It is easy to describe San Miguel de Allende in the state of Guanajuato, Mexico, as an adult playground and haven for exploration, self-discovery, and creativity. Much is written about San Miguel, which took off as an arts community in the 1940′s when U.S. veterans of World War II came to Belles Artes for arts education paid for by the GI Bill.
I stopped there for three days to visit friends after my work in the Guanajuato pueblos and before heading back to the U.S.A. During this first visit to San Miguel, what impressed me were the art galleries, indigenous crafts, restaurants, cultural life, blue light treated and filtered drinkable tap water, groomed avenues, elegant colonial homes perfectly restored, aging hippy ambience, the Jardin and La Parroquia light spectacle, the Saturday organic market, the spirit of the place. Three days is a nanosecond in the life of a Mexican village, and mine is a first impression. And, everyone has their own experience! Thankfully.
San Miguel long ago graduated beyond Mexican village status. With a population of about 130,000 people total, the expatriate community numbers about 14,000 or almost 11 percent of the population, of which 70 percent are Americans. (Oops, Estadounidenses, ie. from the U.S.A. Mexicans are Americans, too, as in North Americans, as in part of the North American continent and The United Mexican States.) Fourteen thousand is a hefty number and it is easy to see why people from the U.S.A. and Canada want to live in San Miguel. It’s easier. All the services are there to support a first-world lifestyle and you don’t even need to speak Spanish if you don’t want to!
Do you want to play music? Do it. Do you want to grow and sell organic food? Start a market. Do you want to become a painter? Lessons are plentiful. Do you want to teach yoga and meditation? There are people to join you in the practice. Whatever you might have yearned to learn or do, it’s here in San Miguel. Plus, San Miguel has a very socially and politically active group of volunteers who are mentoring and supporting local women, youth, families, organic farmers, schools, health clinics, animal shelters and starting self-help entrepreneurial projects. Can’t find what you are interested in? Start your own group.
House Sitting in San Miguel
So, how can someone from the U.S.A. live in San Miguel for not much money? I discovered that one alternative is to become a house sitter. If you join the Civil (a SMA listserv), you can get notices and also put out the word that you want to house sit. These arrangements can be made for several weeks, months, or years usually for the cost of paying for utilities and services (water, gas, electricity, maid, gardener), which can range from $400-1,000 a month.
I was impressed by seeing how simply house sitters — many of whom are retirees on small fixed incomes — can live, with all their belongings in a few suitcases. Everything can fit in the trunk of a car. For me, it was an instructive lesson in FREEDOM and MOBILITY. During “the season” (winter months) when the snowbirds return, house sitters may take to the road (or air) to discover other parts of the world or negotiate occupying the small casita in the back of a property.
Would I visit again? Absolutely. Would I live there permanently? Silly question. I live in Oaxaca! At least most of the year.
This year, it will be seven or eight months of being in Oaxaca, going back and forth from there and between North Carolina and California. My 96-1/2 year old mother lives in Santa Cruz near my sister (I want to see her as much as I can), my son, daughter-in-law, brother and his family are in Los Angeles, and my husband is in North Carolina until the casita we will live in is completed. Sometimes, I don’t know where I live and living out of a suitcase for two months makes me appreciate what the house sitters of San Miguel are able to do!