Hot + Wheels in San Miguel

The title is a real stretch; I realize that. I am combining two aspects of our visit to San Miguel and that’s the only title that came to mind. We will see if it makes any sense at all by the end. Haha.

Feet are the primary mode of transportation in San Miguel. The city’s streets are narrow and very hilly so cars aren’t practical for most folks.

Walking down a very quiet street – no cars in sight in any direction!

What’s truly fascinating about the “traffic” is the patience that drivers display when they approach an intersection. There are no stoplights or stop signs. Cars just pause, look, and carefully proceed in a polite fashion. It is really quite nice to observe.

Mexico still has functioning Volkswagen Beetles. Al and I have a soft spot for those little vehicles, from our youth and from our years together. At one time we owned a pair of “his and her” Beetles. Al’s was a semi-souped-up cranberry colored one and mine was a classic yellow SuperBeetle. I couldn’t help but snap pics of as many of the Mexican Beetles as possible.

Although we always walked down the hill to our destinations, we also always caught a cab for the uphill trip back to Casa Garza. I managed to communicate that our destination was the corner of Garza and Huertas. Taxis are inexpensive, only 40 pesos ($2) for all of us, regardless of how far. On our last day the rate was increased to 50 pesos ($2.50) due to rising gas prices. Sure beats the cost of a taxi on Block island!

The bright green and white taxis are easy to spot and plentiful.

Trolley option – Although we never rode this trolly, it was cute, don’t you think?

Trash collection has an amusing etiquette in San Miguel. Early in the morning, between 7:00 and 8:30 am, we could hear the sounds of a ringing bell, similar to an old-fashioned dinner bell. That pleasant sound is the signal that the garbage truck is nearby and it is time to bring your trash out to the truck. Obviously it is a good idea to have it ready to go the night before.

Trash collection – Listen for the ringing bell!

Picking up the garbage, even on the crowded streets. Everyone has to wait.

On on elf our many walks, I noticed t his “antique” gas pump. It doesn’t appear to be in service anymore. In fact, I don’t think I saw any gas pumps within the city.

A wedding car waiting for the bride and groom. That is a real flower arrangement tied to the trunk.

That covers the “wheels” of the title………… Now for the “hot.”

We fell into the pattern of starting our day with a relaxing cup of coffee and breakfast while we waited for the temperatures to rise a bit. That was especially important on that Friday (our 3rd day) because we planned to head out of town to La Gruta Hot Springs, a 30-minute taxi ride (and a little more than the usual 40 pesos.)

La Gruta—the Grotto—is aptly named. It is one of four hot springs in the Guanajuato region, and is the closest to SMA. La Gruta is known for its healing waters. There are Stations of the Cross along the driveway entrance, suggesting it may have been operated as a religious site at one time.

The grounds were attractive and peaceful with many trees and flowers. The outdoor pools are fed by the thermal hot springs, but only two of the three were open that day.

The entrance into La Gruta was charming with glass hearts hanging from the branches of the trees.
That is one large piece of driftwood!

La Gruta is not fancy, but everything is clean. The waters are clear and sparkling with no chlorine. It’s a family place so it wasn’t total peace and quiet, but enough. The families with young children were fun to watch.

This was the warm pool where I spent most of my swimming time.

Al and Kayda in the next warmest pool. A very pretty setting.

At the far end of this pool is the entrance to the star attraction of La Gruta, a grotto or cave.

The tunnel entrance to the hottest cavern looked mysterious and intriguing.

Once you enter that doorway, you are in a darkened, water-filled stone tunnel that leads to the grotto. You can float, swim or walk through the tunnel.

In the tunnel!

At the end of the tunnel, you carefully step down a short stairway into a dome-shaped cave where hot water gushes from a tube high in the wall. It was steamy with chest-deep hot water. Most of the people seemed to really enjoy the experience, but I found it to be much too hot for me.

