Aristocracy and the American Retiree: San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

San Miguel felt like a mistake. Instead of taking the bus I chose to drive, in Mexico, alone, 3.5 hours to the town. Apart from sheer exhaustion, the stress of reading street signs in Spanish quickly took it’s toll, as did the many speed traps and Mexican Policia Federal on the side of the road. What did I know about the Mexican police? Was this safe? What do I do if pulled over? How many kilometers were in a mile again? What had I thoughtlessly risked into order to have a bit more control on my trip? I arrived exhausted and deeply considering whether this was a worthwhile stop.

After the delicious heartbeat of Mexico City, San Miguel itself was also a shock. My first night in town my hosts recommended I explore a First Friday event at the local art gallery complex (housed in series of renovated warehouses.) It sounded exquisite and sensual. Friday evening, sunset, vibrant Mexican art, wine – what could go wrong?

San Miguel de Allende town square at night, American retiree in Mexico

A typical night in the town square of San Miguel

After the third shouted “Heeeeeyyyyyy, Bob! You gotta come see this booth, the locals are givin’ away free red wine too!” in a heavy Texan drawl, I gave up. Too many people, too many Americans, and far too little authentic Mexican experience on what was supposed to be, for me, an adventure away from all that. This wouldn’t be the first time I struggled with American expats either: my own people. It truly seems like expatriation can highlight some of the most shocking arrogance and insensitivities of Americans.  

San Miguel de Allende Mexico American retiree in Mexico

7am. The only time the street wasn’t clogged with cars, but oh how lovely.

The next morning I awoke early and dragged myself up the cobblestoned streets towards the main square. Finally I began to see San Miguel’s charm. Cobblestoned streets, dusty dry washes rough with gravel and dirt next to cultured desert gardens, and aristocratic Spanish architecture. Every doorway was framed with a heavy stone lintel and when I could peek past the cracks in the doorways I glimpsed verdant inner paradises of open courtyards, fountains, and gardens with families eating pastries and coffees together.

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In the harsh light of the afternoon not much happens, but in the warm tendrils of sunrise, and the glow of lamps near sunset where painted stone still radiates warmth from the day, the town sways gently with rhythm. Spices and festivals and a pink wedding-cake-styled cathedral drape the city with a motherly embrace. Children are constantly laughing, parades are a weekly affair, and even the Americans and tourists cradle their children in one arm with a beer in the other at nine o’clock while standing beside a crowded cafe and laughing with their friends. It was achingly picturesque and probably a comfortable retirement destination (for which it’s known.)


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