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November 3, 2017

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The Magic of San Miguel de Allende

June 29, 2017

I eye a Coca-Cola while ineffectively pushing the sticky air around my face with a copy of Travel + Leisure. I continue fanning as I try to balance on the edge of my suitcase, families streaming around me like a rock in a river. Just then she comes around the corner from Customs, bright in a windbreaker suit, the kind that makes noise as you walk.


She’s talking animatedly to a Mexican woman around the same age. She stops to embrace her before spotting me and swishing over. “Who was that?” I ask as she gives me a deep hug. As we exit BJX she proceeds to relay this woman’s life story. Apparently, they’d sat next to each other on the plane from Mexico City and my mother’s Southern openness won her an instant friend. This happens over and over on our trip and it never ceases to amaze me.


Our driver is waiting for us with a sign outside, and we’re soon enclosed in air conditioned comfort. I’d booked our transfers with Bajio Go, $29 per person each way, and we’d lucked out with a private ride in a luxurious black suburban though I’d selected the shared shuttle option. The leather second-row captain’s chairs and ice cold waters made the hour and twenty minute non-stop service a pleasure.


The conversation drifts as the passing pastoral landscape lulls us with its quiet splendor. Mexico’s idyllic central highlands hold a unique peacefulness all their own. Crossing the threshold into San Miguel we pass through the pages of a storybook into a town of unsurpassed beauty, a place where the darkness of the world does not seem to penetrate its bubble of contentment.


A friendly greeting awaits us at Rosewood San Miguel de Allende. We’re ushered inside an enormous, handsomely upholstered living room and offered refreshment. Though we are early, our room is ready, and we are escorted to #217. My mother is wide-eyed and emitting little gasps of delight as she discovers one object of fascination after another. We are both taking pictures of the fireplace, the welcome chocolates, the marble cavern of a bathroom, stepping out of each other’s shots so we can capture this exquisite painting, that lush view, and the bright balcony.


The 700 square feet of junior suite is all wood floors, warm tones, rich texture, and art. Ours featured two queen beds, a sitting area and fireplace, a dining area, large outdoor terrace, and bathroom with double vanity, separate walk-in shower and soaking tub.


True to the brand, the property is an elegant representation of the destination. Lavishly detailed and incredibly inviting, it is the genuine service that epitomizes the essence of San Miguel. The hotel is built as a gracious hacienda. A central courtyard with tiled fountain provides a gentle splashing pulse while breezy hallways make up spokes of tucked away rooms, the farm-to-table 1826 Restaurant and tequila bar, and La Cava, the private wine cellar.


From “buenos dias” to “buenas noches” a staff member is around every corner with a smile and offer to assist in some way. The staff is kind and attentive, with a familial sort of care. Guests should not expect ultra-polished, white glove attendance as it lacks a more formal refinement, but they more than make up for this in heart. Ultimately, I feel it’s indicative of the location, authentic and utterly charming.


After a quick freshen up, we decide to walk around and look for lunch. The Rosewood is ideally located in the historic district of downtown with everything easily accessible if one is agile enough to navigate the cobblestone streets.


It didn’t take long for me to fall madly in love with the vibrancy of the city which culminates in its heart center, El Jardin. This central square is where all of the town comes out to play. Children dance in the streets to the lively tunes of local Mariachi bands. Young boys dressed in embroidered charro suits and sombreros make eyes at the passing senoritas with their tan shoulders and white blouses.


It’s a beautiful display of life, the young and old gathering together to celebrate another day under the benevolent Mexican sun. There is an electric energy, a buzz, a hum that’s intoxicating. Vendors hawk their colorful wares. Expats relax at outdoor cafes. A fiesta is always happening: folkloric dancing, a parade, fireworks, or a local band.


My mother and I ended up spending the majority of our days drawn to this tableau of activity, walking there twice daily to people watch, shop, eat, and peruse the local artisans’ galleries. San Miguel’s post card attraction also has residence in the square. The iconic, pink Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel towers over the other colonial-era buildings, a wonder of Neo-Gothic design.


We ate much and we ate often. The culinary offerings of San Miguel de Allende are one of its most alluring qualities. From steaming street food to high end dining, it is unquestionably a foodie’s paradise. We snack on chile lime corn from a colorful street cart before indulging in an enticing array of tacos at Don Taco Tequila, including their signature, a flour tortilla wrapped around a ribeye flambéed in tequila, caramelized onions, and garlic crusted cheese.


