Subject: Mexico 2004 Travelogue X

This travelogue is about San Miguel De Allende considered by ARRP as the # 1 spot to retire or at least that is what we were told. By most this town and Guanajauto are considered the best colonial towns to visit in Mexico and by most to live.

Today we had a walking tour of San Miguel De Allende. We took the public bus down and it cost 3 peso's each. A fellow on the bus who lives here from the US we telling us that he and his wife took a sail boat charter out of northern Belize in the area we had been and was kidnapped for three days on a deserted island while they got travelers checks signed over, money and their gear. He said he did not have much with them other than their scuba gear. They were all released unharmed but it was a tense 3 days. He is a corporate lawyer and did not like the "rat race" so he moved down here a bought a hotel and is making good money. He said there is money to be made here. The key point her to me is not the Belize is dangerous but rather that pirate activity along central America is a real problem.

We all met at the Zocolo and at 9:30 am we had a guide who was from San Antonio, TX and is an American but married and has children and works for a tourism company here. He was very interesting He said Mexico has great potential as there is huge wealth here but things move so slowly and it is so frustrating. He used to think it was because of the US but now he says he absolutely knows it is not but rather the rich and powerful in Mexico want things to stay the way it is. He said President Fox has found out how hard it is to change things and can't wait to get out. San Miguel was founded in 1542 and is one of the most representative colonial towns with Guanajuato probably being the most. He said 1/3 of the worlds silver was mined here during the colonial times. He said there are about 110 million people in Mexico and only about 40 million have checking accounts and the rest are cash and carry. In San Miguel there are about 5000 Canadians, 5000 Europeans and 7000 Americans and another 7000 come and go from the US. You can still rent places quite reasonable here but it is very expensive to buy. He said progress is so slow because of cheap labor. He said for example to issue 10,000 license plates it is all done by hand where it could be computerized but it would put a lot of people out of work so they leave it the way it is.

The AARP rates San Miguel as the #1 place to live. The climate is ideal in the 70's most of the year. The two hot months are April and May in the 80's and then for the rest of the summer it rains at night and keeps things cool. It is a little over 6000 feet elevation and the nice thing is we don't see the pollution like we do elsewhere. There is a big lake near by but it does have a lot of pollution but they are working on cleaning it up. The new young mayor is trying to change some things and get the public business on the outside of the city and close the central area to cars to cut down on the traffic. There would be the taxi's and buses and I suppose some trucks. San Miguel is considered the cradle of the Mexican revolution where the revolutionary planning took place. We seen the building where they met.

He said during the Spanish rule that the Catholic Church had exclusive control of Mercury which was needed for refining the Silver and Gold so that gave them a lot of control and wealth and was how all the churches were built. In 1926 the Mexican government took a lot of property away from the church and the fall out between the government and Rome lasted until just recently in the 90's after the uprising in Chiapas when diplomatic relations were again made with the Vatican and only in recent years has the Pope visited Mexico. There are still a lot of hard feeling over this and there will be for a long time to come.

He said it was amazing how fast the Spaniards moved across Mexico from Veracruz to the west coast in the 1500's. Some of it was that they got help from the local people who seen the white people and according to legend they were arriving Gods to some people. The towns were established about a long days walking distance apart. The Spanish born here were looked down on by those born in Spain. Today he said that if you study the names of those in power you will see they are from the aristocratic families tracing back to Spain and not the common people He said for a long time about 4500 of these families controlled the wealth of Mexico and it is still true today that it is a relatively small number that control the wealth and as I said earlier he is positive why things change so slowly in Mexico. It also helps to understand why there is a good deal of left wing activity in Mexico directed at the common people. We see some of this activity as we travel and it was very likely at the roots of the uprising and war in Chiapas where a number were killed in I believe it is 1995.

Our impression is that the Americans down here lead a very relaxed life and like to get involved in the arts, do a lot of reading. There is a lot of cultural activity here with classes, the artists and language schools, etc. He said the big thing about Mexico is the family. It is key and that it is a close knit relationship and involves the extended family and is the most important thing to them.

Those that live here I gather can speak excellent Spanish where in Lake Chapala the big ex-patriot community we visited in 2001 I felt many of them could not. Another reason I think this is true is that most of the market place and stores the people speak little English. Another thing I am learning about Mexico is that things can look run down on the outside but inside the walls and gates is often a nice court yard with lots of plants and trees and artwork and the living quarters are very nice, well decorated and comfortable. Many are not real large but definitely a whole lot nicer than you would ever dream looking at the outside. The building and streets in San Miguel De Allende are of course all very old and you can see there is a lot of wear and things don't look all that great and the streets are cobblestone like they always have been. I will say I can see why a lot of people have moved here permanently or spend the winters here. Prices at the market and many restaurants are reasonable and also hotels but there are also expensive places. I seen an ad on a bulletin board for what looked like a decent place for $300 a month rent so you could live here for the winter quite cheaply and have a relaxing time and if you want to get involved in things you could find plenty to do. It has a small town atmosphere and you could soon get to know a lot of people. Another option would be to stay in the RV park here. The one downside is that the closest big stores like Wal-Mart, etc are a fair distance away. I believe about 50 miles.

BTW there is a nice trolley tour each day at 9 am in English which goes a lot farther than the walking tour and you see some nice things and get to the look out. We did both and I highly recommend them both. Also each Sunday at 11 am from the library there is a tour of some homes in the area where you can see the interior. Things look old as they should be from the outside but inside the courtyards, rooms porches, flowers, bushes, trees, fountains, statues, etc. are very nice.