A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: backtomexico

San Miguel de Allende & Bahias de Huatulco

Background Info on both

We will be leaving shortly for Mexico for a month. We will split our time between San Miguel de Allende and Bahias de Huatulco. We have written a bit of background on both places as they are very different.

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San Miguel de Allende is a city and municipality located in the far eastern part of the state of Guanajuato in central Mexico. It is 274 km (170 mi) from Mexico City. Historically, the town is important as the first municipality declared independent of Spanish during the Mexican War of Independence.

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However, the town waned during and after the war, and at the beginning of the 20th century was in danger of becoming a ghost town. Its Baroque/Neoclassical colonial structures were "discovered" by foreign artists who moved in and began art and cultural institutes such as the Instituto Allende and the Escuela de Bellas Artes.

This attracted foreign art students, especially former U.S. soldiers studying on the G.I. Bill after the Second World War. Since then, the town has attracted a significant amount of foreign retirees, artists, writers and tourists, which is shifting the area’s economy from agriculture and industry to commerce catering to outside visitors and residents.

The schools spurred the opening of hotels, shops and restaurants to cater to the new visitors and residents. Many of the American veterans who came to study in San Miguel would later come back to retire, and have been credited with saving the town.

The city took on a Bohemian quality in the 1960s and 1970s as counterculture hippies moved in. Many of the old "ruins" of colonial houses have sold for more than a house in Mexico City.

The city and nearby sanctuary were declared a World Heritage Site in July 2008. It was chosen both for its well-preserved Baroque colonial architecture and layout as well as its role in the Mexican history. The area which has been inscribed includes 64 blocks of the historic center and the sanctuary of Atotonilco with the title of "Villa Protectora de San Miguel el Grande y el Santuario de Jesus Nazareno de Atotonilco”.

The layout of the center of the city is mostly a straight grid, which was favoured by the Spanish during colonial times. However, due to the terrain, many roads are not straight. There are no parking meters, no traffic signals and no fast food restaurants. These roads are lined with colonial era homes and churches. With a few exceptions, the architecture is domestic rather than monumental, with well-tended courtyards and rich architectural details. The houses have solid walls against the sidewalks, painted in various colors, many with bougainvillea vines falling down the outside and the occasional iron-grated window. Many of the larger structures have large front doors, which were used by horses and carriages.

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In the historic center, there are an estimated two thousand doors, behind which there are at least two thousand courtyards of various sizes. Many of these have been restored to their former colonial state, with façades of ochre, orange and yellow, windows and doors framed by handcrafted ironwork and made of hewn wood. The interior roofs are flat, of heavy mortar supported by large beams. Very few structures have atriums or front yards; instead, open private space is behind the main façade in courtyards. These courtyards are private gardens protected from dust, excess water and intruders.

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We will be staying in an old hacienda that has been divided up into appartments

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Bahias de Huatulco is located in the state of Oaxaca where the foothills of the Sierra Madre del Sur Mountains meet the Pacific Ocean approximately 500 km south of Acapulco.

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Huatulco is a resort region with white Pacific coast beaches. It’s made up of 9 bays, including the port of call Santa Cruz. Tangolunda Bay is home to resort hotels and a golf course. The inland community of La Crucecita has some restaurants and shops around a central plaza.

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Huatulco's tourism industry is centered on its nine bays thus the name Bahias de Huatulco but has since been unofficially shortened to simply Huatulco. The area has a wide variety of accommodations from rooms for rent, small economy luxury hotels, luxury villas, vacation condominiums, bed and breakfasts, as well as several high-end luxury resorts on the ocean.

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Until resort development began in the 1980s, Huatulco was little known except as a coffee-growing area. In 1984 Fondo Nacional de Turismo a government agency dedicated to the development of tourism in Mexico, acquired 21,000 hectares of land to develop a tourism center, similar to that in Cancún. The existing population was relocated to Santa María Huatulco. The plan resulted in the improvement of roadways and other infrastructure. It also has populated areas mixed with "green zones" to make the area ecologically friendlier.

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About 80% of all tourism in Bahias de Huatulco is domestic in nature. Only about 20% of Huatulco's tourism is foreign, mainly because international air access is limited. Bahias de Huatulco has a small international airport just 20 minutes from the main resorts in Tangolunda Bay. This airport has increased tourism, and helped to popularize the Pacific Coast backpacker route through Huatulco, Zipolite, Mazunte, and Puerto Escondido.The peak season for foreign tourism is typically from December through April. Sunshine can be expected about 330 days a year with the average temperature of 28 °C (82.4 °F).

