Travel: Exploring ancient San Miguel de Allende
Editors note: This is the second in a series of travel stories from Edwards residents Dennis Jones and Yolanda Marshall about their journey through Mexico. Jones is a professional photographer. View more of his work at http://www.dreamcatcherimaging.com.Its 3 a.m. The roof dog across the street has joined doggie Facebook, adding his two bits to the nightly chat. Why dont their owners, who must be dead to the world, shut them up?This is authentic Mexico. Dogs bark, roosters crow, skyrockets explode at odd hours, church bells toll for indecipherable reasons, and its all so charming.At breakfast, we meet a wonderful couple opening the only Thai restaurant in San Miguel. Foo and Manot Swasdee are restaurateurs from Dallas whose adopted son returned to Mexico after working for them for many years. They are helping him open Bahn Thai and, loving Thai food, we vow to eat there tonight.But for now there is a beautifully warm, January day ahead of us and a town to explore.San Miguel de Allende was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site only last year. Like other UNESCO sites, it is a treasure. Founded in 1542, just 21 years after the improbable conquest of the Aztecs by the Spanish, it has recently flourished due to its benign climate, its well-preserved, colonial architecture and its attraction to Norte Americano expatriates.We walk along ancient cobblestone streets to the Jardin, the main plaza and center of life, passing colorful shops, tranquil courtyard restaurants and numerous rustic doorways echoing centuries of habitation. Wizened widows wrapped in tattered rebozos, the traditional, multi-purpose shawl beg quietly in doorways. They bestow their blessings as I hand them a few of the pesos I always have ready for such encounters. There is no social security or other safety net in Mexico.The streets surrounding the Jardin are closed to traffic, adding to the sense of calm. Large, sculptured Laurel trees shade the square. At this time of morning, few people occupy the many benches. That will change come evening when families, lovers, gringos and mariachis arrive to mingle beneath the watchful gaze of the brightly lit Parroquia, the most prominent of the many churches in San Miguel.The six-foot bell can be heard all over town. Sitting in the Jardin, its deep, pure tone resonates within my soul, transporting me to an earlier era as the harmonics fade into the quiet conversations around me.One of the leaders of the 1810 revolution against the Spanish, Ignacio de Allende, was born in a house, now a museum, across the street from the church. The revolution started 27 miles away in Dolores Hidalgo, the Birthplace of Independence, when Father Hidalgo issued his famous cry for independence, proclaimed to this day by the president every Sept. 16th.Yolanda and I explore the labyrinth of hilly streets comprising the historical center of town. In 1926, San Miguel de Allende was preserved as a national monument. Strict rules on signs and development have maintained its colonial character. Unlike so many other places in Mexico, trash is non-existent. People take pride in their town.As we aimlessly wander the narrow streets, we steal the occasional peek into interior, plant-strewn courtyards where family life takes place. Galleries with interesting art, shops selling colorful crafts and stores filled with whimsical and bizarrely fantastic decorator items entice us inside. We check out the menus of courtyard restaurants with tables scattered amidst thriving orange trees, restaurants in old monasteries and restaurants with rooftop terraces. Thai food is sounding better and better so we explore our way toward our new friends restaurant.Bahn Thais two floors yield rooms brightly painted in ruby, emerald or azure. Foo and Manot greet us effusively, proudly showing us around.Yolanda is carrying a book we found at the B&B: The Insiders Guide to San Miguel. Foo sees the book and says, Thats Archies book. Hes downstairs eating. Would you like to meet him?Once again, synchronicity knocks on our door, affirming were on the right path. Like every ex-pat we meet, Archie Dean is warm and gregarious. We share a delicious, reasonably-priced meal, while he regales us with stories of life in San Miguel. Needing to learn more about this gem and its surrounding area, we set a date to meet in the Jardin to purchase the latest edition of his book, something we will consult frequently over the coming weeks, Im sure.Dennis Jones is a local photographer and writer. He can be reached at email@example.com.