Rains reveal one of San Miguel’s best-kept secrets
By Beldon Butterfield
Puente San Rafael, known by the locals as el Puente Roto, is well hidden and hard to get to unless you can pick up a guide near the bridge at Cieneguitas on the road to the City of Guanajuato, or paddle a kayak up the Río Laja putting in at the presa below the Otomí Lake and Villas development.
Kayaking up the river to view this Spanish Colonial Bridge depends entirely on the river rising to a level so that access becomes possible. This rarely happens, even during most rainy seasons.
Suddenly two hurricanes collide, one coming out of the Gulf of Mexico and the other out of the Pacific Ocean. Flooding ensues and we kayakers become privy to this rare jewel that only the surrounding farmers and campesinos get to see.
The bridge crosses the Río Laja and was originally one of the largest bridges on the main road known as El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro that connected various mining towns and cities back in the days of the Spanish Colonial Period.
Using San Miguel de Allende as a starting point, this ancient road headed in three different directions. The first crossed over what today is the town of Atotonilco. Shortly after the road, via the San Rafael Bridge, spanned the Río Laja heading in a northerly direction until reaching the border into the state of Jalisco at a place known as the Centro Histórico de Ojuelos. Another branch of the Camino Real headed from San Miguel to the City of Guanajuato, while a third branch went south to the City of Querétaro.
This magnificent structure was originally made up of three arches. Only one of the arches remains as a reminder of a once-ancient highway. Unfortunately, there are no signs to reach the bridge by land. The access, if you can find it, is down narrow dirt paths ending on top of the original road over the bridge.
For those who love an adventure, the trip up the river reminds one of paddling through mangroves along a tropical ocean inlet. From Otomí it takes roughly an hour to an hour and a half depending on how fast you can paddle. You can get in touch with Amigos de La Presa at: firstname.lastname@example.org. They have kayaks for rent.
Beldon Butterfield is the author of Mexico Behind The Mask available at the Biblioteca Book Store and a member of the San Miguel de Allende Kayak Club.