The car ride from San Miguel to Banda was interesting and adventurous in and of itself. I hitched a ride with my buddies Mario and Rodo in their weathered little two-seater truck with cracked windshield and torn up seats. I sandwiched myself in sideways between the guys, upper body squished tight against Rodo’s shoulders as he navigated the road and tried to find space in between our knees to switch gears; my lower legs were practically atop his brother Mario in the passenger seat—the three of us chatting and laughing away on the 20 minute early morning drive out to the country where we would saddle up at my friend Holly’s ranch and begin our all-day ride to San Martín for another, larger scale blessing of the horses event.
In a culture where the respect and physical space between platonic men and women is formal and very clear, it’s a good thing Mario, Rodo and I have time under our belts riding in the desert highlands of Central Mexico, otherwise the car ride might have felt much longer and undoubtedly a tad bit uncomfortable. I have a distinct feeling that they had a good laugh together once we arrived at the ranch and all boots were out of the car and on the ground.
Arrival at Holly’s ranch in Banda is always a transformative experience for me, to go from narrow cobblestone streets packed with restaurants, stores and houses to open space populated with burros, horses and six dogs that come charging and wagging at me with love and kisses.
The purpose (if one needs a purpose to ride) of today’s outing was to take part in the annual honoring of Saint Martin of Tours, as he is known in France—and San Martín Caballero here in Mexico. So the story goes, St. Martin was born in Hungary, raised in Italy and spent most of his adult life in France. He was in the Roman army and is best known for the account of using his military sword to cut his red cloak in half to give to a beggar dressed only in rags in the depth of winter. That night, he had a dream in which Jesus was wearing the half cloak that he had given to the beggar; he quickly found the military duty incompatible with his Christian faith, quit the army and became a monk. His shrine in France became a famous stopping-point for pilgrims on the road to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.
Saint Martin is the patron saint of those who hope strangers will help them. Here in San Miguel de Allende, shop owners display his image on candles, tapestries and all sorts of hand-crafted relics. The Saint Martin horseshoe, in contrast to the Irish tradition of hanging it with its ends pointed upward, has the ends pointing down as a way of soliciting good fortune.
St. Martin has become one of the most familiar and recognizable Christian saints and he is honored in the Roman Catholic Church on November 11th of each year. In Central Mexico, St. Martin’s Feast is an annual religious celebration and pilgrimage of thousands on horseback coming from all four corners of the state of Guanajuato as well as the neighboring ones to receive special blessings for both horse and rider after the long trek.
On our six-hour ride, we also passed many people on foot and bicycle, making their long journey to the small village of San Martín, about 45 minutes by car outside of San Miguel de Allende, in the municipality of Dolores Hidalgo.
About half way into our ride, we came upon a group of riders participating in a blessing at a small church in the middle of, well, what some might deem “nowhere”, but here, in Central Mexico, in the expansive, diverse, multi-faceted countryside. The conservation of traditions and demonstrations of faith are many and palpable…
Interestingly enough, for such a large-scale event, known as Guanajuato’s largest religious festival, there was not much advertising of it around San Miguel de Allende. I did come upon this poster inside of the Santa Ana Church, announcing the date and time of the pilgrimage by foot:
We were saddled up and on the country trails (and often times no trails at all) by nine in the morning—a cool, cloudy morning that held the potential, if not promise, of rain. And rain indeed it did!
It rained on us also during The Blessing of The Horses ride in October, but only for about 20 minutes. The rain on this day to San Martín was cold, relentless and fell hard for a solid two hours. If some experiences are designed to see what you are made of, these couple of hours of rain in the wide open country with no end in sight definitely got my attention and pushed me to dig deep and suck it up.
I’d like to say that I emerged washed, purified and refreshed, but the reality is that I was just really grateful when the sun made her reappearance and even more so when Holly’s husband Erik showed up at the end of the day with the trailer and a bottle of chardonnay. Never mind that I was soaked and still de-thawing…the wine might as well have been named Nirvana as it provided some welcomed internal warmth to my chilled body.
Parts of our travel involved riding on the edge of the main highway, which was for sure unsettling around the blind corners and with cars whisking by, but it definitely forced me to keep my senses alive and my horseback riding skills and reflexes at their best! We were grateful (and quite relieved) to have joined up with two other caballeros making their way to San Martín—one carrying an orange flag—that took on the important task of riding ahead to direct and divert traffic as much as possible.
Guerrero, the ginormous gentle giant that had my life in his hands (although you’re never suppose to communicate that energy to the horse), was in a spunky mood of sorts and felt inspired to buck, and hard at that, primarily on the parts of the ride that were declines. Apparently this is “fun” for him, as I later found out from Mario & Rodo…all in a day’s adventure!
Emerging from the clouds and expansive wide-open countryside, we at long last had San Martín within eyesight.
And what a sight it was!
From a distance, we could see the “tent-town” that was being erected in this normally small rural village of less than 700 people—a full outdoor mercado, families setting up camp for the weekend with mattresses, stoves, and once we were on foot, we even saw makeshift cradles for the little ones—talk about ingenuity and resourcefulness!
Heading up through the sea of people, cars, trucks, bikes and horses, we entered the market—a smorgasbord of almost every imaginable food and hand-made trinket from this region and a few other random offerings and sightings that make you wonder.
We rode to San Martín on the Saturday of a multi-day event, culminating on that Monday with a large Mass for horse, rider, and all that had made the trek on foot and bicycle. No doubt the weekend provided a myriad of sites and sounds, some captured in this video (credit: Juan de San Miguel Martinez).
After we enjoyed some delicious hot-off-the-grill carnitas tacos and a couple glasses of chilled chardonnay, we loaded up the horses and headed back to Holly’s and Erik’s ranch in Banda. This was the view that sent us off with a most extraordinary farewell and lasting impression of our adventurous day:
I will forever hold the memory of this ride, this day, this life-changing experience in my heart. I am so grateful to have been able to participate in something so truly magical.
Cheers y Saludos,
STAY UP-TO-DATE WITH OUR ADVENTURES:
JOIN US ON FACEBOOK: