Category Archives: San Miguel de Allende

Home Sweet Home

After a little over six weeks in Mexico, we flew home on Saturday. The last two days in Merida, we spent a lot of time relaxing at the hotel pool and the nearby Progreso Beach.

Progreso was less than an hour bus ride from Merida. It is a little hard to tell from the picture, but that is the longest pier in the world from the left side of the ocean. It is nearly four miles long. The white building in the top center is the cruise ship terminal. It was a nice beach with very calm water. The only problem was the constant stream of vendors,

On Valentine’s Day we attended a performance by Orquestra Sinfonica de Yucatan. They performed Beethoven’s 7th and Ravel. They were as good as the Charlotte and North Carolina Symphony Orchestras.

This is the grand staircase entrance to the theater. The flowers are real – you can see a man watering the top bunch.

The theater was a classic European style theater. We waited until too late in the week to get our tickets, so we were in the top level of boxes on the side. Our tickets were $7.50 each. The most expensive tickets were $25.

While we enjoyed our week in Merida, we are very glad that we didn’t follow our first instinct of spending an entire month there. We definitely prefer San Miguel for the long stays. The restaurants are much better and there is far more variety of entertainment in San Miguel. We also think San Miguel is a cleaner and more attractive city. On the plus side, walking in Mérida is much easier and less hazardous.
You may have noticed that this post has a different look. WordPress has a new interface oriented around adding information in blocks. It appears that I can now add video directly to the blog. There was a link to this video in a previous blog, but I wanted to verify that I can now add video directly to the blog, so this is an experiment for my benefit.

Saturday we flew home to Wilmington. Our flight out of Miami to Charlotte was delayed about an hour leaving us about ten minutes in Charlotte to get from the end of one concourse where our flight arrived to the end of another concourse where our next flight departed. We made it with one minute to spare only to learn that the flight was delayed while they waited for a pilot who turned out to be right behind us. We took off about fifteen minutes later. Thanks to the pilot delay, our luggage also made it to Wilmington.

Once again, we had a very enjoyable six weeks in Mexico despite having less than the ideal weather we have come to expect. Thanks for following along on our journey through the blog and a special thanks to all who have written to us. We always enjoy hearing from you. Our next trip will be to Chautauqua, NY for the week long session on climate change at the end of June. We hope you will join us.

A Hacienda, Uxmal, and a Cenote

Wednesday we went on a guided tour of some sites outside of Mérida. While San Miguel has a lot of Canadians and Americans as well as the occasional Siberian, we have been the only Americans on our two Mérida tours and we have been joined by citizens of Australia, Norway, Spain, Croatia, London, and India.

Our first stop on Wednesday was Yaxcopoil Hacienda which dates back to the seventeenth century. The name is derived from a Mayan word for “the place of the green Alamo trees”. It has seen the prehispanic period, the time of Spanish colonization, and the boom years of Sisal production during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The interior has been restored with all original furnishings and it is presently used as a parador and a museum.It has a Moorish double arch entry gate.The main residence building was a series of long rooms with high ceilings for ventilation.Like many wealthy Spanish people they had their own chapel at the back of the residence building.They even had their own theater in a building behind the house. The roof of the theater collapsed so it is only a facade today.The gardens had a lot of beautiful old trees.The sisal factory was located behind the residence. At one time the hacienda had 22,000 acres of land to grow the sisal agave and raise cows. Today the property is less than 3% of that.This is the machine that extracted the sisal fibers from the leaves.

