Author Archives: rhummel1203

Returning to San Miguel

It’s morning and we are sitting on the rooftop deck having coffee. There are birds chirping from all directions and the morning doves coo. Occasionally they drop by and sit on the surrounding wall. The gentle sound of the birds is broken with the sporadic bark of dogs…..some near and some far. It’s a symphony that is both soothing and pleasant, immediate and invigorating. We are back in the magical town of San Miguel.

The house that we are renting is high on a hill southeast of the Centro, and about a fifteen minute walk to the Jardin. It was formerly the home of artist Marion Perlet and still contains a number of her original paintings. Shaped like a two story “L” it has an enclosed courtyard. The courtyard is full of ferns, vines, bougainvillea, and other plants gathered around a large fountain. The cats (especially Chuckie) enjoy strolling through the jungle of ferns, digging their paws in the dirt, and rolling, stretching, and scratching their backs on the stone floor of the courtyard.

We are all slowing down and settling into the unique rhythm that is day to day life in Mexico. Climbing the hill to the house (and even the stairs to the rooftop) will be good for the bodies we brought here from the States. Much of the other aspects of being here should be good for the soul.

Buen Dia,

Randy

 

 

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Earnest and Excited

It has been a long time since I have written, but travel is on our horizon again. Now I am happy to play the role of both characters in the post title above. At the stroke of midnight tonight the prospective buyers of our currently “under contract” Denver condo would lose their earnest money if they were to back out of the purchase. It looks like the deal is going to happen. Please, call me earnest.

The rest of the title? We sit in a Staybridge Suites in Suburban Denver, and the picture at the bottom of this post is the view out the window of our room. Yes it is late March and we are having a blizzard. The winds are reaching above 50 miles per hour and the snowfall is expected to reach 14 inches. But we have secured a rental in San Miguel de Allende, and will be returning to Mexico. We will leave here within the week and, with a stopover in Austin TX (last minute U.S shopping, health certificates for the cats, vehicle permit to drive the Blazer into Mexico) should arrive there as of April 9th. We have that house rented through the end of June. Once there we will look for another home to rent after that to extend the stay for a month or two longer.

I look forward to seeing old friends, hanging out at our favorite places, walking to them in shorts and sandles, and hearing the crow of the roosters and the music and festive voices that are always present in the Jardin. Please, call me excited.

Bien Viaje,

Randy

 

Staybridge Window

Planning Our Escape

It’s been a long time since my last post. In the time since, we have traveled less (and less far) from the new home base in our downtown Denver highrise than we had hoped. Yes, it has been easier to hop on a plane or jump in the car and visit family. Yes, we have been able to get up to the mountains and get in some great hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park. Yes, it will also be easy to drive home to spend Thanksgiving with family. These are all good things. That doesn’t change the fact that we can’t wait to put our condo on the market after the Holidays. We long to be free to roam again.

At the time of my last post we were at the beginning of a break we had been looking forward to. We were pulling off the road from twenty three consecutive months in which we traveled with all our belongings. We and the cats had gone from one rental to another in our trusty Chevy Blazer. Much of that was spent in Mexico, centered around returning (and then returning again) to our beloved San Miguel de Allende. A wonderful winter of 2013 – 2014 was spent on the Baja Coast south of Rosarito. Last summer revolved around a slow winding trip north from Rosarito to the tip of the Pacific Northwest. We loved every minute of it.

Sitting in a condo in downtown Denver has felt stagnating and……..uninspiring. It’s been a hindrance to exploring, and put us squarely in the dangerous path of collecting more “stuff”. Thankfully we have been pretty successful in dodging that bullet. We have come to the realization that, at least at this point in time, we are happier when we are always asking ourselves “where do we want to be next month”?

So what inspired me to post again? We now have a plan. We can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and are spending a few weeks out of the urban density of Denver. We are now renting a little cottage outside of Breckenridge. The weather is cool, crisp, and sunny at this elevation. The air smells of pine and aspen.The forest is beautiful and the color hasn’t peaked yet. The elk will be bugling soon, and when we sell the condo we may well be just as excited as they are.

In the meantime we will take in the beauty around us. The picture at the top of the post is from a hike yesterday, looking into the valley that holds the little town of Alma, CO. It sat below us at the highest elevation (with of course the highest cannabis store….or so their sign says) of any incorporated city in North America at 10,578 feet.

Safe Travels to You All,

Randy.

Finding Our Balance

It has been awhile since I have written. Time always brings change and the last two months have been no exception. As the dust settles it’s easier to have perspective.

We drove out of Mexico in late December and headed for our old home of Colorado. We had reserved a VRBO rental in downtown Denver, and have lived there since we arrived. We now own a condo in the Spire building — a highrise in the heart of the 16th Street Mall area. This will be the home base from which we will be “making tracks” in the future. We move into the condo in a week or two once the floors have been redone.

