Wednesday, 11 April 2007, Zihuatanejo, Guerrero
We finally left Pátzcuaro on Monday and are now in a place that is a little slice of heaven - but this diary is to be about Pátzcuaro and the time we spent there. Pátzcuaro is just over 2000 metres above sea level and has warm days and cool nights at this time of the year. The campground - Villa Pátzcuaro - is a very pleasant place of grass and shady trees. The bathrooms are not as good as we had in San Miguel de Allende, but they were always clean and the water was hot - providing the gas hadn't gone out! The people staying there were always friendly and the long term residents were extremely helpful. And to add a little bit of the local colour, we were able to watch the construction of a traditional adobe style building right next to the campground. It is a slow but methodical way to build and many new buildings in Pátzcuaro are still built in this manner.
It is normally a simple matter to take a collectivo (mini bus) from the front of the campground into the centre of the town, so it wasn't necessary to drive around. The city of Pátzcuaro is quite different from the incredibly colourful Guanajuato, but it is also very attractive as the traditional white and rusty red colour scheme is maintained almost everywhere in the town. The only exception seems to be in the courtyards where the traditional Mexican love of colour is fully explored!
The collectivo arrives at Plaza Gertrudis Bocanegra, which is known locally as Plaza Chica, since it is the small plaza. Unfortunately this plaza was under repair or renovation and was surrounded during our stay by a wall of plywood. Towards the end of our time some of the timber came down and we were able to glimpse the grandeur of this small square. Next to Plaza Chica is the main market where a large amount of fruit and vegetables is for sale, along with clothes, shoes and household needs. Morning is the best time to be there for the freshest produce and late in the afternoon everyone starts to pack up as many more food vendors set up for the evening trade.
Plaza Vasco de Quiroga - or Plaza Grande - is a short walk from Plaza Chica, and this is the social centre of the town. We went into town and to this square a number of times during our stay, and there was always something going on. Sundays seem to be the big day here. This is when the old men - Los Viejitos - dance. The 'old men' often range in age from small boys to men. They wear masks which make them appear as very old men. The dance is particular to this area and you can hear the noise of their wooden soled shoes all over the square on weekends. Semana Santa - the "Holy Week" from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday - is celebrated thoroughly in all parts of Mexico. During this week the outer boundary of the Plaza Grande was ringed with stalls, filled with handcrafts of the area. This market ran from morning until evening every day. Also during this holiday week there were other activities in and around the Plaza. We witnessed the 'Procesion del Silencio' on Good Friday evening, in which all the statues of the crucified Christ and the Virgin Mary from all the churches in town seemed to be on display. The large number of people involved in the procession all walked in silence.
There were other places in the town centre that we also visited - the library with its interesting mural, the Basilica and its surrounding market, the house of the eleven patios, which houses artisans at work, as well as their products on display and for sale (the house itself is also interesting) - and of course, just walking up and down the streets, and peaking through open doorways at the amazing courtyards is always one of our favourite past-times. We also liked to spend time just sitting in a café or in the plaza and watching the people. Mexicans have such interesting faces and also many of the local indigenous people wear such colourful dress.
When we arrived in Pátzcuaro, we quickly decided that we would stay until after Semana Santa, because our next destination was to be the Pacific coast and we had heard that the Mexicans like to holiday there in force over this important holiday. As well as checking out the centre of Pátzcuaro, we spent quite a lot of time just resting - we find that we do a lot of that in Mexico, and I think it is because we didn't really give ourselves much time in the States and Canada, since we were on the move most of the time. Juergen also decided to get a couple of things on the truck looked at and therefore took the camper off. A long-term French-Canadian camper helped by taking Juergen to the workshops and then translating for him. He managed to get the park brake and booster repaired and also to have some extra springs installed - and all for less than half it would have cost in the States! Denis was very helpful and we were most grateful that he gladly gave his time to us, and others in the campground, to facilitate necessities like this. I hope that when we get a bit more proficient with Spanish, we might be able to pass the favour on.
While the camper was closer to ground level, Juergen also took the opportunity to clean and polish most of it. The fibre glass had been crying out for polish for some time and so it was a good opportunity to at least get a part of the job done.
We had planned to spend some time learning some more Spanish - that didn't happen as often as we had thought, mostly because there were always interesting people around to talk to. It is hard to resist either telling our story to people who are interested or listening to the stories of the interesting lives that others are living. Like Susan and Steve who spend winters in their motor home in warmer climates - this is their first visit to Mexico, but won't be the last - and the summers on a sailing boat at an island in a lake in Vermont, where Susan is the naturalist at the State Park. Or Steve and Tommie who have been full-timing for almost 5 years in a truck camper - most full-timers we have met choose something quite a bit larger. Lots of French-Canadians seem to come to Pátzcuaro - Denis, and his wife Renee, have been coming here for at least 5 years. Jean and Huguette are in the throws of buying land and organising for a house to be built during the time they are back in Canada for the summer. And Ernie and Alexis, from Alberta (not French-Canadian!), were always ready to take some of us out for the day in their jeep to explore other towns nearby. At the risk of repeating myself, the people we meet here in Mexico in the campgrounds are in general more interesting and interested than those we have been meeting along the way further north. (There are, of course, exceptions and I don't mean to offend any of the wonderful people we have met along the way!) On one notable occasion, almost all residents of the campground went to a nearby restaurant for dinner - we were 17 people altogether. The food was good and the company better. Everyone had a great time and I'm sure it will live in all our memories as a highlight of our time in Pátzcuaro.
In Villa Pátzcuaro we also met some other travellers - and by that I mean two couples that were on their way home from a journey similar to the one we feel like we are just beginning. First there was Sharon and Gerry, who arrived about the same time as we did, but only stayed a few days. Unfortunately we didn't get to spend much time with them, but their travel blog is very informative. They began in January 2004 and have been to the bottom of South America and back - with a few detours - in a VW camper. Sheila and Chris were also on their way back from a year spent travelling to South America and back, in a Toyota and a tent! Although they didn't have time to cover as much as the other couple, the information that Sheila passed on to us was most interesting and I'm sure it will also be useful. It is so encouraging to talk to people who have experienced first hand where we are going.
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