Bernal to San Miguel

BernalWE DON’T GET out much, but sometimes we do. Mostly, when we leave the Hacienda, we either go to the beach at Zihuatanejo or to Mexico City. It’s hard to imagine two more contrasting spots.

Years ago, before discovering Zihuatanejo, or rather before the autopista to the beach was completed, we headed to San Miguel de Allende when we wanted to get away from home. But we wearied of touristy, Gringo-overrun San Miguel, and then the autopista to Zihuatanejo was opened.

The drive time to either became almost identical, and the route to the beach was far prettier. There are too many tourists at both locations, but sometimes you just have to endure.

Last Sunday, we decided on something different, a place called Bernal, which is northeast of Querétaro by about 45 minutes. Bernal’s claim to fame is a very big rock that sticks out of the ground. It is the world’s third highest rock sticking out of the ground after Gibraltar and Sugarloaf Mountain in Brazil.

Since rocks fascinate New Age people, Bernal is popular with the woo-woo set especially during changes of the seasons. Few things captivate New Age people more than the intersection of a season change with a big rock. The big rock in Bernal is called Peña de Bernal.

Woo-woo people also are very fond of feathers.

It’s only about 3.5 hours from the Hacienda by autopista, which is the only way you should cover long distances in Mexico unless you want to spend days jolting over speed bumps and sitting at red lights behind burros. The autopista will cost you, however, but it’s cash well spent.

We had no hotel reservation, so we strolled about until we found the Hotel Quinta Arantza, which we liked very much. We were on the third floor with a king bed and a glass wall that provided a direct view of the big rock. The small hotel includes a full breakfast, which is why it is sometimes listed as a B&B.

We arrived Sunday afternoon, and Bernal’s small downtown was packed with tourists. After eating pasta at a restaurant named El Meson de la Roca, we walked about a bit and then bought a tour that took us a ways up the big rock. The evening found us gobbling gorditas downtown. And then ice cream on the street.

We watched “The Picture of Dorian Gray” on the hotel telly and sacked out.

Opening the drapes at dawn, the big rock’s top was shrouded in fog, which is what the spirit world does to big rocks in the early morning. We dined at the hotel’s restaurant, packed up the Honda and departed. But we weren’t ready to go home. Let’s go to San Miguel, I said. She concurred.

San Miguel is about two hours from Bernal on the northwest side of the city of Querétaro. We arrived about 12:30, and I headed to Starbucks right off the plaza for an espresso, and she headed to shops, which is what women prefer to do 99 percent of the time given the opportunity.

I sat beside a Starbucks window and watched the people walk by. There were a few Mexicans but mostly lots of Gringos in Bermuda shorts, sandals and cameras, plus other Gringos, the artsy ones, dressed up like buffoons. It’s always a hoot to see a San Miguel sidewalk procession of white people.

We linked up shortly after and headed to a restaurant named Hecho en Mexico, where we’ve eaten numerous times on previous visits. It’s just up the street from the famous Instituto Allende, where foreigners go to try and learn Spanish and other artsy endeavors. I doubt anyone actually learns Spanish, which ain’t that easy.

In keeping with San Miguel’s hippie-dippy spirit, we both ordered vegetarian hamburgers. I got a side of onion rings, and my child bride decided on sweet tater casserole to accompany. My granny’s sweet tater casserole in the old days was far better, but the onion rings were quite tasty, especially with globs of ketchup.

We enjoyed a priceless San Miguel moment while eating our veggie burgers. The moment was provided by another customer, clearly a San Miguel inhabitant, a man who entered sporting a polo shirt with collar upturned jauntily beneath a blue blazer with sleeves pushed up. His hair was tossed carefreely, but the crown jewel of his attire were the pants, chinos with globs of art paint dabbed all over the place. I am an artist! he proclaimed.

After lunch, we drove the remaining three hours to the Hacienda. On alighting from the Honda, we noticed that, due to the spiritual natures of Bernal and San Miguel, we both were walking about two inches above the floor, but by the next morning everything was back to normal. We were grounded. And home again.

* * * *

Note 1: I did not take the photo. I forgot my camera. The shot comes from a series which you may see here.

Note 2: A fun website that pokes fun at the silliness of San Miguel can be found here.

Note 3: A more detailed and more traditional blog post about Bernal can be found here.

