Published: February 3rd 2008February 3rd 2008
lake at Chimulco
fishing on lake Villa Corona
From Patzcuaro to Villa Corona
Well after our last log was sent out we kept staying at Hotel Villa Patzcuaro,(http://www.villapatzcuaro.com/
) and we stayed, and we stayed. Before we knew it we had been there a month. It is a wonderful campground that has a kitchen with a fireplace ( great for the cool nights and cold mornings) and with only 5 or 10 campers at any time. They also had WiFi which was a plus. Paztcuaro was a terrific place to visit in a beautiful area of the interior of Mexico. We made lots of great friends in the time we were there. But most of all after 7 months on the road we ( especially Ches) were ready to stop. It was so nice to just be in one place after so many miles. Patzcuaro is in the state of Michoacan in central Mexico and at 7000' elevation is quite cool and wet. We were there during the dry season but the nights at times got down to freezing, cold enough to turn on our little electric heater. The mountains are volcanic in origin which makes them very steep and the valleys below rich and fertile. The area is forested, with beautiful green fields in between. There are large and small lakes scattered around the region. The Purpechea Indians have, of course, been there much longer than the Spanish who took over the area in the conquest of Mexico and after a brutal suppression a priest introduced craft making to the Indians with each village specializing in a different craft. So now there is Santa Clara del Cobre where they work copper, another village will do all woodworking and furniture, or another one musical instruments, etc. etc. Their crafts are all sold in Patzcuaro at very reasonable prices.
Patzcuaro is a very old historical town of maybe 100,000 people built a mile or so from from the lake of the same name. All of the buildings in the historical area are painted white with the first 3' or so an ochre color and they have clay tile roofs. Stone and adobe are common materials. Many of the streets are paved with cobble which makes for great traffic calming but is terrible for bicycles and the sidewalks have a flat stone of cut basalt with larger stones used for curbs. While we were there we watched as a whole block had the concrete sidewalks replaced with stone. This is a tourist destination for Mexicans as well as foreigners and the town is serious about it's historical designation but yet it also has a somewhat gritty side to it, an authenticity as the home to a people who have been there a very long time. It has one of the best mercados we have been to, selling all sorts of things from fruits and vegetables to C.D.s and house goods to clothes and shoes interspersed with taco stands and food booths. One part of the mercado is under an enormous roof with booths crammed together along narrow aisles and full of jostling people. The other part is the adjacent streets covered with competing tarps hung so low we were constantly ducking to avoid them and again the booths were crammed in with even more people trying to avoid the hand trucks and wooden dollies carrying the goods to their respective stands and always these conveyances were powered and directed by little old men pushing through the crowds.
At first the mercado seemed like a dark spooky cave to be avoided by all rational people. But then its magic opened up as we ventured further in looking for mandarins and bananas, and we found the venders we liked and who smiled as we tried to ask for what we wanted in our butchered Spanish. As we went in further we found sources of peanuts and honey and saw the whole families who run the stands, the little children would get so excited as they learned to count and handle the money. School was a dream for them but this was education. Although that is not say there is no education in Mexico - we have seem many kids in school uniforms and passed many schools. To see the stands piled high with every imaginable fruit and vegetable was a beauty to behold. The butcher shops were another matter for us. Seeing the heads of butchered pigs staring out at us was a bit uncomfortable even as we found it hard not to stare. And then our friends Lon and Linda from the campground showed us Hernandez's taco stand where we could purchase “sincellas” vegetariano tacos on a plate piled high with grilled potatoes, onions and peppers for about .25 cents each. The trick was he didn't open up until about 6:00 after the first shift of stands closed in the late afternoon. Watching him work his little stand with a grill about 2' x 2' cooking and heating all the ingredients was performance art. In addition to the vegetables he also grilled a choice of carne (beef), chorizo, or another unidentifiable meat product. Not to mention warming up the tortillas in the midst of everything else.
The walk from the campground to town took about 25 minutes and provided much needed exercise. Some days we would make two trips into town. Using our bicycles was also an option, although it took some skill finding routes without too much traffic. Behind our campground was a rather steep hill about 1000' high and with a series of trails to the top. The view from the top was a spectacular panorama of the city, the lake, and surrounding mountains. It was a great workout and a good way to see just where we were.
