Celebrate independence in retirement today — in San Miguel and all over the world.

retirement image Celebrate independence in retirement today — in San Miguel and all over the world.The author of this article is my new hero. She and her husband give a whole new meaning to the concept of retirement. They retire in San Miguel — and all over the world. 

Their ingenious, adventurous retirement plan takes the RE (as in “Yawn. Been there, done that.”) out of retirement. Removes the TIRE (what’s to get tired of in such gutsy golden years?) and focuses on the MENT. As in: this is how the golden years are ME(A)NT to be—fun, fulfilling, and full of experiences.

Gotta love having intrepid retirement idols. 

One question: Would my cat be into world travel? I can see him in a beret…

 

 

xo casita1 Celebrate independence in retirement today — in San Miguel and all over the world.
www.casitadelasflores.com
—Your best value (and most fun) alternative to
expensive hotels and B&B’s in retirement-friendly San Miguel de Allende

 

The article from the Huffington Post:

Screen Shot 2013 07 04 at 4.27.15 PM Celebrate independence in retirement today — in San Miguel and all over the world.

 

How We Became International Senior Gypsies In Retirement

Our children gasped and our friends were speechless when we sold our beautiful California house along with most of the furniture, put our treasures in storage, and set out to live internationally without a home base. At 72 and 67, we have been home free for two-and-a-half years, lived in nine countries, and we have never been healthier or happier! Buenos Aires, Argentina, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, Paris, Florence, Istanbul, London, Dublin, Marrakech, Morocco, and California’s Central Coast have been our temporary homes for anywhere from two weeks to three months at a time. We’re living in Paris for three months this year. Berlin will be our home in August, while in September we will return to a favorite village in Britain, near Henry the VIII’s Hampton Court Palace, outside London. Our repositioning cruise from Copenhagen will take us back to the United States in October, where we’ll rent a place through the holidays. We have no home base, and all of our belongings are in a 10′ by 15′ storage unit in California.

retirement quote Celebrate independence in retirement today — in San Miguel and all over the world.We made our decision when we realized that we were just marking time by staying at home. We are two perfectly healthy people who love to travel, but we were trapped by our possessions and our family ties. Our time to experience the world in more than three-week vacation spurts was running out. In today’s world, we can reasonably expect to live for at least another twenty years, and we realized that we wanted to make the most of it.

When people ask how we can afford such a lifestyle, we explain that our formula isn’t calculus, it’s just arithmetic. We traded the amount of money we were spending to maintain our California lifestyle for a new style — on the road. When we calculated the mortgage, property taxes, insurance, maintenance, utilities and all the rest required to maintain our permanent home, we saw immediately how that could be translated into an international life on the road, and we acted upon it.

Miraculously, our house sold in one day and my husband Tim became our self-taught personal travel agent. He was glued to the computer screen every day as he learned about repositioning cruises (cruise ship lines move their equipment twice a year from one part of the world to another and offer passengers exceptional deals for those voyages), apartments and houses for rent through vrbo.com (Vacation Rental by Owner) and homeaway.com, car rental deals, trains, planes, hotels and communications options.

In the meantime, we were both busy sorting decades of accumulated possessions and working through the myriad technical challenges of becoming home free. We lost sleep fretting over pressing issues like health insurance, banking arrangements, voting, taxes, mail, what to do with our darling dog, and how many pairs of shoes we’d need in Argentina! The ensuing chaos, coupled with a veiled undercurrent of disbelief and disapproval from some quarters made the process even more daunting. Our sense of humor and confidence in our new direction were tested almost daily, but we carried on and within four months we were ready to hit the road.

We were exhausted but exuberant as we left California, ambivalent about leaving our children and grandchildren, our friends, and the comfort of our home and familiar routines, but we soon learned that we had made the right choice! Our adventures, from an impromptu wine tasting with some of Portugal’s best-known wine makers to being caught knee-deep in an Istanbul cloudburst, to the luxury of “wasting” a day simply wandering the streets of Paris without a goal, have expanded our world view and given us the self confidence to know that, even as senior citizens, we can still master almost any situation. Experience and cunning beat youth and enthusiasm every time!

We’ve even started a new career. Last year I was encouraged by an acquaintance to submit a story about our unusual retirement choice to The Wall Street Journal. The resulting article received unprecedented response and through that exposure I acquired a literary agent and publisher. My book, “Home Free,” published by Sourcebooks, Inc., will appear April 1, 2014. Thousands of new friends read our website, Home Free Adventures, regularly, and many of them tell us that they are following our lead, finding ways to expand their horizons in their retirement. Home free living certainly isn’t for everyone, but house trading, extended vacations, house sitting or even joining a new club in one’s own neighborhood can have a positive effect for any older person. Encouraging other retirees to seek new experiences has been a surprising, rewarding development for these two home free travelers!

Happily, our friends and children, our doctors and our financial advisor have become our most enthusiastic supporters. They have seen how being home free has changed our outlook, our health, and our portfolio in a positive way. So far, all is well and we don’t plan to stop until the wheels fall off!

The Casita de las Flores Story

—or— how to start a B&K

(don’t try this at home)

casita before11 The Casita de las Flores Story

What a trip

Once upon a time, eleven years ago, in a land sort of far away…

a dusty, overheated and traumatized (Mexican roads) 12-year-old Nissan Pathfinder rattled into the yet-to-be-fully-discovered town of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.

The car, more tan than red at this point, lurched to a stop next to the (then only) Pemex gas station on Ancha de San Antonio, the main drag. Muffled sound emanated through the closed windows, and the attendants in their green coveralls looked at the car sideways…is that a cat howling? Is that women arguing?

“I’ve just got to stretch my legs!” I shouted, slamming the door and stalking away. A few deep breaths in the nostalgic noise and fumes of Mexico, my childhood home, calmed me (oddly enough).

My temper was frayed, to say the least, after three days cooped up in a car with:

• My mother (very cranky)
• My cat (also cranky)
• My two large dogs (good sports, really)
• Blurry childhood memories
• Absurdly high hopes
• No idea whatsoever of how to make a living in Mexico.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

A few months and three days earlier, I had started packing up 15 years of life, college, work, grad school, and then more work in San Diego, California. I had decided to move back to San Miguel, where I lived as a kid. Where my mother still lives. She kindly came up to help me pack, not realizing it would take more than a month to finish dismantling and dispersing said unreasonably cluttered life.

We set off on a three-day road trip, visiting family on the way. We never drove more than eight hours a day, but it felt like 28. We stayed at whatever strange lodgings accepted pets. Or we snuck them in.

Crossing the line

When we hit the border two days later, my mother got the dogs out of the car for a stroll. The Mexican customs official came over to the open rear hatch of my car, leaned his folded arms on the tailgate, and, lifting the top blanket, surveyed the two-foot-thick mass of densely packed items that lined the back.

The top layer was only a taste of the madness that lay below. An hors d’oeuvre, if you will. Ie: a cast iron frying pan filled with rolled-up underwear. A French-English dictionary the size of a toaster oven. A box of Triscuits (regular flavor). A set of knives, forks and spoons bundled with a rubber band. The base of a cordless phone. A cheese grater with several pair of socks stuffed inside. A pair of folded flare-leg jeans (be kind — it was 2000, after all).

My “baggage” was huge, and deep. It had levels, it had strata, it had echelons, even. My mother, the self-appointed Master Packer, had convinced me that her method was the most efficient. “More stuff will fit without boxes,” she said, wedging my hair dryer next to a framed photo of my father wrapped in two sweaters. “If I just pack it very carefully.”

What resulted was a three-dimensional possession puzzle, like a huge lasagna, composed of my worldly goods — topped off with my bedding and an old dog blanket. Rilke and Buddha, my dogs, rode 3,000 miles to Mexico on top of what was left my life, basically.

As Isolde, my cat, meowled indignantly from her cage behind the driver’s seat, the customs guy dropped the top blanket and put his head down on his folded arms. I just stood there, smiling my best kiss-up-to-uniformed-third-world-authority-figures-so-as-to-be-on-my-way-soon smile. Looking up, he turned to watch my mother carrying on a loud one-way conversation with the dogs as they sniffed at a post a few yards away. Finally, he looked at me.

“You got any guns or drugs in there?” he asked, gesturing vaguely at my lasagna.
“Why, no.” I answered, grinning madly. “Of course not.”
“Bien.” He said, slapping the car as he turned to walk away. “You can go.”

The rest of the trip was pastel (cake.) And so, my mother and I made it home to San Miguel, without getting pulled over into secondary inspection (which, in unpacking and repacking, would have delayed us by at least 12 hours) or killing each other.

How to start a B&B (not)

I wasn’t trying to get rich (not going to happen), but I needed to be able to support myself in the style to which I hoped to become accustomed. So, hourly Mexican wages were not an option. I also had to have time for creative projects (whatever they might be), so a normal, full-time job was equally out of the question. After several months of dawdling around trying to find a non-toxic way to pay for a modest life here, I decided real estate had to be the thing.

Through several strange coincidences, I found a very odd little property in a great, as-yet-ungentrified, older San Miguel neighborhood not too far from the Centro. With five bedrooms, a kitchen, two baths and no living room, the house sat on a dirt rubble “road” (read: riverbed), but it had a second entrance on a nicer street. (Both streets have mercifully been repaved since.)

As often happens when I get excited about an idea, I leapt without looking (at more than one place). I bought my cute little hovel and started fixing it up immediately.

Somewhere during the 3 months that turned into a year of renovations, I had a conversation.
“What are you going to do with it when it’s done?” asked a friend as we poked around the construction site, choking on cement dust.
“Make it a vacation rental, I guess.“
“You’d probably make more money if you made it a B&B.” He said.
And Casita de las Flores was born. (Thank you, friend.)

