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Published: March 16th 2017
Due to recent current world (well, for that read USA) events of Jan 20th
we suddenly we had an overwhelming desire to fly our flag whilst in Mexico
There was only small issue with that, we didn’t have one and didn’t know where to get one. No problem, as a child of the Blue Peter era I know there is nothing you can’t make if you have a piece of cardboard and some sticky back plastic, oh, and a modern day invention of a printer (and yes, I did ask a responsible adult if I could use the scissors)
Later that day, whilst we were sitting in the camp site coffee shop we watched several European campers pull in. All were adorned with their national flag and, in large writing the name of their country written in English, Spanish and their native language. We felt a bit left out
So, before you knew it, project flag was completed and prior to leaving for the mainland we proudly attached the home made flags to our Rig.
Next stop, off to La Paz Ferry terminal. Our choice was:
Waiting for the Ferry.
Note, our homemade flag on the ladder.
a) Baja Ferries, just like the Channel ones where you have to leave your vehicle in the hold and get a cabin, or
b) Get the freight ferry, which is a bit cheaper, and you stay in your vehicle. No point in paying for a cabin when you have your own 40 ft one is there? So we chose the freighter.
For a person who generally hates water, I love a good boat trip, but was a little concerned that we would be shut below decks for 14 hours, and I hate being shut in. Not because I am claustrophobic but because I can’t see what is going on.
We didn’t know quite what the routine was; the departure time appeared to keep changing; we had to sort out the paper work and purchase our ticket, so, as we didn’t know how long this would all take we arrived early. But all went smoothly and before we knew it we were sitting on the dockside looking at our ferry.
This was not a “roll-on, roll-off” ferry, more of a reverse-on one. We also discovered that the reason you
Truck reversing onto Ferry
Looks more difficult & impressive once you imagine it reversing up the ramp not driving forward. We watched their techniques with interest. The ramp doesn't look that steep does it.
can stay on your vehicle is because they park you on the upper deck which is open. This pleased me a great deal. We watched as all the large articulated Semi’s manoeuvred and reversed up the steep narrow ramp, the loading guys vaguely waving their hands around a bit to direct. Obviously they did this all the time.
Graeme seemed relaxed, whilst I thought that at this point many people with Rigs may be truly regretting booking this ticket. Our time came to load on. Graeme (as usual) expertly swung the Rig around and proceeded to reverse. All the, up until now, unconcerned staff started to peer under our vehicle. The hand signal for STOP is the same in Mexican Spanish as English. We repositioned and tried again. Nope. Try this way....... still not doable. We were a bit low for the camber. Another plan was required. “Try driving on forward” they said. So we reversed back, swung around and tried again. This time Graeme used the air levelling system to raise the suspension up enough to clear the camber and slowly, slowly, we inched our way up. Made it! They parked us at the far end
with our back to everyone else. It was like being told to stand in the naughty corner. We were guessing we would have to reverse off after everyone else had gone. Now, I would like to share a photo of this feat with you but it’s a little difficult to use a camera with your eyes shut!
So, one uneventful journey and about 14 hours later, through the morning mists, mainland Mexico came into view.
We watched with interest as a small pilot boat came out to greet us and then slowly nudge and pull the ship around 180 degrees so it could reverse in to dock. Now, all we had to do was drive or reverse off, what was it to be................?
Piece of cake! Graeme did a U turn on the boat and facing forward, down the ramp we went and were soon headed towards Mar Rosa, the RV park we last stayed in eleven years ago. We had spent Christmas here in 2005. Maleno, who ran the Park back then was still in charge and we had kept in contact. Mar Rosa is directly on the sea front,
View from our window.
and at a time when many RV parks in good locations are closing, it was nice to see it was still there, and a space available for us. We booked a few days to enjoy the old town and beach walks.
Whilst here, I realised the city of Durango, once one of the most isolated towns in Mexico, was relatively nearby. I really wanted to visit it. To get there it takes six to nine.... or more hours, to drive the approximately 180 mile twisting, tortuous road known as “The Devils Backbone
”,depending on what you read, or who you listen to,
This road is infamous, both locally and internationally for its challenges. Local legend says that when the Archangel Michael threw the Devil from heaven and he landed here on earth, his backbone formed the rugged ridgeline of the Sierra Madres.
