All posts by brucegk

Return to Bald Head Island

Those of you with really good memories, may recall a post titled Old Baldy from September of last year. In that post we talked about our tour of Bald Head Island (BHI) with a group from Del Webb. If you want to review the history of the island, you can search for the “Old Baldy” post using the search icon in the upper right of the page. I ended the post saying that we enjoyed the island so much that we were already talking about our return. This week we made that dream come true.

We rented a VRBO on the island with two other couples from Del Webb, Maryann & Paul and Nancy & John. The home was beautiful and surrounded by dense, old growth forest. As part of our house rental, we were able to have a temporary membership in the Shoals Club during our stay. The weather was mostly sunny with temperatures in the low 70’s, but very windy. As a result our time at the beach and pool at the club was limited, but we did enjoy a wonderful dinner on our last night. There are no cars or trucks on the island (other than for construction), so we explored the island on the golf cart included with the rental.

Our house was called “Morning Light” and included a six passenger golf cart being charged in the rear of the driveway, a four passenger golf cart, and four bikes.
The living room and all three bedrooms had views of the surrounding forest.
Part of the living room, the kitchen, and the dining room table. The house accommodated us very comfortably and featured a lot of wood in its design and furnishings. Even the sink in the downstairs bath was wood.
The island is only accessible by ferry. This is the marina where the ferry arrives. It is surrounded by houses, several bed and breakfasts, and a few restaurants and businesses.
The island is marsh, forest, and beach. Much of the land is protected as a nature conservancy. Here we are on one of several nature trails. From left to right is Paul, Maryann, Nancy, Susan, and John.
The overwhelming majority of the houses on the island are custom designed and built. Like the one we rented, most were built to protect as much surrounding vegetation as possible. We particularly liked this one overlooking the ocean.
One of the two pools at the Shoals club. The water was heated and people were in the pool, but it wasn’t quite warm enough for me.
There was a wide, soft sand beach by the shoals club. The beach is off of Frying Pan Shoals which is part of the graveyard of the Atlantic due to the high number of shipwrecks there. The water is very shallow off the beach and you can walk a long distance into the ocean. However, the water was very rough due to a storm offshore, so we didn’t go in the ocean.
Sand, seabirds, and waves
Old Baldy lighthouse.
Confederate Jasmine is popular at the houses around the marina. It smells as good as it looks.
A nature overlook popular with birds.
We enjoyed our three days on BHI and look forward to returning. Thanks to Maryann for allowing me to use a number of her pictures.

Happy Cascaronazos Weekend

The period before lent is Carnival time in many Latin American countries. This is traditionally a time of exotic costumes, fancy parades, and heavy drinking leading up to the somber period of Lent. In San Miguel the weekend before lent is known as Cascaronazos and lasts from Saturday to midnight on Tuesday. So how do you celebrate? First, you head to the Jardin, the garden in the center of town.

There you pick up colorful eggs filled with even more colorful confetti from one of the vendors lining the street.
Then you find your victim and break an egg over their head. This is very popular with children as seen here in the gazebo in the center of the Jardin. It is also traditional to break an egg on the head of your loved one, but I didn’t see much of that. Adults and visitors are not safe, but I only saw parents who had been victims.
This girl was a victim. If you look at the ground you will see a lot of confetti and eggshells.
Another victim out for revenge.
There were a lot of workers in the Jardin with the impossible task of cleaning up the mess. I had gone to the Jardin for a quiet time of people watching, but it was too chaotic for me. Happy Cascaronazos to you!

Take Me Back to San Miguel

We went to several well attended musical events in the last couple days. One was a blues concert where one of the songs was Take Me Back to San Miguel. As we prepare to leave San Miguel for home, the song reminded me of how much I enjoy being here and how much I want to return. This is true despite the fact that there was not nearly as much to do because of COVID. In the past, we would have to make decisions on most days of what we wanted to do as there were several conflicting things of interest to us. This time we frequently had a day with no group activity. Still we played bridge, attended several lectures, attended four music concerts, and went on an out of town tour. Despite the lack of organized activities, San Miguel is a great town to just explore and we did quite a bit of that. There is an abundance of good, affordable restaurants in town and we visited a lot of them. We were also fortunate to have friends and family visit during our stay. Following are some pictures from our explorations.

