Tuesday, July 10, 2007


Abdon Punzo Angel works on his copper dragon in his shop in Santa Clara del Cobre. He had planned to enter this and another dragon in teh 46th annual Domingo de Ramos crafts contest in Uruapan, but later decided they were not ready. April 2006.

Abdon Punzo Chavez, 20, above and below, works in the shop of his father, Abdon Punzo Angel, in Santa Clara del Cobre. Chavez is working on the details of butterflies in a silver pot he plans to enter in the 46th annual Domingo de Ramos crafts contest in Uruapan, April 2006.

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Norberta Perez Zirango, 75, uses a backstrap loom to weave material for morraleses - cloth bags - at Casa de Artesanias (not to be confused with the state agency of the same name) in Cuanajo, Michoacan, Mexico, in the days leading up to the Domingo de Ramos crafts fair and competition in Uruapan, April 2006.

Juan Esteban Cuin Augustin, 13, traces desings into a panel of wood for a carved chest his father plans to enter in the 46th annual Domingo de Ramos crafts contest in Uruapan, Michoacan, Mexico. April 2006.

Angel Cuin Juarez, 50, at left, and his son Juan Esteban Cuin Augustin, 13, at right, with the chest that Juarez plans to enter in the 46th annual Domingo de Ramos crafts contest in Uruapan, Michoacan, Mexico, April 2006.

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Sunday, July 8, 2007


Generations of Michoacán artisans engage in a variety of crafts
Story ran May 13, 2006 in The Monitor in McAllen, Texas.

URUAPAN, Mch., Mexico — Abdon Punzo Angel’s thick hands tapped minute details into the menacing snout of the copper dragon that sat immobilized in a vise, its body seeming to squirm.

Beside him, another shiny dragon writhed from its base, teeth bared, tongue flickering, the scales across its back bristling. A candle holder sat on its head, another on its tail.

Angel, one of the best coppersmiths in Santa Clara del Cobre, spent two months working on the copper dragons to enter in the 46th Annual Domingo de Ramos Tianguis y Concurso Artesania in Uruapan; he was one of many artisans throughout the state of Michoacán preparing for the event.

In Zinapecuaro, J. Ventura Hernandez Benitez, 47, had already sent his two ceramic entries to the contest. He planned to be in Patzcuaro for another show during the weekend of Domingo De Ramos. However, in the shop behind his house, he demonstrated how he has worked clay for forty years, a craft passed down to him through many generations.

The workshop’s rustic brick walls held up a corrugated metal roof beneath which his creations seemed to gestate in the heat. His homemade plaster molds and their offspring – pots, vases and pitchers which required weeks of labor – lay about the shop in the hypnotic chaos of a true artisan. Small ceramic pumpkins sat on the concrete floor in front of a shelf of cracked boards loaded with vases covered with images of skeletons dressed in fiesta garb, geometric patterns of terraces and triangles, stylized dogs and monkeys. Pots in subtle hues of dark red ochre, greenish umber and bluish gray sat nearby.

Benitez ran a wet rag over the bowl spinning on his potter’s wheel, slithering streams of water shooting away as he smoothed the piece into a finer shape. When it was almost dry, he said, he would dip it into a tub of barro y kaolin to give it a particular hue. Paints, brushes and a stool sat near the door where brief glimpses of his artist’s soul would manifest themselves in dynamic shapes and colors in his work.

The collection of pumpkins on the floor reflected a relatively recent innovation. Zinapecuaro´s artisans have been making ceramic pumpkins for about 30 years; they used to make them from lead-based materials.

However, Trinidad Martinez Garcia, director of commercial development at the Casa de las Artesanias in Morelia, said the local crafts people began making the newer versions without lead-based materials about 10 to 15 years ago after learning about the harmful effects of lead.

Benitez said that the newer pumpkins, in softer earth tones of roasted coffee and autumn leaves and earth greens, are actually more attractive than the old ones. “They sell better than the glazed ones,” he said.

Angel Cuin Juarez, 50, from the village of Cuanajo, said people prefer the natural look of carved furniture to the brightly painted version. That’s why he decided not to paint his contest entry, an intricately-carved wooden chest. Just a few days before the event, he was putting the finishing touches on the piece in the shop behind his house. His 13-year-old son, Juan Esteban Cuin Augustin, had just gotten home from school and now went to work tracing designs into a panel of wood and then carving them.

The boy’s father began working in carpentry himself at age 13; he didn’t start doing the elaborate woodcarving for which Cuanajo is famous until about 20 years ago. That’s when a man in Erongaricuaro, near Lake Patzcuaro, asked him to do some work and, out of necessity, he learned the craft.

Elsewhere in Cuanajo, at a store called Casa de Artesanías (not the state agency of the same name) Elodia Garcia Romero and her friend, Norberta Perez Zirango, sat at their backstrap looms weaving material which would later be used for morrales — colorful cloth purses — just like the ones that hung on racks for purchase. Romero had already sent her two morrales to the contest; Zirango had entered two caminos de mesa, elaboratelywoven bands of cloth placed on dinner tables.

Zirango, 75, has been weaving since age 15, and she sat before the loom now as though she had always been there; the thick braids of her hair were tied together at the ends, her pleated blue skirt draped over folded legs. Her ancient hands fit the wooden rods through long strands of vertical thread, gingerly pressed them down and raised them up as the decades of artistry now interwoven into the fabric of her spirit manifested themselves in the cloth.

That manifestation continues to express itself in younger generations. Her friend, Romero, shows no signs of quitting; Romero’s daughter, Maria Concepción Guadalupe Garcia, 18, sat nearby weaving a scarf. She said she wanted to commit to the craft for the rest of her life.

More young people were committed to their copper work a few miles away in Santa Clara del Cobre, where the ringing and pounding of hammers filled the air in Angel’s shop. Punzo, who has won many national and international awards and has even made two presentations in Albuquerque, N.M., has 12 employees in his shop; all were busy at work this particular day.

Smoke bit nostrils and untrained palates, thunderous whops of hammers pounded objects into shape and disrupted the loud music crashing into the sunny yard, balanced simultaneously by the “ting-ting-ting” of tiny hammers tapping fine delicate details into copper pieces.

Hammers and tongs hung on the walls; sparks writhed in furious circles from a charcoal fire where a worker heated a copper piece before pounding it into shape over a long metal bar. Nearby, thick fire stroked the sides of a huge pot of boiling water where workers periodically placed copper pieces to give them their distinctive color.

All 12 of Angel’s employees are relatives — sons, nephews and other family members. Many of them have the name Punzo, a Purhepecha name passed down from his great-grandfather.

On this particular day, some of them were finishing up their contest entries. Son Carlos Punzo Chavez, 23, crafted the final accents of the flutes in a shiny vase. Another employee, Abdon Punzo Chavez, 20, tapped the details of butterflies into a silver pot. The 20-year-old artisan had already pressed the shape of the butterflies into the pot from the inside out, and then filled it with a substance called chapopote to keep the butterfly images intact while he put more defined details.

“When it hardened,” he said through an interpreter, “that’s when I began hammering little indentations into the butterflies from the outside.”

Once he tapped in the minute lines that would reveal the insect’s body and antennae, he would melt the chapopote.

Abdon Punzo Chavez had high hopes for this entry which he had worked on for a month.

“This is different, it’s unique,” he said. “It will probably win something.”

Why did he decide to make a silver piece instead of copper?

“It’s prettier, it’s easier, more smooth,” he said.

His father had also been working on an entirely new design, two dragons, one with two candleholders, and the other strictly decorative.

“It will have an impact in the contest,” he said with eager enthusiasm. “I had thought of making a candle holder, and I thought of making a dragon.”

However, Angel later decided not to enter his dragons in the contest.

“I couldn’t finish them in time,” he said. “I need to put the finishing touches on them, on the whole thing. I need about 22 more days. I’ll probably enter them in the Patzcuaro contest or the next Uruapan contest.”

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Luis Felipe Punzo Chavez, 15, with his diploma for first place in the 46th annual Domingo de Ramos crafts contest. He's standing in front of a stall of other copper items at the crafts fair in Uruapan, April 2006.


