Saturday, October 27, 2012

Saturday Morning in San Miguel


Todd and I headed out early today and had a picture perfect Saturday morning. We started at the monthly Alma sale, sort of a gigantic garage sale with the proceeds going to charity. I guess we should have been even earlier as it was so packed that I decided not to try to navigate the crowds with my walker, and we went off in search of breakfast.

There is a relatively new restaurant in town called Restaurante de Sueños, restaurant of dreams, which is conveniently located almost across the street from the Saturday Organic Market, one of our next stops. This was our first visit to this restaurant, which we found nicely decorated with some great Spanish guitar music playing in the background. They have a menu just for coffees, that made me very happy, as I am not much of a morning person and a little caffeine helps to jumpstart the day.

I followed my café con leche, espresso with steamed milk, with one of the best Eggs Benedicts that I have ever had. We were so impressed with our breakfasts that we asked to see a lunch and dinner menu. All of the entrees are named after jazz musicians, and include such delights as Thai chicken salad with peanut sauce, shrimp mousse, salmon with shallot cream sauce and raspberry chipotle meatballs. If any of these offerings are half as good as my breakfast was, I may eat my way through the entire menu.


Organic Market 006

Restaurante de Sueños


After breakfast we walked a few doors down to Natura, a sort of health food store that has organic fruits, vegetables and an assortment of items not readily available elsewhere. I bought a package of nopal (cactus), linseed and sesame tostadas, a crispy tortilla usually eaten topped with beans, meat, lettuce, cheese and salsa.

There are also a couple of refrigerators and freezers filled with organic soups, sauces, dips, that are made on the premises, and free range chicken, among other things. A back room is filled with baking supplies rarely seen here in México. There are numerous flours, such as dark rye, spelt, oat, buckwheat, and even some that are gluten free. I even saw oat and buckwheat groats! They also carry some grain cereals that you won’t find in Soriana or WalMart, as well as some natural skincare products.


Organic Market 003



Our next stop was the Organic Market, held every Saturday in the lovely grounds of the Artesana Rosewood. First, though, we had to stop to let the circus pass.


Organic Market 008

Just Passing Through…


Organic Market 011


You could also have breakfast or lunch at the Organic Market, if you were feeling so inclined, as there is always something wonderful cooking at the hot food tables.


Organic Market 046

Hand Made Organic Tortillas and Gorditas


First I had a nice chat with the young lady manning the plants and herbs table. My herbs have not been healthy lately and she gave me some much needed advise. After a trip to Home Depot to purchase some better potting soil, I will buy more herb plants from her next week and try again.


Organic Market 016


Next I bought mandarin oranges. The first of the season! Then right next to the oranges I spied something very odd. It looked like one of the round zucchinis that you see here, but it was covered in hard spines! When I asked the lady selling the vegetables what it was, she told me it was a cucumber. I must have looked skeptical because she cut one open for me and gave me a slice to taste. Sure enough, it was a cucumber, although it had a more yellow colour than usual and it tasted slightly fruity. It was great and I bought a few of them.


Organic Market 014

It’s a cucumber, honest


Then I was off to the cheese section where I treated myself to a small piece of a cheese that tastes quite a bit like sharp cheddar, but has a vein of port wine running all the way through.


Organic Market 021


Across from the cheeses we found French quiche. I know it’s French because the lady who makes it is from Paris. She also makes fabulous fruit tarts.There is jewelry, wool crafts and woven baskets, although I’m not really sure where those fit into the organic theme, but they are lovely.


Organic Market 035

Skincare and Medicinal Products Made From Cactus


The honey here is marvelous, and of course it is preservative-free. They also sell bee pollen and a number of other bee-related products. There are hair and skincare products made from a cactus, a number of products created with lavender and a natural skincare line for anti-aging that even has mosquito repellent. You can find a number of scrumptious baked goods and one group of bakers sells incredible artisanal breads.


Organic Market 020


One local company crafts fruit juices, preserves and liqueurs, while yet another sells fish that they will deliver to your home seven days a week. If you need something to go with your fish, there is fresh asparagus, wonderful mixed greens, tiny potatoes, giant fennel bulbs and purple carrots. Then on your way out you can stop and pick up organic coffee beans, grown in Chiapas or Oaxaca and roasted in San Miguel, to finish off your meal.


