Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Uruapan Part 3 - Paracutin volcano and the town it smothered

Paricutin volcano. Paricutin is the only volcano on earth whose birth was witnessed by people still living today. No visit to Uruapan is complete without a visit to Paricutin and the remains of San Juan Parangaricutiro, the village smothered by Paricutin's lava. The picture above was taken from a small lava-dust plateau at the base of the cinder cone.

The town of Angahuan overlooks the volcano. Angahuan lies about 24 miles (49 kilometers) north of Uruapan, off highway 37, the road on which we had traveled to Uruapan originally. The beautiful mountain drive was over excellent 2-lane blacktop roads. The town, inhabited by 35,000 Purepecha indians, is a mixture of ancient and modern. Above, Carole walks past an old wood and stone home, in a style called troje. The home was empty when we came by at mid-day. When we returned from the volcano in the evening, the structure was filled to capacity with rows of chanting Purepecha women sitting on benches and dressed in their vividly colorful finest with their heads covered by luminous blue rebozos. It was obviously a religious gathering of some sort, but whether Catholic or the old religion was hard to say. Not wanting to intrude, I refrained from taking a photo although I was sorely tempted. Just beyond the house can be seen another, this time of brick, no doubt built with money sent back by one of the many Purepechans who work north of the border.

Lolita. I couldn't resist the juxtaposition of the name on the car, representing a highly decadent western culture, with the traditional Purepecha woman, gravely trudging on her daily errands. Notice the beautiful maroon, lace-lined velvet skirt and the deep-green, hand-woven rebozo. Angahuan, founded by former slaves of the Spanish, still follows traditional courting customs. The young women are allowed to pick their spouses, but before the marriage the men "kidnap" their brides. They then reconcile with the bride's family and are forgiven as part of the ceremony. The marriage fiesta lasts a whole week.

Hard at work, wearing her finest. No matter what the activity, the Purepecha women we saw always wore beautiful clothing. This woman had just finished sweeping the street in front of her adobe home. She carries her baby in the traditional fashion, strapped to her back with her rebozo. A rebozo has got to be one of the most versatile pieces of clothing ever invented.

Martin, witness to a cataclysm. We strolled down the streets of Angahuan, uncertain of how close we might actually get to the volcano because it lies some distance down the mountainside. Everywhere we went, we were approached by men on horseback who sought to rent us horses and guides for the journey. Martin, shown above, told that he was 81 years old and had been 15 when Paricutin erupted. He was a genial old caballero (horseman), and he gracefully accepted our polite refusal of his offer with a smile and a wave. Later, I wished we had accepted. What stories he could have told us on our long journey to the cinder cone and back!

The village that was. The steeple of the church of San Juan Parangaricutiro peeps above a vast expanse of congealed lava in the center of the photo above. The dark horizonal body of land crossing just above the church is an even bigger lava flow, and behind that can be seen the ancient cinder cone of a dead volcano. Angahuan sits on a plateau above a vast valley transformed again and again by volcanic activity. The reason trojes have traditionally been favored over adobe can be seen in the pine forests that blanket the region.

Setting out on more of a ride than we expected. Carole, on her horse Canela (Cinnamon), rides beside Ernesto, our 16-year-old guide. Carole is not particularly enamored of horseback riding, to say the least. To my astonishment, she suggested we rent some mounts for the journey. When we questioned horses' owner, he told us--we thought--that the ride would be about 2 hours. It could be our poor Spanish was to blame. Or perhaps his, since Purepecha was his native tongue. Or perhaps for Purepechans, excellent horsemen all, two hours would be a snap on a journey like this. Or maybe he just fudged a little, as salespeople will, in order to make the deal. In the event, the round trip trek took us 7 hours in the saddle. Mexican saddles are made of wood, and are not overly generous with the padding. It was a long 7 hours.

