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.
THINGS TO SEE
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.
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