San Miguel de Allende (and the surrounding area)
After a hot and sweaty ride on the 2nd class bus (cheaper, less comfortable) from Guanajuato we arrived in San Miguel. We’ve seen nothing but warm, sunny days since arriving in central Mexico and this day decided it was not going to break that streak. In times like these I go through my belongings in my head and casually toss items into a metaphorical trash can to lighten the load. Backpacking can be quite tiring, and our routine of city shuffling is proving to be exhausting without a break in the sunny weather. This is the dry season in part of Mexico and rain is missed dearly. The hike up to the reservoir in Guanajauto exhumed an old leg injury of mine that feels like a pinched nerve running from the top of my right leg down to my ankle. I believe it’s all muscular and will work itself out, but after several restless nights I can’t help but wonder.
San Miguel is another iconic city along the freedom trail in the central part of Mexico. The streets here are very colorful and noticeably wider than Guanajuato and have that historic sense engrained within their flat rock and round cobblestone streets built by hand. We stumbled across some construction projects on our travels around town and witnessed the painstakingly slow process of placing the final cobbles back into place, making the street look as if nothing happened. The city also keeps its streets preserved historically by prohibiting signage from protruding perpendicular from the exterior walls of it’s buildings. This creates a very aesthetically pleasing look when gazing down any of it’s long, straight streets- but can also be slightly confusing when trying to locate something. San Miguel has also kept it’s religious history very conspicuous with its vast array of beautiful churches and plazas. The doors always seem to be open and you can respectfully pop in to see all of the ornately depicted religious scenes. Jesus is everywhere here and you quite often see locals making the sign of the cross as they enter, walk, or drive by a church. The Plaza Central is squared up in front of the enormous Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel, a landmark of San Miguel. On our first night here we discovered that this week was dedicated to Cuba Fest and had a Cuban themed outdoor exhibit each night in the Plaza Principal. We listened to a Cuban performance and watched breakdancers perform impromptu in a gazebo nearby.
In dire need of some relaxation, we set off the following morning for some natural hot springs just outside of town. The local bus system in Mexico is quite perplexing, even with decent instructions. The Lonely Planet section of San Miguel seems to be written very obscurely and had us waiting at the wrong bus stop for about 45 minutes. After failing to find the right bus we changed plans and sought out the Sancturio de Atotonilco, a preserved historical church where local artist Miguel Antonio Martinez spent 30 years painting the frescos for the complex. The church was astonishing and the town was barren. After leaving we bumped into an American who led us to the hot springs we were seeking on foot. This place was a great example of how to commercialize a geothermal anomaly without making it feel like a dirty theme park. It was quite a spread of lush green plans, cacti, and ponds with a covered grotto fed by hot spring water. A nice Mexican couple that were at the springs gave us a ride back to town when they saw we were walking towards the highway to flag down a bus. We went back to San Miguel to check out some more churches and had some margaritas with some fellow hostelers at an ex-pat bar.
The only qualm I have about this pretty town is the influx of ex-pats who have retired here without a noticeable attempt of integration with the Mexican culture. It seems they have set up a separate subculture of businesses, galleries, bars, and educational lectures all geared for English speaking tourists and retirees. In my head it felt as if a memo leaked and stated that this town was a safe paradise to invest in causing a slew of people to start buying out haciendas, developing property, and setting up shop in this historic city. I don’t want to sound hypocritical (because I am a tourist and visitor as well) but when I see very little attempt to speak the language it irritates me. I’m noticing Americans tend to carry themselves in a different manner now that I find myself outside of the states. It’s becoming increasingly apparent, especially compared to the polite and humble culture that Mexico has created. Apologies for the pontification.
Our last morning here we took a hike to the northeast part of town to check out the botanical gardens. Succulents of all shapes and sizes were found in this preservation. A donkey found its way inside the conservation and it’s frustration could be heard booming from the canyon as it tried to figure out how it got there in the first place. This large canyon dominated the lower half of the preservation was believed to house the first water mill for San Miguel primarily for wool treatment. The water supposedly changes color based on the seasons.
Overall, San Miguel is a great place to visit and was a very warm, friendly place for turistas like us. The street food was cheap and great but the restaurants seemed trendier and priced accordingly. And lastly notable was San Miguel’s amazing outdoor public library where we would find ourselves doing research amongst a lush outdoor courtyard complete with big green leafy plants and a tranquil fountain. If all libraries were set up like this I would find myself reading a lot more.