A sea of volcanic sand. When we reached the bottom of the plateau, a sea of volcanic sand stretched out in all directions. In some places, the sand was gradually being covered by small pine trees. Upon close inspection, the ones above appear to have been planted rather than naturally seeded, man giving nature a helping hand as it were. In the distance, the mountains of Michoacan rise up. Many of those are of volcanic origin too. Paricutin erupted February 20, 1943, in the cornfield of Dionisio Pulido, who was plowing at the time. There was no pre-existing cinder cone. The ground simply began to split and smoke and rumble, terrifying Pulido and the other campesinos nearby who immediately rushed off to warn their neighbors. They had witnessed something no human being alive today had ever seen, the birth of an entirely new volcano.

Approaching Paricutin. Carole and Ernesto ride up the dusty trail toward the base of the Paricutin cinder cone. What made the ride so long was our need to trek completely around the long tongue of lava extending across the valley. There was no question of riding through it, since the lava is very sharp and would certainly have injured the horses. Above, we have completed that circuit and are approaching our goal. The volcanic sand was very dusty and the horses sometimes tried to edge ahead of each other to avoid having to breathe it, making for some nervous moments on narrow trails. Ernesto informed me that my mount was named "Crazy Horse" (spoken in English). He was a pretty good horse, although he had a tendency to stop and sample the vegetation along the way. When I pulled on the reins to dissuade him, he would mumble under his breath for some distance, no doubt cursing the #@%*#!! Gringo on his back.

The climb to the summit. When we got off our horses at the base of the volcano, Carole and I were so saddle-sore and stiff that we never gave a thought to climbing to the summit. We were very aware that we still needed to retrace our path, and the length of the journey was apparent at this point. Discretion is the better part of valor. As you can see above, the trail winds steeply around the cinder cone like a corkscrew. Since the entire surface of the cone is made of the same fine dust we had been riding over, it would have been a difficult climb, two steps forward, one back. In fact, most of the climbers appeared to have arrived on the back of pickup trucks which carried them quickly over the road we had taken so long to travel and right to the base of the cone. No one had mentioned pickup trucks in Angahuan.

The summit of Paricutin. Within a year of its 1943 eruption, the summit reached over 1100 feet (336 meters). By the time it stopped erupting in 1952, it had added another 88 feet to reach its present height of 1391 feet (424 meters) from base to summit. The hikers seen above have enjoyed the view and are now taking the quick way down by way of the cinder chute which runs in a straight line from the mouth of the cone to the base.

Something like ice skating. The form of transport these folks are using is called glissading. The motion is similar to that of ice skating, as one glides smoothly down the slope first on one foot and then the other. It's actually a lot of fun, certainly more fun than climbing up through the same loose sand. While a small amount of vegetation has taken root on the slopes, there is surprisingly little after 66 years.

Glissading. This hiker has almost reached the bottom. You can see his gliding motion in the picture as he raises plumes of dust. It only took a few minutes to cover a distance he toiled up over a considerable time.

The long trail back. As we headed down from the cinder cone, the valley stretched out before us to the rugged mountains in the distance. The black hump in the upper right is the tongue of lava we will have to ride around to retrace our steps. The day was crystal clear and gorgeous, and we marveled at the sweeping beauty of the country.

Dust devil. The day was windy, helping the visibility, but greatly complicating my photography. I had no drawstring on my broad-brimmed hat. The hat was essential because of the glaring sun, but it constantly threatened to blow off and once had to be retrieved by Ernesto, much to my embarrassment. So, I had to hold on to my hat and drop the reins, giving Crazy Horse his head, so I could manipulate the controls of the camera with one hand. Fortunately, Crazy Horse was very familiar with the best route and was as sure-footed as Canela. I ended up with some crazily tilted shots, but surprisingly few considering the challenges.

The steeple of San Juan Parangaricutiro church. Almost all that is left of San Juan is the ruins of the church. Another town nearby was named Paricutin, but was completely buried and the volcano took its name. The farm house behind the steeple was probably built after the volcano went dormant. I took this with a telephoto setting from the town of Angahuan. You are looking at the church from the back side.

