Las Puertas de San Miguel

Architecture of San Miguel de Allende is stunning. There are several gems that form the ambiance of this beautiful town. Amongst them libraries, government buildings, restaurantes, hotels, houses and churches of course. Most are colonial style with neoclassical and neo-gothic details. Combining all that with cobblestone streets an achitectual jewel was born, loved by tourists but impossible to walk on in high hills:-)

When I got to San Miguel de Allende, the focus of my camera was on doors. Some old, labouriosly carved of wood, others simple made of metal or intricately decorated, all very beautiful, eye catching and tempting setting the tone for what’s inside. This gallery is 5 moths old, patiently waiting to be published, I finally decided it is the right time. To say goodbye to georgeus San Miguel that will stay in my heart forever:-)

Spring is officially here!!!!

Yes, to confirm that all the Jacaranda trees are in full bloom with gorgeous purple flowers. They are all over SMA just in time to start Semana Santa, very important time for all the catholics here in Mexico. The view is just breathtaking, see for yourself.

The monarc butterflies are waking up to start their long journey up North pretty soon. Hummingbird nests are popping up here and there but due to their size visible only to the most observant.

Our tree, that was once a Christmas Tree got transformed to welcome new season. It became a home for owels that were made of… Yes, you guessed it, from toilet paper rolls.

With help from my beautiful children, we painted the rolls different colors, then we shaped the roll and used black marker to draw the features of these gorgeus birds. Very easy, cute and fun even for the youngest ones. The shape is also great to make kitties, but we do not want any of them in our tree, especially with the eggs just about to hatch:-)

This is a great recyclable project because all you need is a tree branch, old paint bucket and some paint. This could easily be a permanent exposition in your house or a daycare, the docorations would just be changed to reflect changing seasons. Let me know what you think:-)

 

Hit the Road Again

In Poland, people often say, that everything’s good ends quick. We have been living in San Miguel de Allende for the past five months, almost half a year. The kids went to school, the adults worked on their own little projects. We all learned a bit of Spanish (some more then others) and made a lot of good friends. On Friday we will hit the road again. Our Mexican visa expires by the end of April. In order to see a bit more of the country we got to love so much, we’ll set off three weeks before that deadline and head towards the US border using roads less traveled. That is, hopefully less traveled by the drug and people traffickers…

Some time ago we visited Morelia, where we stayed with a wonderful family we’ve met early January in Los Azufres. They showed us their beautiful town, took us to Patzcuaro and offered a free stay at their summer house in Ixtapa. Taking advantage of that offer, we’ll leave San Miguel at the end of the month, just when the kids would have started their two weeks spring break. Through Morelia, we’ll head south to Ixtapa, where we plan to stay for about a week of “well deserved” vacations. Then, along the Pacific coast, we’ll travel north to Puerto Vallarta and on to Matzatlan, where we plan to embark on a ferry, that will take us across the Gulf of California to La Paz. On the Baja, we’ll make a little loop to visit Cabo at the Southern tip of the peninsula, then turn North and through a little village called Guerrero Negro (very dear to our memories), head towards Ensenada and Tijuana. I’m not sure exactly when we’ll cross the border, or what we will do on the West Coast, but that’s not important right now.

What matters, is to prepare for the trek and to tie a few loose ends. It’s end of March, which means even homeless, jobless souls like us have to get their act together and file their US tax returns. That’s priority number one. Second thing is to decide what we are going to do comes August. That’s when the lease on our house expires and our travel fund dries out. That means finding a new job, and a place to live. Time to update that resume and send out a few letters. And finally, we also need to prepare for the next part of our trek. It will be definitely longer than the first part. Both, in terms of time and distance. For that, I’d like to spend some time in the library and prepare an interesting route.

Why in the library, you ask? Well, some time ago, I came to the realization that we spend way too much time in front of our computers. Don’t get me wrong, they proved useful at times. Even often. But that doesn’t change the fact they’re mostly evil… You turn them on to find a campground near Ixtapa. It only takes Google a fraction of a nanosecond to return three billion, highly relevant ads, and a few loosely related results… That’s impressive and makes you feel highly efficient. You start browsing through them, and suddenly – three hours later – you know what all of your friends back home had for dinner, but you still don’t know where you are going to sleep next week. You start over and another three hours pass, while you read irrelevant nonsense, that leaked into your “highly efficient” workflow. The library on the other hand, is about 10 minutes from our apartment. It takes roughly 5 minutes to find the right guide book and about 30 to do an in depth research. An hour later, I’m back home with a (hand written) trek plan in my hands, and… plenty more time to kill!

