Category: Places

Oaxaca, Mexico

Oaxaca, Mexico

We went, because they told us to go. They. The other tourists. Of course, we’re capable of making our own decisions. I think. We’re adults. Occasionally. Yet, the fervor, the conviction bespoken about Oaxaca (pronounced Wa-Ha-Ka) was convincing at the least. Darn necessitating at the best. We had to go. We’d miss the best food scene the in Mexico if we didn’t.


Adulting is, occasionally, more difficult in a van on the road. Our kids are never more than a few feet away. Four stinky kid feet. And we don’t have sitters. That young-ish chica that we met at the trailer park the other day? Perhaps. But probably not. Thus, while we did dine at a couple of excellent cafes in Oaxaca — mainly for the view, not for the food — we did not indulge the food scene. Harness our inner foodie. That would’ve required sitters. And a space larger than a van. So I can’t speak to the food quality, the food inventiveness. But I can speak to this: this trip has forced us to get better at adulting. And I’m stoked about that. Though I wish I could’ve tried that agave-infused, fire-roasted tlayudas we’d heard so much about….

The Other Stuff

It’s not that Oaxaca doesn’t have it’s charm. A tree-canopied zocalo. Gratis performances. Fuscia jacarandas and verdigrisy agave. Cobblestone streets. Neon-painted, baroque houses. Extravagant, Spanish churches. Check. It checks most the boxes for cool colonial cities. Yet, it seemed to be missing something. An intimacy. A quirk. Disorganized, small streets. Something. We couldn’t put our feet on it, as we strolled the gorgeous streets near the historical center of town, but Oaxaca did not captivate us like other colonial cities, namely Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende. But perhaps that’s just ’cause we’re bitter about missing out on the craft tlayudas.

Monte Alban

A hilltop ruin reminiscent of Machu Picchu. We arrived at the butt-end of dry season. Winter. Grasses were dead. Trees hadn’t even begun to reveal the buds of their blossom. Yet, you can imagine, after a month of rain, how green and lush and hermoso this alter, this holiest of locales, would look (and in case you can’t, the poster near the ticket booth will put that picture in your head). Nearly as scenic, though less well-known, as Machu Picchu (from what we can gather; if you haven’t heard it, we’ll reveal our Machu Picchu story at a later post). As you walk the grounds, climb the steep steps to the temple tops, you’ll find yourself indulging what life was like here as a high priest. Swanky. Heavenly. Lack of oxygen-y. Then you might imagine, if you have a macabre mind like me, the priest just rolling all those sacrificed bodies down the mountains….

Hierve El Agua

On our way out of Oaxaca, we stopped here, mostly to say “we’ve been there”. It’s one of two calcified waterfalls in the world, the other being in Turkey. It also has some, in case this is your thing, some dirty natural pools to bathe in. Like, if you like swimming amongst toilet paper, this is your place! Of course, that didn’t stop our kids from dipping. Or us from permitting a dip — we’re still perfecting adulting…. Nevertheless, you should be warned, in exchange for seeing this rare site, a site that does have a pleasing, panoramic view of the valley below, you may need to update your Hepatitis shots.

In Conclusion

In hindsight, that fun word of retroactive reconsideration, we would’ve skipped this stop. The next stops, which I hope to write about here soon, were much cooler, more unique. However, don’t take our word for it. Plenty of other folks, all those other tourists referenced above, loved Oaxaca. Loved. But perhaps they’re just high on mezcal (a very popular liquor made in region)….

Distrito Cholula de Rivadavia

Distrito Cholula de Rivadavia

A church on a hill? The world’s largest pyramid?

If you answered (D), all of the above, you are correct. That bumblebee yellow church, Nuestra Señora de los Remedios, is sitting on the largest (and possibly the most unearthed) pyramid by volume in the known world. Its base is four times the size of the Great Pyramid of Giza (it’s not as tall as Giza, however).


