25 June 2009


I gave out some bad information previously. I had no understanding of the Mexican governmental units at the time. I said that the population of San Miguel de Allende is 139,000. It is true that the population of the municipality of San Miguel de Allende is approximately 139,000. However, “municipalities” in México are like our counties or parishes. I am in the Mexican state of Guanajuato and in the “county” of San Miguel de Allende. The “county seat” of that county is the city of San Miguel de Allende. The city of San Miguel de Allende has a population of 80,000.

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You will recall that back on June 3 for reasons unknown to me to this day, I came across the border with no pesos. Also, I had had great good intentions to study my Spanish hard in Texas before crossing the border so that I at least had a smattering of Spanish when the time came. Of course as it turned out, I got so busy playing in Texas that I never once cracked my Spanish books before the big day. Therefore, I came across the border not only with no pesos but with no Spanish, all of which led to grave difficulties that we will not review here, except to say that the Mexican police happily accept American dollars.

The upshot of all that was that I learned how to ask in Spanish, “Where is the ATM?” before I learned how to ask in Spanish “Where is the men's room.” By the way, they are called las cajeras automáticos--ATM's, not the men's rooms.

Several of you have previously traveled about down here. For you all of what I am writing about today is old hat. This is for the folks who have never traveled here. I am going to reveal more of my abysmal ignorance when I crossed that border.

First of all, the symbol used for pesos in Mexico is the same symbol that we use for dollars in the U.S., that is, this: $. I did not know that. I cannot tell you what I thought the symbol for a peso was. I just never gave it any thought at all. I guess I assumed that when confronted with this new monetary symbol, whatever it was, I would say to myself, “Oh! That must be the symbol for a peso!”

So then, the first time that I hit the ATM here, I used a Visa card, which is what I had used with the French ATM's. It had worked quite well there, although the transaction fees were a little daunting. I was nervous that first time because I really needed some pesos to buy gasoline, and I had no idea whether I could get anything out of the ATM's here or not. At this point the Mexican police had all the dollars that I had brought across the border with me.

When confronted with the screen that seemed to be asking how much I wished to withdraw on my credit card, I chose “$100.00,” thinking that I would get 100 American dollars worth of something because of that dollar sign. The machine gave me 100 pesos.

Well shit, 100 pesos is like $7.50 American. Later when I saw the Visa statement on line, I came to appreciate that the fees for that transaction far, far exceeded the principal amount that I had actually received. At the time I did appreciate that I had received something less than I had expected, so I hit that ATM again, this time for $500.00. After I got those pesos and finally did a little math, I was getting the hang of what was going on. I knew that I still needed more pesos than what I had. And so I tried to hit that same ATM again a third time.

Now of course my Visa people have no idea whatsoever that I am in México. My third attempt to hit that ATM set off alarm bells somewhere, and the Visa computer in the sky shut down my card because of suspicious transactions being undertaken by someone in México.

Later, it took a marathon telephone conversation with a snotty Visa lady to get that fixed and get my card reinstated. It was a telephone call that I had to make with the Skype program on my laptop because I do not have a real telephone anymore. But you know something? Skype works pretty well. It is a little tricky navigating an automated menu with Skype for reasons I will not bore you with. But on the whole Skype works pretty well. As far as the snotty Visa lady was concerned, I had to abase myself utterly and admit to her what a dumb shit I was and assure her that I myself was indeed the author of those suspicious transactions undertaken by somebody in México.

Now I get along fine with the ATM's here and use my ATM card issued by my Cedar Rapids bank. That works well. In fact Banco del Bajio here in San Miguel de Allende tells me what the balance of my checking account in Cedar Rapids is on the ATM slip that I get from it, which is something that my Cedar Rapids bank has been unable to do on its ATM slips for a couple of years now. Moreover, Banco del Bajio tells me what my Cedar Rapids checking account balance is in pesos. It is still pretty cool for me to see, for example, that my checking account balance is $22,535.44.

El Restaurante

I neglected to report back on the restaurant where I dined last evening. This is the entrance to the one I chose. I have no idea what the name of the restaurant is. Do you see a name anywhere?

This guy greeted me inside the door. I refer to the guy with the big sombrero, not Jesus. This restaurant has no roof. It is situated in a kind of private alley.

This is an "al carbón" place, meaning that the meat is cooked over charcoal.

Here are the guys back at the grill behind the tables. They were very good sports about my Spanish.

Yes, I partook of meat for the first time in a long time. I had four beefsteak tacos, those being put together with corn flower soft shelled tortillas, along with a grapefruit Fresca. This is the last time I am going to say "soft shelled." There is no such thing down here as those hard taco shells we get out of a box wherein they are nested into each other like Pringles. That is something that is American Mexican, if you will. So even when I say "taco," put that image of a hard shell out of your mind. No such thing here, kids.

I am not sure why I took along a wad of pesos. I was stuffed on 34 pesos, or $2.56 American.

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