Patzcuaro. Pueblo Magico.

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This past Sunday Fred, Pinky and I drove to Patzcuaro, a town in the state of Michoacan that is about three hours away from San Miguel de Allende. Michoacan is one of the places in Mexico that is famous for all sorts of crafts. It is the birthplace of the decorative skeleton ladies, the Catrinas.  We had an almost life-size one in the courtyard of our charming, dog-friendly hotel, Casa Encantada.We have heard many of our friends in San Miguel speak lovingly of this town, and we were very curious to see it. We stayed until Tuesday, and it was a wonderful adventure. We will definitely go back. Next time we’ll stay longer and visit the many villages that are nearby. But, since pictures speak louder than words, here are some of my favorites from the trip.

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Patzcuaro is about two hundred years older than San Miguel, and about 1,ooo feet higher up in the mountains.

I am starting to see that when I am taking pictures I am much more interested in details than in wide expanses. And people…my favorite part of everywhere we go.

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DSCF8037web On Sunday, we saw many people from other towns and cities in Mexico who had come here for a weekend. I have to say, it seemed that most of them were enjoying Patzcuaro as much as we were. On Monday and Tuesday, it was mostly locals. I don’t think I have encountered friendlier people anywhere on our travels here.

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This lady was selling hats on the square. I love the one I bought from her. And, I love her face.

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No matter where we have been in Mexico, there was usually a reason for a parade, dancing, and getting into costumes. This happened on Tuesday morning.

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My incredible Mexican driver, Fred and the Rambling Whippet, Pinky Lee. By the way, she is a Big Star in Mexico. It’s a little like walking around with a unicorn.

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Walking around in Mexico

Yesterday afternoon, which was a Saturday, Fred and Pinky and I went out to run a few errands. Going out on the weekend in San Miguel de Allende is like going to a carnival. The town is packed with tourists, mostly Mexican, and the general feeling is one of holiday. The weekend brings a lot of young people into town, and I always enjoy seeing them. I like to see how they are “styling.”

So, as we walked across the Jardin, we were just enjoying the people watching. Then, an unfortunate thing crossed my awareness. There is a little sidewalk cafe, quite popular with the tourists, right on the square. It was filled with Mexican families on a weekend get away, young Mexican couples, and a few locals. At one end there were a couple of tables pushed together with about 6 American 30-somethings. They were being loud, really loud. And the things they were saying (in jest) were quite inappropriate to be shouting, anywhere. It seemed as though they thought they were on the beach in Cancun. San Miguel is not a beach town. It is one of the most sophisticated and genteel cities in Mexico. Even if the people at the table around them didn’t speak English, their very behavior brought the phrase, “Ugly American” to my mind. It is beyond me that people come to Mexico and have no regard for the culture.

Well, that was just a passing moment yesterday, and I didn’t give it a whole lot of thought one way or the other at the time. Later on in the day I went out for an errand about two blocks from our house.  Even though we live in Historic Centro, which is where the tourists tend to be, we are right on the northwestern edge of it. Our immediate neighborhood still has that kind of wonderful funkiness that I love about Mexico. If you walk up to the corner and take a left you are heading to San Juan de Dios Market. You are now totally away from Gringolandia, and in the Mexico of your dreams. Every day you will see something on the street that will amaze you.

As I said, yesterday I went on an errand. As I walked down the sidewalk, I saw a middle-aged Mexican man approaching me on a bicycle. He pulled up to the curb (I’m still about a half a block away) and pulled a hard-boiled egg out of his shirt pocket. He cracked the egg on the handlebars of his bike, and started to peel it. There was no one around but this man and me. It was sort of an intimate moment in a strange sort of way. He looked up and seemed a little unsettled that I was about to walk by and he was eating the egg. I looked at him and said, “Huevo.” He laughed and said, “Huevo.”

A bit later on my walk I saw that a Mexican woman was approaching me on the sidewalk. Some of the sidewalks here are extremely narrow and someone has to give. The appropriate thing is for the person who is walking facing traffic to step off the sidewalk. I have noticed that some Gringos are not hip to this custom. I stepped down from the sidewalk and said, “Buenas Tardes.” She gave me the biggest smile.