After having lived for two years with only the possessions that fit in our Chevy Blazer, the tasks of the next few weeks seem surreal. It seems foreign, but we have purchased a couch, bed frame, and mattress. We will be flying soon to visit the storage space in Chicago we filled in February of 2013 before leaving to spend most of the year in San Miguel de Allende. I fully expect it to feel like opening somebody else’s time capsule. What are all these items? What would anyone possibly need them for? What here could actually enrich someone’s life vs. what is clutter and distraction? That’s what I expect to be asking myself when the door rolls up.

We will be furnishing the condo to be able to rent out as a monthly corporate furnished apartment, but want to stay true to the minimalist principles we’ve come to enjoy. Of course a couple flat screen TVs, a compact stereo, and some kitchen items will make the trip back west with us. However, with the condo being a tad over 900 square feet, much from our previous lives will be (happily) left behind. I’m sure some of what does come with us will end up on EBay. Then we can settle in, spit and polish, and start the process of advertising for renters. The adventure of getting out and hitting the road again begins when we have paying tenants. We welcome the idea of the unpredictability of what lies ahead.

I do miss Mexico already. I miss the warmth and friendliness of the weather, and of the people. too. I miss the pace of each day and how it feels removed from the ticking of a clock, and how “manana” doesn’t mean tomorrow…..it just means not today. I miss that even the roosters crow on and off all day, when they want, and not just at dawn. I miss the joyousness of the culture and the day-to-day activity in and around the Centro and Jardin.

We will get back there. We will explore other places too……probably many more and more often, even if for shorter trips. The reality is that if we are going to spend significant time in the States each year this move makes a lot of sense. Months of furnished rentals in the States are expensive. Months of a rental in Mexico and many other destinations……not so much. This year will be about both adventure and stability — and finding the balance.

Christmas Approaches in San Miguel, and Maya Angelou Points to the Way Home

It’s Christmas time in San Miguel de Allende. The mornings and evenings are cool and crisp. The light in the afternoon seems brighter, more intense. Families prepare their presents for each other. The streets are filled with poinsettias, posada processions, and festive decorations.

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After a two-year four-wheel walkabout (driveabout?) Traci and I have decided to give ourselves a gift. We’re going to give ourselves a home. We’ve road-tripped and crisscrossed the U.S. We have spent a winter on the ocean in the Baja Norte of Mexico. We have enjoyed two long stretches of time here in Mexico’s mountainous Central Highlands. Now we are going to “break camp” soon and head to Denver where we’ll search for a downtown condo in a neighborhood where we have lived before…..and loved it.

On the surface It might seem that, compared to the last two years, owning a property would be restrictive. We think it will be freeing. A home base will allow us to leave the cats at home under the care of a loving “pet nanny” and hop on an occasional plane to…..any number of places to which you cannot drive (The cats HATE flying and we hate flying with them). With a home base, the two of us can easily jump in the car and go to the mountains for a few days of hiking or off to see family. We will advertise our new condo on vacation rental sites for 30-day minimum rentals. If somebody wants it for a month (or three) we will pack up the Blazer, cats and all, and hit the road again. We will keep making tracks, but our adventures will depart from Denver.

Two years of bouncing among hotel rooms and rentals has been fun, but we miss having a home to return to. This should balance both. Maya Angelou said “the ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” As always, Maya was onto something.

Randy.

Link

mariachi-band

It’s 2 days from Thanksgiving, and less than 24 hours until we take a shuttle to the Leon Airport for a flight back home. We’ll land at O’Hare Wednesday night, grab a rental car, and head north to see Traci’s family in Wisconsin. There will be lots of great food, and it will be great to see the in-laws (truly……no sarcasm).

There will also be a lot of things back in the States that I no longer care about and some I never did. The latest television reality show, the latest pop phenom or scandal, and the measuring of place in the society of consumption are among the latter. NFL football is among the former.

There are definitely things I miss about the States when I am here in Mexico. Likewise, there is much I miss about Mexico when we are north of the border. This past Saturday night we strolled to the Jardin (literally translated it means “the Garden” and it is essentially a small park-like town square) with no real expectation of what we would find. This is what we found, and it’s a great example of what I miss when we aren’t here. There is a joyous celebration of life and culture around every turn.

Enjoy,

 

Randy.

Protest and Perspective

Yesterday was a National Holiday here in Mexico. It honored the Mexican War for Independence of 1910. It’s one of six holidays on which all government offices, schools, and many businesses close. The people step away from their routines to remember and proudly honor their heritage and the sacrifice of those who lost their lives for a greater cause.

