Monday, April 20, 2015

Past Glory and Present Community in San Miguel de Allende

Steep hills, restored brick and stone Spanish colonial buildings, stores, restaurants, art galleries, churches, cobblestone streets and narrow, raised stone sidewalks highlight the historic district of San Miguel de Allende. 

Hub and I live at the shore, the main geographic feature described in one word: flat. Great for walking and bike riding, not so much for developing the muscles and stamina necessary for navigating hilly territory on foot.

San Miguel was founded by two Spanish friars in 1542. They walked long distances, obviously in much better shape than hub and me, seeking sites for towns and churches. Water was in short supply; the local river proved unreliable as a year-round source. One day the friars' best friends - their dogs - discovered a hidden spring. 

The friars walked no farther.

The town grew wealthy on silver mined nearby. Spanish aristocrats and wealthy businessmen established large homes throughout the 17th through 19th centuries, and constructed lots and lots of churches.

Silver mining eventually declined and the town's fortunes spiraled downhill. By the turn of the 20th century San Miguel was best categorized as a small backwater mountain village.

A few Americans discovered the area in the 1930s, lured by a temperate climate, cheap cost of living, a friendly local population, and opportunity. Artists discovered the allure of beautiful surroundings and cheap digs. Following World War II the trickle increased to a steady flow continuing to the present. Today Americans, Canadians, Mexicans from all over the country, snowbirds, sunbirds, and tourists from around the globe mingle, generating a vibrant community. 

Our first day in town the short ten minute walk to the closest commercial avenue lasted an hour as we attempted to maneuver narrow streets heading off in all directions. We finally found a cafe to rest our feet and enjoy breakfast.

We began chatting with a woman sitting alongside our table, a Hawaii native and chiropractor living and working in San Miguel. Concerned my back would weaken during this three week trip, I now have a new friend to call, not only for chiropractic work, but for information on other medical specialists if necessary.

On the other side of our table sat a couple who first visited the area over twenty years ago. Recently retired and relocating to San Miguel, we discussed area must-dos before hub and I return to the States.

We walked to the Jardin, a well-manicured park and the center of town, located the tourist office, ATM machines, peeked inside stores and galleries, and shopped for food provisions, mentally figuring the dollar to peso rate and attempting to ask questions with a couple of Spanish phrases and understand answers from store owners fluent only in their native language.

A conversation with the ex-pat owner of a gallery specializing in posters revealed he was a writer. I picked up a copy of his book sitting on the counter and scanned the summary on the back cover. The story takes place in the town where hub's family spent summers for decades. The two chatted a long time about their common experiences.

A photographer and gallery owner, offering margaritas, popcorn and advice, moved into town four months ago...

We again took wrong turns, confused by a maze of streets, but discovered an outdoor cafe surrounded by brick walls, the entrance and sign obscured by vegetation. Our stomachs informed us it was dinner time. We gratefully wedged weary bodies into comfortable seats on a shaded patio and commenced gorging ourselves on scrumptious tacos stuffed with the freshest ingredients. Dinner with drinks cost $15. We were going to like this town!

A slow, meandering walk and we returned home an hour later. The next day we found out by turning right instead of left when leaving the restaurant we could be home in ten minutes.

Our feet hurt, our bodies exhausted from walking miles and probably a few ounces heavier from the delicious food and drink, but we were beginning to feel happily immersed in life in San Miguel de Allende.

4 comments:

  1. It sounds pretty darn delightful!

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  2. You've successfully reached at least one travel destination -- that is, a place very different from home!

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  3. I remember staying there once long ago, and thinking it would be a great place to retire. Apparently lots of other people have thought the same way. I love the description of it today. :-)

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  4. Very nice post. I don't do hills anymore, Alas. The flat coastal areas are home to me. I wonder if the friars were Jesuits? Their mission was to "go out into the world and carry knowledge to all." Although this is overlooked today as the spin seems to be more about the conquistadors and the damage they caused, I find the story of these humble men touching. Thanks for sharing, and of course they had dogs.

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