It was 1994 and my wife and I had just moved to Monterrey, Mexico to begin my two-year expatriate assignment with Amway de Mexico. We'd been married for less than a year and were excited about the opportunity and hoping for a little adventure. Fortunately Mexico never disappointed. In fact, the first "adventure" became the benchmark for every trip we have taken since. It was like a first kiss: magical, memorable and bit chaotic.
On September 16th, we left Monterrey with eight new friends from the office, around 8:00 am, piling into in a Suburban. It was at a least a ten hour drive to our destination, San Miguel de Allende, to experience a traditional Mexican Independence Day celebration featuring an authentic El Grito de Dolores.
I left the driving to my friend Rafa. Barreling down Mexican highways in an over stuffed Suburban is best left for experts. There were virtually no shoulders on the road and we were constantly passing (and being passed) by speeding semi-trucks, with their drivers chewing pequin chiles to stay awake, (at least that was Rafa's story). For two folks from west Michigan, it was white knuckle all the way! As stressful as the trip was, it made the safe landing in San Miguel even more satisfying.
We arrived around 8:00 pm, and after checking into the hotel, we wandered to the town's center and were immediately in the heart of a crazy fiesta celebrating Mexican Independence Day, September 16, 1994. The cobble stoned streets were packed tight, with the occasional vehicle plowing through the crowds, honking it's horn as it bulled forward. Soon fireworks were lit. Some seemed to explode a bit early, some late, it did not matter. Firecrackers were flying, flags were being swung and the crowd was cheering. I don't think we walked as much as being absorbed in the crowd and just floated through the streets. It was a wild, unforgettable night.
San Miguel de Allende is part of what travel guides call Colonial Mexico. For many tourists, this region is not as popular as the resort destinations like Cancun, Cabo, Puerto Vallarta and Acapulco, but for my money, it is an absolutely amazing region full of charm, history and magic. It was truly one of the few places I ever traveled to that I felt transported to another era. Historic churches, murals, cantinas, wonderful food and drink, street vendors, musicians and gorgeous folk art and antiques celebrating the Mexican culture.
After recuperating from too many Independence Day toasts, the next afternoon, we took a short drive to the village of Dolores Hildago. This is literally ground zero for Mexican Independence as it was the location where Father Hidalgo made the first El Grito de Dolores. This historic little village was full of unique shops and talented artisans. Dolores is very famous for the beautiful Talavera pottery. We bought several items that we treasure to this day.
We spent another two days exploring San Miguel before we had to head home. Then the adventure began. Still riding high, Rafa convinced everyone we should try to find the legendary "ghost town" of Real de Catorce . We were in the "neighborhood", so why not? Real de Catorce, once a mining boom town is now a world treasure. Tucked in between two mountain ranges and only accessible through a long tunnel, it is the most surreal place I have ever been. When we arrived, a pilgrimage was taking place, and we could not drive through the tunnel as hundreds of people where in pouring out, many on the knees, some on burros, after paying their respect to a local saint. Instead we enlisted a young boy to pull us in a cart through the tunnel. If we had not had another eight plus hours on the road, we would of experienced Real de Catorce for much longer! To this day, I have a hard time describing this city and visit.
During our two years in Mexico we visited other colonial parts of Mexico including the famous silver mining town of Zacatecas. We also spent a great deal of time in Mexico City exploring neighborhoods like San Angel and it's famous artisan market. We also experienced two other wonderful traditions in Mexico City, the Day of the Dead and a traditional Mexican Christmas celebration,La Posada.
Even though it has been 13 years since we lived in Mexico, I've never forgotten the beauty of many of the colonial cities, the art, the wonderful food and music and the kindness of the people. My wife and I have an ongoing list of places to visit, and a return to San Miguel de Allende is very near the top. It's an experience we would like to share with our children too. In a very modern world, the contrast and vibe of these historic cities and villages are both awe-inspiring and impossible to replicate unless you put your feet on the ground.
About the author:
John Rumery is an entrepreneur and champion barbecuer living in Allegan , Michigan. Visit his BBQ website grilladelic.wordpress.com.