Mexican artisans compete with dazzling craftsmanship
Story ran May 13, 2006

Monitor Staff Writer travis@themonitor.com

URUAPAN , Mch., Mex. — Luis Felipe Punzo Chavez worked for two months on his decorative copper pot, and his work paid off at a crafts competition.

The 15-year-old coppersmith took first place in his category in the 46th Annual Domingo de Ramos Concurso y Tianguis Artesania in Uruapan , organized by the Casa de las Artesanías, a state agency based in Morelia. The contest in the second largest city in the Mexican state of Michoacán (the biggest is Morelia, the state capital), took place April 9 at the San Pedro Textile Factory where more than 1,000 artisans presented their crafts for the annual competition.

An especially intriguing category in the contest — feather art — showed a great deal of refined technique and talent in which artisans used bird feathers to create beautiful images. One piece depicted a monarch butterfly; the delicate feathery filaments used to create the butterfly’s wings accentuated the poetic power of the monarch.

More of these unusual crafts sat on the floor against a solid wooden beam, portraying such various subjects as the Virgen de la Luz, owls and a horse trotting across a meadow beneath swirling clouds. These pieces were priced in the hundreds of dollars.

Visitors didn’t need much knowledge to appreciate the work that had gone into the pieces set up around the room.

Sondra Zell stopped to admire some prize-winning copper pieces that ranged from under $80 to more than $130; “I love it,” said Zell, originally of New York City. She now calls San Miguel de Allende, Mex., home and would only describe her age as “over 60.”

“I’ve been here several days,” Zell said. “I was looking forward to this aspect of it so I could see the top quality.”

“It’s been lovely,” said her friend, Clare Piaget, 60. ”It’s quite an eye opener to see the event.”

Piaget, who spends half the year in New York City and the other half in San Miguel De Allende, admired one of the prize-winning copper pots.

“It’s in a clay shape, for a clay pot, but they made it in copper,” she said.

“I think that’s true of this bowl, too,” added Zell, closely inspecting another piece.

She bent down to examine a curious mound of thatched leaves and commented, “I don’t suppose you know why this got a prize. I don’t know what it is.”

“I think it’s a costume,” answered Piaget.

The “costume”, explained another visitor a few minutes later, was actually a raincoat. Von Peacock, originally of Indiana, now lives in Colima City, Mex. The 70-year-old has been in Mexico for 48 years. He lifted the thatched leaf item to reveal very fine stitch work underneath.

Peacock comes to the Domingo de Ramos event every year.

“I think it’s a good incentive for the artisans in the villages,” he said. “It’s a chance to compare their work with others and a chance to see what they have to do to refine it.”

Pieces were judged April 8 at the factory, and winners were awarded in a ceremony the following day at the Huatapera where they shook hands with Michoacán Governor Lazaro Cardenas Batel.

Chavez, the son of awardwinning coppersmith Abdon Punzo Angel, put his award winning “cazo” or pot, up for sale for $300 in a stall at the crafts fair, along with numerous other copper pieces. The piece, which had already brought him first prize winnings of $320, had a continuous line of leaves overlapping each other across the rim, the delicate lines of the ribs and veins revealing the tedious hours of work Chavez put into the project.

“I feel very proud, since my father taught me the technique of copper work so I could obtain the prize,” said Luis Felipe Punzo Chavez. “He’s very proud of me.”

Friday, July 6, 2007


People dressed in the traditional clothing of their native villages parade through the streets of Uruapan during Domingo de Ramos festivities in April 2006.

Jan Honeycutt, Joan Kaulbach and her husband, Harry Kaulbach at the 46th annual Domingo de Ramos crafts fair in Uruapan, April 2006.

Laura de la Vega, 37, second from right, and her mother, far right, of Morelia, examine pottery from Patamban at the 46th annual Domingo de Ramos crafts fair in Uruapan, April 2006. Seller and Patamban artisan, Elodia Bernave, 40, is at far left.

Juana Cano, of Cocucho, makes a Huancipo at the 46th annual Domingo de Ramos crafts fair in Uruapan, April 2006. Huancipos are placed beneath hot pots before being set on hard surfaces.

An artisan from Huancito decorates a pot at the 46th annual Domingo de Ramos crafts fair in Uruapan, April 2006.

Katie Cowger, center of Ashland, Oregon, and her boyfriend, Carlos Torres, right, from the Mexican state of Guanajuato, purchase some pottery from a Tzintzuntzan artisan at the 46th Domingo de Ramos crafts fair in Uruapan, Michoacan. April 2006


Shoppers at crafts fair find great bargains on pottery, copper and textiles
Ran May 13, 2006 in The Monitor.
Monitor Staff Writer
URUAPAN , Mch., Mex. — Katie Cowger and her boyfriend had just picked out some black pottery made in Tzintzuntzan.

“We’re just trying to find some stuff for my apartment,” said Cowger, 18, of Ashland, Oregon, who had been studying Spanish in Guanajuato for about 2 ½ months.

Cowger and her boyfriend, Guanajuato lawyer Carlos Torres, 24, were just two of the many people looking for bargains at the crafts fair in Plaza Morelos in Uruapan . The fair, larger than the similar one in Patzcuaro in late October and November, featured scores of artisans and their wares from across the state of Michoacán.

Customers browsed through stalls of copper and silver bracelets, pots, bowls and cups. A zoo of shiny copper elephants and horses paraded across a table while a single rank of disgruntled copper owls looked on. A woman with stern lines across her face and heavy earrings dangling near her cheeks waited passively for the next customer.

There were white cotton blouses and tunics with orange punto de cruz (needlepoint) stitching across the top from Tocuaro, guitars from Paracho and masks with twisted horns from Ocumicho. In the section set aside for artisans from Patamban, Elodia Bernave, 40, negotiated a sale with Laura Rodriguez, 60, and her daughter, Laura de la Vega, 37.

“In spite of it being very traditional, it has many modern forms,” De la Vega said.

Her mother said this was by far the best crafts fair in Michoacán. “We have all the regions, all the artesanos,” Rodriguez said. “I like the clay, the weaving, the embroidery. I like the figures from Ocumicho. It’s very traditional.”

The Patamban pottery, indeed, has a traditional terracotta look about it, with bands of blue and white flowers that seem to float around the hips of some jars; others have abstract blue and white shapes that shimmer in the shade of mid-afternoon. Bernave was selling glazed serving bowls, large mouth bowls, and pots and pitchers she’d spent the whole year making. She said she typically begins working at about noon and continues until 6 p.m. or 7 p.m. She was charging between $1 and $4 for her wares but said the weeklong event was definitely worth the effort.

Cowger and Torres had only been at the fair for about 15 minutes when they found the black pitcher and four mugs, all for only $9.

“So far it’s really pretty good,” Cowger said.

“This is like ancient crafts made in the state of Oaxaca,” Torres said, before the artisan cut in and said, firmly, “Tzintzuntzan.”

Joan Kaulbach, originally of Canada, liked the distinctive “pineapple” pottery from San Jose de Gracia, with its glistening bursts of leaves, buttons, flowers and tiny cups. She and her husband, Harry, hadn’t purchased anything yet. They wanted to wait until they had made a tour of the whole fair.

They previously lived in Queretaro for 3 ½ years before recently moving to Uruapan , where it’s a little warmer.

“It feels better here,” said Joan Kaulbach, 71.

“As far as we have traveled in Mexico,” added her husband, “this area is very green, very tropical, lots of mountains and extinct volcanoes.”

“There’s lots more crafts,” Joan Kaulbach continued. “Our friends like it. I have a son who lives in Europe. We give it to him and he gives it to his friends. They like the mariachi figurines made of pottery.”

Jan Honeycutt, a friend of the Kaulbachs, was impressed by the resourcefulness of some artisans she had seen painting with brushes they had made of cat hair.

“He was doing very fine line work,” said Honeycutt. 63. “I love it, the industriousness of the people. It’s wonderful to see, always amazing, the artistic ability.”

She and her husband, Pat, moved to Mexico last August from Albuquerque, N.M. Before that, they lived in Teague, between Houston and Dallas.

“We just vacationed in Mexico several times,” she said. “We liked the people, liked the culture, so when my husband retired, this is where we wanted to be. I think there’s so much here. … We have bought all that store stuff. We appreciate having something that someone has made.”

