25th March – 2nd April – San Miguel de Allende is a fascinating place of cobbled streets and colonial architecture, having been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008. There are no traffic lights in the main area of the old town and it’s a ‘first’ to have motorists stop to allow us to cross the busy streets!
There are said to be over 12,000 expats living here or who have houses here, many of them Americans, and walking around the town they almost seem to out number the locals. Our guide book describes San Miguel as being…..’a bit like a Mexican Disneyland for foreign retirees’. I wouldn’t quite agree with this however, as after exploring this interesting town, we discovered leafy courtyards with purple Jacaranda trees and brilliant bougainvillaea tumbling over walls, carved doors set into buildings painted with deep, earth and spice colours, numerous galleries with beautiful crafts, colourful artwork and elaborate jewellery and a number of decorative churches, all tucked away in various streets.
The mind-boggling number of craft shops sell folk art and handicrafts that are not only made locally but also from around the country. Expats also contribute to the many art galleries and design studios. However, Mexico’s history and the Mexican’s skill with their hands and their love of colour, beauty, fun and traditions, are expressed everywhere.
However, I have mixed feelings about this town and often wonder how the enormous change and influx of foreigners has affected the lives of the indigenous people here. Have they been driven out by the rise in cost of land and housing, has the situation provided extra work for them, or do they feel resentful and do they benefit from the extra money brought in by the many tourists and expats?
We are sitting having a coffee in the main square (El Jardin), which is dominated by the parish church – Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel with its towering pink pinnacles, designed by stone mason Zeferino Gutierrez. It is said that he decided on this design, after seeing a picture of a Belgian church and that his builders had to follow plans that he drew in the sand!
Three older, well-dressed, presumably expat women are also sitting near us having drinks, a number of bags at their feet bearing names of classy shops. But when a frail, elderly lady shuffles up to our tables, her face worn and wrinkled, they refuse to give her any money just as they also do to a lone busker who has ben playing a guitar and singing at our tables for about 5 minutes, and is actually very good. I watch this elderly, local lady as she disappears slowly down a hill away from tourists eyes, her hand on the wall to give her some support and I wonder at all of this and the vast difference in their lives.
Expats are not short of things to do here as well as window shop and buy luxury goods. There are classes for dance, yoga and meditation, talks, films and musical shows, art and photography exhibitions and tours, one of which is aptly named the ‘House and Garden Tour’, which involves outings to view selected properties and their gardens.
Besides exploring the town, which is within easy walking distance from the San Miguel RV Park and tennis courts, we have enjoyed meeting up again with our friend Renee who is also camping here and her two little dogs Yorkie and Freda.
And then Linda arrives with her belongings piled high in her red car accompanied by her little dog Rosie with big liquid eyes. Sadly Rosie gets hit by a taxi not long after arriving and is diagnosed with a broken pelvis. Complete rest inside her travelling container is a necessity for at least a month for it to heal and so we are really pleased for Linda when she is able to find herself a flat for that time, so that Rosie can recover in quieter surroundings.
Rosie Yorkie and Freda
The campsite here is very popular and as a result, empty spaces are filled very quickly , mostly with Germans…….we swear that the owner has changed his name to Hans because of this! There are many rules to adhere to however and Hans or his mother are very quick to appear and wag their finger at you if they are broken, such as when our friend is caught washing her undies in the wrong sink and dogs are momentarily off their lead!
The adjoining tennis courts which also belong to the campsite are obviously big business, as they are filled with players from 8am to 7pm…..how these Americans love to keep fit! We call the Mexican coach with a real american twang ‘Mr Therre ye gow’ because he repeats this as a sign of encouragement every time he lobs a ball and it’s returned. The men nearly always arrive to play a doubles game, sharing their weekly news across the court at the same time and often having heated arguments as the game is taken very seriously! Many however, arrive with knee and leg bandages or complain loudly about their hips! When Carrrl arrives to play the peace is shattered with his loud laments!
