Living It Up in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, a UNESCO World Heritage Site

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I was rushed and excited to finally be en route to San Miguel.  If I hadn’t ordered that last quesadilla from the street vendor I wouldn’t have had to run for the bus!  I had planned to head directly to San Miguel when I arrived in Mexico City, but instead decided to take a side trip to Teotihuacan – ‘the place where men become Gods’.

After a few days of strolling around the pyramids and exploring nearby San Martin, San Juan and Otumba, I continued on my quest to find a ‘real Mexican’ retirement community.   I planned to explore Guanajuato, Colima, Jalisco and Michoacan states before deciding on the location of my perfect retirement haven.

During the three hour bus ride, I shared my seat with Connie from Newport, Oregon.  Connie had just had a face lift and was on her way to relax and heal in a secluded B&B in San Miguel.  I had never thought of having a face lift but kept a note of it for future reference.

I pondered on the reasons large numbers of Canadian artists, actors, poets and authors pack up their belongings and retreat to San Miguel year after year, and speculated that I would also be enchanted by the picturesque artist’s colony, tucked high in the Sierra Madre mountain range, for similar reasons.  Resources, amenities, economy and, most importantly, climate!  Would San Miguel be an ideal retirement community in tune with my housing budget and lifestyle choices – ‘my’ place in the sun?

Time and time again we came to a screeching stop to let passengers off at remote places not even marked by a bus stop.  Animated, high-pitched chatter competed with loud music vibrating out of crackly speakers.  The laughter of the small child sitting on his mother’s knee in the seat ahead of me was music to my ears.

The March, 1990, issue of City & Country Home featured the editorial:  “A Canadian Art Colony in Mexico” by Penelope Hynam.  At home in Canada, I read and re-read the articles about Canadian artists Leonard and Reva Brooks, Marie Trott, Gary and Annemarie Slipper, Helmut Gransow and Marion Perlet and was awed by their magnificent, over-sized Colonial style homes.  I was especially attracted to Marion Perlet’s simple Mexican-style home with rustic, minimalist decor and a breezy open-air, rooftop studio – an artist’s paradise!

After waking up before sunrise to the resounding echo of very loud fireworks announcing San Miguel’s never-ending fiestas and cultural events, taking photo after photo of the fabulous Colonial architecture, visiting gallery after gallery, eating regional specialities purchased from smiling food vendors, dining in high-end establishments and mingling with a diverse assortment of artists, artisans, folklorists, sculpturists, jewelers, writers, poets and dancers, all under the umbrella of the whimsical, pink wedding-cake towers of the Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel, I came to the realization that San Miguel is all I expected, and more!

San Miguel, the City of Eternal Spring, is a truly magical place.  Most of the friendly locals speak English or ‘Spanglish’.  If you’re interested in health and wellness, San Miguel has first-rate yoga instructors, a multitude of healing spas and several thermal mineral water baths are located just outside town.

The thriving arts community is very involved in local causes.  San Miguel is traditionally known for Talavera ceramics, blown glass, papier mache, wrought iron and tin work, silver and leather.  The silver mines and tanneries are almost all closed now, but still carry an important part of Guanajuato’s history through to the present day.

Nearby Leon, internationally-famed for high-quality leather goods, is quipped ‘the shoe capital of the world’.  Guanajuato City is the home of the novel ‘Mummy Museum’, as well as the birthplace of iconic Mexican artist Diego Rivera.  It’s also interesting to note that the Guanajuato, Dolores Hidalgo and San Miguel trio are historically significant to Mexican nationals as the birthplace of Mexico’s independence from Spain.  .

My sense of curiosity and adventure helped me gain an understanding of Mexico’s subtle cultural differences and eventually led me full-circle back to where I started.  San Miguel is as multi-faceted as the legendary steep, winding cobblestone streets lined with ever blooming bougainvillea, majestic purple jacarandas and multi-level, colorful homes are captivating and alluring.   But – Quidado – take care!  If you hear music coming out of a doorway, and peek in, you might be invited to step into a Tango 8-Count class.

Heather Hess, a freelance copywriter, photographer and videographer, has lived and traveled throughout many places in Jalisco, Michoacan, Guanajuato and Mexico, D.F. for the past 20+ years.  Heather is presently writing her first book about her fascinating Méxican experiences!  Visit Heather’s website at www.cangomexico.com