San Miguel is not a particularly quiet town. There are three primary sounds that you hear on a regular basis:
1) Church Bells. Church bells are a regular occurrence throughout the day. The first chimes of the day begin at 6:30 AM with a quick series of chimes followed by a single chime. This is followed at 6:45 with the series of chimes followed by two single chimes. Next, at 7:00 is the same thing except for three single chimes. I believe these chimes are a countdown to mass. During the week there are no more loud chimes until sometime after 9 AM. On Sunday, there are a lot more chimes throughout the morning. The latest we ever heard the church bells was 11 at night.
After careful study and evaluation of the chime patterns, I concluded that they are rung manually. Today, when we were at the Jardin, we saw four boys who were ringing the bells by pushing them so they rotate about their axis. The first picture shows the bell ringers waiting until the correct time to ring the bells. The second picture shows them pushing on the bell to make it rotate.
2) Dogs. While there are no loose dogs on the street, there are a lot of dogs behind the walls. There is a dog next to us who barks wildly at times, but is quiet most of the time.
3) Firecrackers. Most days have been free of firecrackers. But some days you hear numerous firecrackers from before the first church bell until late at night. This Sunday was one of those days. It began with a lot of firecrackers in the Jardin or town center this morning and is continuing with many firecrackers around our house in the evening. I understand that firecrackers have been a tradition here since they were first introduced by the Spanish. I also understand there is some religious significance to them. Beyond that, I have no idea why they are shooting so many fireworks. Fortunately, firecrackers are not one of the things that causes the dog next door to bark!
A bonus sound in our neighborhood is the sweet corn vendor who come down our street every day at about 5 PM screaming something in Spanish that we can’t understand at the top of his lungs. There is no missing him when he is in the neighborhood.
Most photographers have certain subjects that appeal to them. In my case it is trees with a subspecialty in tree roots, doors/windows, and flowers. In San Miguel, you could easily add things like courtyards, churches, balconies, and roof gardens. But for this post, I am just going to give you a sampling of the doors of San Miguel.
Note the hand knocker.
One of the things that has amazed us is how easy it is to make friends here. We have done a lot of thinking about why we struggle to make friends in Pawleys Island, but have no problem here. We believe there are several reasons. First, most people who come here come alone and have a common desire to meet other people. At home, most people have been there for a while and already have established friendships. Second, you need some sense of adventure and some desire to try new things to come here. At home, many people are content to spend their time just relaxing on the beach and don’t want to venture out of their comfort zone. Finally, when you are a stranger in a foreign land, I think there is a natural bond with other people from your homeland.
We started making friends the first day we were here. We went down the block to look for a duplicate bridge game that was supposed to be played on Sunday and Thursday. We talked to the owner of the B&B where the games were supposed to be played and learned that the Sunday game had been cancelled, but she asked us to come back that night to play with two of her customers who were looking for a game. We went back that night, had wine with the owner and some of her guests, played bridge, and learned about the Canada de la Virgin trip. She ended up arranging that trip for us and even joined us on the trip. So began our experience with Bordello Bridge. Her B&B consists of a former bordello and the Madam’s house next door. Every Thursday we play duplicate bridge there (in the courtyard on nice days) where we meet more new people.
We met one of our friends during the walking tour we took the first Monday we were here. We ran into them the next day and they introduced us to the couple renting the casita below them. We kept running into both of them at various events and invited them and a couple we met at bridge to our house one night. We are now all going to a party at one of their houses Sunday night. That party will include another couple we haven’t met, so our circle of potential friends will expand again. This is just a good place to meet nice and interesting people.
We also have many feathered friends who love our feeder.
There are several hot springs around San Miguel. Today, we visited the most famous, La Gruta, with our friends Marianne and Dieter from Sheboygan, Wisconsin. We took a short taxi ride from town to the hot springs where it is two for one admission every Friday. With the discount it was all of about $4 each for the day. They have extensive grounds with tables and chairs, a spa, a restaurant, and numerous pools. There is a tunnel leading from the main pool to an underground cave. They, let the hottest water into this cave several times a day. Because it is a cave with hot water, the air is also very humid there. The water gets progressively cooler as you move back out through the tunnel into the main pool, which is like clear, comfortable bath water. Successive pools of various shapes and sizes are cooler yet. We spent most of our pool time in the main pool.
Inside the cave. I didn’t take my camera into the water, so this and the next picture I took from the Internet. The light is natural from holes in the ceiling.
Looking out the tunnel toward the main pool.
The main pool with the tunnel entrance on the left side where the people are standing.
Another view of the main pool which is surrounded by palm and banana trees.
Part of the grounds where we had a delicious lunch and lounged in the sun. If you squint, you might even see a familiar lounger.
