Thursday, February 25, 2016

Morelia, Michoacan

We traveled by local bus and taxi from Angangueo
 to Morelia (a four hour trip) and stayed right in
the heart of the city in another old colonial house 
that had been converted to a hotel.
It was much warmer - elevation 6400 feet.

The local market. Lots of guitars in this town!
Siesta time :)
Saturday night in the city

Papa Francisco had come and gone, but there
was evidence of his visit everywhere.
Morelia is a large city that feels more European
 Spanish than Mexican.  It's full of colonial buildings
and apparently any new construction has to match
the existing architecture. It's very nice with lots of
parks, sidewalk cafes, and public art.
And it's very "trendy".
The only downside was the air pollution which
 seems to plague many large Mexican cities.

Lots of pretty little streets

A view of the surrounding mountains and air
pollution in the background.

This is a walking/biking path in the middle of the city.

This church was AMAZING! 

Although this aquaduct no longer functions, it's a beautiful
 testimony to Morelia's history.

Sunday mornings the city closes off the main street
 and supplies bikes for people  to use free of charge.

An anniversary celebration for the Boy Scouts

We had lunch at this sidewalk cafe and were entertained
 by the people at the table next to us!

After two days in Morelia we caught an early
bus (Premier Class) and had a comfortable 
non-stop five hour trip back to Zihua/Ixtapa.
It's nice to be back on Loomba-Loomba.
We're not sure when we will start heading
north - depends on the weather forecast.
Guitar Fest starts on March 4, so we may
hang around here a little longer than planned.
We are anxious to get out of the marina and
back on the hook, though!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Angangueo and Mariposas