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Fred visited that part of the coast in the late 70s and spent time in nearby Puerto Escondido and Puerto Ángel when they were both sleepy little Mexican fishing villages with only one of two small gringo hotels for young hippies. While there Fred met and got a ride from a fellow traveler, driving an old school bus he purchased in New Jersey going to Guatemala to be sold. The bus owner had picked up along the way a number of young folks, who were willing to chip in a few bucks each for gas, all heading south. Fred stayed with him until San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas. Can you find him in the old photo?

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Posted by backtomexico 14:36 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

Arriving

Changing Latitudes Changing Attitudes……..leave your gringoness at home

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Only a good buddy or an insomniac would offer to drive you to the airport at 4:30 a.m. Salut! to Alan Guilbualt, not the latter. Arrived in Seattle at 6:40 a.m. only to find we needed to get rerouted, which meant hanging out in the airport for 4 hours before out flight to Dallas and then on to Leon, north of Mexico City. We arrived in Leon to be greeted much to our delight by our luggage and Alfredo, our driver to San Miguel. It’s a 2-hour drive from Leon to San Miguel with the road going up to about 7,000 feet before dropping into San Miguel at 6,000 ft arriving at about 11:30 p.m. but there is a 2 hour time change.
Fortunately, Alfredo was born just up the street so had an idea of where our apartment in an old colonial home was. The street was built for donkeys and horses, was steep and cobblestone and only slightly wider than the SUV. Alfredo had to fold in his mirrors to drive down the road. Appears this is not unusual for SM.
Our new home is on the third floor of a step walk-up. Quite comfortable and now warm since Fred turned on the gas fireplace. The temperature in SM is quite cool in the evening and morning, polar-fleece required, lovely and warm in the afternoon. The rooftop has a wonderful succulent garden and views over SM and the surrounding valley.
This a.m. we headed down the street to find some ranchos huervos and afterwards happened across a walking tour of the historic area lead by an excellent guide from Texas. He has been living in SM for a number of years and the fee goes to support local children requiring medical care After thinking we had a better sense of the town we headed off in search of largest grocery store Mega (think Mexican Wal Mart like) and wandered about, uphill and down until we finally caved in and hailed a taxi to take us to the large, modern grocery store.
After a great meal, good wine and lovely sunset we are resting comfortably planning tomorrows adventure….

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Posted by backtomexico 17:53 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

Two Sides of the Same Coin

Up Hill & Down

Briefly missed the roosters waking us up, something that we're so used to in Mexico.  Seems SM has it's own alarm system.  At somewhere around first light, 7 a.m. the church bells harken us to prayer.  Since that didn't work, a different church gave it a try about 15 minutes later.  Again ignored only to have the garbage collectors come down the street at 7:30 ringing a dinner triangle to remind us to bring our trash down to the end of the street.  Time to get up.

This a.m. we headed up and up our narrow cobblestone street (thinking that a donkey would be better suited to this than a horse) in search of the Tuesday Market.  This very busy market for locals is huge.  Besides stall upon stall of vegetables and fruit,  there are piles of used clothes and shoes, new clothes and shoes, tools, likely counterfeit DVDs (no Star Wars), housewares, blenders and parts, plants, herbs and spices, flowers and food stalls cooking up steaming pots of food.  After succumbing to the avocados and cantaloupe we headed back through the modern mall next door.  Interesting that the market was packed and the mall was mostly vacant with very few of the stores occupied with a business, a dismal place.  Off downhill to the condo for a bit of lunch and sit in the sun that had burned through the morning’s clouds.

The afternoon saw us heading downhill to town in search of bread and the local English newspaper. Finding bread proved much easier than the newspaper. SM has wonderful bread – crusty on the outside fluffy on the inside…probably thanks to the French who played a part in Mexico’s history. We stopped in at a few of the many shops that sold quite a variety of merchandise from tin and mosaic religious and tourist stuff to very pricey woolens and a range of strange and intriguing art. Mexico's art is modern and out there. Our day was quite a contrast from the market we’d been to earlier that sold mostly functional merchandise for local folks to upscale and expensive art in boutique stores for wealthy tourists.

