It should be easy. Just drive out of Salvatierra on Mex 51 and head north. Stay on the highway; don't take any detours. Continue through Celaya and arrive in San Miguel de Allende 90 minutes later. No problem.
I've never managed to do that. Going north or south, I arrive at the outskirts of Celaya, determined that this time I will find the hidden passage through the city. Inevitably I lose my way and ultimately, my composure.
The broad highway quickly contracts into a warren of narrow one-way streets. I follow directional signs hopefully: San Miguel de Allende to the right. Now turn left. At some critical juncture—different each trip—directional signs disappear, replaced by the dreaded "Desvación" sign that sends me into obscure barrios from which there's no apparent way out.
On the way home from Salvatierra last weekend, I became lost as usual. (Why don't I just relax and accept the inevitable?) Snaking my way around the giant yellow machines tearing up the Centro HIstorico, squeezing past illegally parked trucks in narrow alleys, fruitlessly attempting to navigate by the Explorer's broken compass (It's stuck on "east"), I somehow made it all the way to the north side of Celaya. There I stopped at a Pemex and asked a pump attendant how to get to San MIguel.
Responding in what must have been Nahuatl, he gestured at a nearby glorieta (traffic circle). I set off thinking I had a good grasp of his instructions. A half hour later we entered a small town where I discovered that the State of Guanajuato contains not one, but two San Miguels. We had arrived in the other one: San Miguel Octopan.
Getting lost can have rewards. Looking for someplace to ask directions, we encountered about thirty Danzantes in full regalia.
They were dancing to rhythms produced by four muscular young men pounding on drums that they had made themselves by stretching rawhide across the open ends of oil drums. Small fires burning underneath warmed and tightened the drum heads. Dancers whirled; the place throbbed with the beat.
A young woman burned copal, filling the small plaza with a piney scent.
A dancer-in-training looked like he was about ready for a nap.
Intent on finding our way home, we didn't linger, nor did we ask what the ceremony was. Had I not been so frustrated and tired, I might have learned something about the goings-on. Nevertheless stumbling on the danzantes brightened an otherwise tedious day.
At the edge of the crowd, we talked with a man wearing a Tyson baseball hat. People so attired are better bets for getting directions than Pemex station attendants. Not because they had worked north of the border and spoke English: our Spanish is good enough. (Although our Nahuatl is not.) No, the reason is that while working in the States, they learn good driving and navigation skills. They know car culture and speak the language of highway travel.
Shouting over the din of the drumming, our chicken packer accurately described three intersections, naming key landmarks and estimating the distances between. Within a half hour, we were back on familiar Mex 51, headed for home.
We were delayed two hours getting through Celaya. But we got to see indigenous costumes and dancing that tourists would die for—but usually miss—because they don't go getting lost in Mexico's hinterlands.