Thursday, February 9, 2017

Not just any tree, of course, but one of the finest examples of Mexico’s national tree, the Montezuma bald cypress, sabino in Spanish, ahuehuete (old man of the water) in Nahuatl. 

Two friends of mine – mother, Susan, and daughter, Kirsten – invited anyone in our Saturday morning breakfast group who might be interested in a trip to see the famous 500 year-old sabino tree in the near-by village of La Huerta, to join them after breakfast last Saturday.  I bit, and was the only one.

I e-mailed Susan to ask if I needed to wear more sturdy shoes than my strappy sandals, if I needed to pack a lunch, and to tell her that I had to be back in SMA for a 5:30 dinner date with my friend, Phyllis.  She replied that my sandals were fine, and that we’d be back in plenty of time for lunch, let alone dinner.  Famous last words!

On Saturday, we made our way at around 11 a.m. to the bus station behind the San Juan de Dios market.  There was a bus schedule on a wall, with times filled in with chalk.  The name of the town we were headed for was not there, but Susan recognized the name La Presa (the dam, which she knew we had to cross) on one of the buses, and I asked the driver if it were going to La Huerta, and if so, at what time.  Evidently, we had just missed a bus going to that destination, because the next one wasn’t for 50 more minutes.  Since it was a hot day, I suggested that we sit on the benches in the shade rather than in the bus to wait.  However, Susan noticed that the bus was already pretty full, and thought maybe we’d better get on if we were going to have a seat.  Good call!  The bus became more and more crowded with mostly women and children and huge plastic bags of their purchases.  Since every little town has a couple of tiendas (little stores), these folks were probably stocking up on goods to sell in their tiendas or perhaps for their very large families.

The bus departed on time with many passengers standing.  Happily, Susan had gone on this trip before – 10 years ago – and so more or less knew the route and could tell that we were headed in the right direction.  However, after more than an hour passed and lots of stops were made and people got off, I got a bit nervous and would ask at each one, “¿Es La Huerta?” and aIl would be answered with, “No, más allá.”  (“No, further on.”)  Finally, after an hour and half on the road, the bus pulled into a village and turned around to go back the other way, and we spotted a sign that said, “Arbol Sabino.”  We were there at last!  Before we stepped off the bus, I asked the driver what time the next bus came.  I thought he said 3:15, but he might have said 3:40.  It was now about 1:15.

 We followed the arrow, climbed some steep stairs and saw the tree!  We were not disappointed!  It was in perfect condition.

The sign below gave us some valuable information, such as that it takes 18-20 people holding outstretched arms to encircle the trunk.  It said that this species takes a long time to grow, and is a relative of the California sequoia.  The oldest sabino in the world is at Santa Maria de Tule in Oaxaca (Mexico) with an age of approximately 2000 years.  The sabino grows only in places with abundant water.  In this case, it has reached such a great size thanks to the spring that nurtures it.

That same spring is also the water source for the village where it resides, La Huerta (the truck farm or the garden or the orchard).  

Of course no farm, garden, or orchard was in sight.  In fact, this village was incredibly dry, as was all of the land we drove through and indeed as it is in San Miguel de Allende, our departure point.

We spent about 15 minutes walking around the tree and taking photos.  

That is Susan, dwarfed to the left, in the first one.

Kirsten awed in this one.

Mother and daughter here.

And Susan and I in this one.

That was it.  Party over.  Tree seen and admired.  Learned a few things.  Now what?  

On our way back down to the “bus stop,” we could see a long, long freight train out in the distance.  Happily my photo of it captured a branch of a brilliant jacaranda tree, now in full bloom in the area.  You can see how arid the land is.

We met this gal tied up.  She is a byzantine burro.  Note the black cross down and across her back.

We decided that our next goal was to find something to eat and drink, which turned out to be easier said than done, but we finally located a tienda, which was pretty well stocked.  I had probably one of the best canned sodas I’ve ever drunk.  It was fresh pineapple juice with mineral water – so cool and refreshing.  I also bought a small bag of homemade popcorn, which was not oversalted nor buttered, just the way I like it.  Susan had a juice and a pastry, and Kirsten some chips and a drink.

We found a lowish stone wall near the bus stop and made ourselves as comfortable as we could on the flatter stones and proceeded to eat our “lunch” and also to provide entertainment for some of the locals.  I said, “Buenas tardes” to everyone, either on foot or in a car or truck, as I knew that Mexicans perceived silence as rudeness.  

If anyone ever tells you that nothing goes on in a small town, do not believe it for one second.
One toothless old lady engaged us in conversation, asking if we had come to see the tree.  Well…yes.  Why else in the world would we be there?

After eating, we moved back to the bus stop and sat on yet another stone wall to wait.  We passed some time reading the remnants of the sign below, which said that in 2009, there were 266 inhabitants of La Huerta. 