Cortes didn’t notice the pyramid (or at least the full size of the pyramid). He was too busy massacring the city — he bragged that his men killed three thousand locals, mostly nobles and leaders, and burned the city to the ground in three hours. Onlookers said the kill count was as high as thirty thousand. Cortes then ordered the destruction of all of Cholula’s temples — it had at least one temple for every day of the week — and bragged that he’d replace them all with churches. Only fifty churches replaced the temples. And most of them were built in the place and with the stones of the old temples. Cortes did miss the granddaddy, however, the one that been overgrown by vegetation for centuries and looked like a hill.


Good luck pronouncing that one. It means “made-by-hand mountain” and is the native name for the Great Pyramid of Cholula. Pyramids really. A succession of seven pyramids, all constructed around and atop each other. Prehispanic civilizations morphed the size and configuration to meet their cultural and religious needs. Then some civilization abandoned it. By the 12th century, when the Toltec-Chichimecas took over the city, the pyramid was already overgrown.

Over the last century, archeologists have excavated much of the site — including five miles of underground tunnels (see picture below) — though much remains unearthed. An incredible, well-designed museum — which we thought rivaled the Museo Nacional de Antropología in Mexico City in terms of displays and artifacts — now hugs the hill, err, pyramid. The museum also features a 30-minute, vibrantly artistic, 360-degree movie of Mexico’s famed sites. A must stop when you’re in this area.


On the afternoon we arrived, everyone was exercising. That night, everyone was exercising. The next morning, everyone was exercising! Cholula is one fit city. We thought, perhaps, it was just the neighborhood we were staying in — it was flush with sneakers and yoga pants — but then we confirmed, through another overlander from Belgium, that the entire city is exercising. All hours. Everywhere. It’s captivating to watch, I thought with a Modela Negra in one hand and a plate of dorilocos in the other. Everyone is also dressed, whether in workout or work clothing, to the nines. To the elevens really. It was one of the first times on this trip that Andrea and I glanced at each other, wearing function over form clothing lathered with three-day’s worth of grime and perspiration and spicy karate nut dust, and knew that we looked like the van dwellers we are.

The Town

Cortes supposedly said that the Cholula area was the most beautiful he’d seen outside of Europe. You can sense, though you can’t often see, why he would say that. The volcanoes and mountains surrounding the valley are usually clouded by smog — we did catch a glimpse or two of Popocatépetl (see picture below), an eternally smoking volcano that’s also the second highest peak in Mexico, while we were there.

The town itself is charming and colorful with an eclectic juxtaposition of ancient, stone cathedrals and modern, stylish restaurants. It’s a great city for ambling. You can meander from the zocolo through cobblestone streets to the church on the pyramid in a matter of minutes. There, you’re rewarded with a panoramic view of the valley, which extends to the now larger Puebla, the fourth largest city in Mexico (you an see the towers of Puebla in the photo below; also, can you spot our van?!). Fortunately for future generations, Cortes never figured out what was beneath this view.

Mexico City, Mexico

Mexico City, Mexico

Cities stress me out. Especially big ones. The traffic, the crime, the pollution, the congestion, the people — the people! I’m more of a town person. A nature person. However, with that being said, it’s difficult to experience some architectural and cultural attractions outside of major metropolitan areas. And I like to think of myself as quasi-cultured, despite my affinity for meat sticks, t-top Pontiac Trans Ams, and Solo cups. Hence the dilemma with Mexico City. A biggie. One of the top ten largest metropolitan areas in the world.

Multiple folks, including our childrens’ pediatrician, had told us that we’d love — you’ll love! — Mexico City. It’s gorgeous. And it has museums. Mucho mucho museums. We asked about the campground we were staying in near Teotihuacán. The reviews were mixed. Locals seemed to think of it as just a city. Other travelers either hadn’t been, and thus were asking the same questions, or told us we should go. It’s only a cheap, one-hour Uber away (it would’ve been near impossible to drive our van into the city) the enthusiasts would say. But it’s a city, I’d retort (in my head)! And they have amazing food. But it’s a city, I’d retort (in my head). And the museums, don’t get us started…. But it’s a city, I’d retort (in my head)! We went. Stress be darned.