Al and Kayda in the steamy atmosphere. You could hardly see in the fog steam. I really risked my camera by carrying it through the tunnel and into the grotto.

All and all, it was a very relaxing day. This was our first ever visit to a “hot spring” since there aren’t many (any?) in New England.  I enjoyed swimming, in the “coolest” of the hot spring’s pools and the lunch at La Gruta’s little outdoor patio restaurant was  tasty. So far, Kayda and I have done a very fine job of planning the daily activities. 😉

Is the “Hot + Wheels” clear?

 

The Heart of San Miguel

Sam’s homemade Mexican breakfast.  Not our typical breakfast, but very tasty and satisfying!

Our second full day in San Miguel leisurely began with coffee and Sam’s homemade Mexican breakfast of eggs, rice and retired beans, with a local croissant.
(Funny update – My dear friend, Ems quickly wrote to comment on the above sentence: “You know me… I get tickled easily at auto-correct…...So I thought your Mexican breakfast was very appropriate since the two of you are not working any longer….. Those beans had worked LONG ENOUGH!!”)

Ahh, yes, the word was supposed to be “refried” beans!! That d____ autocorrect sure is ticklish!

Al and I ventured out to explore the center of San Miguel on our own. It was a gentle downhill walk.

A map of San Miguel de Allende. The red X marks Casa Garza. The historic center of San Miguel encompasses blocks of narrow streets, alleys, and paths without any traffic lights.

Old steps lead up to a building of red, gold, peach and rose tones.

The blue building stands out on this street. Note those narrow sidewalks. You learn to watch your step and fall into a rhythm of stepping onto the street when you pass someone else. But look first!

What a beautiful stone wall on this building. Small stones are decoratively embedded as details around the larger ones.

Water fountains for horses are a common sight on street corners.

We stopped to spend time in El JardinEl Jardin, pronounced “hardeen” translates as “the garden,” an appropriate name for this central plaza. On the street map above, It is a small green rectangle in the center, and a relatively short walk from Casa Garza. Every town in Mexico, large and small, has a central square. It’s where friends meet, where gossip gets passed around, where food and festivities abound, where everything happens. El Jardin is the heart of San Miguel.

The central plaza of San Miguel has no cars, no street lights, no neon signs, just people strolling and walking around.

The garden part of El Jardin is surrounded and filled with laurel trees, all trimmed in this cylindrical design.

A small wall marks off the rectangular raised center of El Jardin.

La Parroquia’s steeple rises above the tops of the laurel trees.

La Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel, or just La Parroquia, “the parish church” stands at the edge of El Jardin and can be seen from most places in the city. One might say it is the symbol of San Miguel, similar to what Notre Dame Cathedral or the Eiffel Tower represents for Paris.

Church after church was built on the same spot during the 1600s beginning with a traditional Mexican look and then evolving with each successvie rebuild. Around 1880, Zeferino Gutierrez, a mestizo bricklayer and self-taught architect was hired to construct a new facade for the church. Inspired by European Gothic cathedrals, he communicated his “neo-gothic design ideas to the local craftsmen by drawing with a stick in the clay soil.

La Parroquia is one of the most photographed churches in Mexico. I certainly photographed it every time we strolled past it. The following photos are from different days.

La Parroquia is visible from a myriad of places throughout the city. It truly is the “heart” of San Miguel.

La Parroquia keeps a watchful eye on the happenings in El Jardin.

The pink stone facade shows nicely in these two photographs.

Walking up to the entrance.

La Parroquia towers above us as we stand before it.

The interior is large, more like a cathedral than a “parish church” as La Parroquia is known.

Milagros (“miracles”) were pinned to the skirt of this St. Patrick statue, as well as on other saints stationed around the church. Look closely.

Milagros are small metal religious charms (often representing arms, legs, heads, animals, praying people) found in many areas of Latin America, especially Mexico and Peru.

Found this on the internet for a closer look at Milagros.