Organic Market 048


After the market we stopped at a tiny clock shop in Colonia Mexiquito, where Todd was having his watch band adjusted. We had a pleasant visit with the charming elderly shop keeper and his daughter, stopped to visit a friend in Colonia San Antonio, who had just returned from Zacatecas and then home for a quiet afternoon in the garden.

Life is good!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Hidden Beauty

What do you think of when you think of an alley? For me, being a city girl, the word alley conjures an image of a dark narrow passageway between two tall, dirty cement or brick walls. Pieces of old posters, their corners curled and brown, hang on the wall or perhaps on a telephone pole. If you look up you can see metal fire escapes silhouetted against what little sky is visible. There may be a window or two lower down, but they are likely broken and covered with old newspaper or boarded up. There is almost always at least one dumpster and a distinct smell of urine. There is a street light on one of the telephone poles, but of course, it is broken. Garbage litters the passageway and rats scurry in and out of the shadows. Sometimes there is a short stairwell leading down to a small cement square with a drain in the corner. The drain is clogged with leaves and garbage and water trickles under a basement door. To me, this is a typical alley in most cities.

Not so here in San Miguel de Allende. As I drove, very carefully, down narrow Callejón Blanco, White Alley, on my way to Spanish class on Friday, it occurred to me that many of the alleys here are really beautiful. In this one there is a tunnel formed by multicoloured bougainvillea creating interesting shadows in the brightly sunlit alley. Very few, if any, of the buildings here are above two stories so the alleyways, although narrow, are very bright. The buildings on either side are painted in warm rich tones of yellow, amber and deep rose almost as colourful as the bougainvillea.

Callejón Blanco

Not all of the alleys here are as picturesque as Callejón Blanco, but there are many that are really lovely. If you follow the street Real de Salida de Querétaro, it will take you to some of the highest points in San Miguel. Part of the way up there is a viewpoint called El Mirador, and a number of tourist shops where you can buy art and crafts. The view is spectacular from up there but one of the things I like most about this area is a number of really interesting alleys.


This pretty alley in the picture above runs off Real de Salida de Querétaro and has a view of the whole city.

I am going a little off track here, but at this point I am reminded of a tale I was told while visiting Guanajuato City. We had gone to see the Callejón del Beso, The Alley of the Kiss, and were told a tale of love and tragedy about a young couple in the 1800s, Doña Carmen y Don Luis. ( I have since read some conflicting stories that say the couple were Ana and Carlos ) Carmen and Luis were in love but Carmen’s father disapproved, as he planned to have her marry a wealthy titled man in Spain, to improve his own status.

Carmen and her family lived in a house on a very narrow alley and her bedroom, on the top floor, had a balcony. This balcony was (and still is) only 69 centimeters from the  balcony on the house across the alley. Don Luis discovered this and managed to get access to this balcony for their secret trysts. Unfortunately  Doña Carmen’s father caught them, and in a fit of rage, stabbed her in the chest. Luis held Carmen’s hand as she died and kissed it one last time.

Now folks line up at the alley entrance as it is supposed to bring years of good luck if lovers kiss on the third step of the alley, which is painted red.

El Callejón del Beso

Callejón near El Mirador

It’s hard to believe that this cool, quiet, green spot is just steps off the Real de Salida de Querétaro, one of the busiest streets in San Miguel. Here an alley is a quiet refuge off a busy street, not the dark scary place that I remember. This difference, like so many others, is one of the things that makes my life so pleasant here.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

San Sebastián de Bernal


San Sebastián de Bernal is a lovely little Mexican town in the state of Querétaro. Just 54 KM. from Querétaro City, it is an easy day trip from San Miguel de Allende. In 2006 Bernal was given the status of Pueblo Mágico by the Ministry of Tourism of México, in recognition of the preservation of cultural and historical heritage. It is one of 36 other towns in Mexico to receive this designation, a privilege also shared by San Miguel de Allende and Patzcuaro.



Peña de Bernal


The prominent rock formation shown in the the picture above is Peña de Bernal ( Bernal’s Boulder or Bernal Peak) and is what really puts Sebastián de Bernal on the map. In November 2007, Peña de Bernal received a medal from the Ministry of Tourism recognizing it as one of the 13 Wonders of México  and as a tourist destination of great historic value and culture. Then in September 2009, Bernal was added to the list of “Intangible Heritages of Humanity” by Unesco: "Places of memory and living traditions of the Otomi-Chichimecas of Toliman: the Peña de Bernal, guardian of a sacred territory”.