Initial Impression

We arrived at noon on a Saturday. We greeted, mas or menos, twenty of the twenty-two million people that lived in the metropolitan area within the first few hours. They were all friendly. Very friendly in fact. You’d have the same impression. But it was hot, and with the masses frenziedly attempting to squeeze through the city’s vessels, the streets, it felt like a stroke or heart attack was imminent. We weren’t prepared. We had to retreat back to the inexpensive yet trendy, art-deco AirBnB we rented. We needed water. And solitude. And spicy karate nuts. Yet we weren’t deterred. We’d seen enough within those hours — gorgeous colonial architecture, churches, and plazas — to know that Mexico City was special. Muy especial. We’d return the next day. Better. Wiser. And hydrated.

The Love Hate of Colonialism

Andrea and I spent a good chunk of that first night discussing colonialism. Spain ravished Mexico (I initially had a much naughtier verb in this sentence). It’s people, it’s resources, it’s civilizations, everything. Now, as United Staters, we shouldn’t toss the first rock. Our intentions in the Mexican-American War were dubious. At best. Just ask Abraham Lincoln. And, of course, we’ve been the conquistadors of the last few decades. Nonetheless, as someone used to getting the finger pointed at them, it was nice to point the finger at someone else for once. Shame on you Spain. Shame. On. You.

However…. Spain did not mess around when it came to rebuilding the cities they destroyed. Mexico City is a testament to that (as are others we’ve visited, like Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende). The baroque architecture, with its symmetrical and classically-inspired lines accented by Moorish-influenced domes and arches, is captivating. And invigorating. You find yourself wanting to walk the next block, turn the next corner, just to see what’s there. You also find yourself questioning what the city, or any colonial city, would’ve looked like had they left the mesoamerican structures in place — Cortes demolished most of the ancient architecture; most of the churches are built with stones from the former pyramids and temples. Regardless, and perhaps it’s just my innate Eurocentrism, but you’d struggle not to appreciate what Spain built in its three century occupation of Mexico.

Lake Taxcoco

The most surprising revelation from our first day slugging through Mexico City’s arteries, was that a fair amount of Mexico City is built on a lake. Or a former lake. Lake Taxcoco. The Aztecs built Tenochtitlan — one of the major ruins in the center of the city, which Cortes destroyed to build the Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven. The Aztecs built upon and demarcated sections of the lake for agriculture. Then the Spanish drained what was left to expand Mexico City. As the barber that chopped my hair said: “The entire city is built on sand; if you spend a few hours digging, you’ll hit it.” There’s probably a parable in there. But seriously, it is one reason Mexico City is at high risk for earthquake damage.

Twin Organs

In the Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven (Catedral Metropolitana de la Asunción de la Santísima Virgen María a los cielos) — quite possibly the longest name for a church ever — there exists twin organs. Gigantic twin organs. Organs that, if you’re not already inspired by the rest of the beauty in the church, which is one of the most beautiful churches I’ve entered, will instantly convert you to Christendom. I would’ve loved to hear Symphony No. 3 by Camille Saint Saens or something from Phantom of the Opera or “Linus & Lucy” from Charlie Brown on there.

Museo Nacional de Antropología

We woke the second day with the mentality of soldiers preparing for battle. Sunscreen and water: check. Chacos: check. A willingness to extend my elbows beyond necessary to pave a path amongst the masses for my family: check. We caught an Uber to the Bosque de Chapultepec moments after we completed our hundred pushups as a family.

The city was quiet. It was a Sunday morning. Everyone seemed to be at church. Until we pulled into the Bosque. There, tens of thousands of locals were racing (a 20k was in progress), biking, rollerblading, or relaxing. It was nine in the morning. And everything was packed. A line a few blocks long already extended from the Museo Nacional de Antropología, our first stop.

Whoa. What a stop. Whoa, whoa, whoa. So much to see. So huge. Only the Louvre in Paris felt bigger, more extravagant (to me at least). The building itself is a Mexican architectural marvel that rivals anything the Spanish built. The exhibits are fashioned around a fetching courtyard shaded by a ginormous, suspended ceiling that both appears to defy laws of physics and spew water from the heavens (photo courtesy of the museum). The exceptionally nice and organized exhibits themselves feature the greatest collection of mesoamerican artifacts and art in the world. It’s impossible not to be impressed. I was only able to type the stuff above because I visited this museum. You can, and should, spend an entire day here.

