From Morelia we ended up getting a taxi from the bus stop to Patzcuaro, being the same price as the bus and quicker we thought this would be a good idea. The driver was crazy, I swear he was driving at minimum 140kmh for the whole trip, although I have no way of actually knowing because the speedo was broken. This has been the sole time I have felt in any danger in all the time we have been travelling up to this point. So we just held on (oh and there were no seatbelts) and hoped for the best. Luckily the distance between Morelia and Patzcuaro is 40km so only a 20 minute drive.
The taxi dropped us at the bus station and we piled out very quickly grabbing our packs. It was a short walk to our accommodation which ended up being equidistant between the bus station and centro, very helpful. Although called a hostel the house had more of an Air-bnb vibe to it. The couple who ran it were super friendly and the house fit our needs perfectly i.e. it had a good kitchen, was very cheap and we had a private bathroom.
Patzcuaro was one of the smaller towns we have visited but acted well as a base to bus around the region and see other smaller towns and sights. The centro is based around two plazas and all of the buildings are whitewashed with tile roofs. Our favourite part of the town was the mercado and we passed through here almost each day of the week we spent here. The produce was amazing and so so cheap, there is also a section of small stalls selling the regular Mexican street food such as tacos, tortas and quesadillas. It was here that we had our best quesadillas thus far, they are still yet to be beaten over a month on.
The street up to the hostel also proved to have some great stores. We regularly shopped at a small corner shop in lieu of a supermarket, the panaderia was always a temptation on the walk past and a little lady had a small selection of fruit outside her house where we would buy fruit for breakfast.
Being our base for the region we got out and about quite often while in Patzcuaro. Our first stop was the Isla Jantizio, the main island on the lake. This island has a small local community which seems to exist solely from tourism. I imagine they were facing tough times with the decrease in tourists in Michoacan due to the perceived danger from narco-violence over the last few years. On the island is restaurants, artisan shops and overlooking it all at the highest point of the island is a monument of Jose Maria Morelos. This statue is 40 metres tall and you can pay to climb up to the lookout. We paid our 10 peso each and walked inside the base and our jaws dropped, the interior is hollow and has a winding path and stairs all around an open centre. All the interior walls have murals depicting Mexican history. This is where I should mention that Tom hates heights, so he was looking up at the stairs and not thinking (or saying out-loud) very nice words. But off we set walking round and round getting ever higher. Before long I left Tom to his own pace and climbed up into the lookout. The view is spectacular. You can see the whole lake and a lot of the surrounding region. Tom eventually made it to the lookout, he had made some friends who were also a little fazed by the height. We met up with our new friends again after lunch and they accompanied us back to the dock and gave us a ride back to centro, we have met so many lovely people in this country, both fellow tourists and local alike. The only down side to our day trip to the island was seeing the amount of introduced weed in the lake, it completely choked up all the shore for about 10 metres. I can’t imagine it is healthy for the ecosystem of the lake. Though it appeared that there were people trying to clear the lake of weed it seemed like a losing battle.
Our next day trip we were accompanied with another hostel guest and visited a small (yes they are all small in this area) village called Tzintzuntzan, where we saw our first ruins! This area was once the capital of the Tarascan region until the area was conquered by the Spanish. The town is known for it’s archaeological ruins comprising of five yucatas (platforms) of semicircular pyramids, sorry readers no stereotypical Aztec or Mayan step pyramids yet. The site was interesting and the small museo was well done although the displays were only in Spanish and P’urhépecha (local dialect which is still spoken in parts of the region). In the village there is also an old monastery with crazy gnarled olive trees in the grounds which are very old.
We finished the day with a hunt for pulque. This required us to return to the bus station and jump on a collectivo to San Bartolo, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it town 20 minutes away. We were dropped at a house by the driver where a family had a sign saying “Pulque aqui” on the gate. Our friend from the hostel called out to a lady in the house who gave us a jug of pulque and three plastic cups which we drank on the side of the road. Pulque in case you are wondering is made of fermented agave, is a watery white colour with froth, a taste like a weird soapy, fruity beer with a little sweetness and an alcohol percentage of somewhere between beer and wine. Still unsure whether I liked it or not.
