Charreria, a rodeo Mexican style

Last Sunday, we woke up with a strange feel, that something was off, different than usual. We couldn’t quite place that feeling, but eventually Nadia stumbled upon first clue: it was colder then normal. When that fact finally sunk in, we had to admit that it was really quite uncomfortably chilly. Then we looked outside. Even though it was a late morning already, something was missing… We couldn’t see the sun! The clouds covered the sky tightly – quite uncommon sight, we thought… And then we noticed the real game changer. Something unthinkable happened overnight. The streets were… wet! Well, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. There was some  moist covering the cold cobble stones. It must have rained while we were sleeping. I think, that winter finally caught up with us. Time to get that long trousers and socks out of the suitcase. At least we know, we haven’t carried them half way around the continent for nothing.

After a long and definitely late breakfast, we were ready for the main attraction of the day. A friend of ours, invited us to an event, which was taking place just outside of town. I wasn’t quite sure what was it suppose to be, but welcomed the idea of going out. Expecting for the sun to come out shortly, we didn’t put too much cloths and headed out the doors.

While trying to open the garage door, a steel latch on the gate broke off, leaving our car immobilized and forcing us to take a cab. All taxis in San Miguel de Allende are green and for the most part Nissan Tsuru, a very reliable, but small and not very comfortable cars. All rides have also a flat rate. Within town it’s $30 pesos (USD $2.5), outside town it could be up to $40 pesos (USD $3). Our 15 minutes drive turned out to be $35 pesos.

We got to the Lienzo Charro (events ring) few minutes before our host, so we had to wait in the parking lot. Fortunately, Estefania and her lovely children showed up on time and we all headed to the gate. She was also much more considerate about the weather than us, and brought with her several thick rugs.  We got to the seats and bundled tightly waiting for the show to start.

The arena, build in the shape of an “U” had all the seats on one end and an open corral on the other. There were people already in the audience, and also horsemen in the ring, but it was clear the show didn’t start yet. Curious as what to expect, we learned that we were about to witness a charrería (also known as a cherreada). In a nutshel, it’s a sports event similar to rodeo, but with some rich history.

Evolving from the traditions brought from Spain in the 16th century, the first charreadas were ranch work competitions between haciendas. The modern Charreada developed after the Mexican Revolution when charro traditions were disappearing. The competing charros often came from families with a tradition of Charreria, and teams today are often made up from extended families who have been performing for up to five generations. The charreada consists of nine events for men plus one for women, all of which involve horses, cattle or both.

As we were getting comfortable in our concrete seats, I’ve noticed that despite fairly harsh (as for San Miguel de Allende) weather, the event draw quite a number of people. Some of them were obviously family, friends and relatives of the equestrians, but there was also a fair number of tourists. They’re always easy to recognize by their large lens digital SLR’s. In San Miguel de Allende, people discover their creative sides and everyone turns painter, writer or at least a photographer…

When the show started, a group of men, women and boys, riding their horses entered the arena. After presenting themselves to the audience, they retreated to the corral and the games began. I have to admit, I didn’t find the events extremely exciting, which might be because of the cold weather. I noticed however, that despite the shivering cold, the beer vendor drew more interest than the events in the Lienzo Charro.

A boy turns a cow over in full speed pursuit

The situation changed when the boys started to chase cows in the arena, trying to turn them over in a high speed pursuit (not sure what’s PETA’s take on this one). People on the tribunes started to cheer loudly every time a cow tumbled in a cloud of dust. Again, the gradual change in audience mood might also be attributed to the much welcomed appearance of  tequila vendors. The beer vendor didn’t seem happy. Outside the main arena, vendors setup their food stands selling tacos, gorditas, enchiladas and tortas. On the audience teenage girls and boys were selling snacks. Back at the top of the tribune, a DJ has setup his gear – a loud, apparently very popular song pouring out of his large loudspeakers. Some people in the audience started to sing and dance, without paying any attention to the events in the arena. Or their neighbors for that matter…

How to spot a tourist in San Miguel de Allende?
How to spot a tourist in San Miguel de Allende?27-Nov-2011 14:03, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 8.0, 200.0mm, 0.011 sec, ISO 400
Peopel on the tribunes before the show began.
Peopel on the tribunes before the show began.27-Nov-2011 14:01, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 5.6, 28.0mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 200
Estefania's boys watching the horsemen.
Estefania's boys watching the horsemen.27-Nov-2011 14:02, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 8.0, 200.0mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 400
 
