Thoughts on Travel, Photography and Life from Ian Lloyd

San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

There is something special about San Miguel de Allende in the mountainous area northwest of Mexico City that has always attracted creative artists and writers. It could be that the town with its cobblestone streets has at its centre a delightful public garden and an ornate cathedral where everyone meets up to hang out and listen to mariachi bands. Another factor is that San Miguel founded in the sixteenth century, played an important role in the Mexican War of Independence. Festivals in San Miguel take place on a grand scale too attracting Mexicans and visitors from far and wide. And yet San Miguel’s residents still maintain a rare small town feel of friendliness and hospitality. And even more surprisingly, the town is not that well known internationally. In these days of overcrowded and over promoted tourist destinations, that is a distinct rarity.

My wife and I had been invited to San Miguel by good friends and fellow photographers Bob Krist and Richard Ellis of National Geographic and Reuters fame respectively. Both had established bases there with their families to escape the harsh North American winters. December to April are the busy months for this southerly town but we had all arranged to meet up last year between September and November to photograph three iconic festivals - Mexican Independence Day, the St. Michael Archangel Festival and later on the famous Mexican Day of the Dead.

I wasn’t sure what I was in for. After settling in to the laid back rhythms of the town though with its colourful markets, atmospheric restaurants and scenic roof top bars, I was pleasantly surprised. When Mexican Independence Day rolled around, San Miguel took a week to celebrate, with fireworks from the cathedral, dancing displays, and a large parade with hundreds of participants. In the following days, local cowboys on horse back raced through the streets recreating the historical start of the revolution, followed by religious processions, pole diving performances, and even displays of large puppets dancing in the streets.

And then came the St. Michael Archangel Festival with its parade of thousands of costumed marchers and performers representing dozens of indigenous tribes from North, Central & South America. I had forgotten that Mexico and Spain had at one time or another controlled the entire west coast of North America including Texas and Florida and territory down through Central and South America. Living near San Miguel de Allende today are native representatives from many of these areas who have maintained their cultural identity and practices. They all gather annually for this festival to parade their heritage with pride. Needless to say, I had a field day photographing them all as they danced and marched through this historical centre of Mexico. 

by Ian Lloyd