For we have designated Thursdays computer free days! I have to admit, I’ve been the biggest offender. Even though not addicted to following other people’s lifes on Facebook, I’ve been constantly tinkering with yet another programming project or another “great” idea. Last two computerless Thursdays helped me realize, that except for the few important matters I need to attend, there isn’t much stuff we need computers for anyway… First there was anxiety, almost fear and panic attack. How can I put the computer away? There’s so many things I need to do! But then, after a few computerless days, a certain calmness and clarity started to take it’s place. Matters got prioritized, life simplified and somehow the days became longer and more enjoyable. Our kids are thrilled! They love the idea, and when I first proposed it, they immediately countered with Saturdays and Sundays be computerless as well. Since recently I’ve managed to fry my computers’ hard drive, I’m seriously considering institutionalizing a few more analogue weekdays in our schedule. I only wish I fried that hard drive much earlier!

For the past five months we’ve been living in one of the most beautiful places on Earth. We’ve met wonderful people, made friendships and learned a few things. On one side, I wish we could spend more time here – the weather is great, the town magnificent, almost magic. On the other though, we realize that although rare, such places are all over the World. And if we want to see them all, it’s time to hit the road again…

Indian Parade in the Morning

This morning we woke up to the sound of loud drums. At first, we were inclined to ignore the noise. After all, this really is a noisy neighborhood. But then, curious about the commotion, we decided to take a peek outside. In front of our windows, there was an Indian Parade marching in their “uniforms”. It’s just another day in San Miguel de Allende…

San Miguel de Allende stinks

As my wife points out frequently, I’m not a very social person. A geek of sorts, who loves to tinker with software, but is just not talented enough to make a fortune. A  personification of the worst of both worlds – challenging personality and lack of abilities. With a bit of imagination, these may also be the best qualities of a perfect husband, who’s got a quiet, inexpensive hobby, spends much time with his family and doesn’t cause too much trouble. Well, at least most of the time…

Yesterday, despite my contention, I found myself dragged into a social meeting. Supposedly a party, but the lack of alcohol should have given me the clue, that something was off. Clumsily trying to mingle, I got into a discussion. As usual around here, stories of people being sucked in by the San Miguel de Allende magnet were exchanged and praise of the towns beauty and it’s rich cultural life was flowing. Being socially (and otherwise too) insensitive, I dared to say, that even though I found this town very interesting and for the most part pleasant to live in, I can’t imagine  myself and my Family spending the rest of our life here. The floodgates closed immediately. The consternation that followed was visible and audible. I had to offer an explication to end the minute of silence that followed my unfortunate assertion.

The views of San Miguel de Allende seem to be binary – people either love it, or hate it – without much room for other feelings in between those two extremes. In reality, there is much to love, but also much to dislike about the town. Maybe I’m just very cynical, but despite all it’s beauty and cultural appeal, San Miguel de Allende is also trash filled, dirty, smelly and noisy city. You may not notice that at first if you only stay in El Centro, but beyond the theme park, there is real life with all it’s eyesore ugliness – bare brick favellas, dog poo covered sidewalks, sewer filled river, etc… There are no fancy restaurants, no flavored lattes, no art galleries, not even these colorful beggars. On the other hand, there are no herds of blood thirsty bandits either, no drug cartels running meth labs and illegal casinos. Just regular folks, trying to make a living, like anyone else in the World. Some will find those neighborhoods inspiring, others won’t set foot anywhere close…

We live in one of them. We love the view from the rooftop, the fact that everything we need is so close by and we adore the guy who brings our cacahuates and garbanzos every evening. At the same time, we abominate the youngsters talking loud under our windows,  roof dogs barking, roosters crawing and cars honking all night long. But that’s all part of the same experience. The beauty comes with the monstrosity, the good with the bad, yin with the yang.

The discussion about Mexico in popular media is similarly polarized. Travel and real estate magazines want you to believe Mexico is the next best thing to paradise, sensation thirsty newspapers will only mention it in relation to another wave of war on drugs fueled violence. It’s true that most Mexican cities statistically speaking are safer than majority of US metropolises, and the probability of tourist beheading in either countries is equally remote. But at the same time, majority of travelers are more concerned with kidnappings, theft, police corruption and robbery, then accidentally loosing their head (in literal, not figurative sense). Unfortunately, these statistics are less easily available and often unreliable. Therefore, beyond a handful common sense travelers, there is very few factual relations from the country. Truth is, it’s not all rosy, but it’s also not as diabolic as they want you to believe. Statements like these may not be very popular, but I believe this is exactly what this country tourism industry needs – a bit of reality check. Intelligent people can draw their own conclusions when fed facts and not over colorized propaganda.

