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It didn't take long for me to feel welcome in Taxco de Alarcón, a colonial town known for its silver. Taxco's maze of cobblestone streets is perfect for solo wandering, and there are enough -- some say up to 900 -- silver jewelry shops and art galleries to provide days of shiny distractions.

Many visitors come to brush up on Spanish or hone their silversmithing skills at the Centro de Estudios Para Extranjeros (Center of Studies for Foreigners) run by the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (National Autonomous University of Mexico). But I was in town for a weekend reprieve from the noise and crowds of Mexico City.

Where to Eat and Drink in Taxco, Mexico

One of the first destinations on my list was Café Sasha, a classic backpacker coffeehouse with vegetarian fare. I was greeted by Sacha Nanay, a Chicago native and the café's namesake. We talked about world travel as I enjoyed curry (a welcome sight after months of tacos al pastor) and a corona. She told me that she and her business partner, fellow Chicagoan Javier Vasquez, wanted to create a place that reminded them of their trips through India. The walls are covered with psychadellic "Om" symbols and images of a dancing Shiva. The café is often home to late-night drum circles and jam sessions.

"I'm not traveling anymore, but now the world comes to me," Nanay says.

It turns out I'm not the only one to receive such a warm welcome. After running the café with Vasquez for more than a decade, Nanay is a seasoned host. She has made lifelong friends in the café and even acted as matchmaker for customers who later married and had children.

The economic downfall has now provided Nanay with an opportunity to extend her hospitality even further. This year, she converted two stories of her home into a hostel. "Being single is tough with this economy," she explains "I love my house and didn't want to move, and it's kind of an extension of the café."

Where to Stay in Taxco, Mexico

Since many of her customers have already come to think of the café as a home away from home, staying a night or two at the hostel has been a natural transition. Nanay says most of the guests inquire about signs posted in the café, and she personally escorts them the two blocks up a steep alleyway to the hostel. The entire endeavor works out well for travelers who are excited to find curry and teriyaki in the heart of Mexico.

You can stay free in a dormitory-style room if you spend 150 pesos in the café. If you spend 500 pesos, you'll get a private room at no extra cost. The rooms are also available without a purchase from the café for 100 and 350 pesos, respectively. Nanay says that so far her guests have included designers, art students, and "worldly people on spiritual missions."

"A lot of people want an alternative to the cliche Cancún and Cabo San Lucas thing," Nanay says. "Since Taxco has a history of artisans, it attracts people who want more from their vacation than a silly T-shirt."

Like Nanay herself, the bohemian-style rooms are decorated with bright woven blankets that are used as comforters. Street scene photographs line the walls. Guests in the single rooms have access to a terrace that has sweeping views of the nearby Santa Prisca Cathedral and the valley.

Despite her awe-inspiring surroundings, Nanay says she still has the itch for wandering. She's planning trips to New York and India this year. Hopefully she'll be around for my next jaunt through town.

More Information

Café Sasha (Calle Juan Ruiz de Alarcón 1; tel. 762/627-6464; e-mail cafesasha@gmail.com) Guests interested in the hostel can contact the café directly.

Centro de Estudios Para Extranjeros (Ex Hacienda El Chorillo/SN; tel. 762/622 0124; 762/622-3410; www.cepetaxco.unam.mx)