Another interesting aspect of our campground was that the owners' son was an architect and concentrated on original design using the traditional materials of the area, namely adobe, stone and wood. Ches became interested enough to check out a couple of his works and was very interested in the adobe making operation they had next to the campground which was in operation while we were there. To see more check out our photos http://picasaweb.google.com/Ches.Alli/Chapter7PatzcuaroVillaCoronaMX
( and you can go to Ernan's website at http://www.1en1.com.mx/
). For the New Mexicans reading this the interesting thing about adobe making in this area is that they make a larger brick ( 4” x 12” x 16” to 20” ). And they use pine needles instead of straw in their mud. Ernan seemed to think needles lasted longer than straw based on his work on old homes in the area. As the photos show they use a horse to mix the mud, and of course, do everything else by hand.
Also, since our friends Lon and Linda were taking a week long Spanish course Allison decided to join them. Each morning they would pack their books and with Ziggy ( Lon and Linda's retriever ) they would catch the bus to school for 4 hours of tutoring. When they got back in the afternoon they would spend hours studying. Allison continues to study, but being around English speaking people all day makes it hard to really learn the language. Still, both of us try to speak Spanish whenever possible. As Allison's teacher, Gabriella says, practice, practice, practice, read aloud, watch movies, go to cafes and talk to people.
And so it went in Patzcuaro. We had a wonderful time there. Our camping neighbors included a jazz composer, a number of serious mountain bikers, a lawyer couple from Montreal with their two children, a woman from Seattle with her friend from Estonia ( headed to Panama ), a young couple just traveling...around the world in their 1958 VW transport van (http://www.bumfuzzle.com/index.html
) and many more who we became very close to. So many people like us would come to this campground and keep staying so we had plenty of time to get to know each other. Allison took a side trip to one of the islands with some women in the campground and also went to one of the small lakeside villages, Tzintzuntzan, where there are the remains of stone pyramids with Mark and (another) Linda from Texas. As we had noticed before, although we are meeting Americans, most of the people traveling in Mexico are Canadians. They seem to pity the few Americans who were on the road, sorry we had gotten ourselves into such a mess, wondering how it happened. Even Mexicans felt the same, afraid to bring up the name of Bush lest they offend. How did it happen? It is interesting to talk with people from other countries and get their perspective on the position Bush has put America in.
After 4 weeks, it became hard to see how we could stay longer. We decided to head to the area around Guadalajara making a couple of stops along the way first. On Wednesday, January 23 we drove off for Uruapan just an hour away. As we dropped a bit in elevation we were surrounded by endless groves off avocados and then nurseries growing even more avocados. The area around Uruapan is noted for its agriculture particularly avocados, coffee, bananas, and oranges. We stopped there to see a world class urban park, the Parque Nacional Eduardo Ruiz which is the headwaters of the Rio Cupatitzio. You walk from the city right into a world of crystal clear water emerging from springs, fountains and waterfalls into a rushing river. The cobble walkways lead through steep hills and dense thick trees over stone bridges always surrounded by water rushing everywhere. We were amazed. After a quick trip to the market there, we drove 20 miles or so north to the small Indian village of Angahuan. We headed for a small state run campground, the Centro Turistica de Angahuan, on the edge of town that was about a 30 minute walk from a volcanic lava field that half covered a church. The volcano, Paracutin, erupted in 1943 and lasted for 9 years, burning two villages and rising 1700'. As you can see from the photos the church is an amazing site. And all around the town and the path to the church, everything is still covered in a soft volcanic dust, which made the hike a bit more difficult. It was interesting that Angahuan was a dusty, dirty village with cobble streets that were perfect for traffic calming as you could only drive about 10 MPH, but the next town down the road was clean as a whistle, and obviously a very prosperous town. What was the difference? Was it that the first town was more Native American? Or was the agricultural economy more prosperous in the second?
