courtyard setting for dinner. There is a hummingbird drinking at the feeder.

Dinner did not disappoint any of us. Clockwise from upper left: my shrimp tacos, Kayda’s chili rellenos, Al’s bacon burger,  and Sam’s fish & chips. Kayda and I tried the grilled nopales and they were actually pretty good.

We have had such wonderful time exploring San Miguel, especially with our gracious hosts and friends, Sam and Kayda.

Alas, the sun set on our visit to Mexico.

The lights of San Miguel de Allende at night.

Good Night, San Miguel.

The Streets of San Miguel

San Miguel is filled with striking examples of Neoclassical and Neo-Gothic architecture from  colonial periods. Given more time, it would have been especially nice to take an “architectural walking tour” and learn more about styles and construction. But it does not really require specific facts and knowledge to enjoy the beauty of San Miguel de Allende. Just look around ……. with caution!  It can be risky to simultaneously look up and out at everything without also looking down at your feet as you walk on the cobblestones or the narrow sidewalks.  A beautiful sight could easily be ruined by a tumble.

Instead of fancy and famous buildings, here are photos of buildings and streets that didn’t fit in any specific blog post. They are simple, not neo-gothic or neoclassical. Dressed in the colors of yellows, ochres, oranges and reds, and adorned with greenery and flowers they are a delight to behold.

In the photos above, funny “things” can be seen sticking out high on the walls. They are the San Miguel version of downspouts for rain. During the rainy season all the water is deflected off of the roofs by these pipes that stick out about two feet. Imagine walking down the streets during a rain and dodging these pipes!

Most of these spouts are simple rectangular tubes.

And some are very creative, like spouting gargoyles.

Speaking of water, there are fountains on many corners and tucked into little spaces along the streets.

Once used for horses, donkeys and other animals? Or for people too?

Within a very short time of our arrival, Al and I both noticed that the doors in San Miguel were extraordinary. Whenever I could, I would stop and try to photograph interesting doors. What patience my husband and friends have! With no rhyme or reason, here are 22 doors that I photographed.

Most doors are surrounded by stone work, simple or ornate. Windows were  less common on most streets.

Even the  simpler designs are beautiful..

The clean design on these doors are straight lines and rectangles that still create a pleasing look.

Some doors are enhanced with fancy stone work above.

A sunburst design on the left and a lovely vine carved on right door.

Examples of two more intricately carved doors.

An unusual touch of color on these two doors.

These doors may be more contemporary, but they are in keeping with the culture and heritage.

Even garage doors are treated as an opportunity for art.

Where there are doors, there are door knobs and knockers.

Just 3 examples of the decorative brass work on the doors.

There is absolutely no room for mailboxes on these narrow streets, so most doors have a letter slot. I noticed that the letter slots had different labels – correo, cartas, and buzon.

Correo = mail                    Cartas = letters                Buzon = mailbox

Since the title of this blog post is “The Streets of San Miguel” I am going to add two other uniquely Mexican traditions that we saw on our wanders through the streets.

Within Western culture, skulls usually depict the dark, macabre and gruesome death. During our visit to Mexico, I quickly noticed that festively decorated calaveras appeared everywhere. I had heard of the “Day of the Dead” (Día de los Muertos) celebration in Latin America cultures, but I knew little about it.  Día de los Muertos is a Mexican holiday, celebrated on November 1st and 2nd in connection with the Catholic holidays of All Saint’s Day and All Hollow’s Day. The festivities start at midnight on the 31st October (All Hallow’s Eve, our Halloween).

Among the Mexican pottery in the markets, there are also displays of festively decorated calaveros, skulls.

