We made if from Patzcuaro to the larger city of Uruapan, still in the state of Michoacán, and still with travel advisory warnings. This area definitely had a different feel to it. The drive between the two was very pretty and the closer to Uruapan we got the more avocado trees we saw. Yum avocado! This was our first stop where we didn’t have accommodation pre-booked. We had some places loaded on our phone and once we made it to centro we walked around (yes with our packs on) until we found a suitably priced hotel. Not as tricky as it sounds, we were probably only looking for 30 minutes so I didn’t die from the weight of my bag. The hotel we decided on was on a street parallel to the main street. After dumping our bags we left to find food, settling on the easy option of tacos.
I was a little cautious about Uruapan. The area was a bit more dodgy than Patzcuaro and it was much bigger and dirtier. There was also a large and obvious heavily armed police presence here. All the pricier hotels had an armed police officer at the door for the protection of the guests. Luckily we saw and heard nothing untoward in our three nights here and actually saw some cool stuff.
Most of the sights we saw here were out of town, the first being the Paricutin volcano. We headed back to the main bus station in the early morning and boarded a bus which would drop us in the small town of Angahuán. The special thing about this tiny town is that children are raised speaking the local dialect of P’urhépecha. They learn Spanish once attending school so English (if spoken at all) is the far distant third language.
As soon as we climbed off the bus we were offered tours and horses for the trip. We had done our research and knew that this would happen. Also due to our researching we knew that the volcano was quite a distance away and discovering the route through the lava field (yes lava field, awesome right?!), within a day was probably going to be far too tricky alone and by foot. We took up the guides offer of $250 peso per person for the trip. This included the same price for the guide making the tour cost $750 in total. I should probably mention here that the trip would be by horseback…
In theory riding a horse for three hours to a volcano sounds easy but about half an hour in and we were already beginning to hurt. Horse riding is hard! The horses walked us around the edges of the lava field to the base of the volcano where they waited as we climbed up to the summit. I was so glad to be off that horse, my knees were all crampy feeling and my bum and thighs were just ouch. But little did we know that the hardest part was up to us. The climb up to the crater rim was steep and gravely; basically one step up and half a step back. My legs have never worked so hard in my life. After at least a 45 minute slog up hill we arrived dusty and exhausted to the crater of the volcano. The top of the volcano is at 2,800m, so on top of the sleep incline we were battling the altitude as well, whew hard work. We walked around the rim marvelling at the view which consisted of seeing the extent of the lava field and the devastation it must have caused. Even seeing it today, approximately 70 years on from the eruption it still appears as blackness all over the landscape. Around the volcano there were also vents releasing steam. These were not dangerous and could be walked over with just a mild warmth on your skin.
The descent was the fun/dodgy/dusty part; sliding down a scree slope on the side of the volcano. It takes a mixture of large steps and jumping to navigate the tiny rocks and dust, but as long as you keep upright and leaning back it’s fun. There was much squealing from me as I slid down the loose rock. It only took about 5-10 minutes of rapid decent compared to the time taken to climb up. Emptying our shoes at the base was a must as we didn’t want to take the whole volcano home with us. Climbing back onto the horse my whole body remembered the pain and wondered why was I doing this. But on a high from climbing a volcano I resigned myself to another three hours on the back of my beast.
Here I should probably mention the history of the volcano as we found it very interesting. In 1943 a fissure appeared in a farmer’s cornfield in the town of Paricutin (the Volcano was named after this town). Within a week the volcano had started growing and erupting. After a year was over 300 meters tall. The eruption buried the town of Paricutin and all that remains of it is the church bell-tower and alter which was our next stop of the day.
So three hours later we very gladly climbed off the horses and brought some quesadillas for a late lunch before visiting the church. Scrambling over the lava field was a cool experience, the rock was very dark and had a bubble like texture in some places and was basalt like in others. Seeing the church was incredible and it’s hard to imagine that somewhere under all the lava is the remains of a town. The bell-tower still stands as well as some other pieces of walls and a chapel. All of it is now entered at second story height but you can climb down into a lower room of the tower. All in all a seriously breathtaking day.
Time for our last stint on the horses to return to Angahuán. I gritted my teeth and climbed onto the horse for the last time. In the early stages of our day I had asked our guide if the horses had names, which apparently they didn’t. So Tom and I decided to name them ourselves. Tom’s horse was quickly named Plodder as that’s what he did, plod along reliably, steadily and only at once pace. Mine was a bit more flighty, enjoying attempts at a jog down the track quite often which my bum did not enjoy. She was named a few things over the course of the day: Pacer was the original as she HAD to be in the lead but on the return journey we settled on Two-Speed because either she was walking slower than Plodder to trying to tear ahead to get in the lead. Needless to say Two-Speed was the more involving/tiring ride.
Tired, sore, dusty and probably smelling like horse we flagged a collectivo at the main road and headed back to Uruapan. Because we had no original thoughts in our tired bodies we had tacos again for dinner.
The next morning we ventured out slowly as we were very sore from the horse riding and volcano climbing experiences of the previous day. The Parque Nacional was our first stop and is one of the lovelier places to see within the city. It’s a short walk from the centro, achievable even with our legs still uncomfortably sore. A leafy green paradise away from the traffic where you can wander the many tracks and see all the cool fountains which have been installed with the water from the many springs within the park. Even in winter and the dry season the park was lush and green. In summer I imagine the place has a steamy tropical rainforest feel.
After the park we headed to the bus station and onwards to another nearby town called Tingambato. This is the site of our first stereotypical archaeological ruins in Mexico and our first ever pyramid! It’s just a small site but has the ruins of a ball court and a small step pyramid. As we haven’t yet made it to Mexico City and therefore seen Teotihuacan we were suitably happy with this site. The small pyramid was in good condition and we climbed it (all 36 steps) to see the sights from above. We got back to the centro in late afternoon and decided upon an early dinner as the next morning was going to include a very early wake up alarm and we also needed to pack. Dinner consisted of hamburger for Tom and a torta for me. Looking back on Uruapan and writing this has made me realise how badly we ate here, whoops. For the region of avocados we didn’t eat any, so disappointing.
As I said the next morning was an early one, we needed to make it to the bus station before 8am to catch our longest bus yet. Eleven and a half hours on a second class bus through the middle of Michoacán did not sound fun at all but I downed my travel sickness pills and we were off to Colima.