The Place Where the Sun Shines Brightly

By Jesús Aguado

Two decades ago television reports frightened people from going out and watching the solar eclipse that could possibly cause them blindness. That July 11, many Mexicans stayed home and watched the “show” on TV. That was “safer,” they said.

Those who understood eclipses took advantage of the natural phenomenon and, after the darkness, the radiant sun inaugurated San Miguel’s most ambitious project of natural preservation. It was the emergence of El Charco del Ingenio, which celebrates it’s 25th  anniversary this week.

The indigenous people recovered their territory

During the Spanish Conquest, the canyon of El Charco del Ingenio was full of natural springs. Later, due to drilling wells, most of the springs disappeared. The natives called the one that remained El Charco. César Arias, president of the nonprofit El Charco del Ingenio organization, previously told Atención that all the sources of water in the past that could be used for industry were called ingenios (factories), and the name El Charco del Ingenio comes from that. In colonial times, a batan (water mill) was constructed to beat and clean wool and to grind grain.

Arias commented that San Miguel has seven canyons: La Lejona, El Valle, El Parque, Atascadero, Mercado Ignacio Ramirez, the CBTis school, and El Charco del Ingenio. In 1989, a group of citizens including Bob Haas, Arias, Mario Mendoza, and Polo Estrada became concerned that San Miguel was growing fast without urban planning. They wanted to protect El Charco from urban construction. Through civil organizations, they raised the money to buy 66 hectares that were then used for grazing livestock. “The area was devastated,” they said. “And we wanted to protect the area, which had great natural, historical, and landscaping value,” commented Arias.

After purchasing the land, the organization first constructed terraces to prevent soil erosion. They later reforested it with native flora that self propagated. At the same time, they started collecting cactuses and succulents.

On July 11, 1991, San Miguel experienced the century’s total eclipse of the sun and inaugurated El Charco del Ingenio to the general public with a pre-Hispanic ceremony. The members of the civil organization decided to invite several dance leaders from town to perform an ancient ceremony to the four winds, and the total eclipse of the sun was engraved in stones on the Plaza of the Four Winds, where a cross of conquest was found.

The celebration of the holy cross has been held annually since July 11, 1991. According to Arias, the Spanish celebrated the return of the land to the indigenous people, who had been stripped of their territory to construct an industrial area.

Paying a visit to the place

When in El Charco, visitors immediately notice huge succulents and a variety of bushes and cacti. Walkers can follow several marked trails, some of them leading to Las Colonias dam that comes from the Picachos. The wetland of Las Colonias is a sanctuary for birds, turtles, plants, and fish. During the rainy season water spills over its parapet, feeding the canyon and ending in the Allende dam. The water follows its path and forms natural waterfalls visitors can get close to. On the paths, strollers can see reptiles resting on rocks and colorful butterflies pollinating the flowers. They can also be surprised by birds flying from one tree to the other. A spectacular panorama of San Miguel with the natural sound of the stream is an experience to be enjoyed here.

Three not-to-be-missed spots

Director of El Charco Mario Hernández told Atención that it has been an honor to be part of this great project meant for all Sanmiguelenses to know and preserve. For Hernández, the three spots not to miss are:

The Plaza of the Four Winds

This is the ceremonial space constructed for the opening of the reservoir. The floor of this space is made of colored stones from the region. The stones are well organized and together reproduce the image of a Tolteca-Chichimeca codex that represents mother earth, water, animals, and plants. This plaza shelters the holy cross, which is annually venerated with pre-Columbian ceremonies on July 11. Also, a súchil—an offering made of the spines of a cactus called cucharilla—is erected and remains the whole year.

Greenhouse of Mexican Plants

Succulents from across the country are grown here. It is a show of their diverse colors, sizes, and shapes. According to Hernández, this is a relaxing, tranquil place. The ironwork and polycarbonate structure reflects a vault from the 16th century.

The Canyon

The spring that gave the name to El Charco is here. People can reach it by using a secret ladder. “If visitors close their eyes and remain silent, they will hear the water spouting from the spring and running through the stream,” said Hernández.

The birthday fiesta

On Friday, July 8, at 8pm, residents from El Valle del Maíz will start preparing the súchil and will keep a vigil near it until 6am, holding indigenous ceremonies the entire night to their ancestors as well as to the four winds and the holy cross.

On Saturday, July 9, the súchil will arrive at El Charco del Ingenio at 4:30pm. Following ritual it will be lifted and remain in place for the entire year. At 5pm, a plaque to celebrate the 25th anniversary will be placed under the cross. The celebration will continue with the inauguration of a photo exhibition of El Charco from the past and present.

At 8pm the mayordomos—people who inherit their posts from their ancestors—will start arriving to organize the festivities to honor the holy cross in their communities, bringing small offerings with them, and food and beverages to share later with their friends. At 11pm they will start a vigil that will last until dawn. The morning is greeted with fireworks, atole (traditional hot corn-and masa-based beverage), and other hot drinks.

Sunday, July 10, is more intense because at 10am there is a pedestrian race at Parque Landeta, adjacent to El Charco. At 12pm there are pre-Hispanic dances and wind instrument music with Banda La Amistad. At 1pm the cross is taken down and carried to the five stations of cross. Offerings made with cucharilla are placed.

On the other side of the Charco, the fiesta continues with live music, dances, and mojigangas (giant puppets), and at 2pm guapango (local style music) by Guillermo Velázquez begins.

 

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