Horse women (?) in the corral before entering the arena.
Horse women (?) in the corral before entering the arena.27-Nov-2011 14:37, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 5.6, 135.0mm, 0.004 sec, ISO 200
Lienzo Carro, the events ring in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
Lienzo Carro, the events ring in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.27-Nov-2011 13:58, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 6.7, 28.0mm, 0.004 sec, ISO 200
DJ singing karaoke style, folk songs. Very popular among the audience!
DJ singing karaoke style, folk songs. Very popular among the audience!27-Nov-2011 15:03, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 5.6, 135.0mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 800
 
Young horsemen saluting the audience.
Young horsemen saluting the audience.27-Nov-2011 15:23, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 5.6, 85.0mm, 0.003 sec, ISO 200
I was wondering all the time what were they drinking. Half the audience was drunk, they must have had some tequila too...
I was wondering all the time what were they drinking. Half the audience was drunk, they must have had some tequila too...27-Nov-2011 15:46, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 5.6, 200.0mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 200
A boy riding a young bull.
A boy riding a young bull.27-Nov-2011 15:55, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 5.6, 200.0mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 200
 
Tequila vendors were very popular in the audience.
Tequila vendors were very popular in the audience.27-Nov-2011 15:56, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 5.6, 200.0mm, 0.004 sec, ISO 400
A boy riding (trying to) a young bull.
A boy riding (trying to) a young bull.27-Nov-2011 16:06, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 5.6, 200.0mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 400
A boy under a young bull. Few bruises, nothing serious.
A boy under a young bull. Few bruises, nothing serious.27-Nov-2011 16:06, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 5.6, 200.0mm, 0.004 sec, ISO 400
 
Young boy showing off his lasso skills.
Young boy showing off his lasso skills.27-Nov-2011 16:11, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 5.6, 200.0mm, 0.004 sec, ISO 800
The head honcho.
The head honcho.27-Nov-2011 15:53, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 5.6, 200.0mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 400
Lots of sombreros...
Lots of sombreros...27-Nov-2011 14:45, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 5.6, 200.0mm, 0.002 sec, ISO 200
 

There were some questionable moments during the show. Apparently, the cows purpose was to be turned over – either in high speed pursuits, or being pulled by their tails, legs or horns. Younger boys were also riding them – which happened to be exciting only when one of them fell under a cow. Cows payback…

Despite that and the cold weather, I think we all enjoyed the event. But we also welcomed the proposal to move to our hosts house even more. After few hours of this frigid cold we needed a hot drink – apparently something  that’s difficult to get during sports events in Mexico…

Jugo Verde – Mexican Green Juice

Nadia and Alex on our roof top terrace in San Miguel de Allende explain what is Jugo Verde, the Green Juice and how to prepare it at home. There are no exotic ingredients to it, and one doesn’t have to go all the way to Mexico to taste it. Try it at home and let us know what you think!

Tamales, gorditas and jugo verde

I have finally decided to write about the topic that is very close to my heart (or I should rather say – stomach), the Mexican cuisine.

All my friends know how incredibly important food is for me. Not only it has to be tasty, but most importantly, it has to be healthy. I adore, love, crave, am fascinated with whole foods. I am a firm believer, that most diseases start with a poor diet so food is definitely my medicine. That does not mean, that I am one of those health nuts, that will only eat certain foods. I believe in eating everything in moderation and there are only a few things I will stay away from most of the time.

Let me assure you that it is pretty easy to eat healthy in Mexico. They know definitely how to make sure everyone eats a well balanced diet including lots of vegetables, fruits, protein and carb combo.

On pretty much every corner you can buy freshly made juices (jugos) including jugo verde (green juice) blend of fresh squeezed orange juice, spinach, swiss chard and celery. Yes, that is what their children drink on their way to school. They also drink a lot of coconut water, which is so rich in nutrients and minerals that beats 100% all the sports drinks made in the lab.

Their snacks consist of freshly cut fruits and vegetables that you also can buy everywhere, conveniently packed in a small plastic baggies. All you need is a pair of clean hands…:-)

If you like something on the spicy side, boiled peanuts and garbanzos with a little bit of paprika and freshly squeezed lime juice would be your choice. How cool is that, it is all vegetable protein that all of us desperately need!

Delicious, boiled peanuts (Cacahuates) served hot with freshly squized lime juice over.
Delicious, boiled peanuts (Cacahuates) served hot with freshly squized lime juice over.18-Nov-2011 19:59, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 13.0, 200.0mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 200
Delicious, boiled Garbanzo beans (Garbanzos) served hot with freshly squized lime juice over.
Delicious, boiled Garbanzo beans (Garbanzos) served hot with freshly squized lime juice over.18-Nov-2011 20:00, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 13.0, 200.0mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 200
Delicious, boiled Garbanzo beans (Garbanzos) and peanuts (Cacahuates) served hot with freshly squized lime juice over.
Delicious, boiled Garbanzo beans (Garbanzos) and peanuts (Cacahuates) served hot with freshly squized lime juice over.18-Nov-2011 19:58, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 3.8, 28.0mm, 0.022 sec, ISO 200
 

As far as main meals are concerned, the day starts with eggs. I have known it for a long time but recently I read a lot of press about how important it is to start you day with protein. It just speeds up you metabolism so you burn more fat. Sounds good to me! Eggs are so versatile, so it is hard to get bored with them.

