San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, MX. This enchanting former Spanish colony was once a stop on the silver trade route in the mid-1600’s. Located between Zacatecas and Mexico City, the town took a new shape as Spanish silver tradesmen and colonizers claimed the area from the native Mexican peoples already living in the region. San Miguel grew to become an important outpost along this route and it remains an integral piece of Mexican history. Today, it’s also pushing forward to ensure it remains a center of culture and history far into the future drawing in tourists and locals alike to annual festivals and celebrations.
For the past four years, my group of friends have been traveling to Mexico. I arrived to the group shortly after Mexico #1 so for me, this is trip #3.
It’s been a challenge explaining this trip. Although I’ve missed quite a few stateside events over the past few years to travel to this town, I still struggle to explain it to anyone who has not visited. Even writing this article feels like dragging my feet through mud to get words on a page. This certain je ne sais quoi alludes me even after three years but draws me back each consecutive visit.
The word most often used among my travelling companions to refer to this city,
and elements of the La Calaca Festival itself,
San Miguel de Allende
The town has this quaint, old-European feel with rolling, slightly varied Spanish accents scattered across the denizens, many hailing from different parts of the country. Nestled up in the mountainous region of central Mexico, the town is about a mile high in elevation and always about 10 degrees cooler than Arizona, where we are from.
Large cathedrals dot the sky and centuries-old cobblestone streets line the original walkways, drives, and common areas. The city is almost completely walled in sections; expansive, tall walls reach up on either side of the narrow streets, all painted hues of marigold, brown, or a scarlet red/orange. Behind them, large homes stretching back in a half-open, half roofed haciendas. The hills along the edges of the town house even larger mansions belonging to the city’s most affluent residents. At night, the glow from the homes provides an intensely beautiful backdrop for this romantic city. Hazy lights against a black mountain, golden hue of the glow reflecting on the colored walls and bouncing shadows off the raised streets.
Foreigners, particularly European, American, and Canadian ex-patriots began to fill the city, attracted to the arts-centric atmosphere, mild climate, and low crime rate, in the 1940’s. Today, there’s a significant ex-pat population, many retirees and many more artists, that contribute to a population of around 140,000 people according to a recent census. (Well, somewhat recent, the best I could find was 2005 in my limited search capacity). The city also draws a large amount of intrastate tourism, Mexican nationals coming to experience the city.
Dia de los Muertos
Our group travels to celebrate Dia de los Muertos, which in San Miguel is stretched out to be enjoyed over the last few days of October and the beginning bit of November. On October 31st, there’s a mix of calaca-painted faces and American-style Halloween costumes (although significantly more cloth seems to be used in these costumes compared to those popular now in the States, which is a welcomed change for my eyes and expectations). There are many young families that come to play with their kids and show them a bit of history with the Catrina Calavera parades and observe ofrendas made for loved ones.
You also see couples, holding hands, walking together, whispering to each other on a bench, kissing in front of a beautiful cathedral, all over the town. This year, I tried to narrow down just what makes this town so romantic and the best I can come up with is the overwhelming pleasure experienced by all the senses. The town smells like baked waffle cones in parts, and in other parts like exhaust in a large city. The weather is that crisp, autumn temperature – no sleeves during the day and sweater weather at night. Bells ring out over the square and echo across the historical buildings. No airplane noise. No trash on the sidewalks. It’s the perfect, insulated little town.
A more conservative town, not much unlike Sevilla, Spain, San Miguel maintains traditional values and simultaneously branches out towards the future of the town by creating a haven for tourists looking for a genuine experience. People are drawn to SMA because of its charm and relative exclusivity. Although it’s easy to get around this town, even knowing little Spanish, it still takes a solid knowledge of of the area, honed by years of experience in the town, to make your way around the best events and experiences.
We have Janie. Everyone should have a Janie, but you can’t have her, my apologies.
My first year here I went on a lark. I was asked to go, I had just enough money to afford the trip, and so I bumbled along, clueless as to what exactly I was going to encounter. The second year, however, I went out of necessity. There was no way I could give up the allure of the town, the sincerity in the friendships I’d made, or the memories to be made. Each year is a bit different in its own way, and in its own way, each trip is complete.
You see, this trip is such a staple with those closest to me that it’s quite literally part of almost every get together throughout the year. Planning for the following year begins while we are in Mexico. We stop planning somewhere around the airport and then when we arrive then the times have shifted and we begin to talk about the following year already.
This year marks the first year not staying in Janie’s family home just outside the city center, Centro Historico. Which is a loss on some parts, her family, her pets, and the comfort of the home are all things to which I look forward.
I remember the directions are something like:
“Hola, vamos a la avenida de la pista de los motos…” or something like that – this was better than an address.
This year we’re staying in town, with everything in walking distance. The home accommodates 8 people and a sweet, chubby-cheeked 6 month old named Perry Duke. Staying this year in the center of town gives us freedom and autonomy not had previously. All of us fairly experienced travelers, we all vacation very well together and suffer from withdrawals when we return to the real world.
This trip is in celebration of Dia de los Muertos and an indulging in all things this city has to offer. Within that we also partake in every bit of the La Calaca festival we can possibly accomplish. I’ll write a few more things to give you a taste of what it’s like to be in central Mexico for this special time. It’s truly unlike anything else in the world. In my case, traveling with a doctor, a lawyer, an artist, a real estate developer, a jerky entrepreneur, and an infant always guarantees adventure. This is by far my favorite place in the world during my favorite time of the year. Many special events unfold – and the best part is we don’t even know what they are until they arise.
Thanks for reading, I can’t wait to share more with you. If you’ve ever been, I’d love to hear it! Comment here or send me a note here. 🙂