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Magic in Mazamitla

one of Mexico's "pueblo mágicos"

semi-overcast 19 °C

We had two possible routes to travel from Melaque to Mazamitla - one through the mountains via a "free" road, and one by driving down the coast a bit, and coming up through Colima via a toll road. The former appeared to be about an hour longer than the latter, so we chose scenery over expediency. Gauging time required to travel distances in Mexico is an almost impossible feat, and our expected travel time of 3 1/2 hours stretched out to almost 7 hours. Google maps had no way of knowing about horses, concrete trucks, and construction. Lesson learned - we will simply double our ETA in the future and not fret about it.


Signs for various animals are common - cows, armadillos, skunks. The signs weren't working so well for the skunks, as there were several small corpses along the way, but we did see a number of enormous cows grazing by the side of the road. Hitting one would be as catastrophic as hitting a moose, I would think. I'd love to see an armadillo (alive). The photo above does not show it off very well, but if you look closely on the bottom left, you will see a pothole, embedded in the tope. As our beach vendors loved to say - "two for one!"

We began our drive with great anticipation, as we were really looking forward to a change of scenery and climate. Driving on secondary roads can be fantastic - the roads are often in good repair, and give glimpses into all the hidden corners of Mexico. However, they can also add a lot of time to the drive, as they go through every small town, and you share the road with everyone. And if they are not in good repair, they are nightmarish - you have to be on constant lookout for potholes, topes, rocks, and roadkill.


The road began to climb - up from sea level to over 7,000 ft. I could go on about the absence of guardrails, and the stress of having cars zoom up right behind us, their impatience palpable, while Stephen negotiated the "curva sinuosas" for 18 km., while following a convoy of gravel trucks. But that would be stating the obvious, and missing the fabulousness of the vistas. I had to help Steve drive, but managed to see quite a bit every time I tore my eyes off the road. It was intense, but not exactly scary - the roads are well engineered. It was simply the usual experience of driving through switchback mountain roads - once you start, there is nothing to do but keep driving, and on this stretch, at least, there were no lookouts to break the drive.

I felt so badly for this horse - he was secured with ropes, but struggled to maintain his balance with every turn of the road.


We descended again, and the landscape changed. Cactus (cacti?), and scrubby plants. Another descent and we drove for miles through agricultural lands - tomatoes, orange groves, peppers. Much talk about how the drug cartels have terrorized farmers, especially lime farmers, for payoffs. Makes the miles and miles of farms look more sinister.


Climbed up again, to finally reach the "pueblo mágico", Mazamitla. The tourism sector of the government of Mexico has assigned over 85 towns in Mexico as being "magic towns". The criteria for a magic town is: a place with symbolism, legends, history, important events, day-to-day life – in other words, "magic" in its social and cultural manifestations, with great opportunities for tourism. Mazamitla fits the bill.

This town of 12,000 people is about 2200 m. above sea level and very alpine - ringed by mountains, with volcanoes in the distance. The narrow cobblestoned streets are lined with regular tiled Mexican homes, and Scandinavian-style timber buildings. Mazamitla is from the Nahuatl (Aztec) for "the place where arrows to hurt the deer are made."


As with most Mexican towns, life revolves around the centre plaza and the cathedral. January and February are still cold in the mountains - about 18-20 degrees during the day and down to around 10 or 12 degrees at night. Almost everyone is wearing boots, hats and jackets.


We arrived in shorts and flip flops and checked into our hotel, El Leñador. Pine trees are prevalent here, as are deer, and our hotel has embraced the motif. Our beautiful room, which has a balcony overlooking the town, cost us around $50 a night, and we were just thrilled to call this place home for three nights.


Pine cones hanging in the hotel third floor lobby, and the view from our balcony

The hotel is family-owned, very friendly, and spotlessly clean. When we came back from breakfast this morning, the owner's little granddaughter was helping with chores.


The Parroquia de San Christobal is the centrepiece of the town, and has a command post in front of the main plaza. In the two days we've been here, there has been non-stop activity - masses, a christening, bells ringing on the hour, half hour and quarter hour.


Ironically, the centre plaza also houses the police station - some unholy juxtaposition of good and evil. There are at least three or four heavily armed municipal police officers holding the fort, and on the weekends, presumably to handle the tourist throngs, the military rolls in. Several trucks filled with camo-clad, fully-loaded military soldiers then stake out the plaza. Their guns are held close to their chests, they have belts of ammo, they also have 12-inch sheathed knives, some of them wear scarves over their faces, and the overall effect is quite intimidating. Every once in a while, they all jump in the trucks, drive around for a while, then resume their posts in the plaza. The message is clear - swipe so much as a candy bar, and they've got it covered. This afternoon, Steve and I were sitting at a cafe having hot chocolate (very yummy), when one of the trucks unloaded, and about six of the soldiers headed directly for us. I was pretty sure we were not their intended targets, but it was a moment. Turns out, just like the celebrity mags like to say,"they drink chocolate too!" I was desperate to take a photo of them, but there was never a moment when they were all looking in another direction, not even when they started taking selfies!

There is not a lot to do in Mazamitla for longer than a day or two, if you are a tourist. The one main attraction is called El Salto - a 30-m. waterfall about 4 km. away on the outskirts of town. We walked through town and found the entrance to the park area flanked by dozens of horses, and ongoing entreaties to ride down, rather than walk "for an hour and a half." We chose to walk because we thought we would see more, and we also thought they were exaggerating the distance (they were not).


El Salto is situated in a gorgeous area called Las Cazos, which has some of the most fantastic private homes and vacation properties.


The natural vegetation and gardens are just stunning, and there are benches along the way to rest. It is an oasis.


So, we walked and walked and walked, uphill and down, on very steep grades and very uneven cobblestone. We began to curse ourselves for not having rented horses (tired already, and we still had to make the return trip). Eventually, we reached the entrance to the waterfall - there was 178 high stone steps to travel down to the waterfall. As waterfalls go, El Salto is underwhelming, but we were glad to have done this, as it gave us both a view of an area we would never otherwise have found, and 4 1/2 hours of much-needed exercise.


Some images of Mazamitla stand out for us - horses are an important means of transportation; preserves and dried fruit are made locally and sold in every store; small wooden toys, boxes and utensils are also a tourist staple; the streets are clean, pretty, and every balcony is crammed with flowers.



Food is forgettable here - but we did have a memorable breakfast at Las Troje - touted as #1 in Tripadvisor. The building is very large, very old, and very dated. The walls are crammed with travel photos, a few celeb shots, and a bunch of "girlie" photos (for lack of a better term) by the bar. As Stephen noted, the soundtrack must have been a Time-Warner release from 1963 - we listened to A Summer Place, My Way, and songs of that ilk. The ladies bathroom had beefcake photos from the 50s and 60s. Food was okay, but the experience was a trip. We'll leave you with this image - memories from the town that time forgot. Next stop - Patzcuaro.


Posted by millerburr 15:50 Archived in Mexico

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Hi guys, I have so enjoyed your travel journal...it has been wonderful to keep updated and share a bit of it with you. Love, sas....

by sas

What a pleasure to travel with You without traveling.

by Ela

Wonderful writing and photos. Sounds as if you are getting a good immersion in parts of Mexico; more than just the usual tourist peekaboo. Looking forward to further installments. Keep healthy, drive safe!

by jon snipper

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