Sunday, September 25, 2016

EL CHARCO DEL INGENIO: THE BOTANICAL GARDENS OF SAN MIGUEL DE ALLENDE, MEXICO


WELCOME TO ONE OF MY FAVORITE BOTANICAL GARDENS IN MEXICO!
                  
Welcome to El Charco del Ingenio in San Miguel de Allende, one of my two favorite botanical gardens and reserves in Mexico.  My other favorite botanical garden is the Vallarta Botanical Garden in the Cabo Corrientes (Cape of the Currents region just south of Puerto Vallarta.

These two botanical gardens are diverse, unique, wonderful, and could not be more different. They are not only a total delight to the senses, but an education to the wonders of the natural world.  I will be sharing the beauty of the Vallarta Botanical Gardens in a future separate blog posting. Until then I want to share with you the wonder of the Altiplano (high plain) landscape at El Charco del Ingenio. If you are ready, let's go check out "El Charco"!

Located above the colonial town of San Miguel de Allende, El Charco offers a fabulous view. Recommended:  take taxi UP to the botanical gardens and walk DOWN to return to town.


In the heart of the central highlands of Mexico, El Charco del Ingenio includes over 170 acres of natural preserve above the historical colonial town of San Miguel de Allende, a World Heritage site since in 2008.

This environmental conservation project was established and privately funded in 1991 as a community initiative of San Miguel de Allende. El Charco, a non-profit organization, has been recognized nationally and inter-nationally for its special efforts in conserving this amazing habitat.




El Charco del Ingenio (roughly translated to mean "the pool, pond, or puddle of ingenuity") is an extraordinary natural monument endowed with amazing biodiversity. Its name is believed to come from the natural pool/pond/puddle at the bottom of its imposing canyon. This pool/pond/puddle was believed by the indigenous people to have been surrounded by spirits and legends dating back to the pre-Hispanic period.


If you like cactus and succulents as I do El Charco is definitely your kind of place!

El Charco is dedicated to the restoration and preservation of Mexican flora and propagates species in danger of extinction from encroaching development. Many rare species of cacti have been transplanted from other surrounding regions in this effort.


Can you believe the size of these cactus paddles?

Departing from the visitor center, a network of walking paths allows the visitor to discover the preserve’s highlights which includes plants displays, scenic lookouts, bird sanctuaries, vestiges from the past, and an interactive children’s garden. El Charco is also a wonderful place for strolling, jogging, hiking, meditating, or simply enjoying nature. 


A visit to El Charco was definitely in order while our daughter visited us in San Miguel de Allende.

El Charco (the pool, pond, or puddle) is, according to surveys, home to 535 species of flora including cacti from 85 botanical families plus an additional 51 species of lichen.


Here is the charco (pool, pond, or puddle) which is the heart of El Charco del Ingenio Botanical Gardens and preserve.

Much of the flora flourishes in the dry scrub land that makes up most of the garden, while the dam that created the reservoir, built in the late 19th Century, offers habitat for 156 species of resident and migratory birds.




Nearly 170 acres make up the site where El Charco is located which includes three important types of terrain: canyon, dry scrub land, and wetlands. The wetlands are the result from the creation of a dam in the late 19th century which provided hydroelectric power to the downstream town of San Miguel de Allende.


School children, residents, and visitors from around the world can enjoy the incredible diversity and beauty of El Charco thanks to the dedicated group of people that support this special environment. With sincere appreciation, I say thank you and bravo to you all!


The Charco del Ingenio Botanical Gardens and its pond/pool/puddle as seen in the dry season.  I find this environment magical in its quiet and serenity.

Along with its primary mission of study and conservation of natural resources, El Charco and its connecting Landeta Park also serve as community gathering places. Talks, courses, workshops, guided visits, meetings, camps, astronomical observations, races, concerts, dances, ceremonies, and various festivities take place continuously. There are also opportunities for mountain biking, rock climbing, bird watching, camping and horseback riding.


Cactus is tough. But the succulent family is actually fragile. In too many instances a great number of the cactus species in Mexico are endangered due to factors both natural and man made. El Charco is dedicated to saving, protecting, and propagating Mexico’s wild cactus specimens.  Bravo!


If visitors look carefully, you might catch a glimpse of any one of the 110 species of butterflies that inhabit or visit the area along with the 18 different types of reptiles and amphibians, or the 11 species of dragonflies or damselflies that call El Charco their home. Wow!









ACTIVITIES AT EL CHARCO

The activities, ceremonies, and special events offered at El Charco del Ingenio are truly outstanding. The following were some of my favorite offerings which should not be missed!

Full Moon Ceremony which takes place every month in the Plaza of the Four Winds starting at sunset.The purpose of this ceremony is to bring nature back in balance on earth. Included in this ceremony is a bonfire, incense, chanting, and drumming. This ceremony is definitely up there in the "woo-woo" category, but it is quite lovely.


