Monday, March 28, 2005

MEXICO, DAYS 4-6: Morelia & the Michoacan countryside

Naked women fountain and aqueduct in Morelia

Next we were off to the small city of Morelia (pronounced mo-RAIL-ya) and the surrounding regions of the beautiful west-central state of Michoacán. (mee-cho-wah-KAHN) Morelia itself was packed with vacationers, but we nevertheless enjoyed the picturesque Spanish-colonial architecture, the bustling pedestrian plazas, the beautiful towering old cathedral, and the large, forested park (Kina's favorite urban locale in Mexico so far). Carley’s favorite part of Morelia was without a doubt the Hindu vegetarian restaurant, Govinda’s, where we feasted on fresh fruit, granola, veggie stews and even a soyburger. A close second was our auto motel (no-tell motel) on the outskirts of town. These can be found in bigger cities and include a garage and room for discreet flings (most people just stay for a few hours) and for gringos with a car. It might sound seedy, but it was probably the cleanest place we’ve stayed.

Cathedral in Morelia

Morelia is another major destination for Mexican tourists during Semana Santa, and like a lot of towns & cities throughout the country, they apparently go big on the religious celebrations and parades. From the literature we were handed on Friday morning, it seems that the Good Friday evening procession would include people robed and hooded a la KKK, but in red. (We figured that the hood was probably at some point a benign religious symbol, like the swastika, before being bastardized by hate.) Then on Easter Sunday, we could have the option of viewing a burning of the effigy of Judas! Instead of staying in town for all this hooplah, we decided to save some money and go camping in the woods and enjoy the full moon for a few nights.

A couple of bumpy hours east of Morelia is the world-famous Monarch Butterfly Reserve, where we spent Friday afternoon. This is the winter resting and mating location for what seems to be the entire population of monarch butterflies. (They migrate to various parts of the U.S. in the summer.) After a seriously steep climb to the top of a pine-forested mountain, we were treated to a truly spectacular vision: thousands upon thousands of gorgeous monarch butterflies fluttering about a beautiful meadow and resting in large cocoon-shaped formations on the trees. If these had been any other kind of insect in this kind of quantity, it would have been truly frightening! Instead, it was very serene and inspiring.

After the hike, we were too exhausted to drive much further, so we decided to look for a campsite. The People’s Guide says of camping: “Camping in Mexico is easier after you accept the fact that almost anyplace can be a campsite.” On our first night we found a sweet little campsite off of an old logging road, only a 10-minute drive from the Butterfly Reserve. Had our site been situated by a clean river, it would have been perfect.

The next night, Saturday, our campsite was a little more difficult to come by. We had made our way to a more heavily farmed region, and all of the roads seemed to lead to farmhouses and ranches. We finally drove to the back of an avocado orchard, convinced that no one would come out and find us on Easter morning. We were right and the site was quite peaceful, except for the distant roosters crowing and dogs barking at the full moon.

Isla de Janitzio and Lake Patzcuaro, an hour west of Morelia

On to DAYS 7-10: Uruapan, Volcanos, and Colima