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  • Day67

    First Hike on Cerro Blanco

    January 13 in Mexico

    Chris found a group that meets on Saturday and Wednesday mornings to hike in and around Patzcuaro. His first hike with this group started on the north side of the city and went up the Cerro Blanco. On the top of this hill he had a 360-degree view around Pátzcuaro. The lake and the city sit at the bottom of a valley ringed by mountains.

  • Day69

    I don’t feel that I can go on talking about our time in Patzcuaro without mentioning a Spanish judge, turned bishop, who was sent to New Spain in 1531 to restore order and humanity to this region. Almost every day, we see something in this town that reminds us of his ‘presence’, 500 years later.

    First, a little over-simplified background information follows ...

    The indigenous people of this area called themselves Purépechas. When the Spaniards came, they renamed them Tarascans. They were one of the major Pre-Columbian civilizations in Mesoamericas and were never conquered by the Aztecs.

    Then came the Spaniards. The conquistador, Nuno Beltran de Guzman, was put in charge of governing the country. Little did Spain know that he was a nasty man who became known for his acts of uncompromising cruelty towards the indigenous people in Michoacan, and their leaders. The stories about what he did to people are gruesome. He totally devastated the communities here.

    This is where Don Quiroga, our hero, came into the picture. He was sent to New Spain to help out the indigenous, and convert them to Christianity, and our villain, Guzman, was sent back to Spain to stand trial.

    In 1533, Don Quiroga, a Spanish aristocrat, was installed as the first bishop of the province of Michoacán. At that time, the province was much larger than the present-day state. He governed an area that covered over 27,000 square miles and 1.5 million people.

    Trained as a lawyer before joining the priesthood, he was in his early 60s when he reached this region. Most accounts put his age at 67 when he was named bishop of Michoacán, and by all accounts his time in Mexico was as much as a mild and fatherly leader as his predecessors' had been fierce and tyrannical.

    Having read "Utopia," Thomas More's 1516 imagined vision of a Christian socialist island paradise somewhere on the way from Europe to the Americas, Quiroga aimed to draw on those ideas to establish a model society on the banks of Lake Pátzcuaro.

    Can you imagine? He read the book and was headed to a place where he could try to create a Utopia! And he was our age! What a man.

    Quiroga's plan, which he implemented with outstanding success, was to create communities in the vicinity of Lake Pátzcuaro, the heart of the Purepechan country, where Indians would not only receive religious instruction, but also in arts and crafts and in the fundamentals of self-government. This was the land that had been so brutally ravaged by Nuño de Guzmán. Bit by bit, the Indians came to realize that the kindly man was there to help them.

    Each person worked for 6 hours a day and contributed on an equal basis to a common pot.

    Don Vasco oversaw the construction of three Spanish-style pueblos (towns), each of which included a hospital, as well as the great cathedral of Santa Ana in Morelia, numerous churches and schools, and founded the Colegio de San Nicolás Obispo (College of St. Nicholas the Bishop), the first college in all of the Americas.

    When he died, in 1565, Quiroga was just a few years short of being 100years old. Tata ("Father") Vasco, as he was known by the Indians, left an indelible mark. The skills he implanted among Indigenous people of the Pátzcuaro region have been passed down to their descendants, who are considered among the most skilled craftspersons in Mexico. Quiroga trained his pupils in a variety of disciplines and his method of specialization by community remains to this day. I.e. Paracho for guitars, Tzintzuntzán for pottery, Santa Clara for copper products and Nurío for woven woolen goods.

    He is buried in Patzcuaro and his remains are resting in the Basilica de Nuestra Senora de la Salud, Patzcuaro’s principal church.

    P.S. As we find more memories of Quiroga, we’ll add more photos.
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  • Day70

    On our daily walks, we have passed the open doors of this little museum in a 500 year old building. We had heard that it is a lovely little building with interesting displays showing the history of the types of industries that have kept people busy in this area. We visited it. The building holds other surprises too.

    Its construction dates back to 1540 and it is one of the most important buildings in the city of Pátzcuaro. Formerly it housed the San Nicolás Obispo College, founded by Bishop Quiroga in the 16th century. Ever since the building has had several uses, until 1942 when it became part of the National Institute of Anthropology and History Museum Network. A museographic restoration was carried out in 2010. The museum exhibits all sorts of artifacts manufactured by indigenous people, such as textiles, wood crafts and pottery.

