Traveling to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
Me and My Travel Partner
Traveling to San Miguel de Allende was my first adventure since my trip to Havana, Cuba in 2017. That trip was at the height of my migraine pain, and I cut it short by a day because I was in so much agony.
I know I’ve been getting better and stronger in the last 6-12 months, so this trip to Mexico was a real test of just how much better I was. I went into it with hope and optimism, and I’m delighted with the results.
To be honest, I probably couldn’t have booked a more stressful trip than this one! Not only did it include about 15 hours of travel each way, but it happened to coincide with getting my period. Both of those things are a recipe for pain with me. While I didn’t intend to go when I had my period, my timeline for wanting to go overlapped with the possibility. In my 40’s, I’m never 100% sure, and I can’t account for every uncertainty.
Traveling to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico was pretty difficult as it involved a Lyft ride to TPA, followed by a flight to Mexico City, followed by a flight to Queretaro, followed by very slow (3-cylinder) Uber ride to San Miguel. It would’ve been stressful regardless since Paul and I were throwing ourselves into a new situation together, but add in PMS and stress, and it was a bit worse. Then we would be stuck together for 5 nights in a foreign country. What better way to test our relationship!
We definitely got cranky with each other on occasion, but we do that at home. Being around each other more meant it happened slightly more often, but overall we got along swimmingly. We were sensitive to each other’s sensitivities more often than not. We gave each other space: me to nap, him to wander. We forgave each other quickly and woke up fresh each day. That is one thing I love about our relationship: I feel like we’ve made a decision to love each other, and I’ve never quite felt that way with anyone before.
We had some sweet, funny moments on the trip:
- One night we ran into a couple, the male of whom had hired a mariachi band to serenade his girlfriend as he proposed to her. Accompanying the scene were two giant puppets in the form of a bride and groom. Paul grabbed me to slow dance to the band.
- On our last day in San Miguel, we made a live video together, and it was special because that is something Paul usually does alone.
- Paul is a hand-holder, and I love it because holding his hand feels like being loved. We walked around hand-in-hand most of the time (expect on the narrow sidewalks).
- I loved watching Paul discover things in San Miguel, a place with so many hidden nooks and crannies. I love how curious and inquisitive he is… a man after my own heart. Like me, he sees the beauty and wonder in the world as if through the eyes of a child.
- When I was feeling my worst, Paul comforted me, and it made all the difference in the world.
My Physical Experience
As far as my personal pain goes, what happened on this trip was nothing short of miraculous for me. While optimistic, I did think of what the worst case scenario would be (as I always do). My worst case scenario was being stuck at the house and making Paul go out and have fun without me, but nothing even close to that happened. Even during the first days of my period (which are the worst for pain), I walked around the city and did all the things I’d expected we’d do. I did feel a migraine forming on several occasions but was able to abort it using just strong black tea and hot showers. I brought migraine medication with me but didn’t use a single bit of it. Color me grateful.
Mostly the trip was tiring because of the constant activity and lack of good sleep. (I think the lack of sleep was related to hormones and adrenaline.) My stamina is not what it used to be, but it’s slowly coming back because Paul and I have such an active relationship. We both love to wander around, so we did a ton of walking. By the last day of this trip, I was longing for a bit more space (as was Paul), so I relaxed in the afternoon while he went out and did some exploring. When he got back, we curled up on the couch together in front of the fire and hung out for the last time in our beautiful rental.
While Paul brought his laptop on the trip, I decided at the last moment to leave mine at home because the whole point of this vacation was that I needed to put work aside. Besides, I had my tablet and phone, which allow me to do just about anything a client might need in a hurry. The choice turned out to be a good one, and it was one less thing to carry through airports and worry about while traveling to San Miguel de Allende.
I didn’t have many in-depth interactions with the locals, but everyone I dealt with was lovely. They were polite and accommodating of us visitors, and I was happy to be able to communicate quite effectively about most things using my intermediate Spanish skills. Reading was easier than listening, but I got us through quite a few transactions confidently. And Paul got to learn how to use Google Translate!
