GratiTuesday: Sharing the Joy

One of the many things my husband and I love about Mexico are the public celebrations. Religious celebrations, wedding celebrations, birthday celebrations, and who-the-heck-knows-why celebrations are often at least partially held where onlookers are welcome to share in the festivities.

Every weekend during our stay in San Miguel de Allende, a wedding (or three, or four) was held in the stunning Parroquia church. Once the wedding mass was over, the bridal party and guests would spill out into the courtyard and onto the street in front of the church. A fancy car or horse and carriage would often be waiting to take the newlyweds to their reception, but not before the invited guests – and anyone in the area at the time – were swept up in the joyful celebration.

The bride and groom waving goodbye before leaving for their reception.

On our way to dinner one evening, we stopped to watch an expat’s 70th birthday celebration. Along with her and her partner’s guests, lucky onlookers enjoyed the revelry, which included a mariachi band, dancing in the street, and the antics of the giant mojigangas (pronounced mo-he-gan-gas) that were decorated to look a bit like the couple.

Betty, celebrating her 70th birthday.
Dancing in the street with the giant mojigangas to the music of the mariachi band.

One event that is unique to San Miguel is Dia de Los Locos (day of the crazies), which is an annual celebration that takes place in June. Los Locos has deep religious roots but much of the festivities appear to be completely secular. Although the day begins with a mass at the San Antonio church (which was just a few blocks from our housesit), once the participants head out to the streets where the crowds are waiting, all vestiges of religion fall away.

As the flamboyant procession moves along the main avenue, onlookers are treated to wild (and often delightfully politically incorrect) costumes, loud music, dancing, and hard candy projectiles being tossed their way. Over 10,000 participants join in the parade costumed as cartoon characters, politicians, clowns (both friendly and scary), and fantasy figures, while an even larger crowd watches from the sidewalks that line the route.

Celebrations and festivals are an integral part of Mexican life. In San Miguel, barely a day goes by that does not commemorate a patron saint, a beloved chapel, or a revolutionary hero. And then, of course, are the personal celebrations like weddings, anniversaries, or birthdays. We were very grateful to not only be there when many of these celebrations occurred, but also grateful to be able to join in and share the joy.

Thursday Doors: Carved Doors

I was not at all surprised to find a plethora of door pictures among the hundreds of images I took when visiting San Miguel de Allende. After all, spending seven weeks exploring a colonial Mexican town known for its beauty, history, and culture of art (both old and new), is bound to keep my camera busy.

After going through my images and picking the ones that I thought were most interesting, I still had way too many to share in a single post. To avoid door-overload (is that even possible?), I have put them into groups (carved, rounded, weathered, opened, decorated, and not doors), each of which will be shared over the coming weeks.

My carved door group has the greatest number of images. Some of the doors were very old (and most likely restored) and some were of more recent vintage. All were works of art.

Casa del Mayorazgo de la Canal is one of the most spectacular examples of 17th-century civil architecture in the region. The inner courtyard of this magnificent mansion now displays high-quality shows by important Mexican artists and is open to the public.
Who wouldn’t want to come home to this?
I loved the intricate carving and the beautiful blue-green wash.
These doors need some care but they are still beautiful
So many of the doors of private homes made me want to see inside.
I’m pretty sure this was a garage door… a bit nicer than the one on my house.
These were some of the happiest doors we saw.
These beautifully carved doors were just off the main square and provided a backdrop for lots of selfies.

Don’t forget to head on over to Norm’s blog to view his collection of doors, then click on the blue frog at the end of his post to see what others have shared.

GratiTuesday: Walkable San Miguel de Allende

Tell someone that you are going to Mexico and often the first things they’ll picture are beautiful sandy beaches, warm ocean water, and sipping margaritas in a cantina. While I have nothing against any of these pursuits – and have happily done all three on past trips – that “Mexican experience” never felt very authentic to me.

Our five-week trip to the city of Oaxaca last year was the first time we visited an area of the country that wasn’t next to a large body of water… and we loved it. After that experience, we were anxious to explore other parts of Mexico’s interior, and San Miguel de Allende was high on our list of possibilities.