Wednesday, July 4, 2007



Michoacán city offers interesting tourist sites
Ran May 13, 2006 in The Monitor in McAllen, Texas

Story and Photos By TRAVIS M. WHITEHEAD
Monitor Staff Writer

URUAPAN , Mch., Mex. — The excitement of the coming Holy Week swept quickly through Plaza Morelos in the center of Uruapan , the second largest city in the state of Michoacán.

The plaza was soon filled with crafts from throughout the state as artisans descended on the community for the 46th annual Domingo de Ramos Tianguis y Concurso de Artesania. While the crafts competition was a few blocks away at the San Pedro Textile Factory, artisans crowded the walkways with hysterical ceramic devils on horseback from Ocumicho, handmade dresses and tunics from Tocuaro, copper from Santa Clara del Cobre and an endless variety of other items.

Several days before Palm Sunday, artisans had already set up red ceramic pitchers and bobble-head armadillos on the steps to the Templo de San Francisco and the adjacent nursery. In the patio of the Huatapera, next to Templo de la Immaculada, they sold handmade dresses with colorful stitching, woven palm-leaf items and other crafts.

Uruapan was founded in 1533 by the Rev. Juan de San Miguel, a Franciscan friar, according to an article by Jennifer Rose in Mexico Connect, an online magazine. Rutas Turisticas Michoacán, a magazine printed by Guia Mexico Desconocido, states the friar also established the Huatapera as a hospital. Its name translates to hospital in the language of the Purhepecha Indians, who heavily populate the area to this day. The Huatapera now houses the Museum of Popular Art, and its patio served as the location of the awards ceremony April 9 for the artisan and traditional costume contests.

Until a few years ago, Uruapan ’s major crop was coffee. While coffee still has a strong presence, in recent years avocados have become a strong force in the local economy. Macadamia nuts are also popular. You’ll find them for sale along the street corners around Plaza Morelos, along with cups of nance fruit, powdery pinole and garbanzos. Although the afternoon sun heats up the city to a tropical steaminess, things cool down after nightfall.

A visit to the old San Pedro Textile Factory building, owned by Rewi Illsley and four other business partners, is a must. Illsley’s American-born parents, Walter and Bundy Illsley, own the business housed there: Telares Uruapan . Shoppers will find some great bargains here for handmade textiles and, if they aren’t too busy, the Illsleys have some wonderful stories to tell.

The Parque Nacional Barranca del Cupatitzio also draws both locals and tourists who enjoy strolling along broad cobblestone walkways that wind through towering rainforests, past cold springs splashing their way over rocks into the swift clear Cupatitzio River.

With the exception of the park and the textile factory, most of the other sights in Uruapan are located around Plaza Morelos, also called Plaza de los Martires.

The Templo de San Francisco, located on the north side of the plaza, has a commanding façade, featuring an entrance bordered with large floral motifs; images of saints stand in niches between two sets of columns on either side of the entrance.

East of the church you’ll find the Casa de la Cultura, where numerous cultural events are presented throughout the year. During Domingo de Ramos festivities, there was a native costume show and a presentation of regional Michoacán music.

Farther east, but still facing the plaza, stands the Templo de la Immaculada, a pretty chapel with paintings of saints and the Holy Family journeying by donkey. Tall, simple yellow pilasters bear images of the Stations of the Cross; ornate, sixpronged candle holders jut from the walls.
It’s hard to separate Domingo de Ramos from a general survey of Uruapan . Bundy Illsley and her son, Rewi, 44, (who was born and raised here) explained that, traditionally, locals had been weaving objects from palm fronds and presenting them in the plaza on Palm Sunday for years before someone decided to have a contest. Soon, the contest evolved into a competition for artisans of a variety of trades throughout Michoacán and moved to the San Pedro Textile Factory. To get there, head west on Calle Emilio Carranza for several blocks to Calle Miguel Treviño, then turn left. Continue down this street until you come to the factory, an impressive structure made of dark red stone.

“My son and a group of people own the building,” said Bundy Illsley, a New York native who came to Uruapan in the 1950s with her husband, Walter. They took part in a number of ventures in the early years but, finding a large number of weavers in the area, they became heavily involved in that industry and have made a successful business.

“We have tablecloths, handmade bedspreads, cushions,” she said.

The little store was alive with color; lime green and pink table napkins in burnt orange and rich purple; viridian green tablecloths; woolen wall hangings with poinsettias, flowering trees and village scenes of children walking through streets; donkeys, cats and orange cows. A sailboat traveled across one wall-hanging while a crane soared overhead. There were straw tortilla warmers on shelves, old clay pots and wooden utensils — plates, knives, forks and spoons — along with colorful pillows, bedspreads and blankets.

Sets of four place mats and place napkins sold for $11 or $12. “It’s all hand-woven,” she said.

While the textile factory has some great shopping, that’s not the only place to find good deals. The shopping around the perimeter of the plaza is also robust. You can get Taxco silver rings, necklaces and hoop earrings for between $2 and $4; leather purses for $15 - $39; leather billfolds that run between $4 and $13; belts with nickel buckles ranging from $5 to $25.

Pass through the entryway beneath the “Mercado de Antojitos” sign on the north side of Plaza Morelos (just west of the Huatapera) and you’ll pass stalls loaded with copperware, leather sandals and belts, textiles decorated with punto de cruz (needlework) stitching and embroidery and more.

Soon, however, you pass dining areas that serve carne a la Tampiqueña, chilaquiles, albondigas, mole con pollo and other dishes. You then come to a large U-shaped area filled with open air cafes preparing sopa aguada, enchiladas con pollo, and local recipes such as morisqueta, a delicious meal of meat and beans over rice.

Leave the Mercado and cross Plaza Morelos to Calle Emilio Carranza. Head west and you’ll come to La Macadamia: Dulces Regionales, a sweet shop with bags of macadamia nuts (one kilo for about $3), bottles of “Licor de Café” “de changunga” or “de membrilla” (quince fruit) each for $6, all made locally. Small packets of macadamia candies process with sugar, garlic and salt, or chile sell for a little over $2. You can also get locally-made chocolate (for preparing hot chocolate) for a little over $3. For about $6, you can even buy a little gift basket of candied nuts, small bottles of liquor, cajeta and tamarind tamales.



National park in Michoacan a must for travelers
Ran May 22, 2006 in The Monitor, McAllen, Texas

Monitor Staff Writer

URUAPAN — Broad cobblestone walkways meander through the rainforest, the sound of rushing water permeating the air as ribbons of sunlight flutter through the shade of trees towering more than 100 feet high.

Laughter and excitement skip along the trails as children discover the wonders of Parque Nacional Barranca del Cupatitzio, - Cupatitzio Gorge National Park, an 894-acre park whose entrance lies at the western end of Independence Street in Uruapan, the second-largest city in Michoacan. It's not something you'd expect to see right on the edge of town; natural wonders such as these are usually located far away from populated areas.

However, this park is populated - with tourists. For only about $1, visitors spread out along the many winding trails, rushing up to fountains of water bouncing over rocks like disoriented snakes, or dripping lazily from cold stone, or cutting across breaks in the trail.

They all have the same destination - the river, where the water in minute periods of wakefulness manifests itself in shreds of foam, twisting and turning before receding into its warped translucence.

People are everywhere, but it never seems crowded. Families make brisk climbs along steep hillsides; trails shoot off in different directions and lead them to new adventures, to quiet parks or playgrounds with slides and swing sets, past a fish farm, waterfalls, benches, gazebos and small vendors selling food and drinks.

At a stand selling cups of freshly-cut fruit, a woman slices a mango in slithers so it looks like a blossom, then sprinkles chili pepper on top and hands it to a customer.

Halls, clorets and candies crowd a small table nearby. Gorditas are transformed by heat and oil into a welcome meal, bubbling, sizzling and popping in the sun for hungry travelers. Bundles of pumpkin flowers — flor de calabacita — lay on a plate to be used in quesadillas, and dark red links of chorizo meat wait for the next round of gorditas. Boxes of Ramen noodles sit nearby.

Two little girls bounce eagerly down the walkway in front of their parents to a point where water explodes from the rocks to achieve a moment of timeless beauty before crashing into a foaming pool and then the river below, losing its identity forever.

