Sunday, June 22, 2014

Where in the World is San Miguel de Allende?

By Mahlia Lindquist

Zoe and I left  Boulder, a city many people fantasize about moving to, to spend a year in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, a country many  Americans are convinced everyone wants to leave.  I suppose that's why our trip to Mexico inspired more curiosity than envy in many of our friends, who would have been more impressed if we were spending a year in Paris. One acquaintance was  incredulous that we would willingly go to Mexico for an extended stay, and asked if I was being deported. Others were more polite, though their questions betrayed skepticism:
Mexico? Umm, wow, that's interesting... San Miguel de Allende -- is that near Cancun? No? How about Acapulco? No? Hmmm.   How close is where you're going to where all those people were murdered by the drug cartel? 
Whenever asked questions related to San Miguel's location, I would roll my eyes in an exasperated fashion, as if to suggest,  "don't you know anything?"  But, the truth was, I knew almost nothing about San Miguel or its whereabouts until well after we arrived there. 

My excuse is that the decision to go to San Miguel was  last minute. The original plan was to live in the cloud forest of Monteverde, Costa Rica.  The problem, as I found out during a reconnaissance trip to Monteverde, is that cloud forests are, well,  cloudy. Monteverde is also muddy,  rainy, windy and isolated. I wanted Zoe to have an experience she would never forget. I know my daughter, and  if I took her to Monteverde it would be like other family trips,  an experience she would rather forget.

A friend suggested San Miguel de Allende and within two days I booked a ticket. Between the times when I first heard of San Miguel and when we arrived there a few weeks later, I busied myself doing many things, none of which included researching the area where my teenaged daughter and I would be living.  I was so ill-prepared that I didn't even know San Miguel is part of the state of Guanajuato, which was like planning to live in Miami never having heard of Florida. 

Ignorance being bliss, I blissfully assumed I knew everything I needed to know about Mexico. After all I had vacationed in  Playa del Carmen,  Tulum, and near Puerta Vallerta. And, let's not forget the spring break trip to Cancun in the eighties.  I had never been to Mexico's interior, and pictured  the 1500+ miles between the coasts as  something out of a western movie, a series of sad and lonely abandoned towns overgrown with cactus and tumbleweed -- Mexico City and its 21 million souls notwithstanding.  Before arriving there, I knew that San Miguel was not on the beach, but I assumed that it must be near the beach. Wrong.

Like a criminal obliged to lecture school groups on the dangers of being an uninformed moron, I now sing the praises of San Miguel de Allende's  rich history, art, food, beauty, people and unmitigated awesomeness to anyone who will listen.  So hear this....

San Miguel de Allende, is in the mountains. It is not near the beach. It is  in central Mexico, and a 3.5 hours drive north of Mexico City. The altitude in San Miguel is over 6k feet, which means that the temperature  is sometimes less than balmy. However, because Mexico is near the equator, kids in San Miguel will never know the pleasure of a snow day. However, they do know the pleasure of almost constant perfect weather, blue skies, cool nights, warm days and a total lack of humidity. Without the threat of hurricanes, tornados or other natural calamities,  with bright flowers that are constantly in bloom and hummingbirds and butterflies fluttering about, the place feels like the Garden of Eden – unless of course your idea of Eden includes the ocean.

In the process of learning that there is more to Mexico than the sum of its beaches, I’ve come across all sorts of fun facts. My favorite tidbit it that  San Miguel de Allende is where Mexico’s War of Independence was born. What happened here was the equivalent to  Paul Revere’s ride for us, but instead of ending up with “the British are Coming!” the Mexicans wound up with the far catchier, festive and more practical...

 “Viva Mexico!”


  1. Do you think they have tequila in the Garden of Eden??? Love your posts!!!???? Still haven't figured out how to subscribe....I can't figure out how to comment confusing. I'm going with anonymous for now....

    1. There's definitely tequila in the Garden o Eden -- and heaven and hell.

  2. The heaven and hell of tequila - ooh and you didn't write about salsa dancing, parades, trips to outlaying areas, gringos, Zoe's school, learning Spanish, nor market finds, among a zillion other topics. Do say more!