We seem to have been busier than ever here in SMA. There are loads of worldschooling families here and it’s nice to be able to network and find classes and fun outings rather than always having to search them out ourselves.
Charlotte and Max have a private Spanish tutor twice a week who is amazing. She comes to the house and I can hear how fast they are learning with her plus laughing a lot. I hope she will continue on Skype!
Charlotte is also riding at a lovely ranch and has been going on trail rides twice a week.
Then there is indoor rock climbing at 8 Doble
And Silks classes (could also do gymnastics), which are available at about three different places.
Max has played chess with the ongoing club that meets at Starbucks Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
Oh and there is volunteering at the animal shelter. Playing with puppies and kittens galore!
We are hoping to add in some art classes too and if we were here longer then have also found a great Japanese language teacher plus music teachers. The nice thing is most are within walking distance (riding is taxi) and so reasonably priced that it’s hard to turn down. There are tons of activities for adults too. It’s a great city for classes or simply eating and wandering.
On another day trip around SMA, we headed to the ranch that provides produce, meat and eggs for the lovely restaurant and shop, which is just a couple of streets from our house. Via Organica self describes as: “Via Organica is a Mexican nonprofit organization whose mission is to promote good nutrition through organic agriculture, fair trade, a healthy lifestyle and the protection of the planet.”
This is one of those places that makes you not only enjoy your food as it’s tasty but feel good about the process and background of the food system. And since they brew beer right at their restaurant you can sample and feel even better. We had a lovely tuna one (cactus berry and not the fish).
I think that’s my favorite but they have all kinds and it tastes different each time. At the ranch half of us got onto horses to tour the ranch and area and the others had a walking tour of the gardens and farm and then drive to the village restaurant. This was a very simple and yet delicious meal of all locally made foods. Chicken soup, chilli relleno, and pulque to drink. I think this last was the most fascinating as we got to watch the restaurant owner go to the large magueys growing in her garden, pull back the plastic sheeting on the top, and ladle out the honey water from inside the huge plant. We drank this and it was sweet and a juice. But when they take this liquid and add it to a little of the previously fermented honey water, it “magically” turns into pulque. At first sip I wasn’t so sure of this as the smell is a little different but the taste is good. Slightly like beer but we are told not as strong, it’s something that has been drunk for centuries and goes back to Prehispanic times. Apparently a drunk mouse in 1340 gave the secret away. It’s quite hard to transport as fermenting is fast and nonstop so must be consumed quickly after it starts. There are quite a few reports too of the health benefits including being good for breastfeeding moms (increasing milk supply) and gastrointestinal benefits. It is similar to kombucha so I can see how it must have probiotic qualities.
We had a great day learning so much about this neat drink and organic farm and of course kids and Aunt Jo liked the riding. It’s a really nice place to spend the day and see a bit more of the countryside.
I already wrote about Dolores Hidalgo and that day trip but we enjoyed it so much that we took Grandma, Aunt Jo, and Cousin Janet back during their visit with us. We ate some great Al Pastor which was fun to share with family.
We also stopped at an amazing World Heritage site church: Sanctuary of Atotonilco. This was built in the 18th Century and is known as the Sistene Chapel of Mexico. For good reason as the paintings on the ceilings and walls are lovely. My pictures do not do it justice.
This time we not only shopped for Talavera, but went to a large factory to see how it is made. It’s a really neat process and quite lengthy as all made and painted by hand. This factory has contracts with Walmart so watch out for the pottery around Christmas.
I knew we would San Miguel (SMA) looked lovely but it really is amazing so far. The city is very pretty with loads of restaurants and neat shops. It’s quite touristy in the central area and many retirees from the US have moved here but the city seems big enough for all. Many of the old colonial houses in the central area have been renovated and look lovely. Slight gentrification but that has mixed blessings as it brings money to in to renovate and save historic buildings.
