Mexican Moments

Words by Dalene Heck / Photography by Dalene and Pete Heck

It was almost five o’clock on a Sunday, two weeks after arriving in Mexico, that I began to fully realize my presence there. I sat on our patio and watched the sun rays split the clouds surrounding. I could hear dogs and shouting; I surmised that the latter was from a football match close by. Small trees in potted plants swayed against the wind. My bare arms were pimpled; as usual, I had underestimated the chill outside of my door. We had just spent almost an entire year in winter and I craved the sun.

I rubbed my arms to create warmth and refused to go back inside. At moments I shivered, but I held fast to wait out those last few moments of daylight.

San Miguel de Allende Sunset Silhouette

I don’t want to become those bloggers that routinely say: “Hey, we showed up in a wonderfully exotic place but just sat inside and worked most of the time.”

Except, um, in the case of San Miguel de Allende, that is exactly what we did.

Not that I would characterize San Miguel as wonderfully exotic to begin with as the city is notoriously packed with expats from far reaches of North America. The appeal to gringos is apparent as it has many fantastic offerings: a thriving art scene, great choices for food, and one can’t deny the charming beauty of its colourful streets. For us, and those who attribute higher value to places that are perceived as more challenging, San Miguel can appear a bit tedious. But in our state of work overload, it was also pretty much exactly what we needed. We were comfortable and the living was easy, which allowed us to focus on our business for the month.

We were completely content. I can’t even begin to explain the immense relief felt upon arrival back in Mexico, despite what happened to Pete on the coast during our last visit. Even though that horrifying event was almost two years ago now, I had expected to encounter a bit of residual anxiety. But to my surprise, neither of us harboured any in the slightest. Mexico instead reminded us of its best qualities: that it is friendly, unpretentious, and downright soul-nourishing. We were once again quickly and completely hooked.

But we unfortunately have little to report on from a tourist’s point of view. Even though we were there over the holiday season and public events were frequent, we shied away from most. Instead we mostly huddled inside and chipped away at our task list. And thus our first month in Mexico whizzed by, and our reflection on San Miguel is made up of just a few defining moments…

Mexico reminded us of its best qualities: that it is friendly, unpretentious, and nourishing. We were once again quickly and completely hooked.

San Miguel de Allende Patio

ONE

During a rare break from work, when all either of us wanted to do was curl up on a couch, we turned on the movie Sicario.

Not exactly relaxing, but entirely thrilling, Sicario is about an FBI agent tasked with bringing down a powerful Mexican drug cartel. At one point during the movie, several agents stood at a lookout point over Juárez, where nothing but gun shots and explosions could be heard ringing out in the city below.

The view from our patio was not a dissimilar one, I realized after the movie, as I moved from the couch to outside, again longing to take in some fresh air and the last of the sun’s warmth. And yes, I heard loud bangs constantly too. But those were from fire crackers, not guns. There was also a marching band several streets over. I heard kids laughing and squealing.

How poorly Mexico is portrayed, I thought, knowing that the movie scene is how most people see this country, as opposed to the peaceful view spread out before me. How broad the brush is that paints all of Mexico as dangerous and unworthy.

How sad for all of those who are missing out because of fear.

How broad the brush is that paints this whole country as dangerous and unworthy. How sad for all of those who are missing out.

Guanajuato Mirador Viewpoint

TWO

A return to Guanajuato was in order. We had spent a month there almost two years ago, and wanted very badly to return to those colourful streets we loved. It is only an hour away from San Miguel but much less of a haven for expats. It is a bit smaller, and in our opinion, much more beautiful.

And my taste buds wooed me back to the place that offers the best chilaquiles I’ve ever had. Although this time the chips seemed a bit too soggy and they weren’t as generous with the fresh cheese (had I put them on a “chilaquiles pedestal”?). Thankfully the sauce was still as perfectly spiced. We spent the rest of the day wandering and also climbed up to the famed viewpoint. The scenery was indeed as good as we remembered.

We don’t often find ourselves visiting places we’ve been to before, being far too addicted to “new”. But I will admit it felt good to be somewhere familiar and know our way around without stumbling. This should be something we consider more often.

I will admit it felt good to be somewhere familiar and know our way around without stumbling.

Tacos el Pastor

THREE, FOUR, FIVE, SIX…

I’ll be honest: it was ultimately the food that brought us back to Mexico this winter. And it’s always memorable to eat a delicious plate of Al Pastor tacos, which is why we did it so often.

Fireworks

SEVEN

Our New Year’s Eve was a fairly quiet one. Accompanied by friends at our house, we ate tacos and played cards. Consider that quiet in Mexico is a relative term; our conversations were frequently interrupted by the sound of fire crackers. By that time we had been in San Miguel for several weeks and it was no longer a jarring noise, rather something to be ignored and talked around. As the clock ticked closer to the calendar turning over, we darted up to the roof to watch the fireworks set off in the main square.

Considering all the noisy build-up to the moment, the fireworks show was disappointingly short. But what was more interesting, from our elevated vantage point, was what our neighbours were doing.

A group of partiers emerged from a house just across the street and proceeded to walk around the block and back inside, hooting and cheering as they went. A couple of people were curiously pulling suitcases behind them, which we learned later is a Mexican New Year tradition. Such a ritual, to walk a suitcase around the block just after midnight, is said to bring good travels in the new year. An alternative is to place a suitcase in the middle of the room and walk around it.

We were glad they had brought their party outside. Feliz año nuevo, we yelled and waved at them, and our greeting was enthusiastically returned.

And with that, our new year had begun.

Such a ritual, to walk a suitcase around the block just after midnight, is said to bring good travels in the new year.

where we stayed

It can be difficult to find accommodations in San Miguel de Allende during the busy holiday season, but we lucked out when a friend who was already living there found some options for us in an expat Facebook group.