Castillo de Chapultepec

After the museum, we marched up a hill to see a castle. The hill was once a sacred place for the Aztecs. The Spanish murdered that too (damn you Spain, I may never eat paella again…until the next time it’s served…). The castle is an extravagant affair with panoramic views of the city. The only sovereigns in North America lived here. Emperor Maximilian the First — which is a real name and not something invented by Disney — and his wife Empress Carlota lived here during the Second Mexican Empire. For only about three years. They were killed by firing squad during the formation of the Mexican Republic. But that’s okay. They weren’t really Mexican. They were Austrian. Nevertheless, the castle is now brimming with royal art and artifacts. It’s worth the hike, if only for the view (this is only about a quarter of the view from the castle).

Secretaría de Educación Pública

We visited the headquarters for this agency on our final dia in Mexico City. For an education of a different sort. Diego Rivera, one of the two most famous artists in Mexico, the other being Frida Kahlo, his once wife, painted murals on nearly all the outer walls facing the courtyard in this building. While I can’t say this for certain, it has to be the largest collection of Rivera art in one location it the world. And it’s just sitting there, relatively unbeknownst to the general public (we only knew about it because our AirBnB host told us), behind a literal and figurative wall of bureaucracy. Andrea, the lovely and masterful road-school maestra, has taught our beautiful, snot-nosed monsters (and me by earshot) a lot about Diego and Frida — the elephant and the dove, as they’re affectionally called — so it was quite the treat to see these murals in person. A must stop in Mexico City. And you’ll nearly miss it. It’s behind a nondescript, baroque facade on a street just around the corner from the major tourist attractions.

Final Thoughts

Phew. I imagine that’s how you feel if you read this sucker (longest post to date). That’s how my body and brain felt like in route back to Teotihuacán. I’d had my fill of city. For awhile. I needed a break and some fresh air. But I needed to return. I only wrote about a smidgen of what we experienced, and we only experienced a smidgen of what there is to write about.

Teotihuacán Did the humans from Battlestar Galactica build this place?

Teotihuacán Did the humans from Battlestar Galactica build this place?

Battlestar Galactica

After returning from India a few years ago, I suffered through a six-week bout with giardia. It mostly won. During the bout, I sustained myself on a strict diet of Cap’n Crunch and Netflix. The nutritional deficiency created by the former caused me not to remember much of the latter. However, I was able to recall snippets of one show I binged, Battlestar Galactica, as I strolled the grounds at Teotihuacán.

From what I can remember, Battlestar Galactica, or BSG as the cool geeks call it, is about students overtaking their masters. Though in BSG’s case, it’s clones and robots killing their masters. The humans in BSG also polluted their planets to the point of uninhabitable and thus were forced to retreat to space to find other inhabitable planets, all while trying to avoid getting wiped off the face of space by their former pets.

Only 40,000 humans make it. They eventual find Earth, give up all their technology (so they can’t be detected), and start farming. The show eludes that this involuntary devolution is just part of the human existence. We evolve, build robots that kill us, and then must devolve back to subsistence farming. We dumb humans have been doing this for millenniums and millenniums evidentially.


Anthropologists and archeologists aren’t certain where Teotihuacán got its influences — they are certain that Teotihuacán influenced other great mesoamercian civilizations, like the Mayas and Aztecs. Hypotheses and theories are as numerous as the temples in the complex. And I’d like to add one to the mix: The humans from BSG spread about Earth and devolved. Eventually, as they began to re-evolve, they formed the great ancient civilizations. Then they began to build temples to worship their gods, and somewhere, deep in their DNA, they remembered the architectural-stylings of their interplanetary ancestors.

Teotihuacan feels alien, more so than the other ruins I’ve visited in my life. It feels as if the Avenue Of The Dead (the Main Street in the picture above) was subconsciously built as a runway for future, evolved humans to get the heck out of Earth after we’ve polluted the planet and invented the machines that murder us. Now, of course, that’s just my conspiracy-riddled cranium. I’d imagine most of you would appreciate the ingenuity and artistry of Teotihuacán. You’d picture the extravagant temples adorned with untold treasures, or the intelligent and coherent layout of the city, or the hundreds of thousands of beautiful people that lived there over hundreds of years. Or perhaps not. Perhaps, like me, after visiting Teotihuacán, you’d begin questioning the motives of your microwave….

