The Plantation

The Red Lobster, a restaurant just up the street from us, does a tourist run to their plantation every so often and we decided to go along. We’ve been threatening to go for years but didn’t get around to it. After we met George and Sue we decided it was time as his birthday was that day.

We got to the restaurant at 9 am and had a great breakfast which was included in the tour. While there we met up with a lot of really nice people and made a lot of new friends.

This is not a rushed thing so we climbed on the bus at about 11 am. We were happy to see our friends Ray and Tere were coming along. The trip to the plantation took about 20 minutes. The last 10 minutes was along a bouncy dirt road, until we finally arrived at the plantation.

There were three pools there and each ran into the next and finally off to irrigate the fields. The water had no chemicals as it is pumped from 300 feet below ground. We didn’t want to swim but the water didn’t feel too cold when we tested it. Quite a few people did go in though.

Included in the tour was lunch which we got at about 3 pm. I chose chicken for a change and Rosalie and most of the rest of the tour had ribs. Delicious as always.

Also included were 5 beers or pop for each person. That was a total joke because no one was counting and we also went through three large bottles of tequila. There were quite a few happy people that afternoon.

 

One of the happy ones.

Lucy is about 30 years old and runs the Red Lobster. She has a great sense of humour and we love to joke with her. She also speaks good English.

Before lunch, Lucy gave us a walking tour and explained some of the different fruits growing there. They included mangoes, coconuts, pineapple, avocados and many more that we hadn’t seen before. Including red bananas.

Overall another great day. And it cost us less than $77 for both of us including breakfast lunch and all the booze. And of course the ride there and back.

 

The final day

The next morning we were going back to Telaquapaque for a few hours. It’s on our way home and breaks up the journey.

We found a restaurant and had lunch with Mike and Pat. Then we went looking at the stores. They have a great variety of high-end stores but my favourite was this one with all these whimsical creatures.

They are hand made from Bronze and then painted.

We got back to Melaque at about 9:30 pm.  We had a lot of stuff to carry and fortunately, there was a taxi available.

It was a great trip and Dan the organizer from “Flip Flop Nomad Tours” does a fabulous job. He speaks good Spanish for an English man and solved all sorts of issues along the way.

Would we do it again? Everything but the butterflies. It’s pretty gruelling going up the mountain but I would recommend that if you’re fit enough then go for it. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

 

Death

This blog is a little late as I have a cold and no energy.

When we left the copper foundry we were walking back to the bus minding our own business when we spotted a few people from our tour in a small brewery. We decided to stop and share a beer until we found out that one of the beers had CBD in it. Now we had to have one each. They were good and helped with the aches and pains from climbing the mountain two days ago.

There were a number of stills on display in a few of the stores but Rosalie wouldn’t let me get one.

They say that copper has a lot of beneficial health properties, Some are based on scientific studies and I’m sure some are a myth. So, I Googled it and found that although copper is essential to our diet, there is no evidence that wearing it as Jewelry helps. I’m going to wear mine anyway as I hear that it helps to fend off werewolves.  

At lunchtime, we went back to the hotel. We wanted to get money from the ATM around the corner but there was a huge lineup even though there were about eight machines in there. In the middle of this crowd, there was a lady calmly mopping the floor.

The trip back to the bus was by a Colectivo. Dan and Roberto were unable to get close to the hotel for once. Colectivos are a cross between a bus and a taxi. Ours held about fifteen people. It was a bit cozy but another a new experience.

That afternoon, we went to Tzintzuntzan. It’s better if you break it up “Tzin-tzun-tzan” The Z’s are pronounced as S.  It means “The place of the hummingbirds,” although we didn’t see any. There are ancient ruins there (not just the people from the bus) and some have been restored. (Again not the people from the bus. Most of us are unrestorable.)

The parts that have been restored have small rocks inserted to show that it is a renovation and not the original. On the way in we saw an albino squirrel. Probably another one of Alan’s Mexican relatives.

After that tour, we went to the local town to see two graveyards featured in ”Coco” a movie about the day of the dead.

Because it was Valentine’s Day the hotel laid on a special meal with entertainment by some of the local natives. The video doesn’t do it justice. The dances had boards attached to their shoes and the noise was deafening Another great day.

Copper

Today we went to Santa Clara. It’s amazing to see our huge bus wend it’s way through the narrow streets. The bus has steerable rear wheels as well as a great driver Roberto so that helps. 