The church, close up. The black lava is mounded up to the second-story level of the church. It was tricky getting good photos because that required moving around over heaps of huge lava boulders. Not only were some of the boulders unstable, but there was constant danger of a fall into various crevasses. And worst of all, the lava was razor sharp. A fall into the rocks even from a short distance would leave me looking like fresh hamburger. To my amazement troops of Mexicans, sometimes whole families, were clambering over the lava. One mother came by carrying a small baby in each arm. I tried not to think of what would happen if she fell.

The front of the church. The man pictured is standing in what was once probably a large stained glass window on the second floor of the church. Since my lava boulder perch was well above him, the lava must have once reached almost to the roof.

Church front from the other side. There was a whole other story below the part of the church you can see, but it could only be reached by wriggling through some narrow crevasses in the lava. This must have been quite a large church for a town as small as San Juan was once.
Looking out the former stained glass window from inside. The lava was piled up inside the church as well as outside. The final destruction of the town and the church, which occurred about a year after the initial eruption, must have been an horrific scene.

Inside the church, looking toward the back. As the lava cooled over time, it must have peeled back away from the sides of the church. You can see that the level of the lava field is actually above the walls in back. Fortunately, the townspeople had a chance to remove valuable objects prior to the final coming of the lava. Still, the loss of a town where they and their ancestors had lived for many centuries must have been a hard blow.

San Juan Parangaricutiro church glows gently in the fading light. In the background, the Paricutin cinder cone looms as a reminder of what brought the end. In fact, the townspeople return periodically to hold services in the hollow shell of the old church. In Mexico, nothing really dies.

This completes Part 3 of my Uruapan series. In the next posting, I will show the Fabrica de Hilados y Tejidos, an old textile factory that now houses a folk art center in Uruapan. I hope you enjoyed this posting. Feel free to comment either by email or in the comments section below.

Hasta luego! Jim

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Uruapan Part 2 - An uban rainforest

La Yerbabuena Cascada. On our first morning in Uruapan, Carole and I walked over to the Eduardo Ruiz National Park, also called Barranca del Cupatitzio (Ravine of the Cupatitzio). The Rio Cupatitzio originates in the foothills of the mountains and pours through a lush, narrow ravine on the northwest side of Uruapan. The park entrance is only a few blocks from the zocalo, or central plaza of Uruapan, and so can be easily accessed by anyone staying at one of the many hotels and B&Bs in the area.

The park is open from 8:00 AM to 6:00 PM, seven days a week. We recommend a morning exploration of the park. While the park was almost empty when we arrived, by noon there were throngs of people everywhere. Uruapan is off the beaten track for most gringo tourists, and the people we encountered in the park as well as elsewhere in town were almost entirely Mexican.

Mural near the park entrance demonstrates Purepechan crafts.  The more I looked at this mural, the more I saw. The man in the center and the women on either side are engaged in several of the many crafts for which both Uruapan and Michoacan State in general are famous. The woman on the left is weaving cloth, possibly one of the beautiful rebozos we saw everywhere. Beside her lies a guitar, the signature craft of the nearby village of Paracho (see Part 1). The man is carving one of the magical wooden masks used in Purepechan dances, and his finished work lies at his feet. Notice the tassels hanging down from his hat, a typical mode of dress. The woman on the right is painting a ceramic bowl, another famous product of the area. Behind them lie two carved wooden posts. Woodworking is a major craft of Michoacan and of Uruapan in particular, because of the pine forests which cover the mountainous interior of Michoacan.

Splashing fountain with painted footing brings cool relief on a warm day. Just inside the entrance of the park we found this fountain surrounded by a large pool with a gorgeously painted bottom. Although I did an extensive search on Google, I was unable to find much about the origins of the Eduardo Ruiz Park.  It was created in 1938 to protect the Rio Cupatitzio watershed. I had assumed Eduardo Ruiz was the creator or designer, but actually he was a 19th Century Mexican war hero who grew up in the area. The designer of the amazing assortment of man-made fountains and waterfalls found throughout the park remains a mystery to me. If anyone can enlighten me, please do so in the comments  section at the end of this posting.   