Teotihuacan certainly, regardless of how it was influenced (or not), leaves you feeling that someone, whether via skill (likely) or sci-fi (less likely), built something, that even in this modern era, feels extraterrestrial.


(The view from the top of the Pyramid of the Sun toward the Pyramid of the Moon)

Reserva de Biosfera de la Mariposa Monarca

Reserva de Biosfera de la Mariposa Monarca

The men in my family have poor memories. My father used to go to the store for milk and would return with bread. My brother often forgets that he’s with his family and wanders away and gets lost. I struggle to remember what I ate for lunch yetserday. And while I’ve mostly resigned to a lifetime of forgetting if I showered or not, I still find the subject of memory fascinating. I even read a good book on it recently, Moonwalking with Einstein. Hence, when I heard that monarch butterflies migrate from the US and Canada to winter in Mexico over four generations — four! — my immediate thoughts were: How do they communicate directions? How do they remember where to go? Then I thought about how I haven’t had a good meat stick in a while. Then I thought about how disappointed I was with the last two seasons of Lost. Then I couldn’t remember what I was thinking about.

Reserva de Biosfera de la Mariposa Monarca was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2008. Fourteen butterfly colonies are located in or around the Reserva, accounting for more than half the monarch population in the US and Canada.

We camped at Sierra Chincua in Angangueo in the state Michoacán to see the butterflies. Just getting there is worth the trip. You ascend past the sparse desert filled with organ pipe and prickly pear cactuses and into the dense mountains filled with pinyon pine and oyamel fir trees. Copper-colored needles line the road, creating a, sort of, yellow-brick road to Oz effect. As soon as you exit your vehicle, the inclination to grab a sweater and breath into a paper sack reminds you of the 10,000 ft. elevation.

We arrived late in the afternoon, mostly because we took a wrong turn on a highway and had to wait forty kilometers — forty! — before we could flip around. Since it’s recommended to see the butterflies between 10am to noon, we just explored the park village the day we arrived. We also met a cool French family with young kids making the same trip south in an old Ford diesel truck and camper (they’d spent the last eleven months touring the US).

[Side story: Only one thing tainted our stay amongst the beautiful conifers and butterflies: the stray dogs. There are millions of stray dogs in Mexico —  an estimated 1.2 million are in Mexico City alone. We’ve already met hundreds on this trip. And they’ve all been fairly cute and friendly. Except the strays of the Reserva. These pups are mean and organized. Until here, I’d never actually seen a dog (or anyone) enforce the territory they’d marked — if I were to enforce the territory I’ve marked on this trip, since we only have a small porta-potty in our van, I’d control the largest territory in North America. The strays mark every tire that enters the parking lot. They also have clearly defined boundaries. If another stray crosses their boarder, all h-e-double-hockey-stick breaks loose. We may have heard a couple murders the couple nights we stayed….]

The next morning, alongside the French family, we hiked the hilly three kilometers from the grassy parking lot where we camped (the authorities let you camp in the lot; there’s no real campground nearby), opting not to take a guide and subsequently getting lost several times. As you near the colonies, millions of monarch carcasses litter the trail (I imagine the monarch migration is a feast for the grosbeaks and orioles that can eat them; they’re poisonous to other birds). The carcasses are, for the living monarchs, like an X on the map to the colony location.


Then you see the colonies dangling from the firs. At first, you may not know what you’re looking at. From a distance — authorities don’t let you get too close — they reminded me of the ginormous termite nests I’d seen in the Amazon. Then, with the help of my ever-present bird binoculars, I saw that the nests were in fact the monarchs themselves. Thousands and thousands of monarchs stacked on top of each other.

Not much was happening when we first arrived. The colonies looked dirty and dead. No one was snapping pictures. Then, literally, the clouds began to part. Rays struck the colonies. Instantly, dirty and dead turned phosphorescent and effervescent. Tens of thousands of monarchs took flight. It’s dazzling to witness.