The Casita (technically not a B&B but a B&K — Bed and Kitchen) started out on the thinnest of shoestrings in 2002. A garage sale fridge, a garage sale stove. Mattresses on tapetes (woven straw mats) on the floor.

The very first weekend we rented was the infamous erstwhile Pamplonada, when 20 or so young people paid to not sleep at my place. (They were very busy partying all night and vomiting in the town square.) Other than a very messy avocado/guayaba fight, the Casita survived their onslaught. (PS: in September, our trees offer you all the free avocados and guayabas you can eat — NOT throw.)

This inauspicious event helped me pay for bed frames, closets, desks, and chairs. For the website, I had to go into hock. Soon after, Casita de las Flores really opened for business.

We started out charging US $20 a night for one person. Less than US $400 for a month. My very first guests stayed before construction was totally done and are now lifelong friends. (I was so happy to have them there. Such forgiving women.) Spring just had her first baby and Tina is coming to stay with me again next month.

San Miguel business school

Of course, I had no experience whatsoever in the field (other than having traveled a lot, and having often been a guest/critic at different accommodations). Business plans are much worse than Greek to me — they’re like math (shudder). My minimal market research was tooling around on the internet to see if the name was taken. (Since then, the Casita name and website text have been stolen wholesale by a place in Chile, thank you very much. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, or so they say.)

But I’ve always felt I knew better than most how things should be done (much to others‘ chagrin), so I figured I could handle it. And I knew in my bones that San Miguel needed a comfortable, accessible place for real travelers to stay. Not some fancy shmancy US $120 a night place, but something even I could afford. A place where I would want to stay. A place where I could have both my privacy and an opportunity for social interaction (a much different interaction from what can be had in an impersonal hotel, a sterile lobby, or a sloppy bar). Those were my guiding principles. That and a love of art projects (none so huge, before the Casita).

Casita de las Flores took a while to catch on. Our first year, earnings were laughable (cryable, mostly), but I kept meeting great people and business slowly grew.

In the first months, we had a particularly difficult guest who complained about absolutely everything. The noise from doves and roosters. The sounds from the high school across the street. The occasional noise from neighbors. The lights’ sporadic flickering. The dust. The breeze. The sun. (Basically, she was complaining about Mexico.) “It’s not as nice as a Motel 6,” she said of the Casita, sniffing, as she left. (The profoundest of compliments, I’ve come to realize.)

As soon as her taxi sped (well, rolled) away, I grabbed my web guy by the collar and told him we were making some changes. I went back into my lovingly designed and written website and dressed it down. I took out all marketingspeak and made things sound less inviting. Consciously working for the frump factor, I spoke of Mexico in all its gritty glory.

Since then, we’ve mostly gotten travelers (a very different breed from your average tourist). These are people who’ve been around. Who know that things are unavoidably different in other countries (that’s actually why they go there.) And who know that finding an oasis of comfort, security, charm, and relative peace in any foreign country, much less a developing nation, for under US $50 a night is not to be sneezed at. They are grateful for my efforts, and I am very grateful for them. My customers and I get along swimmingly now. Mostly. (See Lesson 2).

Build and learn

Back to the shoestring. We started out with a garage sale fridge and stove, and minimal furnishings or decor. Seven years later, we have a fancy newish fridge (time flies) a garage sale stove (still works perfectly), and quite a bit of cute stuff. (But not too much—I hate cluttered decor. The Casita is of the little-known Mexican Zen School.) We make a living. More importantly, we have made tons of friends and family. Even more importantly than that, we’ve learned a lot.

(And the place has changed a wee bit…)

img 17031 The Casita de las Flores Story

Lesson 1: 99% of people are really great (at least in our price range). Oddly enough, this business has increased my estimation of human nature, which wasn’t terribly high nine years ago. Through this very social enterprise, I have met quantities of fabulous people, many of whom are now friends and neighbors. And, thank the modern gods of rampant criticism, the large majority of our reviews have been good ones. Though the occasional malcontent and his/her (snarky, public) bad review still hurts (see Lesson 2).

Casita de las Flores is fortunate to have many return guests who enjoy coming home to us, year after year. (I hope they like the color we just painted the kitchen, and Gayle’s room—I’m expecting some flack. People get attached.) My favorite example: a group of women (three of them named Gail, in various spellings) who met at the Casita years ago returned for a “Casita Reunion” here last October. It was a time of much giggling.

At least once a month, be it at a party, an art opening, or at the grocery store, I run into a former guest who is now a San Miguel resident. I love this brand of deja vu, and I love knowing that the Casita was their first home in this town. Together, we’ve survived the real estate boom, world renown, the cartel hysteria, the swine flu hysteria, and even (more or less) the first-world media. They are now my men- and women-at-arms, my hairdressers and acupuncturists, my vecinos and compadres.

Lesson 2. You really CAN’T please everyone all the time. Unfortunately, that less shiny one percent of guests — the ones who are never happy no matter how much you do, no matter how much you give — sometimes seem to outweigh the other 99%. They have made me, on more than one occasion, consider selling the business. But then the 99% moves in again and I feel better, and I keep on.

Lesson 3: Humans are (mostly) sociable animals. Sure, there’s been the occasional fight over cheese ownership (we now have a separate fridge shelf for each room) and we’ve had a few feuds. (The Casita is its own little ecosystem, after all, evolving with each group of guests.) But mostly, people have fun. They befriend one another. They end up having dinner parties and outings and trips together. Sometimes, they even become good friends and correspond with each other, and me, for years. (This whole people-getting-together thing was a huge, unexpected fringe benefit buried within the “let’s start a B&K, shall we?” pseudo-plan.) Of course, socializing is optional. If you simply “vant to be alone,” we’ve got privacy, too.

Lesson 4. It is possible to make a meaningful life outside the box. Ok, Casita de las Flores is not saving the world. (It may be saving my life, however, as I slowly recover from 9 to 5 fluorescent lights.) I’m no Mother Teresa, but, I take my role as a Vacational Therapist™ quite seriously.

I now know (yes, in my bones) that this “job” is not really a job, and that it’s far from just a means to an end. Ok, so Casita de las Flores makes us a living (nearly every month!), but more importantly, the Casita helps people. Not in any huge, earth-shattering ways, but in small, yet meaningful ways. Having this unusual little nook in which to be at home while not at home helps our guests to make connections—with San Miguel, with fellow travelers, and (most importantly) with themselves. (Often by allowing them to have a moment or many to simply be.)

After hours and hours of travel and years and years in the hectic realms of the first world, people often arrive stressed out, exhausted and extremely cranky. They blow in the door, blasting cold first-world anxiety with them:

“My luggage…it didn’t get here!”
“My cell phone isn’t getting reception!”
“I left my wallet in the cab!”
“What do you mean there’s no TV??!!!!”

After a few days, it’s a different story…

Several years ago, on a particularly technicolor-blue sky, big white puffy-cloud, birdsong and butterfly day, I wandered out to the patio with my pruning shears. There was a guest,

magic hammock1 The Casita de las Flores Story

casita de las flores san miguel’s magical, stress-vanishing hammock

gently swaying in the hammock, lazily trailing her fingers back and forth on the patio bricks.
“Whatcha doing, Molly?” I asked.
“Watching the laundry dry,” she replied.
I turned and tiptoed away, smiling. Another Vacational Therapy™ success story. Life is good.

Hasta pronto!

xo,

Casita de las Flores B&K (Bed and Kitchen)
www.casitadelasflores.com

—Your best value (and most fun) alternative to
expensive San Miguel de Allende hotels and B&B’s

PS: If you enjoyed this narrative, please pass it on and bring Triscuits! (regular flavor). See below…

PPS: To see more before and after pictures, go to our picture gallery.

Triscuiteers of the World, Unite!

Aways on the cutting edge, Casita de las Flores is inaugurating a revolutionary new marketing scheme. The Triscuit Tally. Each box of wonderful woven wheat wafers that makes it down here will represent one person who found this story, read the whole thing without falling asleep (maybe) and who then made it all the way to the Casita. Keep up with the Triscuit Tally here, on our very own blog.

Take a vacation from violence. Come to Mexico!

The truth about violence in Mexico in 2012 —Mexico is safer than Disneyworld!* (and way cheaper…)

sad mouse Take a vacation from violence. Come to Mexico!

Awww, Mickey. Don’t fret—come to Mexico!

If you have any doubts about coming to Mexico, please read this entire article by Lonely Planet’s travel editor.  Of, course, we’ve been telling you so (ie: ranting about this) for ever now. But then, we at the Casita always were ahead of our time. : )

* Well, far safer than Orlando Florida, Houston Texas, New Orleans, etc. etc. etc.

 

 

Are You Safer In Mexico Or America?

HuffingtonPost.com

Emphasis (underlined), commentary (orange bold and italic) and happy faces are ours…click here to see the original article

As Lonely Planet’s US Travel Editor, I frequently get asked if it’s safe to go to Mexico. I have always said that, if you’re thoughtful about where you go, the answer is yes. But, after my most recent trip there, I’m answering the question with another question: Do you think it’s safe to go to Texas?

: )

To be clear, violence in Mexico is no joke. There have been over 47,000 drug-related murders alone in the past five years. Its murder rate — 18 per 100,000 according to this United Nations Office on Drugs & Crime report – is more than three times the US rate of 4.8 per 100,000. (not according to the statistic sites i found but still, read on.) Though Mexican tourism is starting to bounce back, Americans appear more reluctant to return than Canadians and Brits (5.7 million Americans visited in 2011, down 3% from 2010 – and, according to Expedia, more than four of five bookings were adults going without children). Many who don’t go cite violence as the reason.