It's a river with a powerful draw. While signs specifically forbid anyone from entering the river, some can't resist the temptation to experience its enchanting waters. A man in a uniform orders several boys out of the water, but elsewhere others have partaken of its dream, dipping hands or cups into streams of spring water spewing from holes in concrete steps.

They can savor this moment, or they can finish it off back at the entrance where a vendor provides you with a taste of Michoacan's coffee: a cup of straight mojo, a bag of fresh coffee, or a frozen cappuccino, a perfect way to cool down from a long and wondrous hike before returning to the playful energy of Uruapan .


Purhepecha Indian Medicinal Plants Good for a Variety of Ailments
Ran MAY 22, 2006 in The Monitor in McAllen, Texas

Monitor Staff Writer

URUAPAN, Mch., Mexico — Stomach ache? Drink some albahacar tea.

Got a bruise? How about a salve made of arnica flowers. The plant is also good for diabetes and ulcers.

Of course, arnica isn’t the only medicinal plant the Purepecha Indians use for a broad range of ailments. They also use sosa for rheumatism, romero for muscle pain and gordolobo for cough, plus a host of other plants. Many of these plants are found at the Parque Nacional Barranca del Cupatitzio on the western edge of Uruapan , Michoacan, Mexico, west of Mexico City.

On a recent morning, Marta Leticia Roman Mares had set up a table with medicines made from those plants, preparations created by the Unidad Regional Michoacán de Culturas Populares e Indigenas. The air was alive with the intoxicating murmur of rushing water, the musty scent of old forest and damp earth, permeated by a gentle coolness. Water rose from the floor of a man-made stony alcove nearby, the crests capturing bits of sunlight bouncing through the trees.

Around the walls of the alcove were pictures of native plants and their uses. There was the chicalote, a spiny, treacherous-looking plant whose white blooms, stems, leaves and fruits are used in a salve for rheumatism. There was the juicy blackberry (situni in the Purepecha language) whose leaves are good for headaches. The stems and leaves of the cedro are good for stomach ache.

Mares, a special researcher with Culturas Populares e Indigenas, said she and other representatives of that organization have done thorough investigations of medicinal plants used for centuries by the Purepecha Indians. The tribe has a strong presence in this part of Mexico.

Her organization did manage to isolate the active ingredients and develop combinations of various plants to treat nerves, diabetes, cough, allergies, acne and other health problems. Many of those remedies are now found in a book called Medicina Tradicional, created by Unidad Regional Michoacan de Culturas Populares e Indigenas.

“This is a lot of traditional information from investigations with the curanderas,” she said. “The recipes from the grandmothers have been passed down from generation to generation. They want to give the information. Before they had doctors, they would go to get cured with a curandera.”

Mares knows the park, and its plants, very well; she grew up just a few blocks away and has visited here often throughout her life. Walking along a trail, she stopped at a coffee plant and pinched off a ripened bean. The fruit was soft and sweet, the bean hard as a pebble. The fruit, she said, is good for stomach ache.

“You put the flowers of the coffee in a tea and it’s good for the headache, for a very strong headache,” she said.

Look up Mares’s organization at www.culturaspopulareseindigenas.gob. mx/unidades.estatales.htm.



Ran May 10, 2006 in The Monitor, McAllen, Texas.

Purhepecha Indians prepare indigenous foods at cooking show

Story and Photos By TRAVIS M. WHITEHEAD
Monitor Staff Writer travis@themonitor.com

URUAPAN — Elisa Charicata Olivares leaned into the stone metate, pressing the long, squared mano over the cream-colored masa, shifting it back and forth, breaking off a portion to mold into a tortilla.

She was one of many culinary artisans at the 38th Annual Muestra Gastronomia Purhepecha, the Purhepecha Food Show, April 8 and 9 in Uruapan , the second largest city in the Mexican state of Michoacán. The event was presented by Unidad Regional Michoacán de Culturas Populares e Indígenas in the Plaza de la Ranita, just a block away from the crafts fair on Plaza Morelos. The crafts fair was part of the 46th Annual Domingo de Ramos Concurso y Tianguis Artesania in Uruapán, coordinated by the Casa De Las Artesanias, a state agency based in Morelia.

Purhepecha Indians, who heavily populate this area of Mexico, came from miles around — from Cheran, Tzintzuntzan, San Lorenzo and other locales — to demonstrate native cooking. Tall clay pots filled with native foods sat steaming over open wood fires amid the sounds of “clap-clap-clap” from women slapping rolls of yellow or blue corn masa into tortillas. There were bowls of atapakua de calabacitas, a green soup of chopped squash; pots of atole, a corn gruel; and charales, minnow-sized fish fried in a large skillet.

Customers peeled corn husks from corundas, a local variation of the tamale, or dove into hot bowls of churipu, a delicious and spicy stew.

“We’re trying to rescue all the indigenous food in this show,” said Marta Leticia Roman Mares, investigator for Unidad Regional Michoacan de Culturas Populares e Indigenas del Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes.

“We want to know the food that is consumed in the Purhepecha daily life,” Roman said.

A few feet behind Olivares, Cleofas Dolores Cira, 30, of Tzintzuntzan, and her family engaged in constant conversation as they maintained their work area while cooking up pots of mojarra dorado (another type of fish) and charales.

“We live on a little ranch along Lake Patzcuaro, we catch the fish ourselves,” said Cira’s father, Mauricio Dolores Ponciano, 62, who proudly added that he was “100 percent Purhepecha.”

He kept close watch on a batch of charales sizzling in a large skillet.

“I add salt but that’s all it needs,” he said. He stirred them a bit, then placed a large portion on a plate and added more from a plastic bucket.

A plate of this crispy dish of fish may at first seem intimidating. If you can get past the heads (and eyes) staring up at you, they are actually quite tasty.

Across the plaza, Petra Sanchez de Rhodes got herself a quesadilla with a filling of coriander, mint, onion, amaranta and guajillo chili seeds.

“This is for tomorrow, Palm Sunday,” said Rhodes, a local woman who runs a language school in Uruapan with her American husband.

“Then next week is Holy Week,” she said. She then wrapped a tortilla made of blue corn around her quesadilla, saying it was healthier.

A bowl of dark green gorditas sat nearby. “Those are made of corn and brown sugar,” Rhodes said. “Gorditas dulces. It’s all pre-Hispanic origin.”

Another basket contained small bundles of corn husks with a sweet paste inside. Those were called chapata, which also contained amaranta and sugar.

“It’s very nutritious,” she said. “This is Purhepecha culture.”

Back across the plaza, Charicata, 52, of Cheran turned tortillas on a hot plate next to her metate. A pot of atapakua de queso (with green tomatoes, cebolla, chile, cilantro and tomato) and a small plate of nopales sat nearby. A girl stirred a pot of carne de res on the hot plate as a wood fire flickered below. Charicata dipped her hands in some water before bouncing a thick pad of masa back and forth to spread it into a tortilla.

She appreciated the opportunity to show her native culture at an event such as this.

“I feel very proud,” said Olivares. “I’ve been making white and blue corn tortillas my whole life. The blue tortillas taste better.”

“It’s all natural,” said her helper, Maria de Jesus Rafael Gembe.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007


Summer 2002

Playa Azul on Mexico's Pacific Coast in the state of Michoacan is a flirtation with surrender; you can become quickly lost in the hypnotic rhythm, the dance, the flavor and the aroma of this dreamy place.

There are no taxis or schedules here, only the wind right off the beach as I dine on shrimp with garlic and water it down with a cold pina colada. There are no walls to this cafe, just rough posts holding up the thatched roof while the wind teases the mind; the floor of the dining area is just the bare sand beneath a shelter of palm fronds. The cool wet sand and absence of walls provide a welcome reprieve from my other life within the confines of concrete and sheet rock.

A guitar player performs for diners sitting farther out on the beach under a small umbrella-shaped bohio shelter, and older men sell colorful hammocks. Their days seem simple and unwavering, filled with the struggles of living and the laughter of friends and family.

Pelicans glide just above the waves, one of them making a hard dive into the water and immediately resurfacing with a fish. The comical but ravenous bird struggles with its prey flopping frantically in its enormous beak, then the bird devours it whole.

