By Jerry Davis
Some people complain that San Miguel is “not really Mexico because there are so many gringos”.
The actor Cantinflas claimed that he “couldn’t live in San Miguel because he did not speak English”.
And yes, it is possibly true that we have more international restaurants than Mexican.
However, the Americanization of San Miguel is but a veneer, a very thin veneer as we discovered recently.
We were invited to the hamlet of San José to a Mass and party to celebrate the 25th wedding anniversary of the parents of a young man that Carmen is mentoring.
His name is Adrian, he is very bright and an excellent student at the National Agricultural College (Universidad Autónoma Chapingo: Inicio) and Carmen interviews him monthly and reports his progress to the scholarship organization that supports him.
(Jóvenes Adelante A.C. | San Miguel de Allende – Facebook) San José is a hamlet of just under 200 people on the far side of the reservoir from town, a bumpy, uneven eternity to drive when the reservoir is full but in the dry
season there is a shortcut.
First you drive down to the Otomi Equestrian Center where six times a year millionaires from around the world compete with their expensive horses and where the stables are more elegant and better built than the homes
in San José.
There the pavement ends, and country life begins with a rutted dirt track that wanders aimlessly along what was once the shore of the reservoir.
We enjoyed many picnic breakfasts there during the pandemic, and there flocks of ducks, white pelicans, roseate spoonbills, storks, herons and plovers fed in the shallows.
Fertilizer run-off from upstream and semi-treated sewage from San Miguel caused a population explosion of water hyacinths last summer.
Fishermen gave up in frustration, the birds flew away to cleaner waters, the plant grew faster than it could be removed, and 90 percent of the reservoir became a floating green mat.
While the hyacinth was prolific, the clouds were unproductive, and the reservoir has shrunk to a puddle and its dry bed can now be navigated by car along a muddy track that an optimistic farmer left unplowed.
The farmer is betting that he can raise a crop on the fertile soil of the bed of the former lake before the rains arrive and flood his field. The dead hyacinths stranded there should give him some free fertilizer.
An oncoming car waits on the far side while we cross as the track is narrow, two ruts between two plowed fields.
Fortunately, our car has a high suspension and so we do not scrape bottom, and then we raise a cloud of dust as fine as talcum powder as we climb up the ridge to San Jose.
The countryside reminds me of Africa, the Africa I know from watching safari documentaries, a dry, barren land with scattered dwarf trees well-armed with thorns.
I expect to see a giraffe’s head poking above the leaves and a pride of lions snoozing in their shade. The reality is cattle, sheep and horses with an occasional donkey providing local color.
Mass is already in progress when we maneuver our way over the trenches dug for the footings for an addition to the church.
Conveniently, some metal scaffolding gives us a handhold and then we stand in
front of the big double door with the other late arrivals who cannot squeeze into the crowded church.
There, I quickly check out the local dress code and as usual I am not “in”. My belt buckle is not a large silver oval with a design of a cowboy on a bucking bronco.
I should have worn my baseball cap backward instead of my sporty panama.
I don’t own a black cowboy hat. I do have a striped shirt like many of the other guys but am wearing a down jacket over it instead of a “hoodie”.
I could have worn jeans too but mine do not have embroidered decorations on the hip pockets. (Women’s have sequins and beads.).
My new sneakers are comfortable and conveniently dust colored, but ostrich skin cowboy boots would have been better.
It doesn’t matter because we stick out like a pair of flies drowning in a glass of milk. The only two with white hair.
Carmen is the only woman with short hair.
I have the only pair of blue eyes for miles around, eyes that fascinate little kids who have never seen them before.
I also suspect that I am the oldest person there.
Life is hard out here at the end of the road, medical care is not only far away but for many unfathomable and unaffordable. ...