In the evening we have dinner at Luna, the Rosewood’s famous rooftop tapas bar whose views really are unparalleled. Though I wasn’t a fan of the American pop music being piped out (it sullied the experience of overlooking the quaint town) watching the sun bathe everything in rosy light was in a word, extraordinary.


Weary but elated, we retire to our quarters to find champagne and berries sparkling in the reflected light of the cheery fire going in the hearth, a “Happy Birthday” note from the General Manager on the table. Bubbles, salts, and candles are tucked into the alcove of the recessed tub suggesting that a warm bath be drawn. I don’t deny its call and sinking chin-deep into silky foam with a glass of Moet in hand I shiver with a tingle of bliss.


The next morning we’re up early for an outing, ordering breakfast from room service as we get ready. A short walk later, and we’re waiting for our ride from Coyote Canyon Adventures. Mom has already befriended someone from our group, and she is chatting happily with her in Spanish as the van pulls up. Like a scene from a cheesy movie, all we see first are boots hitting the ground. We watch as they turn and walk around the vehicle, spurs pinging the stones with each step.


Rodrigo rounds the corner and our gaze is pulled up to low-slung jeans crowned with an impressive belt buckle, soft plaid tucked in with the buttons open up top, chiseled face, long hair, and a cowboy hat. Everyone sits up a little straighter. He’s no nonsense getting everyone in, but as we make our way out of town he starts up a conversation.


We arrive at our disembarking point to see the horses saddled and ready to ride. He goes through a brief overview of what to expect, safety precautions, and then proceeds to demonstrate how to gallop properly should you so choose. My heart fumbles its beat as he indicates how to rock the hips, his grip on the reins showing off tan forearm musculature underneath a stack of leather bracelets.


A few more, slow lower body rolls, and I realize my mouth is hanging open. I quickly shut it and glance around, but everyone’s eyes are glazed over, even the men’s, transfixed by the raw eroticism emanating from this beautiful man. He stops the example, and I watch with amusement as people blink their eyes back to reality, imperceptibly shaking off the spell. I wonder if he knows his effect, but then I think, of course he does. We mount our horses, and to my disappointment, file into nose-to-tail. Oh, little did I know.


We wind around a narrow trail that opens up into a dry river bed. The horses break their formation, and we’re moving freely. “Who wants to gallop?” Rodrigo calls. I urge my horse forward with my heels. “Remember to ease up on the reins, one hand on the back of your saddle, and move your hips!” He gives a cowboy cry, and we’re off. My horse is tearing down the trail, hooves churning clouds of dirt.


I can’t stop laughing. I’m absolutely terrified. Growing up in Texas, I’d had my share of Western trail rides, but I’d never taken a horse to this speed. We were flying, the wind ripping tears from the corners of my eyes. We finally slow, and I realize my whole body is quivering. The adrenaline is zinging like electricity, and my breath comes out in a shaky exhale. I’d never felt more alive, and in my gut is how much I’ve missed the daredevil impulses that previously pushed me into activities like skydiving and bungee jumping.


I grin broadly and realize how sharply the world has come into focus. I can feel the rays of the sun warming the individual hairs on my head, kissing the tops of my shoulders, a frisky breeze stirring sensation on the nape of my neck. The leaves on the trees are etched in hundreds of shades of olive and sage.


We’re climbing up, up, up. We lean forward in our saddles as the horses clamber along the rocky sides of the gorge.  After a good hour or two of riding we reach the top, and the view takes my breath away. It’s absolutely magnificent. Sheer cliffs rise above the river that snakes through the canyon floor. From a horse-back vantage point the scope of the panorama breaks the mind. Hawks soar overhead and cows wander without the hindrance of fences. From atop the bluffs, the cacti, trees, and brush become a deeply hued green, carpeting the valley walls. It is the grand scale, the immensity and resulting feeling of being so small by comparison and yet still so oddly connected that moves something primal inside, invoking a distinctly spiritual response.


We pause for a photo opp then dismount for part II. of our adventure. I had given my mother a list of choices for her birthday trip. There is much to do in San Miguel…natural hot springs spas, market tours, but she chose a day with Coyote Canyon Adventures consisting of a five hour ride, cliff-side rappel, and lunch with a local family. I love her.


My mother has an incredible sense of adventure and continually surprises and inspires me with her courage and humor. I daresay she’d do just about anything for the sake of having the experience… I am infinitely grateful for having inherited that from her. Our love of travel and the unusual adds a beautiful depth to our mother/daughter bond.


