The Café Tal, Guanajuato: Where Everybody Knows Your Name

Located in the eastern part of pedestrian-friendly Guanajuato, in the colonial highlands of Mexico, the Café Tal is a center of activity. Young and old—the locals, the travelers, the international students, and the expats—find their way there for good coffee. It is also a center for good company and conversation.

My wife, Monica, and I were in Guanajuato researching long-term apartment rentals. I met a man at the Café Tal, a customer whose first name is John, who has lived in Guanajuato for a decade. For the first few years he traveled back and forth between Toronto, Canada and here, renting first short- and then long-term apartments. Eight years ago, realizing that he could not afford to retire in Toronto, he sold his house, moved to Guanajuato and bought a home. “It was a bit under $100,000 (Canadian),” he told me, “less than half of what I sold my house for in Toronto.”

“There was, and is, no way I could afford to retire the way that I want to in Canada or even the U.S. Here I can, and I have.” After a long pause he continued. “And I’ve made a lot of friends here, Mexican as well as from up north, actually from everywhere.” Right on cue, a man walked in to order and said, “Hola” to him by name. “I’ll catch you later,” John said to his friend. “I’m being interviewed.” And they both laughed loudly.

Another day, I got talking to two women in the crowded lower section of the café. One of the ladies, Meg, has been coming to Guanajuato for each of the last four winters and teaches part-time at the Escuela de Idiomas at the University of Guanajuato. She still owns a home near Portland, Oregon but has found Guanajuato “addictive” and spends four to six months here every winter. The other lady, Ann, is from Vancouver, BC and was visiting for a month. She hoped to take some Spanish classes at the university or at the Escuela Mexicana, a nearby center for language studies.

A few days later, Monica and I had an appointment to view a long-term rental apartment. Jen, the property manager, emailed that we could come by one morning at 11 a.m. I called and asked her how we would find her, since the apartments are not listed or show up on the map on my phone. She suggested that we meet at the Café Tal, since the apartments are at the top of the long callejon (alleyway) that runs from the café up to the Panoramica, high above Guanajuato.

We met, right on time and we walked, as she said, up and up and up to the apartments. She had a story similar to what we’d been hearing. “I came for six months to study Spanish and decided to stay. That was 10 years ago.”

The apartment we viewed was simple, but with all a couple would need, including a kitchen and several separate rooms. A small balcony overlooking the city made a perfect place for coffee in the mornings and drinks in the evenings. Jen, who previously had lived in Seattle, Washington, explained that the rent was about $650 a month but was less if we stayed longer, down to about $500 a month if we committed to a full year.

After wandering around the lovely grounds, complete with many types of cacti and fruit trees, Monica and I took the comparatively easy walk back down the callejon to the town and the Café Tal. The walk had made us thirsty so we stopped in for another coffee, iced this time. There were all new people there, some locals, some students, some tourists, and some expats. We sat at a small table near a window in the large open section and sighed in exhaustion and contentment. All around us were voices in Spanish and English and other languages. Monica and I looked at each other, silently sipped our iced coffees, and listened.

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