The word “Milagro” means “miracle”. A person will ask a favor of a saint and make a pilgrimage to the shrine of that saint. They pin the  Milagros are to some object of devotion in the shrine, such as a saint, sometimes with a note of prayer or thanks, or a photo. If I could have found a Milagros in the shape of a leg I would have said a prayer and pinned it on a saint.

 

There is a wide street around the Jardin, where people walk, and vendors sell their wares. No vehicles. Some of the buildings surrounding the park have arched openings framing the shops and restaurants inside.

All around the Jardin and in the streets of San Miguel (as well as in tourist shops at the airport) one sees Mexican rag dolls, called “Marias.”  The women in the plaza are descendants of ancient Otomi Indians and hand stitch the rag dolls with with smiling faces, indigenous-like dress, and hair braided with ribbons. The Marias are considered Mexican folk art at its most authentic. I regret that I did not get one.

An Otomi  woman making and selling Marias dolls on a side street near El Jardin.

Women making and selling “Marias” in El Jardin. I wish I had bought one to bring home.

More entrepreneurs selling hats. And wearing hats, many hats.

Surprise, surprise, we had to find helados (ice cream) for Al, he was feeling deprived. Fortunately, there was a Dolphy’s, the Mexican ice cream chain right on the corner.

Dolphy’s for helados– Al feels better!

Reading the flavors of helados proved to be challenging for us gringoes, without Sam along. Al decided on a flavor called “chamoy” which I thought might be raspberry which he loves. Chamoy sounded similar to chambord, the raspberry liquor, right???  Wrong. 🙂  Al liked the taste, but noticed that although it was fruity,  it wasn’t raspberry, and it had a “kick” to it. Well, we had to find out what this flavor was. Chamoy is a fruity and savory hot sauce made from pickling fruits in a salt brine and adding chili powder. It is also used as a flavoring for frozen treats giving a unique flavor combination that is simultaneously sweet, salty, spicy, and cold. Mystery solved.

Later that afternoon we reunited with Sam and Kayda for an early rooftop dinner at El Pagaso, one of their favorite restaurants.

Dinner at El Pagaso                                                                                                                                        Chiles en Nogada – Stuffed green Poblano chilis covered in walnut sauce and garnished with pomegranate seeds. Don’t recall what anyone else had to eat, I was so enthralled with my Chilis en Nogada. Maybe my favorite dinner of the trip!

The day wasn’t over yet!  We went to the movies, but don’t assume that was too ordinary to do while visiting a foreign country. “Pocket Movie” (yes, that is its name) is a tiny theater tucked behind the city walls.

The courtyard of Pocket Movie – delightful setting!

To the side of the courtyard are the entranceways to the two small theaters, each holding only about 20 people, in very comfortable seats.

Date Night!!!!

We sipped very nice margueritas while we waited in the charming courtyard. The cost of $6 each includes the movie, a drink (alcohol), and a bag of popcorn. What a deal!!

We watched Light Between the Oceans. I had the book and wanted to see the movie. It was a tearjerker. I probably didn’t prepare Al, Sam and Kayda enough for that.

Before we left the centro area, we had a chance to see La Parroquia at night, dressed in her lights..

The day ended with flan under a full moon on Casa Garza’s rooftop terrace.

 

 

What and Where in the World is San Miguel de Allende?

San Miguel de Allende is a city located in central Mexico. 170 miles from Mexico City, SMA is located within Mexico’s hilly central highlands. The mild climate is temperate, described by some as “eternal spring.” January is one of the coolest and driest months. We experienced very pleasant days (low 70s) with cool evenings (mid-high 40s).

The red dot is San Miguel’s location in Mexico, in the hills, approximately 6,000 feet above sea level.

A map that shows San Miguel’s distance from Mexico City.