Our casita (here on Airbnb) was on the edge of town, almost a half hour walk to the centre, but also a quick taxi or bus ride. It was very comfortable, owned by a lovely and accommodating couple, and included visits from the resident pets, which we ADORED.

22 Comments... Read them below or add one of your own
  • February 8 2016

    So happy to see peace and beauty in Mexico. Thanks for these pictures and good words.

    • February 10 2016

      The majority of Mexico is peace and beauty!

  • Kaye
    February 9 2016

    SMA in one month! Can’t wait!

  • February 9 2016

    I love time to go back and decompress from a hectic travel schedule so I completely get what your talking about. Although I wish I could have really authentic Mexican cuisine here in Hawaii, Unlike San Miguel.
    noel recently posted..Top food destinations around the world

    • February 10 2016

      Ohh…the food is just so amazing here. Mexican is top five for both of us (actually probably top three for me).

  • February 9 2016

    We’re pretty sure we’ll be spending part of next winter in Mexico, and this is just fuel to the fire! I’ve heard great things about Merida, Oaxaca, San Miguel, and Guanajuato for digital nomads on a budget. Where would you recommend we stay if we had next January and February, for example?
    Michelle C recently posted..Review of Yanapuma Spanish Language School in Cuenca, Ecuador

    • February 10 2016

      Soon we will be able to report on Merida (going there next week), but any of your other choices are a good bet. Of those three, I think I might have to put both Oaxaca and Guanajuato ahead of San Miguel. Oaxaca is a bigger city (we’re here right now and staying in a smaller surrounding town which we LOVE), but Guanajuato is just so stunningly beautiful. It depends on what you are really looking for in a place!

  • February 10 2016

    Lovely to read about the peaceful side of Mexico. I must admit fear has kept us away lately so reading your first hand account is encouraging. We spent two weeks in Baja a couple of years ago kayaking down the coast and camping under the stars. It was one of my favourite trips. And you’re right the food in incredible. And the people are so warm and friendly. You have me thinking and planning. Thanks and hopefully the next month will be less work and more play for you guys 🙂
    Tracy recently posted..Childhood Vaccines: How Do You Decide?

    • February 10 2016

      We have spent so much time in Latin America and will firmly say that we feel safest in Mexico – even after what happened to Pete. The people are so friendly and warm, we honestly just can’t get enough. We feel so comfortable here! That trip to the Baja is one my dreams – we really have to make it happen!

      • February 11 2016

        It was amazing Dalene, a week kayaking down the coast. We saw blue whales, incredible. The best trips are the ones where we put our watches away and go by the sun. That was pre baby days but can’t wait to take our little man on a big adventure like this one day. 🙂
        Tracy recently posted..Childhood Vaccines: How Do You Decide?

        • Sylvia
          September 14 2016

          Hi, Tracy,
          Your kayaking trip down the Baja sounds wonderful. May I ask, did you go with a tour company or do this on your own? I’d love to have more details…
          Thanks so much and happy travels,
          Sylvia

  • February 22 2016

    Enjoyed the intro as well as the whole article. Thanks for the reading.

  • February 23 2016

    I just watched the movie Sicario last week and I am so relieved I am reading your post this week! Mexico is so beautiful, the food looks delicious too! Is chilaquiles vegetarian? or if not, do they have a veggie twist to it? The tradition of suitcase pulling really puts life into our desires along with some much needed camaraderie and cheer. Can’t wait to get there someday.
    Arti (@artisdiary) recently posted..Where to Eat in Rameshwaram? Hotel Guru, Gujarati Bhojanalya and more!

    • February 23 2016

      Chilaquiles are vegetarian! 🙂

      • March 2 2016

        Well, they would be vegetarian if they didn’t use chicken broth as the base for the sauce, but that’s what makes them so tasty!

  • February 23 2016

    I never knew the buildings were so colorful! Mexican food is a passion of mine, I need to visit one of these days.
    Shelly recently posted..Thai Cucumber Salad with Radishes

  • Great read- it must be nice residing in such a tranquil and exotic place like San Miguel. I agree with you that Mexico can sometimes be portrayed as a nation overwhelmed with drug cartel violence, but there’s so much more to this wonderful country like the food and its culture. I hope to visit San Miguel when I go back to Mexico in the future!
    Jesse Richheimer @ Green Global Travel recently posted..5 Rare Sharks Worth Saving

  • March 2 2016

    So wonderfully written, Dalene! My husband and I love Mexico! In fact we’re in Ecuador now and I still miss it, the food, the people, the culture! It saddens me how the media portrays Mexico. Like anywhere else, there are places that are not advisable to visit, but that is only such a small part of the country. We have been there several times and never had any issues.

  • March 2 2016

    Just found your blog for the first time and subscribed. Glad you had such a restful experience in San Miguel. It’s a beautiful town and definitely the place to spend a quiet few weeks (minus the firecrackers).

    In our experience, Guanajuato is more fun since it’s a university town. I noticed in your blog that you’ve spent time there as well. I’d recommend going back for the Cervantes Festival if you haven’t already been at that time, it’s a huge event that includes music, theater, dance, and more, and takes place during the first three weeks of October.
    Kyle B. recently posted..Ranking 11 Breweries in New York (The first half)

  • May 4 2016

    My family and I are planning on traveling to Guanajuato and San Miguel in July. Our plan is to consider it as a place to live starting in 2017. You mentioned a Facebook expat group. Would you be willing to share that?

    • May 8 2016

      Hi Robert – I’m afraid I don’t even know what the group is, a friend posted there for us. You should be able to find it with a search!

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