Friday, June 29, 2007

Plaza de Toros

The Corrida itself is just not for me - bullfights are kinda gruesome. But, here in Mexico and most Latin-American/Spanish areas of the world, the bullfight is considered a ritualized art form and any aspects of cruelty imply are not culturally recognized. Well, maybe if the bull didn't have to be drug out of the cage before the fight due its fear of the toreo and the crowd, maybe then I could buy all the guy-risking-his-life hoopla. As it stands, it seems more like an overblown way to kill a bull with some added entertainment. Now, the running of the bulls here in September (or of course the large running of the bulls in Spain) IS something I would like to see someday..

Having said all this, I do like the excitement surrounding the meere mention of a bullfight and the artwork is very nice as well. Thus, I thought it would definitely be worth checking out Plaza de Toros here in San Miguel just to see the arena and maybe some associated art/architecture. If there was a bullfight here, I would probably even go hang out around the Plaza just to see the buzz and maybe score some cheap prints or something - but there isn't one in town until late July.

Anyway, we walked over to the spot on the map that had the stadium drawn and marked. Then we walked around the block and back around again - never finding the actual Plaza. Keep in mind this a pretty large place - easily spotted first on the Google Earth and tourist maps of San Miguel - how could we not find it?

Turns out, the whole block has a huge wall built around it and the arena is simply not observable from the street. Finally we found one relatively small door that opens on the day of a bullfight and was worn with old fliers announcing upcoming events. I don't see how they contains something so big behind a wall....but they do.

These walls and are actually very common here - it's not infrequent that you will be walking down the street and someone will open a tiny door and when you glance in, a large space is revealed - maybe a school or a soccer field.

the only sign of the large Plaza from the street....

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

W.A.S.P International Convention?
Nope, ¡just the Biblioteca Publica!

The Biblioteca Publica in San Miguel de Allende is located just west of the Plaza Civica. It's in a really ugly yellow building but it makes a nice place to study as it is just a short walk across the plaza from the PACEMD/MedSpanish building. Thus, we spend a decent amount of time there.

The nice thing about the place is that it's got a huge outdoor patio with a coffee shop and cafe. Plus, there is a movie theater off the courtyard (Santa Ana Theater) that plays independent films 2Xs per day for 50 pesos a person. In addition, it's one of the few locations around town that has free wireless internet (also check the Instituto Allende on Ancha de San Antonio).

There are a few annoying things about the place as well.
First, if you visit the library you should go knowing that this is an English language collection - the second largest biblioteca de ingles en la país.
In addition, it's the gathering spot of all the U.S. and European people who have moved here or relocated for a long period of time - so it's going to feel like you are back home...but an even more annoying version of back home. This is a back home filled with ping-pong ball people just bouncing through life and flopping into San Miguel. Also not a place to go to hear Spanish. So, just know those things going in and if you can get past that, the library isn't a bad place to study and get cheap food/coffee.

Upstairs from the library is the headquarters of the English weekly, Atención.

La Biblioteca is indicated with the central red thumbtack, pacemd with the yellow and the house with the red marker to the far right (east)

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Mexican Pharmacies

One of the more interesting things here in Mexico is the number of drugs available without a prescription - basically everything that is not on the our controlled substances list can be bought by anyone at any pharmacy.

This means that antibiotics, heart medicines, diabetes pills, and other common chronic drug regimens can be purchased during a trip to the market. No benzos or opiods but plenty of other medications to allow people here to deal with many problems on their own.

Of course, this also means that medications are a lot cheaper here (except for some of the big gun antibiotics). For example, I can purchase my month long supply of allegra for less than $20. Many U.S. health insurance companies won't even cover Allegra these days due to the availability of the similar (but for me and many others, less effective) Claritin over the counter. Anyway, the old Blood pressure meds and DM regimens are certainly cheaper, as are the old generation and generic antibiotics.

The good thing about this system is that people with very little money can treat common conditions much more easily. It's not too hard for a women to figure to use a sulfa to tx her urinary tract infections if she gets them a couple of times, or if her sister/mom etc has had them as well. Same goes for mom's treating ear infections with some amoxicillin. The problem of course is that many things are mistreated and of course there is less preventive medicine in this model.

For example, in the emergency room this week I saw a women who tried to treat a bladder infection with an antibiotic that only covers gram + organisms (most bladder infections are a different type of bacteria). So, the infection spread to her kidneys. Since she was pregnant, this became a relatively serious infection likely requiring hospitalization and IV antibiotics (at least in the U.S).

Of course this would throw the economics of medicine in the states out of control as well if these drugs were over the counter - think of all the office visits for med refills and relatively common prescriptions/common problems. Anyway, the argument, of course, that those of us trained in medicine in the U.S. would make is that while it is more costly to have these frequent office visits, it is also the only way to rule out more serious problems and keep up with immunizations and other necessary prevention/health maintenance issues.

