10 Things to Love About Saltillo

When we first thought of moving to Saltillo, my husband and I both turned up our noses a bit, hoping this would be a short assignment.  After all, Saltillo is just a small, industrial outpost in Mexico’s northeast, right?

Wrong!

Well, OK–small and industrial is a correct description of Saltillo in many ways.  For Mexican cities, Saltillo–with a population of about a million people–is pretty small.  It is very industrial.  It is rather remote, like any city in northern Mexico.

But fortunately, that’s not all that can be said about it.  There are some very solid reasons to fall in love with Saltillo, as my husband and I did our very first week here.  Now that we’ve been here over 10 years, here are 10 reasons why I love Saltillo:

1.  Downtown

Hanging out on the edges of town, where chain restaurants and stores abound, Saltillo could be Anycity, Anywhere.

But head downtown, and experience Saltillo.  Downtown is what makes Saltillo Saltillo.  Let’s face it–50 years ago, there wasn’t much outside of the downtown area anyway.  Even 20 years ago, there wasn’t any city beyond the periferico!

Walking the streets downtown, there’s a real sense of history.  Colonial architecture is noticable, but buildings that are about 100 years old are more predominant.  There’s a certain style to northeastern Mexican architecture, and Saltillo has plenty of those.

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There’s also a plethora of small, free museums that dot downtown, which are worth taking advantage of, in order to get to know Saltillo better.  Start with the Sarape Museum (on Allende), and then wind your way through the Government Palace Museum, the Mexican Revolution Museum, Museum of Graphic Arts, the museum dedicated to the Battle of the Angostura, and the Museum of Coahuilan Presidents.

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sunset over Saltillo

2.  Mountains

Saltillo is nestled in a valley in the Eastern Sierra Madre mountains.  It doesn’t matter which direction you turn here, it’s always possible to see mountains!  To enjoy them up close, head to the rural areas of Arteaga, or join a tour of the Zapaliname with Saltillo’s board of tourism.

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Sanbox at the Gran Bosque Urbano (Ejercito Mexicano).

3.  Parks and Playgrounds

I’ve lived in other cities in Mexico, but none of them do parks a well as Saltillo does!  The parks are regularly maintained (closed on Mondays for maintenance), have working play equipment.  The Gran Bosque Urbano has a lovely, gated playground with a shaded picnic area, lots of trees and bike\walking paths, and an additional, separate dog park.

The Chapulin has hundreds of pecan trees, making it one of the cooler places on Saltillo on a hot day–there’s almost always a breeze!  They’ve got a series of playgrounds, an ampitheater, a cactus garden, and a few vegetable gardens.

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Playground at the Alameda

The Alameda is open everyday.  There’s a big, concrete slide in the playground area, which my 80-year-old neighbor said she played on as a kid!  (Other equipment has been updated, of course.)  The Alameda also boasts a talavera-covered fountain.  When it’s on, copper frogs shoot water into it.  There are two libraries in the Alameda, and a small lake.  On warm days, DIF rents paddle boats on the Alameda’s lake for $30 ($50 at night).  Plus, hanging out that the playground end in the afternoons is doubly-enjoyable, as the city’s Center for Musical Studies is right on the corner of Purcell and Aldama.

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Frog Fountain at the Alameda
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Huge, concrete slides at the Parque Deportivo.

The Deportivo (by the Sarapero’s stadium) has been recently renovated.  They’ve kept their impressive collection of tall, concrete slides.  There are tennis courts, basketball courts, and small soccer fields to use, tables and grills for picnics, and a small lake with a small train that goes around the lake.

The Biblioparque Norte also has soccer fields, tennis courts, basketball courts, a baseball field and sand volleyball.  They don’t have much play equipment for small children, but it is a great place to run around.  The facility used to be a factory, so there’s an empty water-treatment area sunk into the entrance.  It’s a great place for bikes or rollerblading.

4.  Locally-Owned

Like many cities anywhere in the 21st century, we’re beginning to revalue locally-owned businesses.  These are what give any city a lot of its character, and Saltillo is no exception to that rule.

So, if you want to get an authentic taste of Saltillo, you’ll find a higher concentration of locally-owned stores and restaurants downtown.  Wander around, try places, and find a few favorites!