The road has a bad reputation for many reasons: it’s accident-prone and hundreds of people have died on it. The mountains are remote and inaccessible enough that they are used for growing marijuana and poppies, therefore, there has been a lot of drug related crime. But bad reputation or not,
The Baluarte Bridge
Is the highest cable-stayed bridge in the world and the third highest overall. The bridge has a total length of 3,688ft with the central cable-stayed span measuring1,710 ft. The road deck is 1,322 ft above the valley below, which means the Eiffel Tower could easily fit beneath it.
it is the only place to cross the Sierra Madres for more than 500 miles.
It didn’t sound the best route for us and as far as I could find out there were no RV Parks, so Durango in the Rig was probably not to be.
Then................... I heard/ read about the new four (in reality two) lane super highway that had been built. It is an amazing feat of engineering and because of the difficult terrain includes 61 tunnels & 115 bridges, one of which is the highest cable - stayed bridge in the world. It had to be done. I just had to persuade Graeme.
When we were with Jim & Donna in Florida they said we must meet up with their friends who live in Idaho. We hoped to meet them last September, when we were heading their way, but changed direction when we turned left in Idaho Falls, so it didn’t happen. Donna then told us that Loretta & Doug were going to be in Mexico for the winter. Graeme made contact on Face book and we followed each other’s progress hoping to meet when we were
Distance view of Bridge
It is amazing but personally I think the Millau Bridge in France is better.
in the same place at the same time. They were now also in Mazatlan, so it was here we eventually met up.
We got chatting about wanting to visit Durango and hit on a plan to go together. They were on the road with their Travel Trailer, towed by a truck. Perfect.
The road was hugely ambitious and the largest public building project ever undertaken in Mexico. Considering the bridges and tunnels required it was completed in an astounding three years. They are already repairing quite a lot of it though.
Despite the immense challenges of this project there were many reasons for the creation of this road.
a) They just needed a new road.
b) It would complete the route to link the port cities on the Gulf of Mexico to the ones on the Pacific coast.
c) Because the “Devils backbone” was a difficult remote route, modern-day-sized-trucks found it difficult to travel across.
d) As mentioned earlier the old road runs through the opium growing and drug areas. The new one provides the Military with better access
The Plaza de armas, Durango
Pretty plaza & impressive Cathedral view.
Picture taken from Durango Library, mine was rubbish.
and response to the drug Cartels. But “E” is the reason I like best. I quote:
e) “Authorities hope the project will increase tourism to such areas plagued by drug violence. On either side of the Balaurte Bridge, part of the highway in the western part of the country, Sinaloa and Durango were among the deadliest states in terms of drug-related killings between 2006 and 2011. The road will increase jobs and keep people busy,' (did they mean undertakers?) Said Eligio Medina, mayor of the city of Concordia, Sinaloa. 'When there is social mobility, criminal groups are more limited”
Always happy to help, we continued to plan our trip.
It truly is a magnificent road. Probably worth every bit of the 2.2 billion $US it cost to build. We travelled along it, admiring the beautiful views, tunnels and other bridges but really I was just waiting for the first glimpse of the Baluarte Bridge. Then suddenly, as we exited a tunnel, there it was..... Stretching 3, 688 ft across and 1,322ft above the Baluarte river gorge, it is so high the Eiffel Tower would easily fit underneath
Inside the Basilica
A beautiful, calm, uplifting place.
it. In fact it would have a generous 269 feet to spare. It is an amazing engineering feat.
My only complaint is, considering all the effort to build this impressive bridge they seem to have forgotten to include any lay bys (pull offs) so you can stop and stare (It would probably only cost an additional million $). No problem, it is Mexico, you just stop on the bridge, there is plenty of room for trucks to pass by. We saw one car full of people standing out on the side rails taking selfies! Not so sure about that, so Doug slowed the car down and I hung out the window waving my camera around. I did read that the cruise ships to Mazatlan are considering offering a day trip to see the bridge. Can you imagine all those people wandering around on it? Currently there may not be much traffic using it but the trucks that do move pretty fast. They could go back with a few empty seats.