Catrina dolls are common around the town. These are at the entrance to a shop.
Many of the shop doors lead to attractive courtyards with several shops.
It is a common practice to save trees by building walls so tree limbs go through them.
Many buildings are covered with flowering vines.
When we started visiting seven years ago, it was very unusual to see police. It is very common now, and they use a wide diversity of vehicles such as trucks, golf carts, and cars. This is the first one we saw on horseback.
This is the second parroquia in town, the Parroquia de San Antonio. A parroquia is the equivalent of a parish church.
This is one of the most photographed streets in town. I was fortunate that a burrow was there to enhance the picture. While burrows are rare, they are occasionally seen around town. They are often in wedding processions.
There is an abundance of interesting buildings. The owner of the green building must love animals. I particularly like the donkey motorcycle.
When I am not out exploring the town, I am usually working hard on the roof. One afternoon I noticed a number of egrets flying over me. I was surprised since we are in the mountains and a good distance from the ocean.
This must be where they were heading. It looks to me like they may be nesting
We attended a performance of the Jazz and Blues Festival in the courtyard of the Bellas Artes building.
Templo de Nuestra Senora de la Salud or Church of Our Lady of Health

Monday we both passed our COVID test. We take a shuttle to Mexico City Tuesday morning and fly home from there. It has been a wonderful month in San Miguel after a wonderful week in Puerto Vallarta. I hope some day soon our travels will Take Me (Us) Back to San Miguel!

An Afternoon in Agustin Gonzales

Thursday we took the Rancho tour to Agustin Gonzales, a small town of about 1000 descendants of the Otomi people who built the Canada de la Virgin pyramid we visited in previous years. The tour was run by volunteers, and all of the proceeds went to support the village. The volunteers have trained eighteen women in the village to learn the art of rug hooking. The tour provides these women with income from the tour as well as a market for their rugs. The village has four schools, including the only high school in the area. It is interesting that despite the fact that many people in the village work in San Miguel, no one in the village has contracted COVID. They speculated on whether this could be due to their somewhat unique diet.

At the first house, we learned how to make corn tortillas and had a traditional lunch. The Otomi eat a vegetarian diet except for certain holidays where they eat meat, usually pork. The tortillas are made on this wood burning stove.
The first step is to remove the corn kernels from the cob. Susan was particularly good at this.
The next step is to soften the corn kernels in water and then grind them with a mano (the stone rolling pen) and metate. The corn is ground three times to make it fine enough for tortillas.
A tortilla press. Note the carved wooden circles which are coated with a vegetable dye and then used to make designs on the tortillas.
Tortilla with design.
My lunch featuring a stuffed pepper, guacamole, hand made cheese, beans, rice, a potato paddy, salsa, and cucumber water. The water was very good and I want to try making that at home.
Our second stop. The woman on the right is 90 years old and gave us lessons in speaking the Otomi language and explained how they made pottery. The woman in blue is Charlotte Bell who organized these tours and taught them the art of rug hooking.
The tienda where the rugs are sold.
In the demonstration we saw, they did not use conventional yarn; but instead used very finely cut fabric to hook into the backing.
At the third stop, we learned how to make fruit water and a desert. We also learned how different plants were used for medicinal purposes.
The third house was a little more upscale than the first two.
The stone work on the wall was particularly attractive.
The children sang the Mexican national anthem for us in Otomi
Our final stop was a stone carver. He made his own tools. The stone is a type of sandstone, so it is relatively easy to carve.p
That evening we went to a concert featuring two violinists who were taught by Leonard Brooks. It was a spirited performance featuring some of my favorite songs: La Vie en Rose, Don’t Cry for Me Argentina, My Way, and New York, New York.
We capped off a busy and fun day with a rooftop dinner with our friends Suzanne and Peter from Ottawa, Canada.

An Afternoon of Nirvana

Tuesday we went with our friends Adrienne and Herb to the Nirvana Hotel and Restaurant for a relaxing afternoon and lunch. The last time we were in San Miguel two years ago, we went to Nirvana for lunch where I learned that I really like tamarind. We found tamarind at an Asian store in Wilmington, but it just didn’t live up to my recollections. I found a tamarind dish in an Indian restaurant in Wilmington which I get every time I go there, but it still wasn’t as good as my original tamarind dish. After some lobbying, I talked everyone into going to Nirvana. Once again, I had: PECHUGA DE POLLO. rellena de queso cabra, espinacas y champiñones en salsa de tamarindo or chicken stuffed with cheese, spinach, and mushrooms in tamarind sauce. While it was delicious, I am not sure anything can live up to that first experience. Once more, you can’t go home again.