    Originally built as a special school for novices and to teach the indigenous arts and basic sciences, this building was the first school that existed in the Americas. Filled with history, the museum houses a fantastic collection of works of art with special finishes such as lacquer (known locally as ''laca'' and ''maque'') and the varnished bowls called ''peribanes,'' which are true handicraft treasures. The floor of the museum is made of bones of cows and sandstone, which contribute to the mysteriousness of the building. The bones were good for scraping mud off boots before entering a house.

    When an elderly man realized that we understood Spanish and we were interested in the artifacts and history, he took it upon himself to give us a two hour tour of only half the little museum. The stories he told us were amazing. He told us we could come back for Part 2 of the tour at any time using the tickets we had. We will take him up on this deal, for sure!
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  • Day72

    Built on a hill atop a pre-Hispanic ceremonial site, this cathedral/pilgrimage site was intended to be the centerpiece of Vasco de Quiroga’s Utopia. Building began in 1540, but the church was not completed until the 19th century. Only the barrel-vaulted central nave is faithful to Quiroga’s original design.

    Quiroga’s tomb, the Mausoleo de Don Vasco, is in the side-chapel to the left of the main entrance. It is a massive structure and quite austere, but always full of worshippers.

    Behind the altar and up some stairs, there is a figure of the cathedral’s patron, Nuestra Señora de la Salud (Our Lady of Health), which 16th-century Purépechans crafted with a paste made from the heart of cornstalks and certain orchids, and bound with tazingue, a natural glue.

    Soon after its dedication, people began to experience miraculous healings and pilgrims still arrive from all over Mexico to pray for miracles. Apparently, they crawl on their knees across the plaza, into the church and along its nave.

    Pinned to the image and at its feet are tiny tin votivas (votives) of hands, feet, legs, eyes and other body parts for which the faithful seek cures.
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  • Day74

    Close to 25 Years Ago...

    January 20 in Mexico

    Our oldest daughter was 15 when she went to Salina Cruz in Oaxaca state in Mexico, on an exchange to learn Spanish. The Mexican girl, Iliana, came in August and went to John F. Ross school for 3 months. At first we could only talk together when she used a little pocket translator that she brought with her. She had studied some English from a teacher who didn’t really know it. Every word that Iliana knew, was pronounced phonetically as they do in Spanish. So for example, table would be ‘Taa blay’. At the beginning of November, she had made great gains.

    In the New Year, our daughter went to Mexico and lived with Iliana’s family for three months. Culturally, it was a huge change for her but very quickly, she built on the Spanish that she already knew and had an enriching experience. The following year, Iliana came back to experience a month of winter in Canada. After a weekend of downhill skiing, she told us that she couldn’t move. Every part of her body hurt except ... her mouth!

    Over the years, we have been in touch, at times. I received an email from Iliana a couple of weeks ago. She said that she was on holidays and would like to come to Patzcuaro with her boyfriend to visit us. And ... that is what she did last weekend! She works for Pemex in Vera Cruz and that is where her future mother-in-law also lives. Her boyfriend also works for Pemex but in Mexico City. So, she picked up her mother-in-law, and then her boyfriend, and drove to Patzcuaro. All in all, a 9 hour drive. How amazing was that!

    They arrived on Friday night and stayed in a lovely hotel, El Gran Hotel, right around the corner from us. We met them on Saturday morning for breakfast and then did a walkabout town. It was their first time here so they just enjoyed looking in all the shops and the general ambiance of this city.

    Close to the Basilica, there is a 250+ year old building called La Casa de los Once Patios, or House of Eleven Courtyards. It was constructed in 1742 for the Dominican nuns of the order of Santa Catarina de Sena. Over the years, the initial building was added to, by buying adjacent houses and connecting them. That is why the complex once had eleven courtyards. Now there are only five. In the west corridor, the oldest part of the complex, there is a fountain and a Baroque portal leading to a room that had a bathtub with hot and cold running water, a rare luxury at the time. In the 1960s, the complex was restored and since then each of the original rooms functions as a workshop and store for local craftspeople. The embroidered shawls and lacquered items are beautiful.

    On the street behind the Casa de los Once Patios is the Pila (water fountain) de San Miguel. According to legend, some Purepecha priests rinsed their necklaces made of shells filled with blood at the fountain, so that water would have a strong salty taste.

    Shortly after, several women who were coming to get water there, saw the devil who manifested himself in the form of a fierce black cat, attacking pedestrians and meowing horrendously. The people who passed by, ran away crossing themselves. To scare the devil away Don Vasco de Quiroga ordered the painting of the image of the Archangel Michael there. The devil never came back.

    Currently it is said that the water from this fountain has healing properties. We didn’t see any water in it though.

