A Moveable Feast With Lots Of Latin Style
“The silver mines in Mexico’s central highlands provided the incredible wealth that impelled Spain to world prominence in the 16th century and created Guanajuato, the crown jewel of Mexico’s colonial cities,” writes Mexico Correspondent Mike Anderson in this month’s issue of my Overseas Retirement Letter (in subscribers’ e-mailboxes today).
“Located just two hour’s flight time from the international air hubs at Dallas and Houston, it’s astonishing that Guanajuato has remained in relative obscurity compared with the nearby expat destinations of San Miguel de Allende and Ajijic.
“Certainly the steep canyon walls, where twisted alleyways host most of the homes that look down upon the town’s few streets in the valley below, have discouraged those expats who can’t imagine life without an automobile or who have walking impediments.
Even so, the welcoming plazas, the omnipresent melodies of mariachis and troubadours, the Old World architectural marvels, and the round friendly faces constantly surprise you with charm and romance.
“And what romance it is, an infectious sentiment manifested by dozens of students kissing in the parks, by oldsters, expats, and Guanajuatenses alike strolling along hand-in-hand, by soft lights and small gifts and shining eyes across café tables. This is the most romantic town in Mexico!
“My first encounter with Guanajuato in 1992 was anything but romantic. After circulating lost in the maze of underground tunnels for more than an hour, the acrid smells of car exhaust and sewers permeating our car, I’d had enough. With an emphatic, ‘Let’s get outa here!’ we escaped to the edge of town. We had been told by another American that Guanajuato was the most beautiful and romantic town in Mexico. Having expected to find our ‘El Dorado’ and streets paved with golden charm, we were disappointed and frustrated, never suspecting that a 20-year love affair had just begun in those dark, musty tunnels.
“Guanajuato is unique in Mexico, perhaps unique in the world. Where else could you find such an eclectic mix as mummies, colonial architecture, thousands of energetic college students, excellent museums and churches, old silver mines and tunnels, world-class performance arts festivals, and an impressive schedule of cultural activities throughout the year? And all wrapped up in a single small town of 72,000 people?
“And that’s just the frosting over the adventure. Our daily cake is in the markets, the spicy foods, the nightly serenades, the brilliant skies, the colorful houses, the smiles of pretty girls, the dance and theater in the plazas, the small courtesies bequeathed by friendly locals, the unexpected architectural details, the stoicism of devout Catholics, and the neighborhood festivals.
“To the outside world, Guanajuato may be just another quaint World Heritage Site, but, to us, it’s the Latin, small-town incarnation of Hemingway’s moveable feast. Many visitors here compare Guanajuato with the small, medieval towns of Tuscany and Provence, but it’s more animated, more interesting, and less expensive.
“Our cost of living in Guanajuato is notably cheaper than where we lived in the American South and Southwest. Property taxes are negligible, and the moderate weather translates to low utility bills. Overall, groceries, restaurants, and entertainment expenses run 20% to 30% cheaper than in our last U.S. residence, Huntsville, Alabama. Living in the historic center, we walk everywhere, so our transportation costs are minimal.
“I’d say a retired couple could live here very comfortably on a budget of about US$1,300 a month at today’s exchange rate…”