We had a hard time deciding which Mayan archaeological site to visit: Chichen Itza or Uxmal. The former is far more famous, but in reading reviews everyone said it is overcrowded (think cruise ships in Cancun) and that you are constantly pestered by vendors. Uxmal on the other hand is virtually empty, has zero vendors on the grounds, and is more attractive. In a conversation at the pool, we talked to a man who had seen both and strongly recommended Uxmal. That sealed the decision.Uxmal is a purely Mayan design and construction. Chichen Itza on the other hand has the influence of other cultures. The edges of the pyramid have rounded corners. The Mayans believed the world progressed in 52 year cycles, so every 52 years they built a new pyramid on top of the old pyramid. The site was active for over 250 years, so you can see five layers to the pyramid.The other side of the Pyramid of the Magician faces a courtyard. The stairs lead up to a chapel with a large doorway.This is a close up of that chapel. Notice all the intricate shapes and designs on the blocks that make up the chapel wall.This gives you a good idea how steep those steps are. I was very happy that we weren’t allowed to climb them! Notice the twelve heads that line the edges of the stairs.This is a close up of one of the heads. They have noses shaped like the number 2.There were numerous rooms in the buildings forming the courtyard in front of the temple. All rooms had a ceiling like this one.I found it interesting how the ceiling bricks were shaped with an internal arc so that stones could be placed on the arc to hold the brick in place. Considering how long it has lasted, it seems to work pretty well.

The Nunnery Quadrangle was named by the Spanish because it reminded them of a convent. It consists of four buildings forming a square surrounding an open courtyard. Each building has numerous small rooms opening to the front. Each building has different decorations.This building had human faces over the doors with a representation of two headed snakes on either side.This building is known as The Palace of the Governors. It is believed to be one of the last buildings constructed on the site (about 987 CE). I did climb the stairs to the platform with the doorways.From the right end of the platform, you have a nice view of the site. From left to right is the House of the Turtles (there are turtle decorations around the top; and, yes, the women heading toward it is Susan), the ball court with the Nunnery Quadrangle behind it. and the Pyramid of the Magician on the right.Behind the Palace of the Governors is The Great Pyramid which has only been partially restored on this one side. You can see vegetation on the top and the other side.We saw numerous iguanas on the site. We were very happy with our decision to visit Uxmal. I would rate it as the top Mayan site I have seen with many unique features compared to the others.

Our final stop was a cenote, a natural pit or sinkhole formed when limestone bedrock collapses exposing the ground water underneath. There are over a thousand of them on the Yucatan Peninsula (including one in the Costco parking lot). Some are in caves and others are open pools.Ours was in a shallow cave with crystal clear water about four to five feet deep. There were a few fish in the water. The water comes from rain draining through the shallow soil and the limestone on the top of the cave. The cool water felt really refreshing after exploring Uxmal in 95 F heat!

Centro

Our hotel in Merida is located on the main north south street in town just four blocks from the Plaza Principal, the functional equivalent of the Zócalo in Mexico City or the Jardin in San Miguel. All even numbered streets run north/south and all odd numbered streets run east/west. Thus our hotel is on Calle (street) 60 at Calle 55. Once you get the hang of the system, it is easy to find any other place you want to go and figure how many blocks away it is. The walking tour we took Sunday began in the park right across the street from our hotel and went down Calle 60 to Plaza Principal. Most of the important sites in the city are in that small area.

There is a small and simply decorated church a few doors from our hotel.The most decorated church in the area is this one another block up Calle 60. Note the two white chairs in the top picture that are attached to each other and face each other. These are a symbol of Mérida and are scattered all over the public plazas. They are unique in that a couple can sit in them and look at each other as they talk. I will try to get a picture illustrating this in a future blog.

Finally the Cathedral is four blocks from our hotel. It is also a very simple design inside, but it is distinguished for having the tallest cross inside a building in the world. That is what our guide said and I am sticking to it.

Banamex Bank is notable in Mexico for its efforts to preserve Mexican heritage. As part of their branch on Plaza Principal, they have Casa de Montejo open to the public at no charge. The home was built in the 1540’s. The Montejo’s were the “conquerors of the Yucatan”.The home was furnished with unique accessories.There was also a display of fanciful creatures carved from wood of the copal tree and painted in colorful detail by a family owned workshop in the Yucatan.

There are lots of shops to browse and plenty of Catrina dolls to choose from. The problem is they are very fragile to attempt to bring home.

There are plenty of attractive buildings. This one is presently abandoned.