So, having driven across the highest cable stayed bridge and the third highest bridge in the world we continued on towards our destination of
The State of Durango is one of the most beautiful states in Mexico. It has diverse natural scenery that includes deserts, mountains, forests, more than a hundred waterfalls, jungle and snow. It also has Colonial towns, bright blue skies nearly all of the year, and a fabulous natural light. All of which makes it not only a great place to visit but a favourite location for the film industry. Many famous movies were filmed here, including Ben Hur, The Magnificent Seven, Dr. Zhivago, Star Wars, Superman, Titanic, Pirates of the Caribbean, Conan, & The Good the Bad and the Ugly.... to name a few.
Durango is also rich in the natural resources of silver, gold and iron. Useless facts coming up now ... the iron for the Golden Gate Bridge and the Eiffel Tower came from here, and to this day the iron rich water stains people’s teeth offering up an easy way to spot a local.
Not known to us until we got there is that Durango is also famous for its scorpions, the most poisonous in the country. They appear in/on many things, belts, bags, key rings, T
Pancho Villa Museum.
The man himself............
shirts and also the menu....... We didn’t try them.......but Graeme did buy a leather scorpion belt!
At an altitude of 6,000 ft, Durango is the capital and largest city of the State of Durango. It has the largest number of historic buildings in the north of Mexico and was declared a World Heritage City by UNESCO. Its architecture is characterized by its eclectic nature, with elements resembling Barcelona, Florence, Paris and Madrid.
We knew we would like it as soon as we entered the outskirts and drove past the pretty parks and streets.
We had booked into a lovely old hotel on the main square, opposite the "Catedral Basílica de Durango" which is considered one of the most beautiful buildings in northern Mexico. There has been a Cathedral on this site for many years but the original construction was destroyed by fire and humidity. This current building, designed by architect Mateo Nuñez was commenced in 1695 and completed about fifteen years later. It is built in an elaborate baroque style so I was surprised when we entered. It was a bright, beautiful and tranquil space.
We wandered around
the City, generally just taking in and enjoying the atmosphere, bars and music. Everywhere you went there was live music. There was a free concert in the square (sadly the backing bands soundcheck of jazzy prog rock music was more too our taste than the music they played supporting the main act......think Spanish Celine Dion), listened to a great singer in the street with the most fabulous classical type voice, were entertained by a trio playing /singing in the restaurant and later on completed the set, being entertained by a full on Mariachi band in a bar.
The music and margarita tour was going well but we thought we should add another “M” and do a bit of culture, so visited the Pancho Villa Museum. Villa, a national hero, or villain depending on your viewpoint, was born in Durango. He became a Mexican Revolutionary General, and one of the most prominent figures of the Revolution in the north.
Politically charged murals and street art is seen everywhere throughout Mexico. Huge bold, colourful & detailed paintings decorate the walls of many public buildings. Diego Rivera, David Siqueiros Gerardo Murillo and Jose Orozco are some of
the most famous muralists; their work can be seen throughout Mexico
When we stepped through the door of the Palacio de Zambrano, we were greeted by large murals depicting key moments in Pancho Villa’s life and revolutionary struggle. Apparently, sometimes you are greeted by Pancho himself, but that day he was otherwise occupied and we had to wait until later to see him with his horse in the Zocolo.
We enjoyed an informative tour of both the Palacio and Villas history. Amongst other things we were shown photos, films, clothing and guns of Villa. We completed the tour by gazing at a copy of the bullet riddled car in which he met his end.
As we wandered through the streets we saw bronze statues of the actors who had filmed in this area. It was quite entertaining trying to recognise some of them. They all seemed a little short, not sure if that was to save bronze, artistic licence or film stars are generally below the national average height.
When we heard there was a Paseo del Viejo Oeste / Wild West film set nearby, we decided to
Tiny, Tiny Margaritas........
One Mezcal, one strawberry, one Tamarind. if we hadn't said stop the barman would have just worked through the entire flavours.
go. As we pulled into the parking area we noticed an over abundance of mountain bikes in the car park, we thought, there must be a Sunday bike ride. We went to the entrance and paid the excessive fee of 35 peso (£1.40) and wandered into the park.
We expected to see mounts of a four legged kind but instead there were bikes everywhere. It seems we had arrived at the completion of the Mazatlan to Durango (via the Devils backbone) bike challenge. I don’t know if it was a race or just a challenge and we couldn’t establish how long it had taken them to complete, but having just driven along the new road I was in awe of their achievement.