Ack. we know, we know. and our guests tell ridiculous tales of friends’ and family’s shock and awe at their Mexico travel plans.

violence in mexico Take a vacation from violence. Come to Mexico! What you don’t get from most reports in the US is statistical evidence that Americans are less likely to face violence in Mexico than at home, particularly when you zero in on Mexico’s most popular travel destinations. For example, the gateway to Disney World, Orlando, saw 7.5 murders per 100,000 residents in 2010 according to the FBI; this is higher than Cancun or Puerto Vallarta, (which are a zillion times higher than San Miguel de Allende) with rates of 1.83 and 5.9 respectively, per a Stanford University report (see data visualization here, summarized on this chart, page 21). Yet in March, the Texas Department of Public Safety advised against “spring break” travel anywhere in Mexico, a country the size of the UK, France, Germany, Spain and Italy combined. Never mind that popular destinations like the Bahamas, Belize and Jamaica have far higher homicide rates (36, 42 and 52 per 100,000). Why the singular focus?

 

Before you nix Mexico altogether, consider these five things:

1. Mexico may be more dangerous than the US overall, but not for Americans.

According to FBI crime statistics, 4.8 Americans per 100,000 were murdered in the US in 2010. The US State Department reports that 120 Americans of the 5.7 million who visited Mexico last year were murdered, which is a rate of 2.1 of 100,000 visitors. Regardless of whether they were or weren’t connected to drug trafficking, which is often not clear, it’s less than half the US national rate.

2. Texans are twice as safe in Mexico and three times safer than in Houston.

Looking at the numbers, it might be wise for Texans to ignore their Public Safety department’s advice against Mexico travel. Five per 100,000 Texans were homicide victims in 2010, per the FBI. Houston was worse, with 143 murders, or a rate of 6.8 – over three times the rate for Americans in Mexico.

3. And it’s not just Texas.

It’s interesting comparing each of the countries’ most dangerous cities. New Orleans, host city of next year’s Super Bowl, broke its own tourism record last year with 8 million visitors. Yet the Big Easy has ten times the US homicide rate, close to triple Mexico’s national rate.

Few go to Ciudad Juarez, a border town of 1.3 million that saw 8 to 11 murders a day in 2010 (accounts differ – CNN went with 8). It’s unlikely to ever be a tourism hostpot, but things have been quietly improving there. By 2011, CNN reported, the homicide rate dropped by 45%, and the first six weeks of this year saw an additional 57% drop, per this BBC story.

If that trend in Juarez continues all year, and it might not, the number of homicides would have dropped from over 3000 in 2010 to 710 in 2012. Meanwhile New Orleans’ homicide rate is increasing, up to 199 murders last year, equivalent to 736 in a city with the population of Juarez.

4. By the way, most of Mexico is not on the State Department’s travel warning.

The best of Mexico, in terms of travel, isn’t on the warning. The US warns against “non-essential travel” to just four of Mexico’s 31 states (all in the north: Chihuahua, Coahuila, Durango and Tamaulipas). The warning goes on to recommend against travel to select parts of other states, but not including many popular destinations such as Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, the Riviera Nayarit, Cancun, Cozumel and Tulum. 

Ahem: SAN MIGUEL DE ALLENDE, GUANAJUATO!

Meanwhile, 13 states are fully free from the State Department’s warning, including Baja California Sur, Yucatan, Mexico City, Oaxaca, Chiapas, Guanajuato and others.

5. Malia Obama ignored the Texas advice.

Of all people, President Obama and first lady said “OK” to their 13-year-old daughter’s spring break destination this year: Oaxaca. Then Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum made snide remarks over that, perhaps overlooking that Oaxaca state has a smaller body count from the drug war than his home state’s murder rate (Oaxaca’s 4.39 per 100,000 to Pennsylvania’s 5.2).

Oaxaca state, not on the US travel warning, is famed for its colonial city, Zapotec ruins and emerging beach destinations like Huatulco. Lonely Planet author Greg Benchwick even tried grasshoppers with the local mezcal (Malia apparently stuck with vanilla shakes.)

So, can you go to Mexico?

Yes. As the US State Department says, “millions of US citizens safely visit Mexico each year.” Last year, when I took on the subject for CNN, one commenter suggested Lonely Planet was being paid to promote travel there. No we weren’t. We took on the subject simply because – as travelers so often know – there is another story beyond the perception back home, be it Vietnam welcoming Americans in the ’90s or Colombia’s dramatic safety improvements in the ’00s. And, equally as importantly, Mexico makes for some of the world’s greatest travel experiences – it’s honestly why I’m in this line of work.

So yes, you can go to Mexico, just as you can go to Texas, or New Orleans, or Orlando, or the Bahamas. It’s simply up to you to decide whether you want to.

Robert Reid is Lonely Planet’s US Travel Editor and has been going to Mexico since he was three (most recently to Chacala).

___

YES,     YES   YES!   Whatcha waiting for???  Enjoy “some of the world’s greatest travel experiences” in style—the peso is super high against the dollar and great San Miguel de Allende deals are everywhere, thanks to bad tourism caused by the misleading hype. (sigh).

Truth will prevail in the end!

Hasta pronto!

xo casita1 Take a vacation from violence. Come to Mexico!
www.casitadelasflores.com
—Your best value (and most fun) alternative to
expensive hotels and B&B’s in super-safe San Miguel de Allende

 

 

Seeing San Miguel for the first time, again.

san miguel dreamy Seeing San Miguel for the first time, again.

dreamy san miguel street

Remember the first time you laid eyes on San Miguel? I don’t, but I imagine it must be a splendid sight. Unforgettable, even.

My first eyeful came in 1969, when my bohemian mother moved us down here (I was 18 months old). While mom learned to paint, I learned to speak. Along with the smell of linseed oil, I got very used to San Miguel’s riot of shape and color.

Our little time-warp municipality, with its unique palette of ornate colonial architecture, blazing colors and improbably blue skies, should be enough to provide daily delight for anyone’s retina. But I have to admit I seldom see the beauty that surrounds me.

I pass by our improbable pink cathedral nearly every day, but months will go by without me looking up at it at all, much less in wonder. It seems I’ve succumbed to one of the risks of living in a postcard place: I’ve developed immunity to it.

My ambient blindness is a serious problem. If I’m not seeing San Miguel, I might as well live in Detroit. (I hear parking is easier there.) So I formulate a plan.

Each October, throngs of photographers descend on San Miguel under the auspices of the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops. They come to indulge their photographic obsessions, to hone their skills, and to find inspiration in our abundance of eye candy. Last year, I joined them.

With income in mind, the small, adult part of my brain chooses a workshop called “Travel Stock Photography.” But really, what I want from this course is a reintroduction to my hometown.

            …

Just before sunset on a Sunday evening in early November, I wander into the courtyard at the Hotel Posada de La Aldea. We, the workshoppers are to meet for drinks before the orientation. A chilly fall breeze blows, rustling the leaves of the ficus trees. The sound of shutters whirring competes with the trilling of the crickets—the place is crawling with photographers.

As the light fades, they reluctantly detach their faces from their equipment and gravitate over to a cluster of wrought iron tables, where a bar has been set up. Inadequate schmoozer that I am, I’m a bit tense. So many new people, and I’ve never seen such big lenses. (My camera, I realize, is woefully inadequate. My lens is Lilliputian.)

Aside from being quite friendly, my new comrades are dedicated photophiles. Entirely willing to forgo the leisure part of travel, they’ll spend the week shooting from golden hour to golden hour, edit long into the night, and not feel they missed a thing. As a frizzy-haired woman next to me, hugging a camera the size of a toaster says, “What could be better than spending a week with your camera and new friends in an exotic place?”

Monday morning. After an early breakfast with Santa Fe faculty and fellow enthusiasts, we file into our conference room/classroom at the Aldea. The lights soon go off and the images go up. Each participant has prepared his or her ten best-ever photographs for this introductory show.

Seeing each person’s work is illuminating — a bit like looking inside them. We get a glimpse into each other’s quirks and affinities, style, and “eye.” Then it’s time for class.

Unlike most Santa Fe workshops, a large part of ours is lecture, stock photography being a singular and exacting genre. Normally, spending several hours a day taking notes and looking at slides in a dark room isn’t the ideal way to pass the time in a major travel destination like San Miguel. But in this case, it’s perfect.

First, because instructor Patrick Donehue—ex-vice-president of Corbis, the world’s number two stock photo emporium—is as engaging a speaker as he is encyclopedic about his field. Second, because it’s all about photography. What could be dull about that? The morning flies by.

In the afternoon, we are let loose on an unsuspecting San Miguel with two assignments: to take quality photos for an imaginary high-end travel article, and to garner great stock photography. Images that—if we are very lucky, skilled and savvy—could make us a fortune (or at least pay for a cappuccino at Cafe del Jardín).

Before setting out, I pore over my notes and compile a meticulous shooting schedule. Once behind the camera, however, the plan flies out of my head and I find myself compulsively clicking away. Then the sun is setting.

The five intervening hours have somehow vanished, and the molten light has my brain tingling. I run into our instructor in the Jardín. “The town is sparkling,” I babble. He smiles. I’m still out on the town at 7:00 pm, when it’s time to go to the Angela Peralta for photo presentations by the week’s faculty. More inspiration. More eye food. It’s a feast, and I’m pigging out.

I head home around 9:00, yearning for rest. But I have homework: comb through more than 500 pictures, try to pick ten worthy of imposing on my group tomorrow, and then tweak them on the computer.

When I finally get to bed, I can’t sleep. I can only think about images I’ve seen, made or might make tomorrow. Much later, I doze off—only to dream about taking photos.

Tuesday begins with everyone’s Monday best, and I’m eager witness to my classmates’ first impressions of San Miguel. Despite feeling like I may have seen it all around here, many of their images are surprising, fresh—new, even. Maybe I’m on the right track here.

We move on to lecture. I’m a bit distracted. While I’m sure it’s vital to know about the different stock photo rights and payment systems, I’m itching to get out on the streets again.