Traci and I strolled to the Jardin here in San Miguel de Allende yesterday and witnessed a moving remembrance ceremony, but it was not for the war 104 years ago. It was for the 43 students missing (and assumed dead) from the city of Iguala, Guerrero, Mexico.  The demonstration was filled with signs and speeches and crowds chanting. While there was a solemn, calm resolve on the surface — raw emotions of anger, sadness, frustration and idealistic determination were also evident.

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By now most in the States probably have heard (at least) the shorthand version of the tragic event: In September, a group of 43 students from a school that trains kids from poor and rural communities to be teachers had been on the road. They were protesting education reforms when they stopped in Iguala to demonstrate. It is known that local police fired on them and six were mortally wounded. The rest have disappeared. There’s evidence that the mayor and his wife ordered an attack on the students. There’s also evidence (and reportedly admissions) that the mayor and the local police had ties with the local drug cartel and that cartel was enlisted in the “disappearance” of the students and the disposal of the “evidence.” The details emerging are of a horrific level of senseless violence and cruelty.

The barbarism is hard to imagine. The sheer number of victims is shocking. It’s also the kind of story that supports the U.S. media’s sensationalist, broad-brush portrayal of Mexico. It fosters the misconception that this kind of action is possible (or even likely) in every town and on every street corner south of the border. It engenders fear, pity, revulsion, condescension, a sense of “that wouldn’t happen here” superiority……..or just “that’s their problem” apathy.

Without a doubt, politicians and cartels are at least in cahoots (if not totally intertwined) in some places. This corruption is a Mexico problem and the solution will need to come from within.  In the meantime, maybe the reaction that should be triggered north of the border is one of empathy and contrition, and a willingness to own up to some complicity……a realization that the U.S. has its own house cleaning to do. For starters, let’s admit that the enormous North American demand for illegal drugs plays a huge role in fueling the activities, including filling the coffers and the armories, of the cartels.

Ending the ongoing and pointless “war on drugs” by federally decriminalizing, legalizing, and controlling recreational drugs would strip the cartels of much of  their power and influence. It would also mean hundreds of thousands fewer U.S. citizens imprisoned for non-violent drug crimes in which the only victim is that recreational user that is incarcerated.

So when you watch the news, if your reaction is along the lines of “what’s wrong with those people?”…consider the role that U.S policies and  consumption play. Then, as you reflect on American values, consider our own plentiful examples of senseless violence: Kent State, Oklahoma City OK, Virginia Tech, Philadelphia MS, and Sandy Hook NJ, among others.

Traci and I watched a few speeches yesterday. In the most moving of them, the main speaker slowly stated the names of each of the missing 43 to the crowd in the Jardin. After each name the throng of protesters shouted out in unison a corresponding number: “UNO” after the first. “DOS” after the second…and so on…until all 43 were named and counted. The protesters were angry but focused, and were calling for change. They want their countrymen to stop killing each other. Shouldn’t we all?

 

 

Randy.

Picture This

Above is a picture of Traci standing at a corner near the house where we are living. The mural behind her is painted on the wall of the local “taller mechanico” (automotive mechanical shop). Since a picture is worth a thousand words, I will type less today, and instead share some local art.

We are living in a neighborhood in San Miguel de Allende called Guadalupe. It’s a working class Mexican neighborhood sprinkled with a few ex-pats here and there. The sprinkle becomes a liberal dusting in the winter. The people are friendly and the streets bustle. There’s a  density of  tallers (workshops) and tiendas (small stores). A handful of small restaurants are here, and an organic market. A short walk away is the beautiful Fabrica Aurora. But for the most part it’s gravel and rough cobblestone streets with indiscriminate walls enclosing unseen homes. Owners intentionally do not disclose to the street what does or doesn’t lie behind. Here, the show IS the walls.

Over the last couple years art students and others have come on a weekend here and there to adorn the walls with murals. The results have made strolling through the neighborhood to shop for dinner like walking a gallery showing. Here are a few of my favorites on our daily walk.

The mural at the end of the building just a few weeks before was just the catepillar. In a few weeks it will probably be just the Monarch Butterfly.

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The Monarch metamorphoses appears again, with a little festive Dia de la Muerta to the right.

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A little different angle to show more mural and the context of where it’s painted. That door is the entrance to Gil’s tienda…..one of the busier little markets in Guadalupe.

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A random monster facing the entrance to the local watch repair shop

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The other side (and other entrance to) Gil’s tienda. Is it a bird, is it a ship? Yes…..and it’s beautiful.

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The wall across from Via Organica, decorated for Dia de la Muerta.

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Hope you enjoyed these.

Randy.

