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!
I knew it was a huge city but flying into this place makes you gasp at how enormous it really is. Circled by mountains, you fly over a huge valley that is just one entire city. With estimates that the city has about 21.2 million people, it is the largest metropolitan area in the western hemisphere. It was built on a lake and in the original Aztec times it was known as Tenochitlan. There are large ruins on the outskirts but also a more recently uncovered temple right next to the main cathedral in the zocalo. There is even an Aztec ruin in one of the metro stops that’s kind of neat to see. The name is in mid confusion right now with a change from the in-country name of DF (Distrito Federal) to the new acronym CDMX: Ciudad de México.
We arrived late at night but had pre-booked a large suburban taxi to take us to Coyoacan where we had booked cute two-bedroom apartment. This ended up being near the university and over looking a lovely little park. Sometimes you hit it just right with booking lodging and other times not. As I reclined on the purple chaise longue overlooking a park with a library of academic books around me, I thought this was a good one!
Coyoacan is one of DF’s 16 boroughs and was a separate village until early 1900s when the main city grew into it. Now it’s just one of the many areas but it still has a smaller charm to it with cobblestone streets and colonial buildings. It has a sweet town square with all kinds of restaurants surrounding it. Great coffee and pan/bread so it makes a good spot to people watch from. There were also loads of market stalls that popped up at the weekend but since we were there for Easter, I’m not sure if that is every weekend.
Getting around DF is no problem when you use the Metro. Really easy (one ticket costing 5 pesos (28 cents US) got you across the city. Taxis were about 200 pesos ($11) and Uber cost us a third of that – both for about a 30-minute drive. Since it’s so nice and cool there we did a lot of walking combined with Metro as that’s just more fun. We even found China town and ate bao (not that good sadly).
One day we reserved for the big Museum of Anthropology. It was very good and we sure learned a lot but some reviews said reserve a day or two – 3 to 4 hours did us just fine though. Perhaps this was because we had visited the wonderful new Mayan museum in Merida a few weeks prior. It was neat to learn more about the cultures and places we had already been to and I think that made the kids more engaged in learning – doing the museum after the real places.
We also found the Trotsky museum/house which was interesting. One thing that intrigued me was the picture of John Dewey at the house and so I had to research their link. Turns out he was the chair of the “The Commission of Inquiry into the Charges Made against Leon Trotsky in the Moscow Trials,” and travelled to Mexico to head this inquiry. I was possibly the only one interested in this but it’s that educator side of me!
It’s hard to stop sharing pictures of Oaxaca because it was so colourful and vibrant.
Roof top dining
Mitla and markets. New built on top of old and yet “new” is still quite old!
Just outside of the city is what was the capital of the Zapotec civilization from 500 BC – Monte Alban. This was our favorite ruin to visit and was huge with incredible views all around. Not sure pictures do this justice but it was so quiet getting there in the morning with this amazing view. The air is crisp and clean and it was so quiet. Very easy to just sit and ponder history.
We also went to Mitla, which is another ruin about an hour away. Nice and located within a very traditional town. Glad we had a car and were heading that way because I don’t think paying for a tour just to see it would have been worth it; although there were some cool tombs to climb into. Stopping at Arbol Del Tule was a good addition when going that way. This is a huge and old tree reported to be anywhere from 1200 to 3000 years old.
The markets were amazing as well. We went to a couple of huge ones and found just about everything for sale including live animals. It was funny to see tiny old ladies in traditional dress wandering around with a shopping bag and a chicken or turkey tucked in with it’s head out (live for now). Great food and very friendly people.
The small towns surrounding the main city are each known for varying handicrafts. One for green pottery, another for black and others for carpet weaving or tapestry and clothing. We went to Teotitlan del Valle a couple of times and had a demonstration of how they gather the wool, card it, dye it and then weave it into carpets. The dying process was all natural using little bugs from cacti and plants.
We also went to a famous restaurant there called Tlamanalli. Run by three sisters who cook traditional Zapotecan food. It was “interesting” to eat. Not sure I’d race back but a lovely building!
The offerings in food within the main city though were very good. Throw out all you think you know about Mexican food as this is nothing like Tex-Mex in the US. We liked the tlayudas (bit like a big pizza) and the grilled meats hall in the markets.
Jicama, water melon, mango, and oranges are all available from the many street vendors selling bags as are grasshoppers – chapulines. Funny watching my kids play cards and snack away on a bag of these. Small ones are crunchiest and larger – well chewy! These are sold all over the place and on many menus so not just for tourist shock. They also grind up agave worms and mix it with chili which is served with mexcal. We tried it but can’t say have embraced it.
One thing we did embrace was the hot chocolate with milk or water coupled with a soft bun to dip is absolutely the best. I want some NOW. It’s drunk for breakfast or dinner but we broke tradition and had it whenever we could.
This site has the best pictures and descriptions of foods there. Really worth browsing:
From Tlayudas to Tamales (Eating Our Way Around Oaxaca)