Looking back on these four months, I find myself quite grateful for having had the San Miguel experience. So far, if there is any place on this journey that we would return for a lengthier stay, it is here.
Finally, during our last week or so, we checked out some places we’d been wanting to see. We needed less talk more action, and we got it.
Jardín Botánico el Charco del Ingenio
The El Charco botanical garden is one of those places I wish we had visited earlier, because I would’ve gone multiple times. With 88 hectares, one can easily find herself lost in the beauty of the place. Housing native plants, animals, and insects, it’s a nature lover’s paradise.
Santuario de Atotonilco
It took me four months to correctly pronounce the name of this town not because it’s hard, but because my brain gets lazy everytime it sees so many vowels and consonants strung together in that particular format – vowel, consonant, vowel, consonant, vowel consonant, vowel, consonant, vowel, consonant. It’s pronounced like this: Awe-Toe-Toe-Neal-Co. Only about 40 kilometers away, Atotonilco makes for a quick jump from San Miguel. Had it not been for our landlady who told us about the place, we would’ve missed out on some interesting tidbits about Atotonilco.
Formerly called the Sanctuary of God and Country (Santuario de Dios y de la Patria), the church and its accompanying grounds now go by the name Sanctuary of Jesús Nazareno de Atotonilco whereas the town is called Santuario de Atotonilco. To confuse matters more, it is a World Heritage Site, but seemingly mostly because Atotonilco is connected to San Miguel de Allende. Otherwise, one would surmise that the title World Hertitage Site does not come with any specific criteria and is handed out like beads during Mardi Gras.
According to Wikipedia, The complex was built in the 18th century by Father Luis Felipe Neri de Alfaro who, according to tradition, was called upon by a vision of Jesus with a crown of thorns on his head and carrying a cross.
The complex, more like a compound, holds regularly “retreats” for the thousands who pilgrimage to Atotonilco for a week at a time. After learning more about these pilgrimages, it waxes religious cult to me – think self-flagellation and bloodied skulls from wearing crowns of thorns.
Most stunning are the murals, Baroque in style, and a 30-year endeavor by Mexican artist Antonio Martinez de Pocasangre. Because of Martinez de Pocasangre’s work, the church work has been nicknamed the Sistine Chapel of Mexico. Whether it is The Last Judgment or Pontius Pilot, each mural tells a detailed story.
Capilla del Santo Sepulcro
I paid 15 pesos to see this interesting chapel. The murals here focus on death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. RUMOR has it that there is a reason you do not see three men on crosses: As the story goes, two criminals hung beside Jesus. One, the Impenitent Thief, blasphemed Jesus saying something to the effect of, if you are really Christ save yourself and us, and the other (the Good Thief) was like, dude, you are the impenitent thief, this guy (Jesus) has done nothing wrong. Need I remind you that WE are the actual criminals here? You should be afraid of the consequence of your words.
He then asked Jesus to remember him and the other guy remained a non-believer. SO, supposedly, in the not-to-distant past, the blasphemous criminal and his cross were ripped out of this chapel and disposed of by an angry mob of retreaters. Thousands of years later, and those truly devout don’t want Jesus to be in the presence of nonbelievers, even inanimate nonbelievers, like a statue. Thousands of years later, and those truly devout are willing to deface a church, which is a CRIME btw, to save (a STATUE of) Jesus from being in the presence of a nonbelieving STATUE. You draw your own conclusion.
Walk to the Egret Tree at Del Chorro
For the first two months of our stay in San Miguel, we saw flocks of egrets off in the distance. From our vantage point, they could have been miles away. Turns out, they were just a few blocks but WAY up high.
Last Day of School
There are many people that I’ll miss but none like the staff and estudiantes at Centro Mexicano de Langue y Cultura. Josefina, the Director, has created something very special, a school so charming and calming and loving that I feel as if I’m coming home each time I walk through the door. If you plan to take Spanish classes in San Miguel, hands down this is the place to go. You will learn so much more than grammar or conversational Spanish, because here, if you take the opportunity, you can immerse yourself in the gracious culture of this school.
Día de San Miguel Arcangel
September 29 marks the day San Miguel honors St. Michael the Archangel and Patron saint of this beautiful town. While the celebrations usually take place the weekend following September 29, we lucked out being here on the actual day, which was during the weekend.
I wasn’t one bit surprised to see that September 29th marks the day honoring St. Michael, but naturally the party started September 27 and ends October 4.