Anyway, arguments aside, I will enjoy my $15 Allegra while I'm here, my ability to grab some antibiotics to keep away the Monteczuma's Revenge, and other simple stuff that even with my level of training, I can select the appropriate medicine for treatment. Different world.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Night time in San Miguel de Allende

This is a busy place at night - especially Thursday - Saturday (but certainly any night one can find places to dance, places to just hang out, or movies at the library or the mega cinema by gigante (he-gone-te)....anyway, the all-purpose hang out is at the Jardin in the center of the Principal Plaza. Every night features mariachi bands, tourists, and locals just sitting on the benches eating the fresh fruit pelatos (Popsicles)

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

La Gruta - The Hot Springs near San Miguel

Natural hot springs – man made structure. Each room contains a warmer area of the spring. The final room is definitely spa/Jacuzzi temperature. 15-20 minute bus ride from the corner of Casa de la Luz and Hidalgo (or about a $10 cab ride). There are about 3 different sets of springs on the outskirts of town - each catering to a slightly different crowd. There is one spring that has water slides and other installations for kids - but I think we will probably have to make a trip there as well. The coldest spring is probably around 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Los Locos

Today was the annual Los Locos celebration in San Miguel de Allende.

It's a little hard to describe why this event takes place but the best analogy for what this is would be to think of Tampa's Gasparilla Invasion/Parade. Or, if you don't know about Gasparilla - just think of a big parade with floats and costumes.

Anyway, the festivity apparently has it's roots in a mix of religious festivity and late spring harvest rituals. The surrounding areas of San Miguel were once filled with orchards and during the harvest at this time of the year, the farmers would celebrate by coming into the town and dancing around a lot. The locals started to come and watch, crowding the event. So, the farmers tried to scare them off with scarecrow costumes and trapped live animals that they would bring from the more rural areas -- including skunks and raccoons. The townspeople called these farmers - los locos.

In addition, the tradition of scaring the city turned into the more modern tradition of wearing something akin to our Halloween costumes.

While the holiday seems to have it's roots in more Pagan areas centered on harvesting, like most Latin American religious celebrations, there is a heavy blend of Catholicoliscism as well -- so the Los Locos celebration now always falls on the first Sunday after San Antonio Day (June 13) and includes a celebration for 3 other Catholic icons as well -- San Isidro, Corpus Christ, and most notably, San Pascual Bailon. I say most notably because this is the original Saint that the orchard workers adopted.

Like the Gasparilla crews, the Los Locos parade is organized and participated in by 4 groups - called Cuadros.

Well, I think that's about as good of a description as I can give. Fortunately, Blogger now allows video uploads so hopefully a few videos and photos can do better justice than my words.

...and some photos

For more information on Los Locos, check out the English weekly in San Miguel - Atencion

The Buses in San Miguel

The buses in San Miguel are definitely different then the buses we might be used to - these buses seem to run all the time with no real set times for stop arrivals. But, they get you to where you need to be relatively quickly for 4 pesos and it's always amazing to see a bus driver maneuver the things through the tiny streets and up the steep hills.

But, the best thing about the buses here is that they are all personalized. I'm not sure if this is because the driver's lease/buy their own bus or what - but I do know that it's the thing to do. Most of the buses have some variation on a Virgin Mary theme but others are complete with musical preferences and pop culture references.

For example, yesterday we rode out to the hot springs in a bus that had a wall of car speakers at the front blasting pop-punk-esque sounding tunes that were basically a Spanish language Ramones (it's almost like it took 30 years but pop-punk is finally catching on here).

The other neat things about the buses are this:

1. You don't usually pay when you get on the bus. Instead there is a person who sits up front near the driver that is responsible for collecting bus fare later in the trip. Essentially, this guy knows when the bus is likely to be most full. He starts in the back row and works his way collecting pesos.

2. Some buses have salesmen who step on the bus. While many sell pirated CDs/DVDs - my favorite one thus far was the wallet salesman. This guy went through this meticulous presentation on the benefits of a wallet, displaying each slot and fold of the 10 peso, fake leather trifolds he carried in a large stack (while somehow keeping his balance up and down the bumpy hills).

It's kinda difficult to take pictures on the city bus - it's not a tourist vehicle and the personalized displays are all right up by the driver. However, I did manage to get a few inconspicuous shots that are shown below.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

ATVs, scooters, dirt bikes, and motorcycles

The most common mode of transportation in San Miguel is either by foot or by the city bus. Third would definitely be taxis. But, following those popular options, ATVs, scooters, dirt bikes and motorcycles are also very plentiful. Now, I've been to plenty of crowded places that make use of the motorcycles and scooter - but the common use of ATVs seems to be more specific to this place. It makes perfect sense giving the hilliness of most areas and the sometimes rugged terrain just out of the city limits.
Not too mention, the ATVs look pretty sturdy and could probably take on one of the many Nissan Sentra taxis in a 10 mph crash if it did occur.

