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.
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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.