photo credit: Tracy the Astonishing via cc

The Virtual Vacation Mexico: The Sound of Hummingbirds

photo credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/tracy_the_astonishing/1154957519/">Tracy the Astonishing</a> via <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">cc</a> Breakfast at La Casa Encantada was served at a wide wooden communal table with beautiful place settings, hot coffee or tea, freshly cut fruit salad, three choices of eggs cooked to order, beans and toast.

place setting

It was a pleasure to get to know some of our fellow guests, the food was delicious, and everywhere I looked in the dining room, there was another stunning piece of artwork. 

decor5 decor4 decor3 decor2 decor1

The proprietor, Victoria, greeted us and gave us directions and a map leading us to the local towns surrounding Lago de Pátzcuaro, the Lake of Pátzcuaro. Each town is famous for a particular kind of artisan. There are towns that specialize in weaving, pottery, copper, mirror frames and more.

Victoria also told us that she could arrange for us to get massages. I jumped on the suggestion immediately, and a masseuse named Ulises will be coming to my room with his massage table tomorrow night at 7 PM for a two hour massage—at a cost of 450 pesos, just under $35 dollars.

“It’s not like a regular Swedish massage,” Victoria told, “It’s more like someone doing yoga to your body.” Check back with me tomorrow night!

Our first destination today was Tzintzuntzan (pronounced tseen-tsoon-tsahn ). The town is named after the sound hummingbirds make. I wanted to go there just because of how wonderful it was to say the name, how the sounds tingled inside my mouth. But the town is also famous for its ceramics.

As we headed out of Pátzcuaro, we passed a policia truck. Hanging out of the back of the pickup was a policeman in uniform, one hand resting on the submachine gun slung over his shoulder while the other lazily dangled a bottle of orange soda.

Out on the open road, a donkey with a huge load of wood on his back walked by.

I asked Suzy about the beautiful hand-painted sign we saw that said Rastro. “Oh, that’s the municipal slaughterhouse,” she replied. That immediately raised a whole bunch of questions in my head.

As we neared Tzintzuntzan, the road narrowed and suddenly carved statues loomed up on either side. We drove another 1000 feet and I said, “Let’s go back there. I want to take a picture.”

statues2

We truly felt we had stumbled into another world. There was a riot of carvings: turtles, lions, Aztec heads, dragons, toadstools, a mermaid, dogs, religious icons, Buddhas, a carving of the local mayor of the town, a Don Quixote, devils, a giant fish tail You name it, it was probably there.

statues6 statues5 statues4 statues3 statues1

I especially loved this contortionist mermaid:

contortionist mermaid

One of the carvers invited us to see his work yard—stone was scattered everywhere and chickens were squawking and pecking in a wooden trough.

work yard

Suzy, the only one in our group with enough Spanish to converse, found out that the stone work we were seeing represented thirty years of work by the young man we were talking to, his father, his four brothers and three other carvers. “You can ask for whatever image you want and we’ll bring it out of the stone with our imagination,” he told us. Then he handed me his business card: Artesanias de Cantera Lopez, which included their Facebook address: canteraslopez.

As we drove into town, once again we saw two large trucks filled with brilliantly covered carnival rides. They seemed to be following us wherever we went.

The day was heating up. I’d gone from a down vest and long sleeve shirt to a tank top and a sun hat within an hour. In the center of town we came to a crafts market full of amazing embroidery and a lot of intricate woven straw:

straw crucifix straw stars

We wandered into a churchyard where many vendors were selling local pottery. Much of it was green and black and some had white polka dots. This was pretty typical of what was for sale:

pile of pottery

Behind the row of venders were many cypress trees and an incredible grove of old olive trees.

wide olive tree

This boy rushed up to us and offered to tell us the story of the trees. He spoke in Spanish and Suzy translated. He told us the trees had been planted in 1531 and that six of them still produced olives, but only in the month of December.

old ilive tree

Pretty soon a few other boys came over to join the action.  One of them told us that the path we were walking on was made from stones from the pyramid.

boys

After their recitation, Suzy handed each of the boys a five-peso coin, somewhere between a quarter and fifty cents. The first boy immediately palmed his as if he hadn’t gotten one and reached out his hand for more. Suzy smiled and handed him a two-peso coin. The other boys immediately did the same. Two peso coins were handed all around. When they reached out their empty hands a third time, she told them no more.