It was another wonderful day in San Miguel. So far we have not met anyone who does not love San Miguel as much or more than we do. However, Marianne told us there was a woman on the side trip she took yesterday that hated it. I guess it goes to show that you can’t please everyone.
La Biblioteca, or the library, is the center for expat activities in San Miguel. It is the second largest bilingual library in North America. It had its beginnings in 1954 when an expat started inviting Mexican children into her home to pursue her extensive collection of magazines. The next year she and other volunteers rented a building to establish a children’s library. In 1958, the state government refurbished the San Miguel slaughterhouse and turned it into the community library that it is today. The history of the building goes back to 1734 when it was a community house for poor women who were single, widowed, or abandoned by their husbands. The community house was abandoned in 1862 when the government expropriated all church property in the War of Reform. The building was allowed to fall into ruins before being made a slaughterhouse and finally the library.
I suspect this library has many features and activities that are not present in your library – even those of you who live in The Big Apple. One of the first features is the courtyard. Every self respecting building in San Miguel has to have a nice courtyard. This one has tables, umbrellas, chairs, sun, and shade. It is a very popular place to sit and read, study your Spanish, or chat with new found friends.
It of course has several rooms of books and magazines. There are even books and magazines in the courtyard.
There is a coffee shop which is another great place to hang out.
There are two performance venues featuring lectures, educational films, flamenco, and musical entertainment. There are two to three events here every day. In addition, the library has classes on different topics (including our Spanish class) during the week. The first venue is a theater, which is the second largest we have seen in town. The second is a room with a ceiling mural of indigenous people. The library also sponsors the weekly home and garden tours and has a gift shop.
There are other murals scattered around the building.
All of these events not only raise money to support the library, but also to provide scholarships to deserving children in the area. If fact, many of our activities from Bordello Bridge (Got your attention there didn’t I? But that is a topic for another day) to walking tours of the town raise money for charity. Perhaps we can make this whole trip a tax deduction???
Today we celebrate the birthday of Ignacio Allende, a captain in the Spanish army who came to sympathize with the Mexican independence movement. He ultimately became the leader of the movement and was captured and executed by the Spanish for treason. He was born in San Miguel and the town is named San Miguel de Allende in his honor. This is why San Miguel is a popular tourist destination with Mexicans. The town is crowded with vacationers from Mexico City on weekends. The town celebrates his birthday on 21/Jan with parades, singing in the square, a military flyover, and fireworks.
The events kick off on the night before with a torchlight parade from the mirador to the square. The parade consists of a band, a man dressed as Allende riding a horse, and people carrying torches.
The big parade occurred today featuring the police, military, fire department, beauty queens, and all the schools in the area. The parades we had seen to date had been relatively small and tended to run late. The parade today was much bigger and started early. We heard it from our casa and had to hustle over to the next street.
The beauty queens ride on the top of a car
This young man is dressed in the uniform associated with Allende.
Each school wore a distinctive uniform and had a drum corps. The students must have been told this is a serious parade because there were few smiles.
One group of older female students did the March on the cobblestone streets in high heels.
The culinary school was there…
…and the fire department with their axes as well as the army with their bugles and weapons were well represented.
The parade concluded with the Mounties closely followed by the clean up crew.
These children did what it took to get a good view. The festivities end tonight with music and fireworks.
We started our day with our one hour once a week conversational Spanish class. We can’t learn very much in that short a time, but the instructor is a lot of fun and it is another opportunity to meet people. We followed that with shopping at the market which Susan finds to be a lot of fun. For me, it is better than going to Food Lion, but usually doesn’t rise to the level of fun.
Following lunch, we visited several real estate offices to look for a house for next year. You hear two stories here. First, is the people who come for the first time and buy a house after two weeks. Second, is the people who are driving through, have a flat tire, and never leave. We are not in the home buying category yet, but we do want to come back for two months next year. We love our present house, but it doesn’t look like we can get it for the time period we want.
After that, we headed for the mirador or overlook. None of San Miguel is truly flat, but most of the Centro area is pretty manageable. However, there is a hill on one side of Centro that is pretty steep and that is where the mirador is located. Fortunately, we found lots of benches along the way to sit a few minutes and catch our breath.
The view of the Parroquia and Centro area from the mirador
Looking down one of the narrow streets toward Centro. Sorry about all the wires.
You may recognize this as the same picture from yesterday’s post. My cousin Sarah pointed out in a comment that I had failed to mention something significant about the picture. This is most likely due to the fact that I failed to notice the significance. The sign on the right wall refers to the 43 male students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers’ College of Ayotzinapa who disappeared in September, 2014. You will also notice there is a group praying in front of the sign. Thanks to Sarah for pointing this out.