We thought perhaps there was not to be a show but suddenly, presentations completed, they all departed and it returned to a good old fashioned wild west town. Having offered Loretta up to have her throat cut by a not so wild looking native American, got Graeme to hang from a totem pole, and viewed “Boot Hill graveyard”, where, strangely there were headstones for quite a few people not yet dead we
Not quite what we expected to see in Paseo del Viejo Oest
Loads of cyclists! They had cycled from Mazatlán to Durango using the old road, The Devils Backbone. Must have been an amazing journey.
settled in to see the “shoot out”
It was really funny because obviously the narration was in Spanish and there was a whole lot of non-action and “comedy” stuff going on......... for ever, I think the afternoon show was a family one. But a cold beer helped as we made our own translation, (really easy because we all know the script) and eventually the shoot out happened, we went off very happy. .
The return journey was equally beautiful, perhaps more so as you get a better view of the bridge.
This area is not really on the main tourist track yet, but is a place where you could spend a considerable amount of time. We had only experienced a taster of the City, but would definitely like to return some time to explore the area more.
Back at Mazatlan we enjoyed a few more days with Loretta and Doug, going to a couple of fun music festivals on the beach, watching the sunsets and enjoying the odd margarita.
Having enjoyed three months of coastal travel we were ready for a change. We packed up
Thats more like it .
A not so Wild West shoot out.
Just outside Durango is a "Wild West "town, film set
Many famous Cowboy movies were made in this area.
and bade a final farewell to Maleno. We agreed we would probably not return in another eleven years. So we would not forget our time there, he had kindly made a video of our Rig in the campsite.
We had decided to visit the central highlands of Mexico, an area we had not been to before. It is not so much on the tourist trail and as far as we could find out had limited RV Sites for a Big Rig but we decided to go anyway. The first stop on the route was Guadalajara. We had driven there in 2006 & knew there was an RV park, but remembered the journey had taken us forever, and we had arrived after dark. So this time we decided to look for an overnight stop.
In Mexico you can stop overnight in the Pemex petrol stations these are usually safe and normally have a guard. Probably because in the past they only took cash so would be a good target for thieves. We decided that Tepic would be good place. That night Graeme was watching a YouTube video and I could hear this “popping” noise. What
....... Instant diet as a result of being an Indian hostage!
are you watching I asked, he replied, oh just a video of the Mexican Marine helicopter gunship shooting up a drug cartel in Tepic killing an alleged regional leader of the Beltrán Leyva drug cartel and 11 accomplices ................ Oh Ok, new plan required then?
Plan two, start early and try and drive straight through to Guadalajara,
One of the developments since we were last here is the completion of many new toll roads. Knowing the distance we had to cover we decided to take the new Cuota / toll road, exchanged topes for toll booths, and pay in pesos instead of broken china and shredded nerves with the added benefit that we should arrive in daylight. Somehow though, it still took us nine hours to cover the 250 miles.
We were very pleased with ourselves when we hit the Guadalajara peripherique with a few hours of daylight remaining. We headed towards the RV Park. The instructions said “do not go up the ramp and make sure you take the right turn immediately as the road divides, because if you miss the turning it is very difficult to return. I remember
Loretta, Doug and one of those bad men
Actually he was the base player with the band.
that instruction I said............. but (looking out the window), I don’t remember this shopping mall. Well, yes,......... we missed the turning and it was very difficult to return. We considered our options, we couldn’t face the long U turn required to pass the entrance again so decided to continue onto Villa Corona and their enticing thermal hot pools.
Having wallowed around in the pools for a couple of days, we left Villa Corona feeling refreshed. From here on it was all a new route for us. Our destination was a small town called Jocotepec on Lake Chapala,
According to National Geographic, Lake Chapala is the largest natural lake in Mexico & has the 2nd best climate in the world. The lake is about 5,200 ft above sea level and is protected from northerly winds by a triple mountain range, which gives it an all year round temperature of approx. 23C / 74F with low humidity. D.H Lawrence and Tennessee Williams obviously agreed as they spent time here.
