Giants, Shape-Shifting and Human Sacrifices
You don’t need to travel far to hear many of the legends and folklore from Pre-Hispanic Mexico and rarely is there a city as pretty and pretty full of legends as Las Canas.
Las Canas is directly behind Los Labrodores, the huge gated community off the highway in Atotonilco. Nestled against the mountains and canyons, Las Canas is an enjoyable 30 minute bus ride from town but in many ways a world apart.
With over a thousand residents, it’s not small as far as villages go. The local church dedicated to St. Isidore, patron saint of farmers, is rather substantial and well maintained in the village’s center. You’ll notice chapels to St. Isidore in the surrounding countryside often a stone’s throw from another as the indigenous Otomis continue to farm the area. However, this church is, in comparison, larger and better kept with its own legend.
A wealthy couple was traveling with a statue on St. Isidore in their wagon and placed it in Las Canas as they continued on. Locals build a church around the statue that still resides there. Older churches in town are for Guadalupe and St. Peter.
If you climb the nearby mountain you’ll find yet another well-kept chapel to St. Isidore alongside great canyon views. If you look down, you’ll see a dry lake bed, former home of Chan, a form-shifting spirit animal and indigenous water god. It was from Chan the area had an abundance of water and large crop of sugar cane, hence the town’s name Las Canas.
Chan, a shape shifter, could appear as most any creature he liked when not his rainbow colored hand-sized self. To keep Chan at bay, once the water was gathered, villagers would toss rocks into the spring. By the 1960s, Chan, tiring of the assault, stopped the spring’s flow and the area dried up. He then moved across the highway to nearby Atotonilco enjoying the sulfur smelling hot springs for a spell.
Eventually the Chan moved to San Miguel’s botanical gardens of El Charco where you’ll see the bottomless spring that is the current home of Chan. In order to keep San Miguel children from swimming in the deep well mothers continue to tell tykes how Chan, a mischievous water god, would grab their ankles and pull them under into his home.
Chan isn’t the only oddity to once call Las Canas home. The other is the Quinamentzin, a Pre-Hispanic tribe of giant rock people. Their bones still dot the area and when dug up during farming their jewel encrusted femurs and humerus bones are used to remove skin irritations.
Quinametzin were 10 to 12 feet tall and weighed about 660 to 1100 pounds. They were punished by the gods because they did not venerate them, and were destroyed by equally giant flooding. For many, those are the same floods of Noah’s Ark fame.
In the middle of the canyon’s valley you’ll find the huge stone throne their rulers ruled from. It’s not far from a dam area the ancients sacrificed two children each year to ensure the rains.
I was thankful for my children at the dam as it was from years of playing airplane with them I still have the grace and cat like reflexes to not tumble, along with my Maria doll charges in the bag, to a watery grave.
On one hike we had the grandson of an area shaman lead us and I realized it was he that needed to be writing books on the area, not me. He knew everything about the flora, fauna, animals and history of the area.
Throughout the hike we’d enjoy a variety of fruit from the cacti including garambullo which provides a sweet tasting fruit that you can eat in the wild, or enjoy in town in popsicles.
We came across animals living and dead. The living including goats, bulls, burros and foxes that excrement, a lot! From spinal bones I can now tell a coyote, cow, fox and horse’s skeletons apart!
The birds were another lot to learn about. Some only sing at night while others, like a whippoorwill that must constantly sing its name, ask continuously “What do you want? You want Jesus!”
At one point I was so exhausted I didn’t even hear Carmella, the burro, behind me arriving at a mountain top spring at the same time. Not only was Carmella not breathing heavy, unlike me that was only carrying a couple of Maria dolls and some water, Carmella had two large milk cans on her back. Show off!
Suffice to say my dog and I pretty much slept the next away but I’ll jump at the chance to explore Las Canas and the legends, or any other area around San Miguel, again and again!