The Yucatan government building on Plaza Principal featured murals of the history of the peninsula. The central theme was how the Mayans fought valiantly for many years to protect their culture from the better equipped Spanish invaders.

Wednesday we are taking a tour of a Mayan archaeological site.

Of Sisal and Maize

On Monday morning, we strolled the broad boulevard, Paseo de Montejo. It is lined with mansions built on wealth accumulated from the production of sisal from an agave native to the Yucatan peninsula. The fibers from the sisal agave are used to make rope. Who knew there was so much money to be made from something as ordinary as rope.

Many of the buildings could easily pass as French chateaus.I saw someone entering this building, so I went in to check it out. It’s a bank.This home is still privately occupied by an 87 year old woman who lives primarily in Mexico City. She has her home open to visitors to help cover her maintenance costs.The dining room featured Tiffany glass doors and windows. I particularly liked the ornately carved buffet.

When we reached a Walmart on the street, we decided we had reached the end of the wealthy section so we headed for our next destination, the Gran Museo de Mundo Maya Merida.The Mayan museum is a very modern structure well outside the historic Centro area of town. Maize, or corn, was the most important part of the Mayan diet. They even believed that they were descended from the pulp of corn. The museum had a section on the milpa system of agriculture developed by the Mayans. After a section of land is cleared for agriculture, a crop of corn, beans, and squash were planted together for two years; and the field was left fallow for the next 8 years before the cycle was repeated. The system requires no pesticides and no fertilizers. From Wikipedia: “The concept of milpa is a sociocultural construct rather than simply a system of agriculture. It involves complex interactions and relationships between farmers, as well as distinct personal relationships with both the crops and land. For example, it has been noted that “the making of milpa is the central, most sacred act, one which binds together the family, the community, the universe…[it] forms the core institution of Indian society in Mesoamerica and its religious and social importance often appear to exceed its nutritional and economic importance“. I have the feeling that the lecturer we heard in San Miguel that was talking about agriculture without fertilizer, pesticides, or plowing would have liked milpa.

Much of the museum was about the integration of the Mayans into modern society. Today, 30% of the people in the Yucatan speak Mayan. The signs were written in Spanish, Mayan, and English.The museum also had many artifacts from the Classic Mayan period.This is a ring from one of the Mayan ball courts. While putting the ball through the ring is clearly the object of the modern game, there is much debate about whether it was the objective of the classic Mayan ball game. I know when I was a docent in the preColumbian collection of the Mint Museum in Charlotte, the curator of the collection firmly believed that it was not the object. The museum visit was preparation for our visit to a Mayan archeological site on Wednesday.

After a day of walking around town and visiting museums, we like to return to our pool in the heat (95 F this week) of the day. The pool is surprisingly cool considering how hot the air is.

In the evening we saw a folkloric ballet with a live orchestra on the street by Plaza Principal. It was a more professional version of what we saw Sunday afternoon.

A Weekend in Merida

Our flights from Puerto Vallarta to Merida we’re relatively uneventful and we arrived at our hotel in the late afternoon. There were obvious differences between Mérida and San Miguel. Mérida is warmer, has far fewer gringoes, is much younger, has far fewer English speakers, and has more free entertainment. On Saturday night in Plaza Principal, they play a modern version of the Mayan ball game. We arrived 30 minutes early as recommended, but all the seats were gone and they were standing three deep by then.The games began with a lot of ritual and explanation that was all in Spanish so it meant little to us. While the rules of the game are unclear to me, the main objective is to hit the ball through a hoop using only your hips. It is very difficult to do and was not accomplished that I could see. There seemed to be secondary objectives such as advancing the ball as deep as possible into enemy territory. After playing the game for about twenty minutes, they then set a ball on fire and tossed it around before spiking the ball through the hoop in a classic basketball move. For a brief video of the ball game and the playing with a burning ball, click here.

Sunday morning many of the streets were closed to traffic so bicyclists could take over the streets. We took a free walking tour of the historic area in the morning. I will cover that tour in a future blog. On Saturday night, the area in front of the cathedral was set up for the ball game. On Sunday it was set up as a giant covered food court. We each had two Yucatan style pork tacos and a coke for less than a total of $5. So far we have both survived!We then had Marquesitas, a Mérida street food treat available in sweet and savory versions. We elected for the sweet version. The shell is made in a special griddle over a propane fire.

Once the shell is cooked, Nutella and cheese are added.Despite the fact that the shell is rolled, it is very crisp and really tasty. Of course, you have to like Nutella to like this one. I can’t wait to try the savory version. There are Marquesita street stands all over town.On Sunday afternoon, there was live music and the seniors in town were dancing in the plaza in front of our hotel just as our guide said they would.Meanwhile, in Plaza Principal, the children were being entertained by Superheroes (you can see two of them in the background). The little girl in blue was having a grand time!

After the children, Mayan dancers took to the streets.They twirled and danced with bottles of beer on their heads. They then upped the ante and danced with a trey holding a bottle and several full glasses on their heads.

Just as the tee shirts say, we are definitely on the fun side of the wall now!

Let the Sun Shine In

We came to Puerto Vallarta after a month in San Miguel to relax in the warmth and sunshine at the pool. After walking three to five miles in the thin air and hills of San Miguel, it is really nice to have a week of total relaxation.As you can see, it is a beautiful pool surrounded by palms with mountains on one side and ocean on the other side.Unfortunately, this is us on day 1 with everyone wearing a fleece and huddled under a towel for warmth under a totally cloud covered sky. Day 2 was similar with a high probability of rain, which didn’t arrive until after dark. Day 3 was an all day rain. Fortunately, we brought a pirated DVD of Knives Out from Juan’s in SMA for entertainment. Day 4 had a gloomy forecast and the sky looked threatening when we awoke. By the time we finished breakfast, there were patches of blue; so we bravely headed for the pool. The sky cleared, and it was a nice afternoon. Day 5 and 6 were sunny as expected but a little chilly until afternoon. Fortunately, we had our Minnesota friends, Jean and Ron and Lynn and Jim to talk to and keep us entertained on the cloudy, rainy days.

Thursday, we went into the nearby town of Bucerías for dinner and to see the chalk art show on the streets. The theme for this year’s Chalk Art Walk 2020 was “One Love – Celebrating Unity Throughout The World.” Each of the 25 participating artists created theme inspired chalk art. Each art piece had to depict a human, animal, and plant all living harmoniously together. I think the bad weather reduced participation, and a couple of the art works were wiped out by the rain and not restored. Following are a few examples:

There was music as well as art.

We enjoyed a seafood dinner on the Bucerías oceanfront.

It was a beautiful sunset with birds flying around.

The. view of Puerto Vallarta from our room. Saturday we fly to Merida on the Yucatan peninsula. This will be a new location for us, so the blogs may be more frequent.

Farewell San Miguel?

Saturday, we bid farewell to San Miguel and headed to Puerto Vallarta to visit our friends Jean and Ron and Lynn and Jim for a little pool and sea time. Despite being a little cooler and a little cloudier than usual, we once again thoroughly enjoyed our month in San Miguel. One of the appeals is the variety of good restaurants There is Mexican food of course, but there is also Thai, Peruvian, Italian, Lebanese, Indian, and many others to choose from as well. It appears the restaurant competition is so fierce, that you have to be good to survive. I think every meal we had was in the good to excellent range.

We also enjoy all the shows. It is easily possible to see a different show every night. While we didn’t reach that goal, we certainly saw a show on at least half the nights we were there. Two favorites come to mind. One was a tribute to Canadian song writers such as Neil Young, Ian Tyson (Ian and Sylvia), Joni Mitchell, Gordon Lightfoot, and Leonard Cohen. The songs were performed by seven San Miguel singer/guitarists both individually and in groups. The show lasted three hours and included many songs we knew and others that we wish we knew. It was a very enjoyable last night in San Miguel.

Another highlight was this native of Jamaica who now resides in Canada. He had a wonderful smile and engaging personality to go along with his repertoire of Caribbean music. He was joined in the second half by a San Miguel guitar player who had never played with him previously and was not familiar with the music. He plays a nine string guitar. They played together beautifully and both seemed to enjoy playing together. There were also free concerts in a nearby park area . . .. . . as well as in the Jardin.

Another enjoyable activity for the women is shopping, particularly for San Miguel Sandals. I have discussed them previously, but for the newcomers to the blog, they sell for about $35 in San Miguel and cost about $100 more in the US under the name Charleston Shoe Company.There is a very special expression in town that you never see unless that person has just discovered the perfect pair of San Miguel Sandals.

We don’t see a lot of wildlife in town, but we did see this exceptionally large caterpillar on a tree outside our gate.We also had a small dove nesting in this thorny tree on our roof top patio. We were proud grandparents by the time we left.

Walking around town you might find an interesting door or an exterior wall decorated with plants. It pays to look inside any open doors, because you never know what you might find.

Before we left on this trip, we saw a Bloomberg news article about a cartel shooting in a restaurant in San Miguel. We also noted local reaction to the article stating that Bloomberg greatly exaggerated the situation. However, the police presence in town was much more noticeable. We saw police armed with machine guns on several occasions. The consensus of the locals we talked to was that if you didn’t have any business with the cartel and you stayed in the town, you were safe. We continued to walk the town day and night and never had an uncomfortable moment. Still, the changes are concerning. Will we go back? I hope so, but it likely won’t be next year as we already have fall and early spring plans.

El Charco, Alison, and Sam

The beautiful weather on Wednesday inspired us to visit El Charco, the cactus gardens located in the hills above San Miguel. The visit requires a taxi ride through incredibly steep and narrow streets. You may recall us visiting El Charco in previous years on the equinox when they have a band performing in the canyon at sunset and you find a place to sit on the rim to listen. It is a truly wonderful experience. Wednesday, we just walked the trails of the garden.

A deep canyon runs through the gardens and most of the plants occur naturally.This is the Plaza of the Four Winds where the indigenous population performs ceremonies, particularly at the equinox. It also features The Holy Cross of El Charco del Ingenio.There are a few sculptures in the gardens.There are viewpoints overlooking San Miguel where you can see landmarks such as the Parroquia. I am pretty sure that the large white building by the reservoir on the far right is the new hotel, Live Aqua, I featured in an earlier blog. It didn’t show well in the pictures, but the reservoir wall was at the rear of the property.There was a “rescue” area where endangered cactus were relocated from construction sites to save them.The canyon through the property is very steep and narrow. You can see the dam in the center background of the picture.In a few spots you could see water supplied by a perennial spring at the bottom of the canyon. You can also see an old, rusty water line near the rim on the right side. Fabrica Aurora built the dam and the waterline to power their textile mill. The mill is now home to a large number of art galleries.

This is a part of the lake created by the dam.There is also a section where the garden has been planted.These were two of our favorite cacti in the planted garden.

Wednesday night we went to hear two speakers sponsored by the San Miguel Literary Sala which sponsors a distinguished speaker series. The first speaker was Alison Wright, a photojournalist for National Geographic and other magazines who specializes in exploring the human condition and endangered cultures through pictures. After graduating from college, she wanted to begin exploring third world countries. Her parents convinced her to go to Europe instead. After a few weeks there, she followed her heart and went to North Africa. What was to be three weeks in Europe turned into three years exploring the world.

She became interested in the plight of the Tibet people and visited fifty some Tibet refugee camps in Thailand and other countries. Her work attracted the attention of the Dali Llama and they soon became good friends and worked together.