After searching for the local paper to no avail (apparently it comes out on Friday not Tuesday) we headed back up the hill to home and dinner with another lovely sunset in the background.

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Posted by backtomexico 17:34 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

Extremes

Jak się masz

Off to a slow start this a.m. after a fix of the VCR and delivery of a toaster. The plan was to visit the much talked about Parque Juarez and then follow the guidebook walking tour in a circle route back home. Off we went down the street and ran into the resident of the lower condo who is from Vancouver and her friend from Calgary. At the end of the street was another church with incredible views to the west over the valley. A pause here to recognize what a beautiful town this is. The pictures tell some of the story. It was made a national Mexican monument in 1926 which meant no traffic lights, neon lights or fire hydrants (although apparently they recently got a single fire hydrant). Despite the homes being packed closely together, most have gardens wherever they can put them…window boxes, roof gardens, trees growing out of the narrow sidewalks plants draping the high stone walls.
Down a bit further to the park that was quiet, cool, and lush and though not big, offered space not found around homes. Through the park and we ]came across the Rosewood luxurious hotel and residence that cost as much for a night in least expensive room (which is outstanding) as our condo does for a week (we checked). Nice place. On to a busy street that borders the western side of the central area of SM. Lots of restaurants and little shops offering everything from high end clothing to tourist trinkets and ‘antique’ stores. The Institute de Allende, an art university that has played a major role in the transformation of SM to an artist’s community. We had a very informative chat about the very edgey Mexican art with a gallery owner there (and a talk about ‘Alone’ a reality TV show filmed on Vancouver Island). http://instituto-allende.edu.mx/acerca-del-instituto/
On down the street where we came across a store that sold vintage Polish posters of circus’, movies, and theatre productions. We were informed that they had the worlds largest collection of old Polish posters. Who’d have thought. Following WWII there was so much physical distruction in Polish cities that they put up boards to screen the ruins and then allowed local artists to past posters on them. Seems a Polish collector retired to SM with his extensive collection of posters and opened the store. Beautiful, interesting and its edgy art much like Mexican art. http://www.mrposter.com/
More wandering down the street and then back up the hill to home. Did we mention that SM is at 6000+ ft and that we have been putting on the gas fireplace each night after dinner.

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Posted by backtomexico 18:56 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

Finally

Visit to Charco del Ingenio

A visit to [i]El Charco del Ingenio (pond with an ingenious devise i.e. a waterwheel)

For months Gail has been planning a visit to El Charco del Ingenio, a botanical garden and nature preserve (170 acres) at the edge of San Miguel. http://www.elcharco.org.mx/Ingles/index.html. It is devoted to the preservation of the area and its biodiversity, has an impressive botanical collection of cacti and other succulent Mexican plants.

Armed with the directions from a guidebook we headed off down the street and up the hill to find the garden. Yes, the hill was steep and the road went from cobblestone to dirt and the confidence in the guidebook became shaky but after 40 minutes we found ourselves at the garden. After a good cup of coffee we joined a tour given by Norman, a lawyer who had retired here 7 years ago from Seattle and had a striking resemblance to Dustin Hoffman (Fred thought with a touch of Bob Dylan). Off we went on a walk through the nature preserve. Love this…in 2004 El Charco was proclaimed a Peace Zone by the Dalai Lama during his visit to the garden; a places free of violence and arms, dedicated to the conservation of nature and community development. His theory is that if all the world’s peace zones joined together there would be world peace. Still working on it.

Norman was an excellent guide, pointing out the various succulents and other plants in the garden as well birds and a bit about the history of the property. After 2 ½ hours he brought us back to the tiny reception center & restaurant where we enjoyed a quick bite before heading off on our own.

For the first time in San Miguel we were hot. Down the middle of the preserve is a stream that had been dammed over 100 years ago to provide waterpower to run a fabric mill. When electricity came to the area 10 years later the mill changed over and the dam was no longer used. Today it creates a seasonal lake that has brought waterfowl to the area. We walked through to the end of the preserve and then back along the edge of the canyon that has been created eventually reaching the derelict hacienda that had overseen this area before the revolution when the land was divided up. Back along the lake, stepping around large anthills and back to the reception area.
After all the planning for this visit, Gail was worried that it might not meet her expectations. It turned out to be a wonderful place, different than expected, but beautiful in it’s own way. After a stop in the shade we headed off down the hill (whether up hill or down is harder is debateable) and back home for a cold cerveza.

