IT'S A FOUR-HOUR BUS JOURNEY NORTHWEST FROM MEXICO CITY to San Miguel de Allende, a journey that takes the traveler away from smog-choked streets, smoky factories, and auto body shops shrouded in clouds of fumes. of paint, away from the people, the people, the people.
But San Miguel in the middle of a party is not a great refuge. My wife and I recently arrived there for Easter weekend to find ourselves in the middle of the Mexican version of Spring Break. Hordes of drunken hikers from Mexico City filled every bar and restaurant and roamed the downtown streets howling, chanting, and singing off-key serenades.
Walking towards the Oratorio de San Felipe Neri church, I encountered an army of street sweepers in orange overalls busily cleaning up trash from the day's Good Friday procession. Ripples of dust and manchineel petals swirled in the air, mixing with diesel exhaust from buses that spewed out an endless stream of party-ready newcomers. The Puddle of Ingenuity tending cacti That night, as I tossed and turned, there was a constant clamor of church bells that sounded neither romantic nor exotic, more like a John Cage composition of sheet metal percussion playing an endless loop in my brain. . I have never considered myself a moody traveler, but this was too much. Even my wife was muttering about finding Valium over the counter. But the next day, someone suggested we flee the city and take a walk around the region's newest and least resort-like attraction: the botanical preserve called El Charco del Ingenio, La Piscina del Ingenio.
El Charco, which takes its name from its series of river pondscas and the fact that the term ingenio was traditionally applied in colonial America to those who built hydraulic works, it covers more than 160 acres on the plateau above San Miguel. Although it's only 15 minutes from the city center by taxi, it's so far off the beaten tourist path that even my taxi driver didn't know where it was. I asked him to drop me off at Gigante, the huge, ugly orange and pink neo-deco supermarket that happens to be near the new prison. I trudged across the dusty plain, past a local dump decorated with what looked like the remains of bitter love: underwear, shawls, and shoes angrily tossed among burnt cans and broken rum bottles, and followed a dirt road that led to a wide wooden platform. gate. Here was El Charco del Ingenio. And for five pesos, peace was mine.