The Butterfly Trip
By Jim

Started in Zihautenejo, Mexico,  where we got on a plane for New Orleans.  We stepped off the plane at the Louis Armstrong airport.  Our intent was to renew our Mexican tourist visas by leaving Mexico, and returning.   But, a sign said:  “There are two kinds of time in New Orleans:  The time to eat, and the time in between.”  Well, we started to eat, and we didn’t get back on that plane.   The in-between time we spent listening to New Orleans Jazz:  traditional, heavy-on-the-horns, New Orleans Jazz; trombones, trumpets, cornets, clarinets, bass fiddles.  Old white-haired black dudes in suits and ties playing their tight music in over-crowded clubs.  And street music of all varieties….. everywhere in the squares and on  street corners of the French Quarter, the younger, looser musicians, were laying it out.
On an evening stroll down Bourbon Street, Chrissy noted simply, “This is a well-named street.”
A few days later, we got back on the plane, landing in Morelia, Michoacan, Mexico (on the U.S. State Department’s  no-travel list).  Here there was a slight hiccup to our ‘winging-it’ plan:  the guy in the little white beanie, Pope Francis, is landing here also, tomorrow!  Go figure.  There’s no room at the inn.  All hotels full.  We wing-it onward to Patzcuaro, a neat historical Colonial town with  espresso machines on every corner, but not a Starbucks in sight!  We even found our first ever Mexican micro-brewery, and had a superb “Black India Pale Ale”.  We were there several days, absorbed as much as possible.  We included a day trip to un-pronounceable Tzintzuntzan, where 40,000 Tarascans had a thriving culture prior to the Spanish conquest centuries ago.  The archeological ruins of their community are impressive, with a beautiful view of Lake Patzcuaro a stone’s throw away.  At 7200 feet elevation, and used to sea level, we are huffing and puffing.  The  fit-bit is clocking  miles, we’re burning off the NOLA calories, and loving it all.  The people are friendly, the food is excellent, the weather perfect.
From Patzcuaro, we finally bus it onward to see the Monarch butterfly migration, apparently one of the largest migrations in the world.  We change buses several times, and end with a collectivo/taxi that drops us in the village of  Angangueo.  We find a hotel where we walk through a stationery store to access our room.  The Reserva de la Biosfera Mariposa Monarca at Sierra Chinqua is another ½ hour taxi ride up the mountain.  We leave that for early the next morning.  When we arrive there the next morning we buy our tickets, meet our provided guide Lulu, and start hiking.  Did I mention we are now at 10,800 ft elevation? and having trouble keeping up with Lulu, who is a  tiny, beautiful, local indigenous lady who has seven sons.  She slows to our winded pace, pointing out plants and their uses.  These flowers are good to rub on the face, these leaves are good to rub on the head, etc.  She takes us on a path where horses are not allowed (for 150 pesos one way you can go on horseback).  Our trail winds through tall old pine trees.  The biggest ones have bark resembling old growth Douglas Fir…3 to 4 inches thick,  fractured and scarred.  We also see what looks like fir trees, but different than the Pacific Northwest trees that we are acquainted with.  On the south facing slopes, in the open areas, flowers are everywhere, and we begin to see some butterflies.  We immediately recognize them as Monarchs, but they are much larger than ones we’ve seen at home.  Some of these have no doubt traveled from the Pacific Northwest.  Some of these have gathered together in Santa Cruz, California, waiting for the right time to fly across Monterey Bay.  Suddenly we round a corner of the trail and a few hundred yards away there are several huge deciduous trees, whose leaves have turned orange,  in the midst of this evergreen forest.  Lulu says nothing, her eyes sparkle, and she points with her walking stick to the orange trees.  It takes a moment for us to realize that the color is from the massive number of butterflies, congregating  in the still-cool air.  The sheer magnitude of the number of butterflies it would take to completely cover these 125 ft trees is staggering.  More people are gathering.  Several different languages, everyone is whispering in reverence.  It is like being in the sanctuary of a huge outdoor church.  Cameras are clicking.  Videos are whirring.  We sit awestruck.  I have tears in my eyes.  As the morning slowly warms up, so do the butterflies.  A slight gust of wind, and an entire tree takes flight like an orange  cloud of flying flower petals.  But wait, the tree is not falling.  The movement is so immense, and so thick is the color,  that we still cannot see the green pine trees where the Monarchs were just a second ago.  For several hours we sit and watch this scene repeat itself.  The blue sky between the trees becomes full of butterflies in flight.  When we finally realize we’d better start our return hike, I stand, and a butterfly immediately lands on my shoulder.  I can’t put my pack on without squishing him (it’s a male), so I sling the pack over the opposite shoulder and we take off.  Chrissy is behind me, keeping me informed that this little traveler is still on my shoulder.  We learn later that many  indigenous people all over the world believe this is a visit by someone deceased, a soul in flight,  returning to tell you not to worry, that everything is fine.  Everything was certainly fine with us that day, and I always knew that everything was always fine with my Father.  He was an incredibly optimistic man.  When we thanked Lulu, she surprised us by giving us each a huge hug!
Now we are back at sea level,  aboard Loomba-Loomba, tied up at fancy Marina Ixtapa, a few miles from Ziahuatenejo, where this all started.  We have new visas, and life is good.
We tried to live up to Lao Tzu’s quote on our blog:  “A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.”

Angangueo Central Plaza

Angangueo is an old mining town (the mines are now closed) built into the mountains with terraces. The name means “entrance to the cave” (in Purepeches). There is a main square with two colonial churches, a few hotels, small restaurants/ taquerias and a public market. It is the closest town to the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary, but many people take day tours from larger towns further away.
We stayed in Angangueo because we wanted to be close enough to get up to the butterflies in the morning (it’s an hour+ hike after being dropped off at the entrance). We were able to arrange a taxi to pick us up early in the morning, take us up to the Sanctuary, and pick us up later in the afternoon. It turned out to be a perfect/clear day to visit the butterflies and we loved Lulu, our guide.

