Journey Home: San Miguel de Allende

After our long stay in Oaxaca, we made our way to San Miguel de Allende on Sunday, September 4th. It was another big drive, but we left early and had plenty of time to make the trip. That was the part we got right.

This is a good time to remind anyone traveling the toll roads through Mexico that you want to carry plenty of cash.

About six hours into our eight hour drive, we stopped for gas and got a couple cups of coffee. We paid cash for the coffee. This would turn out to be an unfortunate error.

A little further down the road, we arrived at a toll both where they asked for 315 pesos (about $16.50). We were short on pesos and they didn’t accept credit cards or dollars, so we had to back out of the toll booth through the oncoming traffic, pull off to the side of the road, and climb up to the office area to get this sorted out.

After lots of waiting and a bit of confusion due to my imperfect understanding of Spanish, I learned that the solution was for me to hop in the employee shuttle that would take me to a bank in Jilotepec where I could withdraw cash, then take the shuttle back to the toll plaza. Emily and I were not thrilled about being separated with no means of contacting each other (we have one SIM card and it’s usually in my phone), but given that we had no other option, I took the shuttle. About 90 minutes after we arrived, we were on our way with *plenty* of cash on hand.

Even with our delay, we arrived in San Miguel de Allende well before dark and got moved in to our lovely apartment. The next day was Labor Day (thanks, unions), so Emily and I had the chance to do a little city exploration. We started off by walking the dogs to wear them out, then went back out for a trolley tour of the city. That helped us get our bearings, to a certain extent, and we spotted some places we’d end up visiting later in the week.

 

On our last day in the city, we went to the artisans’ market. It’s subsidized by the city, so the vendors are able to keep their prices low. It’s a huge market, about four blocks  lined on either side with stalls full of lots of great crafts. We picked up a sweet mirror with a metal and talavera tile frame (photo soon!).

We stopped in at a free concert by a string quartet at Bellas Artes, an art space in the courtyard behind the Templo de la Purísima Conceptión. Formerly a convent, the building was later named for Ignacio Ramírez (aka El Nigromante), a famous writer, lawyer, and atheist and repurposed as an art and cultural center. It was a great place to hear a concert and you can watch a clip below.

San Miguel de Allende is a pretty magical city and we had a great stay. Next stop, Guanajuato!

Journey Home: Two Weeks in Oaxaca

That’s right — two weeks in Oaxaca! It was awesome.

We drove from San Cristóbal to Oaxaca on Sunday, August 21st. As we drove toward Tuxtla Gutiérrez, the capital of Chiapas, we passed through toll booths that were abandoned by the government and taken over by groups of people. It wasn’t clear where our money was going, but we paid and continued along our way. We passed through the capital just in time — a couple days later we saw on the news that protesters were blocking the roads.

We stayed at a centrally located apartment with a nice patio area for the dogs to run around. It was a great spot that allowed easy access to restaurants, the Zócalo, and various markets in the city.

Emily remembered the Zócalo being a wide open area from her previous trip to Oaxaca eight years ago. This was not the case this time, due to the ongoing protests by one of the teachers’ unions in reaction to President Peña Nieto’s education reforms. Protesters had set up camps in the Zócalo and along many of the surrounding streets. Apparently the camps have been cleared for the upcoming Mexican independence celebrations. You can read a bit about the background of the situation in this article.

The food scene in Oaxaca is ridiculous. There is delicious food everywhere, from carts on the street to fancy-time restaurants. Impressive for its number of ingredients, mole is one of the local foods we learned to make during our cooking class at Casa Crespo. The chef teaching the class, Oscar Carrizosa, did a great job of explaining what was going on and giving each one of the six people in our class the opportunity to participate in the process. Luckily for us, we should be able to find most, if not all, of the ingredients back home in Austin.

During our second week, I took a Spanish class at Oaxaca Spanish Magic. In spite of their advertising group classes, I ended up with a one-on-one course at a very reasonable price. My teacher, Lili, was fantastic. She taught me a lot, helped me identify the holes in my Spanish knowledge (hello, subjunctive), and gave me a great list of topics to study and work on with a future teacher at the end of the week of classes.

On our last day in Oaxaca, we took a tour of the Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzmán. The building was originally a church and monastery for the Dominicans who worked tirelessly to convert the native peoples to their brand of Christianity. You can read more about the construction on Wikipedia, but the main points are that it was an active church and monastery until the mid-1800s, after which it was occupied by the military and used as a base. The military made a mess of things, destroying lots of the original art before moving out in the early 20th century. The church and monastery were restored starting in 1993, and the monastery now serves as a museum.

 

We spent last week in San Miguel de Allende — more on that soon — and are currently spending our last week on the road (!) in Guanajuato. It’s hard to believe how close we are to home.