This massive rock rises right out of the ground to a height of 350 meters and is third in line behind the Rock of Gibraltar and Sugarloaf in Rio de Janeiro as the tallest monolith in the world. According to Leonor López Domínguez of México Desconocido, this porphyrytic monolith was formed 100 million years ago, from an active volcano, during the Jurassic period, and scientists feel that it was three times larger then than today.


CJ Berna

Señor Cabeza Jícama in Bernal


La Peña is shrouded in mystery and legend and people flock from all over México to bathe in the energy that supposedly radiates from the core of the monolith. Obsidian, a giant amethyst and quartz crystals, in the rock are said to be responsible for this phenomena, which is purportedly strongly therapeutic. Apparently there are more centenarians here than anywhere else in México and the life expectancy of the citizenry is about 94 years.

On March 21, at the Vernal Equinox, crowds of spiritual seekers and new agers throng to Bernal. Dressed in white with read scarves, they gather at dawn, when the earth is vertical on its axis and the emanations of energy are strongest, and surround La Peña.

Legends abound in Bernal and among the hoards of visiting rock climbers I’m sure there are some who are looking for the cave. Legend tells us that on the sheer side of the monolith, when the light is just right, the shadows form a huge arrow pointing to a perfectly round cave in the rock face. Inside the cave lives a giant snake and if you can fight the snake and emerge victorious you win his treasure. The treasure is not comprised of the usual tangibles though, it is the knowledge of the origin and destiny of the human race.


Capilla De Las Animas


The legend of the Capilla de las Animas, ( the Chapel of the Lost Souls of Purgatory ) is another story of mystic origin. It tells of the souls who are often seen at night, walking with their faces lit by candles, from the graveyard that has been near La Peña since the founding of Bernal in the mid 1600s. It tells, as well, of a merchant who was being chased by bandits, bent on stealing his days earnings. When he arrived at the site where the Chapel stands today, he saw some bushes and hid among them, trusting that the souls of purgatory would protect him. They did, and in gratitude he erected the chapel seen in the picture above. To this day the souls still walk near the chapel at night and many who live in Bernal claim to have seen them. 

Mysteriously enough, there are also an inordinate amount of UFO sightings in and around Bernal. Really, when you think about it, La Peña does bear a strong resemblance to the mountain in the movie “ Close Encounters of the Third Kind “.




Good Eats!


Obviously there must be things, beyond the supernatural, that bring people to the Pueblo Mágico of Bernal. We found several restaurants with appetizing menus but decided on the Mesón de la Roca. The food and drink were excellent and the prices very reasonable.




Chicken with Corn and Poblano Sauce


If you like opals, Bernal is the place to be. While doing a little research, I discovered that there are 25 different kinds of opals. The ones you will find in Bernal are fire opals, displaying beautiful rich earth tones such as yellow brown, orange, yellow orange and red orange. Because of it’s physical nature the fire opal is the only one that can be faceted, and they range from translucent to transparent. I was really surprised to find out how inexpensive some of them were and that you can buy them singly or set in rings, necklaces and bracelets. I actually bought a ring set with a “sun stone” which comes to life and sparkles deeply with colour, when in the sunlight.



Weaving Factory, La Aurora


Bernal is also known for the wool that they produce as well as intricate weaving, and the artisans there produce truly beautiful wall hangings, rugs, tablecloths and clothing. When we arrived at La Aurora, the workers were on a break and we were able to have a behind the scenes tour. It was really fascinating.




Hand Dyed Wool


The wool is hand dyed with local dyes or left natural in soft greys, browns and whites. Patterns in rugs and wall hangings were very different than anything I have seen elsewhere in México.


New Homeb


In the picture above you can see one of the wall hangings we purchased in Bernal hanging in the hall in our house in Patzcuaro. This one was done in all natural wool in shades of grey.



