Tag Archives: travel

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

 

 

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

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.

Taxi Drivers Party Too……….You Lookin’ at Me?

Friday night was a rough night to sleep, but a great night for a festival here in San Miguel de Allende. This weekend has been “La Alberoda”, the birthday of the patron saint of this beautiful town in Central Mexico, Saint Miguel Arcangel. That means the entire weekend is ceremony and ritual, dancing, decoration, and of course fireworks. The blasts and booms started around midnight and hit a crescendo around 4:30 in the morning. Our feral kitten Chuckie (who we adopted here last May) spent the night under the bed or under the covers. He’s loving and affectionate but has a highly developed amygdala.

Every one else in SMA has been having a great time…..and I mean everyone. Yesterday we saw children hoisting paper machet figures on poles march into the Jardin to have them blown up one at a time as they giggled and shrieked. We saw the majesty of beautifully groomed mounts and caballeros promenade through the square for the “Blessing of the Horses”. We saw parades of locals dressed as Native Indian Dancers from a bygone era…….and my obscure favorite……the Thursday “warm up” of the Taxi Motorcade where a long string of a few dozen decked out taxi cabs roll slowly into the square of the Jardin. And they make quite an entrance. Their horns honk, their alarms blare, their lights flash, and the driver’s smiles beam. Why not, and why shouldn’t they have a seat at the celebration too?

Many people wonder (and ask) why we would want to spend time living in Mexico…..and especially a town they have never heard of that isn’t on the beach. Typically their knowledge of Mexico is limited to the picture of danger painted by a sensationalist, ratings driven US media or a “bubble travel” trip to a resort town (Cabo, Cancun, pick one….any one). They typically go plane-shuttle van-resort-shuttle van-plane-home. None of that begins to tell the story of our experiences here.

We love the warmth and friendliness of the people, their work to live not live to work mindset, the beauty of the landscape, the casual pace of day to day life, the history and architecture and movies and dining all within walking distance. We love the simple pleasures here and the freeing feeling of escape from a culture of identity based (and measured) on conspicuous consumption and accumulation. And yes we have always felt safe here. Statistically we are safer than when we lived in Chicago or Oakland. But it really always comes down to the warmth and the joy of the people, and the feeling that any time and for any (or no) reason there is cause for celebration.

Nobel Prize Winning Mexican Poet Octavio Paz said “any occasion for getting together will serve, any pretext to stop the flow of time and commemorate men and events with festivals and ceremonies”. And everyone rejoices…..from the highest seats of government to the taxi drivers. And the taxi drivers not only want you to take a good look at them, but for all to join in.

Randy.

“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.

 

Randy.

 

 

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.

Randy.

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.

Randy.

Doing the Hokie Pokie in the USA

Three months ago, after spending the winter on the coast of the Northern Mexican Baja, we  loaded our possessions — and our 3 feline dependents — into the Blazer, and headed out on an extended road trip. Our plans were to travel over the border, up the West Coast and then head east across the Great Plains to see family in the upper Midwest. Now, after migrating from Mexico to Seattle to Denver we have covered a lot of ground. We left Denver Friday and woke up yesterday in North Platte, NE. Today it’s on to Omaha. Tomorrow the day’s drive will end in Des Moines, Iowa.

We have learned a lot in the past 3 months, both about ourselves and about what works on an extended road trip (when it comes to comfort and efficiency). We have learned that the cats are happier if we give them a good 4-hour window between “breakfast” and when we load them in their crates for the day. It gives them time to “process” and get into full nap mode so they will sleep comfortably in forced isolation from their litter box. They are also happier (and there are fewer accidents) when we limit the number of total hours in captivity to five or fewer. So that’s how we roll.

And we’re doing pretty well so far. The cats seem to like exploring the room when we arrive at each new hotel (all those interesting smells!).  But Traci and I realize that we prefer no more than three or four days of consecutive driving — and then need to settle into a place for at least two nights. By then we’re ready for a breather…..a day when we don’t have to lug the bags (and Bubba, Lucy, and Chuckie) in and out of the car.

Aside from travel preferences, there’s another thing that has become evident as we crossed the country. It’s something I expected to see but has been fascinating to watch unfold hour by hour and mile by mile. We have witnessed the transition from a beautiful land of geographic diversity to a land much more one dimensional, with vast stretches of prairie grass, pastures, and big open sky. At the same we witnessed a transition from large metropolitan areas to vast strings of small and smaller towns where diversity does not really apply. Like the landscape and demographic make-up, mindsets change across the country too.