The lake is 50 miles long and about 8 miles wide. Around the shores are many towns and villages, mostly Mexican but a few
As viewed through the "C" of Chapla
with a more international flavour as the climate has encouraged many North Americans to make their homes here.
The RV Park we were heading to read really well in the guide book. “Roca Azul, is a sports club, has two pools, a cafe and camping”....... Fingers crossed.
We had the usual moment of “really, down here??” but continued to follow the instructions and arrived at............. a lovely park. We could choose any space, so picked one overlooking the lake. On the way in we met Doug and Cathie (Scottish / English, now Canadians) who were based there for the winter. Over the next week they offered us days out, lifts into town and the strongest gin I have ever been given! We enjoyed their company and hopefully may meet again in Canada.
We decided to visit the small town of Ajijic, which has a largish American / Canadian population of Snowbirds and residents. The guide book said it was not a typical Mexican town but due to the residents opening many galleries and restaurants it was an interesting arty place.
People often ask us how we manage without
Carving and painting on wall in Ajijic.
There is much more of it all along the street. My current screen saver.
a tow car. There are pros and cons of towing. We considered both and decided to manage without. In Mexico it is usually really easy to get about as there are regular buses. The tickets are only a few pesos and often include on-board entertainment! A musician will get on and play a few tunes, collect some coins, get off, cross over and catch the next bus back. Sometimes someone gets on to sell their wares. But when we were on the bus to Ajijic there was a first, the bus stopped at the traffic lights, I watched as a sandy coloured dog crossed on the pedestrian crossing (? Darwinism in action) I then lost sight of it until, using the rear door it jumped onto the bus, pottered down the aisle, waited a while and got off a few stops later. No, it didn’t pay.
Ajijic was a nice place to visit. We wandered around the galleries, enjoyed the wonderful, colourful wall art and just watched life go by. We then spotted an Indian Restaurant, an unusual sighting in Mexico, so went over to have a look, and got chatting to the owner. She was American,
had lived in India for seven years with her Husband, who was a professional musician and retired gymnast. He went to India to learn how to play the Tablas & Sarod. He now taught students here in Ajijic whilst she did the cooking for the restaurant. The menu looked quite good but I was curious to know what Indian region the Lasagne came from.
On to Chapala, a Mexican holiday type town. We wandered around the Malacon, had lunch whilst we watch the Pelicans, took in the sites and took a sightseeing tram tour to nowhere.
The days just flew by and before we knew it a week had passed. We plotted our next move which was to visit Morelia, Patzcuaro and Uruapan in the central western highlands. Many of the things you may think of as traditionally Mexican originate from this area. There are fields and fields of soft blue agave (tequila / mescal) plants, avocado & mango plantations. There are two volcanoes, & it must be one of the few places you can see a newly formed volcano. It is the home of the Mariachi bands, and it has some of the
best pre Hispanic ruins that no one has really heard of.
We had checked out the potential camping sites and come to the conclusion that there was really only one RV Park for us to stay in, which was in Patzcuaro. This would work because it was in the centre of the area we wanted to cover; we would base ourselves here and rent a car.
Prior to leaving Lake Chapala we checked the route. The sat nav suggested we retrace our route to Guadalajara then take the Toll road; it was a longer but faster route. But we had read a couples blog which said that the scenic journey to Patzcuaro, was really nice. There were many topes on the route and it had taken them five & half hours to drive but it was really worth it.
We considered both options........ Perhaps we would take the scenic route. After all it is always nice to take a new road and it would take us along the opposite shore of the lake, which we hadn’t seen. We knew that it would take longer than the suggested 5 1/2 hrs, as
Beautiful Church in Chapala
The flowers gave an amazing fragrance to the environment.
their starting point was nearer to the destination than ours, but if we set off at a sensible time we would have at least nine hours of daylight (remember that rule, don’t drive after dark?)
We were on the road by 10. 30, we drove along enjoying the beautiful countryside. This is a lush and fertile area; there is a lot of agriculture here. You have probably eaten some of the soft fruits they grow and export all over the world. Then, leaving the lake shore behind we began to climb into the mountains. The information was correct, it was slow going with all the small villages and topes but we were enjoying the scenery and still making good time. Suddenly it was now 5pm. that left us with 2 hours of daylight. (Some of you may have noticed at this point we were already over the 5 ½ hour limit) we considered stopping for the night but then saw a sign to Patzcuaro; it was only 17 km so we continued.
