Monday, March 13, 2006

Buenas tardes from San Miguel de Allende,

It's always difficult trying to figure out at what point to write one of my travel blogs but I realize that my Red Bull has almost run out and Mexico will soon be behind us. I'm also about to kill the American girl sitting at the computer beside me.

"How do you change this to English?" she's yelling to the cafe staff, "I CAN'T READ SPANISH! I have to check my savings account and have more money wired out here. What you expect me to do, learn Spanish?!"

I'm about to unleash the Custer (Mama Chihuahua's side of the family) fury on her. I'm ready to lean over and give her a good slap, "Wake up! You're in f-ing Mexico!"

So, back to Mexico...

For the first three days of our trip, the four of us (Cathy, Andrea, Brian, and I) explored the expatriate colonial Mexican pueblo of San Miguel de Allende. Robert Rodriguez shot his recent film "Once Upon A Time In Mexico" starring Antonio Banderas here. Situated in a desert valley surrounded by the mountains, this sixteenth century town is in the state of Guanajuato and is a photographer and artists' dream in its flourishment of color: cobblestone streets lined with high end art galleries, churches, plazas, and brightly-colored adobe buildings.

San Miguel feels a bit like the gringo's revised and romantic notion of Mexico, its edges are much more polished, the streets are clean and safe, and although incredibly beautiful, it lacks the distinctly Mexican edge that the rest of the country has where gringos are in shorter supply. You get the sense here that the foreigners want to believe that this is "their" Mexico and that they have it all to themselves. It's a "safe" Mexico and not as rough or as real as other parts of the country. But the quality of the food, art, and music is noticeably high and I can easily see the allure for retirees, musicians, painters, and writers to come here to live out the rest of their years. It's also the perfect play to visit for a couple of days to unwind and gorge yourself on damn good food.

The four of us had the unique opportunity to stay in a gorgeous condo that some friends of mine (Rob and Laura) from Santa Barbara own....a two story adobe structure with red-tiled roofs and artistic flourishes in each of the rooms: Chunky, hand-carved beds, colorful hand-woven rugs, and balconies off of each of the bedrooms overlooking the valley and the mountains. At sunset, the walls of the condo looked velvety and sumptuous....framed by trailing vines of fuschia bougainvillea, orange blossoms, and potted geraniums. I could easily go back to San Miguel just to write and take photos, never leaving their home. It's an incredibly romantic place to go in every sense of the word.

We spent days feasting on "chilaquiles" (strips of tortilla strips fried with cheese, chicken, and red and green salsa),"huevos tirados" (scrambled eggs with chorizo, black beans, and cheese) and fresh corn tortillas, chicken with "mole negro" (a chocolate and nut-based sauce), green chili and chicken tamales, and chicken in an almond, white wine, and poblano chile sauce. To die for! Many of the hip restaurants also offer live music while you eat...flautists, guitar players, accordian players, and singers.

We heard through the grapevine that the 'IT' spot to go for late night ambience is "San Agostin's," a cafe owned by a Mexican ex-porn star. The place is plastered with photos from her long career in Mexican film and in Playboy issues. The canary yellow cafe rings with laughter and intimate conversation as couples and families linger over cups of Mexican hot chocolate and "churros" (long deep-fried breadsticks rolled in cinnamon and sugar) served straight from the oven. I've never considered myself much of a sweet tooth...but I'm a churro-lover after this trip!

On Saturday night we ran into Juan, the owner of a new Mexican Harley biker bar. He dragged us into the bar for the rest of the night. The underground bar was a cross between the Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino movie "From Dust Til Dawn" and Cold Spring Tavern on a Sunday afternoon. I made the mistake of telling him that I'm a singer. Before I knew it, Juan had the whole bar full of Mexican bikers chanting "RAQUELRAQUELRAQUEL!!! Cante! Cante! CANTE!"

The guitarist was a skinny guy who kept downing shots of tequila in between a halting mix of The Beatles, The Eagles, and Los Lobos. Before we started playing together, Juan brought out a giant bottle of tequila and poured several shots down my mouth and the guitarist's mouth. The guitarist spit a mouthful of tequila out onto a wall across the other side of the room like a Mexican firehose and was applauded by all the bikers as the greatest drinker and "sprayer" of the night.

We decided to play Bonnie Raitt's "Someone To Love" because, although he'd never really heard of the song, it's a simple blues progression. Unfortunately, by the time I began singing, my head was spinning from the tequila and the guitarist had lost any rhythm which he still had. He decided to take a guitar solo in the middle of one of my verses. He sprawled out on his back and tried to play the guitar behind his head to even more applause from all the bikers.

By midnight, I got all the women in the bar to come up and sing back-up to a song that none of us knew but all decided could be improved upon with some occasional "oooohs" and tequila-induced "howls." By the end of the song, we forget what we were singing cause the howling was much more fun and we didn't know the words anyway.

Towards the end of the night, Andrea and I did our Salt n' Pep rap, which is somewhat of a tradition for me to sing on as many continents as possible. Hip Hop evidently isn't a favorite among Mexican bikers judging from the blank stares and the half-hearted applause. Fortunately however and judging from the attention they gave us, the bikers much preferred two cute gringas rapping a song they don't know to listening to a drunk, skinny Mexican guitarist singing the Eagles off-key.

Needless to say, slipping out of the bar after midnight was the greatest challenge of the evening. The four of us had to half-heartedly promise that we'd be back the following night. (We weren't...we have to pace ourselves after all.)

On the following afternoon, the four of us hired a taxi to take us out into the desert to recover from the night before and to visit some natural thermal pools for the afternoon. San Miguel, like much of Mexico, is geologically active and has an array of hot springs. We lied on the grass along a lake beneath eucalyptus trees with the warm smell of the desert wind brushing over us in between visits to the underground thermal pools.

On day three, Andrea and Brian headed back to Los Angeles and Cathy and I continued on to Mexico City for Part II of our Mexican Adventure...

stay tuned...

con amor,
Raquelita, the queen of Tequila