Día de los Muertos is an important family tradition and time to remember loved ones who have passed away. Children learn to respect that life is brief; there is a circle to life and not to fear death. Danielle Conte, owner of Pachamama Native Art, Inc. and blog writer described the meaning of skulls in Mexican culture  (Las Calaveras – As Interpreted by a Gringa Living in Mexico) in a beautiful way- “Calaveras remind us to celebrate our lives and mortality, to look at the past and future, all the while being present. They are a way for us to appreciate and to acknowledge that life is sacred, but death, “La Muerte”, is another rite of passage in our lives, no less sacred than life itself. Death, too, is alive. The inevitable is not to be feared or avoided; it is to be embraced and danced.  More than anything else, calaveras remind us to live each moment to its fullest, to face one’s mortality with a smile and with courage, and to trust in the immortality of an afterlife.” 

In shop windows and on the streets, skulls seemed to be everywhere.

There were funny looking little dioramas hanging on the walls of several restaurants we visited. A closer look showed little people as skeletons made of painted clay, combining religion, mestizo spirituality and popular culture. Lots of popular culture. It took me a while to research a proper name for these – nichos or cajitas de muertos (Day of the Dead dioramas).

Walls of nichos for sale.

A closer look at two of them:
TOP – “me tienes hecho pedazos” = you got me torn apart!
BOTTOM – The Beetles/Beatles !!!!????

 While sitting on a wrought iron bench under the shade in La Jardin, absorbing the atmosphere around us, we heard a band. Looking up, we saw a “parade” coming down the street, led by a young girl and an older man. A Quinceañera !

A Quinceañera parade led by the young woman in blue with her father and mother.

A Father-Daughter dance. Click here to see 10 seconds of one of their dances .

Quinceañera (feminine form of “fifteen-year-old”) is an important celebration of a girl’s fifteenth birthday in Mexico and other Latin American cultures, marking the transition from childhood to young womanhood. Beginning with a mass and a blessing from the priest, a young woman is presented to the community with music, dancing, and feasting. It seems to be a combination of a “sweet sixteen” birthday party and “coming out ball” for debutantes.

Beautiful streets, happy streets.

A Taste of San Miguel – Foods & Culture

Monday’s planned activity was another tour combing walking, history, culture, and food. The four of us would be taking the “Taste of San Miguel” tour. We chose the Downtown San Miguel Tour, “a guided 3½ hour food and city walking tour featuring seven food tasting locations carefully chosen to highlight the best regional flavors San Miguel has to offer. Tasting unique regional foods is one of the best ways to explore and experience the culture and charm of a city. We have wonderful memories of our Charleston culinary tour last year and so thought this would be a memorable day to share with Sam and Kayda.

We meandered down and through the winding streets to reach El Chorro where we would meet our guide, Eric.

Walking through the winding streets over the cobblestones, passing picturesque buildings. Just another day in San Miguel!

Just past El Chorro is the Casa de la Cultura (House of Culture) promotes dance, visual arts, literature, theater and music workshops taught by specialists from each branch. On one of our strolls by this beautiful building we could hear choral singing filling the air. 🙂

Casa de la Cultura (House of Culture) infuses the arts into the community.

Back in the mid-1550s, Fray Bernardo Cossin moved to higher areas of San Miguel, to a spring that provided fresh water. That place is El Chorro, now this charming little park. This little haven is also called Los Lavaderos meaning laundry or washing place. There are still public washing tubs here that fill from a natural spring.

El Chorro, or Los Lavaderos. Those reddish cubes are the washing tubs. Water from the spring would flow into the trough behind the tubs.

Al and Sam investigated the washing tubs in El Chorro. There was never anyone doing laundry when we passed the park. The pic on the right is from the internet, to illustrate the washing in action.

Noon was a busy time in El Chorro. Vendors were displaying their merchandise and musicians performed nearby.

Eric, our guide greets us by the fountain in EL Chorro. Eric has dual citizenship, Mexican and American. Acting as a tour guide for  “Taste of San Miguel” is  just one of his talents.

Off we went, our little group of eight hungry people, trailing after Eric as he led the way.

First stop, La Parada, a Peruvian restaurant.

Al is ready to try La Parada. It is past noon and he is hungry.

La Parada’s interior contemporary decor showcased the outdoors, a fun bar, and a coffee table covered in license plates in the lounge area.

