Finding My Place in Mexico
(I wrote this post in Spring 2018 after my first visit to Mexico City and San Miguel de Allende.)
My first trip to Mexico City was for an academic conference, but when I knew I’d be leaving my position as a professor, I decided I would use the time to travel and write and think because I didn’t entirely know what I wanted to do next. I planned to spend my entire stay in the city, but then I caught a glimpse of San Miguel de Allende on a travel video that came across my Facebook feed.
I pulled up Google Maps before the video had finished and was thrilled to find that the city was just a short bus ride from Mexico City. (I’m from the midwest; we tend to think that anything under 10 hours a drivable, “short” distance.)
The more I read about San Miguel, the more it seemed like the perfect spot for me. One description I found described the city as a bohemian haven for writers and artists. Sign me up. I had found my place, I thought to myself.
I called my mom to share the good news, "I'm going to move to Mexico when Oliver graduates."
It’s been a running joke in the family that once Oliver finishes school, I will disappear into the world. "It makes so much sense," I told her and began listing off the reasons why moving to a city I haven't yet visited is a great plan:
It's closer to St. Louis than if I lived on the west coast.
The cost of living is cheaper.
"Sounds great, Jen."
The thing you have to love about my mom is that she's always supportive. Always. I have a habit of sharing ideas with her as they are forming in my head, so she never knows if it’s a passing thought that I had on a run or something that I’m actually going to follow through with. After I ran my first marathon, she told me she wasn’t sure if I was actually going to do it. The same was true with my Ph.D.
So the “Sounds great, Jen” comment was laced with an understanding that I had just read an article that got me excited, and she didn’t have enough information (because I didn’t either) to know if I was serious yet or just sharing a passing thought with her.
Knowing this, I could perfectly envision her sarcastic response when my dad later asked, "so what’d Jen want?"
"Oh, she's moving to Mexico," she'd respond, and they'd both shake their head in confusion.
"Whatever," he'd say in response.
My parents weren't the only ones who found this latest idea absurd. My brother-in-law fell into the habit of asking me questions like, "Will this be before or after you move to a Mexican city you've never been to?"
"Shut up, Joe," I'd laugh back.
It was with this enthusiasm that I decided to divide my time in Mexico City with San Miguel (you know, my future home).
San Miguel de Allende was everything I thought it would be: Beautiful. Perfect weather. Delicious food. Friendly locals. Loads of expats. Easily walkable.
Everything about it was delightful, yet I couldn't quite picture it as a place I could live (and I was really trying to see it in that lens).
"Could I live here?" I asked myself as I walked the cobbled streets.
"How would I spend my time?"
I even looked at the library with a bit more scrutiny than I normally would. "Could this be my library?"
I just couldn't see it. It didn't feel right. I couldn't quite place it, so I reasoned that I just needed to spend more time there to make a proper decision.
I slept most of the bus ride back to Mexico City and took an Uber to my Airbnb apartment in the Roma Norte neighborhood. Traffic was horrendous, and the drive to the apartment took so long that my host emailed to see if I was still on my way. I checked in and hit the streets looking for coffee. It was past noon, but I still hadn't had my coffee and few things happen in my life before I am properly caffeinated.
I hadn't done any research on the city, so every street was a new discovery. Tree-lined paths led to parks with sculptures and fountains. I was so taken by the colorful seating options at Fuente de Cibeles that I sat down to bask in the sun and people watch. I eventually continued my search for coffee and found so many options that I had several cups before the day was over.
It seemed that every direction I looked there was a new cafe, a hip restaurant, or a friendly face smiling at me. There was just so much to take in, and I loved it.
Mexico City has a vibe, and I was hooked.
It's just my kind of place.
It's like dating. Sometimes you meet someone who appears perfect on paper, but once you meet them, you're like, "nope." San Miguel was my "nope." Perfect on paper but not a good match for me.
Mexico City, on the other hand, was perfect.
And I knew it instantly.