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Slouching towards spring in San Miguel

storm 15 °C

Not to complain for one minute about our blue skies and vivid colours, but until very recently, our travels though the mountains have kept us in daytime temperatures that have required a sweater and/or a coat. We both brought just one sweater and one jacket, just in case and we haven't taken them off for a month and a half. We are mightily tired of them. In fact, I am mightily tired of most of my clothes, and I am starting to feel like a Mexican widow in the midst of the splendidly jewelled, embroidered,and coiffed gringa ladies who set (pedicured) foot out each day in this about-to-burst-into-spring town. Time to throw off the black and grey, and get into the spirit of the season. Here is one last shot of me in those hated winter clothes, gazing out over the early spring scene at El Charco del Ingenio.


El Charco is a botanical garden, a conservatory of natural plants, a ceremonial space, and a natural reserve with over 200 acres of walking trails, a canyon and several lookouts over the city. It is one of our favourite places in San Miguel. As we waited for the shuttle to take us up there, we chatted with a woman who was a former gallery owner from Terracotta, Ontario, who has lived in San Miguel for 20 years, and who goes up to El Charco every Saturday to walk and observe the seasonal changes. That was our plan - we wanted to see how much the landscape would change in the three weeks we'll be here. We'll visit again and take photos just before we leave San Miguel on March 24th.

Colours right now are limited to grey, green and yellow. Lots of shrubs and small trees are just starting to bud or flower.


A 5'8" man reluctantly standing beside a much bigger cactus to show context.


I wish I had copied the name of this intriguing plant, and I wish it would grow in our climate.


These round cacti, known as biznaga, are endangered - one of the mandates of El Charco to help preserve species. The trestle in the background supports the pipe that used to carry water to the textile mill (no longer active, now houses art galleries and studios).


The magnificent conservatory houses dozens of species of plants, including this crazy flowering tree (sorry, I don't have the name)


The hardscaping of El Charco is at least as stunning as the plantings. Everything is so meticulously planned and implemented. We had the pleasure of chatting with another tourist - an American landscape architect who had worked as part of the team of Expo '67 in Montreal. He was as impressed with this garden as we were - the Mexican craftsmanship is evident here - look at the construction of the little bridge.


We hiked out through the canyon to one of the lookouts. A beautiful view, but we're hoping before we leave that the city will be purple with the jacaranda trees in full bloom - they are just starting now.


At the entrance to the garden, there is a memorial tree to the 43 student teachers who were murdered a year and a half ago. Each small colourful pot has a photo attached. They will never be forgotten - references and memorials and protests are still carried out in almost every city we have visited.


One of the greatest pleasures of being in San Miguel is the walking. The streets twist, turn and beckon with their ever-changing views, and for every painterly sky or far-reaching landscape, there are millions of small details waiting to be discovered.

I could fill a blog with photos of doors, door knockers, door numbers, and other door adornments. This one has it all covered - right down to the old-fashioned lock on the door. Whether the doors are fancy or plain, they all carry the same sense of mystery - what lies beyond them? In many Mexican cities, the doors open right onto the street and give no clue of their interior. Is there a tiled staircase, a leafy interior courtyard, a marble floor, a small fountain? They have house and garden tours in San Miguel, but as you can imagine, they are grand and extravagant. I would dearly love to go on a tour of a regular neighbourhood. I peek in open doorways every chance I get, but I don't have the nerve to take photos.


A cheerful, colourful and welcoming exterior, as befits an art gallery.


I loved the monochromatic beauty of the stone and clay, set off by the spiky plantings.


On one of our walks, we passed by a house that was nearing completion of its renovation. It was one of many on that block that were being completely re-done - the exterior had been preserved, and we're imagining the interior completely modernized.


On that same road, these two gents were riding leisurely along, oblivious to the taxi behind them. They turned off onto a country road just beyond that leads up into the hills. It is not uncommon to see horses and burros right in the centre of town.


This sad shell of concrete is all that remains of someone's dream of building a luxury resort, right on the edge of town. It is a massive L-shaped structure, with a couple of other buildings on the same beautiful piece of land. Even with the grass growing up, you can imagine what might have been. San Miguel is so intriguing that way - it appears on one hand to have pots of money to spend and plenty of people happy to indulge. On the other hand, there are abandoned projects like this, and magnificent old buildings that have become derelict, smack in the middle of a block of beautiful homes. There is much grousing about corruption and misappropriation of funds.


