Monday, July 16, 2012

Patzcuaro Michoacan

One only has to mention the word Michoacan to someone north of the border and they think of drugs and violence and kidnapping and Mexican mayhem. That's what Samuel (pronounced Samwell), the manager of the Portón del Cielo, the best hotel in Patzcuaro Michoacan said when we booked in. He said they haven't had a guest from that part of the world for a year now. Denny and Lanny Garland (that famous mixed media artist) who has lived in Patzcuaro for many years says it is the safest and friendliest town they've ever been to. It seems it is OK for US or Canadian citizens to shoot and machete each other in New York or Montreal or LA or Las Vegas but a hint of anything in Mexico and they stay away in droves.

We drove 10 hours from Mazatlán along route 15D Cuota through Tepic and Guadalajara, took a right at carreterra 15 through the misty mountains through Zacapu and other villages over hundreds of topes (naturally) to Quiroga right onto 120 and into Patzcuaro. Interstate Route 15D is like a well maintained race track where the only place you have to slow down is when you pay at the casetas de cobra. Carreterra 15 to Quiroga is slow going by comparison but it does give you opportunity to pass through towns with names like Zacapu and Tzintzuntzan. Names that once you start saying them you cannot stop - Itzihuapa, Huiramba, Tingambato, Uruapan, Puacraro and again Tzintzuntzan. Names from the language of the people indigenous to this area, the Purépecha.

Patzcuaro has many great hotels in the downtown area but we chose Portón del Cielo because it has the second most spectacular view we have seen in Mexico (the most spectacular is from a hotel overlooking the Copper Canyon in Divisadero)The hotel is ten minutes from the centre of town up a cobbled road and it sits on the edge of an escarpment overlooking Lake Patzcuaro. The whole of the hotel frontage is glass and wherever you are in the hotel whether taking breakfast or sitting in the bar or lying in your bed, you get a view of the changing weather sweeping in over Lake Patzcuaro. The hotel faces north so you see the sun rise to your right and watch is set to your left. In July that is when the rainy season is happening and clouds can build into spectacular formations. With a bottle of chilled vodka you can sit on the balcony and quite easily get lost in the spectacle and quite easily, if you get drunk, fall over and plunge to your death. It would certainly be the place to spend your last moments if you wanted to dive over and end your sorry life.

more after the jump

These pictures haven't been photoshopped in any way

Downtown Patzcuaro has been preserved in its own way by the city authorities with hand-painted shop names all in the same font and colours and no advertising. There are three large plazas, lots of churches, arches, trees, cafes and bars and markets and places to eat. If this were in Italy for instance it would be grubby and dirty and paint peeling teeming with tourists and rats gawping and getting under your feet. But here in July I didn't see one gringo and it was clean but however during the Day of The Dead it is said to be inundated.

Lake Patzcuaro is in a mess. It is silting up at an alarming rate, it is so polluted that no one except the Purépechans eat the fish and it is said you could walk across to some of the islands if you were desperate but you would probably catch some Godawful disease in doing so. Ex President Calderon is from Michoacan and he half-hardheartedly sent some money in this direction to do something about it but that soon disappeared into various bank accounts and was never seen again. So the lake continues to shrink and fill with crap.

The Purépechans were the dominant people here at one time and they built wonderful structures and off course the stepped pyramids but not the enormous ones you see in Monte Alban for instance. Here they are smaller and more intimate but none the less spectacular. But still they are magical places to sit and contemplate. They are like boxes of energy.

The Mexican Government is rather ambivalent about the less spectacular indigenous peoples and their ancient cities so the Purépechan city ruins have not had the attention that everyone thinks they need. The major centre at Tzintzuntzan is undergoing renovation and some work is going on at the lesser know site just outside Patzcuaro at Ihuatzio and the slightly larger site near Uruapan at Timgambato. If these were in Europe or America they would be overrun with archeologists doing what they do. Anyway here there are a few dedicated professions working under the constraints of the lack of funding.






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