San Miguel de Allende

Even the most elaborate plans change in an instant, when new variables come into play. Our big plan was to reach Panama during this Sabbatical trip. We’ve only made it to Central Mexico and felt in love with a small town called San Miguel de Allende in the Guanajuato district. We didn’t plan for it to happen, but decided that we will stay here until April.

Obviously, this sounds like a very emotional decision, but let me try to reason it.

With only small breaks, we have been on the road for the past four months. During the summer in northern hemisphere, we’ve been traveling throughout Europe. After returning to North America, we’ve been through the US East Coast and around the Gulf of Mexico. As much as we love to see new places and meet new people, I think we started to miss some of civilization’s basic comforts. Camping is fun, but setting up and folding your tent every few days, after a while starts to get a little annoying. Supposedly, your creativity in the kitchen is only limited by your imagination, but even for a great cook as Agnieszka, a propane burner has some substantial snags. Meeting new people every day is great, but it doesn’t translate into building lasting relationships. Finally, and despite what most people think – traveling is a full time job!

Before we entered Mexico, we were a bit uneasy. Courtesy of the US government issued warnings, we were worried about our safety and during the first few hours were on a constant lookout for armed robbers, bandits and road blocks. The fact that we haven’t met any, obviously doesn’t mean there aren’t some, maybe even frequent. I have to admit though, that travel warnings like the ones issued by the US, UK and Canadian governments do great injustice to the actual situation in Mexico. Obviously there are places in Mexico one should avoid, but in all fairness there are more dangerous neighborhoods in Rochester, or even in my native Chorzów than here in San Miguel de Allende. One can argue, that I should compare Rochester to larger cities like Monterrey, Nuevo Laredo or Ciudad Juarez. Obviously in that comparison all those cities will end up equally not appealing. But the fact that there are some troubled areas does not mean that the whole country must be avoided! Especially such a wonderful and magical one like Mexico.

We don’t pretend to know Mexico. We haven’t been here even two weeks yet. And we’ve only been to a very few places so far. Maybe San Miguel de Allende is a typical town, like many one will find in Mexico. But I seriously doubt it. With all the festivals, rich culture, history, architecture and picturesque setting, I think San Miguel de Allende is one of a very few exceptions and that Mexico isn’t so great after all. Because if the entire country was as magical as this old colonial town, Mexico would have been the number one tourist destination in the World… and it would be a rich country.

San Miguel de Allende isn’t rich. It’s a town of great contrasts. There are many terrific, multi-million dollar properties here, especially in the historic downtown, but also in the suburbs, spotted with gated, US style subdivisions, guarded by armed security officers. But the vast majority of full time residents live just outside the Centro, in adjacent neighborhoods in small, rather uninspiring and mostly unfinished dwellings, build over long periods of time, using any available materials. While the appeal of the expensive residences is universal, the more authentic, dirty favelas appeal only to the more spirited visitors.

I have to admit, that the first impression wasn’t good. Looking for the right address, we realized that our home for this month will not be in the fabulous downtown, but rather in a poor, Mexican neighborhood. Our house – large, recently remodeled condo, with it’s beautiful red painted facade covered with hanging flowers distinctly stands out from adjacent dwellings: bare brick, unpainted, with re-bars sticking from the roof-tops. I’m sure architects didn’t make much money in this neighborhood. In fact, I’m not even sure that any were consulted at all. However, what on the surface looked rather uninviting, turned out to be a very safe neighborhood of warm, helpful and very patient people.

Before we set off on this Sabbatical, we agreed that we are looking  not just for a road trip and tourist attractions. We wanted to experience something authentic, live life differently and try to discover our passions. The next morning after arriving in San Miguel de Allende, we concluded in unison that there isn’t a better place for that. Not only beautiful on the surface, but vibrant and offering many cultural and intellectual stimulus, this town is the perfect place to reinvent oneself. We will have five months to meditate and discover our talents. I’ll keep you posted if we stumble upon any…