I'm glad I can take my dinner at leisure, thanks to the fishermen like the one nearby who throws his shirt over his shoulder and rolls up his nets after a long day at work. The ocean, such an intoxicating presence for me, is his workplace; I wonder if his life is any less stressful than mine. He may not think so.

I arrived at Playa Azul after first traveling by bus 145 miles from Morelia to Lazaro Cardenas. This steamy port city, just a few miles up the coast from Playa Azul, was once called Melchor Ocampo; it was changed to Lazaro Cardenas after a steel mill was built here in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

The city of Lazaro Cardenas, named after a popular Mexican president who served during the 1930s, is a hot, wet, busy place, with humidity so thick you almost feel like you're drowning. There was no central bus station there; instead, many small bus stations moved people about like ants going about their own daily grind. I imagined them heading off to some hidden gem I had yet to discover, another piece of reality I needed to explore.

The streets were crowded with vans bearing names like La Mira, Guacamayas, and Truchas on their windshields. I caught a blue van to Playa Azul; the vehicle's bare metal floor, wooden foot rest and torn plastic upholstery released me from the isolation of movement; they bore, instead, the stories of the generations that had passed through the van, a mobile crossroads of intersecting lifelines. The distance was short, but the trip took awhile as the driver made frequent stops for other passengers. The trip took me past homes nestled amongst stands of feathery coconut palms, banana trees, mango groves and dwarf Poincianas covered with a confetti a bright orange blossoms.

The van slowed as we entered an area where the ocean seemed to permeate; there was a stillness and a silence that bore the ocean's kiss, and I could feel the tensions of urban life releasing their grip.

This was Playa Azul. Little did I know of the hidden jewel I would find on this routine side trip. Coconut and almond trees lined the streets. Teenagers swung in hammocks, and children played in the air spiced with the sound of crashing waves and the smell of salt as I neared the ocean.

I liked this feeling of surrender. I had made no plans, I had no idea what I would find here and didn't know if I would find any hotel rooms available. It was a feeling of infinity, the possibilities boundless both for spiritual escape and practical necessity, and I found the timeless quality invigorating.

I checked into the Hotel Del Pacifico on the road running parallel to the ocean. The hotel provided me with a good firm bed, hot water and a ceiling fan, with a window facing the Pacific; paradise for only $15. The view was blocked only by the line of thatch-roofed cafes along the beach.

What else could I possibly ask for? This simplicity is the dream that lingers in my mind in my other life back home where I face the daily battles of traffic, cranky city officials and high blood pressure; they do nothing for me except remind me how beautiful life can be elsewhere.

I walked about town visiting some of the many markets that sold a menagerie of beach items. Onyx wind chimes carved in the shapes of seahorses and birds made music in the summer breeze while shoppers browsed through stalls of orange-flowered dresses with tassels that sold for about $11. Shirts with mantras like "Frogs, Beer and Fun-Playa Azul" and "Dolphin Paradise" sold for varied prices.

Those foolish enough to forget their swimsuits could buy swimming trunks for $10 and bikinis for $15. Tables along the streets sold a menagerie of reminders of this idyllic place, including conch shells and mounted coral priced at $6.

I was surprised to come across Hotel Playa Azul, an upscale place for those wishing to enjoy the solitude without giving up the creature comforts of an air conditioner and television. Single rooms cost $53. The hotel wrapped around a pool and a courtyard filled with coconut trees, crotons, hibiscus and Mexican Esperanza covered with yellow blossoms. Guests and visitors could dine at Las Gaviotas, a restaurant that served chicken fajitas, cognac, lobster and other dishes.

However, I preferred to take my dinner down on the beach, at a cafe called Enramada Yupancky (Enramada means woven branches, probably referring to the thatched roof), which is where I'm sitting now. I look over the intriguing menu which reveals some other tantalizing dishes, such as the mysterious octopus cocktail, ceviche, deviled red snapper and the ubiquitous but ever-popular pina colada.

Activity surrounds me. A woman sells shell necklaces, another colorful buckets. In the surf, pale green waves rise and fall as they did long before any of us arrived here. Occasionally, one rises as if in slow motion, starting off as a ripple, then rising, growing, heaving, higher and higher. Just when it seems it will never stop, it breaks, curls and crashes into white foam like the grand finale of some great symphony.There's a sense of freedom, being here at the edge of the Pacific, knowing there's nothing between me and the Polynesian Islands. I wonder how far the wind has traveled before it reaches me, whose dreams it has touched, whose sails it filled, what tastes, flavors and fragrances it has passed.

I wonder if perhaps, if I let go for just a moment, clear my head and cut the strings, the ocean's breath could pass on to me some of what it has seen, touched and learned in its many travels. Perhaps the breath of the ocean is like a pilgrim, a student, ateacher, always listening, always passing on what it knows. With the glow of the pina colada still lingering in my mouth and satiated by the shrimp and garlic, I explore the market places some more, then return to the cafe and lounge in a hammock until the sun goes down. I take a walk on the beach under a quarter moon until some dogs run me off, then return to my hotel where I sleep better than I have in a long, long, long time.

Posted May 2007
Quoted prices are not exact. Because the exchange rate as of this posting is just above $10 pesos to the dollar, I'm rounding it off to that amount.

From Morelia to Lazaro Cardenas: (Last updated May 2007)
Take the Purhepecha Bus Line at 7:20 a.m., 11:20 a.m. and 2:20 p.m. The ticket is about $23. From Lazaro Cardenas, you can take smaller vans up the coast to Playa Azul and other locations.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Bus Schedules

McAllen Bus Station (Last updated May 27, 2007)

To Morelia 3:40 p.m. Everyday $66.50
To Morelia 4:20 p.m. Everyday $79.00 Executive
To Morelia 5:30 p.m. Everyday $66.50

To Linares: (Last updated May 28, 2007)
6:15 a.m., 8:20 a.m., 10 a.m., 12:25 p.m., 2:30 p.m., 3:40 p.m., 5:20 p.m., 7 p.m.

To Monterrey: (Last updated May 28, 2007)
6:15 a.m., 7 a.m., 8:40 a.m., 9:30 a.m., 10:15 a.m., 11:10 a.m., 12:20 p.m., 1:10 p.m., 2:10 p.m., 3:30 p.m., 4:20 p.m., 5 p.m., 5:30 p.m., 6:20 p.m., 7:10 p.m., 7:20 p.m., 8 p.m., 9:45 p.m.

To Mexico City (Last updated May 28, 2007)
6 p.m., 7 p.m.

Morelia Bus Station (Last updated May 2007)
Quoted prices are not exact. Because the exchange rate as of this posting is just above $10 pesos to the dollar, I'm rounding it off to that amount. For example, the bus fare from Morelia to Reynosa on Transportes del Norte bus lines is actually 802 pesos. I have rounded this off to $80.

From Morelia to Reynosa (Last updated May 2007)
Transportes del Norte $80
4:45 p.m. Everyday
7 p.m Everyday
9 p.m. Everyday

Omnibus de Mexico $70 (Last updated May 2007)
5:50 p.m. Everyday

From Morelia to Patzcuaro (Last updated May 2007)
ETN bus line $4.20
1 p.m.
7 p.m.

Primera Plus bus line $3.50
5:45 a.m.
7:30 a.m.
3 p.m.

From Morelia to Uruapan (Last updated May 2007)
ETN bus line $12
4:45 a.m.
5 a.m.
8:30 a.m.
12:15 p.m.
5 p.m.
6:15 p.m.
7:55 p.m.

Primera Plus bus line $9.90 (Last updated May 2007)
1 a.m.
2:30 a.m.
5:45 a.m.
12:30 p.m.
2:45 p.m.
3:45 p.m.
4:25 p.m.
9:30 p.m.

From Morelia to Zamora: (Last updated May 2007)
Autovias bus line $10
6 a.m.
8 a.m.
10 a.m.
3 p.m.
4 p.m.
5 p.m.
7:15 p.m.

Primera Plus $10
1:30 a.m.
5 a.m.
7 a.m.
11 a.m.
2 p.m.
6 p.m.
10 p.m.