I am curious and wanted to learn a little more about San Miguel. It’s taken me a while to put together the key moments in history, and although this next section is relatively long, it is actually a very brief re-telling of San Miguel’s history. If you don’t care for history or bore easily, I suggest you skip this part and head farther down to photos of our first day.

San Miguel has had several names (I counted 5 in all)  throughout its history. Before the arrival  of the Spanish, conquistadores and priests, the native settlement was named Izcuinapan (place of dogs). In 1536 a Franciscan monk named Fray Juan de San Miguel led an expedition to explore the area and found a mission. Unfortunately, the existing building he chose did not last long so in 1542, the Fray Juan built a new chapel in San Miguel el Viejo (el viejo means “the old”), about a mile from today’s centro. The real history of San Miguel de Allende is usually dated from that event. Fray Juan dedicated the Spanish town to the Archangel Michael, christening it “San Miguel.” That also happened to be his own chosen name, so perhaps he had a dual purpose?  😉

A statue of Father Juan San Miguel near the Parroquia. (I didn’t take this photo)

From 1550-1590  the Chichimeca War raged between Spanish colonizers and their Indian allies against groups of the  nomadic Chichimeca Indians. San Miguel was temporarily abandoned after an attack in 1550 which burned it to the ground and killed 15 people.

After establishing the mission, Fray Juan had left San Miguel in the hands of Fray Bernardo Cossín, while he set out to convert and/or save other souls. Fray Bernardo decided the location was too dry and too dangerous and led his people up the hill, to the site of the present day Chorro spring (chorro meaning “spring”). Here he began to rebuild the town, establishing it as both a mission and a military outpost. The new site was northwest of the old one at a place with two fresh water springs which supplied all of the town’s water until the middle of the 20th century.

By mid-16th Century,  huge veins of silver were discovered at Zacatecas, and heavily loaded mule caravans were soon streaming south, carrying this river of silver to the capital, passing through San Miguel. The city was next known as San Miguel el Grande and sometimes San Miguel de los Chichimecas during this period.

San Miguel prospered for almost 300 years under the rule of Spain and the Catholic Church. The land was wonderful cattle country and supported large haciendas, the major road to Mexico City passed through San Miguel, and both Spaniards and indigenous peoples moved from the south to populate the rich land. The city lived up to its name as San Miguel el Grande. By the 1770s it was a wealthy, cosmopolitan city, larger than either New York City or Boston.

Ignacio de Allende (also from the internet)

San Miguel el Grande  played a prominent role in the Mexican War for Independence. In 1779 Ignacio José de Allende y Unzaga was born to a wealthy family in San Miguel el Grande . In 1810, he became an officer in the Spanish army, but soon became convinced of the need for Mexican independence. He joined the conspirators and other agitators for independence. On September 16, 1810, the Mexican War of Independence began. Allende led the rebels to several military victories and was named a hero, but he was captured by the Spanish and beheaded before the war was over.
In 1826, in honor of their heroic favorite son, San Miguel was renamed (again) as San Miguel de Allende, it’s fifth and final name.

By 1900, San Miguel de Allende was on the decline. With exceptional foresight, the Mexican Government declared San Miguel a National Historic Monument in 1926. This restricted development in the historic district and preserved the town’s colonial character.

Within the next 50 years, foreign artists moved to San Miguel and “discovered” its colonial architecture. The art and cultural institutes they founded gave the town a reputation that attracted other artists and then foreign art students, especially former U.S. soldiers studying on the G.I. Bill after the WWII. Since that time, San Miguel de Allende has attracted a significant amount of foreign retirees, artists, writers and tourists.

Today, an estimated 13,000 foreigners, mostly from the U.S. and Canada, call San Miguel home, making up about 10% of the population. They move here for the climate, the cosmopolitan yet quaint feeling, the art and culture, and…….. to escape high taxes and high cost of living in their homelands. I can testify from personal experience now that Mexico is much, much less expensive!