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Posted by backtomexico 17:54 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

A Bit of Culture

Edgy Art

Armed with the guidebook, we headed out early to get out of the way of the maid. Today’s plan was to go check out the artisan areas. First stop was to get coffee in a warm place. The first inviting place we found was the nicest Starbucks we’ve ever seen, in an old stone building and although it was tempting we headed down the street for some local coffee. Sorry, all you librarians, but in search of the ‘bano’ we headed up to the library that houses a collection of Spanish, English, German and French books. It’s an old large hacienda with an open central courtyard that you might expect to meet Hemmingway in, dusty old stacks, huge chandeliers with half the bulbs missing, and art work old and new including murals that covered the walls and the ceiling in some of the rooms. It seems to be a hangout for the expats in the area. And has nice bathrooms for 5 pesos.

Heading on up the street we found ourselves at Fábrica la Aurora, an old very large former fabric mill that has been converted into numerous artists galleries. The guidebook sounded like we were going to find a bunch of high end boutiques but instead we found a vast maze of galleries featuring local working artists, antiques, and design galleries. Our impression of Mexican art is that it has a dreamlike quality, sometimes bad dreams and combines humour and spirituality. Interesting and for the most part makes one think.

Having had our fill of art we headed back home via the Artisan’s Alley, which offered a selection of less ethereal arts and crafts. Most impressive: lovely purses made out of beer can tabs (really) and gourds with springs attached that produced sounds out of Star Wars (very neat).

Having totally had our fill, we headed off in search of a 6 pack of cerveza, surprising hard to find in the old part of town, a few other groceries, and then back up the hill home past a huge bronze sculpture of a guy on horse with a large sword with pigeons perched on his head. Another interesting day in SM

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Posted by backtomexico 17:48 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

CBC in San Miguel

Where did all these Canucks come from....

When up at El Charco the other day Fred noticed a talk on wildflowers scheduled for today. On closer inspection, the speaker was David Tarrant, who had been host of CBC’s Canadian Gardening out of the UBC Botanical garden for many years. Seems David has retired to SM 8 years and is a great support of El Charco.

The morning started off with a quick response to the garbage collector’s bell at 8 a.m. Chicken scraps in the garbage had to go. A quick run down (thank goodness) to the end of the street to find a truck with a fellow in the back taking bags of people’s garbage. It had been down to 2 degrees last night so there was a bit of grumbling about it being ‘frio’. Definitely.

Donning our polar fleece we headed up the hill to El Charco Botanical Garden. Hill was still there. We arrived to be greeted by David Tarrant and then by Pam, an American who moved to Victoria from Hawaii but couldn’t get through immigration so she had to sell her Victoria home so her next choice was San Miguel. About 40 people showed up for the talk, looking very much like a garden club anywhere. The slides showed an amazing transformation of the landscape with the summer rains. Fields of pink cosmos and orange marigolds, orchids, flowering cactus, of course, and large and small colourful flowers. The landscape went from brown with a bit of green cacti to green with splashes of colour. There’s even a fern that curls up and is brown when dry and opens up to green with the rain. David Tarrant is a very entertaining and informative speaker. We really enjoyed it. The garden was too tempting so we went off for a little stroll along the lake and took in the quiet, the birds, and the cacti along the way.

Back downhill to home for lunch and then down to town to find some veggies and to the library to find out about a tour they were offering. Alas…closes at 2 p.m. on Saturday. Onward to the market. It starts out with tourist stuff and then morphs into a food, fruits, veggies, chicken feet (what do you do with chicken feet? Our chicken came with all the usual parts, neck, heart, etc and feet but at the market you could buy just the feet), tripe, meat, and fruits and veggies. Apparently the bakeries run from 6 a.m. until noon.

Stocked with avocados, cactus leaves, platanos, and garlic, we headed down to the main square to see what was going on a Saturday afternoon. It was busy with hat, ice cream and balloon sellers, families just sitting, and in the background music. The early signs of a wedding were appearing so we hung around to watch. It seemed to be a big affair with the women arriving in elaborate dresses in peach, silver and black. Fred armed with his telephoto so as not to be intrusive, captured some lovely shots of the proceedings. It took quite a while for it all to get organized and then after all those in fancy dress were sprinkled with holy water they headed into the church.

