Thursday, August 25, 2011

water and ash

Wednesday was a long drive day.

Several people had recommended that while I was here in Pátzcuaro, I needed to see Uruapan.  It was already on my list -- so, on Wednesday morning, I headed west.

You may recall from our trip to Tingambato (know thyself), the area around Uruapan was the home of an ancient civilization that disappeared.  In the 1200s, the Purépecha showed up to add the local tribes to their empire -- giving the area a name we now know as Uruapan.  Place of Fruit and Flower.

And an appropriate name it was -- and is.  The area is now known for avocados and macadamia nuts.  Yup.  Those treats your grandfather would bring back from his trips to Hawaii.  The nuts.  Not the avocados.

But there might not have been a city here but for a series of very unpleasant events.

When the Spanish arrived in Pátzcuaro, the Purépecha emperor fled to this area.  He was persuaded to pay homage to the Spanish.  And we remember what happened next.

Nuño de Guzmán showed up in the area.  Burned the emperor alive.  And raised enough havoc with the local Indians that they did the wisest thing.  They headed for the hills.

Don Vasco helped rebuild a Euro-centric Indian society around Lake Pátzcuaro by winning the confidence of the Indians.

Almost the same thing happened in Uruapan.  A Franciscan, Fray Juan de San Miguel, showed up to convince the Indians that not all Spaniards fit into the Nuño de Guzmán camp.

He organized a city with eight separate neighborhoods -- each neighborhood with its own festivals, cemetery, church, patron saint, and school.

That was 1533.  The place has been going strong since.  Very strong.  It is now the second largest city in the state of Michoacán.  And a busy city it is.

Uruapan does not have the village charm of Pátzcuaro.  Nor does it try.  It is a working city.  And its buildings reflect it.  From colonial houses and churches to functional 1960s office buildings.

It reminded me vaguely of Athens -- but with more colors.  There is history to be found.  But it is not frozen in amber.  Nor does it want to be.

Most of the historical buildings can be found around the city plaza.

When I was there, they were celebrating a health festival.  Tents were set up to show all types of medical methods -- centered primarily around natural remedies.

But health needs to be celebrated with song.  And dance.  And speeches.  They were all there.  But my favorite aspect was how last year's centennial and bicentennial decorations were recycled merely by adding a 1.  A very Mexican solution.

One of the churches on the plaza is well worth a visit -- the Parish Church of San Francisco.  Mainly for what you find outside.  The unique dome is visible throughout the town.  That is it at the top of this post.

The church was begun in 1533 and has been built and rebuilt.  The place is currently being meticulously restored.  At least the outside is being restored.  It is easy to see where new work and old work join together. 

But the interior is not a restoration.  The exterior is fifteenth and sixteenth century.  Inside the place is as up to date as the Crystal Cathedral.

The altar and the dome paintings could be Dali creations.  And if you look closely at the stained windows in the dome, you will see the likeness of a recently-late pope on his way to the Catholic Hall of Fame.

The building I liked most was Father Juan's hospital -- Huatápera.  Perhaps, the first in North America.

The building is now a museum.  Filled with some amazing pieces of local craft work.  But I mainly liked it for its Moorish architecture.  After all, it was only 41 years after the Spanish evicted the Moors from Spain -- leaving behind some of the country's architectural gems.

But the main reason I drove to Uruapan was to visit the National Park Eduardo Ruiz -- built on the the Cupatitzio River.

I am not a big park person.  After all, no one walks out of a Broadway show humming the scenery.  But this place is splendidly different.  It is on a par with the water gardens of Schloss Hellbrunn -- without all the Austrian fussiness.

The park begins with a pool -- the Devil's Knee -- as clear as a Mayan cenote. 

The stream then cascades down through the park's amazing plant collection.  I must confess I almost completely missed the plants and wildlife because of the clever water effects.

There are the usual bridges and waterfalls.  But the designers also incorporated a series of water feature fountains.  Each with its own characteristic.

You are never far from the sound of water.  One innovation worthy of Walt Disney himself are channels of water that run parallel with the walkway.  It is one of the most soothing places I have ever visited.  I sat down with my Kindle and enjoyed my environment.

I also wanted to visit the Paricutín volcano while I was in the Uruapan area.  It was another of those school boy memories of Mexico.

