I’m back in San Miguel de Allende for Easter. It’s the first city I visited when I arrived in Mexico 3 ½ months ago, and the first city I’ve come back to… and I’m seeing it in a whole different light.
Why? Because I was a different person back then.
When I came to be in San Miguel in January, it was my first time being in Mexico for any significant amount of time. It was also my first time being self-sufficient in Mexico, that is, not part of a group of friends or a half of a couple. I had driven into Mexico, I was staying long-term in a place where the way of life was foreign to me, and I would have to figure out how things work.
Two weeks into my initial stay in San Miguel, I went to the mercado to pick up ingredients for a dinner I planned to make for my hosts. I was beyond anxious and overwhelmed. I made a list in my iPhone Notes with all the items I needed, translated; I mapped the route to the mercado and the pescadería, careful of closing hours; and I set out with unease. The shopping experience would be much different than what I was used to. I would look unnatural and stand out. But I did it — I stumbled through with my Spanish and successfully purchased all my ingredients — set the oven on Celsius, and made a meal that was *chef’s kiss*. (In case you’re curious, I went looking for olive oil, ginger, garlic, zucchini, rice, soy sauce, maple syrup, and salmon, and I had to go to three different “tiendas” to get it all — as per the usual way in Mexico!)
It was a small feat, but it was so big in my mind. And since then, I’ve had many successful trips — to the spa/salon, to the car wash, to pharmacies, to grocery stores, to gas stations, to toll booths. I navigated a hundred other small and strange (to me) situations. How to manage a water jug (garrafon) delivery. How to buy bread from the bakery in the grocery store (there’s actually a method to it). How to ask for a specific type of medicine from the pharmacy, how to ask for change in certain bills in order to leave an appropriate tip, and how to wash fresh fruits and vegetables in antibacterial solution before eating.
All while being nowhere near close to fluent in Spanish, if I’m being totally honest (I do have a small but fair amount of Spanish language words and comprehension, and I vehemently recommend to everyone — LEARN AS MUCH SPANISH AS YOU CAN! It will make your experience easier and richer)!
These are all small things, separately. But together, and added up, figuring all of this out has created an entirely new level of confidence within me.
I am not “traveling” Mexico, even though I am… I am LIVING in Mexico. There are more things I need to do while I’m here, and I’m going to figure it out. I will probably get some maintenance done on my car. I will need to buy more flea and tick solution for my dog Penny, and perhaps schedule her a teeth cleaning appointment. Maybe I’ll even go to the dentist myself! These are just a few of the activities I plan to tackle, and I feel ready for them because I’ve tackled and mastered all these other small and mundane things.
And it’s not all challenges… it’s simple routines and preferences: like discovering the kind of wine I like (move over Menage Trois, Finca Las Moras is the sh*t here in Mexico!), learning how to order my coffee just the way I like it (latte, con leche regular, con canela, y sin azucar, IE: latte with regular milk, cinnamon, no sugar), and what I like to buy from the store to make at “home” in my Airbnb. (But dude… where are the pickles in Mexico?! I MISS PICKLES!)
I didn’t get culture shock in Mexico, because the culture is wonderful — but the small but different ways of doing things were difficult at first. Mexico is a foreign country, but it’s not a foreign planet (same goes for any other country or way of life that’s different from your own) — it’s just an adjustment!
Now back in San Miguel, I’m seeing everything in a different light. The places I was hesitant to enter, the questions I didn’t know how to ask, the reticence I had in trying certain things — is gone. It took a few months, but I’m so much more sure of myself than I used to be… and I’m sure my self-confidence will only continue to grow (as well as my Spanish ability!), and carry me everywhere else I travel to in Mexico these next 2 ½ months.
There will be an adjustment. There will be a learning curve. The important thing IS challenging yourself, turning the corner, asking the question, and giving something new a try. It is the difference between traveling and living. And with each confidence-building step, I get closer and closer to accomplishing ANYTHING I put my mind to, anywhere in the world. 😘❤️