Locals employed here rush out to rake, roll and water the courts after every game, but as campers we have to ask for more toilet rolls and wait patiently for the washrooms to be cleaned and the tissue bins to be emptied only when they are overflowing……..it’s very obvious who gets preference here! Bill gets a finger wag from Hans when he runs our engine for a few minutes to boost the battery, as our fridge very quickly lowers it trying to keep cool in this very hot weather………how we wish we had invested in a solar panel in the roof when we had our conversion done. We are told that the tennis players will be breathing in the fumes and we must wait until 7pm when the courts are closed.
We spend much of our time here trying to sort out a bank card that we discover (very quickly fortunately), has been cloned somewhere recently in Mexico. Phoning the UK and wasting time listening to recorded music and messages can be very frustrating and very expensive! Our bank finally comes up trumps however and sorts everything out for us, even with an apology and compensation for the lengthy phone calls.
It is also necessary to get Moby insured for the US and Canada but before the vehicle insurance can be issued we have to prove that we have an American visa or provide a copy of the ESTA visa waiver, the latter of which we are able to do online. We choose the Sunrise Group in Florida to arrange our vehicle insurance for us for 1yr. and once the application documents have been emailed to us, it is a matter of printing them off, completing and then faxing them back. We’ve had a busy time here what with one thing and another, but now we can relax and it’s time to be off again. San Miguel has certainly been an interesting town to visit and is obviously popular with many people but we are not used to these crowded camp grounds where individual space is very limited and are looking forward to more wild and remote surroundings.
Before we leave however, we make a trip to Atotonilco, a short distance north of San Miguel. The name Atotonilco means ‘Place of Hot Waters’, so called because of the many hot springs in the surrounding area and which were thought to have healing powers. Mexicans regard a pilgrimage to the Sanctuario de Atotonilco that dominates this small, rural and sleepy hamlet, as a very important journey in their lives. Also designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008, its high walls give it an almost fortress like appearance from the outside.
Once through the doors however, the interior is quite amazing, with walls and ceilings almost completely covered in an elaborate Mexican Baroque style of murals, sculptures, inscriptions and paintings.
3rd – 6th April Mexico is so massive we only seem to be crawling through it! We have decided to continue our journey up the western Pacific coast as I have read and heard so much about Mexico’s Copper Canyon that it is definitely worth a visit.
And so on to Dolores Hidalgo with a bright, sunny morning before the heat descends, through Guanajuato and across to Guadalajara, capital of Jalisco State. The following photo taken at a toll booth, is not an uncommon sight but so far if we have been stopped, we have found both the police and the army to be helpful and polite despite many warnings of the hassle involved with them from other travellers.
Escaping the 4 lane highways of Guadalajara, we manage to find San Jose Del Tajo Trailer Park in a very pleasant setting with many trees and walks by the river, still edged with many wild flowers.
We pass through Tequila where the blue agave plant is growing in waves amongst the highlands and the valleys. Tequila…….Mexico’s famous firewater, is produced from this succulent and Tequila has several local distilleries that can be visited.
It’s a dry and rugged landscape now of burnt grass strewn with cactus and trees with dry, brittle leaves. There have been many months here without rain and the wet season (May to September), has still to arrive…..everything just waiting for the start of the rains.
Through Tepic now, following the flat farming valley flanked by the mountains of the Sierra Madre Occidental, one of Mexico’s two, long mountain chains.
As we pass through an area of wetland, a sudden swarm of insects crash against our windscreen. We pull over to investigate and discover they are bees and for the next few km we are constantly having to stop to let out the odd live ones that found their way inside.
And so it’s on to Mazatlan on the coast in the State of Sinaloa and where we camp at the very relaxing San Bartolo Trailer Park in a quiet residential area. It’s only a short walk to the sea front which is lined with high-rise blocks of flats, hotels and all the entertainment, eating, drinking and shopping amenities you could want in a big seaside town. Along with the big 4×4’s cruising the corniche, some pumping out loud music, a number of army pick-ups pass us, a guy standing at the machine gun in the back and others heavily armed. According to our guide book, Mazatlan has a wonderful ‘old town’ near the southern end of the peninsular but we decide to give this one a miss as we would like to move on.
Our next big destination is to be Mexico’s Barranca del Cobre or Copper Canyon. We are really looking forward to our visit to this canyon…..said to be longer, deeper and wilder than Arizona’s Grand Canyon and often called the 8th wonder of the world!