The Start Of Our Adventures in Mexico
As I’m writing this at our house in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, the house maid laboriously scrubs all horizontal and vertical surfaces in the kitchen and just finished washing the dishes. It’s taking some time to get used to having a maid deep clean the house every other day while we lie around the house, stuff our faces and head out for a day of adventuring.
When I say “house”, I should really say “compound”. There is a main house and a separate apartment above us where the kids sleep. Each house has its own kitchen, living room, bathroom(s), and patio.
We’ll be staying at this house for two weeks before moving on to Mexico City for another two weeks (full trip outline). This was our most expensive weekly rental at $62 USD per night plus a few bucks per night to tip the maid. The maid comes four times per week for four to six hours each visit which seems like overkill to me. After we arrived we found out that the maid washes the dishes in the kitchen for us on every visit. Which is awesome.
We decided to spend a little more on lodging during this trip after last year’s bad Airbnb experience when we rented a very cheap but very dirty dump in Quebec City. When housing is as cheap as it is in Mexico, an extra $100 per week means a lot nicer place.
The house also provides virtually everything we need to get by day to day other than food. The only household goods purchased so far are laundry detergent, shampoo, and paper towels.
The Food. So Much Incredible Food.
One of the key reasons we wanted to visit Mexico was the food. It’s cheap, it’s delicious, and offers a lot of variety in flavor combos (sweet, sour, salty, spicy, creamy).
Our first meal in Mexico City was at the Restaurant Without a Name. That’s not it’s name, I mean it didn’t have a name. Not a lot more than a hole in the wall. The bathroom door was an upcycled shower door and the flooring and walls were constructed from reused shipping pallets. I’m assuming these were cost saving efforts and not an attempt at some silly hipster irony (in spite of the fancy Roma neighborhood we stayed in the first night in Mexico).
This joint is straight up Mexico. Inattentive wait staff with a blaring telenovela on the TV behind us. I asked the waitress/chef/hostess if I could photograph the kitchen and got declined. This Restaurant Without A Name might also be a Restaurant Without A Valid Operating License.
My chilaquiles and tacos were really impressive but the rest of the family gave it mixed reviews.
Now that we have settled in San Miguel de Allende, we are mostly ordering take out and bringing it back to our house to enjoy. I can’t get over how cheap the food is. Here’s a pic of the chickens I picked up on the way home from the market.
$8 USD ($120 MXN pesos) for two roasted chickens, potatoes, roasted chiles, pickled cabbage/carrot/jalapeno, and tortillas. The chicken was pulled off the rotisserie spit and chopped then neatly wrapped right in front of me as I fumbled to pull the right number of pesos from my pocket. We didn’t manage to eat all of this in one meal. Or two meals. Or three meals. So far we aren’t spending the $40 USD per day that we budgeted on food, but it isn’t because we aren’t eating well.
We also visited the grocery store Bodega Aurrera which is a subsidiary of Walmart. It looked like a Sam’s Club inside but didn’t require you to buy anything in bulk. I picked up some yogurt ($0.16 USD each), local chipotle and avocado salsas ($0.75 USD each), domestic Oaxaca and Asadero cheeses (about $2.50 USD/lb), crema, chorizo sausages, mole paste, and a mixed bag of breads and pastries.
Fresh fruits and vegetables are available from the open air markets, vendors sitting along the street, or in small stores all over. Prices are crazy cheap.
A sampling of produce prices in the markets:
- Bananas – $0.21 USD/lb ($7 MXN pesos/kg)
- Broccoli – $0.30 USD/lb ($10 MXN pesos/kg)
- Mangoes – $0.36 USD/lb ($12 MXN pesos/kg)
- Oranges – $0.18 USD/lb ($6 MXN pesos/kg)
- New potatoes – $0.50 USD/lb ($17 MXN pesos/kg)
- Avocados – $.75-1.05 USD/lb ($25-35 MXN pesos/kg)
- Limes – $.30 USD/lb ($10 MXN pesos/kg)
Most produce is less than half of the going price in US supermarkets. Mangoes are about $0.20 to $0.25 each for example while I’ve never paid less than $0.50 for individual mangoes in Raleigh. Limes are incredibly cheap with small ones around two cents each.
If you want to see what I usually pay for groceries in Raleigh, check this out.