Then we took in the passing parade…

A bunch of boys around 10-12 years old appeared with a darling puppy and a lasso.  They were, of course, lassoing the puppy, which caused us great upset, and each other, much less.  Because of the heat and the weight of my backpack, I had removed it and put it on the wall, a bit away from me.  I hated myself for doing so, but when I saw the boys, I immediately put it back on.  To assuage my guilt, I gave them the 2/3 full bag of popcorn to finish off among them.  They asked us lots of questions.  It was clear that they had had some instruction in English.  One asked, “How do you say dame in English?”  When I replied, “Give me,” that was followed up by “Give me your money.”  Of course they were smiling and we were smiling, so it was all in good fun, but I didn’t feel quite so bad about re-connecting with my backpack.

They left (to return later) and three bulls meandered down the road.  They were spectacular looking, in differing patterns of black and white.  Unfortunately my camera wasn’t at the ready and I missed taking their photo.

A woman arrived with a large empty bucket and proceeded to a faucet to fill it.  It was then that I surmised that the spring which feeds the sabino is also used by the residents of the pueblo.  They have no running water!  She walked away with it on her head, held in place with one hand, while the other was jauntily placed on her hip.

Nearby was a large and deep metal cooking pot filled with hot oil, where a woman was cooking carnitas (small pieces of pork).  Many thin and scruffy dogs were milling around, brought close by the aroma.  The woman kept kicking in their direction to make them move on.  I was afraid that one would put its paws up on the edge of the pot and turn the whole thing over onto itself.  Happily, this did not happen.  Customers came and went.

At 3:10, a young mother and her child arrived to wait for the bus.  Hope leaped in our hearts, as surely this meant that the bus was coming at 3:15.  Wrong.  So then we waited none too patiently until 3:40.  Still no bus, so I asked the woman what time the bus came, and she said, “Four.”  If she knew that the bus was coming at four, why did she appear at 3:10?  To look at us?

At 3:50, we could see the approaching bus, and rejoiced.  But the driver had to have a carnitas torta before he prepared to drive off at precisely 4.  However, a car had appeared in the road where he needed to go, and he angrily waved the driver past onto a side street.  This stand-off lasted a few minutes, and finally the car backed up instead of going forward as he had been asked to do.  The car hit something, we heard the crash, and then all of the water came out of his radiator.  I had visions of the car’s driver blaming the bus driver and we having to sit there while they worked it out, but luckily, that didn’t happen.  But we were not home free yet.  A huge Pepsi delivery truck was parked by the side of the road, and there was no way the bus could pass the truck safely.  The truck driver was nowhere to be seen.  Much honking ensued.  Eventually the truck driver returned (I think he was in the tienda where we had bought our drinks and snacks), made more room for us on the road, and we were on our way.  We made many stops for mostly well-dressed men, whom I assumed were going into the big city (San Miguel) for some Saturday night festivities.

We had passed through a long, unlighted tunnel on our way to La Huerta, and of course we had to re-enter it on the way back.  It had only one lane.  I don’t even want to think about what happens when cars enter it from both directions at once.  In the pitch dark, since there were no lights in the bus either, we suddenly heard a loud, smacking sound, and I felt liquid spray on my ankles.  Evidently a water bottle had fallen off of the luggage shelf above the seats, landed hard on the floor, opening up, and sprayed everyone nearby.

But the adventure was not yet over!  About an hour later, we pulled up at Mega, the only real supermarket at the outskirts of town, and I dashed off the bus to catch a taxi, as I knew they were always there.  I was alone waiting when a man my age came out with a shopping cart full of groceries.  He got next to me, but not behind me, and I made sure that he knew that I was taking the next taxi.  At that moment, three things happened almost simultaneously.  A taxi arrived, the driver jumped out and opened his trunk, and a Mega worker appeared out of nowhere and began enthusiastically unloading the contents of the man’s cart into the trunk.  I sputtered and fumed, but very quickly realized that she was going to make a tip from the man and not from me, so I said, “Está bien,” and walked away to another waiting taxi.

I arrived home with minutes to spare before my dinner date.  I took off all of my very dusty clothes, had a quick wash, including my sandals and feet, re-dressed, and met Phyllis stepping out of a cab when I exited the courtyard of my building.

¡Viva México!
                                                                                                                        Cynthia Claus
                                                                                                                        April 16, 2016

If you liked this blog, perhaps you would enjoy some of my others:
Elderhostel trip to Alaska (2005):
Elderhostel trip to Copper Canyon in Mexico (2008):
My first winter (2009) in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico:
My second winter (2010) in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico:
My third winter (2011) in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico:
My first autumn (2011) in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico:
My fourth winter in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico (2012):
A trip to Chiapas, Mexico, with Vagabundos (2013):
A trip to Uruapan, Michoacán, Mexico, for the annual Palm Sunday artisans festival (2013):
My trip to the state of Hidalgo, Mexico, with the Audubon Society (2013):
My tip to Morocco (2014):
Day of the Dead in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico (2014):
My South African safari (2015):
Tour of South Africa after the safari (2015):
Day of the Dead in San Miguel de Allende , Mexico (2015):

Dead of the Dead in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico (2016):

A Trip to See a Tree (2017):

What a Storm! (2017):

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