Changes to the Dam Brought A Ride on Water Transportation

By Jesús Aguado

The deliberate sinking of towns for the Ignacio Allende Dam had a permanent effect on the people who used to live in those now-forgotten towns. The project, which provided water for the lower part of the state, mainly for irrigation, generated a migration of these people and led to isolation.

Before the dam was built, the rural people of the area planted and harvested corn and took advantage of the mud to make bricks. The new “life style” of the residents of the dam area generated new activities, such as commercial fishing, and also a new form of transportation.

(In our previous edition, we mentioned the old docks that were on each side of the Rio Laja, allowing people to cross the river for a fare of five pesos up until the year 2000. Bicycles were carried across for an extra charge.)

The changes that the dam brought to the area still influence today the more than 20 communities that exist around it. For example, residents of the towns of Presa Allende, San Marcos, Pantoja, Don Juan, and others banded together to form the Fishermen’s Association. Members can be seen daily fishing for tilapia and dozens of other fish varieties to sell. The association has 40 members, but just 30 of them are active. They renew their permits every three years before the Secretariat of Livestock Rural Development and Feeding.

The coming of the water also brought little businesses like that in the Presa Allende community, where a vendor sells fried fish to those attracted by the view of the water who stop their engines to take a photo. The most recent vendors to do business around the dam are located on the edges, near the community of Don Juan. There you can find people selling roasted corn on the cob, stews, and “fish of the day”—fish caught in the dam that day.

Don Juan is a community with around 50 homes and 250 inhabitants. It has basic services, and it has a little problem as well: there is just one exit to the new road to Guanajuato. During the year, the community is fenced in by the Laja River and in the rainy season, by the waters of the Allende Dam.

If they want to leave to the city, residents of the community have three options for getting to the city: the first is to go through the new road to Guanajuato and then use the Cieneguita Causeway—not an option currently since it has collapsed and needs restoration. The second is to cross through the bridge of Montecillo. The third option is to rent a boat docked at the edge of the water. The boatman can take people back and forth between Otomí and Don Juan for 15 pesos each way. There are no life jackets; the responsibility for the safety of the passengers lies with the boatman.

“We need to know who we are transporting because, if there is an accident, we are the ones responsible,” said boatman don Gregorio, who let us hitch a ride as he left on yet another trip between Otomí and Don Juan, this time to ferry his children.

“Here in Don Juan, there is a man who makes boats. This one was made 15 years ago,” he said. He then pointed out his brother driving a motorboat across the waterway. “He does not own that boat. It belongs to an architect, but sometimes he uses it to cross people over.”

During our time on the boat, don Gregorio pointed out driftwood tied to the edges of the water. According to don Gregorio, he and other boatmen extract it from the center of the dam and later use it as firewood.

“When we have wind, the waves can be high—like this high,” he said, positioning his hand close to his hips to demonstrate. “The waves move the boat a lot. I have sunk once, but I can swim and so I saved myself.”

Don Gregorio is a housepainter, but when he does not have paying work, it is easy to find him or his brother on the water.

 

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