Querétaro and San Miguel de Allende

Querétaro:

We enjoyed a couple of days staying with our friends, Jamie and Fabian, in their home in Querétaro, the capital city in the state of Querétaro. Aaron and Jamie met over 15 years ago while traveling abroad in Australia and have mutual friends but haven’t seen one another since. He was looking forward to catching up with her and meeting her husband, while I was looking forward to meeting them both. We were both interested in having the opportunity to ask them questions and get a feel for what their lives are like living in Mexico. Jamie is Canadian and has been living in Mexico for over 10 years now; Fabian is Mexican and the main reason why Jamie initially came to visit her dear friend since childhood, Sunny, and never left! 🙂

We were still dealing with our traveler’s diarrhea issues, so we were needing to take it easy and have access to a toilet at a moment’s notice (thank you, Jamie and Fabian, LOL). Of course besides that, after our couple of months on the road at this point, we were more interested in just hanging out as opposed to sight-seeing, so that’s exactly what we did. Our highlight of our time together was just conversing, really! We enjoyed meeting and hanging out with a group of their friends at a get-together on the afternoon we arrived, which lasted through the evening. Jamie and Fabian took us out to a local favorite of theirs for lunch the following day. We also went out to pick up take-out sushi (yes, they have sushi in Mexico; there are less raw and more deep-fried and cream cheese choices, and California rolls are made with shrimp instead of crab) and took their five dogs for a walk to their local dog park. Other than that, we just laid around the house chillen and having good conversation!

We most appreciated Jamie and Fabian’s advice when it came to prepared food, such as what is safe and what to avoid. Basically you can tell by the type of ice in drinks whether it came from a bag or not. If you eat street food, you take a risk food-wise, but you can assume that in most restaurants, food is safely prepared. This was a relief to us, having primarily avoided fresh fruit and vegetables, which are staples in our diet back at home and we had been missing! We also appreciated their recommendation of Treda®, a pill for our intestinal issues, which they took us to get at a pharmacy close to their home within a large, gated, compound with security at the entrance (there are many shops, restaurants, and more in this area; it seems the only reason one would need to leave would be for work). Their historic downtown looks very walkable (which they drove us through on our last evening together) and like you could spend at least a full day there wandering and getting lost in the streets. That is pretty much what we had planned for our time in San Miguel de Allende, so we chose to skip it and wait for that similar experience in our next destination.

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San Miguel de Allende:

We spent Monday through Friday in this popular tourist and U.S. expat destination in the state of Guanajuato. Our AirBnB accommodation, which we discovered to be a small, locally-owned apartment hotel, Casa De Los Soles, was a haven for us to retreat to while I was continuing to experience intestinal issues and didn’t know how much longer they would last (they ended up lasting through our final day there). Aaron’s issues had taken a turn for the better upon leaving Querétero. We were aware that we needed to (and did) take it easy and listen to our bodies when they were telling us to rest. San Miguel de Allende, or SMA, was the perfect place to mosey and do just that! Highlights included walking along the cobblestone sidewalks (which one must do carefully at times, especially when they are even slightly wet as not to slip and fall) and browsing through shops, artisan craft markets, and art galleries; our accommodation was within walking distance to all of it. It was here that our eyes were opened to cuisine that isn’t traditionally Mexican, such as fresh sandwiches and salads, which we seeked out throughout our stay and returned to our favorites (okay, namely Lavanda Cafe). There were plenty of vegetarian options, which was especially appreciated after pretty much avoiding fresh produce up until this point in Mexico. Since this city has a fair bit of American expats living in it, there are quite a few people who speak English and restaurants with English menu options (though we consistently made an effort to interact with others in Spanish and read the Spanish menus to the best of our abilities).

