The sun rose to greet us as Luis, our driver, sped across the Mexican highlands toward San Miguel de Allende where my friends, Annis and Judy, and I will spend the month of February.
Azucena, our housekeeper, greeted us warmly on arrival at Animas 8, and showed us to our apartments. Once settled, we headed to the Plaza Principal to buy Mexican pesos and to eat breakfast. We chose the terrace of a cafe across from La Parroquia, the cathedral and iconic San Miguel landmark, and the Jardin Allende. When the server handed me a menu, I laughed. My first meal in San Miguel was at La Bella Italia Restaurante. In spite of the name, I enjoyed chilaquiles, a traditional Mexican dish of corn tortillas cut in quarters, lightly fried, and served with green or red salsa or mole poured over the crisp tortilla triangles. Instead of scrambled eggs, I ordered black beans. After breakfast, we walked out into the Plaza. Spotting the web cam that provides the live feed we’d been watching for weeks, we waved to our friends at home.
Shopping and housekeeping chores complete, we went out for an orientation walkabout. Having been to San Miguel several times, Annis and Judy are excellent guides who graciously share their knowledge and experience of the place, covering such essentials as the lavanderia (laundry), grocery store, and mercado (market place). Along the way, they pointed out places of interest, restaurants, and suggested areas I might want explore on my own.
At eight o’clock the next morning, the sun shone brilliantly in a clear blue sky as I walked to the end of Animas to buy fresh tortillas at the neighborhood tortilleria. Passing the bakery exhaust fan as I neared the corner, the aroma of freshly made tortillas calls to the sense of smell like an aphrodisiac. For five pesos, I got a stack of 12-15 fresh, warm tortillas. I hurried home while the tortillas were still warm to enjoy with my breakfast.
Mexicans have a vibrant street culture that is fun to experience. February 2nd is Fiesta de la Candelaria, the fortieth day after Christmas, celebrating the presentation of Jesus at the temple. In the evening, the plaza comes alive with holiday week-end festivities. Mariachis play traditional, upbeat, happy music as people sing and dance in the street. Food vendors ring the jardin in the center of the plaza. Elote (a corn cob on a stick) is a favorite Mexican street food, complimented with condiments such as salt, chili powder, butter, cheese, lemon or lime juice, mayonnaise, or crema (sour cream). Ice cream is a popular treat of all ages, whether served in a cup or in a homemade sugar cone. El Día de la Constitución (Constitution Day) is celebrated February 5th. Actors from a local acting company, dressed in period costumes, entertained crowds of people with stories to advertise their production of a play about the events of the Mexican Revolution.
Sunday morning, Parque Benito Juarez was the site of the opening day of an annual month-long flower show, part of the Candelaria celebration. Flowers and plants of every kind and color are artfully displayed with an eye for design and presentation unique to Mexico. Plants, flowers, food, books, pottery, and trinkets are available for sale. Crowds of people enjoy the festival atmosphere. Later in the morning, I met Annis and Judy for coffee at Cafe Rama before heading off to the annual Art Walk.
While days and evenings can be packed with activities, life in San Miguel is not demanding, allowing visitors to take in whatever they choose and at their own pace.
On our orientation walk that first afternoon, I met Ginny, a friend of Annis and Judy. “Is this your first time to San Miguel?” Ginny asked.
“Yes,” I said.
“You’ll be back,” she said. “It’s a magical place. You’re going to love it.”
She is right.