Sadly, from this point on it was downhill all the way and not just geographically. We missed the turning to Patzcuaro because
the signpost for the turning was covered in spray paint. We realised we were heading in the wrong direction but that was not a problem because a whole heap of policemen cheerfully stopped the traffic to let us turn around. Off we went, Oh what, now we were heading to Morelia, but soon we spotted a sign to the toll road, took the turning and were heading towards our destination. Great, we will make it and it will still be daylight.
Well, we just could not find the campsite. Neither the written instructions, maps or the sat nav were helpful and just to top it off we realised the phone wouldn’t work so couldn’t call for directions
Now it was dusk, so as to not break THE golden rule, don’t drive after dark, we decided to try another campsite which we had previously disregarded because we were probably too large. We pulled in to check it out, & as we’d guessed, it was no good. However the woman did call the other campsite to get directions. Excellent, it was just up the road. But now we had to reverse out across a two lane
Very shut gate..........
It had taken us hours to find it, we were not going away.
highway. I went into the road to stop the traffic, in the dark! This is Mexico, it doesn’t stop it just flows around you. As Graeme reversed, in order to dodge the cars I took my eye off the Rig for a moment, and then looked back just as he approached the overhang of a shop roof ...... oops crunching sound. The man came out of the shop, I apologised profusely, he just looked at me, asked which way we were going then joined me in the road to stop the traffic, what else would you expect, this is Mexico after all.
Off we went, but still we couldn’t find the campsite, and we were now committed to following the narrow dark & twisty road. Next plan..... We were going to have to stop overnight in the next Pemex station that came along. ......Where are these things when you need one? Then, some lights appeared through the darkness. A Pemex, great this will be do. Really, why would it, things were not really going our way. It was the smallest one we have seen so far, and not going to work for us. We continued on through
Rancho la Mesa at last
The view from our window. Looking acoss Lake Patzcuaro with Island Janitzio in the centre.
a small town called Opopeo, it was Fiesta night! As we made our way through the throng of happy people, marching band and parade of paper mache models, we noticed the sat nav showed another Pemex coming up......
To our delight it looked like quite a large one, but the entrance slope was quite steep, Graeme took it so slowly then, another scraping sound, I got out to look, to see that the bike rack had embedded itself into the tarmac. Graeme raised the air (saved again) reversed back to free the rack and then drove in. That was enough for the day, we were staying here whatever. Luckily, they were happy for us to do so. We parked under the lampost that played music, and collapsed. We didn’t even inspect the possible damage.
Next morning, I would like to say refreshed, but I would be lying, we tried again. We drove out the very flat entrance we hadn’t seen last night and set off back along the road we had travelled several times yesterday. It should be easier in daylight I optimistically suggested.
Not so, there was nothing. No sign,
Graeme and Jose
Excellent Guide and shopper!
nothing. Eventually, I said let’s try that really unlikely turning, after all why would a Ranch with an RV park, hotel, rental chalets, and two restaurants be up that unmarked rough road? Well, why not?
We made a U-turn on a 4-lane dual carriageway, in between flurries of traffic, & as we turned we saw, attached to a tree trunk a small paper sign with an arrow....... Rancho La Mesa. Half a mile later along a rough pot-holed “road”, & over a narrow bridge crossing the Toll road, we arrived at our destination to find the gates firmly shut. No phone to call, no bell to ring, no nothing, we waited.
A short time later the gates opened. We drove in to find a beautiful Ranch and RV park. Not surprisingly it was empty!
We had the pick of the park, so we chose our spot with a spectacular view overlooking the town and lake and settled in. That afternoon as we enjoyed a well deserved Margarita in the restaurant we agreed that was one of the nicest environments we had been in. In fact Graeme said he was not leaving.......I
don’t know why!!
Oh, final tally, the bike rack survived and so did the shop roof and as you can tell so did we. The bus requires only a little repair to the scrape on the roof, thank goodness for dodgy Mexican infrastructure.
In 2001 The Mexican tourism board began a program to promote towns and villages that are renowned for their natural beauty, cultural riches, or historical relevance and labelled them Pueblos Magicos. With its historical buildings and unique culture of the indigenous Purepecha people, Patzcuaro was one of the first to be selected. Also, along with the surrounding villages it is known for its crafts and traditional skills and there is a really interesting reason why.
