Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Pátzcuaro and local Pueblos

The next day we took a tour to visit Pátzcuaro, Quiroga, Tzinzuntzan, and La Isla Janizio.

Pátzcuaro was the capital of the Tarasco people from about AD 1325 to 1400. After the death of King Tariácuri, the Tarascan state became a three-part league. Comprising Pátzcuaro, Tzintzuntzan and Ihuatzio, the league repulsed repeated Aztec attacks, which may explain why they welcomed the Spanish, who first arrived in 1522. Bad idea. The Spanish returned in 1529 under Nuño de Guzmán, a vicious conquistador.

Guzmán’s reign against the indigenous people was brutal, even for those timesThe colonial government recalled Guzmán from, Spain where he was arrested and locked up for life and dispatched Bishop Vasco de Quiroga, a respected judge and cleric from, to clean up his mess. Quiroga was one enlightened dude. When he arrived in 1536, he established village cooperatives based on the humanitarian ideals of Sir Thomas More’s Utopia.

To avoid dependence on Spanish mining lords and landowners, Quiroga successfully encouraged education and agricultural self-sufficiency in the Purépecha villages around Lago de Pátzcuaro, with all villagers contributing equally to the community. He also helped each village develop its own craft specialty – from masks to pottery to guitars and violins. The utopian communities declined after his death in 1565, but the crafts traditions continue to this day. Not surprisingly,  Tata Vascu, as the Tarascos called Quiroga, has not been forgotten. You’ll notice that streets, plazas, restaurants and hotels all over Michoacán are named after him.


Quiroga is known as the origin of the Carnitas. It's also renowned for it's crafts. We stopped in to sample some as we visited this Pueblo

Quiroga is a municipality that started before the colonial era. Quiroga was an indispensable road from Tarazco’s capital “Tzintzuntzan” to the ceremonial center “Zacapu”. Zacapu was known as “Cocupao” which means “Lugar de recepción” ("Place of reception"). This municipality was not widely known in the prehispanic era.

When the Order of the Franciscans arrived at Quiroga, they gave it the name San Diego Cocupao, by San Diego Alcala, a name that so far leads the parish. After the arrival of the Spaniards, it began to grow in population leading to the city of today. Quiroga was established as a town, by territorial law, on December 10, 1831. By decree of the State Congress on September 6, 1852, it was called Villa de Quiroga, to honor the memory of bishop of Michoacan, Don Vasco de Quiroga.

Tzintzuntzan "Place of the Hummingbirds"

Surrounded by hills and mountains, the watershed of the state of Michoacan’s lovely Lake Patzcuaro extends 50 kilometers east-west and 33 kilometers north-south. Ringing the 2200 meter above sea level lake are numerous Purepecha (known commonly as Tarascan) villages and towns. Far and away, as it literally is about a seven hour round trip by bus from my house, my favorite of these indigenous lakeside communities that I have visited is the tiny village of Tzintzuntzan (seen Soon sahn). From my perspective (more about this later), any place with such an avian onomatopoeic name must be interesting and it delightfully is.

Approximately 50 kilometers from the state capital of Morelia this indigenous village with buildings lining its one main street made mostly from adobe painted in the traditional white wash with red trim and red tiled roofs is located 14 kilometers north from the beautiful indigenous and colonial large town of Patzcuaro and 7 kilometers from the not so beautiful crafts and carnitas/braised pork town of Quiroga. Having only a couple of hotels, Tzintzuntzan is a very popular day trip destination for Mexican tourists and to a lesser degree foreign tourists primarily on the weekends and especially during the two days of the Day of the Dead celebrations. There are three major attractions that the majority of visitors come to experience.

Just a kilometer from the center of the village on the side of a hill is the Tzintzuntzan Archaeological Site. Until the Spanish Conquistadors vanquished them in 1522, Tzintzuntzan had been the capital of the Purepecha Empire (circa 1200AD-1522AD). While always remaining autonomous from the Aztecs the empire had under its control approximately 1.5 million people at the height of its power. Now, this ex-ceremonial center with a platform measuring 425 meters by 250 meters and its 5 yacatas- the unusual Mesoamerican semi-circular bases constructed from non-mortared basalt slabs that were the foundations for the long ago destroyed wooden pyramids/temples built on top of them- is all that remains of that empire. Although not as physically impressive (nor accessible as you may not climb on any of the fenced off yacatas) as the more famous, extensive, and “inward” looking Mexican archaeological sites like Monte Alban, Chichen Itza, or Teotihuacán, I find this “outward” looking site to be visually quite compelling. From this hill with the yacatas as a unique historical backdrop one is afforded an outstanding panoramic view of the village below and of Lake Patzcuaro off in the distance. Also, there is a one room, albeit not particularly well lighted, museum near the entrance that exhibits excavated pottery/ceramics, obsidian artifacts, and a diorama of the site.