Lunches and dinners are usually meat or fish based plus lots of veggies and avocado. That is sooooo good for you! The Mexicans mainly eat pork and chicken, since beef here is not very tender.

The only thing I would change, is the corn flour that they use tons of. I am not a big fan of it because almost all corn in the world is GMO (genetically modified). Not that we do not eat all those delicious tacos, gorditas (a small, thick tortilla filled with just about anything) or tamales (corn flour dough mixed with minced meat or cheese which is steamed or boiled in a leaf wrapper) made with corn flour…..we just limit our consumption.

To my greatest surprise, I found out that there is an Organic Farmers Market in San Miguel de Allende. That is where I go every Saturday to buy the freshest, tastiest, sun ripened produce, artisan breads, jams made from nopales (cactus) and fruits, that I never knew existed. Then I pack it all on my bicycle and ride home enjoying the smell coming out of my front basket. I have to make it just in time to prepare lunch for my kids coming from the library and trust me they are very, very hungry…:-)

Nadia’s Birthday

Looks like we’re running this blog with a two weeks delay. Nadia’s birthday was on the 12th, but I didn’t get to write about it until tonight. This might be one of the hard to kill habits, I got from my former life – you know the one involving shirts, ties and jackets. The currently lacking parts of my wardrobe.

We arrived in San Miguel de Allende at the end of October. That means we had couple of weeks to prepare for Nadia’s birthday. The most challenging was to find her new friends and invite them to the party. We enrolled our children to a local kids club, run by two American expats. Nadia and Alex quickly conquered hearts of Roombo regulars, unfortunately none of them were available to attend the party. Fortunately there is no shortage of kids on our street, even if most of them are boys…

On the day of the party, Agnieszka stayed home, while I took the kids to the library. That gave her a chance to prepare the festivities properly and without being constantly bugged by the two pumpkins.

At the library, lured by a promise of an English language story time, at first we wandered around aimlessly, only to discover new attractions.

You need to know, that in San Miguel de Allende, but I guess in other parts of Mexico as well, agendas do not seem mandatory. Things have a tendency to happen when and where it’s suitable, not when it’s been scheduled for. We learned that lesson before, with our maid, who decided she prefers to clean the house on Saturdays, rather then Thursdays as previously agreed. Therefore we weren’t extremely surprised to find out, that for whatever reason there is no story time that day. Even though it was heart breaking for some of us, we didn’t suffer for long. Instead, we stumbled upon children’s jewelry class. Open for the public and completely unannounced…

When we got back home everything was ready for the party. Well, maybe except for pizza and balloons, so I welcomed the opportunity for a quiet walk on my own, while Agnieszka and the kids awaited the guests. Turns out, Agnieszka almost had to drag some of the guests by their ears to the party. Boys at certain age tend to be real shy… Fortunately, when I got back, the house was already full of kids. Two large pizzas weren’t enough for all of them!

The main attraction of the day was obviously the pink, Hello Kitty piniata which Nadia carried back home from the local market few days before. The problem was, that the damn thing was empty and standing in the doorways with two hot, large pizzas on my hands, I realized I only have a few moments to change that. The kids all around me were screaming “piniata”, leaving very little room for interpretation. With a pocket knife, adhesive tape and a bag of candy I disappeared in the bedroom, while Agnieszka fed the little monsters.

I was done in no time, but then there was another challenge. Or even two. First, we didn’t have a baseball bat, so we had to improvise with a broom stick (turns out in Mexico, this actually is quite the norm). Secondly,  there was no backyard and I didn’t like the idea of a bunch of kids swinging broom sticks around our nice rental house. If we ever wanted to see that deposit check back, we had to take it to the streets. All we needed was a piece of rope and a willing neighbor. We found both without problems. Our cloths line fitted nicely with the spiderweb of electric wires suspended between the buildings. And remember the party garage opposite our bedroom…? I mentioned them before in my rant about San Miguel de Allende. Obviously there was a party going on and there were multiple volunteers to swing a piniata on a line. And they were professionals too…