Possibly some of the funds have been diverted to new housing complexes like this one. This is just the entrance
- the homes lie beyond.


A few blocks away, we entered another neighbourhood of high gates and stately plantings. As soon as I peeked through the gate,
I thought, "car commercial."


The first of a series of "sunset photos." This photo was taken from a rooftop restaurant where we enjoyed the view with a cold Victoria (our favourite Mexican beer) and a superb thin-crust pizza.


A small plaza very close to us (Stephen is on the lower level, heading toward the bakery). The lavanderia is in this plaza as well. If I have already told you about the laundry services in Mexico, I'll repeat myself. The lavanderia is similar in all towns in Mexico - you bring in your soiled clothes - plop them in a basket on a scale, and you are handed a receipt with the amount (usually about $3-$4) and a return date and time (sometimes the same day, but often next-day service). You return and are handed your clean clothing - jeans and shorts neatly folded to create a base with shirts and t-shirts folded with sleeves in, and undies folded in threes. No hanging out in a sweaty laundromat, anxiously eyeing other machines while three people wait for the lone operating dryer - this service is a marvel to me.


There are a number of markets in San Miguel - I'll get to them in another posting, but I couldn't resist this photo. We watched the little girl on her bike ride up to the two small children and try to make friends. The little girl on the left was a bit reticent, but before you knew it, they were playing together. Don't you love her little boots?


We feel a bit like that ourselves - having a number of conversations at restaurants or on park benches - circling our potential new friends for a playdate. We have met some very interesting people; we discovered the joy of secondhand shopping at the Tuesday tianguis (used name-brand clothing that is brought in by the bale - pieces sell for 20-70 pesos) , and we have re-discovered the joy of watching movies (Mexican-style, with red wine and popcorn). Lots to tell you the next time.

Posted by millerburr 17:49 Archived in Mexico

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Gracias, once again, for taking me back to Mexico...at least in my memories! Happy spring to us all!

by Marilyn Horn

Can't wait to see the new wardrobe! When does Stephen get his annual guest blog? Kidding … you're doing a great job, Ginny.

by Peter Hohenadel

Love reading your posts while having morning coffee.

by Annie

Ginny, glad to catch up with you. As much as we sometimes love to dislike Mexico's gringo hangout, there's no denying the beauty of SMA. Lovely. And great shots.
Don't know if you remember it, but one of Oaxaca's great restaurants is called Biznaga - after the cactus.

by Nicola Ross

Nicola, I think the challenge with the gringos here are their sheer numbers, and their seeming inability to blend quietly and go unnoticed. There is a collective search for identity, post-retirement, that can be unseemly, especially when contrasted with the quiet dignity of the Mexicans.

All that said, what are we doing here but searching for the meaning of life, so I'm in no position to criticize.

Yes, we loved the Biznaga in Oaxaca, and discovered another restaurant in Queretero by the same name. I'm guessing the biznaga holds special significance for Mexicans. If I had a way to find out about such things, I would love to research the use of medicinal plants in Mexico. Every market is full of herbs and potions, but my lack of Spanish is a deterrent to learning more.

by millerburr

Love the doors and the gardens and the markets! 40 student teachers murdered just last year. Sad but intriguing... WHY? WHO? DID THEY CATCH THOSE RESPONSIBLE? It seems so civilized and yet a bit "wild west" in the Mexico I envision. I have heard that many folks from Canada/ USA make their homes in San Miquel- an artist community. My kind of place to visit but probably not to live... Awaiting the next installment! xox Nattalle

by nattalle tessier

I remember your pictures of the jacaranda trees from you blog last year. They were beautiful! Hope they are in full bloom before you leave. Movies, red wine, popcorn - sounds like you are making yourselves right at home and what a lovely location to do so!

by Heather

The best way to see the interiors of the walled and gated homes is to go to a realtor and my sister did and I went along. We were looking high end, up to a million U.S. and spent the whole day in Ajijik. We were out for coffee, and the realtor brought snacks along. It was so fascinating and sometimes just plain unbelievable. I dragged behind and took photos of all the rooms, and lots of artwork. She didn't buy anything. Thanks again for this treat of a blog.

by Cherryl Reed

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