Hobbling along with a sprained foot through the narrow streets of San Miguel de Allende in the mountainous heart of Mexico, I wish I were a goat. Cloven hooves would better manage the twisty-turny cobblestones that wreak havoc on high heels and taxicab tie rod ends. The streets wend over the actual old goat paths, so I hear, and the uncertain footing is iconic for San Miguel so much so that “the San Miguel shoe” has been designed specifically to survive the terrain. Beautiful saffron-colored walls and flower-filled terraces frame picturesque doors to colonial-era establishments that cater to international tourists and patrons of the arts.
The hotel window overlooks a courtyard lush with fruit-bearing citrus trees, flowering bougainvillea, a running fountain, and a nativity scene. Religious iconography and Frida Kahlo images abound, especially the tin art and the tiny boxes, called “niches,” that are sold in the squares, trinket shops, and market stalls.
Everything important occurs at the Jardin in the town center where the main church is located. Currently, it boasts a nativity scene, Christmas decorations, and a massive Christmas tree. Musicians play, sometimes in the open-air restaurants that line the sidewalks, sometimes around the square itself, and people of all ages dance.
The Parroquia churchyard has a small market with stalls of goods, where the nuns have a table of religious trinkets. The sisters also sell cups of a sweet coffee or caramel and milk-based drink that look very appealing. A nun offered me a tablespoon worth to taste, which I did – a mistake, because the drink has liquor in it. I it gulped down before I realized. Those nuns! Smiling and smiling at me. I asked if the sweet, rich concoction had liquor, and a nun made one of those charming baby-faced smiles and pinched her fingers together, “Poquita…” Poquita, my patootie.
On New Year’s Eve, a Latin pop band played on a stage, and fireworks dotted the night sky. But, then, there’s fireworks and dancing every night in the square. It’s quite a festive town.
The major highlights that make everyone’s to-do list:
1. Instituto Allende – The art school. There was a three-day art and craft festival. Lovely artisan crafts and artworks that I could not afford.
2. Fabrica Aurora – Former textile factory, now galleries and studios, beautiful artwork that I cannot afford. I learned what Alebrijes are from one of the gallery owners.
3. El Charco del Ingenio – Botanical garden, an entire botanical garden and nature preserve of cacti. Fascinating, I promise, even when not in bloom.
4. Sanctuary of Atontonilco – Like San Miguel itself, the Sanctuary of Atotonilco is a world heritage site. The church is called the Sistine Chapel of Mexico because it has a beautifully painted ceiling. The ceiling was recently restored.
5. Teatro Angela Peralta – We saw Flamenco troupe there. Amazing. I learned what a cajon is.
6. Juarez Parque – On Saturdays the artists line the walkways with their artwork. More art I cannot afford to buy.
7. San Miguel at Night
8. In the day. Yes, this is real.