Peering through the viewfinder that afternoon, I’m less frenzied than the day before. After all, I think, I do live here. I could do this every day. So I try to stroll. Take my time. Before long, I am happy, very happy. Also slightly insane. Shameless, I accost complete strangers to get a picture, chatting them up in the hopes of coaxing a natural look.

san miguel musicians1 300x164 Seeing San Miguel for the first time, again.I approach the young woman selling esquites (corn on the cob with mayo and chile); four members of the Tuna Oratoriana—buskers in antiquated velvet costumes complete with puffy sleeves; five teenagers lolling on the cathedral steps; mariachis chatting on cell phones; the newspaper vendor; the shoe-shine guys; all my favorite waiters. Apparently, no one is safe from me when I’m armed with a camera.

 Wednesday brings a discussion of trends in a different kind of stock market. After class, I go to market—specifically, the Mercado Principal, where my mother used to take me as a child to get produce and flowers. I still frequent the place in search of my own bouquets, but his time, the old mercado is transformed.

Mounds of Technicolor fruit beckon sweetly. The veggies exude a savory allure. I lose myself in photographing a shy young girl at a torta stand festooned with religious icons; a laughing man making licuados for friends; a tangled profusion of flowers; legume vendors entranced by the telenovela that echoes from every stand; an icon of the Virgin Mary haloed by the colors of the Mexican flag—jalapeños, red chiles and onions. Hours later I emerge, rapt.

Thursday, our last full workshop day, means more in-class enlightenment—portfolios, agencies, money matters—and our final afternoon of shooting. By now, I figure, I should be a seasoned pro: my vision keen, my images impeccable, my trigger finger honed and twitching slightly as it hovers over the shutter button.

Instead, I am lethargic, paralyzed by an utter lack of inspiration. Listless, I roam the streets of my picture-perfect town, half-heartedly waving my inferior camera around. People, color, old buildings. Yeah, whatever. This must be burnout from an intense week.

At a loss, I start messing around with my focus ring. I take a deliberately blurry picture. Before I know it, I’m in the zone, annoying taxi drivers who don’t appreciate my squatting in middle of the street to get the perfect shot. I end up with 206 decidedly not-sharp pictures of Hidalgo Street.

The vivid red, ochre and pink buildings, the darker rooflines zigzagging against the blue sky, the cobbled street leading out of the frame and into parts unknown. Ahh. Another indistinct image traces the soft white arches of the church on San Francisco behind a dreamy soft palm tree. Ahh. For some reason, these pictures bring back my childhood. (Was I nearsighted as a kid?)

Instead of wasting a day, I feel I have captured the smallest bit of the essence of my own San Miguel. The magic of this town, I realize, resides not only in the fine details of its historic architecture, or even in its singular people.

san miguel palm 200x300 Seeing San Miguel for the first time, again.

impressionistic palm and tower

It’s also there in the abstract—in large blocks of rich color, in the geometry of stonework accent lines, and in the cerulean sky embracing it all. So, I spend my last afternoon of directed shooting drunk on beauty and, once again ignoring the assignment, cruising the calles with my pupils dilated and my lens unfocused. My town, once again, is splendid.

On Friday morning, the group is very kind about my images, but I‘m pretty sure they think I’ve lost it. Huh. Maybe she dropped her camera? Maybe a screw or two did unwind, but of the ludicrous number of images I’ve shot this week, these are my favorites.

Of course, my blurred epiphanies are not included with the sharper images in the Friday night dinner show, celebrating our week of work, but I still love them. Partly because my brain tingles when I look at them, and partly because they are physical proof that I found a way to really see my hometown in all its glory, without recourse to psychotropic substances.

It’s been nearly a year. Sometimes I still forget to see. There I am in the car, cursing the kid on the four-wheeler that just cut me off instead of enjoying the color of the morning light on a stone lintel, the burnished glow of an umber wall.

Fortunately for me, in San Miguel, beauty is always just around the corner. All I have to do is open my eyes. And take another workshop.

(As published in Atencion San Miguel)

Note: Santa Fe Photographic Workshops have not been able to come to San Miguel for a few years, due to the (yes, there we go again) absurdly innacurate violence-in-mexico hysteria, but we’re sure they’ll be back. San Miguel and photographers are just too perfect of a combination. (And their really well-organized and oh-so-inspiring workshops with truly great instructors are SO much more affordable if you stay at the Casita…)

PS: If you haven’t seen San Miguel yet, you are SO missing out.

Really not gloating (get down here!),

XO,

Casita de las Flores B&K (Bed and Kitchen)
www.casitadelasflores.com

—Your best value (and most fun) alternative to
expensive San Miguel de Allende hotels and B&B’s

Washington Post on Violence in Mexico—in very few, specific places, the rest is safer than many US cities

 

The major media chimes in on violence in Mexico, as well as a few expats and residents. It’s about #$@%! time. You tell me: are the media suffering from hysteria fatigue, or is America getting tired of the gory violence in mexico2 Washington Post on Violence in Mexico—in very few, specific places, the rest is safer than many US citiesexaggerated misconceptions about its beautiful, misunderstood neighbor?

 

Of course, you guys—being inquiring, informed, intrepid and intelligent world travelers—already knew all of this. (Forward this to your less savvy friends. Then you can say “Te lo dije!” That’s Spanish for “I told you so.”)

 

Some juicy tidbits to whet your appetite for truth, sanity and an end to media fearmongering: (Forgive me, but i’m going to put these direct quotes from the Washington Post in really big, colorful text, just for the sheer joy of it.)

 

“’It’s a real shame for people to write off a whole country without looking at the map and at the statistics.’ Without a solid understanding of the geography (761,606 square miles) and the nature of the drug wars (internecine fighting), many foreigners assume that all of Mexico is a war zone. But it isn’t…”

 

“Of 2,500 municipalities (what we call counties), only 80, or fewer than 5 percent, have been affected by the drug war, which accounts for only 3 percent of all crime. Mexican cities are also safer than some urban centers north of the border: Mexico City, for example, has 8.3 homicides a year per 100,000 people. That’s fewer than Miami (14.1) and Chicago (16.1).”

 

Reprinted from the Washington post. Click here to go to the original article.

 

Viva Mexico lindo!

washpostmast Washington Post on Violence in Mexico—in very few, specific places, the rest is safer than many US cities

Mexico: A guide to which parts are safe to travel to, and which are dangerous

washpyramid1 Washington Post on Violence in Mexico—in very few, specific places, the rest is safer than many US cities

By , Published: December 16, 2011

Shortly before Arnoldo Pedroza was scheduled to lead a tour south of Mexico City, the local guide started to worry that recent disturbances would sabotage his trip. He followed news updates anxiously, hoping that the area would cool off and officials wouldn’t ban visitors.You’re thinking drug cartels, vendettas and gunfire? Wrong. Pedroza was worried about spraying lava, not flying bullets.

 

“It is an active volcano,” said Pedroza of Popocatepetl, the volatile volcano up which he led a group of American mountaineers a few weeks ago. “I was afraid that it was going to pour lava, but it stayed quiet.”Mexico’s second-highest mountain is an apt metaphor for the country itself: Despite threatening rumblings, danger doesn’t always materialize. Sometimes it’s even all in our heads. Yet misperceptions dog Mexico, which has been seriously shaken by the ongoing turf battles between drug cartelsand the frontal-assault strategy employed by President Felipe Calderon’s government.“There’s a big gap between perception and reality,” says Margot Lee Shetterly, a Hampton, Va., native who relocated to Mexico with her husband six years ago. “It’s a real shame for people to write off a whole country without looking at the map and at the statistics.”Without a solid understanding of the geography (761,606 square miles) and the nature of the drug wars(internecine fighting), many foreigners assume that all of Mexico is a war zone. But it isn’t.“The episodes of violence are in very specific pockets,” says Rodolfo Lopez-Negrete, chief operating officer of the Mexico Tourism Board, “and are unrelated to tourism.”For proof, Lopez-Negrete rolls out the statistics, derived from a combination of government and non-government sources: Of 2,500 municipalities (what we call counties), only 80, or fewer than 5 percent, have been affected by the drug war, which accounts for only 3 percent of all crime. Mexican cities are also safer than some urban centers north of the border: Mexico City, for example, has 8.3 homicides a year per 100,000 people. That’s fewer than Miami (14.1) and Chicago (16.1). On a global scale, Mexico is safer than many of its neighbors. In 2008, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reported Mexico’s homicide rate as 11.6 per 100,000, significantly lower than Honduras (60.9), Jamaica (59.5) or El Salvador (51.8).But these figures don’t negate the fact that some places in Mexico are extraordinarily dangerous — so dangerous that they should be mummified in crime tape.“We are very much focused on Mexico,” says Hugo Rodriguez, chief for Western Hemisphere Affairs in the State Department’s Office of American Citizens Services. “Providing U.S. citizens traveling to and living in Mexico with accurate information about the security situation there is a high priority for us.” The agency’s travel warning on Mexico, last updated in April, specifies the dangers by state, delineating the possible threats to Americans, 4.7 million of whom visited from January through October.

 

Yet countless tourists balk at the border, unsure of where — or whether — to go.Well, we’ll tell you. We spoke to security experts, tour operators, government officials and expats for advice on where you can comfortably kick off your sandals and places you should avoid or explore with caution.

