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Charco del Ingenio Nature Preserve Celebrates San Miguel’s Indigenous Heritage

Mayordomo de ojo de agua bendiciendo


By Jesús Aguado

The Charco del Ingenio, a protected natural zone on the outskirts of San Miguel de Allende, is more than just an environmental interpretation center. It’s a “laboratory” for semiarid ecosystems filled with flora and fauna.

It’s also a relatively untouched site of México’s natural history.

Nearing its thirtieth anniversary, the nature preserve is getting ready to celebrate the twenty-eighth anniversary of its foundation in the 1990s with the opening of a new visitor center, an interactive space that will teach the importance of caring for what still remains of the original San Miguel—even while around the park, San Miguel engages in nearly unchecked development, with several luxury developments built or currently in construction around the preserve’s outskirts.

But before the visitor center opens, el Charco will celebrate its annual anniversary event, which serves as a reminder of the park’s founding mission—honor the land and honor its original prehistoric inhabitants.

Inspired by an eclipse

El Charco del Ingenio encompasses one of San Miguel’s seven canyons—the last one not yet developed. In this 20-meter-deep canyon, one can observe the geological movements that Earth has undergone over millions of years.

The component of the preserve’s mission to honor the area’s original inhabitants, its first custodians, was apparently inspired by a memorable total solar eclipse on July 12, 1971, that captured the nation’s imagination.

When the total eclipse occurred, the country was paralyzed for several minutes. Even animals sought spaces to sleep or take shelter. Many people watched the phenomenon live on television, thanks to an insistent government campaign telling them not to look at the sun directly. Some, especially the indigenous people of San Miguel, decided to pay tribute to the sun that day and also thank their ancestors.

El Charco would not be opened until 20 years later, but the seeds of an idea were planted that day, when certain people in San Miguel, especially several descendants of the original indigenous inhabitants of the area, decided to pay tribute to the ancient indigenous god of the sun.

The inspiration carried over into the founding culture of el Charco 20 years later. El Charco enacts ceremonies each year that pay homage to the sun and to the four winds. In fact, the preserve was opened by people with the vision to not just acquire the space to protect it but also restore and return it spiritually to those who’d had it taken from them by Spanish conquistadores.

And so, on July 12, 1991, el Charco opened its doors with a Cruz de la Conquista (Cross of the Conquest) placed in the park’s Plaza de los Cuatro Vientos (The Plaza of Four Winds)—a visual reminder of the land’s earliest custodians. Every year in this plaza, on the anniversary of el Charco’s founding, a ceremony involving the Cruz de la Conquista is enacted.

The anniversary celebrations

Although its doors opened in 1991, el Charco President César Arias says that the work began earlier. Even though they are celebrating 28 years, in reality it’s closer to 30. From the beginning, the preserve was reclaimed for the ancestors and their descendants. That is why each year, stewards of 20 communities come together with the responsibility and obligation to organize the indigenous rituals as well as the entire celebration.

This year, the festival falls on fall on Friday–Sunday, July 12–14, and stewardship of the event will go to the oldest and most traditional neighborhood of San Miguel, El Valle del Maíz.

The weekend-long event has a different indigenous steward each year, drawn from one of 20 communities in San Miguel’s municipality that are heavily populated by people considered to be indigenous. This responsibility includes being in charge of the Santa Cruz de Mandita (The Holy Cross of Mandita), a holy cross kept in a glass case, and also visiting the stewards of the other 19 communities, Arias said.

“The festival is of the people for the people,” he added.

Like every year, the xuchil vigil begins at 8pm on Friday, July 12, on the Valle del Maiz community esplanade. During the night, the suchil offerings are prepared. They will then be presented and erected as tribute to the Santa Cruz (the Holy Cross) at 5pm the next day at the Plaza de los Cuatro Vientos.

On Saturday, July 13, the solemn Santa Cruz vigil takes place at el Charco. The stewards will be received along with their animas, items which represent their ancestors. During the night, participants offer prayers and songs of praise. They also weave batons, which on Sunday are placed as offerings on the holy cross.

At dawn on Sunday, the popular festival is officially opened with an alborada, a dawn celebration accompanied by noisy fireworks. Arias assured us that because the event will be held at el Charco, the pyrotechnics will be modest and the area from which they originate will be carefully watched. The fireworks are an old tradition that sometimes generate resident complaints, but Arias says those complaints generate from private parties that have nothing to do with the ceremony.

The public festival takes place on Sunday at 2pm in Parque Landeta, which is located by el Charco’s entrance. The lively event will include a foot race, an Apache dance, a dance of the ravados, a dance of the conquest, mojigangas and live music from a wind instrument band. There will be a procession involving parandes and the performance of huapangos (a type of Mexican song) by the Leones de la Sierra band.

El Charco’s new visitor center

The nature preserve’s visitor center makes one thing clear: el Charco wants to stay away from tourism. Instead, the preserve staff encourages visitors to arrive with an open mind, ready to learn about the conservation of San Miguel. A pavilion is now under construction for this purpose, which will open next year. The interactive space will be like a museum. It will explain how the microbasin of Tambula Picachos works and its importance to the city. There will also be an explanation of the value of plants and insects of the semiarid desert region, Arias said.

Outside the pavilion, there will be a model of the high basin of San Miguel designed with cutting-edge technology and information about it. This installation will explain why conservation of soil is important, as well as explain the benefit of using less concrete in residential and industrial construction. The overuse of concrete leads to less water being absorbed by soil and can lead to strengthening the force of currents from bodies of water in Landeta, Charco del Ingenio, and Cachinces as well as the Obraje Dam.

Stronger currents in the Obraje can result in disasters, said Arias, commenting, “We have already seen the violence of water.”

School visits, particularly high school visits, have increased in the last four years, according to Arias, a statistic that he takes heart in because it is the period in which young people decide what they want to study. He is optimistic that el Charco’s natural riches can help the upcoming generation understand that San Miguel is about more than just tourism and gastronomy.

“After their visit, it’s possible that they will take an interest in studying biology, ecology, or water management,” he said. “We want to open their options so that in the future, together with el Charco, they might build a culture of respect and love of nature, most of all among the young.”

“El Charco is nonstandardized education,” he said. “It serves as a school laboratory for San Miguel and for other cities.”


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