Nadia and their friends playing on the floor.
Nadia and their friends playing on the floor.12-Nov-2011 15:40, OLYMPUS IMAGING CORP. u850SW,S850SW , 4.8, 18.28mm, 0.013 sec, ISO 800
Nadia, Carla, William and Alex's legs...
Nadia, Carla, William and Alex's legs...12-Nov-2011 15:40, OLYMPUS IMAGING CORP. u850SW,S850SW , 4.8, 18.28mm, 0.013 sec, ISO 400
Piniata hunging over a cobblestone street in Colonia San Rafael in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Underneath Alex dancing...
Piniata hunging over a cobblestone street in Colonia San Rafael in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Underneath Alex dancing...12-Nov-2011 16:09, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 5.6, 28.0mm, 0.008 sec, ISO 200
 
Nadia with a broom stick getting ready to hit her Piniata, while other kids are watching the preparations. The scene on a cobblestone street of Colonia San Rafael in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
Nadia with a broom stick getting ready to hit her Piniata, while other kids are watching the preparations. The scene on a cobblestone street of Colonia San Rafael in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.12-Nov-2011 16:09, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 5.6, 28.0mm, 0.011 sec, ISO 200
Nadia with a broom stick ready to hit her Piniata. The scene on a cobblestone street of Colonia San Rafael in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
Nadia with a broom stick ready to hit her Piniata. The scene on a cobblestone street of Colonia San Rafael in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.12-Nov-2011 16:09, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 5.6, 28.0mm, 0.008 sec, ISO 200
Nadia with a broom stick getting ready to hit her Piniata, while other kids are watching the preparations. The scene on a cobblestone street of Colonia San Rafael in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
Nadia with a broom stick getting ready to hit her Piniata, while other kids are watching the preparations. The scene on a cobblestone street of Colonia San Rafael in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.12-Nov-2011 16:10, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 5.6, 28.0mm, 0.008 sec, ISO 200
 
Nadia with a broom stick getting ready to hit her Piniata, while other kids are watching the preparations. The scene on a cobblestone street of Colonia San Rafael in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
Nadia with a broom stick getting ready to hit her Piniata, while other kids are watching the preparations. The scene on a cobblestone street of Colonia San Rafael in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.12-Nov-2011 16:10, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 6.7, 85.0mm, 0.008 sec, ISO 200
Nadia with a broom stick getting ready to hit her Piniata, while other kids are watching the preparations. The scene on a cobblestone street of Colonia San Rafael in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
Nadia with a broom stick getting ready to hit her Piniata, while other kids are watching the preparations. The scene on a cobblestone street of Colonia San Rafael in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.12-Nov-2011 16:10, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 8.0, 108.0mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 400
Nadia blindfolded trying to hit a Piniata on a cobblestone street of Colonia San Rafael in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
Nadia blindfolded trying to hit a Piniata on a cobblestone street of Colonia San Rafael in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.12-Nov-2011 16:10, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 6.7, 28.0mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 200
 
Nadia successful at hitting a Piniata on a cobblestone street of Colonia San Rafael in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
Nadia successful at hitting a Piniata on a cobblestone street of Colonia San Rafael in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.12-Nov-2011 16:10, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 6.7, 28.0mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 200
Nadia with her Hello Kitty Piniata hunging suspended between building on a cobblestone street of Colonia San Rafael in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
Nadia with her Hello Kitty Piniata hunging suspended between building on a cobblestone street of Colonia San Rafael in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.12-Nov-2011 16:10, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 6.7, 28.0mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 200
Piniata with a broken arm after being hit by a broom stick on a cobblestone street of Colonia San Rafael in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
Piniata with a broken arm after being hit by a broom stick on a cobblestone street of Colonia San Rafael in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.12-Nov-2011 16:10, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 6.7, 28.0mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 200
 
Nadia hitting a Piniata on a cobblestone street of Colonia San Rafael in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
Nadia hitting a Piniata on a cobblestone street of Colonia San Rafael in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.12-Nov-2011 16:10, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 5.6, 28.0mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 200
Nadia swinging a broom stick on a cobblestone street of Colonia San Rafael in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
Nadia swinging a broom stick on a cobblestone street of Colonia San Rafael in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.12-Nov-2011 16:10, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 6.7, 45.0mm, 0.004 sec, ISO 200
Neighbors kids helping operate te Piniata and watching the scene on the street below them on a cobblestone street of Colonia San Rafael in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
Neighbors kids helping operate te Piniata and watching the scene on the street below them on a cobblestone street of Colonia San Rafael in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.12-Nov-2011 16:10, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 9.5, 28.0mm, 0.004 sec, ISO 200
 