We had a couple of lovely relaxing days while here, one was rainy so we stayed inside watching TV shows, writing blog posts (Me) and playing computer games (Tom).
Other than the mercado we hadn’t explored much of Patzcuaro yet so tourist map in hand we set off on a chilly overcast day to tick off all the sights of the town. First stop was the Casa de los Once Patios (House of Eleven Patios), a gorgeous old house that has a a lot of courtyards/patios but I didn’t manage to count eleven. This building houses a artisan market of sorts with heaps of small shops where you can buy beautiful locally made crafts, in some of the stores the artists were even working on their good which is interesting to see. Of course living out of backpacks prohibits shopping for anything except small items. We are yet to find anything that we love enough to carry around indefinitely and postage back to New Zealand appears to be exorbitant.
Before lunch we visited the local museo, this one wasn’t as history based as others we have visited but instead specialised in how people lived in the area. It had exhibits on pottery, textiles, fishing and instruments among others and although small it was a nicely put together museum.
We stopped off to see the few churches in the town finishing up with the Basilica. We are starting to get quite a collection of church interior photos by now. Outside the Basilica was a small market selling the usual things as well as a selection of food stalls. We had yet to try two recommended food items of the area and decided that being lunch time and a cold day it would be the perfect time. Our lunch consisted of corundas, a type of tamale, made from a dough and steamed these triangular shaped parcels are stuffed with meats or rajas with cheese and served with sour cream. They were pretty tasty but very filling. I only made it halfway through mine. To accompany the corundas we tried atole for the first time. This is a thick, porridgy, warm beverage which is made with corn flour, cinnamon, water and can be flavoured with fruit, vanilla or chocolate. We tried the champurrado (tastes like cinnamon and chocolate) which is a popular option and guayaba (guava). Both of which were delicious and really hit the spot that cold and windy day.
Patzcuaro is a pretty small town so that rounded out our exploration of the centro. We finished off relaxing in the plaza when Tom decided that my boots were too filthy so I should get them cleaned. Seating for getting your shoes cleaned are common sights around plazas in Mexico but we had yet to experience them for ourselves. Having been shopping in Leon for leather boots and then wearing them pretty much ever since, including some hiking and off-road use, meant that they were more grey from the dust than brown. The shoe clean and shine took about 15 minutes, cost $20 peso and was very thorough. It was like I had brand new boots again! Next a stop at the mercado and we were ready to return to our “home” and cook dinner and relax for the evening.
Our last excursion while in Patzcuaro was a day trip to another small lake with an even smaller fishing town on the banks of Lake Zirahuen. Nothing much was happening here which was a pity because the lake was quite pretty. Being non-Mexican and tourists definitely made us stick out while here. We ate lunch at one of the small lake-side restaurants, basic platillos of pescado blanco (white fish) for Tom and chilli rellano for me.
On the return journey we stopped at Santa Clara del Cobre, a town famous for it’s copper mining, production and of course stores selling copper things. Everything you could want made from copper was here; jewellery, kitchen utensils, pots and pans of all sizes, art and even a bathtub (Tom asked the price, it was 25,000 peso). The prices were quite cheap and I came away with two rings for about the price of a beer here in Mexico, bargain.
A week had gone by here in Patzcuaro in a very relaxing fashion but it was time to put on our packs and lug them back to the bus station for our next move. We were headed to Uruapan, the heart of Michoacán with more travel advisory warnings, and on a second class bus as well.
Even with the travel warnings the region of Patzcuaro is a lovely place, full of sights and great as a base for multiple day trips, even to other regions if you are organised. We loved it here and would recommend visiting as we are sure it’s an up-and-coming place for tourists. But half the pleasure of being here is how low-key it is; no bustling traffic, tourism or people trying to sell you junk. Oh and it’s so very cheap as well.