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Toss the Tevas if you want to leave Morelia alive...

...and other survival tips for travelling in Michoacan

semi-overcast 23 °C

I can't say I wasn't warned. Back in Melaque, when I admired Jennifer's snappy new sandals, she mentioned that ugly (tourist-type) footwear is looked upon with disdain by the locals. Since my shoe wardrobe for Mexico consists of plastic flip-flops, old leather sandals and a pair of Keens, I fall solidly into that camp. However, we were quite unprepared for the reaction we received upon arrival in Morelia. This was our first city experience since we've left home, so we might have thought to sharpen our game a bit. Stephen was wearing shorts, a T-shirt, a ballcap and Tevas. I was wearing a dress and Keens - poor taste, admittedly. People stared at us, stared at our feet, smiled, frowned - it was quite remarkable and quite uncomfortable. Not since I ventured out in Mexico City four years ago in a pair of shorts have I encountered such a reaction - bordering on hostility. Mexicans are normally quite circumspect, so we knew we had violated some code. We went out later for dinner in different outfits, changed our shoes, and no-one gave us a second look.

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Streets and sidewalks in Mexican towns and cities are minefields - oversized curbs, cobblestone, uneven pavement, doggie business, low-hanging wires - to say nothing of these gaping, unfilled holes (this one is mild compared to some that might be a few feet deep) - you must walk with vigilance, and wear shoes built for comfort and surefootedness.

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That would be if you are a gringo. Mexican women wear shoes and boots with four and five inch heels, and they do this while navigating these same streets and while carrying groceries and babies. And... they never look down.

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And the men - no matter the attire, most men wear leather boots and shoes. The shoeshine stands line most plazas, and are in steady use.

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Morelia is the state capital of Michoacan state, and was declared a Unesco World Heritage site for its magnificent cathedral, and its historic centre filled with blocks and blocks of 16th and 17th century stone buildings, plazas and parks, and many museums. It has a population of close to 600,000 people, and it seems as though every single citizen owns a car, truck or motorcycle. Our approach to the city was intense, as two-lane roads merged into one, roads disappeared or became one-way, and traffic cops attempted to turn chaos into order. Whistles blowing, horns honking - us with our eyes peeled for "Centro Historico", and somehow, in this madness, we noticed this exceptional marketing ploy. Stashed on a boulevard between four lanes of traffic was a lineup of beds and mattresses.

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We tried to imagine the logic - one would have to leave the safety of the bed store, dart across two lanes of traffic, then try out the various beds as cars whizzed by within inches of your recumbent self. Then - you would leap back to the store, and bring out the sales associate to point out your choice.

And then, it was over - hotel found, car parked, we hit the streets, turned a corner and saw this:

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This is the city of stone - the cathedral and many of the other notable buildings are made of the distinctive pink stone found in the area. The side streets are narrow, follow the hills in a grid pattern and are intersected with plazas, squares, and fountains, so it is very easy to wander for hours. Morelia is a walker's paradise.

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Would love to have a planter like this in our garden

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Street leading to the music conservatory

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Side entrance to the cathedral. We slipped in during a service to admire the stunning interior. Most of these beautiful buildings remain unlocked during the day. Perhaps it is considered bad karma to deface or steal from a church.

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Road leading from the city centre to the outskirts

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View of the cathedral spire from the main plaza

Morelia's main plaza, right beside to the cathedral, is ringed with gracious municipal buildings, stately hotels, and a museum. These buildings have broad stone walkways and enormous arches, or portals, that provide shade and shelter from traffic for the numerous cafes, restaurants and bars that line them.

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one of the many cafes


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small "modern" restaurant


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oldest hotel in Morelia - stately, gracious, moneyed - like the clientele


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musicians run the gamut - these two played very well.


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These fig trees are pruned, shaped, painted and typical of Mexico - they are found in plazas all over the country

Our first morning here, we walked over to the magnificent aqueduct, which was built in the late 16th century and runs for a number of kilometers. It is a gorgeous area - bordered by a park, two plazas, a number of university faculties, and a fountain.

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park benches

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the exuberant bare-breasted Fuente Las Tarascas

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Plaza Morelos - one of Mexico's prominent independence heros - the city was renamed after him

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the aqueduct - 253 arches

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funny little museum of natural history in the park

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nearby park - great people-watching

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hanging out in the park

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Young men practicing Parkour moves. They were putting their bodies through some very impressive and punishing maneouvers, and were quite sweet about letting me take photos. All through the park, young people were juggling, walking tightrope, fencing - it was like a camp for circus performers.

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walkway through the university campus - gorgeous setting - aqueduct to the right, park ahead, another park behind.

With such rich history, the city is packed with museums, and we worked our way through a number of them trying to translate the Spanish. After a while, the pottery shards and arrowheads started to blur, and we were craving a more modern look at the city. We found it in the Palacio Clavijero, which showcases more contemporary art, photography and mixed media. We enjoyed the Mexico-Canada exhibit, a display by Quebec artist Vittorio Fiorucci, old movie posters by Josep Renau, and a huge retrospective of Mexican architects and their prominent works.

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So...back to the question of whether or not Michoacan state is dangerous for tourists. It would be disingenuous to say there is NO danger here. We have had a perceived sense of security while we have been travelling and staying in this state, but we have also had brief moments of unease, and we have paid heed (as we would in any large city, anywhere). We're very happy we decided to come here, but it will feel slightly more comfortable once we're back in approved tourist destinations again. That's our truth - others would be comfortable going further afield, and others would not come at all.

I'll leave you with these images. The disappearances and apparent murders of the 43 Mexican students has caused ongoing outrage, anger and grief, and the people of Morelia have expressed their feelings very graphically.

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No More Forced Disappearances

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43 chalk outlines with the word "Ayotz" have been painted on sidewalks downtown. Ayotz refers to the Ayotzinapa Normal School, where these students, who were from poor families, were being trained as teachers.

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these signs are all over town, urging people to not support the Mafia, to organize and to fight.

And finally, on a more universal note, expressed by young (and old) everywhere:
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I want freedom from a material world. We're with you, Oscar and Ivan.

Whew! This was a long post. We're off to Cuernavaca for an overnight, then on to Oaxaca, where there is so much to see, taste and talk about. Food, art and colour - I'll break it up into two posts.

Posted by millerburr 17:56 Archived in Mexico

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Comments

Lovely to read your posts Gin. Continue your safe and enriching travels.

by Ginny

Hola Amigos,
For me it's never to long. It's, so exciting to read and see those great pictures, honestly, I feel like I am there next to you. Thank you for such interesting picture of fascinating country.
Have a good and save rest of the trip. Piotr

by Piotr

This is a very lovely city. This is a Mexico that I didn't really expect. Great pictures. Keep safe.

by LeeAnn

Fascinating as always. I expect the Mexicans aren't impressed with their own huaraches but I love them and while mine were off the shelf you are travelling in areas where you can get them made to fit. There is a fellow who writes the Huarache
Blog that has all kinds of information on where to get them.

by Siki

So relieved to know you're leaving Morelia alive! However, it looks like a beautiful city and I'm glad you got a chance to experience it.

by Heather

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