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.


  1. Jim,

    Amazing! As always. Loved this piece!!

    I always look forward to your next posting.


  2. Jim,

    I am going to Uruapan this weekend

    for semana santa (i went last year) and your postings made all the more excited. So took the free road?
    I was a little nervous about it with all the bad news. Was thinking of going the long way around. I'm from Ajijic as well. Keep up the good work!


  3. Pam- The free road (highway 37) was fine, good 2-lane blacktop all the way. The drive through the mountains was gorgeous. Several very interesting little Purepechan villages along the way.

    Have fun at Semana Santa! Jim

  4. Uruapan is probably the safest city in Mexico for many reasons. The water is safe to drink because its source is an underground river. No bottles of water are necessary to buy and lug around and most of the street vendors selling delicious food are safe, too.

    Uruapan is also the safest city in Mexico because it is presently occupied by the Army Military Police with the assistance of the Michoacan State Police.

    This city is a hidden treasure with a perfect climate and not unlike Hawaii with its volcanic rock and soil and providing a temperate tropical paradise to experience.


If your comment involves a question, please leave your email address so I can answer you. Thanks, Jim