Getting around Mexico hasn’t been a problem at all. We flew into Mexico City then caught the metro to our hotel. The metro is only five pesos ($0.33 USD) per person and kids age four and under travel free. The metro can be crushingly busy during rush hours however we arrived in the middle of the day and didn’t feel crowded at all.
We spent the first night in Mexico relaxing at the Four Points by Sheraton Roma (another free hotel night from our Starwoods Preferred Guest points thanks to travel hacking credit cards!). The next morning we traveled by metro to Mexico City’s northern bus terminal (the city has four bus terminals!) and boarded a first class Primera Plus bus to San Miguel de Allende.
First class buses in Mexico are roughly the equivalent of business class seats on US airlines. You get food and drinks for free. The bus had two bathrooms on board for men and women and both were very clean (yes, I peeked into the women’s room for investigative journalism purposes). Lots of leg room and soft cushioned seats were a nice upgrade after flying coach on US Air from Charlotte to Mexico City.
After a very short and punctual boarding and departure process in Mexico City, we arrived in San Miguel de Allende at the exact scheduled arrival time in spite of a long traffic jam in San Miguel de Allende. After suffering long delays while riding Greyhound in North Carolina to get to Charlotte, we appreciated the on time performance of the first class Mexican buses.
We didn’t pack a whole lot for this trip since we are moving around every two weeks. Each person in the family carries one backpack. The total luggage weight for the whole family is 52 pounds. That’s an incredible figure since airlines typically allow checked luggage up to 55 pounds (for one suitcase).
Our family has hopped on and off local buses, long distance intercity buses, trains, planes, and subways in the last week. Packing light helped make it all easier.
How are the kids doing?
They are loving it here and having a great time. However when I ask them if they want to move here they say “no”. I’ll give it a few more weeks and see what they think.
We are taking it easy and generally go out for a few hours of exploring then head back home for a meal and some down time. Sometimes we make it back out a second time in the afternoon or evening, even if it’s just a quick shopping trip to the market. We’re really applying the concept of Slow Travel to make our trip easier and more relaxed.
Our approach is more of living in different spots for two weeks at a time instead of being tourists. We are still managing to hit most of the cool places on our list, but there’s not any angst over missing out on some of the attractions. We can always come back in the future if we want to see even more.
Checking out San Miguel de Allende
San Miguel de Allende is a fairly compact city which makes traveling on foot to visit tourist destinations around town very easy. Buses and taxis are also cheap at $0.33 and $2.50 USD respectively, though we haven’t needed either one yet.
Thoughts on the trip after one week
There was a small part of me that said taking a seven week trip to Mexico with three kids was either crazy or stupid. One week into the trip, I realize my fears were unnecessary.
Life on the road is occasionally challenging but mostly laid back. We aren’t following a strict itinerary other than the milestones of moving to a new city and new apartment every two weeks. We go out exploring, sometimes with very little planned, and usually come back home hours later entertained, amazed, exhausted, and feeling like we earned the relaxation back at the casa.
I wrote about safety in Mexico a couple months ago then forgot to worry about safety until a few days into the trip when I was staring out the window at the placid countryside. I cracked a smile and realized that some folks back home in the US think all of Mexico is this horrible, dirty, dangerous craphole (outside the disneyfied resorts of Cancun at least). It’s hard to reconcile that negative image with the reality we see on the ground here.
As we were walking out the door one week ago, I reflected on what I thought we would miss about home. So far, there isn’t a whole lot I miss since I know we’ll be back in six more weeks. The lack of air conditioning in our rental isn’t an issue at all since the weather is moderate and fairly dry. Even though the outside temperature climbs into the mid 80’s every day, the inside temperature hovers comfortably in the 70’s due to the shade trees and heavy thermal mass of concrete and brick walls. We often go out in the hottest part of the day and the heat isn’t that bad. If we were at home in Raleigh with temperatures in the mid 90’s and high humidity, we would be housebound nearly every day because those temps just plain suck for doing anything outside.
Overall, this trip is a great way to spend a summer. Mrs. Root of Good will use up two thirds of her sabbatical during the trip. The kids will spend two thirds of their summer vacation on the trip. We can already see an improvement in all of our Spanish skills. We’re active and outdoors for hours each day seeing new sights and trying new foods.
Are we having fun yet? 🙂