Back up the hill to home, to watch the sunset and figure out how to cook cactus leafs.

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Posted by backtomexico 18:08 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

The Crazy House Tour

Bet you thought the psychedelic era was over......

Woke up to the church bells. Have not figured them out. They’re coming from at least 2 different places. The first ones are usually about 6:30 a.m. I’m told that there’s 32 clangs. I haven’t counted. The next ones are around 6:45 am. and supposedly 12 rings. The next set is around 7 a.m. and this time 30 however since there are reportedly 128 churches in the area each with bells, I’m not sure that my informant was listening to the same bells. Tomorrow if I remember I’ll count. This a.m. along with the bells there was fireworks apparently to ward evil spirits. The bells continue throughout the day ringing a random number of times as far as I can figure. Oh, there they go now at 4:44 p.m.

Today was the House and Garden tour put on to support the library. We wanted to try to get the tickets that we didn’t get yesterday so we headed down early when the library tienda opened at 10 a.m. We stayed on the sunny side of the street where it was slightly warmer. The sidewalks are just wide enough for about 1 ½ people and since most stay on the sunny side in the morning and the shady side in the afternoon there’s a lot of friendly jostling going on. And then there’s telephone poles which means you squeeze between the wall and the pole or go out on the street. The cobblestones are cold in the morning so before we get anywhere our feet are cold but then we’re walking fast cause we’re cold too.
About 100 very friendly gringos, mostly American with a good number of Canadians were on the tour. Both homes we visited were owned by artists.

We all piled on small buses, about 20 people to a bus. Our guide David was another eccentric expat who has lived in SM for a while. He was a former lawyer from the San Francisco who was also a musician and had played with the Grateful Dead and other Bay area bands back in the day. He was a former friend of counter culture author Ken Kesey who like Jerry Garcia and others from that era had spent time in SM. Well known Beat/Psychedelic generation person Neal Cassady, who figured in many of Jack Kerouac's novels, died in SM back in the late 60s when the town was part of the expanding your mind/LSD tour.

The first house we went to was hmmm…eclectic? See photos. Arthur Black’s show ‘Weird Homes’ came to mind. The second house was owned by a ‘visionary artist’ Anado McLauchlin and described as the happiest house in SM and something attuned to an acid trip. Dusting would not be an option. Words can not describe the cacophony of colour and images. We both felt we didn’t quite get the art and were afraid to ask. See photos.

Back on the bus we headed to the market and then to the square to see what was happening on Sunday afternoon. Lots of families and young people eating ice cream and wandering about. Deep-fried cinnamon sticks were too tempting to resist and gone in no time.

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Posted by backtomexico 17:07 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

A town Day

Waking and walking......

6:30 a.m. 32 plus 1 bells. 6:45 a.m. 33 plus 2 bells. 7 ish 35 and still counting bells plus 3. Googled bell ringing but it appears to be a very complicated subject so am just going to enjoy the reminder that we’re on an adventure. The garbage bell we’ve got.

Off down the hill this a.m., past the burros, to look for a bank and then back to the library to book another tour. The Bibliotheca is the hub of the Anglo community in SM which says a lot about who the visits. Along the way we come across a bakery!! Feeling like kids in a candy store we loaded up on a cinnamon buns (after chasing off the bees), desserts and rolls. Mark the spot and carry on to the library. Errand for the day done and then some, we go in search of Aztec soup and come across a small restaurant left over from the 80’s but with delicious soup and an ample basket of bread and tacos. We’re not quite culturally correct on our meal times. Lunch here is about 2 p.m. and dinner seems to be 7+.

We come out of the restaurant to the sound of firecrackers. Fireworks seems to be at any time of the day or night and meant to scare off evil spirits. We headed off down to an area of town that we hadn’t explored before and wandered through shops that had taken over old buildings. As the photos shows the street fronts are high walls but behind the walls are a maze of rooms and courtyards that can sometimes can be identified as the homes of people who had lived here years ago. In this area we really got a sense of the strong sense of style, design and fashion of SM, our experience in general in Mexico. Considering this is a town of only 140,000 there are a lot of higher end home fashion stores housed in puzzle of the rooms and spaces of yesteryear . Oh…7:21 p.m….fireworks.

Having wandered, pondered, and awed we headed up the hill home to figure out what we had seen.

