Into San Miguel de Allende

*This is part 7 of a 13-part series. Read part 6 here. *

Clutched between the corner and back hatch of the crammed pickup, he clasps his knees, sinks his head low, and sings. At first a faint sound but ever-so-quickly it grows; so the smile across his brothers face.

It’s the Imperial March from Star Wars.

“Well, pop culture travels far” I think to myself before steadying my posture as the car curves around the mountainous road that leads through the Sierra Gordas outside Jalpan de Serra. The soundtrack continues as we dash through Pinol de Amoles, a small mountain village in Queretaro state.

Red Apple

A little outside of town, among the scented air of the conifer trees, we pull over to the shoulder of the highway. The dad heads over the to a food stall,  “these” he says while handing us a bag, “are the most delicious apples in the world.”

“Thank you”.

They’re sweet but they’re tiny, and because of their size became undesirable to a larger market. Chilean and North Mexican exports caused an economic downturn here — a very kind way of saying that babies ate less — so a bunch of people came together to form a cooperative. The much-sweeter apples were turned into much-sweeter juice that became boxed up, marketed, and sold to stores all over Mexico and in parts of the United States.

A (delicious) success and one that we savor with tiny nibbles as we head toward San Miguel de Allende. In many ways, this is a perfect way to arrive.

Graffiti in San Miguel de Allende
Graffiti in San Miguel de Allende

It’s perfect because hitch-hiking was emblematic of the Beat Generation lifestyle. The freedom to drive across country and pick up strangers or hop on a train headed west was memorialized in books like Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and poems like Allen Ginsberg’s “The Green Automobile”. The beat ethos, with its infectious enthusiasm for life, led many in this cadre of creatives to travel far and wide.

the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.

  • Jack Kerouac, On The Road

One of the most beloved Muses of the beats, a guy with tremendous joie de vivre, had to be Neal Cassady. He was the inspiration behind Dean Moriarty in Kerouac’s famous novel and most certainly one of the “mad ones”. But madness can’t be sustained for ever and on a cold night in February 1968, he sauntered down an empty train track just outside of town and collapsed.

Flower seller at a bus station outside San Miguel de Allende
Flower seller at a bus station outside San Miguel de Allende

Things have changed a bit since the bohemian days of the late 60s and 70s, but it still attracts a large number of expats — many of whom had formative experiences during that time. So much, in fact, that it has the second largest English-language library in all of Mexico and is riddled with endless charges of “Disneyfication.”

San Miguel de Allende, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is filled with artists, writers, expats and retirees, who walk, glide, and hobble between the ochre and orange walls of this colonial treasure.

The allure of continual movement can be intoxicating but, as many know, intoxicants can make you sick. Travel insurance worries kept S. a bit wary of the doctors, but eventually she caved in. The grand total for a consultation, prescription, and medicine was… less than $10 USD! (It seems the US in that USD could learn quite a bit from this approach.)

After a few days of lying about, we head for Guanajuato.

Trying to find the edge of town, S. walks into an Oxxo and attempts to ask “where is the bridge?” (Donde esta la puente?) but ends up, no doubt due in part to sickness, “where is the bitch?” (Donde esta la puta?). I’ve never seen eyebrows furrow so quickly on a person as the confused clerk replies “Como?”

I guess we’ll have to find it on our own.