The owner of the house we are renting refers to San Miguel as a college campus for adults. If so, the catalog is Quepasa and it is distributed free all over town on Friday. This paper lists most of the activities in town for the following week. This information is supplemented with flyers posted around town for events in bars and restaurants that are not necessarily listed in Quepasa. In addition, you need to pick up the schedule for the two small pocket theaters on Sunday of each week. These theaters show a different movie each day with all the golden globe winners and nominees in the rotation. Armed with this information, you are ready to plan your week.
You like to meditate? There are several options on most days. Are you a staunch liberal? There are lectures to reinforce your beliefs every week. Are you a conservative? You can learn how the others think. Want to play some bridge? Got you covered. History talks and art openings? They are all over town. Want to see some live music or dance? There are options every day. In addition there are home tours, guided walks, day trips, and just about anything you can think of. Planning your week takes a lot of study and work. Most tickets are under 10 dollars.
The last four days we saw three different musical performances in three different venues. First, was a good old boy from North Carolina who played guitar and sang the blues (if you are an old timer, think Lead Belly and Muddy Waters). We enjoyed it, but a little blues goes a long way with me.
Friday, we saw a program of French love songs performed by a family group. I don’t believe they normally perform together, but they were terrific. We both thoroughly enjoyed the show. It was two guitars, an accordion, and vocals by the daughter of one of the guitar players. We went hoping to hear our favorite French love song, La Vie en Rose, and we were not disappointed.
After two and a half weeks, I think it is about time I include a picture of the Parroquia or parish church. This is the iconic site in San Miguel. It is often called a cathedral, but that is incorrect.
Friday we took a taxi to the botanical gardens up in the hills surrounding San Miguel. The gardens are located above some wetlands created by a dam and along a scenic canyon downstream of the dam. The gardens are primarily cactus and much of it is natural. A large portion of the gardens is devoted to rare cactus that have been rescued from construction sites. We spent about two hours walking the trails around the garden and then took a taxi back to town.
The return taxi ride was down steep narrow streets heading back into town. The taxi driver went by several construction signs which he studied carefully before proceeding. Finally as we are going down a steep narrow one car width street, he comes to the construction and the road is totally blocked. He then proceeds to back up the street with his eyes moving from one rear view mirror to the other and Susan gasping repeatedly in the back seat. It seemed like he backed up forever, but it was probably only a few tenths of a mile. Anyway, we made it safely back into town and had a delicious pizza on a rooftop with a beautiful view.
These are some of the pictures from the botanical gardens
This seemed to be some sort of ceremonial site with the flower arrangement on the Rock and many flowers tossed in the water.
I asked about the tee shirts, but all I could understand was that they were designed by children.
As a follow up to the last post on the pyramid, I received an email from someone who said he was a strong believer that extraterrestrials built these pyramids because people are not smart enough to do it today without a computer. The guide commented on this by saying that almost certainly modern humans could not achieve the same relationships between the pyramid and the solar system using only the tools available to the ancients. He believes that the ancients were able to use parts of their brain that we are unable to. He said this might be because of some of the plants they ate. Perhaps we need to be looking for an intelligence enhancing plant?
Tuesday we went on a side trip to Canada de la Virgin (pronounced ca.na’da de la ver.hen). The trip had nothing to do with our northern neighbor. It translates to “canyon of the virgin”. The site is an archeological site on the northern border of Mesoamerica and about 15 miles from San Miguel. We went on a tour led by one of the anthropologists who worked on studying the site, which has only been open to the public a few years. The site is located on a small mesa surrounded by canyons. It was occupied by the Otomi and Toltec tribes from 540 to 1050 CE.
The ceremonial causeway to the complex.
The House of the Thirteen Heavens. It’s profile matches the profile of the distant mountains when viewed from several directions. The original structure was built from colorful, hard rocks hauled from a distant mine and shaped by hand. That structure was completely covered by the second structure of local and softer rock which is what you see today. A third structure covering the second one was started but never finished. The building was used as a horizon clock, observatory, and burial ground for the elite. It is remarkable in that the building aligns with the rising and setting sun and Jupiter and Venus on auspicious dates on the Otomi calendar. This required a significant intelligence to achieve.
The garden of native plants being built in the area was designed by native women.
It is believed the large plaza in this structure may have been flooded to allow them to study the reflected stars.
The side wall contains some of the colorful stones in the first structure. We climbed the steps to the top of the pyramid. Going up was easy. Coming down was nerve racking but we both survived.
Some of the trees growing on the pyramid were allowed to remain as their roots anchored the structure.
There is a symbiotic relationship between the cactus/tree pairs common in the area. The cactus provides shade for the tree seeds and the tree supports the cactus so it doesn’t fall over.