Coming back to the embarrassment I caused, without going much into details, I explained to my interlocutors, that even though some places seem real nice, spending a lifetime in just one of them doesn’t seem very attractive to us. At least not at this time of our life… That didn’t ease up the tension, but mercifully, someone said that the meeting will start in 15 minutes.

A meeting? I thought this was supposed to be a party? Suddenly I picked up on the lack of alcohol and all the alarms went up in my head.  Is it a fundraiser? Maybe a religious sect? Both? Turned out, it’s an organization promoting healthy diet and active lifestyle and the party was a founding meeting for a local chapter of the Weston A. Price Foundation. Obviously, my wonderful wife forgot to explain that to me beforehand. Or maybe she did it on purpose, knowing my aversion to any form of structured movements. Somehow, I also missed all the signs with the “party agenda” displayed all over the small house on the outskirts of El Centro.  The foundation provides nutritional education and encourage people to eat like their ancestors used to. Better yet, adopt a diet of the “primitive” (in a positive sense) cultures. I breathed a sigh of relief – it’s nothing new, pretty much compatible with our own system of values.

Even though we have no intention of joining the foundation, I’m sure we will be remembered by the local San Miguel de Allende chapter members long after our departure. My wife for her expertise in indigenous foods (she brought in samples of “smalec”) and her inept husband for socially awkward behavior and inappropriate views of the sacred city of San Miguel de Allende.

Mexico for Dummies, The Missing Guide

Against your governments’ issued travel warnings, better judgment and your friends advice, you decided to visit Mexico. You ended up in a small, colonial town in central Mexico. Now what? What do you do? How do you proceed? After all, they don’t give you a guide at the entrance to this theme park. To fill the void, here’s one you can use in San Miguel de Allende. Or any other place in the World for that matter. It’s universally useless…

When abroad, don’t try to speak the language of the locals. They’ll laugh at you! Instead, speak English, but do it loudly and slowly, just like you would when talking to your Grandma, or a retarded person. Repeat every word several times. Use your hands often. Eventually they’ll get it! Roll your eyes and throw your hands in the air with a loud sigh if they don’t. Don’t forget, you’re doing them a big favor – how else would they ever be able to communicate?

When at a restaurant, make sure to complain about the food. If you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it. Wipe the table with a disinfectant tissue and ask the people who serve you to wash their hands. Twice. Lecture them on the service you expect and leave just a minimal tip, you don’t want to spoil them.

When sight seeing, express loudly your disapproval. Compare everything to your home town and make sure the locals know, what’s wrong with their place. Obviously their funny, little town will never be as great as your neck of the woods, but at least they’ll understand what they need to improve. Sure, they have those old buildings and cathedrals, but they don’t even have a decent mall or a McDonalds for crying out loud!

Always offer your advice to those who are visibly in need. Lecture the beggars about the importance of having a regular job, or attending a school, so that they can lift their status and maybe, one day become a contributing member of society. Tell the store and restaurant owners how to run their business. Explain to the street vendors the importance of hygiene. Just for heavens sake, don’t buy anything!

Take a lot of pictures. After all you’re on a mission to document the poverty. Take close up shots of every beggar on the streets. Obviously, you don’t need to ask their permission. Make them pose showing their sad faces full of wrinkles. Even if you’re generous, never give them more then a few pesos, you don’t want to spoil them. If, on the other hand, you want to convince your friends and family at home that Mexico is great place to visit, shoot a lot of doors, cobblestone streets, colorful, adobe houses and windows with garlands of flowers. Frame or Photoshop the beggars out.

And the most important of all – never leave El Centro! The theme park is large, but it has it’s borders. Unless you’re extremely brave and adventurous, you should never enter the parts of town that haven’t been build for tourists. The locals living in the less picturesque parts of town all all believed to be zombies waiting for a lost tourist to be robbed, raped, killed or eaten for breakfast. Or so the legend says. So far, no one’s been brave enough to verify it. Those, who crossed the line, never came back. They turned… locals!

Sierra Madre Oriental

Christmas Holidays in Mexican schools started this year on December 17th and will last untli January 9th, 2012. That Friday was a last day with backpacks and books. What followed, was a Christmas show the next week and now we’re enjoying a time off school. Trying to make the best out of such long break, we’ve packed our van again and hit the road.

