7 Jan– 4 Apr 2016. In San Miguel de Allende (SMA) we lived in the colonia, or neighbourhood, of Infonavit Allende. It’s out past the famed Fabrica La Aurora, a hive of antique stores and artists’ studios housed in a converted and renovated former textile factory. From our home on Calle Ignacio Aldama it was a five-minute walk to the end of the street where it joins the main road. From the main road we could get a taxi or walk into the Centro where most of the cafes, shops, restaurants, bars, and theatres are located.
There are about three hundred taxis in San Miguel and they continually roam the streets. To wait as long as ten minutes is unusual. They don’t have metres. A taxi anywhere in town costs forty pesos. That’s about $2.50 in our money. If it’s late at night or a very busy time the driver might charge fifty pesos. At first we tried to bargain, but after a few futile efforts we just accepted the going rate. Apart from late nights (which we almost never experienced anyway) or busy times, it was always forty pesos. In the beginning we’d ask how much? in our best tourist Spanglish. Always the answer was forty pesos. Soon we were asking cuarenta? And the driver would say si. After a while we’d just have the forty pesos ready and hand it over.
The other way we could to get to town was to walk through the narrow winding cobbled streets of neighbouring Colonia Guadelupe. It takes about twenty minutes to walk to town through Guadelupe, but some days it took us much longer as we constantly stopped to look at and photograph the street art.
Colleen Sorenson, an American expat living in SMA, wanted to deter SMA’s youth from vandalizing the town’s unadorned walls with graffiti. She saw the walls as an opportunity for art rather than defacement; her vision was to legalise graffiti. There was much deliberation with the Director of Tourism, other municipal authorities, and local residents. Local, national, and international graffiti artists were recruited. Obtaining the necessary permits gobbled up years, but finally the first street art festival was held in Guadelupe in 2012. Guadalupe has since been named a Districto de Arte, and the Festival, now in its fourth year is known as Muros en Blanco or The Festival of White (or blank) Walls.
As we stroll along the streets we see hummingbirds, butterflies, dragons, flying fish, flowers, ducks, bulls, skeletons, seahorses, trees, musicians, a flying horse, and much more. At every turn there is something different to see. Different styles, colours, content; some beautiful, some surprising, some puzzling, but all fascinating. Here is a small selection. Some are of the whole mural, some are details. In some I’ve taken liberties with the colours in editing, but most are as they appear.
If you go through the front entrance of the Hotel Sautto, on Calle del Doctor Ignacio Hernandez Macias, in SMA’s World Heritage Centro you’ll find yourself in a large leafy courtyard. Turn immediately right onto the dining terrace, and then immediately right again into the small bar. Stop at the bar to put your name on the list for the movie, reserve your seats and order your drink – beer or wine or pop. With drink in hand continue on through the bar to a tiny courtyard. Go through the courtyard and on your left you will find the entrance to the smallest theatre in the world, the Cine Bacco. There are four rows of comfortable seats accommodating a total of twenty-five people. Once seated you’ll be asked if you want popcorn and if yes a small bag will be delivered to you during the first couple of minutes of the movie. Each movie is introduced by a well-informed and enthusiastic European gentleman, one of SMA’s many expats, who has created a small business sharing his passion for films. Total cost $5.
We saw several movies at Cine Bacco including The Danish Girl and The Big Short. There is also another tiny movie theatre in SMA called the Pocket Cinema. We never did get to see it since it was closed while we were there. I think they were having lease problems, though it seems to have reopened now.
If you wander the streets of the Centro there is a soothing sameness to the sheer walls of rich ochre and rust, with the patina and earthiness of bygone times. The buildings seem to have a grounded certainty, and a timeless majesty. Then, as you walk, there are sudden vignettes as churches, lace-curtained windows, a curved street, or an elaborate doorway, entice the eye with contrasting views.
From some viewpoints it seems as if there are buildings piled upon buildings,
while from others the unexpected use of sea foam green paint draws the eye. It’s an ever-changing kaleidoscope of architectural beauty that lands quietly in the heart.
Although ten percent of the population of SMA are expats from the USA, Canada, and Europe, and there’s no doubt that over the years this segment of the population has had a profound affect on the flavour of the town, it is still first and foremost a Mexican town with a Spanish colonial heritage. We saw many expats, and met a few, but it is the Mexicans with their love of colour, community, and family, and their open friendly nature, that light up SMA.
A dancer at one of the many fiestas,
and the bell ringer high up in the towers of La Parroquia. There are four bells, and four bell ringers, and they haul those bells around by the large wooden “handles”. It must take great strength, stamina, and no fear of perforated eardrums! At times we heard the bells ringing for twenty minutes or more.
Having previously spent time in Mexico we found there was no great adjustment to living in SMA. It’s an easy place to live. We speak a little Spanish and the people are enormously friendly. Because of the large expat community everything we wanted was available, though some items, such as a lemon squeezer, took a little searching out.
There’s a decent grocery store called Bonanza in the Centro. If we were running low on anything we could usually get it there. Several days a week a fruit and vegetable market would appear. It was in an empty space about half way down our street, hiding under huge tarps strung overhead to ward off the sun. Heading in the direction of Guadelupe near the high school there’s a small tienda, and a bigger one just a little further away, where we would pick up fresh vegetables from time to time. Once a week we’d take a taxi to Mega, a large American-style supermarket out on the edge of town, where we could get just about anything we wanted including Häagen Dazs.
Sometimes that was all I wanted.
Next post: a spectacular Indian festival in the Jardin, and the many parades of Holy Week.
All words and images by Alison Louise Armstrong unless otherwise noted
© Alison Louise Armstrong and Adventures in Wonderland – a pilgrimage of the heart, 2010-2016.