 

One quick PSA: No matter the destination, always be aware of your surroundings and follow the commandments of common sense: Register with the U.S embassy, don’t walk in the dark alone, keep the bling at home, etc. Street crime, like multiple days of rain or a vengeful plate of beans, can really ruin a good vacation.Visit with abandon (and your family)We know what you want: to plop down on the beach, sip a margarita and feel your stresses turn to goo beneath the hot Mexican sun.You’re not alone. About 90 percent of tourists flock to the beach resorts on both coasts, says Lopez-Negrete. Nor will you be disappointed. The majority of beach resorts, especially along the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, are sheltered oases.“Quintana Roo and the Mayan Riviera are safe by Mexican standards and safe by Latin American standards,” says Pablo Weisz, regional security manager for the Americas at International SOS and Control Risks, referring to the state and nickname of the major beach destinations.Mark these in your vacation planners as safe: Cancun, Cozumel and Playa del Carmen on the Yucatan Peninsula, and on the Pacific side, Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas. Some spots left out of the glossy brochures also make the list, such as the colonial city of Campeche, a World Heritage Site on the gulf, and Merida, a city west of Cancun on the Yucatan. In addition, most day trips from the strands, including outings to the Mayan ruins, also occupy the lowest rung on the risk ladder. These excursions include Tulum, Uxmal and Chichen Itza.“I would take my family to these areas,” says Temo Tarrago, an Americas risk specialist with iJet, a global security risk assessment firm, offering the ultimate stamp of approval.The open lanes of travel don’t lead only south; they also wiggle inland, to colonial towns delightful with culture, crafts and heaping plates of regional cuisine.“Leon is large, safe and modern, but is also 400-plus years old. It’s the country’s leather capital; there is outstanding shoe shopping,” Shetterly wrote by e-mail. “From Leon, you have access to Guanajuato (World Heritage Site), San Miguel [de Allende] (expat enclave, tons of art, culture, concerts, great food, etc.) and even Queretaro(a gorgeous colonial city that is closer to Mexico City).”The experts also place smiley-face stickers next to the state of Chiapas, home to ruins, biosphere reserves, textiles and the cultural city of San Cristobal de las Casas.Finally, Oaxacadominated 2006 headlines because of protests gone awry, but the city known for its culinary traditions (pass the mole) has calmed down. The teachers union still strikes periodically, but the protests are typically peaceful. If you’re considering going to Oaxaca soon, your timing couldn’t be better: The strikes have already taken place this year. All’s likely to be quiet until the next school year.Go with caution, or a burly friend

 Pack your precautions for some areas that have improved substantially but still present slight risks.

Border town Tijuana has always worn a badge of dissolution, thanks to a spinning turnstile of partiers, drug suppliers and underworld denizens. But the government’s recent crackdown on the cartels has helped clean up the place.

“Tijuana is perfectly fine,” says Lopez-Negrete. “It has gone through a major renovation and transformation.”

Security experts agree on the metamorphosis but place an asterisk beside the town’s name. “It’s not as much of a concern,” says Weisz, “but that doesn’t mean that it should necessarily be considered safe.”

As safeguards, avoid low-end bars and drink or eat only items that have been prepared in front of you. Also, travel during the day and plan your modes of transportation in advance.

Mexico City is a beast of a different nature. The capital city of 20 million people isn’t pocked with drug-related skirmishes, but it does suffer from endemic street crime. Pickpocketing, shake-downs and kidnappings are common occurrences.

“It is a challenge by sheer size,” Tarrago says. “There are no drug cartels, but it does have organized crime.”

Tarrago reminds visitors to hire cabs only from authorized taxi stands and hotels, to keep valuables well hidden and to avoid unfamiliar places at night. “Know where you’re going and be aware of your surroundings,” says the Mexican native, recommending the upscale areas of Polanco and Las Lomas.

Although Guadalajara is unraveling and has experienced drug cartel-related activity, the violence hasn’t spilled over to Lake Chapala, less than 30 miles southeast. Ringed by small communities, the country’s largest freshwater lake draws retired North American expats and migratory birds to its shores.

“The security situation is kind of fluid,” says Tarrago, “but it’s not really affecting normal travelers.” That includes the American white pelican.

 

Don’t visit unless you’re a commando

Drug cartels don’t target tourists; the battle is cartel vs. cartel and cartel vs. government. Yet sometimes innocent folks find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. The best way to avoid this unfortunate situation is to not go there.

So where aren’t you going? The towns along the border with the United States and along the Rio Grande, a line more than 1,200 miles long. One of the worst is Ciudad Juarez, where the current murder toll of six or seven a day is considered an improvement, according to Walter McKay, a Canadian expat who maps the narco-murders and posts the results on his Web site, Policereform.org.

While you’re crossing off names, draw a black mark through the entire state of Chihuahua, which accounts for 14 percent of the killings nationwide.

“It has the most violence in the whole country,” says Tarrago, who also warns against Copper Canyon, a natural wonder that is larger than the Grand Canyon and is reached by high-altitude train. “It’s remote,” he said. “I wouldn’t advise anyone to go there at this time.”

On the west coast, red flags wave in the northern areas of Baja California. Despite increased security — “They are better than they were before,” says Tarrago — travelers may come across military checkpoints and potentially sticky situations.

“You have to drive through dangerous areas to get to low-risk ones,” says Weisz. “You’re putting yourself at the mercy of those risks.” The solution: Fly south to Cabo.

Southeast of Baja, Guadalajara hosted the Pan American Games in October without incident. Seems safe, right? But no. A month later, 26 bodies were discovered on a road not far from the Millennium Arches, an iconic downtown structure.

“About 80 percent of Guadalajara is safe,” said McKay, “but how would you know which part of the city to avoid?” An easy solution: Avoid it all.

Some areas are an easy call, such as destinations along the northbound drug routes and near ports, such as Veracruz (city and state), Monterrey and the resort town of Mazatlan.

But one destination now considered dangerous is tougher to fathom. In its heyday, Acapulco was the glittery playground of jetsetters and such silver screen royalty as Elizabeth Taylor and Brigitte Bardot. It later morphed into a spring break haunt. Now, its beaches are empty, its resorts devoid of guests — a casualty of heavy cartel violence. (To make matters worse, a 6.5-magnitude earthquake struck on Dec. 10.)

“Acapulco used to be a beautiful place to go to,” says McKay, “but you don’t go there anymore.”

The State Department advises Americans to “exercise extreme caution when visiting downtown Acapulco,” but thoughtfully provides an alternative: Diamante, a few miles south of downtown. That tourist area’s major selling point: “It has not been affected by the increasing violence” in Acapulco — a paradise lost, at least for now.

 
 
 
 

“Mexico safer than headlines indicate” —vindication, at last!

mexican dancer1 Mexico safer than headlines indicate —vindication, at last!

This article makes us so happy, we just gotta dance. Photo by Michael Amici.

What with all of our protestations of media mistreatment, we know you’ve probably been thinking “boy those Casita people sure are conspiracy theorists.” Or maybe you were going to start calling us Cassandra de las Flores.

But no, we’re not nuts, just the on the David end of the David and Goliath Public Opinion of Mexico Syndrome (commonly known as DGPOMS, at least around here).

The attached article on safety in Mexico is so balanced and honest, it deserves a re-print in its entirety. Will send (Oaxaca) chocolate (the cinnamonny kind) and flowers (calla lilies) to Christine Delsol. Or better yet, invite her to stay at the Casita.

The only thing we’d criticize about the article is the lukewarm headline. We feel it should be something more like “Most of Mexico is Probably Safer than where You Live, so Get Over the Trendy Media Hysteria and Get Down to that Beautiful, Amiable, Fun and Affordable Country!” Guess that might not fit, though.

Don’t miss the safety travel tips—good while travelling to Mexico or anywhere. (Our personal fave: “Don’t get drunk and stumble around dark, unfamiliar streets.”)

Wishing you happy travels and many adventures (preferably in San Miguel de Allende, so we can see your smiling face),

Casita de las Flores
San Miguel’s cozy, comfy, and friendly B&K  
Hey! Don’t forget to check out our new specials

San Francisco Chronicle Article on safety in Mexico

 

Mexico safer than headlines indicate

Christine Delsol, Special to The Chronicle

Sunday, August 21, 2011

mn mexico19 PH1 0501349765 part6 Mexico safer than headlines indicate —vindication, at last!articlebox img bg Mexico safer than headlines indicate —vindication, at last!

Pedro Pardo / AFP/Getty Images

Tourists enjoy the beach near a police officer on patrol in Acapulco. The U.S. State Department issued a warning for Acapulco, its first for a popular tourist resort, after a year of violence in the city.

Quick – which national capital has the higher murder rate: Mexico City or Washington, D.C.?

If you answered Mexico City, you’d be in good company – after all, Mexico is a war zone, isn’t it? But you would be wrong, on both counts.

Based on FBI crime statistics for 2010 and Mexican government data released early this year, Mexico City’s drug-related-homicide rate per 100,000 population was one-tenth of Washington’s overall homicide rate - 2.2 deaths per 100,000 population compared with 22. (Drug violence accounts for most murders in Mexico, which historically does not have the gun culture that reigns in the United States.)

And while parts of Mexico can be legitimately likened to a war zone, drug violence afflicts 80 of the country’s 2,400 municipalities (equivalent to counties). Their locations have been well publicized: along the U.S. border in northern Baja California, Sonora, Chihuahua, Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas states, and south to Sinaloa, Michoacan and parts of San Luis Potosí, Nayarit, Jalisco, Guerrero and Morelos states.

The flip side is that more than 95 percent of Mexico’s municipalities are at least as safe as the average traveler’s hometown. Yucatan state, for example, had 0.1 of a murder for every 100,000 people in 2010 – no U.S. tourist destination comes close to that. Most cities in central Mexico, outside of the scattered drug hot spots, have lower murder rates than Orlando.

It would seem fairly clear – fly, don’t drive, across the border into the safe regions. Yet whenever people say they are going to Mexico, the invariable response is “Aren’t you afraid?”

Media sensationalism accounts for much of the wariness. ”Gangland violence in western Mexico” “Journalists under attack in Mexico” and “Mexico mass grave toll climbs” sound as if the entire country were a killing field. The story might name the state, but rarely the town and almost never the neighborhood. And some reporters apparently are confused by the word “municipality” – some of the killings reported as being in Mazatlan, for example, actually happened in a town miles away from the city – akin to attributing East Palo Alto’s slayings to San Francisco.

