High on a hill above San Miguel de Allende is the entrance to El Charco del Ingenio, the botanical gardens of local plants which flourish at elevations above 6000 feet in the Sierra Madre mountains. Some of the plants, like this barrel cactus, have been rescued when they were due to be destroyed during construction of dams, highway projects, aquifers, or buildings. Some barrel cacti live hundreds of years, and I was amazed that they could be transplanted and survive.
Dusty feet wandered miles of dusty paths above a green and verdant valley floor, which terminated at a dam above a rocky chasm.
This was the point where Mateo and I lost Nikk and everyone else. Nikk had gone scrambling down some huge boulders while Mateo and I waited at the dam. We finally continued back across the dam, down a long trail, to suddenly reunite with everyone in a spectacular canyon. According to a map, the canyon continues it’s steeply winding way until it ends at a cliff above SM de A.
If you look closely at the next picture, you’ll see an American Coot (that’s a bird, not Nikk) down in the canyon pool.
After this, unbeknownst to me, Nikk climbed down a metal ladder bolted to the cliff face to the pools in the bottom of the canyon. My sprained foot was barely able to hike, and not to be trusted on ladders or for too much boulder scrambling. Luckily everyone made it back to the entrance for much-needed drinks and snacks at the little cafe. I found out that I’d also missed the trail that went to the overlook above SM de A, with a sweeping view of the city and valley.
I must have been inspired by the botanical gardens, because I actually purchased a dress from a little shop in SM de A.
The next day we said goodbye to San Miguel de Allende, without even beginning to explore the art galleries, and barely sampling the coffee shops, cantinas, restaurants and blocks of artisanal crafts and foods. Now we were headed for Atotonilco and then Guanajuato.
Fourteen km from SM d A is a turnoff to the little village of Atotonilco, population 597, with a World Heritage Site designation due to the Sanctuary of Atotonilco, a complex built in the 18th century under the direction of a Father Neri. Most of the walls and ceilings are covered in murals, oil paintings, and decorated with sculptures in the Mexican Baroque style. Many of the murals were painted by an indigenous native, Antonio Martinez de Pocasangre, and have given the site the name of “The Sistene Chapel of Mexico”. “Atotonilco” is a Nahuatl word meaning “the hot springs” due to the profusion of hot springs in the area. Unfortunately, the presence of the hot springs at the sanctuary has caused severe deterioration of the buildings and artwork. Very recently federal and World Heritage monies have paid for restoration of some of the buildings, artwork, and the draining of some wells to decrease humidity. Some of the images of Jesus are very bloody, and some murals depict Jesus rewarding some recently deceased humans with heaven, while sentencing others to hell, where they already spout horns. One site I read said that the painting style mimics the Flemish school of painting, because of some paintings brought to the site with that style. You decide what you think after looking at some of the images. Due to our time around sailing ships I’ll include one ceiling mural depicting a battle between Spanish and Ottoman ships, I didn’t expect to see ships on the ceiling of a church!
This last picture shows how the parts of the site not restored have deteriorated.
On our way out we kept following the same road we came in on, and soon passed a sculpture carved from a tree root, sitting on a wall. It was one of many roads taken which did not go directly to Guanajuato, and that was the reason we arrived in Guanajuato at 8pm, somehow managing to find the Monumento Pipila, the parking lot, and our wonderful bed and breakfast, Casa Zuniga. But that story and the story of our time in Guanajuato will have to wait for the next blog, which I promise will be either tomorrow or by this weekend at the latest.