We watched the rays awake the butterflies for an hour or so. During that time, I kept questioning how four generations of monarchs are born and die in this annual migration, yet they still, remarkably, manage to find the same location year after year. How they remember the migratory path remains a mystery to science. And to me. They’re certainly not male Lingles. I can assure you that.

Patzcuaro, Mexico

Patzcuaro, Mexico

Picking the next location is an educated guess. At best. It’s part not too far off the beaten path — we’re not overly interested in dining with drug-lords. It’s part what the intraweb says — we’re suckers for a good National Geographic or Travel & Leisure article. It’s part how far away is it — as mentioned, we don’t like to travel more than four hours per day. It’s part have we traveled there before — that’s the main reason we avoided the Pacific coast on the mainland. And it’s part gut instinct — which after polishing off my daily bag of Karate Enchilado nuts, is usually suspect. Thus, after cogitating and triangulating using the criteria above, we arrived at Patzcuaro. It has a lake. An island. Crafts. And colonial infrastructure.

The colonial-ness of Patzcuaro, however, seemed less than the previous two colonial cities we visited, Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende — from our Eurocentric vantage point at least. The buildings aren’t as ornate or baroque. The plazas less charming. The town dirtier. The topiaries less trimmed. The infrastructure on the verge of collapse. With that being said, however, Patzcuaro has its perquisites, and it’s worth a visit.

Perk Uno: The drive. Desert lowlands capped by evergreen mountains. Plush, well-paved highways. One of, if not the, more scenic drives we’ve yet experienced in Mexico.

Perk Dos: Isla de Janitzio. I can’t remember if I’ve ever been to an industrialized island, one with homes and restaurants and whatnot, in the center of a lake before. Thus, just to say you’ve done that, Isla de Janitzio is worth the trip. First, you have to bus or taxi to a dock on the outskirts of Patzcuaro. From there, you board an elongated boat powered by the world’s slowest engine and slog across Lake Patzcuaro (one of the articles referred above called it a “blue lake”; it was, however, unless I’m going color- in addition to regular-blind, brown, poop brown to be specific). Then just before you arrive at the island, two fisherman in canoes will convince you that they’re finishing in a traditional manner unknown to us fair-skinned gringos, and thus entice you to take picturesque photos, and then proceed to paddle toward the sluggish powerboat and demand pesos for their posturing…. After you arrive, you hike up thousands of stairs (no joke) to the statue of Jose Maria Morelos, a hero of Mexican independence. Once inside the statue (see picture above), you hike even more stairs and alongside a mural of the life of Morelos up into the arm and the top of the statue. This may give you vertigo, as it did me, especially the spiral staircase up the arm to the fist.

Perk Tres: The crafts. Two plazas, Plaza Granda and Plaza Pequeno, named for their size not their bustle (Plaza Pequeno is busier), dominate the social and economic scene in Patzcuaro. Everything looked authentic and hand-crafted, though it’s certainly possible everything was made in a factory up the highway. We bought Paheli a dress at Plaza Granda, a fetching, lime display that upon the initial, cursory inspection looked cute but upon further inspection looks a few washes away from disintegrating.

Perk Cuatro: Signage. Most every building in Pátzcuaro’s city center was constructed the same, for lack of a better term I’d call it Mexican colonial, painted the same, for lack of a better term I’d call it Mexican white, and signed the same, for lack of a better term I’d call it black and red Mexican Old English font. The monotony is kind of delightful.

Perk Cinco: Rancho La Mesa. Part: campground, hotel, event center, restaurant, and farm. Full: awesome. Rancho La Mesa overlooks Patzcuaro (see picture below). From here, the cacophony of the city is replaced with serenity. The temperature drops. The wind calms. Trash disappears. Horses, turkeys, chickens, dogs, cows, ducks, and gorgeous, ruby-red vermillion flycatchers free-range on the land. When here, it’s hard not to leave — we didn’t, in fact, two of the four nights we stayed. Someone has likely already coined a word for this, when you travel to a foreign destination but you rarely venture from your resort grounds, but I’ll call it resortopomorphizing. We abso-bleeping-lutely resortopomorphized Patzcuaro because of Rancho La Mesa.