Our American neighbor operating the other end of the line suspending the Piniata hunging over a cobblestone street of Colonia San Rafael in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
Our American neighbor operating the other end of the line suspending the Piniata hunging over a cobblestone street of Colonia San Rafael in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.12-Nov-2011 16:10, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 8.0, 108.0mm, 0.003 sec, ISO 200
A Piniata with a broken arm in front of a spider web of electric cables on a cobblestone street of Colonia San Rafael in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
A Piniata with a broken arm in front of a spider web of electric cables on a cobblestone street of Colonia San Rafael in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.12-Nov-2011 16:11, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 8.0, 45.0mm, 0.004 sec, ISO 200
Nadia still trying to hit the Piniata on a cobblestone street of Colonia San Rafael in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
Nadia still trying to hit the Piniata on a cobblestone street of Colonia San Rafael in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.12-Nov-2011 16:11, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 6.7, 28.0mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 200
 

Overall, despite being the new kids on the block, Nadia and Alex didn’t have any problems fitting in. For being just a few days in a complete new environment, I think we did quite well. I don’t know much Spanish, but by the look on the guest faces, I’m sure they liked it too. And I don’t mean only the pizza…

Is there really a magnet in SMA?

I do not really know, but I hear about it all the time. In fact, just this morning at my yoga class I met a couple from Sweden who got here 4 days ago and they already talk about staying.

Sounds familiar, I was quite happy to realise that we are normal……or maybe we are all nuts?

So what is it? What makes all these people want to stay?

Lets start simple….it is the weather. It is absolutely gorgeus here every single day! It has been almost a month and the sun was behind clouds for maybe 2 hours total. Pretty good I think compared to most places in the world. We all know how sun makes us feel and it is scientificly proven to almost eliminate depression:-)

Maybe it is the affordability? The prices here are hard to beat for sure. I mean mostly you pay about a third for everything of what you would spend in USA, Canada or Europe. It is nice to know that your dollar goes much further here so even if you come here on vacation you simply can afford more.

„It is affordable to try out your dreams here” I heard not too long ago. The girl who said it was a graphic designer in NYC and her husband was getting a doctorate in Anthropology. Do you want to know what they do now? She is a co-owner of a children play place/center and her hubby is a DJ at a local hotel.

Panoramic view of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico from a small parking on road 111. Parroquia (parish church) towers to the right over the city. In the distance, there is a golf course and new developments.
Panoramic view of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico from a small parking on road 111. Parroquia (parish church) towers to the right over the city. In the distance, there is a golf course and new developments.21-Nov-2011 12:31, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 8.0, 135.0mm, 0.002 sec, ISO 200
Panoramic view of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico from a small parking on road 111.
Panoramic view of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico from a small parking on road 111.21-Nov-2011 12:35, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 8.0, 108.0mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 200
01-Nov-2011 13:03, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 5.6, 28.0mm, 0.008 sec, ISO 200
 
Decorations hanging from a balcony on one of the streets of San Miguel de ALlende, Mexico during teh Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) celebrations.
Decorations hanging from a balcony on one of the streets of San Miguel de ALlende, Mexico during teh Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) celebrations.30-Oct-2011 13:29, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 8.0, 108.0mm, 0.008 sec, ISO 800
30-Oct-2011 13:13, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 5.6, 28.0mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 200
30-Oct-2011 12:24, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 6.7, 28.0mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 200
 

Yeah, people redefine themselves here. To this moment I thought that we came here by an accident but now I really start to wonder. Since the purpose of that trip was not only „physical moving from one place to another”, but mainly an inside journey I feel like I am getting inspired.

Did I ever mention that I always swore I would never express my thoughts on a blog?!?!?

School Quest

Let me just say that there are a lot of options as far as schooling in San Miguel de Allende.

It was shocking and also overwhelming in the beginning. There are public schools and private, just like anywhere else in the world. Public schools do not cost a penny, have lots of space, large palygrounds but they tend to be overcowded. 50 kids in one class is not uncommon.

The curriculum is in Spanish which we wanted, but the ratio of kids to teachers is waaaaay too high.

Private schools can be devided into Christian and nonreligious, crurriculum in Spanish, English or both. Most of the schools have very educated staff. There are schools that are run by Americans for all the gringo kids that live in town. We even found a school that not only tought English/Spanish and all the regular subjects but also sustainable/ecofriendly living. The couch in the office in that school was made of cardboard. How cool is that!

We were sure that we wanted Spanish because all we want our kids to learn is the language. The rest we can take care of 🙂

The fact of „only Spanish school” became a little difficult to understand for some. People started refering us to schools that were mostly bilingual thinking that it will be better for our kids. I know from experience that complete emersion is the best. We already did it once with English so we know it works!

Anyway, after quite a few visits to different schools we found one that seems to be perfect….so far.

There is only preeschool and primary school kids in the building. The classes are so small that Nadia has 8 kids in her class and Alex has 9. The principal speaks good English so if there is a need the kids can always comunicate with her. Their classrooms are very close to one another. That was very important to me since it is the first school for Alex! As far as costs go most of them are not expensive, especially coming from North America or Europe. Our school costs about 860 pesos a month which is about $62 per child. We also had to pay one time coop fee of 1500 pesos ($107) and pay for books and supplies (roughly about $200). That is a pretty good deal for 5 hours of education 5 days a week. Did I mention that they also teach the kids martial arts there?!?!?

