Thursday, October 15, 2015

Zamora Part 2: Lake Camécuaro National Park

The serenity of Lago de Camécuaro makes it a delightful place for a quiet morning stroll. In planning our visit, Carole and I were as interested in the area outside Zamora de Hidalgo as we were in the city itself. One of the best-known local attractions is the small national park which includes this pristine, crystal-clear lake. Lago de Camécuaro is located 14 km (8.7 mi) southeast of Zamora along Highway 15. The turnoff to the lake comes just before you enter the town of Tangancicuaro. Admission to the park is only $10 pesos (60 cents USD) and all-day parking is $20 pesos ($1.20). For a Google map showing how to get from Zamora to the park, click here.

This basalt head is one of several whimsical sculptures near the park entrance.  The total area of the park is only 9.65 hectares (23 acres) and the lake's surface is 1.6 hectares (3.4 acres). The name Camécuaro comes from the Purépecha language and means "Place of the Bath". The Purépecha-speaking people of Michoacan are one the largest indigenous cultures still existing in Mexico. They were the people of the Tarascan Empire, the Aztec Empire's greatest rival at the time of the Conquest.

A small cove near the entrance contains wooden skiffs available for rent. We didn't rent a boat, and I haven't been able to find rental prices on various Camécuaro-related websites. However, the fees are almost certain to be modest. We arrived early on a weekday morning, an excellent time to visit if you are looking for peace and quiet. On the weekends you are much more likely to encounter noisy crowds, particularly after mid-day. During our visit, we encountered only a handful of people scattered around the lake's perimeter.

The early morning rays of sunshine filter through the trees lining the shore. A rustic foot path follows the perimeter of the lake, allowing glimpses of calm water reflecting the evergreens surrounding the lake. A leisurely stroll around the circumference takes less than an hour. In addition to strolling and boating, visitors can swim and soak in hot springs found in quiet coves. Those wishing to stay overnight can camp in designated spots for only $20 pesos / night. Cooked food can be obtained from stalls along the road near the park entrance, or you can cook your own food on the grills located near the shoreline. For a satellite view of the lake, click here.

A family cruises past in one of the rental skiffs. Notice that the boat is powered by hand, leaving the peaceful scene unsullied by motor noises or exhaust fumes. The girl sitting second from the right had just noticed my camera and gave me a beautiful smile as her craft glided past. Lago de Camécuaro is not very deep in most areas and only reaches 6 m (19.6 ft) at its deepest point.

A swimmer frolics near the roots of a huge Ahuehuete (cypress) tree. The swimmer's splashing attracted my attention and a got a quick shot with my telephoto. The term Ahuehuete is Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs. The Spanish called these trees Sabinos. This spot is typical of the many coves lining the shore.

The Ahuehuetes are water-loving trees that grow right in the lake. The Nahuatl name means "old man of the water". Their long branches stretch out over the water, providing a cool shady place for animals, as well as people. Ahuehuetes, formally known as Taxodium mucronatum, are native to Mexico's highlands. Their range stretches from the Rio Grande Valley of Texas south to Huehuetenango in Guatemala.

Like a mound of writhing snakes, a tangled mass of roots surrounds the base of a tree.  While Ahuehuetes are evergreens and like moisture, the fuzzy-barked trees are also drought tolerant. They can grow to 40 m (130 ft) in height and their trunks normally reach a diameter of 1-3 m (3.3-9.8 ft). However, the famous Arbol de Tule (Tule Tree) in Oaxaca has a thickness of 11.42 m (37.5 ft) making it the stoutest of any tree in the world.

A suspension foot-bridge crosses the northern tip of Lago de Camécuaro. A small crowd of school kids surrounded the end of the bridge as I approached. They were all intently staring at the far end and I turned to follow their gaze. A young girl moved toward us, stepping very gingerly along the planks. At first, I couldn't understand why she was moving so carefully.

The girl passes me, a marble balanced in a spoon clenched between her teeth. Stopping about 1/2 way across, I waited for my shot. All the kids cheered her on as she moved by slow steps toward them. Apparently this was some kind of contest. As she completed her traverse of the swaying bridge, the marble still safely in the spoon's bowl, she was greeted enthusiastically by her schoolmates. We watched as several others tried, but failed, to match her feat.

Another quiet cove surrounded by thick Ahuehuetes. The tree is sacred among the indigenous people of Mexico. The Zapotecs of Oaxaca feature it in their creation myth. The Aztecs considered the Ahuehuete to represent the authority of a ruler and lined their processional paths with these majestic trees. After a disastrous (but temporary) defeat by the Aztecs, legends say that Spanish Conquistador Hernán Cortéz sat under an Ahuehuete and wept. In 1910, the Ahuehuete was declared Mexico's national tree.

Large ducks, fat and colorful, waddle along the edge of the lake. They were quite unafraid as I approached for a photo. The ducks are great beggars and persistently try to obtain scraps of bread from tourists, sometimes pursuing the boats down the length of the lake. At night, they roost on an island in the lake's center.

Back at our starting point, I turned to catch a last glimpse of this lovely expanse of water.  President Lázaro Cárdenas created Lago de Camécuaro as a national park in 1940, in response to a campaign aimed at preserving its pristine beauty. If you visit Zamora you should try to include a visit to Camécuaro in your itinerary. This may not be the largest park you ever visit, but it surely will rank as one of the most beautiful.

This completes Part 2 of my Zamora series. I hope you enjoyed it and, if so, that you take a moment to leave any thoughts or questions in the Comments section below, or email me directly. If you leave a question in the Comments section, PLEASE leave your email address so I can respond.

Hasta luego, Jim

1 comment:

  1. Thx Jim. As always a great post. Curious, where did you stay ?


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