At 6:30 this morning, we were awoken by the sound of gunfire. It sounded as if several rapid-fire weapons were fired in unison, and then continued in bursts over the next hour or so. Over the past few days, we had observed several military vehicles and soldiers patrolling the city, and rumors of an assault by the federal government upon a weakened drug cartel had my half-asleep mind spinning wild images of tourists caught in the crossfire.
Were all of the concerns expressed by friends and family real? Is it true that Mexico is dangerous? My voice of reason slowly returning, I realized that the sounds we were hearing were likely the remnants of a celebration of the birthday of Ignacio Allende, the namesake of the town of San Miguel de Allende in which we are currently staying, nothing more than the late night revelry that would be heard in cities across the US on the 4th of July. I rolled over in our plush over-sized bed and went back to sleep
Upon awakening, the thought at the forefront of my mind was the realization that Mexico can be truly dangerous, incredibly so, but in a way contrary to what most people would expect. Or more specifically, the town of San Miguel de Allende is dangerous.
It’s winter right now in the Northern Hemisphere, but here in San Miguel de Allende the daytime temperatures reach 75 degrees F / 24 degrees C. The skies are blue and sunny and the air is clean. The only hint of snow is in photos that we brought with us
In the go go go lifestyle in the US, many people see their children less than they would like. The days of children playing outdoors without adult supervision or the structure imposed by an organized sport seem to have passed. Here we see children kicking a ball around with their friends in public squares, and racing their scooters in the streets. Children walk about the town without an overprotective parent in tow, and stop by the store where there parents are working to say hello and perhaps have some lunch. Parents and children alike seem happy, unaware of the grave danger they face ;)
The streets of Anytown, USA have McDonald’s, Subway, and Starbucks on every street corner, WalMart and Target are monthly shopping destinations, and malls have all the important brand names that make a person feel that they have arrived. Here in San Miguel, there isn’t a franchise in town, and all of the shops and street vendors seem to be Mom and Pops. Owner’s of these small stores have been amazingly friendly and inviting, insisting we try the fresh figs, putting an extra passion fruit in our bag, and taking time to ask us about our day and teach us the Spanish names for mysterious vegetables. The personal relationships add a few smiles to each day
Cars are a cornerstone of the American dream, with streets everywhere designed with the assumption that everyone has one, often to the detriment of bikers and pedestrians. City zoning often prevents any sort of business from operating near homes, making a car a necessity (unless you actively design your life to be bicycle friendly.) Americans even drive to the gym. Here, we walk everywhere and so do the majority of others. Longer distances are covered by bicycle or bus. The town blocks off entire blocks for pedestrian use only, and the narrow cobblestone streets invite you to explore and wander. The financial and health benefits are clear
Despite living in much smaller homes, carrying possessions in plastic bags from the convenience store rather than $1000 handbags, and transporting work supplies on a bicycle instead of in a $50,000 SUV, people go about their days with giant smiles on their faces. It’s as if the people of San Miguel have discovered a secret to life, that happiness comes not from what you can buy but from appreciating what you have and the people you know
Add it all up, great weather, time with family, feeling safe about your children, personal relationships with your butcher, vegetable salesman, neighborhood police officer, and restaurant owners, a walkable neighborhood that beautifully meshes businesses and homes, and a sense of contentment that comes from understanding the difference between wants and needs, and the real danger of Mexico starts to become clear: That you may never want to leave