Kids always know how to enjoy a fountain on a hot day. Many Mexican families arrived throughout the late morning and it was fun watching the kids explore the delights of the park. I always find Mexican kids remarkably well behaved. Perhaps the reason is that so many adult members of the extended family are around to keep an eye on them. 

An unusual harp. I had never seen a harp shaped like this. The musician played beautifully, although the bottom of his instrument bore a remarkable resemblance to a coffin. Live music is everywhere in Mexico. It is one of the things I love about living here.

One of many natural waterfalls in Barranca del Cupatitzio. The ravine drops down steeply on both sides of the river. At the bottom a narrow rocky gorge channels the water into a rushing torrent.

Catching some rays. A banana tree spreads its wing-like leaves to catch the rays of sun filtering through the thick canopy overhead. The Spanish brought bananas to Mexico. The history of bananas goes back to at least 2000 B.C. when they were apparently discovered in Malaysia. The wild banana is inedible, but early people discovered that by crossing two inedible species, a sterile edible plant could be raised. The plant is propagated by taking shoots off its base. It may be the first fruit cultivated by humans.

Cobblestone paths followed  the course of the Cupatitzio on both sides. Sometimes the paths were connected by stone bridges like the one seen above. This photo gives a feeling for one of the less turbulent sections of the river. Just before the bridge on the right, you can see one of the small man-made waterfalls. The unknown designer channeled the numerous small streams that feed the Cupatitzio and with them created an amazing array of water displays.

A quiet spot for contemplation. This narrow platform created the perfect spot for me to take a break and enjoy the natural waterfall in the background. A large number of these quiet spots were situated strategically throughout the park.  The designer really knew his business.

Cloud forest fills the space on either side of the ravine. The base of the ravine is designated "cloud forest" because of the consistently cool moist air which creates a thick, jungle-like environment, with triple canopy vegetation. The place was in constant semi-shadow, with shafts of light penetrating from place to place.  

Knick-knacks and light snacks. Unlike U.S. parks, where commercial activity is generally forbidden except for certain concessionaires (usually well-connected corporations), there were many small booths in various parts of the park. The booths were well constructed and appropriate to the setting and most seemed like family operations. One can buy souvenirs, cooked food, and even beautifully embroidered clothing in these small  booths. 

Chowing down. Roasted corn ears are a favorite Mexican snack. This little girl worked through hers in record time. All that's needed is a small brazier, a few chips of wood, plenty of fresh corn to roast, and one is in business.

Fountain of the murals. This was one of my favorite fountains. About 20 yards long, the wall on top was once covered by a colorful mural. The colors have faded and run, creating a picture that looks like an abstract painting. But the water itself was most attractive to me, springing out of the long lines of spouts over stone that has gone green from moss. A sculpture in water.

Brugmansia. This flower is one of six species of the genus Brugmansia, and its pink coloration makes it the rarest. Brugmansia is wide spread in North America and particularly in Mexico where the most diversity occurs. Until recently it was thought to be related  to the poisonous Datura plant, but it is actually a closely related but separate genus. Both Brugmansia and Datura are commonly called "Angels' Trumpets", for obvious reasons.

Fountain in a waterfall. I thought this was one of the more unusual creations of the park. I have never seen a waterfall with a fountain springing out of the middle. I was constantly charmed by these little vignettes around each corner.

More Brugmansia. This is the "double white" species, more common than the pink version shown earlier. We saw these throughout the park. They grow best in partially shady, wind-protected spots. The park was obviously an ideal location.

A curtain of water. This man-made waterfall resembled a spillway for a miniature hydro-electric dam. When the water gets to the bottom, it is collected in a gutter arching around the base and channeled away toward the river. This allows the visitor to stand almost under the waterfall to view it.