Another great thing about Mexican schools is that 99% of the kids wear uniforms. It is different in every school but they are all very cute. So far I have not found one that I did not like:-) My children were very excited to wear one and I have to admit that they look adorable. They are very affordable because we paid $60 for both.

So here we are in SMA walking to school every day at 7:30 am. Yes, we walk just like most people here, holding hands for 25 minutes one way observing town coming to life. I drop them off, Robert picks them up.

It is bonding time with our children, without any distractions besides cars passing by and belive it or not they never complain about the walk:-)

Rant about San Miguel de Allende

It’s only been few hours since I published a rant about San Miguel de Allende on my Polish blog. I wrote about my troubles sleeping in a hostile night environment, full of barking dogs, crowing roosters, loud cars and festive neighbors singing melancholic songs well  into the night. Now, it’s six in the morning and I’m up already, woken up by… a cannonade of fireworks and church bells.

Mexico likes to party, there is no question about it. But who in a civilized World would start fireworks at 6.00 am on a Sunday morning…?!? I guess, this has something to do with the anniversary of the Mexican Revolution of 1910 and the whole town was already celebrating yesterday and the day before. Reading properly the signs, they’ll also celebrate today, and since there is no school on Monday, the festivities will prolong well into next week.

And this weekend isn’t really that much different from the other ones. Looking at the official calendar of events, there are more holidays and festivals here in San Miguel de Allende, then there is weeks in a year. And that gives yet another opportunity to party!

I won’t even pretend to understand what’s going on around us, but there are people singing and dancing in different parts of town at various times of the day, almost every day of a week. No wonder this town draws in tourists in hundreds of thousands every year. No wonder so many Americans, Canadians and Europeans decide to retire or move their lives here. This city is alive, it’s heart constantly (and loudly) beating…

The cannonade of fireworks and the church bells are done waking people up. But I don’t think I’ll be able to go back to sleep. The bulb in the street lamp hanging right in front of our bedroom window, which (fortunately) had been broken for the past three weeks  just yesterday got replaced with a new one boosting several thousands watt of lighting. Now, that the shooting is over, there is some real loud folk music mixing in with thousands of rooster crows all around us. Our neighbor, like every morning has been already up for a few hours watching television and cutting jalapeno peppers for his breakfast burrito…

God, how I hate San Miguel de Allende! And I love it here…

Dia de los Muertos in San Miguel de Allende

It’s been over two weeks since the Day of the Dead festivities took place, but even though late, I think it’s still worth posting anyway.

Despite it’s name, Dia de los Muertos or the Day of the Dead is a two days holiday celebrated throughout Mexico on November  1st and 2nd. Related to globally renowned Catholic religious holidays of  All Saints and All Souls, in Mexico it is also a National Holiday. Unlike the USA, where the tradition is almost non-existent (not to confuse with Halloween) or Poland where the events are very serious, mournful and dark, in Mexico the celebrations are very cheerful and vivid. Even though adopted by Christians, the tradition actually dates back to the indigenous cultures, and in particular to the ancient Aztec rituals and festivals dedicated to the goddess called Mictecacihuatl. Like in Poland, people go to cemeteries to commemorate the dead, but that’s about all in terms of similarities. Day of the Dead in Mexico is a joyful holiday. People use food, fruits, memorabilia and tons of colorful paper to build offering altars, not only for their loved ones, but also for well known celebrities and public figures. Only the deceased ones, of course.

Indians dancing around a fountain in a small square in San Rafael district of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico on the Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos).
Indians dancing around a fountain in a small square in San Rafael district of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico on the Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos).
Mariachis playing in the courtyard of a Public Library in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
Mariachis playing in the courtyard of a Public Library in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.30-Oct-2011 12:10, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 6.7, 70.0mm, 0.017 sec, ISO 800
Altar of a local patron in a courtyard of a Public Library in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
Altar of a local patron in a courtyard of a Public Library in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.30-Oct-2011 12:11, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 8.0, 28.0mm, 0.002 sec, ISO 200
 
Paintings made by children in Public Library in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
Paintings made by children in Public Library in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.30-Oct-2011 12:11, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 9.5, 28.0mm, 0.004 sec, ISO 200
Courtyard of a Public Library in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico adorned for Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). On that day, author Robert de Gast was also signing his books at the library.
Courtyard of a Public Library in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico adorned for Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). On that day, author Robert de Gast was also signing his books at the library.30-Oct-2011 12:11, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 5.6, 28.0mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 200
Local children with their mothers are looking at an altar dedicated to a local patron on a courtyard of a Public Library in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. In the background, a group of tourists waiting for a tour of local properties is observing the scene. In the front, few kids are painting pictures.
Local children with their mothers are looking at an altar dedicated to a local patron on a courtyard of a Public Library in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. In the background, a group of tourists waiting for a tour of local properties is observing the scene. In the front, few kids are painting pictures.30-Oct-2011 12:13, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 6.7, 45.0mm, 0.008 sec, ISO 200
 