We never really know how far we have to walk when we leave the bus as it’s hard to park in such a small town. But Dan does a really good job and with Roberto and some times a few pesos, we don’t often have to walk far.

Today we were at the copper foundry ‘El Puertón’ in the town of  Santa Clara del Cobre. They gave a great half-hour presentation of how they make the items from scrap copper. They use copper from old wire, electric motors, old pots and pans and anything else made of copper as the mines ran out years ago.

The copper is melted into chunks of various sizes depending on the size of the piece being made and then the pounded flat like this:

All the items are hand made and some take up to six months to complete. The only mechanical thing in the place was the fan to blow air for the forge.

When he took it out of the water it was clean and ice cold because copper is such a good conductor.

The copper trade is a very generational thing. One of the guys, Miguel, is the fourth generation of crafters and his son is also Miguel or Miguelita. Miguelita is like an apprentice. He goes to school during the day and learns his trade in his spare time. They have to start young to find out if he’s any good, also to see if he wants to continue in the trade. He says he’s liking it so far as the tourist give him tips.

The piece on the left took three months to make and sells for 9,000 pesos or about $630

After the presentation, we went to the store and because there was a lot of stuff, Rosalie bought most of it. She said that, as I had purchased a $130 guitar, she had the leverage of $1,300. Of course I jest. We have been really good on this trip and kept spending to a minimum. Having said that, we thought we would need to visit an ATM to top up. We did, however, buy a copper water bottle. It’s quite beautiful and of course very healthy.

Our day didn’t end here so now we are off to see some architectural ruins.

 

Making Catrinas

Up early again and on the bus by nine. The temperature outside 6 deg C. We were over 7,000 feet elevation. Today we went to the little town of Capula to visit a Catrina workshop.

There were two married couples who worked as two teams making them and we had the privilege to watch them put some together. They didn’t talk to each other much just instinctively handed items to each other.

Catrinas are made from local clay and part of the day of the dead. (Los dais de Los Muertos)  Celebrations. After the clay is mixed it’s left for about 6 days to partly dry out. When it’s ready it has the consistency of plasticine and is much easier to work

One of the couples was Jose and his wife Valentina. She was born on Valentine’s Day and as it was the day before, we all sang happy birthday to her. We watched them with fascination as they moulded the clay to build a new Catrina. Jose made a whole skeletal hand complete with knuckles, a monkey head and a quetzal bird while we watched.

Once they are put together they’re fired in a kiln and then hand-painted to finish them off. Each one is unique and no machinery is used at all.

We bought two Catrinas, they stand about 10” tall and, except for the mould for the body, are completely handmade and painted. Actually, even the moulds are hand-made. Each one is completely individual. The cost of our two was 600 pesos (about $40).

Our Catrinas. We wanted bigger ones but didn’t like them that much. Notice the Monarch Butterflies. All made of clay.

When we left this factory we went to the collective where all the artisans display their wares. And of course, we saw two more smaller Catrinas that we wanted so we bought them also. They cost 70 pesos each about $5. We noticed that the family who had made our first ones were by far the best.

Our smaller pair. OOh! that sexy leg She’s smoking. I guess that’s what killed her.

Our next stop was Patzcuaro where we would spend the next two days. After we checked in we had lunch and met up for our next walking tour with Karen.

Patzcuaro is a beautiful old town. The main square is surrounded by lovely old buildings. Halfway through the tour, we found a guitar store and I bought a nice handmade practice guitar for $120. At this point, we abandoned the tour as my hip was sore so we went back to the hotel and as we had finally found some wine I drank some to ease the pain.

Patzcuaro is a ‘Magical Town’ which means that it has historical significance. There are eight in Michoacán and all the buildings are painted red and white. Also, it is the law here that all business signs must have the first letter of their name in red and the rest in black.

We did manage to find some white wine but not at out usual Oxxo stores. Oxxo’s are Mexicos version of 7/11

Mariposa Monarca

Up early again. Breakfast at seven and on the bus by eight. We had another two and a half-hour ride to the mountains.

On the way up we had to stop as we were crossing from one municipality to another. We had to pay a “toll” as the municipality we were leaving receives no revenue from the butterflies,

When we reached the town of Ocampo and got off the bus, we had to walk uphill a bit to get to our ride up the mountain. Walking doesn’t sound too bad until you realize that we were at 10,000 feet and the air was thin.