From the Full Moon Ceremony at the Plaza of the Four Winds ....

to yoga classes at the Plaza of the Four Winds there is something for everyone at El Charco.


Fiesta de la Santa Cruz del Charco del Ingenio (The Festival of the Holy Cross of El Charco del Ingenio) is celebrated during the first fifteen days of July in El Charco Botanical Garden and Landeta Park.

The ceremony starts in the Plaza of the Four Winds and the cross is carried to the four cardinal points of the Botanical Garden where the protective shrines are located. It finishes with the installation of the cross in Parque Landeta where the fiesta continues all day with ritual dances, music and more.




The Fiesta de la Santa Cruz is a popular festival directed by the indigenous communities of San Miguel which includes a candlelight vigil, raising of the standing offering súchil (an offering in the form of a tall construction made from local plants), a procession of the Holy Cross, dances of the rayados (striped dancers), concheros (shell dancers) and locos (the crazies, disguised as women and political caricatures), as well as a public dance and huapango arribeño (traditional music from the neighboring Sierra Gorda). 




Since its beginnings in 1991, this celebration is held every year in July to commemorate the foundation of the Botanical Garden as well as the rescue of this magnificent ravine, a project that not only preserves El Charco as an ecological reserve, but also as a ritual space for local indigenous communities of San Miguel. 

The image of the Santa Cruz (the holy cross) goes back to the wars of Conquest of the 16th century and the foundation of San Miguel de Allende. Consequently, Charco del Ingenio is a sacred territory for the communities of the Santa Cruz, urban as well as rural, who come to the annual festival.




The Spring Equinox Concert, held annually near the date of March 21, takes place in the Charco del Ingenio canyon with its rocky formations which create a naturally sculpted acoustic space. Every year a different musical group performs in this fundraising concert which benefits the botanical garden. 


This "Festival of the Sun" is usually celebrated with a concert in the garden's natural amphitheater. It usually begins at 5:00 pm and many stay after the concert to watch the sunset. 




We were living in San Miguel during El Charco's 20th anniversary which was celebrated by a very special concert for the Spring Equinox with a 90-member symphonic orchestra. The concert was in collaboration with the well known Festival of Baroque Music. Our stars were definitely in alignment for this occasion!


Insiders tip: You'll be literally sitting on the rocks, so bring a cushion, a hat, and cold water!

TEMASCAL RITUAL

A temazcal ([temasˈkal]) is a type of sweat lodge which originated with pre-Hispanic indigenous peoples in Mesoamerica.  It was used as part of a curative ceremony thought to purify the body after exertion such as after a battle or a ceremonial ball game. It was also used for healing the sick, improving health, and for women as an aid in giving birth. It continues to be used today in indigenous cultures of Mexico and Central America that were part of the ancient Mesoamerican region for spiritual and health reasons.




On the weekend nearest the full moon, one or two sessions of this ritual and curative ceremony using aromatic herbs and steam takes place in a sweat-lodge located in the ruins of the Hacienda Las Colonias in the northern part of the garden.  This relaxing steam bath is a ritual of healing and purification and is available every month for both men and women.


The following are more of my favorite photographs taken at El Charco del Ingenio Botanical Gardens:


The El Charco greenhouse contains the second largest collection of succulents in Mexico.


A fence of Saguaro cactus is certainly a detriment from wandering off the path!



Have you heard of agave azul (blue agave) tequila from Mexico? Just a little photo enhancement for fun!  


A good place to chill while exploring El Charco del Ingenio!  



Enjoying the annual benefit concert can be challenging for those with issues of height, but not a factor for these folks.


A water "feature" at the entrance to the Botanical Gardens which I find especially nice.


Our daughter standing up and taking measure of the tall cacti at El Charco.


El Charco del Ingenio overlooking San Miguel de Allende.


Time to say adios to El Charco and much gracias for the wonderful visit. We will be back!


I certainly hope you have enjoyed our excursion to El Charco del Ingenio Botanical Gardens.  Believe me when I say I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting this amazing habitat and only wish I were closer so that I could visit on a more regular basis.  Please scroll down to the link for my entire El Charco photograph album.

I remember hearing many years ago that a picture is worth a thousand words and many memories.  Those words definitely contributed to and inspired me in the creation of MEXICO AND BEYOND: LAURA'S PHOTO JOURNEY.


Laura with "her" cactus and the original photograph from El Charco del Ingenio below:




EL CHARCO PHOTO ALBUM
I sincerely appreciate hearing from my readers with their questions, comments, and suggestions so don't be shy!  Until then, gracias and safe travels! Laura

                                   Adios from a blooming cactus.