Inside the church, there was one room with pottery for sale. I fell in love with this skeleton dog and just had to have it.

ceramic dog

Those of you who followed my Scotland blog last August know that I have a propensity for purchasing beautiful things that are completely impractical to carry on the rest of my trip—or to bring home on an airplane. In Scotland, I went to a craft fair in Edinburgh and fell in love with a large four-sided, completely fragile stained glass lantern. It was my nemesis for the rest of the trip, but now it sits happily on the wood stove in our living room and brings me joy every time I see it. So how could I possibly resist this dog? He cost me $40 dollars and I have no idea how I’m going to carry him home—but I can imagine him happily squatting in our garden and I’m determined to get him there.

On our way back to the car, we saw this young man, in a beautiful painted silk shirt, walking on his knees to the church with his abuela. That was something I’d never seen before.

man kneeling2 man kneeling

Leaving Tzintzuntzan, we headed further around the lake and started looking for a place for lunch. When we passed this sign:

barbacoa

I asked Suzy what it meant. “Mmmmm….lamb tacos,” she said.

“Let’s turn around,” I said. And we did.

I’m not a frequent lamb eater, and I never eat lamb around my partner Karyn because every time I order it she starts to, “Baaaaaaaah!” So being a couple of thousand miles away from home with fellow lamb lovers was a real treat.  We ordered lamb broth and some lamb tacos. While our food was being prepared:

barbacoa restaurant

I walked across the street to take a picture of this sign because I wanted to show you an image of the types of signs I was writing about yesterday—but I was in a car then and couldn’t get a good shot.

amlo sign

When I got back to the table and showed it to Suzy and Richard, they told me that Amlo stood for Andrew Manuel Lopez Obrador, the presidential candidate of the leftist Democratic Revolutionary Party, who lost the presidential election twice.

We were discussing the election, and the controversy over whether it had been rigged, when the son brought out our food.

I had no idea what the lamb broth would be like and at first, hadn’t even want to order it because it was so hot outside, but I changed my mind with the very first bite. It was the most multi-varied, nuanced, richest soup I’ve ever eaten. It had tender chunks of lamp and a smattering of chick peas. The son brought us a tray with red and green salsa and cut up onions and cilantro—and we added those to our soup. It was so good and the moment was so perfect, I thought to myself, “I’ll never have this food again. I’ll never taste this taste again.” It was quiet inside my head for a moment and then I said, “Well I guess I’d better savor every minute of it.”

And that’s what I did. And those lamb tacos? Perfect. It was one of the most satisfying meals I’ve ever eaten.

suzy and richard

After lunch, we searched for the road that would bring us closer to the lake. The views were fantastic and we reflected on the fact that in the U.S., this whole lakeshore area would be developed with condos and private clubs.  Here, the beauty was for everyone.

lake view

Our last stop of the day was by the side of the road to buy a bag of the local fruit:

mamey

The seller offered us a taste. Suzy was right—it tasted just like pumpkin pie filling. It was creamy, rich and delicious. I’ve tasted lots of new tropical fruits in Bali, but they’re usually too sweet or strong for me, but this one was perfect.

I loved looking out the window at the lake on our way home, but my eyelids were getting heavy. It was after two and I was desperate for my siesta. I nodded out in the back of the car on the last leg back to Pátzcuaro.

I set the black and white dog on a shelf in my room and smiled at him. It had been a totally pleasurable day.

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