We had the choice to walk up or ride on a horse. We chose to ride as we had another 2,000 feet uphill to go. It was very steep, rough going. Each horse was accompanied by a guide who walked or ran alongside or behind. Halfway up, Pat came roaring past, hanging on for dear life. At the top, we got off and took a minute to calm ourselves and wait for Mike. 

They rotate the horses at the top so that they get a good rest. Not the guides though, they ride/gallop back down to get another customer. They have to be very fit because they have to run up 2000 feet at that high an altitude

There was still another 300 meters for us to climb and it too was rough going. It was worth it though as the Monarchs were spectacular. We had to be very quiet and no flash photography. They are mostly huddled together for warmth against the trees and branches and don’t want to fly too much as that burns energy. There were hundreds flying around though.

We also saw hundreds of dead ones lying around. One of the guides would pick some up and turn them over and then put them to the side. I think he was looking for tags. 

We chose to walk down as I didn’t fancy riding down on that steep hill. The walk wasn’t too bad but we had to stop a few times to rest our knees and get our-breaths back.

At the bottom, we were surrounded by vendors and people trying to get you to eat at their taco stand. I found it very annoying at first as all I wanted to do was rest up. We found a restaurant with Mike and Pat and had a bite to eat.

Afterwards, Rosalie was surrounded by kids selling stuff. She bought two shawls but then noticed a third little girl who hadn’t sold one. So now she has three, as well as a bunch of other stuff. I just stood to one side with my wallet open as Rosalie had left her purse on the bus. On the way back to the bus we walked through a gauntlet of stalls.  At the end was a little girl wearing butterfly wings so I took a picture. She immediately demanded 20 pesos which was way too much so she only got ten, which was also too much.

The drive back to the hotel was uneventful except for a glorious sunset. Rosalie and I went out for a snack and then tried to buy some white wine. We tried three places but could only find red. I started to panic but Rosalie calmed me down, pointed out that we had enough for the evening and we could get more tomorrow in Patzcuaro. Phew!

Our trip day one

We had to be up early as our bus left at 6 am. We were off on our tour to see the butterflies at Morelia in the state of Michoacán. We walked to the taxi stand at 5:30 only to find it empty, so we decided to walk. It took us twenty minutes and we had to haul one carry-on case, one backpack and another bag.

We arrived on time but the bus didn’t. It arrived at about 6:20 but that’s Mexico. Nobody complained, we stood and chatted while we waited.

The trip took eight hours and we had frequent stops on the way. Also, we were given snacks on the bus. We arrived at three-thirty and after checking in went on a short city tour. While on the tour we were told that there was a special event at the cathedral at 8:40 pm. That of course bought a laugh as nothing here is that precise.

Part of the main square

We met up with Mike and Pat at 7 pm and went for a really nice dinner. Then, we walked to the cathedral to watch the show. They do this event every Saturday but there was a special group in town so they did it today instead. Our tour guide Karen said that we were the special group. Yeah right!

Karen, our guide

The elevation in Morelia is 1900 meters about 6300 feet. It makes it a bit harder to breathe but not too bad. The temperature is a lot cooler and we had to bring heavier coats and long pants.

The Monarch butterflies migrate from Canada and the Eastern States from October to March. About 100 million of them fly 2,000 miles to Mexico. It takes them about two months. They converge on an area 50 miles wide near Texas and proceed as a group the rest of the way. They go nowhere else in the world just Michoacán where they stay for about five months,

They fly at 10,000 feet and rely on the air currents to carry them to save energy. Over the Great Lakes, if bad weather hits they will land on boats and anything else that floats until they can take off again

They arrive in Mexico in late October and early November. The Mexican people believe that they are the souls of the dead and have a huge celebration culmination in Las Dias de Los Muertos (“The Day of the Dead”) November 1st.

This is the fourth generation in one year, because, on the way back they stop in Texas. They mate, the females lay about 400 eggs each and then die.  The new generation then does the same thing further north and  finally again in Canada. Where the whole process starts again. It takes nine months to make the trip back.

It’s amazing to think that this little creature that has a four-inch wingspan and weighs less than 1/5 of an ounce can achieve such a feat. They have never flown this route before but still, they know which way to go. 

An experiment was done to see what would happen if butterflies were taken from Kansas and released in DC. For the first few days, they flew south toward the Gulf of Mexico, Then, they realized something was wrong and changed direction and headed southwest to join the rest of the group. No one knows how they do this.

The Monarchs eventual destination in Mexico wasn’t discovered until 1975, The sanctuaries are protected but there is a lot of illegal logging in the area and a great threat to the monarchs as well as the local guides.