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Dave and Jan's travels, day 157:

23rd October
We spent less than twenty four hours in Alamos, but somehow it seems like we know it a lot better than that. Alamos was once a silver mining boom town with more than 40,000 inhabitants. Then the silver ran out, along with most of the population. Twenty years later, in 1948, a Pennsylvanian dairy farmer named William Alcorn showed up and eventually bought and restored one of the many crumbling haciendas left over from the glory days. Next, he sold lots of Americans on the idea of a retirement home in the sun where the dollar goes so much further, and incidentally turned himself into a real estate millionaire.

Today, Alamos is half small rural Mexican town and half plush Floridan retirement complex. Alcorn's still there aged 97, although not entirely on the case these days. I'm speaking as someone who has stayed in his hotel - which may not outlast him - and seen slightly too much of his false teeth.

The retirement home quarter is all beautiful whitewashed colonnaded haciendas, offering tantalising glimpses of rich green courtyard gardens within. Delicate yet functional iron railings are all over the place. We took a tour with the local guide and gossip, who provided excruciating detail of the original US state of origin of each home's new owner, the prior function of the building, the purchase price, the likely rental, and lots more besides. He also,somewhat strangely, led us around a couple of the hotels that we aren't staying in. However, the owners seemd quite happy.

It's notable that we didn't see a single U.S. resident - excepting old Alcorn - throughout our visit. Apparently many of them only fly south for the winter, but even making that allowance it's eerie to see literally dozens of smart US cars and none of their owners.

The other half of the town is a total contrast, in that all its residents are very much in evidence, and a very nice contrast it is too. The warm evenings and the small town familiarity are evident in the kids left to play in the town squares, whilst there parents lounge around exchanging pleasantries. We walked around at dusk and struggled to work out the witching hour when Buenas Tardes (Good afternoon) eventually concedes to Buenas Noches (Good evening). It seems like everyone we greeted used the opposite. We didn't feel so bad after our chance question at dinner elicited a lively discussion between the locals, for the record the consensus was in favour of 7p.m.

Speaking of dinner: we ate "With Julia". Julia sells tacos and tostadas from what appears to be her own kitchen, doesn't mess with signs and other restaurant paraphenalia, and serves up fine stomach-filling food for a few dollars.

One last observation: drinking is rife in this town but invisible. There are plenty of bars, but they're all windowless. If it weren't for the raucous singing they'd look like abandoned warehouses. At least the drunks are locked away where they won't annoy the majority of quiet, relaxed and sociable townspeople.  On the other hand, it does make it rather difficult for the timid tourist to get a beer without ordering a meal.  Especially as women are not welcome in the bars and men may be challenged to drinking contests which they have to accept or retreat from the establishment.

Finally, a progress update on our struggles with the language. We've mastered the basics of asking for rooms, buying food, paying for things and so on. And we can even, given time, prepare sentences for relatively complex constructs such as "it appears that the shower isn't producing hot water". Unfortunately, interpreting peoples' responses is still beyond us, which makes conversation rather staccato. First you have to persuade them to talk slowly enough for you to make out the individual words: then you have to deduce the meaning of the sentence from the half dozen words you recognise: then you have to prepare an answer: then you have to say it. And, as if that weren't difficult enough, ideally you have to get through all this before your interlocutor falls asleep.


   (click thumbnails for a larger picture)

Our hotel

The church