Despite Mexico’s reputation as being dangerous, San Miguel felt very safe and welcoming. We walked everywhere, even after dark. I didn’t get any icky feelings from anywhere we went. What I’ve learned from traveling is that most people everywhere are good and just want to live their lives in peace.
We did have a lovely conversation with a 20-something employee at La Azotea, a rooftop bar with a view of the Gothic cathedral in the center of the city. He was born in China, raised in California and is now living in San Miguel. His mother is Mexican, and his father was German. He speaks Mandarin, English and Spanish and has a Chinese passport (and is applying for a German one). He told us the story of his father’s recent passing, and it was so touching that Paul got up and gave him a hug. His father had cancer and knew his days were few, so he took his three sons to Hawaii. He went out surfing each day with them, and each day asked to paddle out by himself so he could roll and smoke a joint and sit alone. On the third day, he paddled out, started rolling the joint and took his last breaths. The lifeguards brought him in, and he was cremated there on the island. He lived the way he wanted until the end and died in complete peace. It is a privilege not everyone gets or takes. This young man’s father undoubtedly left him with much wisdom about life.
The core of San Miguel is a very old city. The roads are basically stone paths – sometimes with sidewalks of varying widths, sometimes without. The streets are generally narrow there, like Old Havana. There is, however, another more modern part of the town that is more car-centric and less walkable (just like Havana). In the middle of old San Miguel is a Gothic cathedral called La Parroquia, which means the parish church. It can be seen from far away and is beloved by the people of this area.
Also like Old Havana, the historic part of San Miguel is not very friendly for those with physical disabilities. Even for healthy people, there are obstacles that could twist your ankle or cause you to trip and fall. Like Old Havana, I tried not to walk and look at architecture at the same time. Perils abound!
Another similarity to Havana was the exhaust fumes. There are clearly no pollution control regulations for cars, and the fumes were, at times, overpowering. In general, many cars were old and in pretty bad shape. Given the conditions of the road, this didn’t surprise me. With all the rattling cars do on the rocky roads in the historic center of town, I imagine parts spontaneously fall off vehicles if not kept properly tightened. I’m so happy we decided not to rent a car as driving and parking would’ve been a complete nightmare. Walking everywhere turned out to be a lovely thing.
One of my favorite things about the historic center of San Miguel is the mystery, and you can’t see that in a car. The city is full of secret alleyways, restaurants, gardens and other living spaces. You never know what is behind a wall or a door in this part of town. Wherever I go in the world, I long to see secret spaces, and I was not disappointed in San Miguel. Paul and I marveled every time we came upon a glorious hidden universe that, from the outside, looked bland and inconspicuous.
The architecture in San Miguel is marvelous. Buildings are made with all the living space inside walls, giving the interior a cozy feeling – whether it’s a garden, courtyard, restaurant, retail store or hotel. Exterior walls are colorful, and plants peak over the edge of rooftop terraces. Street-facing walls are often shrouded in brilliant flowers, and there are countless old and interesting doors at which to marvel. This type of building style fills me with so much delight.
It was probably a corny, touristy thing to do, but I bought a headband made of dried flowers along the main historic square. They were just so pretty, and Paul took some truly memorable photos of me that day. I also happened to be wearing a nicer shirt than the t-shirts and fleece I wore the other days.
There were many retail shops with Mexican-inspired artwork, such as Day of the Dead skeleton artwork. I passed all that by for a beautiful pair of silver earrings that I imagine were locally made. I bought them at an outdoor market we hunted down on Saturday. The only other souvenir I bought was something I’d never seen before: a small net weighted down with tiny pottery pieces that is meant to drape over a drink to keep the insects off. I love practical items like this from other countries.
Another artsy treat was a visit to Fabrica La Aurora, a collection of old fabric mill warehouses that are now a maze of fancy art galleries. Not only is the complex itself a gorgeous ensemble of beautiful outdoor spaces, the art contained within is of superior quality and includes fascinating statues priced as high as $18,000. The space also contains retail stores with decor from Turkey and other places.