Yet, back in town, what attracts the most tourists are the crafts that the village is known for. Although its craft market next to the monastery complex and artisan stores along its main street are open seven days a week, the crafts scene is most vibrant and full with vendors on the weekends, especially Sunday. There, among a plethora of mostly locally made goods you can find woven tule/lake reeds items, both high-end ceramics and inexpensive pottery including its famous green glazed pieces, rebozos, embroidered textiles with pre-Hispanic motifs, objects made from vegetable fibers, rustic wood furniture, basketry, and dozens of items woven from straw including brilliant strands of Christmas decorations like stars, candy canes, and mini wreaths along with more straw merchandise like lamps, tortilleros/tortilla warmers, wind chimes, and sea shells. Moreover, on the road leading into town from Patzcuaro are stonework shops that have decorative and landscaping pieces made from the pinkish rock cantera like ornate fountains and whimsical-looking fish, frogs, and turtles.

However, while I enjoy all of the three major attractions that Tzintzuntzan offers, the primary reason that I travel so far to get there is for its bird watching opportunities, particularly in the winter. In the indigenous language, Tzintzuntzan onomatopoeically means “place of the hummingbirds.” While it is true that during the time of the Purepecha Empire that these diminutive birds were driven to extinction due to the desirability of their iridescent feathers for use in clothing and jewelry, it is also true that they and dozens of other species of birds now occur in Tzintzuntzan. In town the best places to view birds is at the Ojo de Agua and the small public embarcadero. The archaeological site with its pine-oak grove is also an excellent birding spot.

Whether you are a birder or not, Tzintzuntzan is an indigenous lakefront town that is well worth a visit. Who knows, while in the Zocalo and enjoying its traditional ambiance, you might experience what I did the last time that I was there  --- the tz-tz-tzing of hummingbirds, tz-tz-tzing to and fro in a flower garden.

La Isla Janizio on Lago Patzcuaro

A 40-meter statue of José María Morelos, a great hero of Mexico's independence, started in 1933, is found on the island's highest point. For about 6 pesos, one can climb to the top of the statue by way of a staircase that spirals up the inside. Along the interior walls, the life of Morelos is depicted in murals painted by Ramon Alba de la Canal and other great Mexican muralists. Although the steep stairway can become congested and distract one's attention, it is a good Mexican history lesson. At the top, one can peer through peepholes in the giant raised fist of Morelos, giving a spectacular view of the island, lake and surroundings


Durung or stay in Morelia, we took a tour of the city. Morelia is an old colonial city, with a colorful history. They are famous for their Zocalos (parks with carved trees and benches), colonial architecture, and food.

The aquaduct is also one of the historical venues.

This beautiful aqueduct of quarry pink, measure 1810 meters and consists of 253 arches and two boxes of water.
Construction take us to the days of the golden age of the former Valladolid. In 1785 Bishop Fray Antonio de San Miguel commanded  to built an aqueduct with two purposes: to bring drinking water to the city which was hit by a terrible drought for two years and to provide work for the indigenous people of the region. The stone was transported from the village of Santa María (now part of the city) and goes to the old Calle Real. Today, Madero avenue.

Here are a few photos of our tours:

The Historic Centre of Morelia is located in central Mexico, at the foot of the Sierra Madre Occidental and near the agricultural valley of Morelia-Querendaro.  Built in the 16th century according to a "checkerboard" layout, Morelia is an outstanding example of urban development combining town planning theories of Spain and the Mesoamerican experience. Well suited to the slopes of the central hill of the valley, its streets follow the original layout. The city has major axes, numerous urban squares, of which the vast rectangular Zocalo Plaza, and gardens that create an open, airy ensemble with magnificent vistas of the surrounding hills.

The central part of the Historic Centre of Morelia includes 249 monuments of prime importance, of which 21 churches and 20 civil constructions, which crystallize the architectural history of the city. The sobriety of the urban townscape is enhanced by many Baroque facades characteristic of the religious foundations, including the cathedral and the churches of Santa Rosa, de las Monjas and Guadelupe.   Although the majority of the monuments were erected in the 17th and 18th centuries, styles of earlier and later periods (Middle Ages, Renaissance and Neoclassicism) merge in the creation of the "Baroque Moreliano".  Together, they form a harmonious unity that reinforces the measured use of architectural elements in pink stone, the numerous arcades and imposing towers and cupolas covered with azulejos that dominate the city.