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Orquesta Filharmonica del Desierto de Coahuila

5.  The Arts Scene

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Thamar Villarreal and Evanivaldo Correa in Il Tabarro from Puccini.

Art isn’t the first thing people think of when they think of Saltillo.  In fact, it probably doesn’t even register for most people.  But there’s getting to be more of a focus on locally-produced art.  From the foundation of the Orchestra of the Desert of Coahuila, to small theaters like Casa la Besana and Sala Prisma.  The Teatro de la Ciudad Fernando Soler has something going on just about every weekend.  In March, they have a festival to celebrate their anniversary, with a variety of concerts, plays, and dance groups nearly every day for at least two weeks in March.

Walk down Calle Juarez downtown, between the Cathedral and San Francisco, and there are a few art galleries, the Ruben Herrera Museum, and a block down from the front of the Cathedral is Casa Purcell, which has rotating exhibits.

fisherman mural on Calle Bolivar in  Saltillo

Don’t forget about the amazing murals that dot Calle Bolivar, about 5 blocks east of the Museo de las Aves!

Every July, Rancho El Morillo, on the southwest corner of Saltillo is taken over by Artescenica, a month-long, intensive, internationally-recognized opera workshop.  At the beginning and the end of the month, they have big concerts in the Teatro de la Ciudad Fernando Soler and the Plaza de Armas.  But, just about every evening in the month of July, there are also free recitals at the Rancho El Morillo.  Participants come from all over Mexico, and teachers come from all over the world.  The talent represented is astounding, so don’t miss out on this year’s Encuentro Internacional de Opera this summer!

Most people don’t think about art when they think about Saltillo, but there’s plenty here!

mural tejedor de sarapes

6.  The Saraperos

Mexico is known as the land of soccer, but that’s not necessarily true for Saltillo.  Most saltillenses  seem to prefer baseball and American football to soccer.  (Soccer is still big here–but it doesn’t seem to be the favorite sport of most.)

Estadio Fransisco I. Madero, P16-08-10 20.37

Last year, sitting in the general section at a Sarapero game, I began to understand a fascination with sports and following your team.  Even thought you may not know anyone else sitting with you in the stadium, you’re immediately part of a group.  There’s a community spirit at a sport stadium, and it’s rather contagious!

In need of some Saltillo spirit?  Check out a Sarapero’s game.  The season starts in April this year.  Sit in the general section (instead of the numbered seats below) and you’ll have a much louder, enthusiastic experience!

And, as half the team is made up of foreigners, half the team rightfully belongs to SaltilloExpats, too!  (We do love the Mexican half of the team every bit as much as the foreign half.)  Go, Saraperos!

Dinosaur hall Museo del Desierto

7.  The Desert Museum

People often ask me what to do in Saltillo.  If you haven’t been to the Desert Museum (Museo del Desierto) yet, you haven’t seen Saltillo yet!

If you want a whirlwind tour of Coahuila’s southeast corner–geologically, natural history, human history, and locally-sourced zoo, the Desert Museum provides all that!

For a longer review of the Desert Museum, click here.

8.  Catón

Don Armando Fuentes Aguirre–or Catón–as he is better known, is Saltillo’s most famous citizen.

To be honest, simply being famous is no great recommendation in my book.

However, in my 10 years here, it has become clear that this man has a lot to do with what Saltillo is today.  Whether he embodies Saltillo’s character or whether he’s founded so many institutions that make Saltillo Saltillo, I really can’t say.

Don Catón is a man of many talents, but he’s best known for his syndicated columns that appear daily in newspapers nationally.  My husband and his cousin will sit and read the paper, laughing out loud at whatever Catón wrote that day.  I’ll read the same thing, rather lost.  Even though I may understand every word, jokes in Spanish are still sometimes lost on me.

However, I’ve heard Don Armando speak in public, and yes–he is really funny.  Besides trying to make everyone laugh on a daily basis (he also makes some prominent points or social commentary along with his jokes . . . he’s got a wry sense of humor), he’s also the Cronista de la Ciudad, which is an official position in any city, keeping record of Saltillo’s past and present.  He’s been a teacher, studied to be a lawyer, founded the newspaper Vanguardia, been rector of the Autonomous University of Coahuila, and started Radio Concierto–among other things.