The other odd thing we have noticed about the ATVs is that they, in particular, are usually driven by young, middle to upper middle class women. Looks fun.....


The PACEMD - MedSpanish program offices and main area for Spanish lessons are located just across the street from the Plaza Principal in the center of town and are marked in the earlier post using Google Earth.

Each morning, Kryste and I head over there around 8:30 or 9 for our individual Spanish lessons with our tutor, Lilia (also now our expert guide on all things San Miguel - such as buying food in the local markets). Lilia also owns one of the town's most popular bars - plus, her son - Tony - works as the guide/transporter/etc for the program (so, she's got a pretty good gig going). Her daughter was apparently was also a Tampa Bay Buccaneer Swashbuckler and graduated USF in the mid-late 90s before moving to LA for a job...small world.

We finish up with our lessons around 1 and usually grab some lunch before I head out to the hospital for the afternoon (about a 15 minute bus ride from the Plaza).

These are just a few pictures of the PACEMD office, the hospital and some of the other participants during this month (and, yes, that is a rousing game of bingo they are playing - I, of course, played the first game only, won and then quit to keep my undefeated record in tact until I'm in my 70s)

Mexico Day 3: San Miguel de Allende

This will hopefully be the last novel-length post for a bit, as things in San Miguel occur at a slightly slower pace, so updates should get easier to post. Anyway, this post will describe the trip from Mexico City up to San Miguel de Allende (mostly just photos) and our first day in town and at the house on the hill.

The bus system in Mexico is clean, safe, and cheap - about 1/10 the price of airline tickets. the bus station and the buses themselves really felt more like an airplane/airport than anything else....

We left from the Mexico city - North bus station - there were 114 terminals at this station and there are 4 stations (labeled by their geographic location and by the directions that the buses departing that station are heading...very, in other words there are a lot of buses coming and going from Mexico City every day!

The bus ride was quick and most of it was spent dozing, practicing Spanish, and laughing at the dubbing of "ultraviolet" - where some kid had the voice of a 40 year old man...excellent.

The pictures of San Miguel were taken as we came into the bus station on Sunday morning...

We were met at the bus stop by one of the PACEMD staff members and escorted up to the place where we are now staying. The ride through town was excellent - it allowed us to sit back and appreciate how genuinely different this place is from any place either of us have been before...

There are a few things you notice quickly about San Miguel -- it's very very hilly...I'm talking steep hills where you are amazed that the cars don't start rolling backwards (and all the cars here are manual transmission - all of them). The other thing you notice is that the streets are incredibly narrow and - like in Mexico City - you are amazed that you don't get into car accidents. These streets were built 500 years ago for horses, not cars - and as you drive around this becomes quickly apparent.

Furthermore, the first trip through town can be a little daunting because there is a very difficult layout to the town and many of the building look very similar and are often connected in long rows for the entire block.

Fortunately, there are many public squares and parks as well as large cathedrals (this is definitely a Spanish colonial town) - to guide you and provide a sense of direction.

Anyway, like I discussed in the previous Google Earth post, the house we are staying in belongs to Dr. Haywood Hall who is the director of the PACEMD MedSpanish program. It is located in a Colonia Atascadero in a small gated community named Residencial las Fuentes - about a 10 minute walk (downhill) from the center of town.

I will get some pictures up of San Miguel soon enough - but for now, here are some pictures I took of the home while we were unpacking....

The gates to Residencial las Fuentes....

The small park across from our house with las Fuentes...

The outside of the house

downstairs patio thing to notice is something that I have often tried to describe about Mexican architecture to other people - there is always a sense of feeling like you are simultaneously inside and outside. In Tampa, the building that best captured this same feeling was "Viva La Frida" - a restaurant that has since closed in Seminole Heights. Whether it be wide open entry ways with no clear door - or rooms connected by outside pathways (such as Trotksy's house demonstrates in the previous post) - or, like this house, the inclusion of inter-atriums within the home...the courtyard area and the atrium are relatively open to the elements and when it rains, it literally rains within those areas as well --- the lack of carpet in the homes and the use of solid building materials (no dry wall here) - allow for this type of environmental intrusion....

grottos in Mexico are like palm trees in Florida - they are EVERYWHERE...

the aforementioned atrium

upstairs now -- our bedroom.

our guest room in our bedroom - um, anyone want to visit Mexico?

check out the fern growing at the end of the huge bathtub -- not too mention the nice tile work...

this is a nice feature - this is the upstairs living room (there is a similar room not pictured downstairs). Not that you need it very often, but this room is also air conditioned and has cable and all the computer stuff (wireless router, printer, etc)..

this is outside our bedroom window..

okay - next up will be some pictures of San Miguel de Allende itself..