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Posted by backtomexico 17:57 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

A Step Back in Time

Tiempo para la casa

Today was a peak into the history of this area. We jumped on a bus at the Biblioteca to visit three haciendas. A hacienda is like the British estate system. Think Downton Abbey with a Spanish/Mexican twist. In the 1500’s when Spain ruled what later would be called Mexico, large tracts of land were given to conquistadors and crown officials who would use them to cultivate crops, such as sugar, wheat, fruits and vegetables as well producing meat, leather, and tallow. Hacienda’s were more than just an estate house. They were a village with stores, a church, and where local native people would be allowed to live on the land to grow crops that were taxed or they could work directly for the landowner. The first hacienda we visited today was originally 1 million acres in size.

Our drive took us north through dry scrubland with occasional small towns. Not much growing at this time of year but cactus. Four hundred and fifty years ago when Hacienda Las Trancas was a fort used to house and guard caravans of silver taken out of local mines. These heavily guarded mule trains were heading toward a port on the Caribbean then Spain. Back in the silver era a group of renegade soldiers stole a large treasure of silver and hide it somewhere in the vicinity of the hacienda, it has never been found.
Father Miguel Hidalgo in the late 1700s, a champion of the common people and one of the early founders of Mexican independence struggle from Spain, hid weapons at the hacienda. Later, during the Mexican Revolution in the early 1900’s most haciendas were destroyed but not Las Trancas because the owner provided support and sanctuary for Pancho Villa. Today the hacienda has been restored by its owners in to a spectacular boutique hotel and the prices aren’t all that steep.
http://www.haciendalastrancas.com/Hacienda_Las_Trancas/Home_Page.html

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Back on the bus and hour up the road to a partially restored Hacienda La Quemada that has been in the same family for 5 generations. After being abandoned in the early 1900’s the current residents and their two married children and families decided to move in and work on the remaining part of the hacienda. The extended 3-generation family live in the original house and farm, grow grain raise cattle, plus run a school for special needs kids. The home is well on its way to being restored but the granary and stables are in serious disrepair.

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Onto our third hacienda, Jaral de Berrio originated in the late 1600’s. The hacienda was so productive that the owners became one of the wealthiest families of the time, owning 98 other estates and were give the title of Marquis. During its heyday in the late 1800’s Jaral de Berrio operation housed 6500 people. Our guide told us to close out eyes as we drove close to the main house along a dirt road through dusty dry fields. When we allowed to open them; there was a group ‘ah!’ as we first viewed the massive ornate structure.

We went in through the huge wooden doors to find an enormous main house plus a series of buildings all in significant disrepair with remnants of hand painted frescos, ornate tile, and imported French wallpaper. If this Hacienda was located in either the USA or Canada, the govt’ would never let people near this place as it was unsafe to wander along floors that were collapsing with large holes everywhere. Things are different in Mexico.
As we came down the grand staircase it was hard not to imagine the residents of days gone by, in their elegant gowns and fancy carriage while numerous servants scurried around creating an extremely opulent life for the owners and their guests. In the 18th century the hacienda began producing mescal, and the tradition continues with licenses being granted to produce the mescal off site. It was very sad to see the once elegant massive estate house in such a poor state with little hope of restoration. We felt very fortunate to have seen it at all.

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Posted by backtomexico 07:19 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

Museum Day

Religion is what.......

Off to the museum today but first find the bakery - early, get coffee, find DVD store we’d heard about and keep an eye open for the perfect t-shirt. The DVD store turned out to be a café with a movie buff owner and Fred stocked up with a selection of movies. T-shirt was elusive.

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The museum is on the main square and was the family home of Ignacio Allende who was instrumental in launching the Mexican Revolution in the early 1800’s that saw the separation of Mexico from Spain. Unfortunately, Ignacio didn’t see the separation as he was caught and executed in the early days of the campaign. The Allende’s were a wealthy family and it was interesting to see how the homes of the upper class would have been set up.

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After the museum we went looking for another bowl of Sopa de Tortilla or Aztec Soup as it’s sometimes called. There was one area of downtown that we had not walked to so checked it out after lunch. Our final stop was the mercado to pick up some things for dinner plus sticking our noses into a few churches we have not visited.

