We were taking the bus to San Miguel. In our experience, premium coaches in Mexico are bargain-priced and very comfortable. Although we travel light, with just one carry-on bag each, it seemed best to take a cab to the El Norte bus station. Our cab driver (unofficial, booked by our hotel which probably got a kickback) was a character. The roof of his cab was covered with glued-on clips from magazines and newspapers, many with political content. There were also pill bottles, a small penlight, children's toys and other three-dimensional objects.
Behind the sun visors were rather more risqué photos and articles. All the way to the station he kept up a commentary in rapid Spanish, which seemed to be mainly about government corruption.
The bus was as clean and well-equipped as always, and provided us with a small lunch and a bottle of water for the 4-hour journey. Our friend David met us at our destination and drove us to our hotel, the Quinta Loreto: several colourful, low buildings wrapped around a pretty garden.
Our room, on the upper floor was large and airy, with floor-to-ceiling windows looking out over the adjoining market. From our door I recognized an Australian native, a healthy Norfolk Island pine towering above the other plants.
David took us to a lovely restaurant terrace, La Posadita, for a mid-afternoon meal. I didn't take any photos then, but we enjoyed it so much we returned a couple of nights later.
I had worried that the market beside our hotel would be noisy at night, but it closed early and the only sound that intruded into our dreams was a regular tolling of bells from various churches.
Friday, January 23rd
David picked me up after breakfast; we left Michael to wander the streets of the town while we set off to visit to the gardens of a few of his friends. We went first to his own garden, on the outskirts of town. I loved the warm orange ochre of the house and the way its walls and the grey paving complemented the colours and framed the shapes of the plants...
...particularly this Strelitzia.
Lots of cacti and succulents were thriving in terracotta pots, both around the courtyard...
... and up on the roof deck with its view over the surrounding countryside.
Even David was colour-coordinated with his beautiful home.
We went on from there to meet Regan and Michael. Behind their sturdy gate ...
... was an astonishing array of cacti and other tropical plants spread over a terraced three-quarters of an acre. The photos speak better than I can about the wealth of interesting specimens and the skilful arrangement of shapes and colours.
Even familiar plants like prickly pear and agave seemed to demand more attention, carefully placed to their best advantage.
The tall, white house, very modern, had large plate-glass windows that brought the garden into every room - even the bathroom, which seemed almost more outside than in.
All three of my companions laughed when I took this photo from the roof deck. Being shorter than them, I could not see the (not so attractive) satellite dish that kept this agave company. All I saw was its brilliant red outline against the blue sky.
After appreciative farewells, David and I stopped for a quick coffee before making our way to the next garden, another oasis of beauty and quiet, this one hidden behind a high wall, right in the middle of town.
Terry and Jack greeted us at the door and led us into their dazzling twin courtyards of unique plants, selected and planted to complement each other and the rocks or walls beside them.
Another Strelitzia immediately caught my eye.
I had never seen a white one.
But there was much more to see and be delighted by:
a long rectangular pool of koi and waterlilies in the centre of a courtyard,
... lilac, azure-blue or vivid orange walls that contrasted with the greens and greys of foliage,
... fascinating plants,
...and a myriad of intriguing sculptures that shared the stage with them.
Brightly-painted chairs were features in themselves, whether accompanied by a set of books in pale ochre clay ...
...or a pile of freshly-picked oranges.
Terry was a charming host and the time went all too fast.
Our day was not yet done. After lunch in a small cafe, where I had a couple of very good fish tacos, we drove out of town to the Botanical Garden where David volunteers, sharing his wealth of knowledge with visitors. There I got a personal tour of this 100+ acre site wrapped around a deep canyon. David told me it was acquired by a group of Mexicans who recognized the uniqueness of the site and organized to acquire it before a developer could snap it up for housing. There were amazing vistas,
... and more fascinating plants.
David showed me where a massive waterwheel had once drawn water to feed an aquaduct running all the way back to the town.
There was also a moving memorial to the 43 students from Iguala, south of Mexico City, who a few months earlier had been handed over by police to local drug lords who killed them and burned their bodies: strung on simple clotheslines were 43 black t-shirts, each printed or embroidered with words or symbols associated with one of the dead.