Back to us………… On our first morning, which began slowly, Kayda and I spent some time planning our activities for the next week while Sam and Al walked to the market……uphill. Later we both went out to begin explorations of San Miguel with our trusted guides, Sam and Kayda. This was their second time in San Miguel and they were quite familiar with the city. My first impression was one of color, amazing colors.

Out in the daylight of our first day in San Miguel, this photo captures the colors, the hilliness, and the iconic Parroquia in the distance.

The streets (better to be called “paths”) are steep and narrow.

Most of the streets through San Miguel are cobblestones. Very picturesque, but challenging for feet without the proper shoes. You learn very quickly which shoes work and which ones don’t.

On our drive from the airport, Al and I noticed these statues along the road into San Miguel. And there they were, on his walk with Sam. I was never able to discover what these statues represented.

Beautiful and colorful

Al photographed these colorful buildings on that first walk, and we would pass them many times throughout the next week. There is something about those colors and the tall pines.

A water fountain on the corner.

The Biblioteca Pública serves as the community center for San Miguel’s large foreigner population. This library was established by Helen Wale, a Canadian, who wanted to reach out to local children. It is the largest privately funded, publicly accessible library in Mexico with the second largest English language book collection.

Tucked behind that wall is the public library, Biblioteca Publica, with a quiet courtyard for reading and a collection of more than 60,000 volumes in Spanish, English, German or French, plus numerous cultural events.

The ceiling of the library’s gift shop caught my attention as we entered the courtyard. Wow!

We would see many churches on our walks about San Miguel. The first was Nuestra Señora de la Salud, Church of Our Lady Of Health.  The church dates back to the 18th century when it served as a chapel for the adjacent San Francisco de Sales College.

Templo de Nuestra Señora (Church of Our Lady of Health)

The entrance to this church is crowned by a gigantic carved seashell. In the center of the seashell is a single eye enclosed in a triangle, an ancient symbol for God’s omnipresence and not, as some believe, for the church’s ability to cure eye disease.

I had to walk inside of this church, “lady of  health,” hoping that some would rub off.

In the same city block as Templo Nuestra Señora is another church, equally beautiful in its pale pink main facade and baroque style -El Oratorio de San Felipe Neri. This church dates back to the 18th century.

If you actually paid attention to the history portion of this blog, you will know the name of Ignacio José de Allende – the Spanish soldier, San Miguel native son, and rebel fighter for Mexican independence.

A statue of Ignacio José de Allende dominates the Plaza Civica, honoring his role in Mexican independence from Spain. This plaza was originally constructed in 1555 and was supposed to be the original center of the town.

There is more to a city than its architecture. La Comena, a well-known bakery, and two ladies making tortillas in their shop.

The four of us, Sam, Al, me, and Kayda, resting for a moment in a park.

An early dinner at Cafe Rama. The fish tacos were delicious. I must admit they were more delicious and even less expensive than fish tacos at Captain Jack’s “Tuesday Taco Night” in Hope Town. 😉

Our first day ended early after all that walking. There is so much more to share, but it will have to wait for now.

Escape in January

Our January 2017 “escape” actually began waaay back in March of 2016. Remember “Our Last Days in the Abacos” blog post where we spent our final day with Sam and Kayda at Lubbers Landing???? While we were enjoying that delicious lunch and a very beautiful day, Sam and Kayda invited us to visit them in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico during the winter. They planned to spend December and January in SMA.

Memories of a terrific day in the Abacos with Sam and Kayda.

Lunch at Lubbers Landing – We always have such a good time together.

As we journeyed north on the ICW in March, April and early May, we thought about it, talked about it, considered it, smiled, and said “yes!” This decision was a big deal for us; we never take vacations that aren’t boat-related or near the ocean – San Miguel is in the middle of Mexico, 6,000 feet above sea level in the mountains. Time for a change of pace?

As we packed, we couldn’t help but notice the temperature on both little weather stations. That’s cold! Good timing for an escape.

