Just outside of town by taxi (a 40 peso fare), is a nature reserve that saves my spirit from time to time.
El charco del Ingenio is a botanical park designed and built with the conservation of nature, especially Mexican flora, in mind. Located within the urban zone, the charco is 220 acres of recreational and spiritual space within walking distance of the city center. Granted, it's a long walk.
As much as I enjoy the city's constant stimulation of activities and entertainment, I need some down time to get recharged and reclaim my sense of well being. As an introvert and a type 9 in the enneagram system, the overload of stimulation that the city provides eventually depletes me of my energy and good will. I start to get anxious and withdrawn, seeing only the negative around me, especially towards people and especially the gringos. I need to move away from the constant noise, traffic and commotion that seems like the blood that keeps a city alive.
We caught a cab on the ancha de San Antonio, a wide street that leads out of town near our apartment, and I listened to Susan chat it up with the driver in rapid spanish. I caught every fifth word or so trying to follow along before I gave up and just stared out the window as the city faded to sparsely placed squat concrete buildings and the cobbled road gave way to fine tan dirt the texture of powdered sugar. We arrived at the entrance to the park, paid and proceeded to hike leisurely down the maintained trail.
I noticed myself exhaling the weight of the city and inhaling the revitalizing nature that surrounded me. That was the moment when I started to reclaim myself as a natural part of my environment. I felt like I was a missing piece of a jigsaw puzzle that was finally being put into place to complete the image of a benign world. As we wandered down through the nopal cactus, mesquite and pepper trees, each step was a healing process for me and every breath of clean air rejuvenated. As I write these words and relive my experience I can't help but feel like I'm being over dramatic about the effect the place had on me but it really feels like the truth. Continuing down the gentle slope we soon found ourselves in a greenhouse with hundreds of types of unique cactus and native plants grouped in mounds of land separated by a meandering circulating stream. I took a lot of pictures of individual plants and was taken by the beauty of each one. The spiny protective quills on these cactus amazed me and I studied them closely. I considered the evolutionary process these plants underwent over millennium in order to be protected from predators. Frankly, the extent of spinyness that some of them exhibited seemed a little extreme and unnecessary. But, who was I to judge.
Back outside we continue down toward the receding brown waters of the reservoir. I commented to Susan on the low level and how dirty the water is but that the ducks don't seem to mind. Bright crimson red birds landed on top of the organos and appeared even more brilliant with the backdrop of a stunning deep blue sky. I found myself becoming more aware, and receptive of the nature around me, allowing myself to open to my relationship with it and to relax.
My hat blew off in the wind while crossing the reservoirs ancient dam and I climbed down from the sides of the rocky gorge to retrieve it, watching for (anticipating) an encounter with a snake. No such luck this time. Looking back up the canyon my eyes followed the rusty iron aqueduct that hugs the cliff running the length of the canyon walls. The enormous pipe was constructed in the late 1800's as part of a reservoir and dam project for the purpose of supplying water to generate electricity at the now long closed, Aurora textile factory located below within the city of San Miguel. Prior to that, the natural springs that provided the water running through the canyon was utilized by the early Spanish settlers, who built canals, mills, dikes, bridges and workshops. I expect that prior to that, the natives enjoyed it beauty, spiritual energy and natural bounty. I explored some of the structural ruins of the mill as we hiked further down the waterway. It was hard for me to imagine the torrents of water needed to make this old mill grind considering the trickle of water flowing down this arroyo now.
We eventually neared the furthest reaches of the maintained trail and the air was beginning to warm up. Hawks and buzzards circle above us riding on the rising currents. From this vantage we could look down on the city below. It was deceptively silent from this distance. I stepped out onto a rock outcropping to try to record the magnitude of the canyon and the awesome nature around me with my video camera. The enormity of the sheer cliffs and openness of the desert was wondrous, I wanted to selfishly capture and preserve it for myself. But later, reviewing the film I can see that it didn't do justice to the beauty that I experienced at the time. In any case, go here to take a look.
Soon we were back at the entrance after having made the trails complete circuit of the park. We stopped for some cool juice at the tiny cafeteria and rested under the solitary palapa. I ignored the conversations going on between the few other gringos that shared the shade with us. I wanted to maintain my sense of peace I garnered from the environment for as long as possible before re-entering the civilized world. Don't get me wrong, I like the city of San Miguel with it's bustling activities. The taxis, cars and people. The sounds of the knife sharpener's whistle and the trash collectors banging their sheet metal. The dull church bells that echo off the earth colored concrete buildings, planted like hardened earth on cobble stone streets that shine from the polish of constant traffic. But, it wears me out and after a few days or a weeks time, I'm in need of some soul recovery. The type that, for me, only comes from a reconnection with nature. Yes, it was time to go back into the city, my batteries re-charged and my psyche fortified but I still held a small doubt that it was enough to get me through the next week.
-posted by Mark