But the biggest factor may be that travelers looking for a carefree vacation simply find it easier to write the entire country off than to learn what areas to avoid.

The Mexico Tourism Board is working to change that. Efforts so far have concentrated on getting accurate information to travel agents, who funnel the lion’s share of tourism to Mexico’s popular destinations. Independent travelers’ primary source of information is the State Department travel alerts (travel.state.gov), which are finally getting better at pinpointing the trouble spots.

“We are trying to work with U.S. authorities in making these travel alerts specific and not general,” said Rodolfo Lopez Negrete, the tourism board’s chief operating officer. “Unfortunately, they have projected a somewhat distorted image.”

In the meantime, we have done some of the work for you. The chart above recommends destinations for various comfort levels and travel styles. If you’re totally spooked, there are places that pose no more risk than Disneyland. If you’re open-minded but don’t want to take unnecessary risks, we have places safer than Miami, New Orleans or Washington, D.C. For fearless travelers, these sometimes dicey destinations are worth the extra caution.

Mexico safety tips

Your most important tactic for traveling safe, in Mexico or anywhere else, begins before you even decide where to go. Get familiar with Mexico’s geography; it’s a big country, and your destination might be hundreds or even a thousand miles from violence-prone areas. Keep up on Mexico coverage in major dailies, then do some focused research. Some sources:

– The current State Department travel warning (travel.state.gov) and security updates make a good start.

– The travel agents trade publication Travel Weekly has created a map that puts the latest travel warning in easily digestible graphic form (travelweekly.com/uploadedFiles/MEXICOMAP4.pdf).

– The United Kingdom Foreign Office Travel Advisory for Mexico ( www.fco.gov.uk; “Travel advice by country”) provides another perspective.

– Stratfor, a global intelligence company that advises government agencies and international corporations on security issues, is a reliable, up-to-the-minute source. Membership is expensive, but the website ( www.stratfor.com) makes some reports available for free.

Assuming you’re not headed for northern border areas, normal safety precautions that apply anywhere in the world will suffice. These are particularly important in Mexico:

– Don’t pack anything you couldn’t bear to part with; leave the bling at home.

– Carry only the money you need for the day in a money belt (not a fanny pack), and leave your passport in your hotel unless you know you will need it.

– Get local advice about areas to avoid.

– Don’t get drunk and stumble around dark, unfamiliar streets. Drunk or sober, don’t walk beaches late at night.

– Stick with taxis dispatched from your hotel or a sitio (taxi stand); if you go out for dinner, ask the restaurant to call a taxi for you.

– Drive during the day; if nighttime driving is unavoidable, use the toll roads.

– Leave a travel itinerary and a copy of your passport with someone at home. If you’ll be traveling in higher-risk areas, notify the nearest U.S. Consulate.

A final note: Don’t get rattled if you see armed soldiers patrolling the beach or manning highway checkpoints. They are young men doing a difficult job. On the road they’ll usually just ask you where you’re coming from and where you’re going; very rarely they will ask to inspect your trunk or your bags. I’ve never encountered one who wasn’t cordial and glad for a smile or a brief conversation.

- Christine Delsol

the tuesday market—a photo essay

I always encourage guests to go to the Tuesday Market (La Placita). Why? Because this ambulatory extravaganza is, according to our own world-famous San Miguel de Allende map, “a raucous and wonderful weekly festival.” Not to mention a truly Mexican experience in a town some think of as touristified. (Ahem…just depends where you go, folks. This is definitely Mexico. And the Tuesday market will prove it.) So, if you’re craving the real Mexican deal, skip that latte at Starbucks, and go to market…

 the tuesday market—a photo essay

hand-crafted gorditas

 the tuesday market—a photo essay

public intimates

 the tuesday market—a photo essay

super duper taco palace

A haven from all things touristic, La Placita is our weekly flea market/swap meet—a sensory-overloading pageant of cultural clutter, industry, and whimsy. Shop with the locals in a wonderland of commerce that’s escaped the gentrification that often results from touristic notoriety. (It’s authentically dusty, but, oh, just SO much more fun than a mall.)

 the tuesday market—a photo essay

fresh veggies

 the tuesday market—a photo essay

egg lady with mascot

 the tuesday market—a photo essay

so many clothes...yippee!

Whatever you might need, it’s at the Tuesday—from the ordinary to the bazaar (really bad pun intended)—clothing, shoes, produce, meat, and seafood; at least 12 kinds of beans and 16 types of chile; live poultry, songbirds, and bunnies; vintage junk and brand-new antiques; odd folk remedies for even odder ailments, technicolor drink stands and elaborate nomadic taco palaces; second-and third-hand everything; and (my favorite) Himalayas of cheap used and unused clothing and Sierra Madres of shoes. (How delightful is it to buy Ann Taylor and DKNY for $20 pesos?)

 the tuesday market—a photo essay

folk remedies

 the tuesday market—a photo essay

chiles by the kilo

 the tuesday market—a photo essay

Ikea, Mexico

 the tuesday market—a photo essay

magic beans

You can’t (or shouldn’t) go home/on living without at least one of the following: a $10-dollar purple polar parka, a shiny brass belt buckle depicting a cock fight, a plus-sized, fire-engine-red sequin and tafetta cocktail dress. Nor should you miss a finger-licking lunch of deep-fried fish of questionable origin and tasty hand-patted gorditas with the best red salsa, ever, with a big cup of jugo de pineapple—topped off with a quart of fresh papaya, mango and jicama swimming in chile and lime. Or maybe you really need a kilo of slimy chicken entrails, a new (to you) pair of Manolos, a couple of live pheasant, and a fine, made-in-China power drill (guaranteed to work at least once)?

 the tuesday market—a photo essay

fresh jugo

 the tuesday market—a photo essay

snow cone cool

 the tuesday market—a photo essay

a lunch of fishy fish

Or, you might be lacking a ruffled neon-green push-up bra, a spangly baseball cap bearing a nonsensical English slogan, a genuine $100 peso Rolex, sparkly blue nail polish, and a pair of huge, dangly aluminum earrings? Perhaps you’re nothing without a 1950′s metal Corona beer tray, a really bad-quality pirate DVD of E.T., a Menudo T-shirt, and a miracle cure for toe fungus / halitosis / impotence? A 1970′s North Dakota license plate or two? Hello Kitty cell phone cover? Premium Korean watch battery? Colorful Clothesline? Pumice stone? Black beans? Nopales? Mameyes, guanabanas and/or chirimoyas? Surely one of these items will complete you as a person.

 the tuesday market—a photo essay

fresalandia

 the tuesday market—a photo essay

aprons R us

 the tuesday market—a photo essay

clothes pin cutie

It’s all there at the Tuesday Market, amidst blaring music, squawking hawkers, questing shoppers, and steaming snacks. Even if you don’t “need” anything, come just for the rowdy, enveloping big-top energy of it all. It’s a truly Mexican adventure.

______

Getting there:If you’re obnoxiously fit and immune to sunstroke, hike the huge hill East of the Centro, (the prettiest route is up Correo street, and up and up and then right with the road, then left through the bush paths, past the old mall). For the more normal/sensible, we recommend a taxi. Should be about $5 pesos more than regular taxis around town. Ask for “La Placita,” and enjoy!

 the tuesday market—a photo essay

el taco man

Getting home: Tons of taxis and buses head towards the Centro and Colonia Allende all day long. The walk downhill isn’t so bad, unless you’re carrying more than four of the must-haves above (this, we leave to your own judgement). To walk back to Casita de las Flores, head South for the avenue that runs by the market. Take a right on that road, and then a left at the big roundabout with the weird statues. Then choose your way (right) down the big hill, veering left at the bottom. You’ll get home, eventually. (Another adventure)

Timing: The Tuesday is generally fully functional by 10 am, winding down (and packing up) by 4 pm.

six-month check in. may, 2001

It’s All About the Egg.

(The Prequel to The Casita Story)

I wrote this nearly a decade ago, just four months before finding the house (and immense project) that would keep me very, very busy and eventually become Casita de las Flores…I hope this little blog provides encouragement to those who dream about turning over a new tree. (Do it!!)

egg2 six month check in. may, 2001

Always nurture your egg. And may the Force be with you.

 

May, 2001

I’m sitting in the hammock listening to the birds.

So many birds.

I’ve never lived in the country before, so I really had no idea about the birds. Watching a woodpecker peck (first time I’ve seen one outside of Woody in the cartoons). Feeling a dreamy, lethargic peace at 3:25 on a warm but overcast silent saturday afternoon. Thinking (not too hard) of what I really should be doing, other than sitting in the hammock, listening to the birds, watching the woodpecker peck.

I’m a world away from my life in the US, where, on the rare occasion that I couldn’t think of what I should be doing, my impatient mind immediately and urgently intruded to suggest the next vitally important task—one in a long, long list of vitally important tasks to be done.

But here in my rented yard outside of San Miguel, my mind simply wanders over my rather lazy day.

My mother claims that, if you’re lucky, you can accomplish one real thing a day in Mexico. I’ve proved her wrong a thousand or so times already, but I’ve come to realize that sometimes it’s actually good for you to accomplish only one thing in a day.

This morning, I continued the house search. Went and looked at a tiny, extremely funky house for sale, for which the owners had decided on a firm, absurdly high price—despite having no idea of the place’s square footage, and despite the fact that the “house” is in need of tons (of tons) of work…stucco on the walls, for starters.

There. That’s one (attempt at) productive activity. Ah, yes…I also got an email from a friend I haven’t connected with since I left the States six months ago.

Six months. Half a year of a new life.

