We've been in San Miguel for almost two months now and I've been trying to come up with a way to describe the town and what it's like to live here as an expat. We've settled into a daily routine that is relatively unexciting - Monet goes for a morning walk (in which we hope she is not accosted by another dog), we find a coffee shop to work from, spend the day as we would in the US - answering emails and having client meetings, finish the afternoon with (ideally) some form of exercise, find a spot for dinner and some form of entertainment that may or may not include bingo and karaoke, then end up watching the Daily Show reruns in bed around 10pm.
But what about the town? What is it like to live here? Just as I was about to write a story about how I can't stop taking pictures (like this one) from every run I go on, and every rooftop terazza that we find, and then...then I looked out the window of La Mesa Grande coffee shop where I'm working for the day and saw a 70 year old white lady gunning down the street on a camo-green four wheeler wearing a colorful printed tunic and nothing else and almost colliding with an ice truck. So there you go, that's SMA.
What is it like eating in SMA? I can answer this one! We do this a lot. It is super easy to find vegetarian food in SMA. Seriously. And not just at the fancy tourist restaurants. It should be no surprise that the best food in Mexico is the Mexican food. Yes, there are some really stellar international spots (I had the best pad thai of my life the other night at the Orchid Thai restaurant), but Spencer says it all of the time and it's true - the street food here is where it's at. Gorditas, tacos, enchiladas, chile rellenos, tamales...everyone cooks with nopal (cactus), beans, rice, cheese, and other veggies. You don't even have to ask for substitutions! Eating here is delightful. We're always on the lookout for new spots to check out. There are so many different restaurants in San Miguel, we'll be lucky to hit even 1/3 of them in our time here.
So eating a lot means exercising a lot, right? Yes. Ideally. Not always. Spencer rides a bunch, he can elaborate on the trail systems in SMA at a later time. My sport of choice is running and that can be a bit tricky here. The streets are made of very crude coblestones and rocks, which means running fast is not possible. Not that I ever ran fast...but I'm about a minute slower per mile here than I was before. Running in the streets isn't pleasant - the streets are super narrow and busy with cars, plus it would be very easy to roll an ankle. But there are fantastic running trails up at the Botanical Gardens. That's about a 10 minute run (uphill) from our house and it is really beautiful.
We also constantly walk around town to explore. There are a lot of rooftop gardens and trees in this town, but you'll very rarely see grass. I think that Monet misses rolling around, but there are a lot of interesting and exciting new smells here, so she is definitely stimulated every time she goes for a walk.
See? Doesn't Monet look stimulated? Really though, as I mentioned above, walking Monet can be a little bit stressful at times. There are a lot of dogs walking around on the streets, and some of them are territorial and will let her know it. In the US, I would always assume that every single dog I saw was friendly. Here, unfortunately, I need to assume the opposite. From what I've observed, a lot of people here are not incredibly nice to their pets. It sucks. Really. I don't want to go too far into it, but dogs are not always loved here. They are oftentimes around for guard duty and not much else. Monet has made a few friends, and dodged a few close encounters with dogs from the wrong side of the tracks.
Have we met anyone or do we just hang out by ourselves telling each other how much we are loving life and debating about what Monet is thinking about exactly right this moment? Yes and yes. We've met several folks who are pretty awesome. We've found our spot with Friday night karaoke, and (ugh) Monday night bingo. I won't mention that I'm a bit concerned about how much Spencer loves bingo. I'm not going to bring up the fact that he starts talking about how we shouldn't be late and how we need to get our lucky table like four hours in advance. I've got my favorite amigo who owns the shop on our corner. Every time I pass his door he'll smile wave me in and give me a piece of homemade flan. For my birthday he made me a chocolate flan cake! Spencer and I do spend a good amount of time with one another too. And we still totally like each other! Maybe even more than before.
So what else? What is the town like and who lives here? There is art all over the place. A lot of times I pass by without noticing. Not only are there almost as many art tallers (shops) as there are restaurants, but it's displayed in almost every cafe, and on many of the streets. There is La Aurora (which I've described before) that hosts many designers studios, where you can walk in and out of show rooms and purchase artwork. People come here to make, sell, and buy art. And there is a great variety of it.
