Our winter plans took us out of the RV and off to Mexico to celebrate the holidays with friends.
We chose San Miguel de Allende as a meeting place because Kate and Iain had been here before and wanted to return. Many of my family and friends had also visited and raved about it. We made our plans almost a year in advance. We love meeting up with Kate and Iain in different spots around the world. We had celebrated Thanksgiving together in Santa Cruz California in 2016 and decided that this would make a great meet-up spot for 2017. Unfortunately just before our arrival Travel and Leisure Magazine rated San Miguel de Allende as the number one spot to visit in the world. Yikes, we knew the crowds and the prices would both be increased.
We arrived in Mexico December 15th flying from Phoenix through Houston and into Queretaro Mexico. There is no airport in San Miguel de Allende. Our flight was uneventful and we easily made our connections (even flying standby to Queretaro). While in Houston I made arrangements over the phone with Bajogo.com for an airport pickup. The recommended method for pickup – cost effective and nice to have someone with a sign waiting for us. We had a nice drive over of about 90 minutes and met our VRBO host for a tour of our home.
Our place is in a gated condominium complex – Santa Domingo Condominiums. We have a single bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and living room. Beautiful Mexican tile floors, thick adobe walls and windows overlooking the city. We even have a small 2 seat table on the patio and built-in heat in each room which is necessary for the cold nights this time of year. Best of all our place is just 3 blocks from the Jardin / Centro. Check out the listing link for pictures on VRBO if you are curious.
By evening we had unpacked and welcomed our friends, Kate and Iain who we are traveling with. They have a delightful flat about 20 minutes away and had arrived a few days earlier. We had a great night out on the town enjoying an early dinner and drinks. The walk back up to our place was steep and I was panting a bit – we are at 6,460 feet in elevation (pretty high). After a few months in the desert, we really felt the thin air. We thought the hill was huge until we walked around town and went further up the hills and realized our walk is small compared to others.
The town was dressed for the holidays with lights, trees, flags, nativity scenes, and pinatas. The cobblestone streets, amazing doorways, courtyards and immense church that is the centerpiece of town are all beautiful – almost Disneyland in how quaint it is. The majority of visitors over the holiday are well-heeled Mexicans. We understand this is the vacation spot for residents of Mexico City.
Our days were spent wandering around and getting a feel for the place – lots of food, coffee shops, rooftop bars and beautiful sunsets. Cooking after a shopping excursion at the local markets is always fun. I love how we can get a ton of food for just a few dollars and eat for days. I even see import brands from the US and find they are cheaper than at Safeway. For instance, Jiffy Peanut Butter is $2.54 and local peanut butter made fresh is just 95 cents. I just don’t understand why groceries are so much in the US. We are able to go to specialty stores or local markets similar to a Fred Meyer and find everything we need. Chicken is always pounded out in thin filets and we often see name brands we recognize. I think the hardest part of shopping is finding items as the organization is different from what we are used to.
Our favorite places to shop are The Bonanza (has many imported items that are hard to find elsewhere) and a huge spice and bulk section. For fresh meat and veggies, we go to the Mercado Ignacio Ramirez. When we really want to stock up we walk up to La Comer and take a cab home. For specialty items such as wonton wrappers, cheeses, and red curry paste we stop at Luna de Casa.
After doing some shopping and prepping for the upcoming Christmas holiday, I made the decision to focus on cooking Asian at home. Not something I am great at – but healthy, easy and different than Mexican. I typically cook Mexican when we are in our home kitchen and I needed something different to focus on. We are getting plenty of Mexican food eating at all the local places. Christmas Eve was homemade potstickers, chicken satay, and stir-fry. By the end of the 6 weeks here in Mexico, I hope to be full of Mexican food and reasonably proficient in Asian cooking.
Walking around the Jardin and Centro is fun – filled with tourists and so little English. Children and balloons (including the crazy pencil balloons), vendors selling hats stacked 3 feet high on their heads, mariachi bands (not usually the best musicians ever but still snappily dressed), ice cream and food carts. Each night lots of firecrackers go off and marching bands play late into the night. All around the square mojiganga can be seen (giant puppets with heads of paper mâché) that are often part of wedding parties and common to the San Miguel de Allende area.
|What is a mojiganga?