    Chris and I had made reservations for all of us to eat a late lunch at a wonderful new restaurant called Santo Haucal (Sacred Wooden Crate). It has been receiving rave reviews and now we know why. We had an amazing 5 course gourmet meal and treated to a solo guitar player playing old Mexican favourites. Iso, Iliana’s mother-in-law knew the words to every song and sang along with the musician. The red wine was from Spain and the dessert was a choice of a carrot cake or cheesecake. We had a great time and will return.

    We spent a pleasant evening afterwards at our house, eating Tres Leches cake and sharing stories.

    We decided that we would meet on Sunday morning and then take a boat to visit the nearby island of Janitzio.
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  • Day83

    Our Last Weekend in January

    January 29 in Mexico

    It is hard to believe that we have already been in Mexico for a month. The weather here has fluctuated with nights going down to close to 0 degrees C. Days warm up but lately temperatures have hovered in the 15 to 20 degrees C. Rain clouds have made it feel a lot cooler. We are fortunate that our house has several gas fireplaces. So far, we have only had to use the one in the living room.

    On weekends, Patzcuaro really comes to life. It is not a noisy city though. In the gardens of the Big Plaza, soft music is played continuously through Bose speakers. People come to the park to join with their friends in a calm and very pretty setting. In the small plaza, many people come from the small surrounding towns to go shopping in the daily market and to eat in one of the many food stalls. Right now a mobile eye testing van is parked in front of the theatre. They also sell eye glasses. There are lots of people around but the mood feels calm and focussed.

    On Friday night, big black storm clouds appeared and we started to hear the amazing sound of thunder in the mountains. Wouldn’t you know it, it started to hail. Our patio filled up with ping pong sized hailstones and the noise of the hail hitting the clay tiles was loud. We were in Patzcuaro with our friends Diane and Claude 18 years ago when the same thing happened. Dogs and people ran for shelter and cardboard was put on car windshields to protect them from breaking.

    Rain is not common at this time of the year but is it appreciated. There has been no rain since September so things were getting pretty dry and dusty. I think people will breathe better now.

    Chris was able to get his first haircut since we left. The girl did a good job. With a tip, it cost Chris $3.34.

    Saturday morning was a lovely sunny morning so Chris was able to go on his Saturday hike with a large group of people. I went shopping and made a delicious spaghetti sauce from fresh beef that was ground as I waited. I also bought some quinoa pasta from the Friday organic market, that was quite tasty.

    On Saturday night, we were going to go to a concert but it was raining pretty hard so we decided not to go. We watched a Netflix movie instead.

    Sunday’s weather started out well so we walked down to a well-known general store, Don Chucho’s that is about 3 km away. It has been around for about 100 years. It carries almost anything that you can think of. I had heard that it carried a home-made butter that is delicious. I am not a fan of Mexican butter. It has a certain smell to it that just turns me off of eating it. Apparently they add this smell to the butter to make it smell better. Hmmmn. Don Chucho came through! Excellent butter. You can also buy things like peanut butter, salami, cheddar cheese and goat cheese, which are not common items here.

    On Sunday afternoon, we met Sherry and had a delicious, five course dinner at Santo Huacal’s restaurant for $13.00 each.

    Two-Cheese Kale Paté with Radishes

    Pea Salad with Pear and Prosciutto

    French Onion Soup

    Spice-Crusted Pork Chops with Tamarind Sauce and Roasted Potatoes and/or Arugula and Black Olive Quiche with Roasted Tomato Sauce

    Orange-Coconut Flan or Cannoli

    Oh, did I mention that we were treated to a glass of mezcal and a chocolate truffle? I think that we will have to make going to Santo Huacal a weekly treat.
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  • Day92

    When Bishop Quiroga arrived in this area in the 1530’s, the political and economic situation was in chaos. His priorities were to revive the economy and spread the word of God. He based much of this effort in the former empire’s long artistic tradition, after studying the needs and traditions of the people and the area’s natural resources. He worked to improve the techniques of those that already existed such as pottery and weaving, and introduced a few new ones. Quiroga assigned certain crafts to certain towns, and to this day, these towns are known for their expertise in making a specific craft. These crafts were, and still are, sold in a big market town that was eventually named after him - Quiroga.

    His aim was to take advantage of each localities resources as well as to encourage trade. Skills passed down from grandfathers to sons to grandsons.