San Miguel de Allende is a small colonial town located in Mexico’s semi-arid central highlands. It is known for its charming atmosphere, historical architecture, vibrant culture, and artsy expatriate community. The region is also known as the cradle of the Mexican independence movement and San Miguel was the birthplace of many of its heroes, including the city’s namesake, Ignacio Allende.

According to local history, the self-taught draftsman who designed the facade based his design on a postcard depicting a French Gothic cathedral.

The most famous landmark in San Miguel is La Parroquia (which simply means parish church), a neo-gothic church whose pink sandstone facade, towering spires, and pointed arches preside over the lively town square.

One benefit of slow travel (staying in one place for an extended period) is being able to explore with a relaxed schedule. Many mornings, we just picked a direction and walked. We could hardly turn a corner without finding an interesting scene: a beautiful old church, an intriguingly narrow walkway, richly painted facades, or a street vendor selling everything from colorful trinkets and toys to straw hats and flowered hair pieces.

I bought a hat from him on the condition that I could take his picture.
Women in traditional dress sell their wares to tourists.
Templo de la Inmaculada Concepcion
A horse-drawn carriage transporting newlyweds to their reception.
Dos amigos enjoying a rest.
The Bellas Artes courtyard is the perfect spot to relax and cool off. 

It was hard not to be constantly looking around as we walked San Miguel’s streets, but it was also important to be aware of where we were stepping… the narrow sidewalks and cobblestone streets made turning an ankle or tripping a very real possibility.

It was important to watch where we were walking.

Much of what there is to do, see, eat, and experience in San Miguel can be accessed by foot. For anything outside of walking range, there are plenty of options such as the ubiquitous green taxis, Uber, and hired drivers. We enjoyed being car-free for the seven weeks we were there and, although I didn’t bring my Fitbit, I am confident that I easily met my daily goal of 10,000 steps… and then some.

We learned the importance of taking it slow and staying hydrated.
More stairs!
The evening’s golden hour paints a picture with light.
You can see the spires of the Parroquia peeking out from behind the dome.
An early morning balloon flight.
The Parroquia could be seen from all over the city.

My husband and I love to walk, and I am very grateful that we are fit enough to navigate the sometimes hilly terrain. San Miguel is a city best enjoyed by foot.

Housesitting and the Importance of Saying Yes

It all started with an invitation… and we weren’t even the ones being invited. My brother and sister-in-law had dinner with friends who suggested they visit San Miguel de Allende, a colonial town in the center of Mexico. These friends manage vacation rental property in San Miguel and they thought B & SIL would enjoy the beautiful city.

Convinced, B & SIL decided to book a 2-week stay beginning July 1 and asked if we’d like to join them. We, of course, said “yes!”

San Miguel de Allende

Then, at my book club meeting, I happened to mention our upcoming trip. One of the members said that she knew someone who lived in San Miguel and when her friend traveled, she often needed a house- and pet-sitter. Would I like to be connected? Ummm… “yes!”

After exchanging a few emails, this friend asked if we’d like to stay in her home the month of June while she was housesitting for someone else in another part of Mexico. Even though we weren’t planning on going to San Miguel until July 1, the opportunity seemed too good to pass up, so we said “yes!”

Once we committed to a 7-week stay in San Miguel – 4 weeks housesitting and 3 weeks in an Airbnb – we contacted good friends of ours who often housesit for us while we are away. Their enthusiastic “yes!” assured us that our house would be well cared for… while we were caring for another person’s house and cat… while that person cared for the house and the dog of another.

Our home away from home.

I follow several blogs written by full- and part-time housesitters and that lifestyle has always intrigued me. Although it can be fun to travel from place to place, slow travel – staying in one location for an extended period – is especially appealing to us. Housesitting makes slow travel extremely affordable because there is seldom any monetary compensation involved. The homeowner knows that their home and, if they have one, their pet will be well taken care of, and the sitter enjoys the comforts and convenience of staying in a home for little or no cost.

I’m pretty sure that this won’t be the last time we will housesit when we travel. I’ve already checked out a few of the housesitting websites for opportunities (there are tons) and the homeowner (and now our friend) in San Miguel has assured us that we are welcome to sit for her again when she travels.