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Street view of our accommodation, near the Centro

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It was nice to be able to cook for ourselves a bit here, and to have a refrigerator! We made fakes, which is a Greek lentil dish and a go-to for us when traveling and having our own kitchen because the ingredients are cheap, it tastes good, it makes leftovers, and it reminds me of my childhood (it’s my Yiayia Voula’s — or grandmother’s – recipe). However, not the best choice for diarrhea — I ended up eating some estrella, or star, soup, which was mostly broth, but at least I could prepare it here!
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It’s really nice when we have a place with a living room area so that we have somewhere else to hang out other than on our bed. It’s a luxury to have more space than a room and bathroom while traveling, and we thoroughly enjoy it when we have it!

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Very important place in our accommodation!

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I was relaxing on the outdoor patio of a cafe with Aaron, awaiting our food, when a bird shat on me! REAL LIFE TRAVEL! 😉
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I LOVED my Lavender Latte at Lavanda Cafe, garnished with lavender – Such pretty presentation!
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Avocado toast with some mushrooms, radishes, cilantro, and of course, hot sauce! Mmm!

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Street sign in SMA – I was often fascinated towards the beginning of our abroad travels in Mexico at how different they are in each place we visited, and from those in the U.S. as well
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Aaron chillen in a local park
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Life in the park
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Donkey sighting (I sent this to my sister – She loves donkeys)! He was hanging out near the park to take photos with tourists.

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Fresh eats and tea at Nectar
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Aaron’s fancy photography skills at work 🙂
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El Jardín Principal, or the main square
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Parroquia De San Miguel Arcángel across from Jardin Allende – We never did make it inside, but it sure is beautiful from the outside. Real life: People take selfies with selfie sticks outside of it and walk in front of it all the time. As with most sites, it’s near impossible to get the “perfect” shot, so when I start feeling frustrated about that, I resolve to just capture real life going on around it as I saw it instead. 😉
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I was excited to try a new type of juice! We found it in a random shop walking down some street in SMA.
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Entrance to the Artisan Market near our place

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Lucha Libre masks

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These were everywhere! Potentially particularly popular due to the upcoming Dia de los Muertos celebrations, which take place October 31st through November 2nd.
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A day at the market (toward the end of the main drag of it)
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Walking through another market across from Mercado de Artesanías (or perhaps it was an extension of it?)
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Aaron was quite the photographer, getting close-ups of many local, beautiful handicrafts!
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Pretty fountain in a courtyard near the market
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Real life in SMA – It gets hot walking around! Finding the shady side of streets is a relief!
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Browsing through shops in town

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Neighborhood extending beyond our place (opposite the market)
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Busy street
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Beautiful outdoor patio at Cafe Rama
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I was SO excited to stumble upon Chicken Pot Pie, one of my FAVORITE dishes, at Cafe Rama!
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Aaron was happy with his Michelada!
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At the entrance of Fábrica La Aurora, a HUGE art gallery complex in SMA! We spent a couple of hours here and I’d be surprised if we made it through half of it!

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Pretty courtyard the front entrance opens into
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I thought my sister, Kristin, would like this beautifully painted, giant platter on display 🙂
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I just had to capture this pretty purple table setting!
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Along an outdoor walkway leading to some galleries
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We met a very nice, friendly American expat, Rae, in her studio at the end of this hallway. We enjoyed learning about her style of artwork, encaustic and mixed media, and chatting with her about living in SMA as a local. She has a really cute dog, too! You can check out some of her artwork on her website.

Another highlight for us was visiting El Charco de Ingenio, the Botanical Garden. While the walk there from where we stayed was mostly uphill, and it started raining during the latter part and we weren’t prepared for it, I did my best to embrace the experience. The views from up above looking down upon the city below were picturesque, and the garden itself was so unique, featuring many different types of cacti. And we met a sweet kitty friend, whom we named Gato (it’s Spanish for cat). He met us at the start of our walk into the garden and alternated leading and following us throughout most of it. <3 We felt like he was meant to be our cat, and we would probably have adopted him had we been in the U.S. for this (he seemed to be a stray cat roaming the garden). We did not make it all the way through the garden, but Aaron returned a couple of times to run here (and it was definitely a destination highlight for him)!