For example, In northern Idaho we saw a pickup truck plastered with signs declaring the driver’s positions and opinions. One said “Save America, Defeat Obama”. Many of the others I wouldn’t repeat. The truck flew two flags……the American Flag above the Gadsen Flag. At least he got the order right.

In Northern Colorado we stayed at a hotel next to a retail shop displaying a sign that read “GUNS GUNS GUNS”. They were advertising local gun shows, where in most states you can drive a truck through the background check loophole. In a restaurant parking lot down the street a car had a sticker that read “pray for Obama….that his days may be few”. A uniquely Colorado event occurred that same night. We were having a margarita at a restaurant when a stranger tapped my shoulder and said “I think you dropped something”. He pointed to a small plastic bag on the floor with a card that read “Organic”. I picked it up and turned it over to find it held three lush green buds of pot. As I started to say that it wasn’t mine, a gentleman smiling from the next chair caught my eye to wordlessly say it was his. If it wasn’t his before that moment, it was after I handed it over.

My favorite bumper stickers we’ve were both on the same vehicle in Seattle, Washington. One said “A closed mind is a wonderful thing to lose”. The other said “what if the hokie-pokie IS what it’s all about?”

Randy

Worry and Waste

July is in the rearview mirror. It’s my first post in August, and last month is a reminder of how easy it is to become distracted and lose your ability to be present in the moment. The bump on my tongue that Traci named “Igor” ended up being removed in Seattle and biopsied as benign. Now it’s just a memory (and a small fading scar). Based on my  history the chances of it having been anything more serious were incredibly small. My regret is that reality didn’t stop me from the only thing that would allow Igor the power to derail me from being present and experiencing each day with consciousness. I worried. I worried steadily.

Mark Twain famously said “I have been through some terrible things in my life. Some of which actually happened”.  It’s important to be responsible, and it’s important to take control of that which we can. Being aware and proactive is essential to your well being. Worry isn’t….and serves no purpose. The lesson of July is to save the worry for what is, and not what might be. If the worry is taking the front seat you only experience the latter while the former slips by, and there’s no regaining it.

It’s good to be present again. The traveling menagerie is in Denver now and soon we will push across the plains to visit family in Illinois and Wisconsin. Four or five fall/winter months back in San Miguel de Allende are marked on the calendar and the gentle rhythm of the days (not to mention the joyous ring of mariachi music from the jardin) are starting to whisper in my ear.

Randy.

Riding Out the Bump

Every day is a new adventure, and every moment should be savored. But even in the middle of an odyssey like the trip we are now on it’s easy to get caught up in your own concerns. It’s easy to let worry creep in and take your focus away from the moment. So many things can alter your plans or your timetable….but that doesn’t necessarily mean you change the ultimate goal.

We finally left the Seattle yesterday, and we woke up today in Kennewick, WA. The striking backdrop of water, immediate forested hills and not so distant snow  capped mountains in every direction has now given way to flat stretches to the horizon of scorched brown grassland. In fact yesterday morning our hotel reservation was for Wennatche on the east face of the Cascades. That is, until we looked up the status of the multiple wildfires that were raging in the area…..much like when we left the Baja Coast of Mexico in May and crossed into drought ridden California. For us a small bump in the road. For the people in the communities where the fires rage it’s devastating.

It’s been a couple weeks since I have posted. Mostly that’s because we made the call to stay longer in Seattle and do a low-key gumshoe approach to trying it out for size and seeing how it feels as a place to someday plant a part-time flag. A mundane approach and not all that noteworthy to others. Partly because of another bump…one on my tongue that, although I have never smoked or chewed tobacco, had to be dealt with, removed, and hopefully ruled out. Thankfully it was, and yesterday the two stitches left where the bump had been were removed. We pulled out of the parking lot in our road formation (Traci and I in the front seat of the Blazer….Bubba, Lucy and Chuckie in their crates lined up in the back seat), headed east, and here we are Kennewick.

Having spent extra time in Seattle we probably won’t go to Glacier National Park this trip. We’ll get there next time as we hope to be back in this area soon enough.  Tonight we’ll land in Couer d’ Alene and then on to Missoula, etc……unless there’s another bump in the road. People don’t often consider Mike Tyson a great thinker, but even he once said “everyone has a plan ’till they get punched in the mouth”. If need be we’ll adjust. For now it’s back to soaking up each moment of the adventure.

Randy.

 

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