Alex making a donation to a band of mariachis singing and playing in the courtyard of a public library in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
Alex making a donation to a band of mariachis singing and playing in the courtyard of a public library in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.30-Oct-2011 12:14, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 6.7, 70.0mm, 0.008 sec, ISO 400
Agnieszka and the kids listening to the band of mariachis singing and playing in the courtyard of a public library in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
Agnieszka and the kids listening to the band of mariachis singing and playing in the courtyard of a public library in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.30-Oct-2011 12:14, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 5.6, 28.0mm, 0.022 sec, ISO 400
Agnieszka and the kids watching local boys working on their paintings on the Day of the Dead. A group of tourists listening to mariachis on the courtyard of a public library in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
Agnieszka and the kids watching local boys working on their paintings on the Day of the Dead. A group of tourists listening to mariachis on the courtyard of a public library in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.30-Oct-2011 12:15, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 5.6, 28.0mm, 0.011 sec, ISO 200
 
Agnieszka and the kids watching local boys working on their paintings on the Day of the Dead. A group of tourists listening to mariachis on the courtyard of a public library in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
Agnieszka and the kids watching local boys working on their paintings on the Day of the Dead. A group of tourists listening to mariachis on the courtyard of a public library in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.30-Oct-2011 12:15, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 3.8, 28.0mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 200
Alex looking at the details of a Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) altar build in public library in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Well, I guess he's also picking his nose...
Alex looking at the details of a Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) altar build in public library in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Well, I guess he's also picking his nose...30-Oct-2011 12:16, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 8.0, 108.0mm, 0.002 sec, ISO 200
Agnieszka admiring an altar of a local patron in a courtyard of a public library in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico on the Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos). In front, an exposition of children paintings and kids working on their art. In the back a group of tourists listens to a group of mariachis while waiting for their tour of local properties.
Agnieszka admiring an altar of a local patron in a courtyard of a public library in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico on the Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos). In front, an exposition of children paintings and kids working on their art. In the back a group of tourists listens to a group of mariachis while waiting for their tour of local properties.30-Oct-2011 12:16, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 5.6, 28.0mm, 0.011 sec, ISO 200
 
Nadia and Alex watching local boys work on their art pieces. In the back of the courtyard, a group of tourists watch a group of mariachis sing and play during the Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) celebrations in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
Nadia and Alex watching local boys work on their art pieces. In the back of the courtyard, a group of tourists watch a group of mariachis sing and play during the Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) celebrations in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.30-Oct-2011 12:17, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 4.0, 28.0mm, 0.017 sec, ISO 200
A small cemetary, where most deceased were patrons of a public library in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
A small cemetary, where most deceased were patrons of a public library in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.30-Oct-2011 12:25, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 6.7, 85.0mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 400
Candle smoke on an altar of a local patron of a public library. In background, Nadia watching kids  work on their paintings on the Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
Candle smoke on an altar of a local patron of a public library. In background, Nadia watching kids work on their paintings on the Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.30-Oct-2011 12:54, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 5.6, 200.0mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 800
 
Nadia watching kids  work on their paintings on the Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
Nadia watching kids work on their paintings on the Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.30-Oct-2011 12:54, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 8.0, 200.0mm, 0.011 sec, ISO 400
An electrician preparing power distribution board for the Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) celebrations in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
An electrician preparing power distribution board for the Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) celebrations in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.30-Oct-2011 13:13, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 5.6, 135.0mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 200
Decorations hanging from a balcony on one of the streets of San Miguel de ALlende, Mexico during teh Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) celebrations.
Decorations hanging from a balcony on one of the streets of San Miguel de ALlende, Mexico during teh Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) celebrations.30-Oct-2011 13:29, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 8.0, 108.0mm, 0.008 sec, ISO 800
 

Since we’ve arrived in San Miguel three days before the holiday, we had an opportunity to see not only the parades on the day of the holiday, but also to witness all preparations. As already mentioned above, the most distinct feature of the day are altars. While walking around town, we’ve came across many altars dedicated to local patrons, saints, but we’ve also spotted a few build for John Paul II and… Steve Jobs.