The year was 1959.  Mr. Schaeffer's fifth grade class.  I remember reading in Your Weekly Reader of Dionisio Pulido plowing his field in 1943.  The ground started opening up and steam started rolling out.  He did what I thought was an heroic act back then.  Dionisio, his wife, and his son tried to push dirt and rocks into the fissure.  But nature was going to  have its way.

In front of his eyes, a cinder cone started to form.  Within six months, the volcano had destroyed two villages and covered 10,000 acres with ash and lava.  And then it went to sleep 9 years later.

In my boyish mind, I confused it with Popocatepetl and its 17,000 foot peak.  Paricutín is a home-size volcano, only about 1400 feet high.  But it was everything I expected.

I was told the best way to see the volcano -- other than hiking to it -- is a viewpoint in the Indian village of Angahuan.  It was a very easy drive.  Even though the last 10 minutes through the village was the roughest road.

At the far edge of the village, there is a little camp with cabins for rent.  But the scenery is the reason to go.  The cinder cone of Paricutín is clearly visible -- as are the twin bell towers of the village church -- partially covered with lava.

There were numerous village men ready to rent me a horse and to guide me to the church.  But not on this trip.

However, I would like to return to hike to the church and to the volcano.

But that will have to be another road trip.


Felipe Zapata said...

For a guy with a bum ankle that would be an unwise hike. Support the local economy and rent a horse and guide.

Krispykey said...

Hi Steve,
I've read that Uruapan is one of the hotbeds of La Familia activity, but it looks pretty tranquil.  Did you pick up any indications of that?
Love the blog!

Francisco said...

I agree with Senor Zapata.  A guided tour on horseback would be the way to see it next time.  I'm sure the guide could fill you in on local info you otherwise wouldn't be privy to.   

Steve Cotton said...

The ankle did well on the trip.  But there are limits.

Steve Cotton said...

Good point.

Steve Cotton said...

It looked like any busy business-oriented Mexican city.

Don Cuevas said...

Did you have lunch/dinner/comida while in Uruapan?

La Mesa de Blanca is about halfway between Pátzcuaroand Uruapan, in the small town of Ziracuaretiro. But, then, it's not open but on Th, Fr, Sa and Su.

Saludos, Don Cuevas

Steve Cotton said...

Lunch.  At the restaurant overlooking the park.  Macadamia chicken.  It was fine.

Marc Olson said...

Steve, I was tickled to read your account about your childhood interest in Paricutín. I had a similar fascination with this story as a kid, and some years ago made the pilgrimage from Patzcuaro to Angahuan and walked down to the church. It was an interesting place and well worth the visit, but was more memorable because I had tried so hard to imagine the place as a kid. I'd actually never seen modern-day photos of Paricutín, my only impressions having come from photos in an old National Geographic in my childhood. To make things more interesting, a mass was being held in the ruins of the old church when I visited. It would be a very worthwhile visit, on foot or on horseback.

Kim G said...

I also remember the story of Paricutín as a schoolboy, and it struck me then, and still now, as amazing that a volcano should just decide to erupt in an otherwise nondescript field.

But now I know (and my Mexican friends never tire of telling me) En México, todo es posible.  Including random, new volcanoes. Something worth considering before buying real estate.

The National Park Eduardo Ruiz reminds me a little of Las Pozas, Xilitla, which I haven't visited, but looks interesting. A rich Englishman, Edward James, moved to Xilitla in San Luis Potosí, and there created an amazing set of surrealistic buildings. It's set in a tropical jungle location, and looks quite intriguing. You'll have to add it to your list of destinations.


Kim G
Boston, MA
Where we are anxiously awaiting hurricane Irene.

Steve Cotton said...

I wish I had given myself time to make the walk.  I had originally planned on staying the night in Uruapan.  But I thought I could do it all in one day.  I was wromg.

Steve Cotton said...

Barbara convinced me to make the trip to Las Pozas, but I never got around to it while I was in San Miguel.  I wish I had.  I understand it is slipping into disuse.

Tancho said...

The National Park is one of the places we usually will take visiting guests when they come down. There is a definite climate difference to experience between Patzcuaro and Uruapan also. Glad you enjoyed the park! Did you get to see the divers who dive into a small spot of water from the high trees? Not sure it that is seasonal or not, it indeed is impressive and worth the propinas.

Steve Cotton said...

There was one guy. But he did not seem to be impressed with the potential tip-worthiness of a fellow from Taiwan and me. Even though our cameras were at the ready.