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Michoacan state is dangerous - fact or fiction?

we're here to find out

sunny 23 °C

We had been reading a lot of unnerving information about the volatile situation in the state of Michoacan, particularly around the borders, so we left Mazamitla and reached the border about 15 minutes later with considerable apprehension. Since the states do not actually have border crossings, it was as uneventful as driving from British Columbia through to Alberta. There have been recent skirmishes between the drug cartels, splinter groups, vigilantes and police in the border areas, so the warnings are neither frivolous nor without precedence for violence. Stephen and I are not travelling here to prove a point, but after a lot of conversation with various people, we decided that the risks of visiting places like Patzcuaro, Morelia, and the Monarch butterfly sanctuaries would be minimal.

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Our first stop - the colonial highland town of Patzcuaro, with a population of about 55,000 people, many of them the indigenous Purépecha. Nearby villages produce local crafts - weaving, copper, pottery, lacquerware, straw and wooden carvings - all to be found in the stores and markets here. It is quite inspiring to be surrounded by the high-end quality of many of the crafts , as well as having the opportunity to see the artists at work.

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Gentleman making a broom.

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This man was spooling thread on a contraption he fashioned from a bicycle wheel

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This figure of serpents is partially carved, from one piece of wood and will be painted.
This piece will take one month to make.

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This mother and daughter spent a 25-minute boat ride working on their embroidery. It really makes you appreciate
the weeks of work that go into a simple blouse or tablecloth.

There is a beautiful colonial building halfway up a hill that is called Casa de los Once Patios (House of the 11 Courtyards). It houses several small shops that each specialize in different crafts, and the shady setting of artwork, murals, cobblestones, and flowers is as inviting as the art offered for sale.

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The city is filed with courtyards and intriguing small patios and gardens that lie just beyond open doors. Geraniums, bougainvillea, monster leafy plants, orange trees spill out of ceramic and terra cotta pots.

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Our hotel, Hotel Pueblo Magico, is typical of many small hotels here - very quiet and cool, with rooms facing onto lush, tiled interior courtyards, filled with flowers and pottery.

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Patzcuaro, like Mazamitla, is a Pueblo Mágico, and it does possess a stirring spiritual energy that may have as much to do with the many churches and cathedrals, as with the stunning setting of leafy plazas, hilly streets, and uniformly red and white buildings.

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Main plaza

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typical street scene

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Like many Mexican towns and cities, the cathedrals and churches are the architectural showcases of Patzcuaro.

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As beautiful as Patzcuaro is, the people here are even more warm, friendly and welcoming. We have had so many genuine heartfelt encounters with the Michoacans that any residual nervousness we might have felt about being here is gone. It was at one of the most popular restaurants on the plaza, La Surtidora, that we met some lovely fellow British Columbians, who have been coming to Mexico for years. We kept bumping into them in town, and two nights ago, we were fortunate to share a most Mexican evening. The restaurant had a good mix of Mexicans and other tourists, and the singer, El Potre Gregorio Rodriguez Cruz, began by playing guitar and singing a couple of songs. He had a gorgeous voice, a sort of vibrato that was just filled with longing and loss and emotion. Most of the guests started singing along with him, and their tragedy and loss and struggles and pride just poured out of their voices. I started blubbering; then a Mexican lady in the corner was weeping. The woman beside us sang with him - it became a bit of a duet. He just kept singing and playing for us - our very own Roy Orbison. Pure serendipity.

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Since Mexico is such a huge manufacturer of Volkswagens, the country is filled with many ancient, souped-up and quite imaginative versions of vans and the original old Beetle. We stopped to talk to a young man who had taken this 1992 Volkswagen and refigured it to feature DeLorean-style doors, among other features. He was justifiably very proud. We were also intrigued by the sticker on the rear window.