“Aha,” comes a quiet voice through the languid afternoon haze. “Write,” it says. So here I am, on the page. (Well, on the laptop, in the hammock.)

I admit, I’ve been having guilty type-A thoughts lately—I haven’t been doing enough. I’ve been “wasting time.” Nearly six months of time! What will become of me??!! Ack.

But then my friend in the States writes about how great my life seems—having the time to do the things I love—painting, photography, gardening, writing, yoga, dancing, hammock roosting.

Living.

Suddenly, even though I am lazing in the garden, I feel as if my life is, actually, productive. Every now and then, life should simply be about living.

Yes, of course, I am a bit poor, financially speaking (except for my tiny nest egg). And I have no real prospects (yet). But my life is rich, isn’t it?

Rich in butterflies (plenty of the stomach kind, but mostly the insect kind): Small black flutterers with cobalt and crimson spots gleaming in the sun. A few huge white lovelies sailing calmly by, and the occasional stately orange and black Monarch.

Rich in flora: Nasturtium, spinach, and forget-me-not seedlings standing as tall as they can, just a few days out of the earth. (Am I, perhaps, a seedling, just six months out of new earth?)

A miniature broccoli forest coming up. Infant zucchini boldly protruding from under wide, variegated, sun-catching leaves. Tomato plants freely offering up the pointy yellow flowers that portend juicy red fruit. Cheeky little adolescent lettuces. (There is so much hope and bravery in a new garden, not to mention many happy salads to come.)

Rich in feathered friends: Noisy, rat-tat-tat woodpeckers. Mournful doves mooning about. Haughty orange orioles lounging in the branches. Huge bickering blackbirds squabbling on the ground. Tiny, blindingly scarlet birdlets lingering in the purple Jacaranda blooms. And of course, many busy little jewel-colored hummingbirds zooming from blossom to blossom.

Perhaps I was a hummingbird in my first-world life? Not jewel-colored, so much as pale beige, but buzzing frenetically from duty to duty…

Maybe. But now what am I? Not a seedling, not a hummingbird. A hen, perhaps. (Colorful now—yes!) Sitting—roosting on my little egg of potential, my potential egg—doing apparently nothing, but thinking, dreaming, and scheming, waiting for my future to hatch.

Unemployed, yes. Poor-ish, yes. But I am so very rich in one of the great bounties Mexico has to offer: Time.

Time to play at painting the Virgen de Guadalupe. Time to tinker on the guitar (I can now play Greensleeves—if I had a phone, Carnegie Hall would SO be calling). Time for the joys of photography (which literally means “writing with light”). And, most of all, time to write (with light, ink or pixels). To muse, to jot, to scribble. Attempting to get to know myself and my newish surroundings though black marks on a white page/screen.

My doubts seem to dissolve, and, for once (or twice),  I actually know I am doing fine.

Sure, I have no foreseeable way to make a living in Mexico (to be “secure”), but I am fine. Really fine. Finer than frog hair, as my father always says. (It took me almost twenty years of hearing that expression before I got it—“Wait,” she finally says to herself, “Frogs don’t have hair…ohhhh.”) And so, despite my lack of the career-building activities most people in my former Stateside life deem to be essential to a sense of self, my self seems to be fine. Finer than…iguana hair.

Six months into this Mexican adventure of indeterminate length, I sit and look back. Not literally back at the towering Mesquite tree that supports the north end of my hammock, but back at the months of stress and preparation for leaving my conventional life up North, half a year ago:

Quit job. Finish thesis. Jump through all the right hoops to graduate. Sort through 20 or so years of accumulated stuff (the pack rat’s instant karma). Have two massive garage sales and still give a driveway full of stuff to a charitable organization. Fall in love at the last-possible, most-insane minute, and leave man and town and country behind anyway, because it had to be done (because it was my future, my egg).

Then:

Drive 2000 miles in a car filled to the gills with Mom, pets and my carefully-packed belongings (60% books)—still, somehow, so very much stuff.

Arrive at new, Mexican home. Unpack, organize, play house and play in the garden. Survive while distance smothers a fledgling relationship. Live in near-total isolation for four months while trying to find a foothold in what was once, long ago, Home—the place I grew up. Get to know (again) the town, the language, the lifestyle, and the birds. And then, finally, blossom once again into the world of humankind.

So very much can happen in six short months.

Did I make the right decision? To leave almost everything (material) behind for a brave/insane new adventure in a foreign country? Definitely. (I mostly think.) Of course, it has been very difficult, at times, to have sacrificed security and a nice, reliable paycheck for the unknown. But the benefits are manifold, not the least of which is the time to simply sit in the hammock and think. And tend to my egg.

Ten Year Check-In, May, 2011

Forgot how to play Greensleves on the guitar, but learned how to play it on the Piano. Not painting at the moment, but still crazy in love with photography. Accomplish a multitude of tasks on most days, but still spend the occasional lazy Saturday pondering in my new hammock in my new garden. (And even manage to write now and then.)

What I didn’t know then was that Casita de las Flores, which turns ten next year (!), would change my life in so many ways: providing me with a life-sized art project, meaningful work, lots of new friends, and even a decent income, eventually.

Best of all, a decade later, I am still rich—not so much in money, though I am a wee bit more secure—but in time (and birds and butterflies and seedlings). Yet, I find I’m roosting yet again, sitting on that good old future egg, wondering what comes next.

Here’s to you, adventurers—don’t let the unknown keep you down. And take really good care of that egg.

Wishing you love and lots of great eggs,

Casita de las Flores
www.CasitaDeLasFlores.com

 

 

 

egg21 150x150 six month check in. may, 2001

Always nurture your egg.

good news for/about mexico — someone’s finally doing the math.

Last week, yet another guest told me that when she announced her audacious/suicidal plan to visit Mexico…(she’s been coming regularly for twenty years—and she hasn’t been beheaded, not even once) her co-workers went off on her:

“What, are you crazy?”
“Really? But it’s so dangerous! They’re killing people!!”
“Don’t you know there’s a war on drugs there?”

Argh. My eyes are still sore from the vicious rolling they got—having lived, worked, and traveled in Mexico since late 2000 (most of it alone) and never having met with anything even remotely dangerous.

A few days later, a guest/friend who has stayed with us no less than 10 times in the last nine years, cancelled her visit, due to dire friend and family warnings about Mexico.

This news made me deeply sad (and even more frustrated).

I am (still) so exasperated that I feel i MUST pull out the capital letters (desperate measures).

REALLY? SERIOUSLY?

Call me Miss Information

Where are these well-meaning folks getting their (mis)information? Oh, right. The media. The people that sell news (advertisements, really) for a living. News which is very often sensationalism. Which gets more viewers and sells more ads.

No news is decidedly NOT good news for the media. Happy stories don’t sell papers or garner top ratings. Beheadings—well now, that’s entertainment!

For example: Your average North Korean thinks Americans routinely eat small children for breakfast with barbeque sauce. Why? Because they believe what is fed to them by their media.

They, however, have an excuse—they do not have access to alternative and/or objective opinions.

BUT WE DO! And yet, most of us still just trust the major news shows/channels, many of who seem to be every bit as about titillation as any saucy sitcom (and perhaps more so than most reality TV).

Critical Thinking 101

Don’t believe everything you see on TV (or even in this blog). Look around, get other opinions. Investigate. Google stuff!

Do you know that in certain (if not all) countries in Europe, less enlightened people think the U.S. is intolerably violent— barbaric, even? Why? Because most of their news about the U.S. consists of American serial killers, American school shootouts, and American mad bombers. (NOTE: none of these are at all common in Mexico)

Think Unabomber, think Jeffrey Dahmer, think Columbine. These are, sadly, world-wide household phrases. But, do they define the United States?

San Miguel and 99% of Mexican towns and even cities have never witnessed such insane episodes of mass, mindless violence. (Ok, maybe in badly-dubbed TV movies.)

Case in Point: Tranquil Beach Town Fed to Sharks

Of course it’s fine, even necessary, to report a violent event. But does it have to get hours of press, days of coverage, and even re-runs years later to blow it hugely out of proportion?

The answer, apparently, is yes. Rumor has it Discovery Channel just RE-aired a show on my favorite safe, sleepy Mexican beach town, calling it “Shark Bite Beach” because, several years ago, two surfers were bitten there, and one nearby.

They neglect to mention that these were the first shark attacks in the area in 30 years. Nor do they focus on the fact that the unfortunate victims were surfing in front of open river mouths (Shark’s version of Furr’s Cafeteria. Surfing equivalent of playing in traffic.) Yet they make it seem like Troncones is overrun by Jaws and friends. Absurd. And yet people cancel reservations over this clever little phrase—affecting people’s livelihoods. (And yes, I swim and sort-of surf there as often as I possibly can. And Troncones is, truly, a beach paradise.)

Mexico: the Real Victim

It’s not just frustrating to be libeled and defamed, it’s immensely hurtful. (That’s why they have laws against that sort of thing.) A full 30% of Mexicans work in tourism…that’s a lot of families that are affected by all this trashy talk. Not to mention yours truly. Tourism, while it’s now starting to pick up, has been truly butchered by the media over the last few years.

Grateful aside: We salute the brave (rational) souls who do still come down, take advantage of the low prices caused by the anti-Mexico hysteria, have a great time and keep us alive. Bless you.

Mexican Violence Pales in Perspective

Of course there is violence in Mexico, and yes, there is a heavy battle going on to control the drug trade. Pretty sure there’s one in the States, too, with casualties and everything. I won’t even go into which country is Mexico’s main drug market (ahem) or supplier of weapons (double ahem).

But, one has to keep world-wide violence in perspective. Yes, there is violence in Mexio, but is it really that much worse than other places? Worse than, say, major cities in the United States? Read on…

Just the Facts, Señora

• There are fewer murders per 100,000 people in all of Mexico than in Los Angeles, California. (And far less than, say, Detroit.)