Founded in the 16th century under the name of Valladolid, the city was, at the beginning of the 19th century, one of the main centres of the struggle for independence of the country. Two priests received notoriety: Miguel Hidalgo and José María Morelos. It is to the glory of the latter, a native of Valladolid, that the city was renamed Morelia in 1828.        

The original model of urban development, which is one of the universal values of the Historic Centre of Morelia has been maintained. In addition, the urban public space has preserved its integrity and the streets still follow the original layout.
Despite the changes of use required to meet the needs of civil society, the monumental Baroque style buildings have preserved their own architectural characteristics. The transformation of old residential buildings to new uses related to tourism has been achieved in respect of the integrity of the inscribed site.

It should be noted, however, that built heritage in good condition is found mainly in the heart of the historic centre. Conservation of the built heritage of traditional and neighbouring quarters has received less attention and the number of buildings in poor condition has increased.

Restoration work on the monumental ensembles, especially religious, was carried out in accordance with the criteria of authenticity of the site. The recuperation of urban areas for community purposes has enabled an appreciation of all their wealth, while promoting their conservation. Dissemination campaigns on the important historical events of Morelia help to strengthen the memory of the Historic Centre. In this regard, various events have been staged to commemorate the Bicentennial of Mexican Independence.

With regard to conservation practice that affected the authenticity of some buildings (the removal of exterior plaster), considered in the evaluation report of ICOMOS in 1990 as inconsistent with the Charter of Venice, a slow recovery process of the facades of significant monuments was initiated following the inscription on the World Heritage List in 1991.
Concerning the aesthetic falsifying of contemporary buildings (application of a colonial facade on a new building), this local construction practice has been restricted since 1993.  The Urban Development Programme for the Historic Centre of Morelia, approved in 2001 by the Municipal Cabildo, henceforth prohibits construction of contemporary buildings that mimic historical styles.

The next day we took a tour to visit Patzcuaro, Quiroga, Tzinzuntzan, and La Isla Janizio.

Monarch Butterflies Mexican Home

While we stayed in Zihuatanejo for a few months, we decided to take a side trip to visit Morelia. Patzcuaro and The Monarch Butterflies Sanctuary.

This blog concentrates on the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in Angangeo.

We stayed at the Casa del Anticuario in Morelia, which in itself contains a lot of history.

So on to the butterflies.

We left our hotel at 9:00am for a 2.5 hour ride up the mountain to the Pueblo of Angangeo This ride is a constant uphill ride to an elevation of 3300 meters or almost 11000 feet. One we arrived at the top of the mountain we had to climb for another 45 minutes to the summit.

Here are some photos of our experience as well as a bit of history of the Monarchs in Mexico.

Fortunately we had an option to rent a horse to maneuver that climb, So we hopped on our horses an proceeded up the mountain. On arrival, we had to continue walking for about 30 minutes to arrive at the sanctuary. On the way in we spotted several stray monarchs.

When we reached the summit, there we posted signs to remain very quiet. What we witnessed was nothing short of amazing. Hundreds of thousands if not millions of monarchs perched on treetops for everyone to photograph. It was a long and arduous climb but well worth the effort. Especially for the poor horses that had no access to water during the trip. We chose to walk down the mountain to return.

Milkweed is their source of food, which is apparently only prevalent in that region of Mexico, and Canada in the summer.

Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve

The 56,259 ha biosphere lies within rugged forested mountains about 100 km northwest of Mexico City. Every autumn, millions, perhaps a billion, butterflies from wide areas of North America return to the site and cluster on small areas of the forest reserve, colouring its trees orange and literally bending their branches under their collective weight. In the spring, these butterflies begin an 8 month migration that takes them all the way to Eastern Canada and back, during which time four successive generations are born and die. How they find their way back to their overwintering site remains a mystery.

The Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve World Heritage property protects key overwintering sites for the monarch butterfly. The overwintering concentration of butterflies in the property is a superlative natural phenomenon. The millions of monarch butterflies that return to the property every year bend tree branches by their weight, fill the sky when they take flight, and make a sound like light rain with the beating of their wings. Witnessing this unique phenomenon is an exceptional experience of nature.

