A Near Getaway

Last Saturday, with nothing else on my calendar, I took myself to El Charco del Ingenio, the botanical gardens here in San Miguel de Allende. I took a taxi (fare: 100 pesos), paid the entrance fee (50 pesos), and spent the morning wandering around this glorious nature preserve by myself, snapping dozens of photos, stopping to do a quick watercolor sketch, and paying attention to nature in a way I’d never quite done before when I’ve hiked there with a friend.

Sometimes we just need to get away — don’t you agree? – and be alone with nature, in all her awe-inspiring glory. Sometimes the news of the mess we humans are making of this world gets depressing — don’t you think?  “There are moments,” Thoreau said, “when all anxiety and stated toil are becalmed in the infinite leisure and repose of nature.”

It’s really nice to know we can still turn to nature for some solace. And El Charco, this peaceful, grand getaway nestled in a breathtaking canyon, is so near to us in SMA — only minutes from el centro.

So there we were last Saturday – just me and the millions of honeybees humming and buzzing around in the tall acacia trees’ bright yellow flowers, and the tiny translucent fish swimming in the grand greenhouse‘s narrow winding pond, and the graceful egrets feeding in the reservoir’s then-shallow waters. Yes, there were a handful of humans too, whom I passed on the winding, well-kept, well-delineated pathways; but we were all quiet and respectful of our serene surroundings.

If you look closely, you’ll see the bees
The grand greenhouse
Egrets — from a distance
Along the well-kept pathway

The sky was blue, the temperature mild, the air fresh, and the time was, well, timeless. This canyon, it seems, has been here since the beginning of time and used by the local indigenous peoples for thousands of years.

I noticed, for the first time, that one of the ruins on the pathway is that of a water mill dating from the late 16th century. According to the nearby signage, “… Water spilled from the aqueduct, spinning a vertical wooden wheel with its axis on a stone base, thus creating energy” for milling seeds and treating wool at the textile factories during the Spanish rule.

Remnants of the water mill

Another fascinating item I’ve always sailed by without really noticing whenever I’ve visited El Charco with a friend (we’d be too busy talking and catching up on each other’s news), is the deep, dark Pool of El Chan at the bottom of the canyon. El Chan, according to a centuries-old legend, is “a mythic being from the underworld” who dwells in these mysterious waters and “likes to show its terrible power to those daring to approach it.”

The deep pool is the darkest area on the right

Well, moving right along…

I paid closer attention than ever before to El Charco’s extensive collection of cacti and other succulent plants, many of which, I learned, are in danger of extinction.

An area filled with “rescued plants”
The fruit of this type of cactus, known as “tunas” here  and “prickly pear” elsewhere, is a popular, edible treat

At the water’s edge I stopped to sketch the reservoir, which was, alas, still low on water. Perhaps by now, though, after more recent heavy rains, the reservoir is fuller, wetter, and bluer. If you’re in SMA, you must go and see for yourself – and, while you’re there, restore your soul, as I did last Saturday.

My quick watercolor sketch of the reservoir at El Charco last Saturday

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20 thoughts on “A Near Getaway”

  1. You fed your soul, so important. The one thing I really love about Oregon, every color of green trees. Something I had really missed. Nature feeds my soul, wonderful quote by Thoreau. So needed in these crazy times. Thanks for sharing, you are always such a pleasure to read. Hugs, Susie SS

  2. Thank you for reminding us how restorative being quiet in nature can be….and it is just 20 minutes from Centro.

  3. I was there this past February and yes it was beautiful. Thank you for sharing the beauty from another perspective.

  4. Wonderful post, and gorgeous watercolor! I want to share some more fun facts about El Charco. Although it began as a generous donation of land by one of San Miguel’s oldest families, it is now almost entirely community funded and is said to be the largest botanical garden in Mexico. It unites scientists with indigenous communities to study and conserve Mexico’s rich and biodiverse plants. Recently one of these scientists discovered an entirely new plant species at the base of the El Charco canyon. Because of its important work, El Charco was the recent winner of the latest community funding from 100 Women Who Care in July 2023.

  5. I’m so glad you find the canyon and El Charco soothing and restorative. I was blessed to live on the edge of the canyon for 18 years and enjoyed the nightly array of egrets flying by and, at one time, about 20 years ago a Shepherd took a herd of goats into the canyon at 8AM each morning and brought them back out at 5PM. They were taken inside a house on Cuahtemoc to be milked and that was sold to housewives in our Colonia of Azteca! It was absolute paradise when they would open the flood gates in the park after the rains and I would awaken to the sound of waterfalls cascading down the canyon. Just two of a zillion stories I could share.

  6. The best thing about nature, is that it provides a different palette with each season. And even within each season, the more you pay attention, the more surprising the things you begin to notice. Along with your painting, it becomes a time of rejuvenation. Your perspective on life’s worries, changes too, I find.
    Your posts always provide me with more reading! Why, I ask myself, would a cactus be in danger of extinction? It turns out, humans have over-harvested the plant for sales.
    The posts often trigger special memories too. My father used to carefully peel those prickly pears for a few weeks each year, when they were being sold in the grocery store, with a knife and fork and then he would put them in the fridge. On a really hot day, their sweet juice and seedy flesh were fantastic and exotic. It turns out that in his childhood, these plants offered nourishment to a near starving boy.

    1. Yes, dear Loula, over-harvesting as well as over-development of the land… Thank you, as ever, for contributing so richly to the conversation and for your poignant story of your dad’s enjoyment of the cactus’s prickly pears.

  7. Dear Bon,
    What a beautiful landscape you bring us to. Despite its fairly recent establishment, it has a timeless quality that must give you a sense of being part of nature. I read the three articles you linked, all of which had wonderful pictures. Together with the pictures in this post, I felt like I experienced almost the same sense of wonder as you felt being there.
    Thank you for this delightful excursion.

    1. Ah, Paul dear, I’m SO glad you had the experience of being here from this post! And you read the attached articles — I think you’re the only WOW reader who did! 🙂 Thank you. You make all this worthwhile. — Mucho love from MX, BB xx

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