Waterfall curtain from on top. A pathway curved along the top of the waterfall, allowing a look down the sheet of water to the natural amphitheatre below.

Another unusual waterfall. I call this the "waterfall of the planters". The designer directed the flow of water around the two rectangular planters and down a series of steps.  From there, it is channeled away from the cobblestone path toward the river.

Time for a treat. Two small boys get ready to enjoy a bag of fresh fruit. The boy in back seems a bit impatient with his friend's effort to get at their treat.

Bridges tie the whole park together. There are at least five of these stone bridges along the Cupatitzio within the park. They make it easy to move from one part of the park to another in an area that must have been very rugged terrain before the park was constructed.

Ferns and waterfalls alternate along the walkway. Still another unusual design. The fern planters alternate from top to bottom, as do the waterfalls. 

Making a splash. I thought his would have been a very pleasant photo, even without the dramatic dive of the young Mexican caught in mid-air above the pool. You can see him in the upper right of the picture. He had asked us if we would tip him for a dive, and of course we said yes. That's a pretty good drop from the top of El Golgota Cascada to the pool below.

La Rodilla del Diablo. "The Devils Elbow" springs are the source of the Cupatitzio. While the water appears to be turquoise colored, it is really is crystal clear.  The color comes from the bottom of the pool.  The white streaks on the water are reflections of the sun off the shiny leaves of the plants above.

Water nymphs of the Barranca del Cupatitzio. Back at the main entrance, I stumbled across this striking mural. The life of the indians prior to the arrival of the Spanish must have been idyllic. At least the painters, Marianda and Michel de la Cruz seemed to think so. We do know that indians occupied the area for a long time back. We also know that Uruapan means, in Purepechan, "where the hearts of plants bloom like the flowers and enjoy a perpetual spring".

This completes Part 2 of my Uruapan series. My next posting will focus on the Paracutin volcano and the remains of the small town buried by lava in its 1943 eruption.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Uruapan Part 1 - Ancient culture, modern city

A cascade of colors. Local Purepecha indian girls march in Uruapan to celebrate the birthday of Benito Juarez (1806-1872). Juarez was the only full-blooded indian to serve as president of the Republic of Mexico and was a hero of the war to expel French invaders. Carole and I visited Uruapan in the middle of March. We came to see the two national parks in the area: Barranca del Cupatitzio in the city itself, and Volcan Paracutin in the mountains northwest of the city. We were delighted  to find that Uruapan had many other interesting things to do and see, in addition to the parks. I took enough photos to justify a four part series on Uruapan, of which this is the first.

We took Cuota #15 (the modern, high-speed toll road) east from Ocotlan, a town just north of Lake Chapala. At Highway 37, a "libre" (free) road, we turned south and drove on an excellent two-lane blacktop road through the rugged, pine-forested mountains of Michoacan State. The drive took about 4.5 hours. Actually, our Uruapan adventure started before we ever got to the city. On the way, we stopped in the small town of Paracho, the self-styled "Guitar Capital of the World". For a map showing the location of Uruapan in relation to Lake Chapala and our route, click here.

Paracho's plaza on a quiet Friday afternoon. Things were quiet and slow in Paracho when we got there. Even so, this hopeful vendor set up in the middle of the plaza. She sold sliced mango, papaya, and watermelon to passersby looking for a cool, wet treat. Paracho's population is about 15,000 and it looks like 14,900 of them are in the guitar business. The other 100 direct tourist traffic to guitar stores. At 7,300 feet, the weather is cool in the summer and chilly in the winter.

Bishop Quiroga got the guitar-making business started. The statue pictured above commemorates the 16th Century work of Bishop Quiroga, who persuaded the small indian villages around Michoacan State to specialize in particular crafts. Paracho got guitars. There is some dispute about the veracity of this story with regard to Paracho. However, 16th Century Franciscan friars Antonio Huitzimengari and Diego Basalenque reported that when they visited, indian craftsmen were making a variety of stringed musical instruments.