We ate outside in a thatched roof shelter overlooking a valley.
This is the view of the valley below. A hummingbird was in the flowers for much of the meal.
Some of the grounds.
Even the baños are in a beautiful building!
The main building is on the right and the shelter where we ate is on the left.
The hotel pool.
The grounds are nicely decorated.
More of the grounds. Yes, the sky is normally that blue here. We decided we would stay here for a couple days the next time we come to San Miguel. It is a fifteen minute taxi ride from Centro, so it would just be a relaxing couple days to enjoy the grounds, food, and pool.
They also had some beautiful pottery for sale. It was the same pottery they use in the restaurant.
The Parroquia at sunset from our rooftop. I can’t imagine who thought it was a good idea to locate that tower there.
A popular evening activity is to go to the Jardin and watch the Parroquia light up.

The Toy Museum

While sitting on our roof, we noticed another roof top across the street and several doors down that had a steady stream of people going out on the roof and taking pictures. We thought it might be a restaurant, so we checked it out. We learned that it is a toy museum, so we went to see it today. It is an exhibit of toys that were collected by one man over a fifty year period.

The exhibits contain more than what we would typically call toys.
Skulls and skeletons are seen throughout Mexico as remembrances of Catrina from the Diego Rivera mural Dream of a Sunday Afternoon along Central Almeda. These images are also common in Day of the Dead celebrations.
Ferris wheels were a popular toy.
Many of the toys, such as this dump truck, were made of woven reeds.
There was a wide variety of dolls representing cultures in different regions of Mexico.
They had planes made from old soda cans.
Each of the little bottles of Coca Cola in all of the cases had Coca Cola written on them. That looked like a lot of painstaking work!
There were views of many more rooftops from the roof of the museum.
And there is always the Parroquia in the background.

Sunday night we went to the ProMusica chamber music concert starring a Russian pianist. He was very talented. One piece he played was by a Russian composer who had lost the use of his right arm. Consequently, he composed sonatas to be played only with his left hand. It was pretty amazing. He played with the right hand on his lap or the top of the piano. His left hand covered both the left and extreme right sides of the piano. It was interesting to watch.

San Miguel – Origins of the Artist Colony

San Miguel is well known as an artist colony. This started after World War II when many American and Canadian soldiers came to San Miguel to study art under the American GI Bill and a similar Canadian program. Among the arriving artists were Canadians, Leonard and Reva Brooks. Leonard developed a love of painting and music at an early age. He served in the army as a war artist painting the movements of an aircraft carrier in the waters of Scotland and the activities of mine sweepers and motor torpedo boats in the English Channel off Normandy. After the war, he and his wife were impoverished and decided to move to San Miguel under the Canadian version of the GI Bill. When they arrived in 1947, San Miguel was a small, backward town. They describe the taxi that picked them up as having three tires filled with air and one filled with straw. The hotel room where they first stayed cost $4 per month. Reva went on to become a noted photographer and Leonard a well known painter and violinist. He wrote many books on painting technique and taught violin. Later in the week, we are going to a concert featuring two of his students.

An exhibit of the works of the Brooks is featured in one of the galleries this month.
Reva’s niece is giving several history lectures about her family this week. He was a very prolific artist, and a collection of his works is still held in the family home in San Miguel.
Our son David and his wife Harumi visited us for the last week. On their last night we had dinner at sunset at the rooftop restaurant Antonia’s Bistro. We hope they enjoyed their visit as much as we did.
The church at the top of Canal. I think these are the bells we hear each morning.
Antonia’s is located several buildings up the hill from our house so we had a nice view of our rooftop (the one with the umbrella).
Most people were probably there for the view of the Parroquia.

A Walk to the Mirador

The Mirador or viewpoint is in the hills above the city. We don’t normally walk there as it is quite an uphill climb from previous houses we have rented. However, our house this year is partway up the hill so the walk to the Mirador is less than half a mile. We decided to make the hike.