Shortly after the holidays, we plunged into serious packing as the temperatures also plunged. Over time, our one-week visit to Mexico had morphed into 3 weeks when we combined the trip with a visit to Florida on the return end to see family members and friends. It would now be 23 days and  5 locations.

January 10th was a long day of travel. We left home at 4:00 am in single-digit temperatures to fly the 2200 miles from Hartford to Mexico City (with a layover in Atlanta). After passing through customs and picking up our checked bag, we got our ride from the airport to San Miguel de Allende, 168 miles farther taking about 3.5 hours. The speed of the drive, close to 100 mph at times, meant that I couldn’t take any photos through the windows, except for this one —

Federales with machine guns in hand. This was the scariest thing we saw the entire time. And it wasn’t scary, just a reminder. Our driver said they were probably heading north to the border. (Just can’t escape that border talk, can we???)

Fortunately for us, the driver dropped us off right at Casa Garza where Sam and Kayda were waiting with open arms.  Sam and Kayda were renting a little “house” right in San Miguel de Allende. Like most of the city, the homes are “town style” with lovely doors tucked into the walls of the city.

The street names at the intersections also have arrows below to let you know which way you can drive. That didn’t really matter much to us because we walked or grabbed a taxi.

Let’s take a tour of “Casa Garza”, the house on Callejon de la Garza. It was a uniquely different housing experience for us, as well as delightful.

The front door of Casa Garza.

That front door opens into a narrow courtyard that leads to the actual door to the house (right photo shows Al at the door.) The left photo is the opposite view – Al waving from the street.

The first floor hallway – The Mexican floor tiles, pottery, and artifacts set the mood from the start.

Here is the really cool feature – spiral stairs! The house is so narrow that the spiral stairs save needed space. There was a total of 4 spiral staircases.

Left – The spiral stairs from the 1st to the 2nd floor. The curtain to the right of the stairs is our bedroom and bath.
Right – The spiral stair from the 2nd floor to the master bedroom.

The 2nd floor, or “main floor” was the kitchen and living room, and another bath.

The colorful  little kitchen. The glass wall at the end overlooks the entrance courtyard.

Two views of the living room. The top one is from the internet, the bottom one obviously includes us, on our “devices” checking for news and updates from home, the world, and friends.

The third set of spiral stairs led up to the master bedroom (Sam and Kayda’s) and then another spiral (#4) passed their room, leading up to the rooftop terrace. Yes, I wrote “rooftop terrace.” SO so very cool!!

Casa Garza’s rooftop terrace. Not only was there a table and chairs, potted plants all around, but there was a grill, a sink, and a washing machine.

Sam and Kayda are “birders.” They know birds and added this hummingbird feeder to the terrace. Waiting and watching for the little creatures became one of our favorite happy hour pastimes. We never had to wait long at all!

Hummingbird and his shadow, which did not scare him off.

Photographing hummingbirds was an exercise in futility, but that didn’t stop me from trying.

The wings are just a blur. Two in one photo in the bottom right shot.

Hummingbirds surely do love their sugar water! This feeder has a red glass flower to mimic natural flowers. Very pretty. I bought one for us and hope it attracts the Connecticut hummingbirds as well.

The view from the terrace was…………….. breathtaking? That sounds so trite. Better than words, take a look —-

Overlooking San Miguel de Allende.

La Parroquia, in the center of the city , a closer look.

It had been a long day, but we were so excited to begin our Mexican adventures that we agreed to head out and explore San Miguel for dinner.

 Al and Kayda are ready for that downhill walk into the town’s center.

We ate a delicious meal on an outside terrace at La Posidita.

Inside decor of La Posidita and a blurry photo of the moon from our dining table.

La Parroquia, at night.

Iglesia San Rafael, next to La Parroquia.

The next seven days were amazing. It may take seven blogs to describe it all, share it all, and save it for memories.