Master guitar-maker at work. I encountered David Hernandez Vaca in the Casa del Artesano (House of the Artisan), located on one corner of the plaza. The Casa contained a number of small booths where various crafts were displayed, including a number devoted to guitars. A guitar maker is a guitarrero in Spanish, and a luthier (from lute) in English. David was busily polishing this guitar at his workbench when I asked for a photograph. He was happy to oblige and explained in Spanish that this particular guitar was crafted for guitar students with special markings to help them learn to play. David has a website (click on his name above) where he can be contacted about his work.

The finished product. At another booth, beautiful guitars of various levels of quality were displayed. The standards are popular, estudio, and concerto, the last being the highest.

Tasty treat for a hot day. Mangos carved in the shape of flowers stand on sticks in a fruit peddler's booth in the mercado. Mexicans often put a quirky little twist on a common item. A gentle sense of humor seems to be a trait of the national character. 

Mexican woman sells cooked fish in a simple stand. I have found Mexicans in general to be industrious and enterprising. Every town seems to have a mercado (street market), and Paracho was no exception. This woman set up a simple display case of upended wooden crates to offer her grilled wares to mercado customers. Her baby played behind her as she conducted  business. 

Purepecha woman demonstrates one use for a traditional rebozo (shawl). In  the small towns around Uruapan, and to some degree in the city itself, we saw few baby carriages. Babies have been toted this way since before the Spanish arrived. Rebozos are also used for carrying packages, as head coverings, and for warmth.  The indian woman pictured had just purchased the bundle of flowers in front of her. I have noticed that Mexicans of all walks of life love flowers. The humblest of adobe huts are often adorned with multiple coffee cans sporting a wild array of blooms.

Uruapan's Templo San Francisco got an early start. Built by the Franciscans (hence the name) in 1533, the San Francisco church was founded only twelve years after the Conquest began. Using a style called plateresque, the Franciscans decorated the areas around the doors and windows lavishly with carved stone, while the main structure of the building remained relatively unadorned. This was the earliest building style of the Spanish Renaissance, melding aspects of the Italian Renaissance with Moorish and Gothic styles. Templo San Francisco is located on the northwest corner of the zocalo, another name for the main plaza.

Uruapan was built on the banks of the Cupatitzio River, on a plateau in  the foothills of the Michoacan mountains. The area around the city abounds with aguacate (avocado) orchards, and Uruapan is arguably the avocado capital of Mexico. The zocalo is surrounded with a mixture of Spanish colonial and modern buildings.  The population of the municipality of Uruapan is about 280,000, making it second only to Morelia in Michoacan.

Grille work on the gate of Templo San Francisco. Uruapan was a small, peaceful kingdom of Purepecha indians when the Spanish arrived in 1522. Archaeological evidence indicates that the indians had already lived in this paradise of flowers for a long period.  All that is known of the early period of the Conquest in the area is that it was probably extremely brutal. In 1531, at the end of this period, Fray Juan de San Miguel arrived. He is considered to be the founder of the modern city of Uruapan, one of the oldest of Mexico's Spanish colonial cities.

Casa de Cultura hosts countless artistic and cultural activities. Originally a Franciscan monastery, the structure was built by Fray Juan de San Miguel in 1536. As with many church properties, the building was taken over by the government for public purposes during one of the anti-clerical periods in Mexican history. 

Courtyard of the Casa de Cultura. When I visited on a Saturday evening, the courtyard was gently bathed in the rosy glow of sunset. Some sort of awards ceremony was proceeding with many certificates handed out. Behind the stage, a group of costumed folklorico dancers awaited their moment on the stage. I have noticed that such verbal presentations can stretch out to interminable lengths before the main event. Losing my light, I decided  to move on before seeing the dancers. For all I know, the master of ceremonies is still holding forth.