Theses are just some things that happened yesterday while I was walking around in San Miguel. Very sorry I didn’t get a picture of the guy with the egg.

The 30 Day Challenge. Why I Love to Live in Mexico. It Turns Back Time

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I have found this to be true no matter where I have been in Mexico. You walk down a street and you could be in another century. You are riding in your car, but you look out the window and see a donkey being used for transportation. You eat traditional food that has been around since before the people arrived from Spain. When you look at the people, in most of the faces you see evidence of ancestors from ancient cultures. You enter buildings with thick walls and courtyards and imagine life having gone on there for generations. If fact, as I sit in our little casa this morning writing this post, I look at the ancient stone fireplace and wonder about those who have lived and loved and died inside these walls. It tends to make you realize that you don’t have to define your life by just today, but that you, too, can exist in a timeless place within your soul.

We’re Not in Nashville Anymore, Pinky

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Who do I want to be in Mexico that I’m not in the USA? This question was asked me by someone I met here at Las Casitas. This man and his wife and dog live in Oaxaca City and were here for a short beach vacation. We were having a chat about living in Mexico, if not full-time, for several months a year. (Up until this year, the longest time we’ve been here has been three weeks.) This question started me thinking about an answer:
I want to be spend time in places that take me, if not out of my comfort zone, at least to another area of it.
I want to see what it’s like to live in another country, specifically Mexico, at least part time.
I want to learn a new language.
I want to never be cold.
I want to approach cooking from seeing what the market has, and learn to make food that reflects the cuisine of another culture.
I want to understand more, and learn to completely suspend my judgments.
I want to be more open to other people.

We are just wrapping up three and a half months in Zipolite, a small beach town on the coast of Oaxaca, in southern Mexico. Trust me—when you stay this long it stops being a vacation and just becomes life. That means that you will have wonderful days and you will also have problems. There will be people and situations that will try your patience, and you will definitely have to deal with being the foreigner in someone else’s country. Truthfully, I am amazed that the people in Mexico are as nice to Americans as they are, in light of the US attitude about immigration. But, that’s another conversation.
But, you will also see a side of yourself that you haven’t had an opportunity to see. I think I have grown during the past months in several ways. I have learned that I can keep myself busy doing things I enjoy, and I can just sit still. I have learned that I can spend days (24/7) on end with just Fred and Pinky and be very happy, and that Pinky has exceeded my expectations as far as what a wonderful, adaptable traveler she can be.
If you know me, you know that I am a very social person. My social encounters here have been limited and I have learned to process that. I’ve had days when I wanted to stay here forever, and a few moments—not days—when I wanted to hop on the next plane. Because no place is Paradise, and when you stay somewhere for a time you start to see that it is just a place. You become much more aware of the lives of the locals and you really have to stop thinking about how to fix everyone and everything. I have really wanted not to be “the ugly American” here in this part of Mexico that in many ways is pretty primitive. While there are some very sophisticated people here, both Mexican and ex-pat, it is in many ways a very exotic and foreign place, at least to me. I would be kidding myself if I thought I had made anything more than superficial connections with the locals, (Paco and Javier excepted). But, after all, it takes time to connect with people, and is even harder when you only speak a little bit of the same language. I am more motivated than ever to learn Spanish. That has definitely improved, but to really have a conversation I’ve got a long way to go.
One interesting thing I have learned is how much my friends at home mean to me. (Of course, I knew that, but I really get it after being away for a while. I have loved keeping in touch via FaceBook.) I look forward to hanging out on our back porch this summer and hope to find that I don’t have to travel thousands of miles to just turn off my busy brain, sit, and enjoy the natural world around me.
While I am ready to be a home for awhile and enjoy a Nashville summer, I am also more motivated than ever to travel in Mexico and learn more about this beautiful country that seems so different from the USA. But, don’t get me wrong; that’s part of what I’ve always loved about it. So in October we’ll be heading south of the border again. We’ll do a little more exploring next trip. And I’m more certain that we’ll adapt. We’re not in Nashville any more, Pinky.