Current projects: The Wanderers
The Migrant Project seeks to record the faces and stories of migrant workers passing through Mexico on their way to or from work, both documented and undocumented, in the United States.
Central American Adventure
6,000 kilometers overland from San Miguel de Allende, Mexico to Montezuma, Costa Rica and back in our beloved NAS-D 90. We'll be looking for action, seeking natural beauty and culture, and writing back to you about it all - from the first detail to the last. The plan is still in the works, so we invite you to be part of it!
We’ve all visited somewhere we thought was just perfect. Every detail seemed picturesque and dreamy, and we caught ourselves saying we never wanted to go home. Imperfections are easily overlooked and those that we catch can appear curious, interesting or even downright sweet. We’ve also all had the opposite, the nightmare trip that couldn’t end fast enough. Both of these scenarios only skim the surface, though.
San Miguel is known for many things: colonial architecture, hundreds of festivals, beautiful weather and all the art you could ever want. Cheap eats is not something that appears on this list, however. Certainly it’s less expensive than restaurant prices in the United States, but it’s one of the more expensive cities in Mexico, due to its tourism. This isn’t a bad thing – it means we have eclectic, delicious restaurants serving the highest quality of yumminess …but what if you’re on a budget and want to travel or live in this area inexpensively?
Mexico is known for its abundance of traditional candies, differing from one region to the next. While your average foreigner may be aware of some of them, the variety is astounding, often using fruits and combinations we otherwise wouldn’t be able to imagine. I’m not going to lie to you – some of the sweets are downright magical and others …well, I’m not sure what they were thinking.
Recently one of my readers commented that we make this whole vagabond-traveling-duo-thing look easy. “You must have a big fat trust fund to live on while you flit around creating magic, right? How could any normal person do what you do?” he asked.
Mineral de Pozos, an old silver mining town about 45 minutes outside San Miguel de Allende, is a recently revived but still sleepy relic of Mexico’s past: narrow cobblestone streets devoid of people, picturesque abandoned and dusty landscapes, and the ghosts of miners to haunt them. It’s beautiful and strange, magical and spooky.
Recently, I encountered a couple of friends chatting. One was saying what a challenge it is to make ends meet; the other quickly responded, “We’re all broke. Nobody wants to hear about it.” That got me thinking. If we’re all broke, isn’t it something we need to discuss? Certainly there are factors beyond our control, but how can we change this experience? In my experience, it’s possible to live simply, and more economically, by changing perspective and habits.
Belibeya Festival, in its eighth year, was the first Tribal style belly dance festival in Mexico. What pretell is Tribal style belly dance? It’s an art form I fell in love with a few years ago here in Mexico, studying with Elsanne Barrows one of the two key sources of this dance in Mexico. She and Xiaron Kerr originally brought tribal style from the states to our beautiful country, where it has spread like rabbits reproduce.
While in centro, there's an Italian Coffee Company literally on every corner. Imagine my disdain: looking for an authentic taste of Puebla and corporate restaurants and cafés crowd every corner. However, unique coffee shops exist in centro too. I had the pleasure of enjoying a truly exceptional espresso and a few hours work at Zaranda Café. Friendly staff, fast internet, and inexpensive, quality coffee made this café a winner.
At the mention of Puebla, people begin salivating. I’ve never seen a city so consistently remind people of food. But many Mexican folk are quick to say that Puebla has the best food in the entire country, which (might I add) is a lot of competition. I left San Miguel with a list of about 15 things to try, and, as a lover of food, I was ready to try them all.
What can I say? I’m a sucker for a dive bar. This recently remodeled treasure, located on Capitol Hill in Washington DC, was quite the find. From deep fried macaroni and cheese wedges to a deep fried burger, the Tune Inn had great food, cold beer and a constant Motown groove playing over the stereo. A friendly staff made us laugh and took great care of us – so much so that we went twice in our four day stint in DC. It even inspired Sean to get surreal with the photography.
When visiting Baton Rouge, I love to go to my old tried and true hiking trails through the swamp, though when I mention them to Friends back home, I get blank stares. There are hiking trails in Baton Rouge? Not only are there hiking trails, but their quite unique and beautiful (though flat) because of the swampy terrain surrounding the paths.
I know I’ve already had one chicken and waffle rant in my Louisiana food blog, but I just don’t feel I’ve driven the point home yet. There are many parts of the world, and dare I say America, who’ve not tried this delicacy. The time is now, friends.
One of the best parts of visiting Louisiana is eating. That’s not to belittle the myriad of other reasons one might visit: the stellar music scene, the unique natural beauty of the swamps, and all the fun to be had in the partying in the French Quarter or outdoor activities in the Sportsman’s Paradise. But, for me, I tend to plan my trips around crawfish and strawberry season.