• Mexico is far safer than it was ten years ago, when you probably wouldn’t have thought twice about vacationing here…

• Mexico is actually one of the safest countries in Latin America.

• Big, bad Mexico City, for example, has far fewer murders per 100,000 people than Phoenix or Houston, and around half the murders (per 100K) than the City of Angels, USA.

• More than 50% of Mexico’s violent deaths happen in only four cities (Juarez, Laredo, etc.), places I would heartily avoid, myself. Like I avoid Detroit. (Sorry Detroit…I know you’re not all bad, but i’m not into big industry tourism, anyhow.)

• The other 2,396 towns and cities that make up Mexico (a country the size of Western Europe) have very low levels of violence, compared to these U.S. cities you wouldn’t bat an eye at visiting.
Disneyland, anyone?

Safe as Casas

If you really want to know what’s happening in Mexico, why not ask someone who lives here, or who visits regularly? Or at least consult the articles listed below for some professional and balanced journalistic opinions.

These accounts make a valiant attempt to intelligently fight the relentless slander of Mexico, with facts, figures, and, most importantly, a sense of perspective.

Thanks and hope to see you soon, you intrepid/rational/critical thinking souls!

xo,

Casita de las Flores
Bed and Kitchen, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico (a lovely, extremely peaceful town
in beautiful Mexico—and far safer than L.A., or Mayberry, for that matter)
www.CasitaDeLasFlores.com

 

Article Highlights (the Juicy Bits):

Travel expert: Why you should go to Mexico By Robert Reid, Special to CNN. May 6, 2011

“Mexico is a lot safer than you may realize. We tend to lump all of Mexico — a country the size of Western Europe — together. For example, a border incident resulted in the death of a Colorado tourist last year, and the Texas Department of Homeland Security recommended against travel to all of Mexico.

“Yet it’s in the 17 of 31 states not named in the newly expanded warnings where you’ll find the most rewarding destinations: the Yucatan Peninsula and Baja California beach resorts, colonial hill towns like the ex-pat haven of San Miguel de Allende, even the capital Mexico City.”

Top 8 places to (safely) visit in Mexico now. LonelyPlanet.com. May 5 2011

“Before brushing a Mexico trip aside this year, consider that about 245,000 square miles are free from the State Department’s warning list (for a visual, check this CNN map) and it neatly matches areas people usually visit (Cabo, Cancún, Cozumel, Tulum, Mexico City, Oaxaca, San Miguel de Allende).”

Five safest places in Mexico for travelers Christine Delsol, San Francisco Chronicle. April 20, 2011

“But it’s still true that drug gangs are not targeting tourists now any more than they ever were. And even if the barrage of headlines makes it sound as if the entire country were in flames, the violence that feeds Mexico’s death toll takes place primarily in just nine of 31 states — mainly along the U.S. border where the smuggling takes place and in places where marijuana and heroin are produced.

The concept hasn’t changed: Stay away from the trouble spots and exhibit some common sense, and you’re more likely to perish in a tequila-fueled Jet Ski mishap than at a homicidal drug trafficker’s hands.

“In 2010, Mexico City’s drug-related homicide rate was 2.2 per 100,000. While it is not an exact comparison, since the Mexico database tracks specifically drug-related deaths, Washington, D.C.’s homicide rate for 2009, the latest year for which the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report is available, of 24 per 100,000 adds some perspective. California’s rate was 5.3; the U.S. national average was 5.0.”

Away from the U.S. border, Mexico is peaceful, beautiful Bud Kennedy, Fort Worth Star Telegram. Mar. 20, 2010

“ Look, no matter what you hear, the U.S. has not warned citizens to stay out of Mexico.

The State Department warning says to stay out of Chihuahua, Coahuila and Durango — particularly Juarez.

At any given time, about 500,000 Americans are visiting Mexico. According to the State Department, 79 Americans were killed there last year, 23 of them in Juarez.

Mathematically, that means the rest of Mexico is safer than Dallas or Houston. It’s four times safer than New Orleans.”

Travel wise: How safe is travel in Mexico?  Carol Pucci, Seattle Times. March 16, 2010

Too often in the past, these types of government alerts have taken a broad-brush approach, simply advising against travel to a country as a whole. What’s different about this warning, issued Sunday following the shooting in Ciudad Juárez of three people with ties to the American consulate, is its level of detail, and the way it rightly targets only towns where drug-related violence has been rampant.

“As the State Department points out, millions of U.S. citizens safely visit Mexico each year, and this isn’t likely to change. Nearly a million Americans live in various parts of the country, enjoying the benefits of an inexpensive retirement and low-cost medical care.

I just returned from seven days in Mazatlan and Sayulita, a surfing and beach town near Puerto Vallarta popular with many from Seattle and Portland. I experienced nothing out of the ordinary, except perhaps, fewer tourists than usual. Restaurants were lively and filled with Americans and Canadians who were there seemed to be enjoying their vacations with no hassles or problems.

“The bottom line: If you’re planning a vacation soon to Mexico, by all means go, but heed the State Department’s advice and use common-sense precautions such as visiting only legitimate business and tourist areas during daylight hours, and avoiding areas where drug dealing might occur.”

Linda Ellerbee’s Mexico: It’s Much Better Than You Think  MexicoPremier.com. 2009, and others.

“Too much of the noise you’re hearing about how dangerous it is to come to Mexico is just that — noise. But the media love noise, and too many journalists currently making it don’t live here. Some have never even been here. They just like to be photographed at night, standing near a spotlighted border crossing, pointing across the line to some imaginary country from hell. It looks good on TV.

Another thing. The U.S. media tend to lump all of Mexico into one big bad bowl. Talking about drug violence in Mexico without naming a state or city where this is taking place is rather like looking at the horror of Katrina and saying, “Damn. Did you know the U.S. is under water?” or reporting on the shootings at Columbine or the bombing of the Federal building in Oklahoma City by saying that kids all over the U.S. are shooting their classmates and all the grownups are blowing up buildings. The recent rise in violence in Mexico has mostly occurred in a few states, and especially along the border. It is real, but it does not describe an entire country.”


Is it Safe to Visit Mexico Now?
 Peter Greenberg. March 10, 2011

“Analyzing Geography and Crime Statistics

Here are some facts:

  • An overwhelming majority of the crime is in the northern part of the country.
  • The distance between Tijuana and Cancun almost matches the distance between Los Angeles and New York.
  • An overwhelming majority of the crime is drug related, and it is generally cartel versus cartel. Americans aren’t targeted.”

Violent Deaths in Mexico: Everything Is Not as it Seems TheCatalist.org. 11 August 2010

“According to available indicators, Mexico as a country has a general level of 13.3 violent deaths per 100.000 inhabitants, making it one of the safest countries in Latin America. Levels in Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela surprised us since they are at high as 16.8, 36.7 and 44.9 deaths per 100,000 population, respectively. Brazil and Venezuela are two and almost three times more violent than Mexico, respectively.

Moreover, if we compare this indicator with some U.S. cities we will see that our country is much better than we would expect to imagine. Comparing Mexico to Washington DC, New Orleans or Detroit the difference is very big, violence is a tangible problem in those cities. And without going too far, Mexico City has 9.8 violent deaths per 100,000 people, far below of other major cities like Houston, with 12.5, Phoenix, witn 12.6, and Los Angeles, with 17.1. It is true that there is a big problem in Ciudad Juarez and three other municipalities, which altogether sum up to more than 50% of violent deaths in Mexico. The rest of the 2,396 municipalities which form the country have relatively low violence levels.”

Amid drug war, Mexico less deadly than decade ago The Associated Press, Denver Post. Feb 2010

“A falling homicide rate means people in Mexico are less likely to die violently now than they were more than a decade ago.

It also means tourists as well as locals may be safer than many believe.

Mexico City’s homicide rate today is about on par with Los Angeles’ and is less than a third of that for Washington, D.C.”


san miguel makes the top ten (and it’s good for you!)

 san miguel makes the top ten (and its good for you!)

According to journeyetc.com, San Miguel is up there with the likes of Berlin, Florence and Paris, artistically speaking. “If you yourself want to make art instead of viewing the artworks, go to San Miguel de Allende. This little town still brandishing its colonial architecture is the best place to go to in order to practice one’s craft. San Miguel de Allende’s artistry is high enough to be compared to Florence,” they write.

And of course, they point out that visiting a haven for art and artists, such as San Miguel de Allende, is good for you:

“Working and doing the same things over and over can be such a chore. Sometimes the work that we do mold us in ways that we don’t expect and at times surprise us because of the changes they seem to inculcate. When these things happen and you feel stranger and stranger as the days go on, the perfect solution is almost, always a vacation.

“Not all escapes are healthy though. It really depends if the place you are going to totally renews your interest in certain elements of your daily life. A perfect vacation or more specifically, a journey, should be able to help you re-engage with wonder and help you re-engage the world in a renewed manner. What is the perfect way to do this but an immersion in the arts?

“Exposure to what is beautiful, to geometric and mind labored shapes, to beautiful music that becomes grander and grander in scale as the orchestra plays it, can dramatically sharpen our senses and our sensual intelligence and sensitivity. If you want to go and get lost in art, here are some key cities you will find which will help you reacquire a vision for your life.”

Of course, they forgot to mention that San Miguel is so much more relaxed and personable than those big hectic cities.

Well, we already knew San Miguel was eye candy central, didn’t we? So get down here and soak up some culture. Take some art classes. (see our local resources page for more info on classes and teachers). Create your own work of art. Find yourself. Relax and have fun!

To read the whole article, click here.

hasta pronto,

Casita de las Flores
www.casitadelasflores.com

Your everlovin,’ artsy fartsy San Miguel B & K*—affordable, comfy and friendly.

*(Bed and kitchen)