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Mexico is the classic example of the phrase “Religion is the opiate for the masses”. The Catholic Church has had in the past an extremely powerful position in all aspects of Mexican life including but not limited to; culture, politics, wealth and the economy. In its early years in Mexico, the church was in fact the moneylender to individual families and business interests who used the land they held as collateral which often ended up in the churches hands. At one point, until the govt’ of the day took much of it away, the church held most of the wealth in Mexico.

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Mexico historically has been a very class-conscious and rigidity stratified society. The social-economic level you were born into is where you stayed, very little upper mobility occurred. The church played a major role by reinforcing the concept that if you worked hard, struggled all your life and obeyed both church doctrine and the laws of the powerful; you would get your reward in the afterlife. The ruling elite embraced this concept as it assisted them at keeping the masses poor, uneducated and limited their ability to push for any real economic change.

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Posted by backtomexico 17:30 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

That was a surprise

Guanajuato

Chilly walk up to the Bibliotheca today to go on a trip to Guanajuato. The retired lawyer guide from the botanical garden had recommended it. Who needs Trip Advisor?

Off we went with a group of 10 mostly, Canadians and our guide, Dali. His father had been an art prof. Wanted to call his brother Picasso but his mom vetoed it. The drive to Guanajuato is about 1½ hours through high dessert, mostly grass with cacti scattered about. As the road climbs over the mountains (we’d call them hills, think Kamloops) we start to see a covering of deciduous trees in leaf. We occasionally go through small towns along the way.

Our first view out Guanajuato is amazing even after the guide had told us what to expect. From our viewpoint we look down, straight down, to the town and across to a rising hillside. The buildings are colourful and stacked on top of each other, too steep for roads in many places. Stairs and pathways suffice. I think we were all a bit awestruck by the view and just stood and tried to take it all in.

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Back in the bus and down into town. Another interesting part of Guanajuato is that it has a series of roads that are tunnelled under it. The network is so complex that there are actually intersections down there. Apparently one could drive around underground for 40 minutes and longer if there was a breakdown. We emerged from the underground to find a town that felt very European with squares and sidewalk cafes in abundance. The university that opened in the 1500’s is in the old town area and the sidewalks were teeming with students.

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Guanajuato is the capital of the state of Guanajuato and has a population of about 160,000. It is also the birthplace of Diego Rivera. He left when he was a small boy and after being rejected for a city scholarship he had little to do with the town until shortly before his death. We visited his family home that one of his daughters converted into an art gallery and museum with his work as well as others. There is also a beautiful and ornate theatre in the centre of town that our guide took us through.

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Turned loose on the town for 2 hours we wandered down the main street of old town to find wonderful bronzes, shady squares, and a museum dedicated to Don Quixote along with a variety of Don Quixote sculptures. Why Don Quixote…it has to do with people from Spain escaping to Mexico during the Franco period.

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Back on the bus feeling fortunate to have had another view of Mexico not seen in the tourist brochures.

Posted by backtomexico 18:13 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

A different side of San Miguel

Up up and away

7:30 start this a.m. to go on a hike to the Picachos Caldera, 30 minutes east of San Miguel by vehicle. Our host or self described sherpa was Bill, who had left an executive position in marketing in the U.S. 20 years ago to open a top-rated B&B in SM and a traditional mask museum. Casadelacuesta.com. Our guide and plant expert was a local woman who had arranged with a landowner for us to walk on her property. Bill said he wouldn’t do this hike without the local connections.

We started at a village and walked up the road towards the hills. Our presence was announced by a very loud braying donkey. At the end of the power line and we followed the trail towards a dry riverbed. By the amount of manure on the trail this was a well traveled path by the cows, sheep, goats and coyote. Our guide said that if there were not any droppings we were off the trail. As we headed up towards the caldera the landscape gradually changed from scrub to a pin oak forest. A herd of cows, big ones, spanned the trail, with pointy things on their heads. The guides found our uncertainty about these beasts, somewhat amusing and assured us that the cows weren’t a concern, as they proved not to be.

The trail led out of the forest to an open field up to the top. This area in the spring when the rains come turns into brilliant meadows of colour. We were now close to 8000+ feet, it was both chilly and windy. Our view was out over the ancient caldera towards San Miguel. After a snack and photo ops we headed back down. It warmed up considerably and we said adios to the cows, passed the sheep and goats, confused a rooster, and headed back to the SUV and home. A very enjoyable day.

