We spent the last two weeks exploring San Miguel de Allende – the parks with their lively music and basketball games, cobblestone streets bursting with restaurants, artisan shops, colorful murals, and strolling couples – and traipsing to every school in the entire city. It was an arduous task – calling schools and arranging appointments in broken Spanish, touring the schools with all four kids in tow, and discussing education models, language learning programs, homework policies, tuition and polyester uniform pants. It took a lot of time to decide on a school, change our minds, pick a different school, then go back to option A. And then B. And then plan to maybe homeschool but then go with option A. We settled on a bilingual school with rigorous academics, plus all the extras that make me wish I could do school over – project-based learning, daily meditation, sports galore, yoga, cooking, pottery, carpentry, and life skills classes. (That’s a lie. I wouldn’t want to be a 5th grader again, even for hula hooping classes and an all you can drink kombucha bar in the cafeteria.)
Once we picked a school we got to work finding a long-term rental house. We’re currently staying in a two-bedroom apartment. The house suits our needs well in the short term. It’s in the quiet, safe neighborhood, centrally located and walking distance to just about everything in town. There is a lady around the corner who makes tortillas and sells them in huge stacks, fresh and warm, for around 45 cents. To preserve our dignity, we try to be out of her line of sight before we open the package and start shoving them in our mouths by the handful. The house has two bedrooms and 1.5 bathrooms, a serviceable basic kitchen, a rooftop deck, and a terrace. With only two bedrooms (and one bed in each), our two youngest kids are sleeping on couches in the living room.
They seem to find it quite comfortable and enjoyable, but it makes for early evenings and a living room filled with blankets, pillows and approximately 63 stuffed animals. The house also does not have a washer/dryer. There are several shops within a few blocks that do your laundry and let you pick it up – washed, dried and folded – 24 hours later. It’s quite nice, in theory, not having to do laundry, but with four kids, we’d really prefer to do it ourselves for the totally infrequent moments when we realize at 10pm that none of our kids have any clean underwear or Aldo has been sleeping on one of our three bath towels. The house is also next door to a construction site. The workers are there from about 8am until 5pm every weekday, and the repetitive banging, while rhythmic, can drive a person who is trying to work on a blog, for example, kind of crazy.
Actual footage from inside our house of hammers slowly driving me insane:
Unfortunately, our budget for a long-term rental is on the low to mid-range for a 3-bedroom home in San Miguel de Allende. Most of the homes online and those represented by agencies are vacation rentals and the monthly costs are high – $4,000 USD or more a month. And that price is still far below the asking price for the fancy homes with nine terraces, a pool, wine cellar, ½ acre garden, and helipad. We’re looking for something a tad more modest, but with enough beds for six. Our budget is reasonable, but we need to make some compromises and we need to hunt.
Unlike House Hunters International, this is not a tidy and efficient process. We aren’t touring three beautiful homes with a realtor in a sleek SUV and lamenting that the appliances aren’t stainless steel but the basement would make an excellent man cave. Or the Jack n Jill bathroom with the spa tub is gorgeous, but there isn’t enough closet space for Scott’s macramé supplies. This process doesn’t end with the two of us holding hands on a park bench, weighing the pros and cons of each house in eight-second sound bites and then coming to a quick, mutual decision, walking away, arm and arm, to announce to our real estate agent (in person) that we’d like the house with the three-car garage and terrace with a view of the Mt. Kilimanjaro. This is a tad more hardscrabble. We’re walking around neighborhoods, calling numbers on “Se Renta” signs and repeating memorized questions in Spanish for which he can’t understand the answers. We’re trolling Craigslist. We’re emailing Airbnb owners and asking if they’d drop their monthly rate by 75% if we agree to a year lease. We’re sending unsolicited pictures of Aldo to homeowners to convince them to rent to someone with a gorgeous dog. Aldo is pretty; house hunting in San Miguel de Allende is not.
We did finally find a house. It’s in an eclectic neighborhood walking distance from the kids’ school, with neighborhood restaurants and corner grocery stores scattered throughout. The house has a nice kitchen with full-sized appliances, a washer/dryer, and filtered water. This is a huge bonus because no one drinks unfiltered tap water here and you have to buy giant, countertop water jugs. We are finding that we go through approximately a jug each day because, as Americans, we are obsessed with hydration. Filtered water means someone (Scott) doesn’t have to make 9pm water jug runs. There is a terrace and a rooftop deck with a view of other rooftop decks, a small nook with a desk, and a gas fireplace on the main floor for chilly Mexican winters (or what we call “I might wear pants today” weather in Wisconsin). Most importantly, it has three bedrooms with bed spots for all.