A mojiganga (pronounced: mo-he-gang-ga) is a giant puppet also used as sculpture or a grand scale design element for a large event. The head and bust are made of paper mâché which is then mounted on a tall supporting A-frame structure. Our mojigangas range from approximately 6 to 18 feet tall (2-6 meters). The puppeteer is able to see out through an opening in the costuming at his/her eye level. The dancer/puppeteer climbs under the structure and then places a shoulder harness on to support the weight of the head/bust. The feet of the dancer become the feet of the Mojiganga. These puppets can be animated by the puppeteer through movement or can be free standing as larger-than-life decor or props.
Christmas is such a big deal here in San Miguel de Allende and we are enjoyied witnessing the celebration. Leading up to the big day groups gather and reenact Mary and Joseph searching for a place to stay. They go door to door knocking and asking for a place to stay. Along the procession, they sing and carry a miniature or even life-size manger. When finally they reach the correct house, a party ensues. We walked around several evenings and witnessed the singing and celebration. Perhaps the precursor to the holiday caroling we are accustomed to?
For Christmas Eve we did dinner for 4 at our place with an Asian theme (homemade potstickers and stirfry). Then on Christmas Day, we had a nice relaxing morning and then over to Kate and Iain’s place for an amazing Christmas dinner English Style – salad, turkey, potatoes, stuffing, green beans, and gravy. The meal was amazing thanks to Kate’s great cooking and recipes from Jamie Oliver.
As we walk around trying to absorb the local environment every doorway appears to open into another beautiful scenic courtyard or rooftop bordered with planters. The overall color of the town is warm reds, oranges, and yellows with a rustic yet beautiful area. The cobblestones are crazy and the sidewalks are narrow – so walking single file and paying attention to your footsteps is required. I am sure twisted and broken ankles are common around here!
Many books have been published on the beauty fo the doors in San Miguel de Allende. They are old, carved and filled with character. What captures my eye at every door are the wide variety of knockers – door knockers that is. I have seen hands that look as though they are reaching through the door. Some with rings on representing the owner is a married couple. Some are seahorses, dogs, ears of corn and everything in between. I think I could walk around all day and exam the various knockers.
Another favorite of the city are angels and wings can be seen all around along with the hearts. San Miguel de Allende’s patron saint is the Arch Angel Michael and he is well represented in the artwork around town. San Miguel de Allende is also referred to as the ‘heart’ of Mexico because if its location.
Winding staircases that look to be nothing much open onto large rooftop decks with beautiful views. Our favorite rooftop bars have been Quince and La Azotea. Quince is a very hipster and pricey with a rooftop DJ and beautiful views right next to the Parroquia de San Miguel Archangel (the main centerpiece church in the Centro). La Azotea is our favorite with great sunset views, comfy couches, and strong drinks. My favorite drink was from the Rosewood Hotel – called The Rosewood. Check out Kate’s blog for a full review of all the rooftop adventures we enjoyed Tales from The Scenic Route.
Our favorite breakfast is El Correo which has amazing chilaquiles (eggs, tortillas, chicken, cheese, and beans). This place is mostly locals and has great coffee and good service. Our fellow diners are anywhere from local businessmen to extended traveling families. Each time we have been there we have been the only gringos – my kind of place.
We had plans to immerse ourselves in Spanish classes. But I have to admit that after arriving we have lost interest in those and it is probably a mistake. But upon looking at our future travel plans we saw little chance to use what we would be learning. Of course, we are also spoiled that Kate and Iain have spent the last 5 months learning the language and are great guides! A recent dental emergency made me wish I had not passed on the immersion classes. But the free time has allowed us many day trips and adventures during our visit.
We managed to make time for a trip to Mexico City for New Years as well as day trips to Guanajuato City, Dolores Hildalgo and an organic farm.
San Miguel de Allende is a beautiful city and I am glad we made the effort to get to know it better. I understand why people rave about the beauty and return there year after year. It is definitely a trip worth making.