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San Miguel de Allende: Five Lessons from Living in Colonial Mexico

1. Never Ever Ever Go Out In Flip Flops On A Rainy Day!

San Miguel de Allende: Five Lessons from Living in Colonial Mexico

Just a wee bit of rain coming down the steps of The ParroquĂ­a!

I was tangibly (painfully and embarrassingly so) reminded of this when I made my way from the town square to my yoga class, which unfortunate for me happened to be mostly downhill. Even the straightaways had me tip-toeing and navigating myself very precariously.

If my expletives didn’t get passerby’s attention, then certainly the 90 degree-angled, stuck on repeat, falling backwards with one leg high up in the sky and either hand grabbing on to anything in its vicinity did! God only knows what my face looked like. 

I was born and raised a Southern California coastal girl, moved to the beach in Nayarit our first year and a half as permanent residents of Mexico, and, well…..some habits are just hard to break!

I have yet to upgrade my footwear for life inland, on steep cobblestone streets, on sidewalks that are narrow and more slippery than a greased pig. Think those cobblestones have some surface texture to them? Think again. I felt like I was in a game of slip and slide, except not 11 years old in a bathing suit on a hot California summer day, but 45 and on my feet and making a complete fool of myself in the desert highlands of Central Mexico. I would have been better outfitted with cross-country snow skies, gracefully making my way down and over the wet cobblestones, arriving at the front door of the yoga studio in style instead of exasperated and with a sore back. 

2. Slow Down

Burro in the street

Cobblestones, Burro, Narrow Streets…Time To Slow Down

Take a deep breath and plan ahead. Don’t be in a hurry to get anywhere—this is Mexico after all and the land of mañana. That’s not to say that there aren’t certain events and appointments that you shouldn’t be on time for—school drop off, doctors appointments, for example…otherwise, don’t expect to get anywhere fast. Traffic is not just relegated to cars, but to buses, pedestrians, taxis, trolleys, burros, horses, quads, and dogs alike. Take your time, wait your turn. Shake off the conditioning of your previous life and exhale.

Part of living in an 18th century colonial town deals with not only cobblestone streets and the careful and patient navigation of them, but also the fact that at any given time, on any given day, there could be a large, unexpected, unknown, yet sense-awakening and vibrant parade, procession, wedding, Quinceñera, Patron Saint Day, festivity of some colorful sort making its way through the narrow—many, one-way—streets. Again, take a deep breath, take your time, wait your turn and by all means, enjoy the scenery!

3. The Importance of Ear Protection

San Miguel de Allende: Five Lessons from Living in Colonial Mexico

Fireworks Over El Centro. Photo by Paul Polinger

Fireworks are not for Independence Day alone. You just never know when there will be a reason (or no apparent reason at all) to shoot those babies off—funerals, holidays, concerts, weddings, changing of seasons, blessings of crops….As my yoga teacher tells his family members when they call from Texas and ask why is it that they can hear fireworks in the background, he replies, “It is Wednesday”. 

Go with it. You will come to love, value and appreciate that you are living in a country where certain freedoms trump over-regulation. 

4. You can’t judge a book by its cover, or the contents of a store by its entrance

San Miguel de Allende: Five Lessons from Living in Colonial Mexico

Never would have imagined this was a dishwasher store!

I have walked by this building a dozen or more time since moving to San Miguel de Allende and just realized the other day that it is a major appliance store–dishwashers, dryers, stoves, fridges! One might not know this by the looks of the outside–rustic, textured, full of character with a story no doubt its own, but no part of it screams ‘appliance store’.

San Miguel de Allende was declared a national monument in 1926 and as such, renovations and new construction in the historic district are required to conform to the area’s colonial architecture. Everything from convenience stores, galleries, restaurants, hotels, workshops, homes—even the ones with a cosmopolitan edge—maintain the town’s historical integrity. 

5. Live in the moment

San Miguel de Allende: Five Lessons from Living in Colonial Mexico

ParroquĂ­a Through Archway of Casa Allende

This pretty much applies to the totality of our time and experiences here in Mexico for the past 2 years. Living in the moment, having experiences that take our breath away, days that are unique and different, being open to possibilities and connected to a sense of awe, divinity and magic….are our norm. We are not on vacation or of a vacation mindset. This is real life, long-term life, day-to-day living. My husband and I both work, just in different capacities now. No longer are we hitting the pavement as firefighter and teacher, but rather solar installer and writer… a nice shift of pace for sure.

Here in Mexico, now in this 16th-century colonial town where the cobblestones, the festivities, the unexpected, the magical and the colorful keep your senses alive, we are constantly learning something new—both of the world around us and ourselves.

May the adventures, discoveries, lessons and magic continue….

