Chilled to the Bone

It’s Monday morning. I’m at a coffee shop – Café Tal – just down the street from my house. I’m starting my days a little differently this week, mostly because I’m taking a break from Spanish classes and I don’t have the obligation to trod off to school around 9:30 like most days. I want some time to do a few other things this week besides Spanish, and I’ve hit a bit of a wall with my group grammar classes. I think it’s better I take a break, do a little review on my own, and perhaps return to some one-on-one private classes next week.

I’m sitting at a tiny, round table built for one. The window to the outside world is behind me, the door to the coffee shop is up a short flight of stairs and straight ahead. Shouts and laughter of young students can be heard from the school courtyard across the street. I have a front row seat to the steady stream of patrons coming and going. At the moment a Mexican tour guide is standing at the counter with a few gringos, advising them on what type of coffee drinks to order. One decides on a mocha, but the tour guide advises her against it saying she’ll be taking them to a very delicious chocolate shop later and she should wait to get her chocolate fix. The gringa abides. I’m wearing my winter coat. Yes, inside. There’s this thing about the buildings and houses here in Guanajuato. Most of them, including my house, do not have heat, therefore if it’s cold outside, it’s cold inside. Actually, quite often it’s colder inside than outside, which has taken a little getting used to. We’re at about 6,000 feet, and warm temps have yet to become consistent every day. Before I left my place a half hour ago I flung all my windows wide open, hoping the impending warm air will magically find its way inside my bedroom before I return.

Another reason I felt now would be a good time to step back from Spanish classes has to do with my current social life. Guanajuato became my first choice destination when I considered leaving my job in Frankfurt back in November partially because of the (relatively) warm weather, partially because I can live here rather inexpensively but also because of the fact that taking Spanish classes offers an easy way to meet other people. Yes, I’m enjoying taking classes and yes, I wish to continue to improve my Spanish, but I enrolled in classes as much for a way to have a social life as for a way to boost my fluency. Mission accomplished because, just like when I was here last year, I’ve met a ton of fun, interesting people through the school. And, I’ve hung out with people I met last year who have returned to Guanajuato for another stint just like me. There’s not a huge need for me to meet new people this week. My dance card is quite full. Later today I’ll be hiking with a friend up to a hillside monument, and tonight, I’m sure, there will be people gathering for drinks, dinner and who knows what else.

Two good friends came back to Guanajuato last week – France and Sylvie from Ottawa. We met last year and quickly hit it off. It’s amazing to see them again. Tons of laughs and good times and great conversations. So far together we’ve done several dinners out, a Guanajuato Symphony Orchestra concert, late night drinks at Los Lobos bar, and terrific live music at a restaurant just outside of town. I’ve also gotten to know a lot of other “newbies” quite well. New folks from Northern California, Philly, Texas and a bunch from Canada. Bear – “Oso” as we call him here – is a big, affable guy from Vancouver Island who’s become our official, nonofficial ring leader, putting together a Whatsapp group and making sure no one’s left out when it comes to evenings out or weekend plans. Bear shares my love for good conversation and dropping everything for a beer – he’s an “oscura” guy, with me being happy with my typical Victoria in a bottle. Hmmm, drop everything and drink. “DEAD Time.” The adult alternative to “DEAR” time, I suppose. Teachers out there will know what I’m talking about.

One of the highlights of hanging out with some of these new and old friends was a hike many of us took last Saturday, to Sierra de Santa Rosa, a small mountain range 30 minutes by public bus north and east from Guanajuato. It was a school excursion so we were led by Alín, a terrific young teacher, full of life and alway kind and patient with questions and concerns any of us had. It was good we had Alín, because like other hiking areas I’ve been to here, there was very little in the way of trail markings, signage or maps. On our own I’m sure we would’ve done okay, but with Alín guiding the way we could enjoy the scenery and conversation without the worry of getting lost. The hike took us up and down the hills and through several very small villages, most of which had tiny shops or outdoor restaurants geared for travelers like us. We eventually made it to our final destination, Presa Peralillo, a man-made reservoir in the mountains that collects and feeds water to communities in the area. There we stopped for a bit and enjoyed stuffed pizza “sandwiches” we had purchased from a local vendor at the bus stop back in Guanajuato. Mine was filled with chorizo and cut up pieces of hot dog. The hike made for a beautiful experience, not just because of the scenery but also because of the fun chats along the way. Several in the group are avid hikers, having done multi-week walks on trails including El Camino de Santiago in northern Spain and Via Francigena through Switzerland and Italy. Their descriptions of these hikes definitely sparked my interest in doing one or more of them at some point in my life.

One last thought before I wrap up for now… A thing about the locals I interact with here every day. They’re kind to a fault. Walking up and down the steep callejón – or alley – to and from my house, I’m greeted by a cheerful “buenos días” or “buenas tardes” by nearly everyone I pass, the vendors are more than happy to help as I approach them with my broken Spanish and just generally, I haven’t gotten a rude vibe or a “Why are you in our city?” attitude by really anybody I’ve met since I’ve been here. It’s all a bit ironic, considering the state of things at the southern border in the U.S. and the attitude many Americans have regarding immigrants coming from Mexico. The message, I assume to many Mexicans, is that Americans don’t want you in our country, yet I’ve felt nothing but welcomed while visiting here. Americans can visit Mexico, and stay for up to six months, with nothing more than a passport. For a Mexican to travel to The States, it involves a whole process of acquiring a visa and showing proof that one won’t be inclined to stay in America once the visa has expired. I didn’t know this prior to coming here, but Mexicans can travel freely to Europe, no visa needed, just a passport and a plane ticket. But to America – it’s not nearly that easy. Don’t get me wrong, I understand we have an issue at our border and that our immigration policies could use some revision. And I get that tourists supply Mexico with billions of U.S. dollars. But as I’m here I’m struck by the fact that tens of millions of Americans travel effortlessly to Mexico each year while we make it extremely difficult for Mexicans to do the same. And through all of that, the locals I’ve met have never given me the feeling that I’m unwanted in their country. Food for thought, and yet another reminder of the privileges we often take for granted as Americans.

Bye for now. Thanks for reading. It’s time to finish my cappuccino, head back home, and hopefully start warming up my bones. Nos vemos pronto!

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