It was almost 6:00 when David finally dropped me back at the hotel. While I'd been enjoying gardens, Michael had climbed a hill to get a view of San Miguel from above and then spent the rest of his day sketching in the streets and markets. The results are on his website here.
We spent the evening wandering through the local square, watching the activity around us: people chatting on the park benches, mariachis serenading shy young couples in the restaurants,
... and children playing with balloons bought from a couple of street vendors.
We remembered David's words from earlier in our visit: " Here, every child knows that it is loved."
Saturday, January 24
The aquaduct I had seen from the Botanical Garden had originally been built to provide water for a textile factory on the outskirts of San Miguel de Allende. Now that factory has been converted into La Fabrica, an art and antiques centre. Our plan for the morning was to walk there and enjoy the sights.
First though, we visited a rug shop close to our hotel that Michael had discovered the day before, where we bought a small red wool rug. The red dye is cochineal, derived from a tiny insect that lives on prickly pear cactus. When the Spanish discovered this dye, they shipped great quantities back to Spain where it became a very expensive, highly desirable product, used to colour the garments of the rich and the church.
A leisurely walk then took us to La Fabrica. The factory buildings are now a series of airy galleries and courtyards, selling beautiful old and new pieces, many of them local.
Flowers and foliage were everywhere,
...including in the art.
We spent a pleasant morning there, enjoying all the lovely wares we couldn't take home with us.
In the afternoon, we walked through the main plaza with its trees clipped into tidy cossack hats and its mariachi musicians getting ready for the evening's entertainment,
Strings of donkeys loaded with firewood were almost too picturesque to be true.
Eventually we found ourselves in a wealthy quarter of town epitomized by the five-star Rosewood Hotel. We walked through the public rooms, finding them sleek and silent, very different from the cheerful, noisy streets of the Centro. I did like their garden,
... but not as much as that of an apartment complex nearby with its teddy bear topiary.
In the evening, a sudden thunderstorm while we were in the Plaza sent everyone running for shelter under the colonnades. It was over in ten minutes, everyone continued on their way, and boys who had been break-dancing in the street simply moved into the empty bandstand and continued practising their tricks on a piece of dry cardboard.
Sunday, January 25
A cool morning. At breakfast, the restaurant had a fire going in its huge fireplace.
David picked us up at 10:00 and we set off for Pozos, a prosperous silver-mining town that became a ghost town after the mines closed. The centre of town is now experiencing new life thanks to its discovery by a few expats and an injection of government money under a "pueblos magicos" program. However, the mines on the surrounding plain remain only as picturesque ruins.
We drove through vast fields of broccoli, strawberries and other food crops to an old mine site where all that remained were three tall rubble chimneys rising out of the dusty plain.
In the shade of a gnarled tree, a donkey lay dozing.
It belonged to a family of campesinos who were living among the ruins with a few goats and chickens in rough enclosures. David had brought provisions from town for them, a kind gesture he makes whenever he visits this site.
Although a harsh landscape, it had its own beauty.
We continued a little further to another mine site where we wandered among crumbling walls,
... and dangerous, very deep mineshafts.
David told us a tragic story of how, only a few months earlier, the son of a visiting family had attempted to jump across one of the narrower shafts. He lost his footing and fell to his death. The shaft was so deep, it took a week for rescuers to retrieve his body.
Leaving the mines, we made our way to Pozos for lunch in a restored hacienda, now a restaurant and hotel.
The surrounding garden had many delightful features.
We also visited a local gallery, whose artistic exterior made up for it being closed.
In the afternoon we drove to another abandoned mine,
with dramatic views over the hills.
Afterwards, we drove through those hills to see more remarkable countryside and plants.
The highlight? A hillside dotted with towering, gnarled yuccas like H.G. Wells' triffids.
Back in San Miguel de Allende, we said goodbye to David, whose friendship and local knowledge had made our time there so rich. Dinner on a terrace watching fireworks erupt in the sky over the cathedral rounded out a long but fascinating day.