The Charco del Ingenio is a magnificent botanical garden-cum nature preserve in San Miguel de Allende. It is a huge space with native vegetation, meandering paths along a canyon, and a spot from which you can see the entire city—with the famous Parroquia, center-stage—at your feet. The upper presa, one of the dams, captures the flow of water creating a lagoon; a natural habitat for all kinds of birds, reptiles, and mammals. Since we live nearby, we take the opportunity to visit frequently. What is especially interesting is watching the preserve, and particularly the reservoir, changing through the phases of dry and rainy seasons.
This point in time—mid-May—is the cusp of the parched period, with anticipation of any-day-now heavy rains, and the rebirth of vegetation. This is the time to witness nature desiccated, with hardly any surface water, and to marvel at the survival of species as they wait expectantly for waters from the sky.
If you come here in July or August, after rains have saturated the area, you will be greeted by fresh grasses, colorful flowers, myriad butterflies, water birds galore, and turtles poking their heads out of their shells as they swim in the lagoon—the reservoir.
But now, the water birds are gone, except for some concealed ducks whose quacking I heard as I circled the dry lagoon. And there were no turtles to be seen. Where are they during this time? What moist crevice have they been able to find to survive until the rains come again?
I circumnavigated the reservoir in its entirety, searching for fauna. Other than the calls of ducks hiding somewhere in the grass, I saw nothing. The vegetation, however, was incredibly lush. The copses which are usually tiny islands in the reservoir, surrounded by water, are now islets in a space filled with grasses and weeds, a brilliant green that will eventually be drowned by the rains. But they are survivors both in a parched landscape, and under water. Once submerged they die, leaving seeds behind that sprout when the waters recede. What an amazing evolutionary feat—a way to keep living under both circumstances.
This shot shows the upper side of the dam, the caked mud almost three meters below the wall. It is amazing that after the rains, the water will come all the way to the top, it will flow over the wall, and cascade downward into the canyon in a tumultuous fall. The entire passage will be cordoned off; too dangerous for crossing for many months.
So what do we find in this temporarily barren environment? The piruls—pepper trees—and mesquites continue to thrive, their penetrating root systems drawing water from sources deep underground.
Cactuses do just fine as well. Actually, we came upon some lovely barrel cactuses, both large and small, a whole community of them living happily in the heat and dryness. In Mexico they go by various names, either bizagra, or cactus erizo, but my favorite name is silla de suegra—mother in law’s chair! Who could not understand that?
The thorns are long and hard, and in some cultures they have been used as needles, or fish hooks.
When the flower finishes blooming, a cotton-like pods fall to the ground from the mother cactus. This one had cracked, revealing little cactus seeds that will create a new generation.
Along the path we found other cactuses. The garambullo, for instance has fruits this time of year, and some were fully ripened. The fruit of the garambullo is a diabetic’s nightmare—a tiny ball of sugar encased in purple skin. It’s delicious, similar to the taste of a blueberry, but with its own unique flavor.
There were various other berries—one tree had some lovely and enticing blue ones. But I know better than to taste unknown wild fruits, the consequences can be lethal if you ingest the wrong one. The reason I know garambullo is because a few years ago a Mexican young woman pointed it out on a hike, and after she had eaten some, I felt comfortable tasting it myself. So even though the earth is parched, and the air is dry, with hardly a drop of rain for months, the vegetation is alive.
And what happens after the rains?
Well, this is where the magic occurs. After about a week of heavy rains, the entire landscape changes. I know, we have witnessed it year after year. The reservoir becomes a lagoon again, all the mud and grasses covered with water. Water birds—egrets, herons, ducks, and grebes—swim joyfully about, build nests, and mate. Turtles stick their heads out of the water once again. And the entire preserve sprouts beautiful flowers in many hues. But the most majestic sight is the water itself as it rises above the wall, spills over the rim of the dam, then plunges over the wall on its way into the rocky canyon—a roaring, powerful waterfall.
The photo above is from another year, most likely taken in July, and what you see is the other side of the reservoir—the one shown in the earlier photos with parched earth and no water. Here the waters have risen over the wall, and the mighty roar is spectacular! The Charco del Ingenio is such a special place, it’s nature’s gift to us who live here. And a beautiful reminder of the renewal of the earth, a comforting thought that each generation leads to the next, and the eternal cycle of life continues.
We just renewed our yearly, family membership—it’s only 900 pesos and worth every centavo!