We are here for two months so I will hopefully post more about the city but here are a few things to start. The churches and squares here are lovely. They are full of life with vendors and families just hanging out together and enjoying the lovely climate. It is such a break from the summer heat of Florida to be in central Mexico where the daily average is in the 70s and nighttime is in the 50s. It rains quite a bit in the afternoon but that just makes it green and cools things off. The humidity is also much lower thank goodness.
We have been to some amazing restaurants so far with topnotch gourmet food and delicious market and street food. Widest range of options that we have seen in Mexico yet.
We also took a trip to Canada de la Virgen, which is an Otomi archaeological site from about 530AD. It was a beautiful and easy drive up where we parked at the visitors center and then were driven in a minibus for about 10 minutes to where we then hiked up to the site. It’s quite a long walk (1.5 miles round trip) and rocky terrain in places but the weather was lovely and cool (70s) and we were up in the hills. Cows wandered by us and there is a lovely gorge nearby that you can see into.
The tour was all in Spanish so three of us got very little out of the guide’s explanation but it was pretty walking and exploring and we read about the site before going which helped.
We rented a car for a couple of days so we could explore around the San Miguel de Allende area and one town we visited is famous as it is where the Cry of Dolores went out and the priest Miguel Hidalgo Costilla sounded the call for independence from Spain. It’s a relatively small town and easily walkable in the downtown with multiple small but enjoyable museums. The square in the middle of town is also famous for the ice cream vendors who have flavors of everything imaginable (note not my picture but the menus of options are all similar — I was too busy eating to take pics).
We sampled: beer, shrimp, cactus, avocado, rose, cola, mango, coconut, chamoy, tequila, mole and many more. Really fun to see but hard to pin down which one to eat a cup of!
After eating our way around the town we headed over to the main road for pottery. I’m a fan of Talavera and this place has been making it since the 1810 revolution or before! The stores were full of gorgeous items – matching toilets to sinks! I want a hook and towel hanger to match my talavera sink in Florida but had to buy an entire set of bathroom fittings (toothbrush holder/soap/multiple hooks etc.) as they came in a set. This only cost me about $10! Not sure what I will do with all those pieces but such a deal.
We headed off to Mexico again and we were thrilled to meet Jake in Mexico City. Before we settled down in San Miguel de Allende for a couple of months we took a few days to stay in a city about an hour away: Guanajuato. It’s a colonial city built on hills and coming in by taxi (from the bus station) at night is impressive as you have to go through long tunnels. These are not smoothly formed but rather rugged and roughly hewn. They were designed during early mining days to divert the river and prevent flooding but now are a warren of tunnels for cars (some people walk but I sure wouldn’t want to).
The city is gorgeous with some of the best views from the top of the hill, which is easily accessed by taking the funicular tram up the hill to the Pipila monument. The city is built on hills and houses are jumbled together joined by alleys that are a rabbit warren of hills and stairs with much of it a steep climb. It is not easy climbing and small children would be difficult and certainly no babies in strollers.
We had a lovely evening at the Teatro Juarez, which is a beautiful old theater. The symphony was playing Dimitri Shostakovich’s 7th and it was all the more rousing with the large storm outside; thunder crashing with the percussion and flashing lightening. We got absolutely soaked going home and the narrow alleyways up hill became small rivers, which we had to wade through to get back to our rental house. A memorable evening for sure.
There are quite a few small museums in the city and most are easy commitments in both money and time. One that is a taxi ride just outside of centro is Museo de las Momias. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go to this as it’s very creepy but the kids convinced me. It IS creepy but not really nightmare’ish. We’ve seen multiple mummy exhibitions but usually they have been quite a bit older than these that are quite new. The local soil has minerals that preserve bodies rapidly and so within a few years they are mummified. Many of the bodies are less than 100 years old and the hair and parts of clothing are still on. So yes, kind of creepy.
We were excited to visit Casa Diego Rivera, which is where the famous painter was born and is now a museum. It was a pretty old house but a rather disappointing museum with limited art. OK for a 30-minute visit but not much depth.
There were some decent restaurants and it was a nice city to visit. More than worth the trip if there is something good playing at the theater!