One day she was riding a public bus in a remote jungle area of Laos. An out of control logging truck hit the bus and pinned her to her seat. Two men pulled her from the burning bus and laid her beside the road. No one stopped to help because of the war going on at that time. The local people stayed with her to comfort her. It was fourteen hours before she was finally taken to a local hospital where she received limited care. When she was finally air lifted back to the States, she was told she would probably never walk again. She responded, “Tell me what I can do, not what I can’t do”. Two years later she climbed Mount Kilimanjaro.

She illustrated her talk with numerous slides. She has published six books of her pictures and another book of her remarkable life story. She has created a charity to provide aid to some of the people she photographs. To see some of her work, you can visit her web site by clicking here.

Most of you probably recognize the second speaker, Sam Donaldson, reporter and anchor for ABC from 1967 to 2013. He shared many interesting experiences in covering and interacting with presidents for 46 years. While he was the primary reason we were there, I felt the story Alison had to tell was more moving and more compelling. Plus, she had some beautiful pictures to share.

Sunday in San Miguel

One of the reasons we love San Miguel is the perennial spring like weather with abundant sun and little rain. According to the locals, this January has been cooler and cloudier than normal. Laura’s visit brought us a week of beautiful weather. Ron and Jean brought some of their Minnesota weather with cooler temperatures and more clouds. Sunday we bore full responsibility for cloudy, cool weather with a good chance of rain.

We hung around the house in the morning waiting for the temperature to warm up. In the afternoon we headed out for the Shelter Skelter Storytelling Extravaganza. As soon as we started out the door, I felt the first raindrop. I must have felt 20 more during our mile long walk. That is a typical rain event in San Miguel. The program at the Shelter Theater was ten people telling a story of ten minutes or less. Most of the stories were true. Some were very good and some were terrible, but all in all it was an enjoyable afternoon.

It was too early to eat after the show, so we headed to the Jardin to see what was going on. There was a stage set up in the plaza in front of the Parroquia, and it was soon occupied by two guitar player/singers playing popular American songs. After they concluded, they started to clear the stage and we thought the show was over. However, in a few minutes we heard loud Mardi Gras type music; and people in bizarre costumes playing an assortment of instruments soon filled the stage and plaza.

For a two short videos of the music and dancing, click here and click here.

We have no idea what the event was, but it was a lot of fun. I finished the day with dinner of Poblano en Nogada (a poblano pepper stuffed with meat and raisins covered with a walnut sauce and sprinkled with pomegranate seeds) at my favorite restaurant for that dish. It was delicious as usual! And despite the blue sky in the first picture above, there was more rain getting to the restaurant. This time I got at least seven drops on my head. No, I am not expecting any sympathy.

Happy Birthday, Ignacio!

Our home in Mexico is San Miguel de Allende, named after Ignacio Allende, one of the heroes of the Mexican Revolution who was born in a house across from the Jardin. Tuesday was the 251st anniversary of his birth which is celebrated over a two day period with parades, concerts in the Jardin, and fireworks. a distinguished military career where he was the Mexican hero of the campaign against Texas in 1801. After 1806 his sympathies aligned with the conspirators behind the independence movement. He was a Lieutenant General and led a resounding victory in some of the battles for independence. He was promoted to leadership of the insurgent army but was betrayed shortly thereafter. He was sentenced to death by a military tribunal and was executed on June 2, 1811.

The bandstand in the Jardin was decorated in Allende’s honor. Our Minnesota friends, Jean and Ron are visiting this week. That’s Ron on the left and Susan and I on the right.A man dressed as Allende drew the most applause from the crowd.There were several beauty queens in the parade.A cleanup crew followed all the horses.This appeared to be the senior queen of the parade.Every school in San Miguel seemed to have a spot in the parade.This school group carried a large Mexican flag.Most of the students must have been told not to smile as they had very serious expressions.This youngster was dressed as Allende.A culinary school in town participated in the parade.All public service organizations such as the army, police, ambulances, fire department, etc. participated in the parade. We had an appropriate spot to watch the parade, across the street from Instituto Allende, an art and Spanish school near our home.We watched the end of the parade from another location to facilitate the girls shoppin for San Miguel Sandals. The parade lasted about an hour.