San Miguel de Allende and summary of my first week

Published: January 21st 2011
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Yesterday I was going on a day trip to San Miguel de Allende. Breakfast at Hostel Guanajuato was from 9am, so I left a bit before 9.30 and headed for the bus station on the local city bus. I was there before 10 and had the option of the economy bus for 73 pesos or luxury for 90 pesos, so I went for the economy option. Unfortunately, the next bus wasn't until about 11 so I had an hour's wait on my hands. I went outside and sat in the sun for a bit, starting to get used to the waiting times. As the time for the coach approached, I spotted a non-Mexican looking couple so I went and let on. They were Canadians from Vancouver Island and were, like me, off to San Miguel for the day. We had a brief chat and then got on the bus and left. The 100km journey was to take one and a half to two hours according to the driver and took us through the arid Mexican countryside. I was quite a desertic landscape, with yellow burnt grass and cactuses (or is it cacti?) - see the picture, sorry it's not great but I took it from the bus.
As promised, about an hour and a half later, we'd arrived. I went and got the town bus to get to the centre, which was quite easy to spot (just look for a main square with a big church, most likely the place where everyone gets off). I had no idea what to see because it was so long since I'd read up on it and I had no map, but as it didn't seem too big, I decided to go for a stroll around. I quickly found a map showing the tourist info point so I went and got a tourist map from them and then wandered around town for a few hours.
The main attraction of the city is its historic centre, a UNESCO world heritage site, with many buildings dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries. San Miguel is the birthplace of Ignacio Allende (an important protagonist in the Mexican War of Independence) and the town is also considered to have been the first city freed from Spanish rule. Today, it is very popular with American and Canadians retirees, living there permanently or just through the winter months. Actually, saying
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The main church
it's popular is an understatement. It is a true invasion! Something I mentioned to 2 old American guys sat on a bench next to me; comment to which they replied “Didn't you know? This is an extension of the United States.” That said it all. Here, nobody was looking at me in a strange way because the paler, taller, blonder population was definitely part of the usual landscape. A lot of shops, cafés and restaurants had signs in English and even the street sellers knew a few words. To me, it was almost a disappointment, but on the other hand, I couldn't help but notice that the city seemed better preserved than Guanajuato (most houses looked like they had seen a lick of paint in the last few years), something probably due to the financial prosperity brought from the North. In terms of style, it was the same typical flat roof brightly coloured rows of terraced houses on narrow cobblestoned streets, with some larger mansions, especially on the outskirts. The coulours all were in the shades of yellows, oranges, browns, ochres and terrracottas, something that seemed perfect in such sunny weather.
I walked around the small streets for about 3
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All the old ladies leaving the church
hours, also having a look at the crafts market, which did have some nice looking pieces. I had an interesting experience when I went to the Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel (the main church) as there was some sort of mass happening on one side. I wasn't going to stay but it was just finishing and all the ladies (no men to be seen) were leaving through a little door. When I went back out, I saw a small passageway next to the church and that's where they were all going. So I thought I'd follow to see where it led me. At the end of it, I was greeted by some American bloke (he wasn't dressed like a priest) saying “God bless your soul” and inviting me towards the buffet. I could have had free lunch but I thought God might be a little upset seeing as I didn't attend the mass, so I went back the way I came...
A while later, I returned to the bus station to head back to Guanajuato, only to find out when I got there, that I had another hour's wait on my hands.
As far as I remember from when I'd planned this, the reason why I'd decided to visit San Miguel on a day trip was because I couldn't find any bus from there to Queretaro (my next destination), but it became apparent that this was untrue as there were indeed buses going there and for a lot less than they were from Guanajuato (50 pesos instead of 130-150), which made sense as it is closer. Once again, I was tricked by the fact it seems only luxury buses timetables are on the websites, even though a same company (or group) will run both luxury and economy services.
When I arrived back in Guanajuato, I thought I would check the timetables for my next day's bus to Queretaro, in order to avoid having to wait for too long in the morning. The first company was 145 pesos luxury (no cheap service available) at 8.50 or 10.30, the other company going there showed 133 pesos but no timetables. I decided, the logic would be that their bus would be going at some point between 8.50 and 10.30, so I'd aim to get there a bit before 10 and worst case scenario, wait a bit over half an hour.
By the time
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Typical street
I got back to the hostel, it was about 7.30pm. I had some food, a chat with the other guests, did some internet catch up and that was the end of my not so busy day.

So I have been visiting for a week now ( even though it is 8 days, day one was a travelling day). In a way it has flown by, but in another it hasn't because I have already seen so much, from the old stones of Morelia to the fireworks of colours in Guanajuato, from green and leafy squares to arid flatlands and from the buzz of the cities to the slow pace of the villages.
All in all, the main lesson I have learnt so far is that the most important thing is the people you meet and who can make or break the journey. The Mexican population has so far been so welcoming and helpful that it has made my experience all the better. But here are a few other random things I have learnt or been reminded of during the course of the week, quite a lot of them to do with buses:

- Economy buses timetables are probably not on the internet
- Chicken buses (so far) haven't got chickens on. They're just the same as luxury buses but slower, without air con or TV and they stop a lot more. I'm sure this will change when I get further south...
- Don't trust anyone ahead of yourself, even if they are supposed to know better (ie the bus driver supposed to tell you where to get off)
- Buses are a good place to do some typing and catching up on blogging (guess where I am as I'm typing this)
- Just because the bus is not there at the time it's supposed to leave (even if you're at the station of origin) doesn't mean you've missed it
- Mexican speed bumps are lethal
- Bring something warm when boarding an air conditioned bus: it will be too cold
- Don't forget to put sun tan lotion on your feet if you're wearing sandals
- Patience is a virtue
- Not everyone out there is trying to rip you off
- Just because a shower is hot when you get in, don't assume it will stay that way for the duration
- When in doubt, ask someone. And then ask someone else just to be sure
- It's not that they're tanned midgets, it's that I'm a skinny pale giant, so it's normal to be stared at
- Trust your instincts
- Better safe than sorry
- Starting in Mexico is definitely a gentle introduction to travelling Latin America – I haven't had to rough it yet
- Sunglasses are for tourists, the locals don't seem to be affected by the bright lights
- It is winter. Even though I'm too hot in my skimpy summer top, the locals are wearing jackets and sometimes gloves. This is cold weather (maybe 15 degrees at night and 25 in the afternoon)
- In Mexico, they like electric cables. I'm sure there are more than anywhere else. And they seem to put them just in the way of your pretty picture. But they're growing on me, I will soon start to take pictures of electric cables...

OK, that's it for now, but I'm sure I have forgotten loads.
Keep the comments coming!

Additional photos below
Photos: 18, Displayed: 18


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San Miguel de Allende

The crafts market

21st January 2011

hello, je te lis tous les matins en arrivant au boulot... ca me motive pour ka journee, on dira. ca a l'air tres joli. il faudra que tu me donnes des conseils a ton retour! enfin le week end.. je pars a Paris. MOins ensoleille que pour toi!! bises
11th March 2011

love the blog
so i just found your blog and i am reading all your entries. i plan to travel to Mexico and Central America but im a little worried because i am going alone. so reading your blog is motivating me, so thanks a lot!!
11th March 2011

Hi! I'm glad it's being helpful to someone! Go for it, you won't regret it. And going alone means you meet a lot more people so it has its advantages too. Happy travels!

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