Technically speaking, the term Dia de los Muertos or Dia de los Difuntos (both mean the Day of the Dead) is only applicable to November 2nd, as this is the day to commemorate deceased adults. It sounds a little creepy, but the first of November is solely dedicated to children and therefore called Dia de los Inocentes (Day of the Innocents) or Dia de los Angelitos (Day of the Little Angels). The adults get bottles of tequila, the children get toys and favorite candies on their altars and on their graves. Sugar skulls and Pan de Muerto (bread of the dead) are easily available everywhere around town.

In different parts of San Miguel de Allende there were many festivities, most of them unannounced and rather spontaneous. As an example, on Sunday, the day before Dia de los Angelitos, we were touring the Centro. We have spent an entire afternoon walking around the aged downtown, admiring beautiful buildings, churches, museums and restaurants. Finally, when we got tired of these tourist attractions, we returned home. Entering our Colonia (district of town or neighborhood) we’ve spotted people dancing in front of a bone stone church in a very poor neighborhood. From a distance it looked like a wedding ceremony, but when we got closer we realized that something was off.

First it was the music. Even though I really don’t speak Spanish, I quickly figured the meaning of “Me gusta Marijuana”, repeated in a chorus over and over to the distinct rhythm of  drums in a folk song played by local superstars. Then, there were the dancers. Men and women dancing, or rather moving rhythmically in a large circle on the top of the hill were wearing all kinds of silly, scary and plain creepy costumes. There were rock stars, skeletons, old farts and all kinds of other disguises. The scene was rather surreal, but since we were really on our last legs, we decided to call it a day.

When we turned a corner, there was another surprise. A group of men, dressed in some sort of traditional Indian costumes was dancing to the rhythm of their large drums around a small fountain in a little square adjacent to the poor church…

The most amazing was that there were no tourist around…!

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…

¡Bienvenidos a México!

I promised to update this blog as soon as we arrive at our interim destination. Obviously I failed – we’ve been in Mexico since Friday. I can’t even blame it at lack of Internet access – we’ve been connected all the time. Let me catch up quickly.

Before entering Mexico, we’ve read countless warnings and articles describing situation in the country, and especially along it’s northern border.  Based on all that lectures, we were expecting to enter lawless land of guns, drugs and violence. Being somehow responsible parents, we were terrified with the prospect of encountering “banditos” or running into a random shoot-out. And based on the information disseminated north of the border, those things were supposed to be as common in Mexico, as Walmarts are in the US. No wonder that for the first few hours, I was white knuckling the steering wheel. In reality though, the biggest problem was to find… the right border crossing. The one we were advised to take is a remote bridge called Colombia-Solidarity, about  fifteen miles north from Laredo.

The roads in Mexico are not too bad. There are two categories of them – the free (libre) and the paid (cuota) ones. Obviously, the road conditions are much better on the “cuotas”, which I have to say are rather expensive. At least compared to the US. The road surface is mostly made out of concrete and it’s well profiled. Obviously not to be compared to the German “autobahns”, but nonetheless quite comfortable and safe. The “libres” are full of pot holes and filled with slow local traffic. It’s common to see all kinds of animals eating grass on the sides of the road or even on the median. Supposedly they’re also much less safe to travel. Especially after dark.

Our GPS has maps from 2007, which doesn’t make that much of a difference in the USA, but makes it pretty much useless here in Mexico. However, despite being deprived of modern technology aids, we had almost no problems in finding our destinations. I wouldn’t call the road signs as being a particularly good example of traffic coordination, but if you pay close attention, you will find your way around the country without problems.

Finding a particular address in an unfamiliar city is a different story altogether. We arrived in San Miguel de Allende around noon on Saturday. And it took us about an hour to find the house we are staying at. We found the right district, but were unable to find the street. It may have something to do with the fact that we didn’t have a map, but I suspect that even if we had one, it wouldn’t be of much help, since most of the streets (in that particular district) have no name signs anyway.

We decided to ask for help. My Spanish is about as good as my Chinese, so I was very proud of myself when I put together “donde esta” (where is) and the street address. My wife was really impressed when the taxi driver understood the question without a need for me to repeat it. However, when he explained how to get there, Agnieszka and I only stared at him, unable to understand a word. On second attempt, using internationally recognized hand signals, I suggested to the cab driver that we’ll follow him to the destination. Worked like a charm!

The house we’re staying at is a luxurious three level / three bedroom / three baths “casa” with a small courtyard with a fountain, large kitchen, office, living room and a rooftop terrace. Quite a change compared to the last couple of months we’ve spent living in a tent. And the best is, that this palace is actually much less expensive than the camping sites we’ve been staying at!

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I’ll write separate posts about the beautiful town of San Miguel de Allende and the festivities surrounding the “Dia de los Muertos” (Day of the Dead) that’s being celebrated here right now. For now, lets just say that the ambience of this enchanting  town will affect our further travel plans.  But that’s a different subject all together.