    Ahuirán: cotton goods

    Aranza: wool and wood crafts

    Capula: pottery, especially Catrinas

    Cocucho: Clay pots & beautiful embroidered clothing (guanengos)

    Cocupao (today Quiroga): wood chests

    Coro: petates

    Cuanajo: Carved wooden items, carved & painted furniture; weaving

    Erongaricuaro - Painted furniture and palm frond hats

    Ihuatzio: Tule figures, woven baskets & mats, reed animals, woven furniture

    Janitzio: fishing nets

    Jaracuaro: Hats

    Ocomichu: Ceramics featuring devils and leather crafts

    Paracho: Hand crafted guitars, wooden toys, masks, & some furniture

    Patzcuaro: lacquered items

    Puacuaro: Items made of woven reed

    San Jose de Gracia: The famous green ceramic pineapples

    Santa Clara de Cobre: Items made from copper

    Santa Fe de la Laguna: Pottery

    Tocuaro: Masks

    Tlalpujahua: detailed carved Cantera stone (quarried, volcanic rock) sculptures

    Tzintzuntzan: Pottery, woven goods, items made from straw or reeds

    Uruapan: Laquerware

    Zinapecuaro: Ceramics

    Zitácuaro: cotton garments

    Pátzcuaro is a shopper's paradise. We can buy handloomed textiles in wool, cotton and acrylic, crotchetted cotton and wool shawls, handknitted sweaters, beautiful Uruapan lacquer plates and jewellery, copper anything from nearby Santa Clara de Cobre, wrought iron farolitos (lanterns), chandeliers, candelabra, wooden masks from Tocuaro, straw wreaths, ornaments and doodads from Ihuatzio, pottery everything in each village's trademark glaze, embroidery and cutwork from Erongaricuaro, wood furniture and carvings from Pátzcuaro and all around.
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  • Day93

    A long time ago, if people didn’t have wells in their homes, they used public fountains to get their water. In Patzcuaro, there are five of these old communal wells, pilas. We went on a little hunt to find all five of them. When we asked people about them, we heard some very interesting stories.

    1. The one closest to where we live is called the Pila del Torito and what we heard about its past is almost unbelievable. The fountain used to be on the corner of a short street called La Paz. It was painted yellow and had a small 3D cow head on it. It had two areas to get water - one higher for people and one lower for animals to drink from.

    So here’s the story. In the middle of the 1800s, the head of the military in Pátzcuaro, Don Javier de Villafuerte, was called upon to deal with an escalating issue. Upon hearing this, he jumped on the nearest horse, and took off in a hurry. Little did he know, but the horse that he had picked wasn’t tamed yet and went wild. Villafuerte tried to slow down the horse by diverting it so it would go in front of the fountain and stop. But, the horse threw him off and Villafuerte hit his head on the cobblestones and died.

    The story doesn’t end there though. The accident had been witnessed by a lot of people. Villafuerte had been loved by the Spanish but hated by the Indigenous and the Creoles so there were mixed feelings and conflicting stories about the event. So, it was decided that the fountain would be put on trial!

    After a lengthy deliberation, it was decided that the fountain was guilty of homicide. The fountain was first sentenced to destruction, but got a reprieve and instead was moved to a corner of Iturbe Street in Plaza China, where it is today. Chains were put around it to symbolized the punishment that it received. Recent street renovations actually found the original base for this fountain.

    2. Pila de San Miguel - I have already written a bit about this well near the Once Patios in a past footprint but here is the legend once again. It says that it stands on a site where the devil appeared as a ferocious black feline, attacking passersby and uttering blood-curdling howls. People scattered, crossing themselves. Bishop Quiroga had an image of the Archangel Saint Michael painted on the site, and the black cat disappeared. Two years ago vandals broke the cross on its top and scratched the stone decorations.

    3. Pila de Espejo (Mirror) - This small, pretty well is dedicated to one of the benefactors of Patzcuaro in the 18th century, the Spanish philanthropist Don Antonio de Ibarra y Sangotita, captain of the Tercios Viejos de Castilla, who died in Patzcuaro in 1747. He was the founder of a hospital and a convent.

    4. Pila de Santa Maria - The Santa Maria water fountain has its legend too. It is said that when there was a need for more water, Bishop Vasco hit a stone with his staff and magically water arose. It doesn’t sound very credible but people loved him so much that they believed this story. This pila is located in the oldest part of the city, in the street of Alcantarillas, just in front of the College of San Nicolás, which later became the University of Michoacán. In the following photo which looks like an igloo, I am peering down the stairs where the pump is located.

