“Look, Kieran, it’s your grandparents,” called my travel buddies.
My grandparents, in Mexico? Where? How?
My grandparents are not in Mexico and I’m certain they’ve never been to Mexico. How could they possibly be in San Miguel de Allende at the same time as me?
My companions were just playing a clever joke on me in reference to the enormous number of old white people in San Miguel de Allende. More accurately, the enormous number of old Americans.
The beautiful, small colonial town in central Mexico is a haven for retirees from the United States and it is often possible to see more gringos than Mexicans in this town. So many that my Japanese and Mexican travel buddies thought I should feel the most at home during our fleeting visit.
US retirees flock to San Miguel for its agreeable climate, it’s relatively low cost of living, its preserved colonial architecture and its relaxed pace of life.
They can spend their days taking brunch at any of the boutique cafes which have adapted their menus to suit the American palette. The old gringos can stroll over to the central plaza and admire the architecture of the old cathedral or engage in the age-old pastime of people watching. Those feeling more energetic could follow the tourists who make the short trip to the nearby Sanctuary of Atotonilco.
They can pop into one of the many galleries dotted throughout the town producing traditional Mexican and modern art works, or they can simply admire the facades of the buildings in the centre of the town which have been carefully preserved. So well preserved that the centre of town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The old gringos created a little world for themselves and they are so pervasive that many of the store owners speak English and notice boards are full of activities targeted at seniors. In addition, the Biblioteca Publica (Public Library) which is housed in the former convent of Santa Ana, boasts the second largest collection of English language books in Mexico.
The town is also awash with signs imploring people to slow down.
Yes, nothing moves quickly in San Miguel de Allende.
Even the taxi driver joked about this fact as he crawled through the cobbled streets upon arrival in town. I never asked if he thought this was an advantage or a disadvantage in his line of work. It probably earned him fewer fares per day, but probably kept the meter ticking over for longer and increased the total cost of a journey. Either way, he must surely have been in constant demand in a town full of people with limited mobility.
Of course, in a town full of ‘gringos viejitos’, it’s no surprise that many stores stock an extensive range of walking sticks.