The plan is to make a loop around central Mexico. The first leg of this short trip took us from San Miguel de Allende, through Celaya, Queretaro, Jalpan, all the way to a small town in the Sierra Madre Oriental mountains called Xilitla. The place is mostly famous thanks to Edward James, an excentric millionaire, who build… well, let me disclose that only after we visit the place.

In the meantime, here are some pictures from the winding road through the mountains. It was curvy indeed. To a point, when Agnieszka finally throw up and said: “There’s no way we’re going back this road!”. Later on she read in our Mexico guide, that highway 120 is the least frequent way to get to Xilitla. Well, now we know why…

28-Dec-2011 16:23, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 9.5, 28.0mm, 0.004 sec, ISO 200
28-Dec-2011 18:07, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 9.5, 28.0mm, 0.004 sec, ISO 200
28-Dec-2011 16:21, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 8.0, 28.0mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 200
 
28-Dec-2011 16:21, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 8.0, 28.0mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 200
28-Dec-2011 16:05, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 8.0, 28.0mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 200
28-Dec-2011 18:03, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 5.6, 28.0mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 200
 
28-Dec-2011 16:04, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 6.7, 28.0mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 200
28-Dec-2011 14:57, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 9.5, 28.0mm, 0.004 sec, ISO 200
28-Dec-2011 14:54, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 8.0, 45.0mm, 0.004 sec, ISO 200
 

Our Mexican Christmas

It is the first time we spend Christmas in warm climate. Very strange feeling but not for Mexicans who are in Christmas spirit for a month or so. The whole town is beautifully decorated and the Christmas carols are playing everywhere. The celebrations of „posada” which means „inn” or „shelter” also started few days ago. This tradition recreates Mary and Joseph’s search for a place to stay in Bethlehem. They are held on each of the nine nights leading up to Christmas, from Dec 16 to 24 th.

All the markets are full of beautiful decorations, lights, candles, sweets and trees of course. We, instead of getting a classic tree decided to do something different. On our way from Guanajuato we picked up a dead tree branch. On our roof top terrace we shaped it and spray painted it white. An upside down plastic red bucket serves as a stand and ……tada!!!!!! Tree was ready for decorations and these were very special this year. All were either knitted by me or made by my children. The only thing we bought were lights. It was sooooo much fun even though, I have to be honest – it is not the most beautiful thing I have ever seen:-) The kids were extremely happy and proud cutting out all the dinosaurs from color paper. We also have Spiderman, who on a daily basis is just a finger puppet but now during Christmas guards order on our funky tree.

Now all we have to do is make sauerkrout and muschroom pierogies for Christmas Eve dinner…..Feliz Navidad Everyone!!!!

17-Dec-2011 14:16, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 5.6, 28.0mm, 0.167 sec, ISO 200
 
17-Dec-2011 14:16, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 4.5, 55.0mm, 0.167 sec, ISO 200
17-Dec-2011 14:16, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 4.5, 55.0mm, 0.167 sec, ISO 200
17-Dec-2011 14:16, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 4.5, 55.0mm, 0.167 sec, ISO 200
 
17-Dec-2011 14:16, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 4.5, 55.0mm, 0.167 sec, ISO 200
17-Dec-2011 14:17, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 4.0, 28.0mm, 0.167 sec, ISO 200
17-Dec-2011 14:17, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 16.0, 55.0mm, 0.167 sec, ISO 200
 
17-Dec-2011 14:17, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 11.0, 55.0mm, 0.167 sec, ISO 200
17-Dec-2011 14:17, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 4.5, 55.0mm, 0.167 sec, ISO 200
17-Dec-2011 14:17, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 4.5, 55.0mm, 0.167 sec, ISO 200
 
17-Dec-2011 14:19, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 4.5, 28.0mm, 0.167 sec, ISO 200
17-Dec-2011 14:59, OLYMPUS IMAGING CORP. u850SW,S850SW , 3.5, 6.7mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 100
17-Dec-2011 14:59, OLYMPUS IMAGING CORP. u850SW,S850SW , 3.5, 6.7mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 100
 
17-Dec-2011 15:00, OLYMPUS IMAGING CORP. u850SW,S850SW , 3.5, 6.7mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 100
17-Dec-2011 15:01, OLYMPUS IMAGING CORP. u850SW,S850SW , 3.5, 6.7mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 100
17-Dec-2011 15:01, OLYMPUS IMAGING CORP. u850SW,S850SW , 3.5, 6.7mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 100
 

How to make lemonade in Mexico

After a few sets with his older sister, Alex finally got promoted from an assistant to an anchor. On his mother’s birthday, he not only helped with the breakfast to bed in the morning, but also offered to prepare fresh lemonade. Taking advantage of his generosity, we turned that rather uncommon event into an instructional video for all the scamps in the World!