Our visit happened to coincide with la Corrida de la Insurgencia, an annual bullfighting event at the Plaza de Toros. Although I had written this event down before we left as something that would interest Paul, I had misgivings about attending a bullfight for obvious reasons. This video will show you a little about the event, which is basically a group of men torturing a cow. Just read the descriptions in this article to see how outdated and generally sadistic this tradition is.
Paul and I walked down to the arena about an hour before the event. I was prepared to go, but then I waffled a bit. There have been two times in our relationship that I have changed my mind about an event and then realized how important it was to Paul. Both times, I noticed what was happening and dragged him to the event despite his stubborn resolve to simply resent me later!
The bullfight was quite an experience. First, we stood for about an hour in a line that can only described as mass chaos. The computer was down that would show who had pre-purchased their tickets, so folks were having trouble picking them up. When I say the computer was down, I haven’t the slightest idea what “the computer” was as the ticket booth was smaller than a phone booth, on wheels, sitting on a steep incline and held in place by a small piece of stone. A single dial-up phone cord ran from the booth to some hidden phone jack in order to process credit cards. Since we hadn’t purchased tickets online, we were quickly able to purchase two of the cheapest tickets available once it was our turn in line. We ended up sitting directly behind the orchestra, which I thought was nice. The seats were concrete and most people in attendance appeared to be locals.
I admit that I sat in tears as they continued to stab and taunt the bull as blood ran down its side. For the unaware, a bullfight consists of regularly stabbing a bull with various things, which simultaneously makes it very mad and very weak. We sat through one entire bullfight and, including the pomp and circumstance to start the night, were there about an hour. At the end of a bullfight, the bull has usually been stabbed to death (more efficiently at the end) and is dragged out of the arena by a pair of horses. Knowing what gentle creatures cows can be, it all seemed petty and barbaric.
A highlight of this trip was the food. I had no idea what to expect, but we had some amazing meals of all types. The prices were excellent, even at the fancier restaurants (and especially since Paul and I often split the main course).
Even though we were in an “out of the way” neighborhood, there was a ridiculously good cafe just around the corner from us: Café Muro. You would not expect this cafe to be in this neighborhood, but there it was. We ate there twice, and both times I ordered the Norteño off the “Mexican Breakfast” part of the menu. It was flank steak with pico de gallo and guacamole – incredibly savory and delicious. The nice touches (juice, coffee, tea, and bread included with all meals) and staff at this restaurant were delightful.
Zibu at Live Aqua
One night we ate dinner at the Zibu restaurant at Live Aqua Urban Resort, which was just down the street from our rental. This property was pretty incredible – opulent, artistic, and classy. We passed by it every day to walk down into town. At the restaurant, we ordered some appetizers: a salad, fresh rolls and chilled jicama/dill/cucumber soup. Even the appetizers were phenomenal. Paul said he’s never before felt like crying tears of joy over a salad. The soup was incredible beyond words. We split a plate of sea bass encrusted with escargot as we sat outside on a surface made of uneven planks and were served by people in fancy uniforms. An unforgettable eating experience.
We were recommended by a friend to a rooftop bar (La Azotea, mentioned above) at which we ate their famous jicama tacos. (Apparently jicama is a big thing there.) I didn’t know what to expect, but these tacos were otherworldly. The shell of the taco was actually a thin slice of jicama, and the inside was shrimp and crispy fried leeks. The flavor was incredible and can barely be described. If you are traveling to San Miguel de Allende, I highly recommend trying this local delicacy.
Geek & Coffee
A less fancy meal was lunch at Geek & Coffee, a cafe near Fábrica la Aurora. I got bean “gorditas” filled with cucumber pico de gallo, lettuce, fresh cheese and vinaigrette. The “bread” of the sandwich was a crisp corn shell. So filling and delicious.
We honestly didn’t have a bad meal while we were in San Miguel.
Paul and I got along great. I didn’t get any migraines. San Miguel was gorgeous. The people were lovely. And the food was great! I highly recommend checking out this enchanting city in central Mexico.