This area had a well established and thriving pre Hispanic population. Between the years 1325 – 1400 Patzcuaro was the capitol of the Purepecha people. For years they flourished here and in the surrounding area but repeatedly had to fight off attacks from the Aztecs. So when the Spanish appeared, the Purepecha people welcomed them......big mistake. The Spanish went home but returned some years later under the command of Nuno de Guzman. The
following six years were brutal for the local population, as Guzman cruelly persecuted them. Eventually he was recalled back to Spain and imprisoned for the remainder of his life. His replacement was Bishop Vasco de Quiroga, an enlightened man of his time. He ignored the instructions from his superiors back in Spain and set about establishing village cooperatives based on the humanitarian ideals of Thomas More’s Utopia. He encouraged the indigenous people to develop unique products to trade with one another, and thereby reduce their dependency on their Spanish landlords. Over time each village around the lake developed its own craft ranging from pottery, copper and lacquer ware, silver work, the carving of wooden masks, weaving and the making of string instruments. The cooperatives declined soon after his death in 1565 but the traditional crafts continue to this day.
In some ways so does the cooperative, because one day of the year all the surrounding villages bring their goods to Patzcuaro and barter for each other’s wares. No money exchanges hand throughout the entire market day.
Patzcuaro is a fantastic place, a Pueblo Magico indeed. Terracotta tiled adobe buildings cluster around the cobblestone streets
Geronimo Amezcua Reyes
In the background are posters of himself, his father & grandfather, all Luthiers
and Squares. Life is centred on the Plazas, Churches and markets. The tiny Purepecha women in their colourful outfits mingle with the local Mexicans and a few tourists. There are many Churches, each filled to overflowing on Sundays and generally busy all the week. Stalls line their paths selling everything from religious items & healing medicines to the brightly coloured locally woven cloth & wooden toys for the children. We enjoyed wandering around, sampling the local speciality ice cream in the Plaza and taking everything in.
The museum here is a fascinating place, not only for its contents but also the building. It is built on pre Hispanic stone foundations, some of which you can still see . It is also the site of the Americas first university the Colegio de San Nicolas, which in later years moved to and still is in Moralia.
We enjoyed a boat trip to Isla Janitzio, one of four small Islands in Lake Patzcuaro. Here you walk up the steep steps to the top of the island where a statue of Jose Morelos stands. Inside the statue the walls are decorated with a series of murals
Templo San Juan Parangaricutiro
Buried in a sea of black lava in 1944. The tower and alter are the only remaining traces of the two villages that once stood here.
depicting Morelos life. You climb the stairs and look out from inside the wrist of the raised arm to get a panoramic view of the lake. From our campsite we looked out at the statue, it was interesting to see the reverse view.
Instead of renting a car we hired Jose and his taxi. This was the easy way to do tourism and had the additional benefit of Jose supplying us with local information and insight, giving it all a much more personal touch.
We visited the surrounding villages and checked out their crafts. In the wonderfully named Tzintzuntzan the carvings were fantastic, in the literal sense of the word. We enjoyed a copper demonstration in Santa Clara del Cobra and in Uruapan, avocado capitol of the world, we wandered through the only National Park in a city, admiring the tropical foliage, waterfalls & clear pools. All were really enjoyable but the place we really wanted to visit was Volcan Paricutin and the buried church.
In 1943 a farmer was ploughing his field when the ground began to quake as steam & ash appeared through the earth. Initially he tried to
Alter of the church buried by the volcanic ash & stone. The locals still leave offerings here.
cover the erupting holes but quickly gave up and ran. This was probably for the best because the steam continued and within a year, instead of his normal crops a 410 meter volcano had grown. It continued to grow until 1952. The lava slowly flowed towards the two nearest villages, covering everything except the tower and alter of the church. These remain standing out from a sea of solid black lava.
To view it close up you take a 3 hour round trip hike, then clamber over the rocks and lava to look at the exposed remains. When you stand looking into the tower you are standing at roof level so you realise just how much lava covered these villages. Luckily because the lava was slow moving all the people escaped and rebuilt their villages nearby.