(Last updated May 2007)
To visit the smaller communities of Cocucho, Ocumicho and Patamban, travel first from Morelia to Zamora. From Zamora, take a bus to Tangancicuaro for about $1. In Tangancicuaro, stop at the corner of Avenida Madero and Avenida General Carlos Salazar. Go south and take the fork to the left on Calle Simon Bolivar. Go two blocks to a small plaza where you can take a Combi van to Patamban for $1.20. This is also the place where you can take a Combi van to Ocumicho for about $1.20.
To get to Cocucho, you have to stop first in Ocumicho. From there, you just have to kind of hitch a ride. I got a free ride with someone who was on his way there, but I had to pay a man about $8 to get back from Cocucho to Ocumicho.

(Last updated May 2007)
To get from the Morelia Bus Station to the historical center, you can either pay a taxi three dollars or pay a Combi van 50 cents.
To catch the Combi van, stand on the expressway that runs past the bus station. You will see a number of the Combi vans that are color-coded grey, brown and red. The Combi van you are looking for is Rojo #1.

From Morelia to Lazaro Cardenas: (Last updated May 2007)
Take the Purhepecha Bus Line at 7:20 a.m., 11:20 a.m. and 2:20 p.m. The ticket is about $23. From Lazaro Cardenas, you can take smaller vans up the coast to Playa Azul and other locations.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

MORELIA - Plaza Valladolid


Deep golden light glides up tall buildings of cantera stone that line the streets of Morelia, the capital city of the state of Michoacan, 135 miles west of Mexico City. Groups of troubadours dressed in puffed sleeves and black capes perform for diners in the wide arched breezeways surrounding the busy historical center. Children in gray school uniforms walk briskly past Indian women with textured faces strolling through a plaza next to the Cathedral of Morelia beneath tall trees with lavender blossoms, while on the other side of the centuries-old structure a crowd gathers around two clowns.

The city of Morelia was founded in 1541 as Valladolid, and its name was changed much later in honor of Jose Maria Morelos y Pavon, a hero of the War of Independence who was born here in 1765. Independence leader Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla served as rector of the Colegio de San Nicolas seminary here in the late 18th century at the same time Morelos attended there. Morelos, a priest, took up the cause of independence after Hidalgo was executed in 1811. In a little while, we will visit the home where Morelos was born.

This is a city of culture, of friendship, of perpetually good weather -- a place of wide-ranging experiences to tantalize the imagination. However, the allure doesn't stop in the city; the entire state of Michoacan beckons adventurous spirits to explore.

Morelia has retained much of its Spanish colonial charm, thanks to the industrious nature of city and state leaders who have also endeavoured to bring more cultural events.

Their efforts have paid off. Every time I visit this fine city I find impromptu musical performances, theatrical presentations, dancing exhibitions of all kinds. Corral de la Comedia always has some new program to generate laughs from its audience, Teatro Ocampo has some great symphony performances, and local nightclubs offer live music late into the night. Local transit buses have the words Paradas Continuas - Continuous stops. They have a lot to stop for.

Numerous tourism booths make this a visitor-friendly city; you can choose from one of the numerous guided tours available, or you can explore the city on your own. Signs throughout the historical center explain in English and Spanish the story of the old buildings such as the Cathedral of Morelia, the Colegio de San Nicolas, the Casa Natal de Morelos and other structures.

Museo Regional Michoacana, or Michoacan Regional Museum, explains well the diversity of this state. Models of ring-tailed cats, armadillos and shore birds stand beneath a huge mural of Michoacan's numerous ecological zones.

The state's broad environmental range has given birth to a varied culture where people have developed long traditions of craftsmanship, making fine copper ware, leather goods and ceramics unique to the area.

Examples of Michoacan's fine craftsmanship can be seen at Casa de las Artesanias, where visitors can browse through room after room of fascinating works of art and purchase them at reasonable prices.

This area's cultural flavor finds great balance in its rich culinary tradition; visitors can explore the region's candy-making legacy at Museo De Las Dulces de Morelia; the museum doubles as a sweet shop, and I enjoy roaming through the rooms learning about the nuns who started the city's practice of making ate, a process in which sweets are made of fruit pectin cooked with sugar.

However, this isn't the only place to sample the delicacies of the region. Morelia's fine restaurants offer an endless variety of regional foods found nowhere else in Mexico, or the world even, housed in old picturesque stone buildings in the shadow of history.

Upscale restaurants as well as out-of-the-way places offer a rich collage of foods passed down by the Purepecha Indians, as well as both contemporary and traditional foods from the rest of the state.

While the city sports an eclectic cultural and culinary life, the centerpiece of any visit here is the Cathedral of Morelia, which maintains an authoritative presence in the city's historical center.

MORELIA - Things To Do - Info Box

Museo Regional Michoacana
Hours of Operation:Tues - Sat.9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Sundays 9 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Location: Calle Allende, west of Plaza Benito Juarez
Entrance fee: $30 pesos. Entrance is free to students, teachers, children 13 and under, a senior citizens over age 60.

Casa Natal de Morelos
Hours of operation:Mon. - Fri.9 a.m. - 8 p.m.
Sat. - Sun.9 a.m. - 7 p.m.
Location: Calle La Corregidora
Admission: Free.

Casa de la Artesanias
Hours of Operation: Mon. - Sat. 10 a.m. - 8 p.m.
Sun. 10 a.m. - 3 p.m.
Location: Plaza Valladolid in the Church of St. Francis at the convergence of Calle Juan de San Manuel and Bartolome de las Casas. You can reach the Plaza Valladolid and Casa de las Artesanias by turning south off Avenida Madero onto either Calles de San Manuel or Calle Vasco de Quiroga.

Dulces Morelianos De La Calle Real
Hours of Operation: Sun.-Thurs. 10 a.m. - 8 p.m.
Fri.-Sat. 10 a.m. - 9 p.m.
Location: Avenida Madero 440, between Calle De Juan Jose de Le Jarza and Calle Fr. Manuel de Navarrete. It's two doors west of the Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Corral de la ComediaLocation: 239 Calle Melchor Ocampo, east of Teatro Ocampo, between Calles Guillermo Prieto and Ignacio Zaragoza. They have some really enjoyable live comedies.

Teatro Ocampo
Location: On the northeast corner of Calles Melchor Ocampo and Guillermo Prieto. I have attended some wonderful symphonies here. This is also a good place to find out about other attractions in the area.

El Rincon de los Sentidos
Hours of Operation: Sun.-Wed. 8:30 a.m. - midnight
Thurs.-Sat. 8:30 a.m. - 2:30 a.m.
Location: 485 Avenida Madero. The tall stone walls with colored floodlights create a wonderful atmosphere as live music entertains guests sitting in reed-backed chairs at glass tables with flickering candles. .People of all ages congregate here, from young couples enjoying the romantic ambience to parents cuddling babies and teenagers tagging along with their mothers. El Rincon serves breakfast, dinner, drinks and coffee.

MORELIA - Shopping - Info Box

A cluster of stores at the southwest corner of Calles Allende and Hidalgo offers some interesting shopping.
They are all open Mon.-Sat. 10 a.m. - 8:30 p.m.
Sun. 10 a.m. - 8 p.m.
Amara Luna: 199 Allende
A small shop with fashionable clothing.
Luna Oro Soy: 209 Allende
This shop has some really nice women's wear, plus scented candles, incense, aromatic oils, and some arts and crafts from around the state. You can also sit on benches around a flowing fountain surrounded by peaceful synthesized music.
Luna Mandala: 213 Allende
Has great books on a variety of subjects, including Feng Shui, Yoga and Tarot Cards.

La Casa de Portal
Hours of Operation: Sun.-Sat. 8:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Location: Calle Guillermo Prieto 30, right around the corner fromBurger King on Avenida Madero. Visit La Casa de Portal and shop for fruit liquor, jewelry, T-shirts in a nostalgic atmosphere filled with old nostalgic furniture: an old barber's chair, an upright piano, wooden rocking chairs with woven seats, an iron peacock, old coca cola signs, a wood stove, old dishes and plates. There's a cafe with elegant, turn-of-the-century dining tables and waitresses in long black dresses and white aprons.

