The Balloons at Calle Torres Landa

When I left my job in San Francisco 8 years ago to travel the world, I told my colleagues that I felt like the boy in “The Red Balloon,” sailing into the clouds to an unknown destination. I left, and what started as a six month adventure became an 8-year lifestyle. Houseless, I’ve made the world my home, with unfamiliar rooms and unpredictable rhythms. It has been a romantic time in my life, learning things about the world I never imagined, and freeing myself of a few of my acquired illusions. I’ve lived my longing.

From the film, “The Red Balloon”

And now my life as a nomad may be coming to an end. In May, I bought a house in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, where I have visited frequently in recent years. I am consciously happy every day in my new home. At times, I am experiencing culture shock — not because I’m in Mexico but because I’m in a house that I’m not planning to leave tomorrow or next month.

The facades of San Miguel’s houses are unassuming. But there is magic inside the gates. This is my courtyard.

I’ve settled (sort of, so far) in San Miguel because, in my travels to 54 countries, I’ve never visited a place that kept drawing me back, a place that I love and seems to love me back. Here are some of the other reasons I’m here.

Mexican culture. Generalizations can be risky but…this is a place where nearly every human encounter begins with “Como estas?” Wearing a mask is a gesture of respect and caring. Taxi drivers don’t complain about the traffic — they comment on the good weather. One of my best San Miguel friends is a 10-year old boy who teaches me Spanish and cleans my sidewalks so he can buy a phone. I feel good all day after meeting with my building contractor (say what?). Money is not a way of life, patience is a virtue, and the street dogs trust you. I can’t imagine hearing a Mexican say, “I’m too stressed out” or “I’m so busy.” Maybe they are, but they focus on other things. Other stuff…

Meet Leo, my Spanish teacher and neighbor.

The Enchantment of San Miguel. On almost any day of the week, San Miguel will treat you to some combination of fire works, parades, fiestas, and music. Windows and doorways are decorated with flowers and ribbons. The city is full of artists and writers. But the feeling is not Disneyland. So many people will tell you they sense some kind of deeper magic here. Maybe it’s the astronomical relationship between the sacred pyramids outside town and San Miguel’s main square. The ancients recognized the region as a place with a special connection to something bigger.

Canada de La Virgin — pyramids built by the Otomi civilization more than 1500 years ago — is full of secrets and the application of extreme science.

San Miguel’s Gringo Community. Many serious travelers say San Miguel is interesting but not really Mexican and too full of “expats” (an elitist term meaning “white, well-heeled immigrants” — I doubt that it’s ever been used to refer to Mexicans living in the US). Of the 174,000 residents in greater San Miguel, about 10,000 are from the US or Canada. It’s true that they, along with tourism, have changed the local community significantly, in both positive and negative ways. I might not come here to explore the depths of Mexican culture, but it’s still Mexico. And if I’m going to live outside the US, I want to be part of an English-speaking community. It’s easy here, whether you have an identifiable interest (like painting or volunteering at one of San Miguel’s many NGOs) or you are just friendly to someone else buying a rug in the local tienda.

The original “ex-pat” in my life is my sister Kathy who lived here in the 1970s– and it’s still a part of her.

No, it’s not dangerous. (There is some petty crime but virtually no violent crime unless you are involved in the illegal drug trade.)

Yes, you can drink the water (It’s either filtered or bottled).

No, it’s not hot (except in May — the rest of the year, the weather is like the Bay Area).

Yes, I miss my family and friends in California (but I can’t bear what is happening to my country).

As for balloons — they are here. From my rooftop patio, I can see them hovering overhead, reminding me that flying is partly a state of mind.

The view from my rooftop.

31 comments

  1. Thoroughly enjoyed this post and seeing your courtyard of course makes me want to come see you. Having visited you before I know “la magica” de San Miguel. Glad you are putting down your roots there.

  2. WOW! Congrats on your new home! So happy for you! There is enchantment there indeed, as well as in Mexico in general. I love living on the Gulf coast, and my wife (Mexican) and I just celebrated our third year wedding anniversary. May your new home be full of peace and love and the inspiration vivir la vida!

  3. I spent a week there 15 years ago. They know how to put on a fireworks show.
    From there you can explore parts of Mexico that are close by.

  4. I love this post! So glad you are anchoring your balloon in San Miguel. I look forward to spending more time with you!

    -jennifer

    Jennifer M. Posner cel. +52 415•115•1866

    >

  5. Beautifully written. We are Canadian expats who have lived part time in SMA for 16 years. We believe it’s magical as well. Hope to meet you in the not to distant months.

  6. I
    love
    this
    post.

    I believe you were destined to find and live in SMA.

    After wandering the world the past eight years, you seem to me to be finally “at home” with both yourself and your community.

    I’ve never known you to be happier, more centered, more aware of your self, and more available to all that’s around you both near and far. Your senses seem to have been heightened and integrated in a new and special way.

    Felicidades y abrazos!

  7. Congratulations Kim! I’m so happy for you! Your life there is good for all the important reasons. I’m now living in my new 1930 Spanish casita style home in Redwood City and teaching ESL10 minutes away at a barrio adult school, all since this past February. My dog and I walk to the local park most days to charlar y jugar with others … it’s like a dream and reminds of SMA. Abrazos, Betzi

  8. Congratulations on your new home in this magical place. You’re still a wanderer, but now you have an anchor.

  9. CONGRATULATIONS KIM on your new home. Your final destination and a place with a different culture. Love your view

  10. Congratulations! I didn’t realize you bought a home. Where is it? We need to meet for lunch soon. I want to hear all about your new house. I have some workmen coming this week. How about next Tuesday. We can decide Monday night where and when.

Leave a Reply to Betsy Strode Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s