I’m stretching the bow out of my legs when Rodrigo asks for a volunteer to be first over the side. My hand is up before my mind registers the request, and I’m walking towards the edge. He provides a Cliffs Notes version of rappelling as I’m buckled in and handed gloves and a helmet. “Just try not to end up upside down,” he warns. I back to the edge going against all of the mental alarm bells to put my full body’s weight into the harness and release my grip on the rope so I can step off of the ledge. It’s not as easy as it sounds.


I struggle with it a minute and then I’m jerkily making my way down. The slick soles of my boots slip against the rock face, and I’m left dangling. I start to giggle manically as I kick out trying to come into contact with the surface. This just results in me spinning around to face out over the canyon, suspended in mid-air. I finally start feeding the rope through the metal claw from this seated position until I’m able to somewhat place my feet again and finish the descent.


Mom goes next, and I can’t help but laugh when the same thing happens to her and she’s twirling on the line, half-way down a mountain. She reaches the bottom and a few more follow suit, but not all have opted for this add-on. A steep hike takes us back to a clearing where we are reunited with our horses.


Unbelievably, the most harrowing part comes next. With our feet firmly in the stirrups and a light hand on the rein, we lean back with stomachs and jaws clenched as the horses reverse navigate the near vertical passes. Occasionally, a horse stumbles on a rock or starts to slide in the loose soil. No one speaks during this time aside from our guides who seem confident in our rides’ sure-footedness.


I’m trying to remember to breathe when I feel my horse gather his haunches before jumping from one rock to another. I’m stunned. Moments later I realize I’m still holding my breath and let it out with a whoosh. I turn to look at my mother and she’s white-faced. For some reason, of course, this strikes me as funny, and I call out a “How ya doing?” to her.


The silence broken, the rest of the group starts to issue commentary to one another. We’re at the bottom now splashing through the river, and we pause to let our horses have a drink. I’m incredibly proud of her. I was scared, but her chin is still up, back straight in the saddle though I can only imagine how scared she must have been, afraid to pitch forward right over the horse’s head.


The program ends at the mother’s home of one of our cowboy guides where she has prepared in her tiny kitchen a fresh, organic ranch style meal consisting of beans, quesadillas, nopales, guacamole, salsas, salad, and other typical dishes. The soft cheese she puts out came from milk just pulled from her cow that morning. As we sat there in the lawn in our plastic chairs watching the chickens peck and gossip, I’m overwhelmed by a euphoric feeling of deepest peace.


It was one of those moments I’ll remember forever and honestly why I live to travel. Rodrigo entertains us with the story of how he founded the company, and we review some of the footage he captured with his DJI Phantom 4 on the ride. It’s hard to say goodbye. The night finds us back in the square, dancing to a moonlight serenade. Finally exhausted, we return to the hotel and fall into a deep, dreamless sleep.


Our last morning we visit Octavio in concierge for a breakfast recommendation. He gives us a hidden gem of a B&B, Posada Corazon, whose organic restaurant’s welcome states “We aim to offer and share with you an exquisite meal surrounded by books, music, gorgeous gardens, a remarkable house and a kind staff, essentials for inspiration…”


True to their disclosure, breakfast was accompanied by a pianist’s melody, the notes wafting out to the sunny patio where we were seated off the library overlooking rows of vegetables. Satiated after, we decide to wander with no agenda. It’s such a treat just to take life slow and part of the city’s romance stems from its relaxed nature. Artists have flocked here from all over the world for its tranquility and the wellspring of creativity it provides.


Inevitably, we find ourselves back in El Jardin. It’s a lively day in the square. A school band is lined along one side beating drums and blowing trumpets. On our return to the hotel we unwittingly join a wedding party parading down the street led by a paper machete bride and groom.


Our final few hours we take to soak up the last dregs of serenity in a cabana by the Rosewood’s pool. It’s a gorgeous scene: the deep blue of the water offset by the vivid orange of the building, the whites of the chairs, and the greenery surrounding. On the way back to Del Bajio Int. Airport we are in a white passenger van with others. We trade stories and impressions the first half hour before falling into a comfortable silence, content to savor the memories we individually take away.


San Miguel... It is a place of absolute enchantment. The fairytale effect of the cobblestone streets, the brightly hued facades, and the blushing guardian of Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel imbue wanderers with a sense of magic and possibility. The charm of the colonial architecture and its smiling inhabitants cannot be understated. It is abuzz with life. Everywhere, the scent of corn roasting or the sweet strains of a street musician’s love song. Every day something is happening in the town square. People are celebrating and laughter fills the streets. It is utterly captivating, and I remain enthralled.




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