Our tasting was ceviche (typically made from fresh raw fish cured in citrus juices, such as lemon or lime, and spiced with ají or chili peppers)  – sea bass with chunks of mango and corn soaking in a delicious marinade, which was also a drink called “Tigers Milk.” I am not a fan of ceviche, but this was really delicious.

Before reaching our next tasting, Eric took a detour to show us Plaza del Toros Oriente, the “East Bull Ring”. Some sources state that it was built in the 1950s, others say 1856, a discrepancy of 100 years. Hmm?? My thoughts are that there was a bull fighting ring in this location, but that the most recent reincarnation of the structure was in the 1950s. That said, the building looks older than the 1950s to me. The bullfighting tradition of San Miguel has continued since colonial times. In his youth, Ignacio Allende, San Miguel’s favorite son and a horseman of great talent, was a rejoneador, the name given to a bullfighter who fights the bull on horseback.

Although bull fights are still held here, Plaza del Toros is now a venue for weddings, concerts, anniversaries, birthdays, corporate parties and events, expos, and any social gathering.

Entering Plaza del Toros —  In the top photo, there is a covered nook to the left of the entrance. In that nook is a tiled portrait of Esperanza Macarena, Virgin of Hope, shown in the bottom photo. Perhaps the bull fighters prayed to her before entering the arena for their fight? Or now brides pray to her before they enter the arena for their wedding???

Eric speaks with our group inside the arena, which has a capacity of 3,000 spectators.

An impressive overhead view of Plaza del Toros from their FaceBook page.

Back to the food!! That’s why we are here, walking about, right? Next stop was Casa del Diezmo.

The unassuming exterior hides surprises within. The first surprise is a mojigangas standing in the entranceway. Mojigangas are giant dancing paper maché puppets that are part of every parade.

Casa del Diezmo, dates back to the colonial era when it housed the administrative offices of the Catholic Church and the wineries for tithing. Under Spanish rule, before Mexican independence, citizens were required to give the church 10% of their income, which was often paid in kind with crops, livestock and in central Mexico, with silver. These funds supported the maintenance of the clergy and churches of San Miguel. Diezmo = tithe and diez = ten. The restaurant remains connected to its roots by keeping the name.

The interior of Casa del Diezmos is a beautiful courtyard garden setting.

We were served Cochinita Pibil, slow-cooked pork served on a panucho.  The pork is marinated in sour orange juice and then slow cooked in a hole (“pibil”). The panucho is a Mexican food specialty from the Yucatán made with masa, cooked on a dry, hot cast iron skillet until slightly puffy. The Cochinita Pibil was accompanied by 3 sauces, one guacamole, one fresh chopped onions and peppers (hot and spicy), and one darker one (VERY hot).

The third stop on our tasting tour was once again behind a very ordinary looking doorway in a wall, La Cocina, Café del Viajero, which translates to “the kitchen, café for the traveler”. It is most commonly known as “the kitchen.”

La Cocina, another nondescript exterior hiding charming interior spaces.

Like many of the restaurants we have seen, the entrance opens into an interior space that is really “interior” as in floor, ceiling and walls. Then one steps through into a courtyard, semi-outdoor space with light and plants.

Top photo – The first interior space.                                                                                Bottom – Another attractive outdoor courtyard. Our waiter is waiting by the table.

La Cocina’s Oaxacan Black Mole over an emmolada

I’ve always wanted to try a mole sauce, although I really didn’t know what the ingredients are. I learned that mole is a generic term for a variety of Mexican sauces   Traditional moles are labor intensive from the grinding of the ingredients, which usually include fruit, chili pepper and nuts. It was with great anticipation that I tasted La Cocina’s “Oaxacan Black Mole”. This mole recipe’s ingredients included cacao, 5 different chilis, pumpkin seeds, bananas, apples. The mole topped an emmolada (corn tortilla with shredded chicken.) I have to be honest – I was disappointed. Expectations too high?  It just didn’t appeal to my taste buds.