Note 4: Bernal is one of the Mexican towns I consider one-shot wonders, which is to say they are worthy of a visit, but not a return. Others in this category are Real de Catorce, Valle de Bravo, Tlalpujahua and Tequisquiapan.

32 thoughts on “Bernal to San Miguel”

    1. Ms. Shoes: Bernal is definitely worth a visit. I’ve never been to Real del Monte or even heard of it, but now I have. Looks nice. I did a Google. We’ve been to Tlalpujahua three times at least, and that’s enough for me. My wife said it reminds her of Toledo, Spain. I’ve never been in Toledo, so I can’t weigh in on that. As for Valle de Bravo, I was colossally disappointed. We stayed overnight once. Did not impress. Maybe I am jaded by where I live, always a possibility.

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  1. You nailed it on the head in Note # 4. I thought Bernal was very pretty and sweet, but one afternoon there was enough. The gorditas we had were dry and awful, but the carnitas, at Carnitas de la Peña, were sublime. The trip that has great appeal to me is to drive the highway over and through the Sierra Gorda to Xilitla.

    I thought Tlalpujahua was o.k. But it doesn’t come close to Toledo, Spain, although I can see the distant, very distant resemblance.

    Saludos,
    Don Cuevas

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    1. Señor Cuevas: The gorditas were hardly dry. The meat ones were dripping in grease, but I liked them. I also had one full of beans, and I liked it too. Didn’t see any carnitas, but I only eat the ones with the fat cut off, which are like good barbecue, if you ask me. As for Sierra Gorda, perhaps some other day.

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  2. Well now that you have alienated and offended 83.77% of the residents of SMA with your description of their movable fauna, “artsy ones, dressed up like buffoons,” I will enjoy my next trip there considerably more!

    I am surprised that no one has come up with a novella about the “Gringos of SMA,” but then again many of them lack that required sense of humor required to lead a normal life.

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    1. Tancho: I just noticed this comment of yours in the spam pile where it’s been sitting for about two weeks. Sorry about that. Got no idea why it happened. But now it’s out in broad daylight where it belongs.

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  3. “Few things captivate New Age people more than the intersection of a season change and a big rock.”

    I wish I had written that. It’s priceless.

    You should read Gringos by Charles Portis (True Grit). I think you’d get a kick out of it.

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        1. Ms. Shoes: I do appreciate the offer. However, I suspect your copy had a past connected to a tree, and I have long forgotten how to flip paper pages. I’m an electronic man all the way.

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            1. Ms. Shoes: A separate issue altogether. Yes, I am one of the very few people who not only take care with books I borrow but — even odder — return them. But the 21st century and digital books have put all that in the past for us modern folks.

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  4. Bernal was and still is on our list for a one night visit. If you had waited 5 more days we could have dined in SMA together. We will see you enjoying your cafecito in the plaza soon.

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  5. “artsy ones, dressed up like buffoons,” all the while you sipping your cafecito. Isn’t it marvelous that entertainment that hilarious comes at such a cheap price? Now all you need to do is stay a while next time and get invited to the social elite … not!

    SMA would be a nice town if you eliminated about 73% of the people that have stellar ideas of their station in life and keep telling you about it over and over and over.

    But for anyone wanting a perfect place to relocate, where the climate is perfect except for a few days, the cost of living is probably as cheap as you can find it anywhere south of the US, and loaded with scholars, artists, intellectuals, authors and PAs. (I’ll let you figure out what PAs are.)

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          1. Ah, Tancho, that makes perfect sense, and I am with you 100 percent. San Miguel is indeed by far the cheapest and nicest choice for Gringos. May all the rest who have not arrived down south settle there, not here.

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            1. If they want cheap and warm, Tehuacán merits a look too. You can rent a two-bedroom house there for $85 USD per month. I know someone who lives in one.

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    1. Now this is funny now that I write it. If one were to read it in Spanish the first word is like the 2nd word which is in English.

      The first word is pompous.

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    1. Andrés: The fact that most folks are afraid to use the phrase “white people” makes it even better. Well, on second thought, they do use it, but always negatively as in “old white men.” And on third thought, I used it negatively too, so … never mind.

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  6. You forgot to mention all the Chilango tourists choking the streets of SMA too. They have their own ridiculous vibe.

    Saludos,

    Kim G
    Boston, MA
    Where we are heading into peak tourist season. But I dare any of them to try to drive here. Worse than most places in Mexico.

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