San Miguel de Allende is located in the heart of Mexico. So fitting for the town that became the first in all of Mexico to be declared free of Spanish rule during the war of independence.
Before the Spanish arrived in the early 16th century, there was an indigenous settlement here known as Izcuinapan (meaning “a place of dogs”, and legend has it that a group of dogs led a priest to a source of water nearby which led him to settle here). Father Juan de San Miguel built a small chapel nearby and a village started to grow around it. He decided to dedicate the town to the Archangel Michael.
But the settling of the area provoked the indigenous people. The Chichimecas and Guamare peoples began attacking Spanish travelers in the area and the village itself in the mid 1500s. So eventually the town was moved to where it is today. The center of the city was built as a protective or fortified city. Block after block of the city is built as solid stone structures surrounded by a fortress-like wall. This part of San Miguel and the Sanctuary of Jesus Nazareno de Atotonilco (in a small town about 10 miles from San Miguel) are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Central San Miguel is filled with blocks of beautiful cobblestoned streets surrounding the central plaza and cathedral. Each doorway opens to a small world all its own. Some are galleries, others are private homes with an interior courtyard and fountain.
After arriving in the middle of the day and meandering through the blocks and blocks of cobblestoned streets to find a place to stay, it’s time to stroll through this charming town. We head for the La Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel, the church at the center of town. Lovely, shell pink, and elaborately decorated…
There are antique shops, boutiques and galleries. Lots of expats and gringos wander around. I know the term gringo is a bit derogatory and in this instance I agree. Not for the first time in Mexico, as I’ve seen it many times, a well-dressed American man walks around and ignores an elderly woman who is crumpled on the sidewalk begging. And it upsets me. For a moment I judge this man. But then I remind myself that giving or not giving your money is a personal decision for each of us to make. It is not my place to judge him.
You have to walk a fine line here. There are so many beggars and so many people asking for help and you could easily give away too much. So I understand becoming a bit desensitized to it all…you simply cannot help every one. But I also think how little it would actually cost if you put a small coin in the hand of each person who asked. Just to give them hope, or support, or perhaps buy them a little something to eat. Giving someone just a single peso costs less than 10 cents in American money each time a person does it. When I think of all the times I’ve been asked directly for money or witnessed beggars holding out cups, etc. it can’t have been more than 5 times a day on average. But I don’t give 1 pesos, I usually give 5, so that’s 25 pesos a day or $2 US. There’s a part of me that has been jaded by cons and scams in the US, and I know some of these people probably get help elsewhere, but I don’t care. I’m willing to be “taken advantage of” (those are overkill words) for 50 cents here and there IF I can in some small way help a person who needs it. Americans and Canadians here are seen as very wealthy, and in comparison we very much are. It’s my personal choice to give a coin here and there. But then I’ve got to be realistic…I’m unemployed and have no income. Like I said, fine line.
The town square is busy this evening, filled with a mix locals and tourists. The cobblestones are still radiating warmth into the cool evening, something I hadn’t thought of before and I am now enjoying. Brian and I wander over to another small chapel around the corner from the plaza.
Today is Ash Wednesday and the chapel is busy with a steady flow of locals stopping in on their way home.
Outside the chapel and its front gate are a few sculptures. There is a strong art community in San Miguel. It’s been part of what draws Americans and Canadians to vacation and retire here.
There are talented craftspeople here, and plenty of mental souvenirs for me to take home.
San Miguel de Allende