The population here is kind of mixed. There are a ton of older expats from mostly the US and Canada. We've met a lot of people who have lived here for over 20 years. We meet other people who are just passing through to check out the town and see if they want to move here. I'm not sure how people find out about this spot, but it really does have a large presence of non-native folks who have migrated here over the years. There are also a lot of second homes belonging to people from Mexico City. There's a lot of wealth in this town, and it seems to double in population on the weekends. That's why we try to plan excursions on Sundays. So the real question is - how does everyone interact with one another? Is it dangerous or violent here? Is there an obvious division in wealth or class? Maybe. I don't know. Yes and no. Think about going to Estes Park on the weekends. People who live there are both annoyed with the traffic and psyched to make a living off selling salt water taffy to tourists.
San Miguel is pretty. And it's loud. People in the square will start dancing when the mariachi band is playing. Random strangers dancing with each other. Mariachi bands line up along the square, each player chatting with the new players who arrive. Tequila burros are walking around followed by massive wedding parties in really massive dresses. There are festivals all of the time. There is music. There is action. We'll be sitting in the central square and Alex will ride by on his mountain bike. We'll meet later for a beer at a bar with swinging doors where they play Pink Floyd from the juke box. We'll talk about travel, people, what's going on in town, and how Corona is bad for you but Dos Equis is healthy. It's life. It's everywhere.
I love Halloween. For the last 10 years I've dedicated the month of October to costume design and production. It's just so much fun to see what everyone comes up with - and in Boulder, people really know how to celebrate the holiday. So I've been curious - will the sister holiday in Mexico, Dia de Muertos, help ease the pain of missing Halloween with my friends this year?
I learned quickly that DDMuertos is a different holiday than our celebration of Halloween - it's a holiday to honor and remember the departed ancestors. Families will do this by building these alters for their deceased family members. Typically, the alter is placed in the front of the courtyard, where people can view it when the doors of the house are open, but there are very few public alters.
On the alter are pictures of the departed ancestors with beautifully elaborate decorations made of colorful streamers and paper, sometimes there are candles, sometimes (often) there are offerings of these little sugar candies (that I've mentioned before in a previous entry). People in San Miguel have been putting together these alters for the last week (from what I've seen). There is a little tent city near the Mercado San Ignacio where all of the vendors are selling sugar candy for people to leave out for the departed.
In San Miguel, Dia de Muertos kicked off with a massive parade on Friday night, Saturday night was the night for kids to walk around and trick-or-treat. People do dress up here, but everyone has a variation of the same costume - a painted skeleton face (like you can see in the video) and a suit (for the boys/men) or colorful wedding dress (the women). There are very few Elsa characters or Spidermen running around. Then Sunday/Monday (the 1st and 2nd - the two official days of the holiday) are the two days when families gather at the cemetery to clean off the graves of their ancestors, and leave flowers and candy and other offerings.
Today we walked to the cemetery to view the decorated graves. We both did a bit of research to make sure that this would not be considered disrespectful. The street that leads to the cemetery was lined with stalls of vendors selling flowers, food, candy, and candles. Everyone seemed to purchase marigolds above all other flowers for this holiday. When we got to the cemetery there were lines of people holding brooms, candy, lawn chairs, cameras, candles, the works. There was a band playing joyful music. Families gathered around grave sites to clean off the weeds, water the grass, and put down bouquets of flowers. But the tone wasn't sad. It was celebratory. Which was so dang cool. Why not pull up a lawn chair, enjoy some music, and hang out with your whole family while remembering the deceased?
One thing that surprised me at the cemetery was the separate section where all of the expats where buried. I don't know why it didn't occur to me that a town that hosts 10% foreign residents would have some people buried in the cemetery in SMA. I guess I would have assumed that they wouldn't have their own space, that they'd be mixed in with everyone else. We walked through this area and it was quiet, shady, peaceful. There were no loud colors or music. There were no elaborate alters. No one was celebrating.
On our way out we had to take a picture of this alter - it was the most elaborate one! The family started laughing at us for stopping, but this needed documentation. It was too pretty to pass up without stopping for a minute to admire the handiwork and effort that went into all of the decoration.
I asked Spencer what he would put on my alter and he said "an ice cream cone, a picture of Phoenix, and a gift certificate to Zara." He really gets me...