“Ahhhh. Oohhh. Awww. Mmmmmm.” These are the sounds most often heard as bathers first step into a hot spring seeking cures for rheumatism, arthritis, and a multitude of other ailments. Mexicans have known the pleasures of “taking the waters” for centuries.
Today around San Miguel are plenty of options but a few decades back the most chic place to take the waters was a spa built around the ruins of the oldest hacienda in the area, Tirado, now called San Roque after its most famous owner Roque Carbajo.
Roque Carbajo, known for composing the bolero “Dry Leaf” interpreted by singers since 1946, was born in 1910 in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato. As an adult he lived for many years in Germany and was a diplomat in Nicaragua in 1948.
Returning to San Miguel de Allende Roque lived for many years at the corner of Hernanadez Macias and Umaran. In the 1970s Roque owned a restaurant called “Dry Leaf” serving Arab cuisine by his wife, Yamila Dergal, who was from that region. While eating, Roque, entertained patrons on the piano. Often drinking and playing, Roque failed to notice when his toupee turned sideways or eventually slid down his back like a run-away mammal.
The influential tale surrounding Roque and Yamila is that one day he told her he was going out for cigarettes only to return 32 years later. That event entered popular phrases in both Spanish and English insisting if your man tells you he is “going out for cigarettes” it is code for he isn’t coming back.
A line I, as a non-smoker, used many times in gest when frustrated with my spouse. Roque turned the ex-hacienda Tirado, that had centered on livestock during the Inquisition Era and is the oldest hacienda in the area, into an elegant health spa. The spa featured 15 pools/hot springs and 20 private rooms with baths, a bar for him to play piano in and lovely lake views. A similar project was featured at Xote. Roque soon tired of the project following flooding and it fell into ruins. Xote’s attempt at a spa ran a few decades longer.
Roque and Yamila’s son had a local TV show and died a few short years after his father in 1994. The ex-hacienda was inherited by Roque’s nephew, Arturo. A witch told Arturo there was money in the ex-hacienda. Arturo then criss-crossed the hacienda with holes and tunnels looking for buried treasures from another era. That is as likely to find as pirate booty! Suffice to say Arturo dies before finding any treasure.
What was found was natural springs with drinkable water that became the origin for the bottled water sold through the Agua Bell company for years.
Joseph Toone is the Historical Society’s short-story award winning author of the SMA Secrets book series. All books in the series are Amazon bestsellers in Mexican Travel and Holidays.