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birthday in gringolandia

What I love about touring on a bike without a fixed plan is a life of constant contrast. Having started the day waking in my tent in the middle of field, I arrive in San Miguel de Allende in the afternoon of my birthday, with little idea of where I am – I am here largely in response to a casual internet offer of few nights hospitality if I happen to pass that way.

As it turns out San Miguel has a huge expatiate community and is more commonly known as Gringolandia. It is a town that was popular with the beatniks in the 60s – William Burroughs, Jack Kerouac and Ken Kesey all frequented its bars and Neal Cassady died on the railway tracks between here and Celaya after a party – but now it is home to a large quantity of well-heeled foreign retirees.

San Miguel de Allende is UNESCO listed and is very pretty and well preserved.

The door to nowhere.

San Miguel is the favoured winter home of all sorts of retirees. They line up to soak up the sun in the plaza and are known to the Mexican locals as "The Mummies." (The reference is to a popular museum that houses a collection of preserved bodies in the neighbouring town of Guanajuato.)

My gracious host is an ex-BBC presenter and veteran globe trotter who lives at the very top of the very steep hill overlooking the town. I haul my bike up the narrow cobbled streets, getting lost despite detailed directions, and finally arriving as the sun is setting.

When Ray learns it is my birthday he generously treats to a dinner at a much classier fish restaurant than I am accustomed to where I meet a few of the ‘locals’ – among them a buxom Texan blonde in a hot pink velour track suit and matching pink hair ribbon and a middle-aged pig-tailed Shambala Buddhist who act like I am a superstar when they hear of my bicycle wanderings. The restaurant staff come to the party with a complimentary desert complete with a candle and birthday wishes dubiously spelt out in chocolate sauce.

The next day I explore the town a bit. The influence of the expatriate community is evident in cafes and food shops, many of which wouldn’t be at all out place on the coast of California. I lunch with Ray at an organic cafe that serves an excellent hummous plate and stock up on organic coffee and herbs, feeling like I have slipped through a rent in the time/space continuum and found myself back in San Francisco.

An organic cafe and food store which wouldn't be at all out of place on the Californian coast somewhere...

Organic veggies... certainly not a bad thing but I don't think many locals are shopping here.

More gringolandia style.

Ray is a a knowledgeable traveller who has seen most of the world and so we pass the day happily chatting about various adventures. After a sunset walk in the local botanic garden – a cactus wonderland where we spot a grey fox ducking into the spiny thickets – Ray cooks me another fine meal.

Sunset in the botanic gardens on the hill above San Miguel.

The following day, I set off to Queretaro, the capital city of the neighbouring state where I need to buy some more SCT maps for the next stage of my trip into Michoacan and the state of Mexico.

Bidding goodbye to Ray - my extremely gracious host in San Miguel.

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