Our hotel on the left
Going for a walk up the streets of Angangueo:
One of the turn arounds on the way up the hill

Jim played some soccer with this little guy

A mural on one of the side streets

An indigenous woman selling her wares outside the church

Early morning flag raising
View out of the only real restaurant toward our hotel.
There is no menu - you just eat what they cook that day.
The butterfly Reserve is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

LuLu is our guide heading up to the butterflies.
It took us a little over an hour to hike up to the
butterflies at 10,700'. It was COLD! 
Lots and lots of wildflowers - thistle, lupine, salvia, etc.

Lots of fir, pine, and cedar trees
Butterfly wings found on the ground:
Female on the left, male on the right.

View down toward Ocampo and Angangueo
These two boys were helping the guides....
learning to be future guides.
They were awesome. 
LuLu did needlework while we were watching
the butterflies.
What looks like dead leaves is actually thousands of butterflies
 who will be flying as soon as the sun warms them up enough.



LuLu gathered wood for cooking on the way down the hill

One butterfly caught a ride with Jim

Friday, February 19, 2016

Michoacan: Patzcuaro, Santa Clara de Cobre, and Tzintzuntzan

Papa Francisco (Pope Francis) changed our plans.
There was "no room at the inn" in Morelia where
Papa was speaking the day after we were planning 
to arrive. So we went to Patzcuaro first(with day
 trips to Santa Clara de Cobre and Tzintzuntzan).

Traveling around the state of Michoacan
We were the only guests in the hotels where
 we stayed (it was during the week) and 
we only saw a handful of other "gringos"
 on the entire trip. Most Mexican tourists
travel in the summer, holidays, and weekends.

Most of the hotels in the smaller towns are
 old colonial homes that haven't changed much
 structurally. They all have VERY high ceilings, 
central courtyards, and balconies. 
Bathrooms have been added to the bedrooms
 and the electricity and plumbing
have been upgraded. On the downside there usually 
isn't heat and the lighting is bad
 (you need a headlamp if you want to read).
They have lots of blankets, though!
Wake up call is the church bells at 7:00 and
the hustle and bustle outside of people preparing for the day.

Patzcuaro is at an elevation of 7200' and as our taxi 
climbed from Morelia to Patzcuaro we started seeing
pine trees everywhere. Nice change!
We found a great hotel right on one of the two central squares.

Probably because Patzcuaro is close 
to Mexico city and is a weekend "get-away"
there are: 
-espresso machines in most of the restaurants
 and carts around the square in the evenings
-good bottles of wine in the small grocery store
-lots of very good restaurants with good wine
 and micro-brew beers
-lots of hotels

Our hotel in Patzcuaro - right on the square
Our own balcony
A local (Patzcuaro) micro-brew IPA
There are also espresso machines in most of the
restaurants and carts on the square in the evenings.
An evening walk around the square:

A walk around the town of Patzcuaro:
The Public Market
Avacados are ten pesos (60 cents) per kilo

Santuario de Guadalupe

Basilica de Nuestra Senora de Salud

Peyote w/marijuana mix available outside the Basilica
Ex-Convent de San Augustin

Santa Clara de Cobre:
Known for their copper -
there are some incredible pieces displayed
at the museum there.

Street scenes in Santa Clara:

The band stand in the square has a copper roof

This was the ancient capital of the indigenous people of 
this area (Tanascans). There were approximately 40,000 people
at the time of the Spanish conquest.
Heading to Tzintzuntzan in a colectivo van

This guy adopted us for awhile

Articles found in the tombs

View of Lake Patzcuaro
They are making an effort to bring back the hummingbirds
by planting salvia
Tzintzutzan means "place of the hummingbirds" in Tarascan

The market in Tzintzuntzan
They are known for their reed and straw weavings,
woodwork and pottery.

This once was a monastery and is now a park.
Notice the cedar trees - it's about 7000 feet here
From Patzcuaro we headed to the small town of Angangueo
which is near the Monarch Butterfly reserve.