Los Milagros (miracles), our fourth restaurant, was also hiding behind a doorway.  It is said to be a ” local institution” that serves some of the best molcajetes and tortilla soup in town.

Los Milagros, another doorway that leads to ……

I would label Los Milagros as a typical (what I would imagine “typical” to be) Mexican cantina. A bar, a guitar player, with folks sitting around eating and socializing.

The guitar player added an auditory experience to our tasting. Click  here to see and listen to a short video of him.

We sampled tortilla soup with toppings – avocado, crema, farm cheese, pork rinds and dried pepper. I think I will try some recipes for tortilla soup when we get back home.

Stop #5 was not a restaurant, but a street vendor. Nieves Las Monjas is one of the oldest and busiest food stands in San Miguel.  Nieves Las Monjas has been serving homemade Mexican ice cream for 40 years. With no electricity, the ice cream is kept cold using the old-fashioned, low tech method of salt and ice. Nieve means “snow” and Las Monjas means “the nuns.”  I get the snow part for ice cream, but nuns???

Choosing a flavor was not easy. There were traditional flavors such as vanilla, chocolate, strawberry and oreo cookie, but there even more adventurous sounding flavors – yerbabuena, mamey, cajeta, montecado, guayabo, zapote.  I chose almendra, an almond that was deeply flavored like almond paste.

Ice cream! Is there really anything else that needs to be said?

Stop #6  – San Agustín Churros y Cholocate

San Agustin churros are “second to none.” So good we gulped them down before I took a photo. Therefore , this is a standard internet pic of churros.

The tour had taken a decidedly sweeter turn by now. After the ice cream, the next place was San Agustín Churros y Cholocate, a San Miguel landmark. Unfortunately, it was too crowded for the ten of us to enter. Eric brought the churros out to us in the park across the street.  Churros are a fried-dough pastry, sprinkled with sugar, and often dipped in chocolate.

The doorway to El Gato Negro. Note the black cats on the swinging doors.

The final stop was more unusual than any of the others. El Gato Negro, the second-oldest bar in San Miguel de Allende, is a tiny hole-in-the-wall cantina, dating back to 1921. The original owner had a business delivering fuel, and a black cat was its mascot. The business changed (a different kind of fueling?) but the black cat theme stayed.

We were here to taste tequila, served in these sweet itty-bitty pottery “mugs.”

 

 

 

The bar is so tiny  that the 8 of us just barely fit inside. The walls are covered with memorabilia, mostly Marilyn Monroe, with the Beatles and a few others interspersed. Salud, Sam!

My first straight-up tequila ever. Whoa!!! Very different from a marguerite.

For 50 years, El Gato Negro was a men only dive. Here’s the proof in pictures —

Starting at the top: 1) Look at the base of the bar behind the ladies’ dangling feet. 2) Running along the base of the bar is a tiled trough. 3) A close-up of that trough.    Men did not have to leave their bar stool to relieve themselves. Understood?? And no, it is no longer used. That all changed in the 1970s as Mexican women began receiving more legal rights and social customs changed.

I hate to end the tour’s description on that note, but that is where the tour ended. Haha. We all had a great time on our “Taste of San Miguel” adventure and would enthusiastically recommend it. It was fun, it was yummy, it was outside on a beautiful day, and indoors in lovely settings (mostly). We thoroughly and literally enjoyed a taste of Mexican culture. What more could you want?

On second thought, there is a better way to end this “Taste of San Miguel” blog post! Sam introduced us to two Mexican beers (not Corona or Dos XX).

Both are obscura or dark beers – Bohemia Chocolate Stout and Modelo Negra.

Modelo Negra quickly became our favorite. As Brian’s Belly describes it —“A complex beer, redolent with caramel and chocolate flavors from the malt, the beer is perfectly balanced with a bit of spiciness or nuttiness in the hop aspects of its flavor profile.”  Our new favorite cerveza. We shall try to find it in New England!