Artisan in La Aurora



Beautiful Throw Pillows and Cushions


Another thing that brings about 4000 people a year to Bernal is the 5 day festival of the Holy Cross. During the first five days of May, Bernal celebrates the Feast of Santa Cruz. On the final day of the festival there is a procession, with music and dancing, which winds through the streets of town to La Peña. The procession marches up the path to the capilla where they meet 6 carefully chosen escaleros, climbers. After the capilla, the trail becomes more and more difficult to traverse, becoming almost vertical at times. The escaleros carry a cross weighing more than 100 pounds, passing it hand over hand without the help of ropes or harnesses, until they plant it on the top of La Peña. I think I’d like to visit next May.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

El Charco del Ingenio


One of the great things about living in San Miguel de Allende is the close proximity to the botanical gardens, El Charco del Ingenio. In combination with El Parque Landeta, Landeta park which abuts the gardens there are 180 acres available for public exploration.



Dry Scrubland


The building of El Charco del Ingenio began in 1989 and opening celebrations were held on July 11 1991, during the total eclipse of the sun. Over the years scientists have encouraged a functioning ecosystem to evolve here in three separate areas. The canyon, the dry scrubland and the wetlands, all of which continue to grow and flourish. There is also a beautiful greenhouse for the more delicate denizens of the garden. In 2004 El Charco del Ingenio was named a “Peace Zone” by the Dalai Lama during his visit to the country, and in 2005 the lands around the garden were declared an Ecological Preservation Zone by the San Miguel City Council, in order to preserve and protect the growing ecosystems.






Cruz de Animas


During the July 11 1991 inauguration of the gardens there was a “moving ceremony in which representatives of local indigenous communities witnessed the opening of the gardens and raised a traditional cross, Cruz de Animas, sanctifying the area and committing the communities of San Miguel to the stewardship of it’s natural resources. Every year since then the festival of La Santa Cruz del Charco del Ingenio has been celebrated on the site, affirming the important collaboration of people from both the rural and urban areas of the municipality”.



In The Greenhouse

The gardens are also equipped to educate the public and many school curriculums include regular trips to El Charco del Ingenio. Other activities such as lectures, courses and celebrations, as well as ceremonies for the solstices, equinoxes and full moon, also take place here and are open to the public. Today the gardens boast 156 species of resident and migratory birds, 32 species of mammals, 18 species of reptiles and amphibians and 11 species of dragonflies as well as 535 species belonging to 85 plant families.

Among the many varieties of plants that grow naturally in this area there are also some, including the barrel cactus, which have been retrieved from other areas around Guanajuato and rescued from near extinction by their move to the gardens. Several animal species that came from less hospitable areas have also emigrated here and there are migratory birds that are so happy with this new environment that they have been returning each season for several years.



Barrel Cactus, Alive And Well




There is much to be learned from an historical standpoint here as well. Remnants of pre-Columbian stone tools and ceramic pottery have been found in caves in the canyon as well as more recent Spanish-era structures. One of San Miguel’s oldest maps, dated 1580, shows the original dam, which may pre-date the colonies, and the first watermill built after the Conquest, the ruins of which can still be seen from the top of the canyon. It is said that in the late 17th century a Spanish Viceroy authorized the building of an “herida de agua para ingenio de la misma”, to divert the water for industrial use, and it is likely that the origin of the name of the main pool, or charco, is derived  from this phrase. Although I’m not sure if this is actually documented.

Later maps of the eighteenth century show complex hydraulic equipment, a mill and an aqueduct. These ruins, which can be seen peeking from the verdant vegetation in the canyon, are present day reminders of the skill of the colonials in building and water management. There are also remains of the Sauto family property, hacienda Las Colonias, an iron aqueduct and a, still functioning, dam from the 1902.

Another aspect of the botanical gardens is the mysticism associated with the canyon,  and the waters of the pool, Ingenio del Charco, which are said to be bottomless. Legend tells of “ El Chan ”, a mysterious underworld being who lives in the waters and is said to appear occasionally to taunt wanderers who dare to approach the pool.


charco del ingenio

Photo of El Charco from the Botanical Gardens website


If you come to the full moon celebration you may see the headless horseman, none other than the ghost of Don Baltazar Sauto, the cruel mill owner, who comes down from the pool to ride the paths of the gardens until dawn during the full moon. We also hear the story of the bandit Chuchuy, who disappeared into the canyon caves, while being  chased by soldiers. To this day the rumour persists of a long tunnel that ends in an unknown house in the center of the city

But whether for mystical or historical curiosity, to celebrate the solstice, or simply for a hike in the country it is well worth the trip to El Charco del Ingenio.