[Fun side story: Paheli, our daughter from perhaps the most vegetarian nation in the known cosmos, while watching a rafter of turkeys, leaned over to Andrea and whispered: “I want to eat one.”]

Perk Seis: Puppies. This was both amazing and tragic. As soon as we arrived, before we could even push up the pop-top on our van, puppies were jumping at our feet. These playful pups, which our kids named Lucy and Ruby, based on the personality traits of their favorite cousins, spent nearly every waking, and some sleeping (we let the puppies stay a few hours each night in our van), with us. We love dogs. One of the hardest decisions we made on this trip was giving away our beloved Grant. While Grant has upgraded — better family and a better location on multiple acres and a pond — it was difficult nonetheless. It was also difficult to not take these puppies — or any of the many friendly, stray dogs we’ve met on this trip — with us. It was even more difficult questioning what would happen to them after we left….

Patzcuaro, while certainly a crapshoot on our cruise across Mexico, was worth the stop, if only to stay at Rancho La Mesa and play with puppies.

San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

I have a relative (whom I won’t out) that reads the summary and reviews on Rotten Tomatoes before he or she sees a movie. Before. Feels like cheating to me. How can you enjoy a plot if you know its twists and ending? How can you not succumb to preconceived notions? I prefer being surprised. But of course I’m also a hypocrite — I read reviews on almost every campground we stay in before arriving.

We’d heard the reviews of San Miguel de Allende before we arrived. Several folks in Guanajuato — including one lady who’s grandfather was originally assigned by the Queen of England to oversee the empire’s silver mines — warned us that San Miguel de Allende was a gringo and tourist city. And when those modifiers are used in conjunction with a place, the inflection is usually, somewhat, derogatory, even when used by gringos and tourists. Of course, we’re gringos and tourists, so why should we care? I suppose we’re hypocrites here as well.

As such, I had my preconceived biases, and I mostly succumbed to them for the first two days we were in San Miguel. I found myself thinking: if I see one more damn ascot in this city, I’m going to, I don’t know, chuck a tortilla at that wall. Or: if I see one more boutique clothing store, I’m going to, I don’t know, likely be jealous that I can’t afford the clothing in that store. Or finally: if one more of these Upper West Side types complains about the lighting in this restaurant, I’m going to, I don’t know, probably do nothing….

But by the third day, like a cloud of relief, my biases lifted. I found myself admiring the ornate and well-preserved baroque Spanish architecture. You can sense the pride the locals and the gringos have for their city. I also found myself walking at a, what is for me, leisurely pace, which according to my wife is still around a nine-minute mile. You can’t help but amble, with your head on a swivel, in this city. And finally I found myself luxuriating in creature comforts. You want to dine out (we had an especially delicious meal at Ten Ten Pie), play tennis (our campground was actually squeezed between three clay tennis courts), and take in a museum (the Museo de Juguetes was unique and impressive).

By the fourth day, I was ready to end our trip and setup home. San Miguel de Allende does that to you. You’ll want to buy an ancient, preferably restored (or in my case, restorable), stone house with a luscious courtyard and within strolling distance of the city center. You’ll want to bask in the temperate climate. You’ll want do nothing but walk the cobblestone streets, occasionally stopping for shade beneath a topiary tree in a vibrant courtyard facing a neo-Gothic church while indulging fresh-made limon ice-cream and listening to sublime mariachi music.

San Miguel is, paradoxically, uptight and laidback. But that’s just my review. Don’t let it influence you….

P.S. One funny thing about San Miguel that I’d like someone to explain to me, perhaps when I’m older and wiser, is the rhyme or reason behind when the church bells ring. These are times I noted from the church closest to our campground: 3:30am, 7:47am, 8:13am, 6:50pm. Whenever. Occasionally they rang every fifteen minutes for a couple hours. It’s almost as if any person brave (or drunk) enough to climb up to the belfry was allowed to go deaf. Occasionally, someone sounded like they were practicing Ava Maria, but for the most part, it just sounded like helter-skelter banging.