To read and understand more about this most unique festival, check out the Atención’s article. There you will learn more about the Xuchiles, and the ancient tradition known as the encounter where different tribes of the Chichimecas meet and ask for forgiveness for any misunderstandings, mistreatment, or offensive behaviors from the other tribes.
From the Atención:
The word xúchil comes from the Nahuatl xúchitl, which means “flower.” The xúchiles are large offerings made of marigolds and cucharilla, leaves from a local type of cactus. The xúchiles were something like a coffin for the ancient Chichimecas. Because they did not have enough money to buy coffins to bury their loved ones, they used to build structures that consisted of two parallel poles with crossbeams. The structures were decorated with flowers, and over them the corpse was placed in order to be carried to the grave. When the body was buried, the xúchil was placed over the grave as an offering. Later, the marigolds and cucharillas were added to the offerings. Nowadays, the structures are carried by 12 men and can weigh close to 500 kilos. When the entrance of the xúchiles ends, the offerings are placed outside la Parroquia. During the entrance of the xúchiles around 12 large xúchiles are brought to the church.
Early Saturday, September 28
La Alborada means dawn. The dawn fireworks that kick off the week-long celebrations are highly anticipated by all, including myself.
I awoke at 2:30 after falling to sleep about 1:00. The partying had never stopped and only seemed to be gathering speed by this point. I dragged myself out of bed knowing that staying there and being eaten alive by curiosity was a fate worse than getting up and feeling dragged out but emotionally satisfied. Up to the rooftop I went, camera and tripod in hand. Missing the piece of my tripod that actually connects my camera to the device, I was left to my own devices. Fortunately, I had a solid 90 minutes before the fireworks were to begin. All the while, I could hear the festivities and presumed the step-by-step activities: At 3:00 AM, the processions are coming to the Centro and meeting together at the Jardin. I could hear the music and envision the Mojigangas meeting together at the corner of Hidalgo and Canal. The Alborada is where the Mojigangas (giant puppets) made their debut, and now they can be found at almost any celebration. I felt envious to not be there but figured it wasn’t a good idea to go out alone at 3:00 AM knowing 85% of the people I would encounter would be drunk. So, I sat on the roof wistfully imagining the great fun I was missing.
The fireworks started about 4:00 AM. Scott came up to join me about 4:30, just around the time someone turned the lights off at the Parroquia. Such an eerie scene – one second this monumental church was lit up like the Eiffel Tower, and the next it goes completely dark. I watched the whole thing, which went until about 5:30. I stayed up for another hour making the video (see below).
Watching the horse parade and blessing of the horses was a notable moment in my Mexican experience. Hundreds of cowboys and cowgirls praying while on their horses and then parading the horses out of El Jardin made for quite the spectacle.
I’m sure there’s a more correct or traditional name than Exploding Puppets, but I have no idea what it may be. Directly following the exit of the horses came a parade of people carrying what appeared to be miniature mojigangas, but these puppets were on sticks. They were vibrant and full of character. It was hot, and I decided to head out. Imagine my surprise when I heard explosions and turned to see these beautiful puppets blowing to smithereens. Mexicans sure do like to blow up things!
It was great fun!
September 29, 2013
This is the actual day, the day that honors San Miguel’s Patron Saint Michael or Señor San Miguel. I was wiped out after having had only about three hours of sleep but was told by Rafael, a local shopkeeper, that tonight’s fireworks are the best I will ever see in my life. WHO could pass that up? Despite my incredulity at his claim, I went, and fortunately my man went with me. I understood immediately the funny structures that were being raised earlier in El Jardin. They were like towers with funky circles and other designs.
For two days Voladores, the high-flying acrobats, entertained the crowds with death-defying, risk-ridden feats of grace and strength.
By the time I started taping, the performance was over, but this video still highlights the brilliant, shimmering, musical, fun-filled festivities at El Jardin that night.
I haven’t seen a crowd like this since I was on the metro in Mexico City. El Jardin was jam-packed and now I understand the reason. It’s not just that folks relish in watching things blow up, but it’s a long-standing tradition. I have learned the Mexicans take pride in their traditions, as do many cultures.
Okay, the Firework Castillos (castillos de fuegos?) was one of the nuttiest things I have EVER seen. The castillos, like towers, had tiers of different designs (think hearts, Christmas bells, flowers) that spinned and whirled and spit out fireworks. The folks setting them off were late getting started. By 9:00 the lightening could be seen behind the Parroquia. Whistles, the universally Mexican sound for get a move on, could be heard from thousands of people. The first one was to our right. Awestruck, I watched this structure explode. It was like the burning man of St. Michael.