Fernando de la Mora

As part of the Festival San Miguel Cantador, last Sunday, one of the contemporary greatest tenors gave a free concert in front of the Parroquia, in San Miguel de Allende. As you can imagine, this drove crowds from all over Guanajuato and other parts of Mexico. The concert was televised live.

In one of the few short breaks, Fernando gave a great speech calling for a national action to show that Mexico, despite it’s recent problems, is not only a land of drugs, corruption and violence, but it’s also a great place for connoisseurs of fine art. With it’s long and rich history and talented, friendly people San Miguel de Allende is a true cultural mecca for people from all over the World.

Even though, I’m really not much into opera music, I have to admit, I really did enjoy the event. The orchestra played many classical pieces, as well as some season relevant songs by modern composers from all over the World. Rather then sitting or standing in one place, I was able to walk around, see kids break dancing in the park, grab a coffee and take a few pictures.

Fernando de la Mora on stage in front of Parroquia, in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
Fernando de la Mora on stage in front of Parroquia, in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.04-Dec-2011 21:38, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 5.6, 200.0mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 800
Fernando de la Mora on stage in front of Parroquia, in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
Fernando de la Mora on stage in front of Parroquia, in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.04-Dec-2011 20:21, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 5.6, 135.0mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 800
Fernando de la Mora on stage in front of Parroquia, in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
Fernando de la Mora on stage in front of Parroquia, in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.04-Dec-2011 20:27, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 5.6, 70.0mm, 0.1 sec, ISO 400
 
Fernando de la Mora on stage in front of Parroquia, in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
Fernando de la Mora on stage in front of Parroquia, in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.04-Dec-2011 20:27, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 5.6, 85.0mm, 0.1 sec, ISO 400
Fernando de la Mora on stage in front of Parroquia, in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
Fernando de la Mora on stage in front of Parroquia, in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.04-Dec-2011 20:26, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 6.7, 200.0mm, 0.1 sec, ISO 800
Fernando de la Mora on stage in front of Parroquia, in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
Fernando de la Mora on stage in front of Parroquia, in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.04-Dec-2011 20:25, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 6.7, 200.0mm, 0.1 sec, ISO 400
 
Fernando de la Mora on stage in front of Parroquia, in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
Fernando de la Mora on stage in front of Parroquia, in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.04-Dec-2011 20:28, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 3.8, 28.0mm, 0.1 sec, ISO 800
Parroquia (parisch church) at night.
Parroquia (parisch church) at night.04-Dec-2011 20:27, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 3.8, 28.0mm, 0.1 sec, ISO 800
Break dance in the park.
Break dance in the park.04-Dec-2011 21:27, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 3.8, 28.0mm, 0.1 sec, ISO 800
 
Break dance in the park.
Break dance in the park.04-Dec-2011 21:27, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 3.8, 28.0mm, 0.1 sec, ISO 800
People gathered in Jardin Allende to watch performance of Fernando de la Mora.
People gathered in Jardin Allende to watch performance of Fernando de la Mora.04-Dec-2011 21:26, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 3.8, 28.0mm, 0.25 sec, ISO 800
Kids dancing in a gazebo, in the back Fernando de la Mora performing on the stage.
Kids dancing in a gazebo, in the back Fernando de la Mora performing on the stage.04-Dec-2011 21:28, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 3.8, 28.0mm, 0.125 sec, ISO 800
 
Parroquia at night with moon in the background.
Parroquia at night with moon in the background.04-Dec-2011 21:43, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 5.6, 45.0mm, 0.25 sec, ISO 800
Agnieszka and Estefania in  Jardin Allende after Fernando de la Mora's concert.
Agnieszka and Estefania in Jardin Allende after Fernando de la Mora's concert.04-Dec-2011 21:44, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 3.8, 28.0mm, 0.25 sec, ISO 800
Agnieszka and Estefania in front of Parroquia after Fernando de la Mora's concert in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
Agnieszka and Estefania in front of Parroquia after Fernando de la Mora's concert in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.04-Dec-2011 21:45, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 3.8, 28.0mm, 0.25 sec, ISO 800
 

Fireworks against a backdrop of a Parroquia.The concert concluded with a display of fireworks against the backdrop of the Parroquia. In the series, there more concerts coming, and since now we have a babysitter (or even three of them), I’m  sure we’ll take the opportunity to spend a few nights on town this winter season.