Another village that really interested us was Paracho which is famous for the making of stringed instruments. It is said that Paracho - which literally means "guitar making" in the Purepécha dialect – is the world's biggest community of Luthiers, making about 80,000 guitars a year.
Graeme was really keen to visit here; he hoped
Fishermen on Lake Patzcuaro
I think they were fishing for pesos. They leapt into action with a collection tin as our boat went by. Well, why not it probably beats fishing for a living.
to find a classical guitar to buy.
Well, it was like being in a sweet shop and not being able to choose, guitar shops everywhere you looked. We only had an afternoon; you needed a week to even scratch the surface. There cannot be many places you visit where the man in the shop demonstrating the instrument is the man that spent weeks of his life making it. In one shop we met Geronimo Amezcua Reyes, who proudly showed us the posters and photographs of his family who had made stringed instruments for generations. We also met another Luthier who had made a guitar for John Williams.
You would think that these skills would provide real prosperity to the town, but the Luthiers have resisted changing to modern production methods and are happy to wait months or years for a chosen piece of wood to mature before continuing to work on that particular instrument. Potential investors couldn’t wait that long and have taken their business to China. Meanwhile life in Paracho just carried on the same way it has for generations.
Having enjoyed all the villages it was time to check
Inside the statue of Jose Morelos on Isla Janitzio
out Morelia, the state capitol of Michoacán, a beautiful colonial city. In 1991 UNESCO declared it a world heritage site. As usual the city is centred around the Cathedral & plaza. Not so usual is that the cathedral is pink. Along with many other buildings in this city the Cathedral was built with pink volcanic (cantera) stone, which gives the city a soft and uniformed appearance.
The historic center is still roughly the same as when it was founded in 1541. The best way around it is by foot because as well as all the “sights” you are advised to see, there are interesting things in every street. Narrow roads are overlooked by elegant beautifully preserved 16th
stone buildings, containing shops, cafes, museums & hotels. It is a university city so has a vibrant feel to it. Many of the buildings are university or municipal offices & you can wander through their courtyards and enjoy the history, art and architecture. The university library is a “must see” it is housed inside the 16th
Century Baroque ex-temple of the Society of Jesus. Thousands of books (22,901 apparently) rise up towards the domed ceiling that is covered
Santa Clara de Cobre
Copper pot making demonstration. A new career for Graeme?
with opulent murals.
Morelia also has an amazing pink aqueduct. Built in 1785, it is several kilometres long and has 253 arches. It snakes through the town, the road weaving in and out of the arches. The guide book describes Morelia as a “Dynamic and beautiful city” we could only agree. If it were nearer I would highly recommend it for a weekend break.
The Ranch was a difficult place to leave. After all, we had a wonderful view, an onsite Restaurant, could walk into the fascinating town, had a friendly donkey, cow and sheep to fuss over and had met Jose who’s enthusiasm for us to embrace Patzcuaro was a bonus. One of the things I so love about Mexico are the markets. In crowded spaces row upon row of colourful food stalls stand side by side Many are offering tasty street food to try and even more selling piles of meat, fish & yellow chicken. Alongside colourful fruits and vegetables, some of which I hadn’t seen before, are calling out to me as I pass by, its veggie heaven. I think I may have got an insight into how Jamie Oliver must
feel when he visits markets for his shows. As we walked past the stalls I asked Jose “is that a fruit or a vegetable, what’s that called or how do you cook that? He would speak to the stall owner & they would pass me a piece saying “try some” or” taste this”. A new taste experience for me was fresh mango with a spicy savoury sauce trickled over it. Jose also took us to eat in a couple of his favourite restaurants, places we would not have found ourselves. The first to taste the “Camarone Diablo” or spicy prawns, and then to try the chicken cooked over a wood fire/ charcoal.......delicious!
It is always tempting to stay longer in these interesting places but there is so much more to see. We are two thirds through our time in Mexico and our “to go to” list isn’t getting any shorter. So we said adios to Jose, bade farewell to the donkey, took one last look at the view, & packed up. Next day we started off fairly early, it was a long way to our next stop of Teotihuacan.
According to the map there
were two routes to go. The Cuota / Toll road or the scenic route........................
We took the Cuota.
To see why we didn't park in Tepic follow the link-