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Feb 162009

Published in the Vail Daily 2/15/09

Settling In


Here's a very unusual cross I found, likely with shamanistic overtones.

Here’s an unusual cross I found, likely with shamanistic overtones.

One of the challenges and opportunities of travel is not knowing where you will end up. Planning inhibits spontaneity. Spontaneity allows synchronicity to reveal  unforeseen possibilities. 

We typically reserve a place online for our first few nights. Then, we look around. The Casa Crayola is lovely. We met some wonderful people there. For a month though, it is on the expensive side.

During our forays into the Centro, we stop by the office of tourism across from the Jardin. Tourist offices are always excellent sources of information. Besides the free map, we get a long list of accommodations. Yolanda asks for recommendations and, using their phone, the first place we call has a vacant casita.

It’s only a few blocks uphill from the Jardin so we make the first of what will be many trudges up the increasingly steep street to the Englebrecht apartments. Guillermina, the owner’s sister visiting from teaching in Abu Dhabi, greets us warmly at the door ushering us into the family’s spacious courtyard. 

The lovely, plant filled courtyard of Casa Englebrecht.

The lovely, plant filled courtyard of Casa Englebrecht.

She shows us an adequate, one bedroom apartment for $250 per week then takes us down several levels beneath huge trees to a manicured lawn and flower-filled garden fronting a little two-story house with a rooftop terrace, $300 a week. I envision sitting in the lounge chairs on the roof, drinking margaritas as the sun sets over San Miguel below. Yolanda walks upstairs to the spacious, all-white bedroom which clinches the deal.

The casita is light and airy. Large windows open to the garden and town beyond. Ferns, calalilies and cactus partially enclose the tile-roofed veranda whose table and chairs become our dining area. The ivy and bougainvillea-covered stone walls surrounding the garden exude tranquility. From this lovely perch, we continue our explorations of San Miguel.

Yolanda enjoying our rooftop terrace.

Yolanda enjoying our rooftop terrace.

We’ve only been in our casita one day when Theresa, our warm, lively landlady, invites us to a fiesta. The celebration is to honor sixty years of the family living in this hacienda as well as to say goodbye to Guillermina who is returning to teach at the women’s university in Abu Dhabi.

A tent is erected on the upper terrace. Beneath, tables with lovely flower arrangements are set. Caterers are preparing food, three, excellent musicians are playing and singing and of course, tequila, wine, rum and beer flow freely. The extended family and many old friends are in attendance. 

One other gringo couple is here and we become fast friends. Lou and Mary Lynn Dahmen are from Santa Fe. They’ve been coming to San Miguel for years and are long-time family friends, having hosted one of Theresa’s sons so he could attend school in the U.S.. We feel honored to have been invited.

In appreciation, I grab my camera, do my professional thing, photographing everyone there and later give Theresa a CD and set of prints.

One of the many steep, narrow, cobblestone alleys in San Miguel.

One of the many steep, narrow, cobblestone alleys in San Miguel.

One evening, our new friends from Michigan invite us to visit the home they are renting. Map in hand, we wander through the gathering dark down steep, narrow cobblestone alleys, zigzagging our way past parks and along dimly lit streets. Finding the most level route in this hilly part of San Miguel de Allende is a challenge. Security is a mild concern but several long-time residents assured us that crime against tourists is almost non-existent.

We arrive safely at the nondescript door to their house giving no hint to the architectural wonder behind it. Lou Heiser, an architect himself, leads us on a tour. Even though it was built only a few years ago, the ancient, worm-eaten beams, weathered doors, artistically distressed walls and lovely tile work create an aura of another era.

After wine and good company, we wander down to Hecho en Mexico, a popular, reasonably priced Mexican restaurant they’ve discovered. Meals range from large, fresh salads for $4, enchiladas and fish tacos for $5-6, to fish specialties for under $10.  With it’s friendly and courteous staff, Hecho becomes a favorite restaurant.

The next morning we all gather at the Jardin to meet Archie Dean and buy his “Insider’s Guide to San Miguel”. Archie leads us to a favorite nearby haunt for breakfast and a deeper introduction to the wonders of San Miguel and it’s surroundings.

Margarita Gralia and her wonderful Churros y Chocolate

Margarita Gralia and the wonderful Churros y Chocolate at her Cafe San Augustin.

Café San Agustín was started by Argentinean actress/heart-throb Margarita Gralia who’s sexy photos decorate the walls. A house specialty is churros con chocolate, so good, we visit every few days to savor the thick, rich Chocolate Espanol, or the sweet, cinnamony Chocolate Mexicana served with three of their crisp, delicious churros, the traditional, foot-long, deep-fried “donut” sprinkled with sugar. Richisimo! Delicious! And under $2.50.

The doors of San Miguel de Allende, definitely a cliche'.

The doors of San Miguel de Allende, definitely a cliche

Besides recommending many excellent restaurants, too many to try in one trip, Archie tells us about a number of things not to be missed. The many expatriates living in San Miguel de Allende, either full or part time, have involved themselves deeply in the community, creating institutions benefiting both the gringo and Mexican residents.

The example these charities, organizations and cultural institutions set is so important and enlightened, I must devote the next article to them. Suffice it to say, we are deeply impressed with the contributions the expatriate community has made to their adopted home.

Along a very narrow callejon or alley in San Miguel.

Along a very narrow callejon or alley in San Miguel.

Copyright 2009 Dennis Jones www.dreamcatcherimaging.com