The first night we arrived in San Miguel a man named Alfredo took a napkin from the bar at Woolis Kaban and drew us a map. It would lead us to one of the largest trees in the world, one that would take 35 people to circle its trunk. The sketch was crude, a few lines here and there with a ballpoint pen, but we recognized the name of the town, La Huerta, from a green highway sign we see whenever we arrive on the highway from the airport. La Huerta is just across from the dam at the presa, about 20 minutes outside of San Miguel. If we could find the town, follow the road over a bridge, make a right at the school, and go uphill, everyone, he said, would know the tree.
The kids arrived a week later. We went out on a little sightseeing tour in our car, thinking we'd see the countryside and have some fun in the process. The road into La Huerta was amazingly beautiful: silver-grey agaves, a range of mountains running along the west side, a sky the color of construction-paper blue. We found the town after crossing the bridge, a remote little speck of a place down a dirt lane past the only school, with half-built cement and brick homes and one or two tiendas with their normal supply of chips, sodas, packs of gum, and basic comestibles. The obligatory Pepsi truck passed us on its rounds. Alas we found no tree. But not for lack of trying. We kept following what seemed to be the only road in town, even as it began to head straight uphill, past the last of the houses. The hill became so steep and narrow I refused to drive on it. Sam took over, careened up this path that turned out to probably be a walking path studded with broken pottery and then nearly got us stuck at the dead end top. I wouldn't even let the kids get in the car to drive back down. I was afraid it would slip and go over the edge into the valley. As he was making multiple turns to get the car facing the other direction, Sam nearly took out the town's water supply by driving over their water pipe. There was a sickening crunch but no gush.
So we kept going on, asking every local where this magical tree was. We ended up on another remote dirt road, only as wide as our car, and heard music playing somewhere among scrubby trees and cacti. While Sam figured out how to turn the car around on this narrow valley pass, I decided to head down into the bush to ask for directions to the "grand arbol." I could see an old woman downhill washing clothes. Just another really bad idea to wander into someone's property in the campo unannounced: I nearly got attacked by two feral dogs who were guarding the old woman's house. Later I laughed, but at that moment, as I was whispering, "good doggie", "hi there" and other inanities and backing slowly away, uphill, I wondered if I was a goner. So we bought some Pepsis and some cheetos once we found our way out and headed home! We have talked about going back but something else always comes up.