So in our trek for a hostel, we had a chance to get to know the city a bit, and really did live up to it’s “pueblo mágico” title: Colorful two floored buildings, potted plants from the balconies, wooden doors with elaborate carved decorations, windows exposing quaint native curios, nicely cut trees everywhere, cobbled streets, friendly people here and there, birds chirping everywhere, and a very beautiful main church at it’s center. Like Guanajuato, here is a beautiful place to come and enjoy, with postcard worthy pictures at every corner. Here being smaller and less complicated, it’s the village version of Guanajuato, so naturally, it’s one of those places people either visit, or retire to.
Like Chapala, San Miguel de Allende has become a place where many north americans can be spotted, most of them in their later ages, doing anything but work, and keeping their new peaceful homes as peaceful as possible. Unlike Chapala, though, the merging of cultures seems to have been completed long before we arrived, most signage being in English, restaurants having adapted the looks of a place you’d find in San Diego rather than a pueblo in Mexico, plenty of shops with expensive looking art, and sometimes even the music not being very pueblo-like anymore. So as backpackers this was a slight disappointment, having been robbed of a pueblo experience with an experience we’d easily find in California towns, but with the Mexican buildings and culture decorating it all.
Along with it’s cultural accommodating came the rising of prices everywhere, now a famous tourist attraction the hostels and hotels have started behaving as such with very expensive rooms. Having arrived during a three-day-weekend not only meant everything was already booked, but prices had been doubled. We were very disappointed to hear that as well. After about three hours of scavenging the city for a reasonable price (backpacks and all), we found defeat in the main plaza and decided to sleep in the park bench. Next day we would either stay or leave depending on if we had a place to sleep, we couldn’t afford much here anyways. We bought ourselves some instant soup, coffee, cookies and sat in the park with the free wifi until our batteries died.
It was hard to doze off, being a long weekend, from 8pm to 6am I can guarantee you that the plaza was never empty. During the first hours the plaza still had some families here and there enjoying their visit, and a mariachi band playing far away, so it wasn’t that hard to nap for a few minutes. But during the next hours, the plaza had groups of friends, more (closer) mariachi bands, drunken teenagers, debating drunken teenagers, groups of friends signing very off-key to the mariachi music, and since at this point the rest of the city had quieted down every bit of sound had bigger echoes. It would have all been well and done by 5am, unfortunately as it got closer to six the church bells started ringing. So we got little to no sleep at all. By 7am we had given up completely and started wandering the mostly empty streets to look for a place to have breakfast. San Miguel de Allende is gorgeous at dawn, I’ll give you that, it might be the only moment when you can truly appreciate the pueblo for what it once was: a small colorful village built centuries ago to house the incoming Spanish so they could attend church in peace.
We eventually bumped into two other travelers, a girl from California and a girl from Austria, and together we found a completely organic, fully American, Mexican fair were we had some completely organic gorditas. If you ever needed proof of the kind of merging that this place has become, that fair was it. Minutes later we got a call from a Couchsurfer who had barely checked her email and she picked us up in the park! She completely saved us, yes she did. Our host was an art major who had done some traveling herself, recently back from a meditational trip in [Thailand]. She and her friend gave us one last tour of San Miguel de Allende, adding to our experience the knowledge of how this place had become a very artistic and art oriented little town.
Here we had an adventure of the sorts you can show off to your kids: “I slept in a bench myself, once!”, and I am very excited about the idea. Yes, it was a pain in the ass, but it was also an experience I can say I did not miss out when backpacking. We might come back to San Miguel de Allende some day, this time with more in our wallets and less on our backs.