Wednesday, August 19, 2009

In The Beginning…

... There was a Dream

The story of Letters from San Miguel begins more than five years ago, when my wife, Jacquelyn and I were scheduled to take an anesthesia tour of Central Europe. The trip was cancelled and since we had two weeks vacation planned we began looking at options.

A year earlier, Jackie had fallen on the steps while carrying our toy poodle, Scooter. She broke her heel and since that time she has struggled with pain. Wondering how she could work less Jackie looked at early or semi- retirement options and time and again as she search the internet she saw Mexico mentioned as a place many folks retire.

While surfing the internet Jackie stumbled upon a site ( that discussed retirement options in the central Mexico colonial town of San Miguel de Allende. Located in the bajio of Guanajuato state, San Miguel is a UNESCO World Heritage City. An international tourist spot and birthplace (along with the nearby town of Delores Hilgado) of Mexican independence from Spain, San Miguel (or SMA) in home to about 10,000 expats from USA, UK and Canada.

We decided to visit for two weeks and stayed at Casa la Cuesta, a B&B in SMA that also doubled as a museum for masks produced by artisans from all over Mexico. We had a second floor studio and apartment and it was not too long that we started to fall in love with San Miguel.

After adjusting to the altitude of 6,200 feet and the narrow, steep cobblestone streets, we explored the town and were seduced by a combination of colonial charm, margueritas, majestic sunsets, and pleasant weather, a multitude of arts and culture and friendly folks of all persuasions.

When we returned to our home in suburban Philadelphia, the idea of retiring art-time to Mexico became more and more of a reality than a dream. We read books about books on Mexico and took Spanish lessons and also managed to find a tutor who became a special friend. Janine was a Swarthmore College grad (we are Quakers and live near the college) and a Fulbright Scholar and lived and taught in Mexico.

Finding her allowed us to understand more and more about the language, culture as well as meeting many of her Mexican friends in Philadelphia.

As time went by we returned to San Miguel a few more times to learn, explore and reaffirm our goal and dreams. We subscribed to the weekly, bi-lingual newspaper La Atención which is published The Biblioteca Pública SMA and now I worked there as a volunteer on the copy desk.

Right before Easter of 2007, my mother died and then 6 months later my father. On top of that my brother’s girlfriend died. It was a sad year and 2008 thankfully began with the news that Jackie’s sister would give birth to a son, Jack Burns.

2008 was also the year we set our plan into action. Jackie is younger she planned to work as a travelling anesthetist several months each year. As she accepted her first assignment, we put the house in Wallingford on the market. It sold much quicker than we thought in what was beginning to be the real estate crash.

Because we had a rental in nearby Swarthmore we decided to sell it, too. Amazingly, both properties sold within in 90 days and not much less than we asked. Wallingford was voted the year before as one of the best place to live in the US by Money Magazine. That and luck helped !!!

As the process of selling was unwrapping, I took a trip back to San Miguel and secured a rental home on a charming street (calle Guadiana). I stayed there a month or so and visited the Quaker gathering in SMA as well as spending four days in Casa Los Amigos – the Quaker House – in Mexico City. Juggling time between Mexico and Pennyslvania has been nteresting plus travelling and working ith NGOs and Jackie's anesthesia job.

Back in the States, we began to pare down on living costs, shedding excess stuff and began a long goodbye with family and friends. It was hard to say goodbye to the friends in Wallingford, colleagues in Nether Providence government, the press corps that covered our town, my fellow firefighters at South Media Fire Company and to my dear brother, Bob, who now lives in our family home which is our home base and as hams say QTH.

In October of 2008, with the Jeep packed and the cargo trailer hitched (packed Navy tight by Bob) and the car set up as a travelling kennel for Agatha, the Noriwch terrier and Mischa, the rescued Pom, --Bob and I stood before each other and with tears in our eyes and choked with emotion, we said goodbye.

The trek 3,600 miles from Philadelphia to central Mexico began that morning in the cool crisp autumn air of Philadelphia. Over the next eight days we drove through the Appalachians into Memphis across the Mississippi then to Arkansas and finally-- Texas.

A few times we stopped, rested and saw the sights. The drive into Texas was long, hot and showed us new vistas. A visit to the King Ranch was our last leisure moment and then we headed toward Laredo.

At the border in Laredo – now referred to us as our border moment – we lost the key to the trailer . It had fallen into the wheel of the trunk spare we later found it. Because I was driving the Jeep and first in line at the border checkpoint -- we got hung up in red tape.

Four hours later, a lot of angst, several hundred dollars lighter and befuddled by the customs snafu --we headed slowly, but surely into Mexico. It took us about three days to traverse the mountains, deserts and industrial towns of Northern Mexico.

Jackie, who had pulled horse trailers before, did a great job pulling the cargo trailer. I was the scout car equipped with ham radios and GPS maps on Mexico --we became adept at communications, navigation, pee stops for us and the dogs.

The week before Day of the Dead and Halloween, we pulled into San Miguel de Allende on a sunny warm morning and immediately got lost and pulled the trailer through the narrow, twisting and roller coaster-like streets as opposed to the route I knew – thanks GPS!!!

Our first night we had dinner at Harry’s, a famous expat bar and sat in the jardin and listened to the bands playing and church bells pealing. Barking dogs (ours and others) and roosters and church bells and street noise -- all the Music of Mexico -- awakened us to our first day in our new home.

A dream realized and adventure begun. This was the end of the beginning and the new chapter of our lives and now we enjoy visiting and working in all sorts of places in North America and love when we return home to our other home Delaware Valley (PA).