Criterion (vii): The overwintering concentration of the monarch butterfly in the property is the most dramatic manifestation of the phenomenon of insect migration. Up to a billion monarch butterflies return annually, from breeding areas as far away as Canada, to land in close-packed clusters within 14 overwintering colonies in the oyamel fir forests of central Mexico. The property protects 8 of these colonies and an estimated 70% of the total overwintering population of the monarch butterfly’s eastern population.


The property includes more than half of the overwintering colonies of the monarch butterfly’s eastern population. They provide a good sample of the areas that are essential for maintaining this superlative natural phenomenon. The maintenance of the standing forest and the microclimates that they create is the key management requirement, thus any threat to the forests is of utmost concern. Illegal logging is a known threat to the property with potential direct impacts on its Outstanding Universal Value. Public use has been increasing and the levels of visitation and infrastructure provided require careful control both in relation to impacts on the ecosystem and the quality of experience provided by the property to visitors. Due to its migratory nature, the maintenance of the overwintering phenomenon also requires attention to the conservation of the monarch butterfly by those countries through which it travels during its life cycle.

Zihuatanejo Mexico

On January 16, 2017, we flew to Zihuatanejo MX. We were to spend 3 months in the area to explore the local cultural aspect of Mexican life. We were not disappointed. We managed to find a beautiful apartment called Villa Ximena, right in the centre of the Mercado Municipal, a local farmers market that spans many city blocks. It contains a fresh fish market as well as several fondas (mexican eateries).

Here are some of the photos taken during our stay.

During our stay we took side trips to visit Playa Ropa, Playa LindaPlaya los Gatas, As well as a beautiful beach a few kilometers north called Barra de Pose. We used the colectivos to bus our way around town. And we used different modes of transportation like the back of pick-up trucks, and small boats loaded with groceries, live chickens and a variety of other goods.

Playa Linda has a crocodile and iguana sanctuary for vistors.

Long before Columbus sailed to America, Zihuatanejo was a sacred sanctuary for indigenous nobility. Artifacts, figurines, ceramics, stone carvings and stelae are still being found in the area verifying the presence of civilizations dating as far back as the Olmecs (3,000 BC).

The original name, "Cihuatlán" means "place of women" in the Náhuatl language. It was apparently a matriarchal society where weaving was the dominant industry. This is evidenced by pre-Hispanic figurines, plentiful bobbins and other related artifacts found in the area. Close to a thousand pre-Hispanic pieces as well as murals and maps are on permanent display at the Museo Arqueológico.
In 1527, Spanish conquistadors launched a trade route from Zihuatanejo Bay to the Orient. Galleons returned with silks, spices and according to some historians, the first coconut palms to arrive in America where brought here from the Philippines.
The Spaniards did little colonizing here. A scout sent by conquistador Hernán Cortés reported back with his evaluations saying the place was nothing great, tagging the name Cihuatlán with the demeaning Spanish suffix "nejo", hence "Zihuatanejo".
While Zihuatanejo's roots are traced back centuries, Ixtapa's birth came about in the 1970's, conceived and developed by the Mexican government. As one of mexico's newest west coast resorts, Ixtapa has managed to coexist nicely with the charm of Zihuatanejo. Not many resorts deliver modern comfort, tropical beauty and village charm better than Ixtapa - Zihuatanejo.

The longest beach of Zihuatanejo’s bay and approx. 1 km (0.63 miles) long. Soft to medium waves most of the year. Medium to high waves during our rainy season. Water sports rentals. Many restaurants and snack-bars along its shore that open from breakfast to dinner. It is probably the most famous and popular beach of our destination. Its name "the clothes beach" according to a local legend, is because a commercial Spanish galleon returning from the Orient shipwrecked at the entrance of the bay and its cargo of fine silks and clothing washed ashore.

North of Ixtapa. More than 1 Km (0.65 miles) long. Here is the pier where you can embark for a visit to the island. Medium to high waves most of the year. Here is where surfing tournaments are held. At the entrance you will find an enclosed natural mangrove lagoon with alligators and has a lookout point so you can see them. Various water sports available. If you will like to visit the surrounding area, you can take a horseback riding tour from this point. The origin of its name is unknown but we assume that someone liked it very much and called "Linda" (Beautiful).

Across the bay. A seclude beach with practically no waves due to the underwater reef constructed by our ancient civilization (see "Our History" section). Ideal for snorkeling and scuba diving. Many water sports available. Lots of restaurant on its shores. Recommended for a whole day outing. Best way to get there is by taking the shuttle boats from pier at Playa Principal beach. It got its name from the the docile and harmless nurse or cat sharks that lived at the bottom of this beach many, many years ago.