La Huatapera, once a Franciscan hospital, now a center for popular arts. Built in 1533, once again by the architecturally prolific Juan de San Miguel, La Huatapera originally served as a hospital for the indians. It was one of the first hospitals in the Western Hemisphere. Later it became an inn, and finally a center for popular arts, housing some of Michoacan's best artesiana. Unfortunately, at the time of our visit, La Huatapera was closed for renovations. Carole was very disappointed, but I pointed  out that this simply gave us another excuse for a return visit.

Whiling away a sunny afternoon. This elderly gentleman took advantage of one of the zocalo's many iron benches to kill some time and soak up the pleasures of the plaza. Mexican plazas are one of the best features of the country. Everywhere we go, they are a playground for kids, a stage for various official and impromptu performers, an opportunity for small vendors, a spot for romantic trysts. A plaza offers the kind of physical center so lacking in many north-of-the- border towns and cities with their commercially gaudy suburban malls and tacky shopping strips all oriented to the automobile. A Mexican plaza is a walker's environment, a place to stroll and enjoy a leisurely pace of life.

Water, water everywhere... Another regular feature of a Mexican plaza, and Uruapan's was no different. Fountains cool the air, are refreshing to the eyes and ears, and often commemorate some locally important historical event. Kids find them fun for splashing games.

Balloons anyone? The zocalo was preparing for a concert according to the poster on the stage. In anticipation of the crowd, a local balloon vendor (another standard feature of a plaza) set up his wares. Most of the public entertainment I have encountered is free, and the rare fees I have encountered are very modest. 

Entertainment of the impromptu variety. Strolling musicians sing for the patrons of a sidewalk restaurant bordering the zocalo. One is always free to donate or not, but I usually give a little even if I can't stop to listen. Everybody's got to make a living, and I can think of a lot of better paid but less socially redeeming jobs. 

Clavelina blossom. This unusual blossom was one of many sprouting on the trees around the zocalo. I had no idea what kind of tree this might be until I consulted with Joel Gomez, my Spanish teacher who also happens to have a university degree in horticulture. The blossom has an uncanny resemblance to a badminton shuttlecock. According to Joel, the formal name is Bombax Elipticum.

Mexican junk food. One of the many food vendors pulled up her mobile cart and set up shop just across from where we were sitting on a bench in the cool shade of a tree. Some plastic bags contained potato chips and others held the large round kind used for tostadas. Behind her is the Hotel Concordia, $37.00 (US) per night. All the usual amenities provided, but a tad spartan for my taste.

More musicians, but this time leading a parade. When we came out to enjoy the zocalo the morning after we arrived, the first thing we encountered was a parade led by these musicians and comprised of school children in traditional Purepecha clothing. We later discovered the parade was part of the national Benito Juarez celebration.

Like a flock of gorgeously feathered little birds. The little girls stole the show. Some no doubt normally wear blue jeans and t-shirts, or school uniforms during the day. Others may be from surrounding villages where women of all ages dress like this for everyday purposes. I saw a woman in one village wearing just such an outfit as she weeded her garden with a hoe. Notice how the girls in this photo are using their rebozos for headcoverings. The blue, pin-striped rebozo is very popular among Purepecha women.

Little boys being, well...little boys. Chuckling and furtively roughhousing as they marched along, the boys seemed less demure and serious than the girls. While their outfits were less lavish than the girls, the boys' shirts and pants were decorated with intricate hand embroidery. In the villages, the men and boys don't dress like this normally, but wear the working garb of cowboys.

A chain of satiny flowers. A shiny, satiny cloth was used to make this girl's hand-crafted chain of flowers. A similar satin material was used for her skirt. We saw this sort of material everywhere on women dressed traditonally. The colors were always vivid and brilliantly contrasting. 

(Below) A Mona Lisa smile. The girls stood demurely as the parade paused, giving me a chance for a closeup photo. When I asked if I could take their picture, they silently nodded, but three of the four shyly gazed down. One, however, rewarded me with a quiet Mona Lisa smile.

This concludes Part 1 of my Uruapan series. The next posting will look at the spectacular Barranca del Cupatitzio National Park.  Hasta luego, Jim