**** But WAIT! This thing gets better and scary! ****
The grand finale involved an intricate flower-like piece that blew off the top and went high into the air. I later learned it was intended to explode into a monumentally incredible firework display. Something went amuck, and the metal piece came crashing back down to earth in a fiery flower ball of flames. Fortunately for the crowd of people it was aiming at, they were either very aware, very agile or not drunk enough to strand themselves beneath this potentially lethal flower. UNBELIEVABLE. A guy next to us mentioned how last year a rocket went whizzing by his head. THESE are Mexican moments of the most memorable kind.
For the last three days the song Burning Ring of Fire has been on continuous play in my brain.
The next castillo was just in front of us. The downpour started prior to the grand finale, which may have been most auspicious. If that one had also malfunctioned I would have been rolling the tape with that thing landing on my head. We departed before they lit the remaining castillos. With no cover and no rain gear, we were getting soaked to the bone.
You may have to turn down the volume about midway through this video, because it was truly an ear-piercing whirly bird sound.
Danzars de los Xúchiles
The following video shows the Danzars de los Xúchiles. Dozens of indigenous groups came to join in on this parade of music and incredible feathered (am I being too optimistic in thinking those are synthetic feathers and no birds were harmed?) and flowered costumery. My heart melted watching all the small niños dancing. The video, about 2 hours of taping consolidated into 8 minutes, reflects a combination of stills and footage.
El Jardin y La Parroquia
Still shining from the lingering festivities, the jardin and parroquia remain a site to behold.
Walkabouts and Good-Byes
It’s hard to say good-bye especially when we are rushed to organize our things and prepare for the next leg of this adventure. We met up with different friends during our last week here, and we also took some strolls around town knowing we won’t be back to this lovely place for a long time…if ever again.
In lieu of words, I have photos of recent jaunts around town. The stormy skies offer a dramatico backdrop to the vibrant colors of this gorgeous town. My new and temporary motto: Less paragraphs more photographs!
Aurea taught us the phrase, eye taco or taco de ojo. For example, that George Clooney, he is total eye taco.
Vendors of Suspiros
Daily, several times a day, vendors knock on our door working to sell their wares. The one vendor who never knocked used another resource, his voice. The video below is of the vendor that we hear and/or see every evening between 6:00 and 6:30. To this day, we have little idea of what the guy is actually saying. But given how he carries buckets of food, one can assume he is calling for dinner.
Adiós is different than good-bye. Literally, it means go with God. So, Adiós San Miguel with your stunning structures and warm communities. Adiós to new friends. Adiós to great food and world class cultural events. And Hola to the new adventure that awaits us! We’re hitting the road to explore southern Mexico before we return to the United States. What a journey, and the good news is that we have more to come! And despite the fact I lost my wallet which held 500 pesos ($40US) and my driver’s license, life is awesome!
~Alfred TennysonPainful though parting be, I bow to you as I see you off to distant clouds.
Nothing makes the earth seem so spacious as to have friends at a distance; they make the latitudes and longitudes.
~Henry David Thoreau
~Carol Sobieski and Thomas Meehan, Annie
~Jean Paul Richter
~Theodor Seuss Geisel, attributed
*Photos and stuff* Please contact me for permission to use images and text for commercial or private use.
To see Mexico Post #19, Ciudad de Mexico/Mexico City: Colonia Condesa, Colonia Coyoacán, y La Casa Azul, click here.
To see Mexico Post #20, Ciudad de Mexico/Mexico City: Chapultapec y Centro Historico, click here.
To see Mexico Post #21, Ciudad de Mexico/Mexico City: Museo Nacional de Antropologia y Templo Mayor, click here.
To see Mexico Post #22, Living the Dream in San Miguel de Allende, click here.
To see Mexico Post #23, Viva la Independencia! click here.
To see Mexico Post #24, Adios San Miguel, click here.
To see Mexico Post #25, Valle de Bravo y Teploztlán, click here.
To see Mexico Post #26, Ciudad de Oaxaca, click here.
To see Mexico Post #27, 50 Shades of Green: On the road from Oaxaca to Chiapas, click here.
To see Mexico Post #28, San Cristóbal de las Casas, click here.
To see Mexico Post #29, The Almost Halloween Edition: Dark Mountains, Foggy Cliffs, Witches, Jungles and Shamans, click here.