Subject: Pátzcuaro, Mexico
Buenos días Travelziners,

Well Judy, I'm bound and determined to get this information to you before we leave for the Southern Hemisphere. And thanks to Leonardo in Italy I've got the perfect lead in to Pátzcuaro.

That's right Leonardo, the town you passed through on the way to Pátzcuaro was Tzintzuntzan. This town was a major city of the Purépecha (whom the Spaniards called Tarascans) peoples that live around the Pátzcuaro's eponymous lake. Tzintzuntzan (doesn't that just roll off your tongue?) means place of the hummingbird in the Purépecha language; a language you'll commonly hear spoken in the markets and on the streets of Pátzcuaro.

Like Oaxaca and San Crístobal de las Casas, Chiapas this area of Michoacán has a large indigenous population. A visit here rewards the traveler with upland scenery (elevation 7,200 ft.), rural Spanish colonial architecture, intriguing and beautiful folkart, and an opportunity to experience the ongoing impact of European colonization of the New World. Leonardo enjoyed a day trip visit to the area back in 1975 but, Judy, I recommend at least a two day stay to experience the town of Pátzcuaro and all the outlying Purépecha communities that line the lake.

The Purépecha were one of the few peoples who succeeded in defying the Aztec Empire. Their lands were never conquered by the tribute-hungry dominant tribe from the Valley of Mexico. After being subjugated by one of Cortés' crueler lieutenants the Purépecha were later fortunate to have the Spanish Royal Court send Don Vasco de Quiroga to oversee the area. Quiroga was a proponent of Thomas More's idea of Utopia and embarked on establishing just such a society among the Purépecha. He enhanced their native craftsman abilities with European technology, introduced new handicrafts, and encouraged individual communities to concentrate on a specific craft. His legacy is still easily observed in the area. Whether it be the intricate carved wooden masks of Tócuaro, the copperware of Santa Clara del Cobre, or the glazed pottery of Tzintzuntzan Father Quiroga's influence ranges far.

Pátzcuaro itself is a great town for strolling down the lanes between the whitewashed walls and terra cotta tiled roofs. Enjoy the different plazas, the Plaza Grande with the tourist information office just off the northwest corner at Calle Ibarra #2. The Plaza Chica is only a block away and usually is the site of vendors selling various handicrafts. Up the hill is the Basilica de Nuestra Señora de la Salud with its own plaza. Across the street is the Posada de la Basilica a medium priced inn with clean comfortable rooms, including fireplaces, a necessity at this high elevation. In the morning the Purépecha women sell homemade tamales (called corundas and urepas here) and atole (a rib-sticking breakfast beverage) in the plaza. While savoring our morning cup of atole we were fortunate to be serenaded with a song extolling the virtues of the beloved Tata Vasco in the mellifluous tones of the Purépecha language.

A true visit to Pátzcuaro should include a guided tour of the outlying villages around the lake. Our group was fortunate in finding Francisco Castilleja, a licensed guide who's company Erongarícuaro I.P.E.A.C., tel. (434) 401 67, offered day excursions stopping in at three different villages. At Tocuaro we were able to visit a master woodcarver and see the processes in the making of the fantastic Michoacán masks, in San Francisco Uricho we were invited into a Purépecha family home where we sampled homemade tortillas and learned a little bit about this intriguing culture, and in Erongarícuaro we visited with Francisco's German wife and sampled some of his homemade smoked cheeses, a skill he learned while attending university in Germany.

Finally, if one has more time to spend in this part of Mexico a visit to Paricutín volcano (a long day trip from Pátzcuaro) and a stop in the lush agricultural city of Uruapan (with its gorgeous urban park) are well worth considering. And further west are the wild undiscovered beaches of Michoacán... but that's another story.

¡Buen viaje!

John in San Diego