Among travel options in the States, Amtrak is a personal favorite. I love trains for many reasons: the rhythm of the rails, the experience of the passing scenery, the slow but steady getting there. For me it's a complete travel experience. Not to mention that Amtrak has a variety of other benefits, including a friendly and helpful staff, a cafe with simple food and a lounge from which I'm writing you right now.
The least expensive way to make it to San Miguel e Allende is the bus. While timewise, it can be exhausting, the conditions are quite good and it's very inexpensive. When flying, the choices include Leon, GTO or Queretaro, QRO, both of which are close (about an hour to an hour and a half) but can get quite pricey. Flights into Mexico City are less expensive, but require a 4 hour (50 dollar) bus ride upon arrival, as well as a basic knowledge of Spanish to navigate a significantly large international airport.
In the state of Guanajuato, we discovered this dilapidated treasure: the Ex-Hacienda Jaral de Berrio. On par with the opulence and decay we found in Havana, Cuba, the ex-hacienda was owned by one of the most influential families in Mexico. Miguel de Berrio, for example, was named Marquis and acquired 99 haciendas by 1749. Ex-hacienda Jaral de Berrio functioned as the capitol of the family’s agrarian empire.
It’s no secret that the Beat poets tipped us all off to San Miguel de Allende. They’d been hanging around the cantinas and spouting off poetry, alerting everyone that this was the place for creative inspiration. The artists flocked and made the city into an ex-pat hub with a booming art market.
A good coffee shop is at the top of my list when traveling or settling in to a place. For me, a space where I can work, eat and enjoy a cup of high quality Joe is quintessential to brainstorming and research. Living in San Miguel de Allende, I naturally have some favorites …and so, in no particular order, these are my most beloved haunts.
When I moved to Mexico, I didn’t plan to stay. I thought that San Miguel de Allende would serve me as a hub to travel around Mexico for 3 years or so, at which point I’d head to Central America for the same stint, then Northern South America, and so on. But, like many pre-planned long term goals it changed – or I changed – I’m not sure which. Today it’s been 5 and a half years and I guess you could say I’ve learned some things.
Mexico is known for its charm, friendly folk and inefficiency in all matters bureaucratic. When I realized that I needed to renew my passport with an international trip on the horizon, I dreaded the oncoming experience. Who would field my questions? What kind of insane office hours would I encounter? And would I need a rush placed on the passport?
I always consider a holiday as an opportunity to try something new, create a new tradition and get creative. However, I must confess, that New Year’s Eve has become a bit of a joke. With the hype of being the last night of the year, I walk out of the door with enormous expectations and find myself consistently disappointed. This year something new was in order.
There’s always a mixture of excitement and nostalgia during the holidays, especially if you’re outside your country of origin. While many traditions are different, others are the same, and many people struggle to find themselves and their authentic experience away from home. Here are my tips for kicking the holiday blues.
While this seems like common sense, consumerism has created a mindset in which we think to replace rather than repair. But fixing what’s broken is beneficial for many reasons: it saves money, reduces waste and often extends travel. I believe it behooves a traveler to seek out these go-to places to facilitate repair anywhere they stay long term.
Considering the upcoming class Nate and I will be teaching on cooking the recipes from Laura Esquival’s book Like Water for Chocolate at the San Miguel Writer’s Conference, we thought it might be astute to actually cook them, you know, like a test run …before we cook it for 60 people.
Among the many reasons I love Mexico, are the open air and specialty markets, particularly the Tianguis. Like in small European towns, most Mexican folk shop in many small locations that specialize in particular goods. There’s the butcher (a specific one just for chicken), the tortilla shop, the fruit and vegetable stand, and then, the one-stop privately owned shops that appear on nearly every street corner. I’m going to share some of my favorite shopping locations in San Miguel de Allende.
Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is one of my favorite holidays, right up there with Dia de los Locos (Day of the Crazies) and Thanksgiving. I couldn’t be in a better place for it either. Mexico places great importance on Dia de Los Muertos. Starting with an immense reverence for family, it makes sense that this holiday is celebrated with exuberance.
I’m at that age where it seems all my friends are getting married. Of course, since I live in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico it’s a bit different than if I was still in Baton Rouge. A Mexican wedding is based on many traditions. It’s quite possibly one of the most festive events that exist, probably because Mexican folk really know how to party and weddings are extremely culturally significant. So what sets a wedding in Mexico apart from a wedding anywhere else?
As an American, the state fair is sort of iconic. You eat cotton candy, ride the Ferris wheel, spend money to win things you’d wouldn’t ever buy, and perhaps come home with a new pet goldfish. The Feria in San Miguel de Allende is similar, yet so different. The best part about it is that it’s not a tourist destination; it’s for locals.
A great way to get under the skin of any city is to check out their museums. Lucky for us, a new friendship with some art collection managers meant a more interesting and fun exploration of free Friday evening museums.