We started our day with a nice cup of coffee in front of the Christmas tree in the living room of Casona Rosa, followed by an amazing breakfast prepared for us by Maria, who by now we love dearly and want to take home with us! Our favorite Mexican breakfast dish is Chilaquiles which Rick orders in every town we visit, not always with great success. Maria said she made pretty good Chilaquiles which we now know was an understatement! By far the best we've had....we savored every bite and continued to eat until we couldn't breathe! We finally rolled ourselves away from the table and were out the door by 10am with our local tour guide, Jesus. (His information is located on their web site www.casonarosa.com.)
Statue of Don Vasco in Santa Fe de la Laguna
All we really knew ahead of time is that we were going to tour some local villages, including the archeological zone of Las Yacatas in Tzintzuntsan. Jesus began by telling us stories about the history of Michoacan which include these small villages inhabited by the Purepecha Indians. There was quite a bit of brutality involving the Spaniards and the indigenous people. I think I'd rather share a little about one of the good guys, Don Vasco. In a very small nutshell, Don Vasco came to Mexico from Spain in 1531. He was so moved by the people of "New Spain" that he decided to leave his profession as a magistrate and become a priest. Using his own savings, he founded the hospital-towns of Santa Fe, which were special charitable organizations. They were not hospitals but a type of community in which education, medicine, faith and law fit together. Don Vasco organized communities by trades. The Purepecha people already worked with wood, clay, metal and textiles. His influence turned their survival tasks into professions, encouraging them to stay in their communities, specializing in one specific trade. As we stopped in these villages, we saw these beautiful artisans continue with these traditions of the past.
Artist, Sculptor, and creator of the Catrinas - Juan Torres
CAPULA - Our first stop was 15 kilometers from Morelia in the town of Capula. This small country village is the origin of three types of handicrafts: traditional pottery, dotted pottery and catrinas. Catrinas are the fancifully decorated skeleton figurines of Dia de los Muertos. Jesus drove us up the hill to the house & workshop of the famous painter and sculptor, Juan Torres, creator of the catrinas. We were fortunate enough to meet him in his workshop, tour his lovely grounds which have many of his sculptures on display with sweeping views of the valley. Also on his property is an old church that he has converted into a beautiful art gallery. From there we drove down to the artisan co-op in the village. Jesus explained that about 80 families come together in one open space to sell their various styles of pottery for extremely reasonable prices. Yes, we left a few pesos behind in Capula.
1 of the 7 brothers giving samples and serving up Carnita Tacos!
QUIROGA - This village is known for its woodworking, but more importantly for the Carnitas! We found a parking spot in this bustling little tourist town, walked down main street and through the artisan market displaying everything you can think of that's made of wood! We continued on to the beautiful old church where Jesus explained the story of Guadalupe as he pointed to the story that was painted in pictures on the ceiling. Continuing on, we made our way through the crowds to the plaza where the famous Carnitas were being served up from a line of individual carts. We learned that all of these vendors were brothers, 7 in total, each of them owning their own little business selling these amazing pork tacos! YUM!
Semaneros preparing Carundas for feast
SANTA FE DE LA LAGUNA - My favorite stop of the day and one of the oldest Purepecha communities which still preserve many of their traditions. Here the elders are highly respected and the older women continue to wear their pleated skirts, colored aprons, and blue shawls with black strips; not much has changed in this town for hundreds of years. We parked the car and walked through the town square where you'll find a huge statue of Don Vasco and a few locals who were selling their wares. One woman was selling these tiny white lake fish called Charalitos. Evidently they fry them in large flat pans and serve them up as a snack with salt, chili, and lime. We continued on and entered another courtyard where the church was located and further on the old hospital of Our Lady Rosario. This hospital town is run by semaneros, families of this community who take turns every week to look after it according to the rules on one of its walls. While they perform their tasks, they prepare local specialties on open flames and stone ovens. Every Friday the outgoing family prepares a huge feast to share with the incoming family. We were lucky enough to be there on a Friday and witnessed these cheerful ladies hard at work. Santa Fe de la Laguna's specialty craft is black pottery which we saw displayed in the courtyard.
TZINTZUNTZAN - Say that 10 times fast! We spent quite a bit of time here, starting with the artisan market where the locals specialize in weaving baskets, mats, and various Christmas decorations using the fibers from plants that grow close to the lake. Yep, a few more pesos were left here as well. Behind the artisan market was the entrance to the huge courtyard of the monastery complex. A long stone pathway surrounded in ancient olive trees leading to two large beautiful churches, an old Indian hospital, and a former Franciscan monastery which is now an impressive museum. After touring the complex, we got back into the car and drove up the hill to the archeological zone of Las Yacatas, which you can actually see from town. Unfortunately, the museum at the site was not open so our tour consisted of walking around the 400 square meter platform in which the five Yacatas (pyramids of rock) were built. Being the only visitors there at the time, we thoroughly enjoyed the peacefulness and spectacular views of the lake and valley below.
One of Teo's beautiful pieces!
TEOFILA SERVIN Artista del Bordado - Yes, this is a person, not a town. While we were sitting at breakfast that morning talking to Rose, the proprietor of Casona Rosa, about the various villages, I told her I'd love to find some of the lovely embroidery work similar to what she had framed and displayed on the walls of her casa. She told me about her friend, Teo, who is the award winning artist of those pieces. Rose claims she's simply the best in her field. So Maria made a phone call to let her know Jesus would be bringing us by her casa in the late afternoon on our way in to Patzcuaro. Ok this was my 2nd favorite stop of the day. Her work is amazing and every piece tells a story. Rick tried out his charm on her, but she wouldn't sell him her award winning pieces she had framed and hanging on the walls of her modest casa. That was ok with me....everything that was for sale was gorgeous and reasonably priced. We left with a few treasures!
Catrinas created by Juan Torres
PATZCUARO - Our last and final stop. Its 5pm, we're exhausted, and we successfully find ice cream to keep us going for just a little longer! This town is gorgeous and has been said to reflect the essence of Don Vasco with its cobbled streets, palaces, murals, handicrafts and charm. Patzcuaro is best known for its gorgeous textiles, along with lacquer work, toys and furniture. Unfortunate for us, we only had about an hour to explore a small piece of this intriguing town. A few days here would be more like it! Patzcuaro is also known for its celebration of the Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. This Mexican national holiday, in connection with the Catholic holidays of All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day, focuses on gathering to pray and remember friends and family members who have died. Preparations fill Patzcuaro and all of the villages with activity as the women decorate the cemeteries and individual tomes with flowers; they prepare their deceased loved ones favorite foods and bring it to their graves. Thousands of candles illuminate the graveyards as the Purepecha sing traditional songs.
Our day of touring was coming to a close. We arrived back to Casona Rosa after 7pm where Maria had prepared a delicious feast of burritos, rice, beans, and homemade salsas. It was fun to rehash our day's events with Rose and Maria who seemed as excited to hear all of the details as we were to share them. We were leaving the next morning to head back to Zihua and sadly had to say goodbye. Maria sent us on our way with homemade Chile Rellenos baked in pastry that she ordered from her favorite neighborhood bakery. A nice little treat to take back and share with Terry and Diane.
Our ride home was on a bus nicer than the one we come up in and included our own "flight attendant" serving beverages and snacks! We've been spoiled from beginning to end and loved every minute of it! Time to wrap presents, bake cookies, and watch sappy Christmas movies!