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Christmas in Morelia and New Years in San Miguel

19 Jun 2010

Comala to San Miguel, Mexico
5,371 km

 

From Comala I rode northeast on a good highway through forested hill country south of the Laguna de Chapala to the small town of Mazamitla where I stayed for two nights. The town is built on the slope of a hill and its streets are narrow and some are very steep. They are made of smooth, round, irregular rocks with no mortar between, which is the style in many Mexican towns. For this reason and for the steep slopes people drive ATVs through the city streets. The central plaza and the church that stands adjacent to it were lovely in the twilight, as lovely as they are in any town in Mexico, and here, also, the air breathed cool and clean into my lungs and it smelled strongly of the pine trees that cover these hills. In the evening I walked among the pine forested hills above the town where the locals have built cabins that they rent or sell as weekend retreats.

 

From Mazamitla I rode to Zacapú, which is of little note except that it is between Mazamitla and Morelia. The winds were strong during the day, making a great dancing undulation of the trees and the bushes along the highway, and slowing my progress so that I did not reach Morelia as I had planned. I reached Morelia first thing in the morning of the next day, which was a breezy, sunny Christmas Eve day. I walked around during the day and in the evening I drank hot chocolate at a café across from the Plaza de Armas. Some people attended mass at the cathedral and others enjoyed the evening in the plaza with their families and I enjoyed watching them. I noticed that there was an pleasant calm across the city. The next day – Christmas Day – I slept in and then walked around the city and then I returned to the hotel to take a nap. The city is beautiful for its Spanish colonial architecture. In the evening I walked among the plazas and pedestrian streets, which were aglow from the strings of white Christmas lights that hung along the walls and along the archways. There were many people out but I didn’t talk to anyone, except for a group of bikers wearing Harley-Davidson jackets because the evening was cool and because they liked the look.

 

The next morning I breakfasted at a restaurant across from the Plaza de Armas and the cathedral and drank hot coffee until the sun rose above the closer of the two towers of the cathedral. The city was completely still, although the holiday was over and it was now a work day. In the midmorning I rode to Guanajuato, which a city in the nook of a valley and, impossibly, it is even more beautiful than Morelia. Around every bend is a fountain or a statue or a plaza or a garden or a combination of these, and everywhere there are the facades of wonderfully preserved colonial buildings. The streets are a tangle of narrow, curving, cobblestone alleys and below the city center there are dark subterranean passageways with stone walls and vaulted ceilings that seem as though they were once used for something sinister but are now used as a parking lot.

 

That night I stayed in a dormitory room at a hostel and I immediately regretted the decision. The sheets were dirty and there was someone snoring and, worst of all, all the lockers were filled. I secured my gear to my motorcycle but my toiletries I kept atop my boots beside my bed and it was my toiletries bag that was stolen during the night. I awoke very early to find the bag gone and the snoring man gone and that was too much of a coincidence but there was nothing to be done and I grieved the loss of my Sonicare toothbrush.

 

That morning I was grumpy and the best thing to fight the mean reds or the cold blues or a bad case of the grumps is to go for a motorcycle ride. So I rode along a road that follows the ridge around the valley and saw the city from every side as the early morning sun cast long, deep shadows. Leaving the city, I followed another harrowingly corkscrew canyon road. After Dolores Hidalgo the highway straightened and my speed increased but I was in no hurry because San Miguel de Allende is not far away. In San Miguel I found Erssel’s house, which is in a quiet neighborhood about 20 minutes walk from the central plaza. I met Erssel through couchsurfing.org, which is a project that connects travelers with hosts and something I had been persuaded to try by a group of devotees that I met in Zacatecas.

 

San Miguel de Allende is another charming little city, small enough to be intimate but big enough to keep your interest. It is a city of about 100,000 and half of these are foreigners – most are retired North Americans. Erssel is one of them. He lives in a large house with high, vaulted ceilings of red brick. His friends are an endearing ragtag group and his neighbors, Jeff and Arnie, are a pair of likable roughnecks. Jeff is talkative and crass and a hard pill to swallow and Arnie is mellow and laidback – he was a professional wrestler years ago before it became a phenomenon. Now they build water features on homes and golf courses.

 

On New Years Eve we went to the central plaza and we stood before the church where a group of mariachis played traditional songs that come from the state of Veracruz. When the New Year arrived we danced and whistled and some people kissed and we all clapped and held small firecrackers above our heads that shot off sparks the color of dry Champaign.

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