Anxious for spring? We’ve not had much of a whiff of it yet here in Southwestern Ontario. I heard birds chirping so sweetly the other morning that I flung up the blinds expecting spring and crap! Snow. Still!
I was lucky this year though. Spent a few weeks south, in a charming old city founded prior to 1541, north of Mexico City. It’s called San Miguel de Allende (SMA), and is known as “el corazon de Mexico”, the heart of Mexico. It sure won my heart. My gfs and I traipsed its myriad cobblestone streets gawking at the colourful sights – Gothic churches, mariachi bands, inviting courtyards, a market that goes on for blocks, art galleries, giant papier-mâché people, and normal-sized people who were just darn friendly.
Afraid of traveling to Mexico? I know. It has a killer reputation for . . . well, murder. Before I headed south The Guardian published this story: “Mexico’s murder rate broke new record in 2018 as drug war drags on”. Yikes. However, this story came out after a man was fatally stabbed pretty much right across the road from where I teach Jazzercise. My fitness colleague who runs the centre heard there was a couple of men acting crazy – drunk and/or high? – at the nearby convenience store prior to the incident. It turned out one of those men was charged with murder, the other was the deceased. I said, “Oh, she must have been freaked, with those guys coming into her store like that.” And my fitness colleague told me no, she gets people like that in the store all the time. I used to unlock the back door when I arrived at the centre at 7:45 am. Now I wait until at least one customer has arrived. I figure two of us throwing single-single-double jabs at any unsavory character staggering in stand a better chance than me on my own.
I did not feel afraid when I was in SMA. I stayed with girlfriends, one of whom had rented a condo for a month in a gated complex with a night watchman. The first couple of days we boldly wandered down the hill into town, then huffed and puffed back up – it’s a hilly city and sits at 1,900 m (6,200 ft) elevation. But after chatting with our Canadian neighbours down there, it seemed wise not to carry passports or any extra cash or credit cards and take a cab back up if it was dark. Cabs are plentiful and reasonable – the equivalent of $3.33 Can from the centre of town, which is about a 20-minute walk.
So, there’s a couple of interesting phenomena in SMA. People readily and happily strike up conversations with strangers. Of course, as most locals only speak Spanish, those conversations – for us English-speaking visitors – were mostly incomprehensible. We did work on our Spanish while there, even going so far as to meet Patrick, our guide for the historical tour, in the Jardin (pronounced Hardeen, and if you’ve seen Instant Family you’ll get it instantly) to hone in on his Spanish lesson with Pablo. Patrick was shocked (we hoped not in a negative way) to see us, saying, “In all the years I’ve invited people to join me, you’re the first to do so.”
SMA gets tons of visitors, many long-term, such as 3-4 months over the span of several years, from Canada and the US. While we’d probably never give one another the time of day if we met in our own countries, down there it was like we were bffs. I wore a Canada shirt one day and a woman hollered out across the Jardin, “Hey Canada! Where are you from?” My gf and I stopped and chatted with her and her friends for like half an hour.
Besides the friendly banter? It seems a lot of people – artsy (if you haven’t noted from my descriptions, it’s a very artsy city) or not – fall head-over-heels in love at first sight with SMA. They’ll do anything to be there. We hung out with a woman from Collingwood who’d quit her job and was going into serious debt to spend the winter there. We met another woman from the states who ran a café near the cutest little 60-seat live theatre. Her story? She’d come down at Christmas with her husband and two daughters. Went home, sold everything, moved the family there, started a business.
SMA is inland, so I worried I might miss being on a beach, by water. We had a pool at the complex and that seemed to be enough. Once we got a copy of the weekly Atencion – it comes out on Friday – we were hooked up and plugged in to everything going on about town: shopping, speeches, movies, live theatre, live music, restaurants, sight-seeing, yoga, dance, art shows and so on.
So, if you’re tired of waiting for spring, or perhaps you want a place to escape next winter for a while, consider SMA. It’s warm but not overly hot – a 20-degree Celsius temperature swing (35 degrees Fahrenheit for my US readers) per day seems standard. Say it’s a low of 7 degrees C (45 degrees F) it will climb to 27 (80) later in the day. It’s safe, friendly and colourful. And you can brush up on your Spanish.
Website picture clockwise from top left: the Parroquia Church, a door knocker, La Catrina (Mexico’s grande dame of death), giant papier-mâché wedding couple.