There are lots of lodging alternatives when traveling today. In addition to traditional hotels, we have other options such as Airbnb, home exchanges, and housesitting. Each has their pluses and minuses, benefits, and trade-offs. The important thing is to research the various alternatives, consider your personal preferences, and, most important, choose to say “yes!”

GratiTuesday: Focusing on Fun

While husband and I travel, I very seldom write posts for my blog. I’ll often jot down a few ideas for future posts, but we’ve agreed that writing full posts, uploading pictures, and dealing with the WordPress platform takes too much time away from our travel experience.

I’ve experimented with several alternatives, including re-running earlier posts, writing a few posts before I leave and scheduling them to run while I’m away, and, for short trips, just not posting at all (surprisingly, the world didn’t end).

For our recent 7-week trip to Mexico (more on that soon), I decided to try something different: inviting other bloggers to write a post each week. Although it took some planning and coordination on my part, all of the heavy lifting was done by my guest writers… and I am so grateful.

Even though they have their own blogs to manage, they each generously provided an insightful and interesting post for my GratiTuesday series. In addition, on the day their post ran, they linked from their site to mine (which brought some new followers my way), and they actively interacted with everyone who left a comment.

My deepest gratitude goes out to the following blogging friends who, through time and effort on their part, allowed me to relax and enjoy my time away:

Donna, Retirement Reflections; Pat, Retirement Transition; MartySnakes in the Grass; Christie, So What? Now What?; Liesbet, Roaming About; Laura, Crafting My Retirement; and, Lynn, An Encore Voyage.

Another, unexpected bonus to featuring guest posts, was that I have been contacted by several other bloggers asking me if they could participate. Although this guest post series is complete, I invite anyone who is interested in writing GratiTuesday guest post to please send me a note through my Contact Me link. I’d love to feature a guest post now and then and I am grateful for the interest.

Thursday Doors: Las Puertas de Oaxaca, Tres

The doors of Oaxaca, Mexico are as interesting, joyful, and unique as the people who live and work there. This third grouping of doors (my first two posts are here and here) are wide-ranging in design, and include doors from churches, businesses, galleries, museums, and a residence.    

Several commenters on my last post mentioned the bars in front of many of the doors and asked if that was indicative of the crime rate. Although we never felt unsafe during our stay in Oaxaca, crime does exist (like everywhere, unfortunately) and many people feel more comfortable with bars in front of their doors and windows. You’ll notice that most of the doors in this group don’t have bars (except to prevent injury), although one does have fire-breathing lizards to keep watch.  

Beautiful combination of colors on a residential exterior.
Carved wooden doors welcome the guests of this bed and breakfast.
A door through an arch.
No one is getting in or out through this ghost door.
I loved the light coming through this museum door.
This second floor door looked down on a huge sculpture of a fisherman.
First there’s love…
… then there’s marriage.
Brightly painted garage doors.
Fire-breathing lizards guard this shop.

Thursday Doors is a link-up of fellow door aficionados generously hosted by Norm Frampton. Head over to his blog and click on the rana azul (blue frog) to view all the amazing doors he and others have posted.

Sunday Stills: Aroma

Just about 90 miles south of Monterey and five miles north of Hearst Castle in San Simeon, is the Piedras Blancas elephant seal rookery. Along this 6-mile stretch of shoreline on California’s central coast, visitors can see these remarkable creatures in their natural habitat. From the viewing walkways above the sand, the elephant seals can be observed – depending on the time of year you visit – breeding, birthing, molting, fighting, and napping.

October – the month this picture was taken – marks the third population peak on the beach as the juvenile elephant seals arrive for the fall haul-out.

The Piedras Blancas Rookery is the only elephant seal rookery in the world that is easily accessible, free, and open to the public every day of the year. Whether you are driving north or south on Highway 1, the Rookery is a stop you’ll want to make. You will be rewarded with a lovely view of the coastline and the opportunity to see the elephant seals on the beach and in the water. And, if the breeze is blowing towards the shore just right… oh, the aroma.

Sunday Stills is a weekly photography link-up co-hosted by Terri Webster Schrandt on her blog Second Wind Leisure Perspectives. Each week there is a new word prompt to inspire a shared photo (or photos). Follow this link to learn more about it, see other submissions, and to share your own.