Watch Your Step

Some of us sometimes – and this includes me most of the time – tend to wax rhapsodic about the joys of living here in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. I often swoon, especially in my blogposts, over this old city’s beauty, charm, climate, peace, hospitality, affordability, and more. As a single, older American woman living mainly on monthly Social Security payments, I’m quite sure I couldn’t live as happily anywhere else in the world.

And just imagine this: San Miguel — perhaps all of Mexico — is a place where older people are uniformly treated with dignity and respect. Ageism seems to be unheard of here. How refreshing for those of us who’d felt sidelined, even discarded, in the States after reaching retirement age.

But (there’s always a BUT, isn’t there?) this week I feel the need to point out one of the few, in my opinion, downsides of living in SMA. This downside can be found outside, down at your feet, at street level. It’s the sidewalks.

Wires stick out for who-knows-what reason

Anyone interested in considering moving to SMA should consider this: Walking the sidewalks can be treacherous if you don’t actively, consciously watch every step you take. Things that you wouldn’t find in any American city’s sidewalks — because the U.S. is such a litigious country — such as pieces of rebar or wires sticking up for who-knows-what reason, and holes that appear out of nowhere, are common encounters. One false step and you’re in the orthopedic surgeon’s office in a lot of pain.

And then suddenly there’s a hole in the sidewalk

You see, some of the things that make this charming, old, colonial city in the central mountains of Mexico so charming are the same things that make it rather challenging for getting around on foot: the hilly terrain; the narrow, cobblestone streets; and the uneven, slender and sometimes slippery old stone sidewalks. Most visitors and all residents are aware of these pitfalls and dress their feet accordingly. Sturdy walking shoes are de rigueur. But spills still happen.

Recently I learned that a friend of a friend here, a single, retired professor from California, who visits SMA every year at this time, took a bad fall on the sidewalk near his rental apartment in centro two weeks ago. Although he didn’t break anything,  gracias a dios, he seems to have damaged his shoulder and is now severely hampered by a sling. His visit this year will be overshadowed by the fact that he cannot easily function normally (bathe and dress himself, for example) for some weeks.

The sidewalks in centro are full of surprises

Another friend told me over lunch this week that she’d learned of an elderly American couple who are keen on coming to SMA to live. The husband is admittedly overweight and has what he calls a “trick ankle” that “buckles” on him frequently. His wife has recently had neck surgery, making it hard for her to look downward from a standing position. Nevertheless, this couple is determined to live in centro so they can have easy access to “all that’s going on” – outdoor events, restaurants, shops, and so on.

Alas, much of centro is always cordoned off from vehicular traffic, so walking is one’s only option; and walking, especially at night on the sidewalks, would likely be more than difficult for this couple. Their dreams, like some of SMA’s sidewalks, might just crack:

The reality is San Miguel, for better or worse, depending on your attitude toward walking, is a walking town. Yes, outside of the pedestrians-only center, there are countless taxis and many bus options. But if you want to see the sights, many of which are centered in centro, you’ll need to do some walking.

So here are my top-of-the-head suggestions for everyone considering a stay in SMA:

  • Before you come, or if you’re already here and haven’t done so yet, invest in the sturdiest, comfiest, most practical walking shoes you can find. Better to pay for sturdy shoes than for sturdy crutches.
  • Get in walking shape, poco a poco. Wear those sturdy walking shoes every day and take yourself on a daily one- or two-mile walk, especially if your previous lifestyle has kept you mostly behind a wheel.
  • Never sightsee in SMA while walking. Be sure to STOP in your tracks before you admire the beauty of this beautiful city. Then step over to the side to let others walk past you on the narrow sidewalks.
  • Most of all, watch your step, literally, every step of the way. Watch what your feet are doing and where they’re stepping. The sidewalks in SMA are full of surprises. Don’t let any of them trip you up and ruin your trip.

33 thoughts on “Watch Your Step”

  1. As an elderly Female resident of San Miguel I can attest to how dangerous the sidewalks are. In my 17 years of living here I’ve had over 15 broken bones. On occasion, I do them in multiples however, I still love it here. The sidewalks do give me pause for being able to live here into severely elderly old age.

  2. Yes, it’s treacherous even for those of us who know better. A friend with balance issues canceled her trip to visit me a few months ago after she heard about the terrain. Good reminder to slow down and pay attention I guess!

    1. Ah, yes, querida Kim, the balance issue! I’m glad you brought that up. Thank you. Both sturdy shoes and a walking stick might be the answers for those with balance issues.

  3. Ah yes, BonnieDear, the perils of walking in San Juan. Remember when I was there, I didn’t see that the sidewalk curb gave way, and I turned my ankle and fell down. Determined not to let it spoil my trip, I jumped up and kept going. It was an efficient workout, because I refused to let it hurt. But it stayed swollen for a good six months afterward.

    I agree that the people who want so desperately to live in SMA probably would not fare well.

    1. Oh my goodness, Be! Now you tell me! I didn’t know your ankle stayed swollen for so long after your visit to San Miguel. I’m so, so sorry. Well, next time you come you’ll know not to let the sidewalks trip you up. 🙂 — BB xx

      1. I knew then, Bonnie! You’d given me plenty of warnings, so I was always avoiding objects. Just didn’t expect the curb to entirely disappear on that one step. And the sidewalks are so narrow!

        Like I said, the ankle never did hurt. xoxo

  4. Hi Bonnie, I want you to come on my podcast, [B]OLDER, to talk about this very thing! I.e. the elderly Americans, often single, who want to retire here in SMA. We’ve been here for three days and have been asking ourselves this very question… how could they possibly walk around??! And you don’t even mention the buses that rush by when you’re standing on a narrow strip of sidewalk. My podcast is about making the most of growing older. Here’s more info: LMK if you’d come on as a guest and we can meet in a cafe in centro for an informal recording. Gracias!

    1. Hi, Debbie! I’d be honored. I confess I don’t know what LMK means, but I’m sure we can make a plan to meet up soon here to talk about one of my favorite subjects, “making the most of growing older.” Let’s connect! Best, Bonnie

  5. So true. I like your intermittent blogs about the challenges of living here in SMA (or abroad), too. A nice mix with the blessings.
    Hope your “February move-in date” is near.

  6. My only reason for not coming back since 2018 was my ankle replacement and subsequent problems with it. I just couldn’t see myself tromping up and down those cobblestoned hills anymore, more’s the pity. I SO miss it, Bonnie!

  7. Having fallen 3 times in San Miguel, I have this advice: never take your eyes off your feet; always stop to look at something; and never step on a pink sidewalk stone if it’s raining. I also never walk around after dark, because you can’t see those little holes and those little metal hooks that stick up and are just the right size to hook your toe in. In spite of my 3 falls, I have not broken anything. My doctor says I have a hard head.

  8. Dear Bonnie, This is all so true, but one thing you didn’t mention is that every once in a while, you have to stop and look up to be sure a huge stone window sill or electric box isn’t sticking out at head height ! I learned the hard way!

  9. Dear Bon,
    Your words are good advice for all of us, no matter where we live. I think we do watch our step more as we age and do slow down. I mean the good kind of slow down where we look out for our own safety. Still, it is wonderful to be reminded of it because it only takes one false step.

    1. Thank you, dear Paul. I’m glad you think so, because I like to think that my posts have relevance beyond SMA! I know that older people living in colder climates, who have to deal with snowy, icy walkways in the winter, have to be especially careful. We ALL must watch our steps! — LU2, BB xx

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