This store is next to Woolworths on the south side of Avenida Madero between Calle Virrey de Mendoza and Avenida Morelos, east of the cathedral.
Hours of operation: Sun.-Thurs. 7 a.m. - 11 p.m.
Fri.-Sat. 7 a.m.- 11 p.m.
There's an American-style restaurant, but it also has a small shop with books, magazines, perfume, notebooks, glazed figurines, women´s billfolds, eyeglasses and candy. There's also an ATM machine.

This is an American-style restaurant and store on Avenida Madero between Calles Ignacio Zaragoza and Benito Juarez. The store also sells perfume, candy, stuffed animals, school supplies, books, cards and magazines.
Hours of Operation: 7:30 a.m. - midnight everyday. &

This store, Mexico's equivalent of 7-11, is located next door to Sanborns.
Hours of operation: Sun. - Sat. 7 a.m. - midnight.
Location: Avenida Madero between Calle Ignacio Zaragoza and Benito Juarez.

MORELIA - Restaurants - Info Box

Super Tortas Homero
Hours of operation: Sun.-Sat. 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Location: Northwest corner of Calles Abasalo and Allende.

Cafe Europa
Hours of Operation: 7:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.
Location: Avenida Madera, across from the cathedral. They have good coffee and desserts. They also serve breakfast.

Torta La Cruz
Hours of Operation:8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mon. - Sat.
Location: Corner of Calle Vasco de Quiroga and Avenida Madero.
This quaint little cafe has a list of tortas with interesting names like the Morelia torta with salchicha (sausage), jamon (ham) ande queso blanco (white cheese), and the Acapulco torta with pineapple; mushroom and meat. You can also get some great molletes, which is toasted bread with refried beans. I get mine with mushrooms and it's always delicious.

Hours of operation: Sun.-Thurs. 7 a.m. - 11 p.m.
Fri. &Sat.7 a.m. - 11 p.m.
Location: Avenida Madero between Calles Virrey de Mendoza and Morelos, just east of the cathedral. VIPS is an American-style restaurant with booths and tables and a menu that includes the familiar hotcakes and waffles, and then the more Mexican Desayuno Mexico (juice or fruit, carne asada con chilaquiles, refried beans and coffee or tea) at reasonable prices.They also have omelets, banana splits and hot fudge sundaes. Swiss enchiladas and chicken tacos both sell for just over $6.VIPS also has low calorie selections; I often order cold yogurt with fruit and honey, plus a cup of decaf coffee. The service is great. The waitresses were very helpful to me one morning when they learned I planned to visit Patzcuaro for the arts and crafts fair. They made suggestions about hotels and even brought me a phone book.

Trico Alejandria
Hours of Operation: Sun. - Sat. 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Location: Southeast corner of Allende and Morelos. They have good baked goods, liquor, chips and cereal, hot dogs, rotisserie chicken, cheese and yogurt. There's a restaurant upstairs.

MORELIA - Services - Info Box

American Klean Lavanderia
Location: Calle Nicolas Bravo, just south of the intersection with Calle La Corregidora. When you are walking west on Calle La Corregidora, you will see a sign at the intersection with Nicolas Bravo directing you to American Klean. This laundromat has four double loader washers, three triple loaders washers and two washers for even bigger loads.
Hours of operation: Mon. - Fri.9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Sat. 8 a.m. - 6 p.m.
Sun. 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Internet y Mas
Location: Calle Allende, just west of the Michoacan Regional Museum.
Admission: 8 pesos per hour, about 80 cents, pennies compared to Kinko's.
Hours of Operation: Sun.-Sat. 9 a.m. - 9:30 p.m.

Chat Room Cybercafe
Location: El Nigromante 132 A.
Hours of Operation: Sun.-Sat. 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.
This chat room on Calle Nigromante has individual booths for about $1.80 an hour. You can also buy soft drinks and gaspachos and have them while
you are on the computer. Not a bad deal.

Centro Interactivo de Comunicacion
Location: 215 Melchor Ocampo, on the same block as Teatro Ocampo and Corral de la Comedia listed below.
Hours of Operation: Sun.-Sat. 8:30 a.m. -10 p.m.

Location: This bank is on Avenida Madero across from the cathedral.
Hours of Operation: Mon.-Fri. 9 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Sat. 10 a.m. - 2 p.m.
Sundays closed.
While I usually insist on cashing traveler's checks first thing in the morning (many banks stop cashing them in the early afternoon), I've been able to cash them at this bank as late as 2:30 p.m. with much greater ease than most banks I have worked with.

Caseta Telefonica next to the Banorte on Avenida Madero charges six pesos per minute to call the U.S. That's about 60 cents a minute.
Hours of operation: Sun.-Sat. 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Location: Corner of El Nigromante and Avenida Madero in the same building as the Biblioteca Publica Universidad.This is the main tourism office.
Hours of Operation: Sun.-Sat. 9 a.m. - 7 p.m.

Location: Next to the Secretary of Tourism on Calle Guillermo Prieto.
Hours of Operation: Mon.-Fri. 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Sat. 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Sun. Closed.

Saturday, March 24, 2007



Sources give different dates for the beginning of construction on the Cathedral of Morelia. The sign in front says it began in 1600; others report the date around the mid-1600s. None of them have disputed that the baroque-style structure was designed by Vicente Barroso de la Escayola and that construction was completed in 1744.

The facade is a pleasant, not over-zealous, array of columns with scrolled capitals (tops of columns) and acanthus leaves. The sculpting of the Transfiguration of Christ shows an older, more solemn Christ than those I have seen in other Mexican cathedrals.
He opens his arms to the world as he ascends into the Heavens. The stone around him comes alive with tiny angels in flight. Sculptures of the Magi and the Shepherds stand in silent respect of the image.

A few parishioners move out of the carved wooden doors; smooth pink stone rushes up through the three levels of the facade past the weathered white images of Sts. Mark, Luke, Matthew and John that stare across Madero toward the Portales - arches that line the streets and broad walkways.

I cross busy Avenida Madero; just outside the cathedral's doors sits a woman holding a sweater over her face as she holds out a cup for change. I enter the cathedral where there are polished wooden benches filled with parishioners beneath a high ribbed ceiling with gold floral designs. They've come from throughout the city; men in plaid shirts, women in shawls with purses draped over shoulders.

There is a soft echo through the cavernous structure as the priest celebrates Mass. Vaults high above show panels of geometric designs and floral patterns in subtle colors of red and sky blue. Chandeliers help balance the overpowering height of the ceiling.

The central vault has a stained glass window with a picture of Christ ascending into the clouds, strong swirling lines creating a sense of movement.

There is movement down below, too. A young man with a daypack kneels and crosses himself, a cough breaks the stillness, a door booms as it closes. Mass is suddenly finished, and everyone pours into the streets.

I move forward, past chapels with gilded altars and deep red gladioluses and candles, painting of the Virgin, brass crucifixes. At the end of the aisle, there's an image of a dark-skinned Christ, arms stretched across a crucifix, wrapped in a purple loin cloth, and gold and brass stylized trees at the foot of the cross.Drawn in by the feeling of antiquity here, I think I'd like to know more about the history of Morelia; I leave the cathedral and head across Plaza Benito Juarez on the west side of the cathedral.

Plaza Presidente Juarez is a pleasant park with manicured ficus trees, towering feathery-leafed jacaranda trees and poinciana trees with bright orange blossoms. Couples stroll along broad walkways past sparkling fountains, a gazebo, a man in a wheelchair operating a newsstand. Others sit on stone benches. Trolley buses wait for their next load of tourists while teenagers in gray school uniforms and backpacks cross the plaza.

Two old Indian women with heavy square faces walk by, both carrying heavy loads wrapped in large dark blue rebozo shawls with yellow stripes. One stops while the other adjusts her load, then they both walk on. I continue toward the Museo Regional Michoacana.



I cross Plaza Presidente Juarez and turn right on Allende, past a small but popular cafe, Super Tortas Homero,which sells great tortas and quesadillas. I walk across the street to the Museo Regional Michoacana, which was originally a one-story home built in the 1600s; a second floor was added in the 1700s.

I check my backpack at the door where a man puts it on a shelf and hands me a number. I go up a winding staircase where various rooms take me through different periods in Michoacan history: the war for Independence, the French Intervention, the Porfiriato, the Mexican Revolution, the Lazaro Cardenas presidency (Cardenas was from Michoacan).