Christian and I took a short trip to Cuba. We had to make it a short one due to the limited internet and it being the middle of my teaching schedule. He got us a great little Airbnb one street away from the Malecon and shops and restaurants.
The flight over and visa process was very easy with no worries about using American passport (me). We both bought visas at the US airport but didn’t have to mark a category or give any extensive information. It was very smooth at the other end too with short lines through immigration (a nice change).
We changed dollars at the airport into CUC and were hit with a bit of a charge as it’s 10% for dollars (research later suggests euros better). Taxis were plentiful and easy to get to where we were staying and the roads were pretty easy traffic wise.
Our host met us and showed us around a little and then we set off for lunch. Sidewalks are a little precarious with broken steps and holes/sewers but no more than we find in many Asian places.
We wandered the mall for 10 minutes as it only had a couple of lackluster shops with dusty looking appliances, racy lingerie and a convenience store that heralded good beer and water but no snack food and only strange condiments and pickled octopus type of things. Very limiting in terms of food availability outside of restaurants and this continued everywhere we went.
We should not laugh at translations but Cuban menus were very funny
Our meals were decent in restaurants for the most part but quite expensive and on a par with Florida. The beer was very good and Christian enjoyed the Cuban rum. Everything else seemed to have run out (even though bottles were on show). I did have delicious lobster kebabs, which for $8 was a great deal.
At the airport café when leaving we lined up for coffee and breakfast to discover that the only thing on the menu was coffee and ham and cheese sandwiches. That as it but we did find some strange cookies in duty free. And internet!
We had a great tour around the countryside for a day. It was pretty (much like Costa Rica combined with the Yucatan) and people were very friendly. The tourist sites are still limited and just now being developed so it’s a bit rickety which is understandable.
Driving through Cape Town is a big mix from gorgeous gated villas to mile after mile of corrugated shanties in the townships. Such inequalities were hard to see.
We were able to find a tour through the townships (mostly Langa) and also visit a preschool. This is run by an NGO and is clean and safe for children albeit rather bare and of course crowded by US standards. Very few play items for children and just mats to lie on. The teacher feeds them from one bowl of porridge/corn meal. It’s relatively expensive at about $18 a month for a child to attend. Looking around at the living conditions it was difficult to imagine raising small children there.
A rather strange poster for a preschool classroom
Living conditions in some of the townships.
Entire families have one room
This one was a hugger
Our initial push to go to South Africa was for my brother Tim’s wedding to the amazing Lara (they still live in Dubai). We had a big group of family and friends from all over the world and it was a week of fun.
They rented an entire vineyard that was beautiful and other days saw long brunches and lunches. Too much food and wine but memorable times.
It was also a really fun time for the kids as they had cousin Janet to hang out with and Crazy Aunt Jo. We had an apartment together and laughed so hard we pulled muscles!
The girls all got to ride horses along the beach which made Charlotte very happy!
Cape Town showed us multiple weather conditions from hurricane force winds to hot afternoons in the outside pool, cold rain, fog, and lovely cool days with low humidity. We heard you can get 4 seasons in one day here and this was certainly evident in Cape Town.
Hermanus (just outside Cape Town)
Pretty but windy!
Table Mountain had impressive clouds over it often, which seemed to bring rain soon after. We headed down the coast to the Cape of Good Hope and had glorious blue skies.
The journey ended up taking about 7 hours working our way slowly to see penguins on one coast and then ostrich and baboons at the national park, which takes up the lower half of the Cape. This is the second southern most spot of Africa (Cape Aguila is the main one) and you can see both the Atlantic and Indian oceans. It was really gloriously blue and clear on the day we were there but it was easy to imagine the high winds and storms that have caused many a shipwreck off those coast lines.
The penguins are primarily located at Boulder’s Beach. We stopped at the beach right next to this one, which is free and had more penguins we are told than Boulders. They were very laid back and didn’t seem frightened of people but as they bite, we didn’t get too close. The water was incredibly clear around there and wasn’t that cold (too much for me).