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Cheers y Saludos,





About the author: Together with my Retired Firefighter Husband and our now 19-year-old twins who were just 8 when we immigrated to Mexico in 2012, we have created a joyful life of design and freedom South of The Border. Welcome to Los O’Gradys in Mexico! Saludos, Katie đŸ‡ČđŸ‡œ ☘

{ 15 comments… add one }
  • Randy Hummel October 8, 2014, 2:16 pm

    Amen to all of the above…..especially number 2 and 5. Nice post. I especially enjoyed your description of getting through the Jardin in a heavy rain. I remember how surprised we were last September (our first SMA rainy season) when we witnessed the steps in the photo turn into a high-speed waterfall flooding the corner of Hidalgo and San Francisco!

    • Katie O'Grady October 8, 2014, 5:27 pm

      Hi Randy….
      So glad you enjoyed the piece.
      That rain is pretty amazing, isn’t it? Especially when the thunder and lightening are out in full force! Like being inside an amusement park ride, ha!


  • John Scherber October 8, 2014, 2:48 pm

    A lovely post, Katie, and good suggestions all. I think your readers might also like my new book on the expat experience, LIVING IN SAN MIGUEL: THE HEART OF THE MATTER. It offers an intimate look at issues everyone thinking about settling in this historic town must consider. Health care, cost of living, crime, housing, and many others are answered with frankness and insight. Available in print, Kindle, Kobo, Nook, and iTunes formats. There’s a sample on my website, and on Amazon at the second link below.


    • Katie O'Grady October 8, 2014, 5:29 pm

      Hi John,
      Thank you for the nice complement.
      I have heard wonderful things about your book!
      Time to look into it for myself!

  • Alex Fisher October 8, 2014, 3:37 pm

    thanks for the laugh. I live in the jungles of southern Mexico. EVERYONE lives in “chanclas”.

    • Katie O'Grady October 8, 2014, 3:49 pm

      Jaja Alex, I get it! My preferred style!
      I still got the coastal girl in me!

  • Shelley October 8, 2014, 6:36 pm

    This was a great read. As a 40 something year old ex-pat also I found myself laughing and agreeing with everything you wrote. I live in Chapala /Ajijic and if there is one thing I have learned in the last 3+ years here is that sometimes it is just easier to take off the flip flops and go barefoot during the street floods of the rainy season 🙂 Continue enjoying life in this beautiful country!

    • Katie O'Grady October 8, 2014, 7:09 pm

      Hahaha, I laughed out loud reading your comment Shelley!
      I seriously considered taking off my flip flops, but part of me contemplated the reputation I might permanently cement for myself in this beautiful colonial town! I wasn’t willing to lower my sense of pride any further at that point, hahaha, but rather literally put my best foot forward and make it by golly to the entrance of the yoga studio….!

  • Monnica O'GRADY October 9, 2014, 7:40 am

    I love the colors in your photos, I love that there can be a procession any time. I love that people live in their world actively, unlike suburbia here…it’s so quiet in suburbia. I love the burro on the street. Thanks for writing. I’m glad to enter that world for awhile

    • Katie O'Grady October 9, 2014, 7:55 am

      Hi Monnica!

      Thank you for the wonderful comments and observations!
      Yeah, it’s not every day that you see a burro on the street, ha! It has now become our ‘norm’.


      Katie 🙂

  • Frank October 9, 2014, 5:35 pm

    I have to laugh after living on a tropical beach for a year and a half how anything more than shorts and chanclas was too much unless I was out for a run or on my mountain bike.
    Here in San Miguel I’ve had the uncontrolled, spontaneous banana peel like slip wondering, in that split second, if I was going to crack my head open in front of all the folks admiring my grace (or, lack thereof) while slipping on those smooth as ice, wet stone sidewalks!
    I know it provided entertainment for many.

  • Lori Greene January 2, 2015, 6:17 pm

    These are right on…we learned about the flip-flops the hard way during the summer rains!

    • Katie O'Grady January 2, 2015, 6:31 pm

      Oh goodness! Feel for you.

      Some lessons……well, are just best learned the hard way, I suppose! 😉



  • Andrea Puzzitiello April 1, 2016, 8:46 am

    I am so enjoying your blog! If it’s not to personal could I ask how you survive financially with young children? I assume one of you must be working? We have a 5yr old and 150k saved up and would love to move but not sure how we could survive in the long term. I speak a bit of Spanish and am a stay at home mom, my husband speaks no Spanish and is in chemical sales.

    • Katie O'Grady April 1, 2016, 12:02 pm

      Hi Andrea,
      So glad you are enjoying Los O’Gradys in Mexico!
      Regarding the financials, my husband is a retired firefighter and myself a retired school teacher. Additionally, he has a photovoltaic design and installation (solar) company here in Mexico and I am a writer.
      Does your husband travel for his work?
      I truly believe if there is a will, there is a way and if you and your family are wanting to make a move, it is absolutely feasible.

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