Picking the next location is an educated guess. At best. It’s part not too far off the beaten path — we’re not overly interested in dining with drug-lords. It’s part what the intraweb says — we’re suckers for a good National Geographic or Travel & Leisure article. It’s part how far away is it — as mentioned, we don’t like to travel more than four hours per day. It’s part have we traveled there before — that’s the main reason we avoided the Pacific coast on the mainland. And it’s part gut instinct — which after polishing off my daily bag of Karate Enchilado nuts, is usually suspect. Thus, after cogitating and triangulating using the criteria above, we arrived at Patzcuaro. It has a lake. An island. Crafts. And colonial infrastructure.
The colonial-ness of Patzcuaro, however, seemed less than the previous two colonial cities we visited, Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende — from our Eurocentric vantage point at least. The buildings aren’t as ornate or baroque. The plazas less charming. The town dirtier. The topiaries less trimmed. The infrastructure on the verge of collapse. With that being said, however, Patzcuaro has its perquisites, and it’s worth a visit.
Perk Uno: The drive. Desert lowlands capped by evergreen mountains. Plush, well-paved highways. One of, if not the, more scenic drives we’ve yet experienced in Mexico.
Perk Dos: Isla de Janitzio. I can’t remember if I’ve ever been to an industrialized island, one with homes and restaurants and whatnot, in the center of a lake before. Thus, just to say you’ve done that, Isla de Janitzio is worth the trip. First, you have to bus or taxi to a dock on the outskirts of Patzcuaro. From there, you board an elongated boat powered by the world’s slowest engine and slog across Lake Patzcuaro (one of the articles referred above called it a “blue lake”; it was, however, unless I’m going color- in addition to regular-blind, brown, poop brown to be specific). Then just before you arrive at the island, two fisherman in canoes will convince you that they’re finishing in a traditional manner unknown to us fair-skinned gringos, and thus entice you to take picturesque photos, and then proceed to paddle toward the sluggish powerboat and demand pesos for their posturing…. After you arrive, you hike up thousands of stairs (no joke) to the statue of Jose Maria Morelos, a hero of Mexican independence. Once inside the statue (see picture above), you hike even more stairs and alongside a mural of the life of Morelos up into the arm and the top of the statue. This may give you vertigo, as it did me, especially the spiral staircase up the arm to the fist.
Perk Tres: The crafts. Two plazas, Plaza Granda and Plaza Pequeno, named for their size not their bustle (Plaza Pequeno is busier), dominate the social and economic scene in Patzcuaro. Everything looked authentic and hand-crafted, though it’s certainly possible everything was made in a factory up the highway. We bought Paheli a dress at Plaza Granda, a fetching, lime display that upon the initial, cursory inspection looked cute but upon further inspection looks a few washes away from disintegrating.
Perk Cuatro: Signage. Most every building in Pátzcuaro’s city center was constructed the same, for lack of a better term I’d call it Mexican colonial, painted the same, for lack of a better term I’d call it Mexican white, and signed the same, for lack of a better term I’d call it black and red Mexican Old English font. The monotony is kind of delightful.
Perk Cinco: Rancho La Mesa. Part: campground, hotel, event center, restaurant, and farm. Full: awesome. Rancho La Mesa overlooks Patzcuaro (see picture below). From here, the cacophony of the city is replaced with serenity. The temperature drops. The wind calms. Trash disappears. Horses, turkeys, chickens, dogs, cows, ducks, and gorgeous, ruby-red vermillion flycatchers free-range on the land. When here, it’s hard not to leave — we didn’t, in fact, two of the four nights we stayed. Someone has likely already coined a word for this, when you travel to a foreign destination but you rarely venture from your resort grounds, but I’ll call it resortopomorphizing. We abso-bleeping-lutely resortopomorphized Patzcuaro because of Rancho La Mesa.
[Fun side story: Paheli, our daughter from perhaps the most vegetarian nation in the known cosmos, while watching a rafter of turkeys, leaned over to Andrea and whispered: “I want to eat one.”]
Perk Seis: Puppies. This was both amazing and tragic. As soon as we arrived, before we could even push up the pop-top on our van, puppies were jumping at our feet. These playful pups, which our kids named Lucy and Ruby, based on the personality traits of their favorite cousins, spent nearly every waking, and some sleeping (we let the puppies stay a few hours each night in our van), with us. We love dogs. One of the hardest decisions we made on this trip was giving away our beloved Grant. While Grant has upgraded — better family and a better location on multiple acres and a pond — it was difficult nonetheless. It was also difficult to not take these puppies — or any of the many friendly, stray dogs we’ve met on this trip — with us. It was even more difficult questioning what would happen to them after we left….
Patzcuaro, while certainly a crapshoot on our cruise across Mexico, was worth the stop, if only to stay at Rancho La Mesa and play with puppies.