At any rate, after a quick one nighter at Angahuan we headed west on the yellow roads ( the back roads on our Guia Roji map ) to the area west of Lake Chapala. We drove through a series of small, agricultural towns and the avocado groves turned to fields of sugar cane and maguay cactus and the land became much drier and scrubbier. One town had a cane processing plant and an endless line of huge trucks piled high were queuing to be unloaded and the roads had these slow moving trucks everywhere. Guess who owned the roads? We headed back up into the mountains with tall pines when we passed through a tiny town with a small roadside birria ( lamb or goat) stand. We opted for the stew and enjoyed a delightful meal with “hand made” tortillas and a delicious spicy salsa proudly cooked by three sisters, one of whose husband worked in Los Angeles. We were joined by locals and truckers whose rigs were parked next to us. It was one of those finds. After lunch the previously nice roads went to hell and the afternoon was a bumpy ride to Lake Chapala which we skirted around the south side on our way to Villa Corona, a small town about 40 miles southwest of Guadalajara.
We were headed to the Parque Acuatica Chimulco a warm springs, water park ( or balneario ), and RV park all rolled into one. http://chimulcotrailerpark.com/Home.html
Several people had recommended it to us. It is a big departure for us from where we have been staying and we are quite comfortable here. We are camped with the big rigs ( which is unusual for us as we normally try very hard to avoid them ), again mostly people from Canada but a few from the states and many of them spend months here. One couple has made their RV their home for 17 years moving between Mexico and the States. It is a beautiful park right on a large lake with lots of bird life such as pink spoonbills. The pools are filled every day with thermal, slightly sulfurous water so they use no chlorine. The park is open to the public during the day and then in the evening they fill a pool just for the campers so we usually get in the water once in the morning and then again after dinner, unless Allison decides to ride the “Twister” in the heat of the day. As always, we are meeting interesting people from Canada and Europe. On a Sunday evening, we rode with a group of new friends to the next town over, Cocula, where mariachi music originated, for dinner and to listen to professional mariachis whose skill was on par with an orchestra. For the past several days, Allison has been humming “Ayyy,yah,yah,yah!” to herself.
The town of Villa Corona is small ( maybe 20,000 ), clean and very friendly. It has no particular historical significance or tourist charm but it is pleasant - many people bicycle and there is not much traffic. It is an easy walk into town for shopping or looking around and good for biking with lots of roads around town to explore the fields of sugar cane and maguay cactus or ride up into the hills. Several Mexicans here speak English and like to practice. Everyone is very tolerant of our Spanish which gives us more confidence to speak the language and ask questions. One of the workers here in the park also teaches English to 6-12 year olds, and invited Allison to come and speak English with the class next week. It will be another good opportunity to practice Spanish. We are learning that every region has its own accent and ways of saying the same thing. It keeps us on our toes!
Ches has kept in contact with our new friends that we met in Silver City, NM, Pat and Ralph, who are biking to the tip of South America ( http://ralphandpat.wordpress.com/
), and arranged this as a rendezvous point. They joined us for a few days, camping at our site and taking their tent down during the day because tent camping is not really permitted here. Someone told us it is because Mexicans mostly tent camp and the park wants them to rent the bungalows which are quite pricey, but they made an exception for us as long as the tent was down during the day. Allison, Pat and Ralph took the bus and then the train (subway) into Guadalajara for a day of city exploration. Public transportation is quite inexpensive here and well worth having someone else drive. A special treat was the double decker bus tour of the city, which reminded us to be thankful that we were not driving a car ourselves in this confusing city. We prefer the smaller towns, but Allison really wanted to see the Juan de Dios/Libertad Mercado which Ches had visited 35 years ago. It is one of largest indoor markets in the world with food concessions, clothes, shoes, animals, horse tack, vegetables, fruits, nuts -everything! Exhausting and confusing 3 stories high, we all wondered if it was really worth the effort when we weren't really shopping. Should we have gone to the Tomala market instead? Well, now we've seen it and know what people are talking about. Plus we were able to walk around a city with avenues dedicated to pedestrians only and full of public sculpture.
We plan on being here at Chimulco one more week before heading towards the coast and north. Before closing we would like to mention one more bicycling site that we were told about that is very interesting and that is http://www.blue-ant.tv/takeaseat/home.php
. It is about a guy who is biking around the world on a tandem bike picking up people to ride with him; pretty cool.