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Rainy selfie walking to the garden
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Following Gato!
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Inside a green house

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Cricket close-up
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Great photography from Aaron… But I did not want to be anywhere near these! And their webs (and they) were in the cacti, and within very close range while walking through some parts of the garden!
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My candid reaction to the spiders and their webs, moving forward with caution
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Look at that cute face!

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Parting with Gato 🙁
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View close to the end of our journey in the garden

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To me, this captured sky is like Heaven shining down on Earth
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Agave plants – This is the stuff Mescal is made of
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The garden has a memorial for the 2014 Iguala mass kidnapping victims
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Walking back towards the Centro – Check out that awesome view!

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We think these festive flags strung (and many others we saw around town) were to celebrate the recent Independence Day in Mexico (September 16th)

I finally was able to take a Zumba® class on our last day in SMA (when I thought my diarrhea issues had subsided, but alas, after class, I almost shat my pants walking home and thankfully there was a bathroom at a random juice shop I came upon, bought a juice, and asked; it was in a basement, didn’t have a seat on it, and it was not the cleanest space — there were a couple of flies or gnats flying around me — but I was so grateful for it). It was quite the adventure to find the class, as apparently where the gym, Boom Fitness, was showing on the map was not accurate, as I later found out there are two of that same address in town. I was proud of myself for persevering, asking people along the way (and conversing in my very limited Spanish, at the time), traipsing over a highway overpass along the shoulder, and it finally appeared ahead of me. I made it to the latter half of the class and was happy to meet the contact I had reached out to through the Zumba website, who told me about this class, and the instructor (who is also a Zumba Jammer, or ZJ, basically a trainer for Zumba instructors to learn new choreography in a live training session). The class was PACKED and it was a lot of fun! I felt glad to have made the portion of the class that I did!

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There’s the gym!
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Cesar, me, and Linda after Cesar’s energy-pumping Zumba class!

Unfortunately, we had a negative experience getting a massage at Spa Renacer, a place we had stumbled upon in an upstairs unit next to an art gallery and inquired about. I had gotten a pedicure at this place (for only MX $250, which is just over $12 USD, and I enjoyed it!) and made a massage appointment for us both. We went there and immediately were asked to go into our separate massage areas. Afterwards, when ready to pay, Aaron and I had a misunderstanding with each other and ended up paying what they had asked for and discussing it later. I thought Aaron had misunderstood the amount they told him it cost (in Spanish) when presenting them with a different amount than I had heard in my super-relaxed, just-massaged state across the room, and Aaron in fact did understand and realized it was more than it should have been, so he was trying to dispute it. When questioned by Aaron, they said the price was not 2 for 1 as they had told us earlier in the week when we had both stopped in together (before my pedicure visit), but more for the type of massages we were given (which they couldn’t articulate exactly what kind of massages they were based on the listed types on their flyer). Unfortunately, it spoiled our experience, as it was clear we had been taken advantage of, though on a small scale (no more than $15 USD). Aaron was most perturbed by the principle of it. I acknowledged it and felt disappointed, but wanted to move past it so it didn’t totally ruin the experience (though it ultimately did). The massages themselves felt good, but they were pretty light in pressure. While relaxing, and still a great deal for 60 minutes, even with the scam, by the U.S. standards we’re accustomed to (MX $900, which is about $45 USD, not including tip), they weren’t as enjoyable for us as massages we’ve received previously back at home, and we could have potentially gotten a better deal elsewhere in town (there are plenty of options in SMA for massages and spa treatments). At the end of the day, the takeaway is a travel lesson we’d both already learned in the past that we were reminded of here: Always establish and reconfirm the price (if necessary) beforehand when it comes to a service being provided. This avoids the potential for awkwardness, discomfort, and/or confrontation afterwards, which is not a desirable experience after a 1-hour massage!

