When Mario and I first moved here in October, we kept saying to ourselves, in awed tones, "wow--these people are so civilized!" For example, when driving, Saltillenses not only know what a four-way-stop means, they actually stop and wait their turn--without honking their horns. By and large, the sidewalks here are large enough that three people can comfortably walk shoulder-to-shoulder (OK, possible slight exaggeration). But the sidewalks are wider than I have been used to and better maintained than in the country in general. Also downtown, they consistently provide wheelchair ramps (not sure they're always wide enough, but it's a start). The cathedral's noon mass is translated into sign language--and the first three pews are reserved for the deaf community, so they can actually see the interpreter. And my personal favorite mark of civilization--drivers will let pedestrians cross the street! Are we really still in Mexico?!?
The zocalo, better known here as the Plaza de Armas, is a great place to rest after a long walk, with their French-inspired iron benches that have suprisingly comfotable back rests. From this vantage, I've spent many a lazy half hour contemplating the Victorian fountain, watching toddlers send flocks of pigeons scattering, and trying to identify figures carved into the elaborate doorways of the white cathedral, like a giant game of I Spy. About five blocks away from the Plaza, a newly refurbished shopping corridor leads one directly to the Alameda. The Alameda is a public garden with a proliferation of trees, meandering pathways, seculuded benches, statues, a public library, children's playground, and even clean public restrooms. Given the amount of trees, it's almost like being in a forest. Just ignore the noise of the traffic, people selling things, and the fences barring all passerby from walking on the grass. And, as the Alameda is just 10 blocks away from my house, it is most often our destination of choice when I know that I need to get out of the house and take a walk.
When we were living at the Hampton Inn, in search of a house to rent, taxi drivers would always ask me if I had visited the Desert Museum. After my friend Chris and I visited in November, I understood why they were so insistent--it is a quality establishment. They have one room dedicated to explaining what a desert is, examples of different kinds of deserts, and how the Chihuahuan desert varies from these other deserts. Visitors are then ushered into the fossil rooms where there are a number of small, yet significant, fossils and complete skeletons of a T-Rex, petrodactyl (the flying dinosaur), and a few other towering and lethal looking creatures which have been found near here. Also, visitors can talk with palientologists cleaning newly found fossils. The museum also highlights the impact that various people groups have had on the region and it finishes off with a tour through their snake room (last time I went during feeding time . . . excellent).
Saltillo is known for their serapes, the rectangular poncho-looking blankets that are stereotypical of Mexico. However, thanks to industralization, there are now only two places in town where hand-made serapes are still made--El Serape de Saltillo (an excellent souvenir shop . . . visitors can watch the weavers work) and the Serape Museum run by the state government. The main weaver at the Serape Museum is in his eighties and has been making serapes by hand for over seventy years. And when you watch him standing on the pedals to the loom for however long he stands at a stretch, it's pretty impressive! I really enjoy the Serape Museum as they have a nice collection of serapes from various time periods, they explain the process to make one, and they aquired a collection of traditional Indian clothing which they have on display. Besides it simply being a quality establishment, it's free and is air conditioned. I may be spending a lot of time there this summer!
The only drawback to living here is that Saltillo is located in the middle of nowhere. Monterrey is about an hour and a half away. Parras de la Fuente, a cute little weekend getaway in wine country, is also an hour and a half in the opposite direction. San Luis Potosi is four hours away. The Gulf of Mexico is about five hours away. San Antonio, Texas is six hours away, and Mexico City is roughly nine hours away. Thank goodness Saltillo is so pleasant, as there's nearly nowhere to escape!