Monthly Archives: September 2014

“Trafficking” in Mexico

We have been in San Miguel de Allende now for a little over a week. Enough time to begin to feel and absorb the differences between life here and back in the US where we spent the last four months. So far, as I remembered it did, it feels great.

The pace is slower and life is simpler for the most part, yet of course with some unique challenges of it’s own. Preparing to cook an evening’s meal here doesn’t mean getting in the car and fighting traffic congestion, aggressive drivers and “road rage creep” to get across town to the generic grocery chain bursting with processed foods. Here you are probably going to toss a bottle of water in your backpack and you’re going to walk. If your recipe includes vegetables, herbs, a grain, cheese, and maybe a nice bottle of wine to share you’re probably walking to four or five different tiendas.

The good news is that all of them without fail are in your general neighborhood. That means getting in some steps. It means starting to knock off some US road bloat. It means getting to once again practice my Spanish with the same familiar smiling faces at our favorite shops. It means supporting local businesses and farms instead of Monsanto and GMO factory production. It’s great exercise for the body and a great exercise for the soul and the planet.

We drove the trusty Blazer into Mexico so of course we have a car here. We don’t take it out often. We have in fact taken it out once since we arrived. That was to do our first “stock up run” for staples (after all, who wants to stuff 24 rolls of toilet paper in a backpack?) at the major local grocery store/Safeway equivilent,  aptly named “Mega”.

San Miguel is a town of about 125,000 people without a single traffic light. Many streets are one way cobblestone with space for parked cars at the curb (or not) and one traffic lane. Few intersections even sport a stop sign. Many people here don’t own cars but the heart of the city is still full of cars, buses, small commercial vehicles, and tourists from nearby cities. In the US that logistic scenario would be a nightmare for everyone but the wreckers and auto-body shops.

Given that, when we started out for Mega on a Saturday I started to think it was a mistake. The traffic was thick and moved pretty slowly and it FELT chaotic. I was anxious and felt impatient…..until I realized I was holding onto the traffic mindset from a different place. I expected to be honked at. I expected to be cut off (or flipped off).  It never happened. In reality I didn’t hear a horn blast and everyone took their turns at intersections. We got there and back just fine.

In seven months here last year. I rarely heard a horn and never saw a fender bender. Getting around may look chaotic on the surface but it has it’s own congenial and communal order. Once you let go of those old expectations and accept and join the flow you become a beat in the gentle rhythm of San Miguel.

The one exception is the vehicular merry-go-round that are the handful of glorietas, where incoming highways intersect the road that rings the outer circle of town. The pattern of drivers hopping on and off is always an adventure. But it is Mexico after all, and along with it’s charm it has it’s own unique challenges.






Re-Entry and Independencia

We left our hotel in Laredo and crossed the border into Mexico Monday morning. The journey to San Miguel de Allende went without incident (well…..other than finding the only entry road we knew to the Immigration Office blocked off,  and having to figure out a back way through Nuevo Laredo to get the Tourist Visas we would need to pass checkpoints). The drive was more beautiful than I remembered. The rainy season still is in it’s last weeks and the hills are lush. The mountains are magnificent and many passes dropped us into valleys filled with wildflowers and thick green pasture. We took one break from the road here in Matehuala Monday night, and then covered the last miles.

We arrived in SMA Tuesday, and it is hard to describe the feeling of finally being back after. Our first night we were just in time to arrive, unload the car, get the cats settled in, and walk down to the Centro to catch a spot on a rooftop terrace for a view of the sunset. A block off the Jardin, we were showered with fireworks just above us. Serendipity (not the original schedule plan) had dropped us into this beautiful city in the middle of the celebration of Independencia. Cheers and bangs rang out and the sky was filled with sparks and sparklers. Our stroll to dinner a couple blocks away was highlighted with a burning spinner disk that landed on the in the street on the cobblestones 15 yards behind us sent us scurrying and laughing…..and a couple car alarms barking.

We will be here until January, and it feels like Independence. I have yet to watch any television here (and yes…..we have cable and can watch the major US networks if we choose). We are free from the slog of the road and “the next destination”. Instead of setting an alarm clock I wake up naturally (and earlier) to the sounds of roosters and dogs in the barrio. There is the sound of an occasional pickup on the gravel and cobblestones streets as a neighbor heads out to work. I wake up to the sounds of kids laughing and chatting as they walk down the path by the arroyo that butts up against the back of the house as they walk to school.

The last couple days’ to-do lists and errands have been a pleasure. Having a to-do list here means walking into the Centro from our little Colonia at whatever pace feels right. Strangers exchange smiles and make way for each other on the narrow stone sidewalks and you feel a part of the city. There’s a stop at a couple small tiendas, and paperwork to be filled out at our mail service to obtain a number and a box. A stop at Juan’s cafe to buy some coffee beans and have them ground precedes a step across the way to the Biblioteca for a library card. Familiar faces at most stops bid me welcome back and ask “how long are you staying this time…..or are you just staying?”

When the sun is high and the afternoon is getting warmer it’s time to head back home. Anything not checked off the list can carry over. There’s always manana, and here manana doesn’t necessarily mean tomorrow. It just means not today.


Tired or Inspired? All the Way to Memphis…..

I haven’t had the desire to post anything for awhile, and have been struggling to figure out why. Is it because we’re just tired of the miles (about 5000 since we left Rosarito)? Is it the slog of dragging 3 cats, litter box, food and toys along with our lesser personal trappings into and out of rental homes and hotels? Is it self doubt about the choice of this lifestyle? Is it that coming across the Great Plains through territory we have lived in and traveled again and again provides no inspiration? Seeing family back in the midwest has been great, but it is more of an exchange of affection and recounting of stories than a source of revelation. As we head south towards a four month plus stay in San Miguel I feel inspired to post……but that makes me wonder…..about the nature and source of inspiration?

Does nostalgia create inspiration? Two nights ago we stayed in Champaign, Illinois. Inspiring nostalgia? Well, my older brother played trombone in the Fighting Illini Marching Band, and I saw “Being There” at a theatre on Green Street on a memorable Halloween weekend decades ago. Most importantly I saw my first Springsteen concert in ’78 at the Assembly Hall in Champaign and it was a spiritual 4 hour experience I’ll never forget. Great memories? Yes. Inspriration to post? No.

Is arriving where we have never been inspiration? It can be…..especially if it’s a pleasant surprise. Last night we stayed in Paducah, Kentucky….a place we’d never been. A town just across the Ohio River from the southern tip of Illinois, it’s home to approximately 25,000 people. It’s an early 19th century river town steeped in history, and a 12 square block downtown has been beautifully preserved. Most of the buildings have stood for more than 150 years and have the feel of a cross between downtown Galena and the French Quarter. Pretty inspiring…..until you leave those few cobblestone streets and drive across miles of cookiecutter corporate chain sprawl to where the multiple “Suites Hotels” sit one after another after another. In fact there seem to be way too many for a town this size to support. That is until you realize that the largest “gaseous diffusion plant” in the USA is just outside of town and produced enriched uranium there from 1952 to 2013. No doubt the DOE officials that have been running it since the 80’s would probably prefer to bring their own drinking water and visit in short stays. Definitely not inspiring and a good reason to enjoy our bottled water……and wait until the next town to shower.

Is anticipation inspiring? It very well can be. We are eleven days from our scheduled arrival in beautiful San Miguel de Allende, Mexico and I have found it inspiring every time we have been there. Tonight we will be in Memphis and will stay for two nights. Maybe a little blues music will fill the night air. Maybe Elvis really is alive. Maybe we’ll catch the King down in the Jungle Room for a little inspiration.