Caton's books

But the best thing about Don Armando is that he doesn’t think of himself as a big shot.  My cousin worked for the Coahuila Book Fair, and, of course, dozens and dozens of authors were invited to present their work.  Catón was invited and came.  My cousin was rather appalled by the self-importance and diva-ness of so many of the authors.  But Don Armando, who is more famous and prolific than most of these other authors, was always pleasant to talk with and was visibly happy for the opportunity to share his work appear at this fair.

Now, basic decency shouldn’t make one an exemplary person, but in this day and age, it does!

Don Catón continues to give back to Saltillo in a number or different ways, and modern Saltillo wouldn’t be the same without him!

(Fun fact:  he also studied journalism at Indiana University, so he and I were possibly the only two Hoosiers in Saltillo for awhile!)

These last two points are rather particular for my experience, but have had the most impact on why I love Saltillo.

9.  Coro Vox Amoris and the AFA Opera Workshop

Three years ago, I came across a facebook announcement for an open audition for a choral section to accompany the Orchestra of the Desert whenever they might be in need of a vocal section.  Intrigued, I went.  Much to my amazement, I was accepted!

Coro Vox Amoris

Participating in this choir has been one of the highlights of my time in Saltillo.  Not only have I grown as a musician, but this choir has been my escape and a great source of community.  We’re an eclectic group:  there’s about 40 of us, ranging in age from 18-60+.  Despite our age differences, (among many other differences) we all to admire and appreciate each other, so it’s a great group to be a part of.

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Sour Angelica

Thichoir accompanies the AFA Opera Workshop of Coahuila, and this fall we presented Pucchini’s Trittico of three one-act operas (Il Tabarro, Suor Angelica, and Gianni Schicchi).  We’ve got more opera projects in the works!  Stay tuned in June!

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Gianni Schicchi

I never thought I’d ever be comfortable talking about opera, much less singing it, but participating in Coro Vox Amoris has been an unexpected–yet very gratifying–part of my education!

10.  Bible study group

My oldest child was born two months after we moved to Saltillo.  If moving isn’t isolating, moving when about to have one’s first baby really is!  After about a year of living here, (and only knowing about three neighbors well enough to visit), I was so desparate for friends that I randomly messaged people on facebook.

Fortunately, I stumbled on one woman who had been in the same boat as me.  (Not only recently moved to Saltillo, first child, but also a gringa married to a Mexican!)  She knew of a regular meetup of women at a coffee shop and a nondenominational Bible study that included free babysitting.

She had me at free babysitting.

But, given the whole “Faith Life” section of this blog, I am pretty into Bible study, too.  And thank goodness, I am, because this group has been my family over my 10 years here.  The members of the group have come and gone, but there’s a certain continuity to it that keeps it the same, despite the change in faces.

So, thank you English Women’s Bible study group at SALT church!  Saltillo would have been a much lonelier experience for all of us, had this group not existed!

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And, for those facing a move, I can’t recommend highly enough how useful churches (particularly small groups) are for making friends.  For those who’d rather not hang out at church, that’s why I started SaltilloExpats!

Now, for a Catholic woman fluent in Spanish, it does seem a little strange that I felt it necessary to head all the way to the other side of town to hang out in a nondenominational church to find some fellowship.  While mass in Spanish is marvelous, and it’s hard to go more than three blocks without finding a Catholic church, most Catholic churches aren’t great at cultivating community.  (And let me tell you, the Diocese of Saltillo encourages community much better than other communities I’ve lived in!)  It’s just that Mexican community revolves around family.  So for those of us without family here . . . it’s really kind of difficult.

And for those who don’t speak Spanish–it’s even more difficult!

So take advantage of community where you can find it!  I’m glad I did!

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Photo of Catón by Ricardo Gomez on Wiki Commons.

Photo of the Sarapero’s game at the Francisco I. Madero Stadium by Inuyasha gcn on Wiki Commons. 

This post is part of the South of the Border Bloggers’ February Blog Hop on “Why I Love Mexico.”  Click on any of the links below to find more reasons to love Mexico!  (Or, if you’re a blogger in Mexico, add your own post and join us!)