One room tells the story of Michoacan after the Spanish Conquest with old books, signs and huge paintings in earth colors. There's a glass case of Spanish armor, a sword, illustrations of Indian tribes trying to form alliances against the Spanish.

Other displays include a painting of Morelos in a blue uniform with red lapels and gold trim and a portrait of Hidalgo sitting in a chair. His studious eyes gaze out of the painting. He holds a piece of paper, and a white feathered pen rests in an inkwell.
Maps show the routes taken by Hidalgo as he excited the masses hungry for independence.

After Hidalgo died in July of 1811, the cause was taken up by Morelos, the most notable leader of the insurgency who had great charisma. He continued to lead the movement until December 1815 when he, too, was executed in San Cristobal Ecatepec.

Other rooms have old wooden chests, a flintlock rifle, and tack for mules used to transport corn and wheat. The room devoted to the Porfiriato has nice Victorian furniture with curved-back chairs, a carved wooden China cabinet, and a piano, paintings of Porfirio and other figures, old photos, ornate metal lamps with swirling lines, flowers and fish.

Light pours into one room through wooden shuttered windows, along with the rumbling of traffic and the splashing of water from the courtyard below. A model of a village in the Tierra Caliente - the hot country of Michoacan where Morelos preached after he was ordained as priest - reveals a community filled with activity.

A woman with a clay pot on her head stands outside stucco houses with terracotta roofs while a man with a serape slung over his shoulder walks by. Another man rides up the street on his horse, a church stands in the distance.

A mural on the north wall depicts men riding across a lake. One man with a long, flowing beard rides nude on his mount, a gray skeleton carries a lance, two others are clad in Spanish armor, one of them glaring at the naked man who reaches up to the sky.

The artist has managed to capture the frenetic energy of the moment, and I can hear the clattering of horses splashing through the lake, hooves and men flying in all directions with no discernible purpose.

To the right of this colorful mural is a black and white painting of Spanish soldiers firing cannons and blunderbusses. They appear to be firing at feathered Indians, all gray, in a painting on the left side of the mural, and the Indians are returning fire with arrows.

The first floor has rooms with explanations about local geology and displays of fossils, and then I find a huge mural with all the different ecological zones in Michoacan. Coastal regions, the Sierra Madres, La Tierra Caliente, mangrove swamps, pine woods, tropical forests and deserts, they're all here.

Below the mural, a glass case with stuffed animals shows the inhabitants of these different zones: shorebirds, a ring-tailed cat climbing up a branch, an armadillo rustling through leaves, a fawn looking for signs of danger, an anteater sneaking up on an anthill, a bat in flight, a crocodile, Gila monsters, chameleons, jaguars, ocelots, an iguana, grey foxes and salamanders, and so many more. The signs are a bit scattered about, but the meaning is clear: Michoacan is about diversity.

Michoacan's broad range of ecological systems, from coastal regions and mangrove swamps to tropical rainforests, pine woods and deserts is home to more than 100 species of fish, 200 species of reptiles and amphibians, about 500 species of birds, 130 species of mammals and several thousand species of insects and other invertebrates.

Michoacan's environmental diversity has also given birth to a varied human culture: the native people of this state have developed a rich artistic heritage, specializing in copperware, burnished clay, leatherwork, musical instruments; some of the state's native crafts originated here, but their reputation has reached throughout the world, thanks to the efforts of Casa de las Artesanias, - House of the Artisans. (See below).


Museo Regional Michoacan
Hours of Operation:Tues-Sat.9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Sun.9 a.m.-4 p.m.
Location: Calle Allende, west of Plaza Benito Juarez
Entrance fee: $30 pesos. Entrance is free to students, teachers, children up to age 13, and people more than 60 years old.

MORELIA - Casa de las Artesanias - Pictures

MORELIA - Casa de las Artesanias - Story

If you want to get a feel for Michoacan's diversity, take a stroll through the Casa De Las Artesanias - House of the Artisans.

Walking in, you feel like you're shopping in a museum. Located in the Church of St. Francis on the Plaza Valladolid, its rooms are filled with copper ware from Santa Clara de Cobre, pottery from Ocumicho, guitars from Paracho, carved tables and chairs, dresses and wooden chests carved with flowers, all in bright shades of sea-green, ruby red and sky blue, a perfect reflection of Mexico's rich color. Obviously, some villages have defined themselves by developing their own particular technique.

When I first visited the Casa De Las Artesanias in October 2001, I was dazzled by rooms filled with silver bird jewelry from Lake Patzcuaro, red masks with snakes and horns from Uruapan, Tocuaro and other regions of Michoacan, and shiny black plates with leaves, flowers and birds in bold colors of red, green and blue.

Skeletons were dressed in vivid color, bringing life to the specter of death in recognition of Dia De Los Muertos, one of Mexico's most important holidays. Later visits to this marvelous place evealed numerous changes, indicating that it is a progressive enterprise, not stationary by any means.

To get to the Casa De Las Artesanias, I cross Plaza Valladolid, a spacious plaza of large rectangular blocks with rough steps and smooth stone benches. A large, three-tiered fountain with a cross at the top spews water into a large pool while children feed pigeons or snack on cotton candy from a vendor.

A young man squinting in the dim light carries an enormous stick with balloons shaped like Winnie-the-Pooh and other figures. A woman with the look of a young child in her eyes buys a green balloon; the vendor gets change from a nearby stand selling lottery tickets. "Gracias," says the woman with the green balloon as she takes her change and rushes to a waiting car.

The Church of St. Francis provides a soothing backdrop to the scene, providing a pastel of cast shadow that moves like the ripples of a quiet lake across the plaza.

The church was founded as a monastery in 1531 in the Valley of Guayangareo before Valladolid was founded 10 years later; the monastery covered several city blocks. The area of the plaza at the time was the churchyard and served as a cemetery until the late 1800s. The cemetery has since been moved.

On this particular trip in March 2005, I pass a woman selling Oaxacan tamales outside the door to the Casa; inside the store, surrounded by the distinctive craftsmanship from throughout the state, I become rather intrigued by their stories. Some of the glazed pottery has a peculiar beaded quality I can't recall seeing before, and the shop has plates with floral and animal designs made in the maque technique, a pre-Columbian craft which uses a mixture of oil from the axe insect and dolomia just spread over a wooden surface such as a bowl. Colored patterns are then placed on the surface in successive layers; each applied color takes a week to dry.

I'd like to know more about these crafts. Who made them? Where were they made? And how? After inquiring at the front desk of the visitors center, where they sell cassette tapes, videos and other items, I am directed upstairs where I meet Trinidad Martinez Garcia. Trinidad lived for several years in Sacramento, and I am thankful to meet someone who could explain, in English, the arts and crafts of Michoacan.

The pineapples, she says, referring to the strange beaded pots, are made in San Jose de Gracia. The artisans have a mold and they sort of pinch the pots to create the beaded pattern. It's a pre-Hispanic tradition.

Each of the towns have their own artisans. The Casa, she says, was founded about 36 years ago to support Michoacan's native craftsmanship; many of the villages around Lake Patzcuaro and other areas of this state were giving up their crafts because there was no money in it, and they were moving to the cities where many were forgetting their culture.

Casa de las Artesanias now promotes the survival of these ancient traditions by purchasing native crafts and selling them either here or in other shops in the United States, South America, and other parts of Mexico.

These are ancient Indian traditions, just a few of the many practices that define Michoacan's diversity, and that diversity is celebrated at Casa de las Artesanias. Numerous festivals are held throughout the year in numerous villages; the two main events are held in Patzcuaro for Day of the Dead in late October and early November, and on Palm Sunday in Uruapan.

MORELIA - Casa de las Artesanias - Info Box

Casa de la Artesanias
Hours of Operation:Mon.-Sat.10 a.m. - 8 p.m.
Sun. 10 a.m. - 3 p.m.
Location: Plaza Valladolid in the Church of St. Francis at the convergence of Calle Juan de San Manuel and Bartolome de las Casas. You can reach the Plaza Valladolid and Casa de las Artesanias by turning south off Avenida Madero onto either Calles de San Manuel or Calle Vasco de Quiroga