San Miguel has a lot of churches and early in the morning you hear a lot of church bells. In our home the loudest bells start at 6:30 AM and on a typical day we will hear over 200 chimes during the next 90 minutes. We believe this pattern of chimes is to call the parishioners to the morning services. We are curious as to which church is doing all the chiming. We live on a short block between San Francisco and Correa. When we look up San Francisco, this is the church we see,
This is the church we see when we look up Correo. This is our leading candidate for the bell ringing as it appears to be a large, functioning church.
This was the third church on the walk and is not a leading contender as it is further away, but you can make out a rope to the right of the tower which is used to ring the bells.
Of course along the way we saw a fountain,
stairs we would hate to negotiate every day,
a colorful building,
and a really uphill driveway.
The panoramic view from the Mirador. The Parroquia is on the far right.
A closeup of the Parroquia from the Mirador. You will note that the fancy gables and color are really a facade to look good from the Jardin and the bulk of the church is really quite plain
Valentines Day dinner at La Prada Peruvian restaurant.

Living in San Miguel

One of the adventures of living in a foreign country is grocery shopping. You can’t read the labels and you find items in unexpected places. For instance, most milk is unrefrigerated so you look for it in the grocery aisles. In San Miguel, we normally buy our groceries in local tiendas or small grocery stores that are located near our house. Last year we made our first visit to the large grocery, La Comer. Since then, a new more upscale super market known as City Market was built adjacent to La Comer. We decided to walk the nearly two miles there and take a taxi back home with our groceries.

City Market was very large and much nicer than any supermarket we have seen in the US. It is owned by La Comer and, despite being more upscale, has the same price for identical items according to people we have talked to here. However, they have a much greater diversity of items including many imported from the US. The wine section was not as big as Total Wine, but it was huge for a super market. There was an entire aisle with coolers of beers on each side. It was quite a different experience from our usual visit to Aldi at home!

San Miguel is an artist colony with a lot of interesting galleries to check out.
There is also an abundance of churches to explore.
This building ticked several boxes for a focused walk: door, downspouts, and house lights.
Candelaria, the flower show in Juarez Park has a show each evening. This was a dance performance by the student art group from the Cultural Center mentioned in a previous blog.
The trees in the plaza in front of San Francisco church are barely high enough for me to walk under without ducking.
We ate lunch Friday at a roof top restaurant. This picture looking toward the Rosewood Hotel gives you an idea of how nice some of the roof tops are.
San Miguel at night from another roof top restaurant where we had dinner. The food was outstanding at both of these restaurants.
One can never get enough pictures of the Parroquia. This was taken at sunset walking down the street to the side of our house to dinner.

Exploring San Miguel – Part 2

Monday was Constitution Day, a national holiday in Mexico. San Miguel is usually crowded with Mexican tourists on the weekends, but for a three day weekend it is really packed. Based on the crowds we experienced Saturday and Sunday when it was hard to get a seat in the Jardin and the restaurants were full, we decided to spend Monday exploring outside of Centro. Our first stop was the luxurious Live Aqua hotel which we stumbled onto two years ago shortly after it opened. Our goal was to learn if they sold day passes so we could use the pool. Unfortunately, the answer was a resounding “No”.

This is the pool we hoped to be able to use. Not only did they not sell day passes, they kicked us off the pool deck because we were not staying there.
Below the pool was a nice area to enjoy lunch.
Next to the pool was what looked to be some type of sauna. I particularly liked the old doors they used to make the wall.
A small part of the hotel and grounds.
Looking out of the hotel into one of the courtyards. I think we would have enjoyed a day pass here.
We did this walk with our friends Adrienne and Herb who used to live in Charlotte. We first learned of San Miguel from them.
Our main destination on the walk was Parque Municipal Zeferino Gutierrez. This is a new park that was still under construction when it was dedicated in January, 2020 when we were last in San Miguel. We tried to see it then, but didn’t get very far because of the construction.
The park was beautiful but deserted.
I was greatly honored that everyone thought the main statue in the park was a tribute to me!
There is an amphitheater which you can see through the fork of the tree, but we have not seen anything about events there. It seems like a beautiful setting for events.

Murals, skulls, an old wagon with pots: following are some pictures from our walk.