Exploring San Miguel de Allende has long been on my boomer travel list. But, so far, a summer trip to Cancun is the extent of my Mexican adventures. In today’s guest post, Suzanne Fluhr, publisher of Boomeresque, returns to the San Miguel de Allende of her childhood. What does she find? Read on:
My first trip to Mexico was in 1963. I was nine. My parents loaded my younger sisters and me into the back of their ’57 Chevy and drove to Mexico from Philadelphia to live for a year. Neither of my parents spoke Spanish nor had ever set foot outside the continental United States. We ended up in the central highlands town of San Miguel de Allende, 170 miles north of Mexico City.
Now a baby boomer, I recently returned to San Miguel for the first time in 48 years. My husband, Steve, and I flew from Philadelphia to the new international airport at Querétaro via Dallas, thereby avoiding both the State Department travel advisories for the border region and the relative chaos of Benito Juarez, the major airport serving Mexico City. On the internet, I prearranged a taxi service for the one hour drive to San Miguel for $70.00.
San Miguel now sprawls further out into the desert scrub than it did 48 years ago, with gated communities, a golf course and even a big box supermarket. Fearing that Steve might be wondering why I brought him here, I was relieved when we entered the Spanish colonial historic district (el centro historico), now a UNESCO World Heritage site. This retained the same character I remembered with cobble stone streets, outdoor markets (food and craft) and the main plaza (el jardín), fronted by la parroquia, San Miguel’s gothic main parish church which is unlike any other in Mexico. I overheard a tourist from Mexico City say that it reminded her of Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia cathedral in Barcelona, a thought that had simultaneously crossed my mind.
We stayed at Casa Carmen, two blocks from el jardín, the same centrally located guest house I stayed at with my family lo those many years ago. It is now best described as a Bed and Breakfast (B&B), except lunch is also included six days a week. As with many of the 18th century colonial homes, Casa Carmen’s plain stucco exterior wall on the street, conceals a tranquil, open air courtyard, complete with flowers, citrus trees, a stone fountain and comfortable lounging/reading chairs. Similarly charming accommodations are available at every price point.
Even in 1963, San Miguel already claimed a fairly large ex-pat community of artists and language students. That community is larger now such that even an English speaking mono-linguist can function comfortably. (In fact, if I wanted to attend a language school and immerse myself in Spanish, I would probably pick one of the other central highland, colonial Silver Route towns of the area, Guanajuato or Querétaro.)
Although the streetscape of the central historic district is strictly controlled and appears relatively unchanged from 1963, San Miguel now abounds with art galleries, restaurants and even its own architecturally correct Starbucks. Expats run a bilingual library, complete with a café. The library sponsors house tours every Sunday, and we appreciated the chance to visit behind the outer walls of three specimen homes in three different parts of town.
As a child, I loved walking to the jardín with my father for the many fiestas celebrated by the San Miguel community with music and fireworks. Apparently, this tradition is still intact, now complemented by other events such as the yearly San Miguel Writers Conference and the San Miguel de Allende Chamber Music Festival. A readily available weekly English newspaper, Atencion San Miguel, contains a very useful calendar of events.
The news of the terrible drug cartel violence affecting the border and other regions of Mexico is very upsetting. We felt safe walking around the historic centers of San Miguel, Querétaro and Guanajuato both day and night and this region is not covered by the U.S. State Department travel warnings. Throughout our trip to what I consider an authentic area of Mexico, the Mexicans with whom we interacted were kind and helpful.I don’t intend to let another 48 years pass before returning.
Suzanne Fluhr is a recovering Philadelphia lawyer who blogs about her travels at Boomeresque. There, you can read more about her experience of Mexico as a child and her return as a grown up Baby Boomer. All photos courtesy Suzanne Fluhr.