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Posted by backtomexico 17:51 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

Last Day in San Miguel

Adiós

Have to start with the night before. Fireworks is a common occurrence but last night was quite a show. We can watch it from out bedroom window. Don’t know what the occasion was. Apparently it’s a 3 day long weekend in Mexico here so the town is full of people and very busy. As I write I can hear the music from the park and an enthusiastic crowd. Imagine there will be more fireworks tonight.

Today is our last day in San Miguel and it turned into a lovely one. Our plan was to meet a friend of Gail’s who happened to be down here. We headed off to find a good cup of coffee and then over to Parque Juarez as we thought there was an art show there. Thanks to our limited Spanish, it turned out to be a huge plant sale that filled the park. People were selling everything from succulents to tulips. It was quite an amazing sight.
We met Gail’s friend Arlene and wandered through the Saturday Organic Food market and then over to see where she was staying. Her area is only about a 10 minute walk from the center of town, but we found a significant great of gringos walking around. Apparently walking uphill to our area puts some people off. It was fun to have a visit with Arlene, she is staying with a friend who has rented a lovely 3 bedroom place for 4 months for only $1,500 USD a month.

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After saying ‘Goodbye’ to Arlene, Fred tried out yet another bowl of tortilla soup. Think it may be his last for a while. The best was at the 'leftover from the 70’s place with the bull head watching over us', a few days back. The Institute Allende was having a craft & folk art fair which we took in.
Back to the very busy main square (jardine) where 3 mariachi bands took turns performing, hat and balloon sellers wandered about, people ate ice cream and others just sat (like us). A pair of bride and groom characters, 12 feet tall appeared and we watched to see what would happen. Sure enough, it was a wedding procession with a donkey bearing a cradle followed by the real bride and groom, the puppets, a band, and the wedding guests. Looked like fun.

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Back up the hill home to watch a beautiful sunset and reflect on our stay here. San Miguel is, no doubt about it, a beautiful town. It’s been interesting chatting to people who have moved here permanently and those who only come for the winter. We have met some out of the ordinary and remarkable people in SM. Although there’s only about 10,000 gringos here in a city of 160,000 they have are a significant presence in town and have built what appears to be a rich and supportive community. We understand the appeal to living here and while it is not something we would do (who would look after the garden?) we certainly recognize and appreciate why people do. We’ll miss the picturesque streets and vibrant lifestyle here but we’re looking forward to arriving in Huatulco and being warm!

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Posted by backtomexico 18:49 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

On the Road to Huatulco

Where did that peloton come from

Yesterday when we sent out our blog, Fred click the wrong box on the website and we think that notifications for folks that have an auto subscription and are sent an e-mail, didn’t go out. So you might want to go back and read about our last day in San Miguel if you have not already done so.

We were picked up at 9:00am by a young man who works for Alfredo who originally picked us up two weeks ago. Manuel wanted to practice his English as he headed down the road to the airport at Leon and he kept asking us all kinds of questions to stimulate conversation. Of course Fred tried, as best he could, to clarify with his limited Spanish.

The drive to Leon is around 1½ hrs and we were told to get to the airport 1½ hrs before our flight. 45 minutes into the drive we ran into a large procession (peloton wanbe – peloton from the French originally meaning a platoon or main group or pack of riders in a bicycle race) of local folks struggling at 7-8,000ft+ going up and down the hills outside of SM, to take the Virgin Mary somewhere. In Canada or the states these guys would be all decked out in fancy and expensive road-racing clothes peddling new road bikes. These guys were a motley crew in beat up old bikes and work clothes. Good for them for doing this however, they had completely blocked our side of the road and we could not pass as there was a very long line of cars slowly following them. Our driver made valiant attempts to get to the head of the line although we tried to assure him we’d rather miss our flight than be in an accident. After more then 45 minutes, the bikes pulled over in a small town and we continued on our way to the airport.

We caught our flight (very small plane) which took us to the main airport in Mexico City where we were to catch our connecting flight to Huatulco. Our gate housed many, many flights leaving one right after another with crowds of people all milling about listening to the almost incomprehensible echoing announcements in both Spanish and English bouncing off the cathedral size walls and ceiling. We made a flight and arrived shortly in the tiny airport that serves both Huatulco and Puerto Escondido.

More tomorrow about our new home.

Posted by backtomexico 19:20 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

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