    5. Pila de Los Guajes - Near the Franciscan temple of the Third Order on Paseo Street, you can see the Pila de los Guajes. It is octagonal in shape and looks a bit like a wedding cake with three tiers. On the very top it looks like a monk’s hood. Historians believe that this is older than the Torito fountain.

    The five fountains above are the main communal wells, but we have seen many small ornamental fountains in town. There is so much history in this town but sadly, more money that the city doesn’t have, is needed to preserve this living museum.
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  • Day95

    People seem to think that Sopa Tarasca, or Tarascan soup, is a traditional indigenous soup from way back. But its history just goes back to the middle of the sixties, when a Mr. Felipe Oseguera, who lived in Patzcuaro, wanted to prepare a special and distinctive dish for the inauguration of his small inn. (We also heard that it was for a wedding...) That small inn has become a lovely hotel on the small plaza, called El Gran Hotel, very close to where we live. I was able to find an old photo of that hotel that I included below. It is the two storey building in the middle of the photo. You can also see the tall Pila del Torino (fountain) that I mentioned in another footprint.

    In the mid-1960s, the hotel's owner, the owner's American wife and a young cook, Rafael Garcia, invented a dish that, once offered to the public, became an almost instant classic: Sopa Tarasca was born, not created in an indigenous kitchen but for a tourist hotel's dining room. The name "Tarascan soup" was given to pay homage to the indigenous people of the region, the Purépechas, who are also called "Tarascans".

    Its preparation is based on a chicken broth, tomato purée, fried tortillas and a chili called chile pasillo; it is decorated with a touch of cheese, sour cream and deep-fried chili (yes, like good Mexicans, more chili is added).

    We went to the hotel to try out this tasty soup. A few Bayo beans were in our soup. The original recipe didn’t have any beans.

    Here is the original recipe.

    Sopa Tarasca Don Rafael García, Gran Hotel Pátzcuaro

    500 grams tomato purée
    2 tortillas
    5 corn tortillas, cut into very thin strips and fried until crisp
    100 grams chile pasillo, cut into thin strips and fried until just crisp. Be very careful not to burn the chiles, they fry quickly and burn in the blink of an eye.
    250 grams Mexican table cream
    100 grams Oaxaca cheese, shredded
    50 grams all-purpose flour
    100 grams unsalted butter
    1 clove garlic
    1 small white onion
    10 cups rich chicken stock
    Worcestershire sauce to taste
    Salt and pepper to taste
    1 sprig fresh thyme
    1 sprig fresh marjoram or oregano
    2 bay leaves

    In a heavy pot, prepare a roux with the butter and flour, stirring constantly so that no lumps form. Allow to cook until the roux is a deep caramel color.

    In a blender, liquify the two tortillas listed, some of the fried chiles, and the onion. Add this mixture to the roux and continue stirring until it is well incorporated. Next, add the tomato purée, the chicken broth, the herbs, and salt and pepper to taste. Add half a teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce and taste; if you think more is needed, add bit by bit. Allow to simmer for 15 minutes.

    Put equal amounts of the soup into each of 10 bowls. Garnish with fried tortilla strips, fried chile ancho or negro, some Oaxaca cheese, and some cream. You can add some cubed avocado and a few sprigs of cilantro.
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  • Day87

    Dia de la Candelaria

    Día de la Candelaria falls on February 2 every year and it is a Mexican celebration that is a fusion of the Catholic influences and native Mexican traditions. People who found a tiny baby figurine in their piece of Rosca Cake on Three Kings Day (January 6) are responsible for hosting a tamale dinner today.

    Mexican tamales (tamal is the Mexican "singular" use of the word) are packets of corn dough with a Beef, Chicken, Fruit or a Bean filling. They are typically wrapped in corn husks or banana leaves and the packets are steamed and eaten. Contrary to what is found in most American-Mexican restaurants, most tamales are not served with a sauce, but just unwrapped and the insides eaten. Working men would take these wrapped packages for lunch in the fields.

    Tamales date back to at least pre-Colombian Mexico and possibly even further. In the 1550’s, a Friar Bernardino de Sahagun wrote that the Spaniards were served tamales by the Aztecs during their first visits to Mexico. The corn dough is field corn processed with wood ashes in the same manner as it was 700 years ago. This processing softens the corn for easier grinding and also aids in digestibility and increases the nutrients absorbed by the human body.

    By the way, while walking the streets of Patzcuaro, we came across many people of all ages holding what appears to be a baby reclining in their arms. Looking closer we saw that they were carrying a doll-like figure of Jesus. All part of the tradition of Candelmas in Mexico.
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You might also know this place by the following names:

Pátzcuaro, Patzcuaro

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