Dia de la Muerta

It’s late morning Sunday, and it’s the tail end of the Dia de La Muerta weekend here in San Miguel. I’m sitting on the rooftop terrace of the home we are renting. It’s peaceful now and all I hear are random church bells and the trickle of water running in the arroyo….the calm after a raucous couple of days. Friday saw young children in face paint clamoring for candy. Both Saturday night and last night we saw hundreds of “Catrinas” in traditional garb….doing the crawl around the bars and restaurants of the Centro….drifting in and out of the official march from the Paroquia for a drink here and a quick bite there. It’s a buzz as festive as any Halloween party in the States, but without the Naughty Nurse silliness and Freddie Kruger garishness.

Most Sundays here start slowly, but the neighborhood comes alive by mid-morning. We hear the cheers of a few dozen spectator in the bleachers of the soccer field across the arroyo as they watch the local matches. By noon there is always a large extended family renting the nearby “Salon de Fiesta” (Mexican version of a party hall) for the day. Complete with both happy dance music and giggling children flowing out and into the cobbled streets, families celebrate all day. The local tiendas open a little later and neighborhood customers drift in and out in small but steady numbers. But not today.

The post-Halloween wind-down in the States entails gorged stomachs and livers working overtime from the parties. Fuzzy-headed revelers return rental costumes or put outlandish outfits in storage. But here in Mexico the most elaborate decorations are dedicated to the dead and not the living.

Families in Mexico focus their most important Day of the Dead energies on somber and serious rituals designed to not only honor the relatives that have passed, but to guide them back so they can make contact and be with those still here. Graves are cleaned and decorated. Elaborate altars are constructed to honor the departed, complete with photos and offerings to them, from a favorite snack to a pack of cigarettes to a bottle of their favorite soda or tequilla with a shot glass. It’s a beautiful and deeply felt way to pay tribute — to show lost loved ones they are not forgotten. The families gather, and share and recount their stories to keep them alive and reconnect spiritually…whether it’s metaphorically, or maybe even more.

So today there was no soccer game and no fiesta in the Salon. We passed houses on the way home tonight with front doors crowded and flanked with family members quietly holding vigil around their altars. William Faulkner said “the past is never dead…..it’s not even past.” Today the past and present were one and on heartful display in Mexico.

The Movie is the Message

I recently caught the movie “Frontera” at the Petit Theater here in San Miguel de Allende. It’s a drama (set along the Arizona-Mexico border) that grapples with undocumented immigration and the complex issues surrounding it. I hope it finds a large audience in the U.S.A. because, unlike most of the media’s handling of the subject there, the film does so in a way that is humanizing instead of polarizing.

Of course there is an Immigration System in place  with laws that need to be followed. I don’t think anyone disputes that. Those laws and that system badly need an overhaul and update, but posturing, politics, money and vitriol continue to stand in the way of Congressional action. In the mean time there is a perspective that must be easier to see from here — in the Central Mountains of Mexico — than from north of the border. That is, the visceral reaction to the issue has more to do with misplaced fears (based on ignorance, paranoia, and bigotry) than with concerns about safety, economy, or security.

There is a small percentage of “bad actors” in any corner of the globe; but for the most part anyone risking an illegal border crossing is looking for opportunity and a better life. Yet a certain faction of the U.S population is so angry/fearful about this action that they are driven to exact (or threaten) deadly violence. What are they so angry about that they will, as civilians, take it upon themselves to don camoflague, brandish military weapons, put finger to trigger, and set their scopes on complete strangers all in the name of “patriotism”?

Is it to save the States from disease? Some media have hyped the idea that the thousands (mostly women and children) that rode trains and walked north in recent months could carry sickness and be infectious. The recent arrival of an Ebola victim in the US has created a fevered pitch and brought some calls for shutting borders entirely. That disease came to Dallas, Texas from an area in Africa where its outbreak has been fueled by ignorance of basic sanitation and a lack of a health care infrastructure. Still, in the Lone Star State children are much less likely than their Mexican counterparts to have their vaccinations up to date or have seen a doctor when they need to. That’s because Mexico guarantees affordable health care to all of its citizens. Yet Governor Rick Perry has refused to accept Medicaid Expansion under the Affordable Care Act at no cost to Texas or it’s people. That means many of the more than 6,000,000 Texas citizens without health care could be insured with the stroke of a pen…..but they aren’t.

Is it economic patriotism? Would any of the these watchmen lining up shoulder to shoulder accept the labor that might be available to those that get across? Would they do that work? Would they want that work?

Is it safety and security? Despite the false portrayal of every street corner in Mexico being a drug-cartel shooting gallery ,my wife and I have always felt safe in our travels and in the places we have stayed in Mexico. But north of the border military style weapons are too often brandished by too many with too little training and too little regard for the potential consequences. Why are informal militias forming and setting up shop on the border? Are they really serving a noble purpose or are they exorcising their xenophobia and false machismo all at the same time on the same target?

Yes….it’s a movie…..but go see Frontera……and tell me what you think.

Randy.