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I enjoyed my pedicure here (and absorbed its difference from pedicures in the U.S. – for example, I sat in a regular chair and the professional brought over a pretty, colorful, ceramic bowl, with painted flowers on it, with warm water and flower petals floating on top); I even enjoyed interacting with the professional, practicing my Spanish. However, based on my return visit with Aaron for our massages, I would not recommend going here for their shady pricing bit they pulled on us!

The smaller, local vibe of SMA was a welcome treat after the busy hustle and bustle of Mexico City. We took a slower pace here as we were craving (and also needing due to bodily function issues as already explained). It was just what the doctor ordered!

This was definitely a place to shop for souvenirs galore! But traveling with only our backpacks, we’re a bit limited on space. Browsing through shops and market stalls is a bit different when you know you won’t be able to purchase much, if anything at all, but it can still be enjoyable in a different way. It’s then even more about learning about local artisan crafts and appreciating them for what they are. Thinking ahead, we purchased some small gifts for family members and friends for birthdays and the holidays. I also bought a scarf and pair of earrings for myself. We wanted to buy artwork, a skull head figurine, skeleton sculptured husband and wife, and more, but it would just have been too expensive to ship home. The small box I sent home via FedEx in Puebla (containing very small, light items I’d purchased in SMA) itself cost about $45 USD! It was worth it so my immediate family members would have their gifts by a guaranteed delivery date (WAY early for Christmas), and when I return home to live, I will appreciate having my scarf and earrings, but the shipping home option is one to be used rarely for us while living life on the road. We have to both really want what we’re purchasing, because while likely to be on the cheaper side where the purchase is happening, the cost to ship is likely going to increase the further we travel from the U.S. and the heavier the item(s).

I felt much more comfortable walking around on my own than I did in Mexico City, and so I did it more often. I find that when I wander on my own, I feel like I’m really getting to see everything I want to see, stopping when I want to and lingering as long as I want to, taking whatever direction I want to, without consulting with anyone else. There are many wonderful benefits to traveling with a spouse, but one challenge that Aaron and I regularly struggle with and have to work through is who takes the lead and when, even when it comes to one person walking in front of the other on a narrow street with people walking in each direction and deciding which streets to take. It can get really annoying, frustrating, and old when you’re the person who walks a bit slower than the other, and the one who doesn’t naturally take the fastest route or know exactly where to go all the time and needs more time and consultation with a map or written directions to figure it out (i.e. me). Aaron is like Magellan, which often benefits me and I appreciate, but it can also upset me at times when it’s my turn to be the leader. I often feel when I navigate, Aaron gets impatient with me and doesn’t like when he isn’t the one leading, and that comes across and makes me feel like I can’t fully enjoy being the one in control when it’s my turn, and that I’m not being given the patience I need to figure it out. From Aaron’s perspective, it’s especially difficult for him when he knows I’m not going in the right direction, yet he’s along for the ride. It’s not just about going the “right” way though, because I do figure it out eventually (and there is more than one way to get most places, and even when they are not the quickest route, we often have the time and are just exploring anyway), but also about each person choosing what we see, where we go, where we pause, etc., at their pace when it’s their turn to lead. Of course, we often consult one another even when we’re leading and end up incorporating things we think the other will like anyway (aww, yeah, because we love each other and are considerate of one another). I explain this to provide another wonderful reason why having separate time alone is so important for us individually and as a couple while traveling, although the opportunities for this seem to be few and far between for the most part. Nonetheless, we are aware of our need for it and make the effort for it when we can, and we enjoy it when it does happen. It’s nice to be able to come back together and share what we did with one another, and it enhances our time together overall having had healthy time to ourselves as a balance.

We left San Miguel de Allende on a bus to Guanajuato in the afternoon of the day I took the local Zumba class. We appreciated SMA being a more comfortable, easier destination to explore (probably because it’s more touristed than other places we’ve gone to, which of course have their draws as well). Stay tuned for our adventure to Guanajuato, where we missed our stop and thought for a bit that we would be spending the night instead in Guadalajara, which would have been ten hours of travel out of our way!

Until next time,
Elena 🙂

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