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Patzcuaro is situated on Lake Patzcuaro, and a visit here is not complete without taking a small boat over to Isla Janitzio. Despite everything we had read about it being a cheesy tourist trap filled with mass-produced junky souvenirs, we decided to give it a whirl. We walked down to the lake, then hopped on a boat, and from that moment, realized that we had left the refined craftsmanship of Patzcuaro behind. Everything was a hustle - from the guys selling candy, to the 3-piece band that came aboard and played badly, to the small boy at the dock on Janitzio who helped me off the boat, then held out his hand for a tip.

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The island is quite dramatic from the water, and almost upon arrival, there are a number of fishermen, with their famous butterfly nets, used to catch the area's "pescado blanco". As if on cue, our boat slowed, the fishermen waved their nets up in the air for a photo op, then rowed over to gather their tips.

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Isla Janitzio is largely populated by the Purepecha people, and the small town is not unlike an Italian hillside village, with no cars, and narrow streets climbing straight up to the top, where there is a 40-m statue of Jose Morelos, the independence hero. I have no idea what the village was like before rampant tourism took over, but whatever fine crafts there may be, they are lost in the mass-produced sameness - one store identical to the next.

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Stephen stopped to talk to this old lady, and she grabbed his arm and wouldn't let go. He eventually extricated himself, and carried on.

It was worth the trip - no different than many of North America's low-rent attractions, and we got to have a boat ride.

Patzcuaro was a real treat - we would love to really explore Michoacan in the future when things are calmer, and we feel safer to hit all the small towns and rural areas. I'll leave you with an image that we have not been able to figure out. All over Patzcuaro, in our hotel, in other hotels and restaurants and in stores, large ceramic pots are trimmed with scarves tied around their necks. It is quite whimsical - we think it might be a nod to the cool winter temperatures here.

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Tomorrow - Morelia!

Posted by millerburr 19:44 Archived in Mexico

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Comments

Oh what a great and insightful post: the continuum of the authentic thro to the nasty mass tourism aspects. Thanks, I'll use this in my classes as a means of critical thinking. Cheers Dave, travel well.

by Dave

It's so good to hear your voices! and see all you are experiencing; I feel like I'm travelling with you. Thank you both! Keep on with your adventure...looking forward to hearing more, xomc.

by Mary Charlotte

Ginny, you write with such attention to detail, with humour and an empathetic eye ... Makes me feel like I'm there with you! Thank you :)

by Simone

Just live your blog Ginny, what a gifted writer you are! Loved the pics as well and the lovely Magico hotel. Would have loved to see a pic if your room.

by Laurence

Oops, fat fingers there sorry. It should read "love your blog" and " of your room". Time for bed!

by Laurence

Thans, sincw we are in Canada this year, we are living vicariously through your blog, and LOVING it.

by Robby

Ginny, you keep taking me back. Love reading about it and am really pleased to hear that Michoacan is not the stay-away-at-all-costs place the media would have us believe.

by Nicola Ross

I love hearing about your adventures - it beckons me to be braver in venturing to the places that you have experienced

by Shelley-Anne

i don't know anything about DeLoren style doors but it looks like it would be a bit of a challenge getting in and out of that car. Like others, i am so enjoying the pictures and writing; it brings colour to our winter as well. I don't remember how much spanish you & Steve have, but how are you finding communicating with the Mexicans, especially in the smaller towns?

by ailene

Our Spanish is embarrassingly poor, and I keep confusing it with Italian, but between charades, Spanglish and consulting my dictionary, we get by. I hate that we can't converse with Mexicans unless they speak English, but it hasn't posed any serious problems yet. Most people appreciate our efforts and are great at correcting us. Obviously, the trip would be easier with Spanish, but it can be done. Learning Spanish and speaking it year-round is on my list.

by millerburr

Patzcuaro looks like a place I would love to visit; but I would have to convince Mitch first as he knows I love exploring shops and markets with the work of local artists. Am loving your pictures ... Keep them coming!

by Heather

nice to see that the ladies are still attracted to Stephen - at least the one that are over 85.

by Fred MacDonald

Always enjoy your blog. Continue to enjoy your adventures and be safe.

by Ron Davis

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