New Years and New Plans

We left our stunning lakeside retreat at Lagos de Colon and headed for San Cristobal for Christmas. New Years called for new plans, but we had fallen in love with this city on the way south, and heading north found her no less magical. That is other than the fireworks Christmas Eve that went on for nearly seven hours straight.

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Christmas day, itself, was spent in the company of new friends, and with those still at camp from months before, all united by the holiday spirit. Alas, our time here was short. The question of where to ring in the new year had perplexed us for a time but once the decision to trek northwards was made we knew it had to be San Miguel de Allende.

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The path less traveled is always our choice so our journey north took us to the Gulf of Mexico and the state of Veracruz, an as-of-yet undiscovered (to us) region. The first night on the road found us in Catemaco. This lakeside town is meant to be lovely. After a long drive and under cloudy conditions I’ll take everyone else’s word for it. One short night and we continued on, not relishing long travel days but feeling SMA calling us.

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We settled on the unusual at the El Manglar restaurant parking lot in spritely named Chachalacas. For 100MX and the price of a pair of Micheladas and some shrimp, we had an ocean front campsite at our disposal for the night. When we arrived the local crowd was in full force, continuing their Christmas long holiday celebration, but as soon as the evening came upon us the parking lot cleared out and we were the long souls left. We had the beach to ourselves, the company of an adorable camp dog whom we called Mango, and some of the filthiest bathrooms we’ve seen yet.

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Mango, having firmly attached himself to us, seemed intent on jumping on board for the road trip and we must admit, for just a moment, we wavered. As we pulled away I glanced back and rather than mournfully watching us go, he had already lasered in on the first arrivals at the restaurant and scampered their direction in search of a snack. So much for dog loyalty!

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We hadn’t loved Cholula the first time through. Yes, we know we should have given both it, and Puebla, a chance by hitting the historic center but big cities are rarely our gig. Thus, on the route north, we planned to take some side roads and head straight for Teotihuacan, one of our favorite spots. After three months stationary in Guatemala we were road weary and cranky after a few days on the road and I am simply grateful that, not far outside of the Mexico City driving zone, Jim asked which day of the week is was that we were not able to drive there, based on our license plate.

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The travel gods were not in our favor that day as Wednesday was, in fact, a NO GO for us. Having just paid a hefty toll to take said highway, my mood was none too pleasant as we regrouped and, late in the day and without a lot of options, we changed course and made our way back to Cholula. Now, it’s not that the town or campground is bad. We had stayed at Trailer Park Americas on our way down and it’s just fine. We just were not in the mood for the traffic and congestion of the Puebla area and cringed at the thought.

Luckily, with the holidays still in full swing, the roads were smooth sailing, and a quick night and fast exit north raised our spirits. It was December 30 and San Miguel was on our radar.

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Many overlanders and other “tough” travelers love to toss scorn towards SMA. And, granted, she is a glitzy, touristy, gringo-filled bonanza. But, she is also so much more. We had spent nearly two weeks in this most beautiful city on our way south and, as fortune would have it, nearly three weeks there this time around.

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SMA is history and art personified. Walks through town are filled with scenery straight out of the “Most Beautiful Cities in Mexico” coffee table books. The stores are packed with wrought iron door knockers, amazing lamps, and gorgeous tilework. The meandering streets lead to the main plaza surrounded by hundreds of years of history. Truly, it may indeed by touristy but, guess what? As with all other miraculous sites of the world, there is a reason for the popularity. San Miguel is, quite simply, one of the most breathtaking places we have ever been.

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Our planned time turned into a week, then two. In low season we had the place mostly to ourselves. In high-season, we were full with a revolving gate of travelers. And yet, there were “the regulars”. Immediately upon our arrival Bill and Patty greeted us with good cheer. Kelly and Lizzy became immediate friends and tequila buddies. Edye, with her beautiful Saluki, camped right across from us. She was intimately familiar with the town and introduced us to several excellent finds.

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Our days were spent working, socializing, trying out new restaurants, and hours wandering the back streets in search of an even lovelier scene. Dinner at Orequidea Comida Thai restaurant came complete with a back rub for me as the Thai chef is also going to be offering massage soon. A dog-friendly restaurant, Aspen not only got to join us for dinner but received her very own bowl of chicken and rice.

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Sadly, we found the small bakery down the street from camp closed down, but discovered a new treat in the form of the best empanadas in the world, served out of the back of a mini-van along the side of the road. Nearly every day our morning walk found us ending here to spend 30MX, around $1.50USD for two flaky, still warm, empanadas with a choice of fillings. Jim preferred fresa (Strawberry) whereas I was inclined to go savory changing it up between fillings ranging from roasted poblano-mushroom to pepperoni-mozzarella.

One lazy day was spent with Kelly and Lizzy at El Manantial, a 100-year-old bar. The local specialty was a flight of sorts of a sipping tequila, a lime mix, and a clamato-habanero mix. The idea to take a sip of tequila, a sip of lime, and then a sip of the clamato mix. Absolutely divine. Combined with a variety of small plates, this was a favorite day in a year filled with a whole lot of magical moments.

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One night we roused most of the camp and headed to dinner and a show, the type of event that would have cost us several hundred dollars in the US. Here in Mexico it was a splurge for us to be sure, but for around $40 USD we scored a couple of glasses of wine each, a delicious if somewhat skimpy dinner, and one of the best evenings of entertainment ever in the form of Gil Gutierrez and Lobo.

Gil is a well-known figure in SMA and owns the Bistro Mi Casa restaurant, set in a gorgeous old building with a stunning view of the cathedral. If the setting alone wasn’t worth the price of admission, the music certainly is. Gil is, himself, a very talented Spanish guitarist, and the addition of Lobo was the creme de la creme. A fitting end to our time in this delightful town.

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As we left town we waved a heartfelt goodbye to new friends, as ever wondering if we would see them again down the road. Further northbound we would trek towards yet another town full of magic… Zacatecas.

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