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The Unwelcome Guest During My Monthlong Escape

I’d imagined many scenarios in the friendly town of San Miguel de Allende, but COVID wasn’t one of them

By Leslie Long

After suffering through past winters in frigid New York, I toyed with the idea of going somewhere warm this year. Not just for a short stint, but for a whole month. I'd long been curious about San Miguel de Allende, known for its expat-friendly lifestyle and artsy crowd of adventurous older folks.

When some friends mentioned renting there, I quickly booked a little house for the month of February, based solely on its décor. Upon arrival with my husband Larry, there for the first week only, I was happy with my choice.

A Mexico cityscape. Next Avenue, expat
San Miguel de Allende, Mexico  |  Credit: Jillian Kim

Even Better Than Expected

The house was in the dusty working neighborhood of San Antonio — about a 20-minute walk from the more elegant center of town. I liked the mix of expats and Mexican families on a street called Stirling Dickinson where there was not just one excellent coffee shop, but six or seven. Casual restaurants, small Mexican-owned shops, a few yoga studios and an art gallery rounded out the area.

Little did I know I'd be spending far more time inside the house than I'd ever imagined.

My narrow stucco house had a kitchen and small living/dining area on the first floor. Upstairs were the bedroom and bath and up another flight, a roof deck with a panoramic city view, purple flowering plants and a finicky washing machine.

The place was pretty, clean and conveniently located. A lovely house manager named Alejandra and a weekly cleaning visit from Francisco added to ease of living there. Little did I know I'd be spending far more time inside the house than I'd ever imagined.

Larry and I had a great week together, meeting welcoming people from Canada and the U.S. just about everywhere we went, settling on a morning routine at a coffee shop called Panina (where we befriended the owner Paulina and her charming mother) and seeing Ellen and Bob, our New York friends who were renting right around the corner.

We spent a wonderful day listening to live music at a ranch outside of town called Zandunga. One day we visited a hot springs called Esperanza Place, enjoying the warming waters.

After Larry left, I walked the botanical gardens with a new friend, saw a charming production of "Cosi Fan Tutti" and went to a dramatic performance of six short plays. After such a short time, this place was actually starting to feel like home.

I had my fingers crossed while waiting for the home test result, but to no avail. Positive.

I was looking forward to a cooking class and a few events at the San Miguel Writers' Conference, which coincidentally was happening very close to my house. And then I woke up with a sore throat.

The Blue Line

After all of the vaccines, boosters and a fairly mild case of COVID-19 in January of 2022, I'd happily put the virus on the back burner, resuming frequent travel and mask-free living. When planning this trip, it wasn't even on my mind. Knowing I had the ability to manifest symptoms when worried, I hoped I was exaggerating the scratchy throat, but by that night, I felt worse. By the morning, even worse.


I had my fingers crossed while waiting for the home test result, but to no avail. Positive. Aggressively positive, in fact, with a defined blue line, meaning my lively week of writing seminars, new friends, rooftop drinks and cooking lessons was not going to be.

Virtual Companionship

In an instant, my rental house was now my full-time home. The TV didn't seem to work, or more likely I wasn't operating it the right way. I had some food to tide me over, but soon would need more water.

A small apartment building. Next Avenue, expat
The author's little gray rental house on Calle San Juan.  |  Credit: Leslie Long

My friends brought me masks, tissues and a few more tests which they passed through the door, looking at me sadly. They offered to bring me whatever I needed, but I couldn't even think of anything I desired. So, there I was, in for the duration.

The first few days, I just zoned out. Too tired to do much, my attention span was low to non-existent. I watched mindless things on YouTube, listened to "Mel Robbins" and "Fresh Air" podcasts for a mix of motivation and culture and mostly blew my nose until I thought it would fall off. I worried the tissues would run out and I'd have to go outside, but somehow the box lasted.

I kept the doors open to the little Juliet balcony in my bedroom, listening to street noises. Passersby talking below, roof dogs barking and at night, live music from El Monarco, the restaurant right across the street, all provided virtual companionship.

As I improved, I ventured out in my kn95 mask in search of food and water, finding it difficult to avoid the friendly people in the area. San Miguel is such a lovely place where cars stop to let you cross, pedestrians step sideways on the narrow sidewalks so you can pass and store owners greet you with a smiling hola or buenas dias.

Me, a sullen masked figure skulking by, avoiding everyone in sight, just didn't fit into this picture. The sun-dappled streets I so enjoyed just days before suddenly seemed overheated and unappealing. I couldn't wait to get back inside. It's amazing how the same exact place can appear so different when seen from another point of view.

Better, Day by Day

Two women smiling together outside. Next Avenue, expat
Her first dinner out after recovering was with her friend Liz at Quince, one of San Miguel's prettiest rooftops.  |  Credit: Leslie Long

Eventually, I was able to watch two movies that I loved on my laptop, "To Leslie" and "She Said." In my solitary state, both made me cry with their depictions of family members coming together. Constant calls from my husband and two sons made me feel loved and I appreciated their concern.

My sister and the few friends I'd told back home checked in regularly, as did Ellen and Bob. Eventually I learned two of the Zandunga group had come down with COVID just before I did, so maybe that was the genesis, but who knows. And who really cares. It happens.

After a week inside and a negative test, I met my friend Liz, who'd just checked into a nearby hotel, for dinner. While slow and cautious at first, I regained my footing, able to take a cooking class, go to yoga and eat some great food.

While I surely wouldn't have wished for what happened, San Miguel shone even more brightly as I emerged. And I fully enjoyed every remaining day.

Leslie Long
Leslie Long is a NY-based travel writer and photographer and her favorite destinations involve water.  While she gravitates to areas off the tourist track, she’ll never say no to Rome and Paris. Her photographs can be seen on Instagram @leslielooks and many of her articles are at Read More
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