“ I am trying to make my guests feel as though they are in my house,” said Esperanza smiling warmly, “what you are going to taste is real Mexican food, cooked and served slowly.”
As she cooked lunch for our group she taught about the heritage of cooking in her village of Zacan, Mexico; grinding different colours of corn to make the flour, kneading dough on stone, forming and gently baking tortillas over wood heat. Lunch was served on locally made red clay plates, as we dined in her outdoor garden café. The meal was prepared with care and the flavours were exceptional.
Our international group was travelling the Don Vasco Route of in the Michoacán state of Mexico. Inland from white sandy beaches, we visited small towns and villages wrapped around highland lakes, four hours by road from Mexico City. Here, life is still much as it has always been. Red and white adobe homes, dusty streets, Purépecha women in colourful indigenous dress, men riding horses, and bustling markets can be seen in every town. This area is a World Heritage Site for culture, nature, gastronomy, heritage and music, and Mexican government tourism funding is helping develop local businesses so families can earn a living in their villages while preserving their culture.
The Don Vasco Route honours a Catholic Bishop sent by the Spanish in 1538 to smooth relations with indigenous Purépecha. Wisely, he worked cooperatively with the tribes of the area, strengthening communities and encouraging each village to specialize in one trade, creating commerce and harmony. He is honoured with statues in many villages. The Magical Villages of Mexico, they are called and we discovered that it was the people that create the magic, by welcoming travellers into their homes and workshops.
As the sun set on Morelia, soft lights glowed in a city built in pink stone displaying Spanish colonial splendor. Families strolled in the town square past the majestic cathedral, stopping to buy balloons for their children. Walking the cobbled streets we happened on music and dance, and were tempted by the spicy aromas of a new found cuisine.
From Morelia, we left to visit lakeside villages; to see arts and crafts, visit archeological sites and markets, hear music, see dance, and taste the traditional food of the area, while meeting many special people. Each town has become a postcard in my memory and here are a few:
Santa Clara Del Cobre is a town of skilled metal crafters, known for their copper work. A rhythmic four beat sound pulsed through the town and as we drove up to The Casa Felicitas Gallery and Studio, where craftsmen helped us experience copper making. Sparks flew as four of us took turns at synchronized pounding the molten copper sheet with heavy hammers, forming a sheet. Now I understood with my tired hands how much work went into the making of each pot and I bought three to shine in my Canadian kitchen.
Paracho is known for the making of musical instruments and handmade wooden toys. Many shops line the streets with displays of instruments of all types, and we visited a museum showcasing exceptional guitars. In a closet sized studio we watched an aging local guitar master work his magic with wood. Musicians from around the world come here to buy instruments.
Angahuan is a town in a vast green valley surrounded by mountains. Outside town in the distance we saw a lava field, resulting from the eruption of the Volcano Paricutin that buried an evacuated town in 1943. Rising above the lava is the front and back wall of a large cathedral. We travelled by horseback through forests and hiked through the lava to the sacred cathedral. The beauty of this place is enough to bring the unfaithful to their knees and speaks of the strength of the ancient buildings.
Santa Fe de la Laguna is a Purépecha village known for pottery making where we visited Maestro Nicholas Fabian Fermin, a master potter who along with his wife and two daughters run a shop studio in their home. Nicholas put a ball of clay in my hands and helped me to form a fish. He spoke with passion about teaching visitors the skill of traditional Mexican pottery, and how proud he is to continue make pottery in the tradition of his ancestors.
“Go home and tell others to visit our villages,” he said with passion and hope.
I promised him I would, and left his home full of hope for the future of a special area of Mexico where the people are stepping into the future, proudly holding onto their past.
If you Go
Arriving: American Airlines flies from Toronto to Morelia, Mexico. www.aa.com
This area could be toured by rental car, or local bus. Tours are also available, such as www.mex-ecotours.com
Accomodation is available for those on every budget, but here are two special places to stay.
Morelia: Hotel Virrey de Mendoza: a grand hotel in a Spanish colonial building, in the centre of the historical district. www.hotelvirrey.com
Tzintzunzan: Hacienda Ucazanaztacua: a small boutique hotel with a stunning setting on the shore of Lake Pátzcuaro. This gem is built by local artisans of adobe, and furnished with local handcrafts. www.haciendaucazanaztacua.com
Morelia: Restaurant Lu: at the Hotel Casino, Chef Soto Lucero serves meals using pre- Hispanic ingredients served in modern presentation. She explains the significance of each herb and ingredient, making a meal a cultural feast. www.lucocinamichoacana.mx
Zacan: Esperanza’s Traditional Cuisine - ask in the street as there is no website for this small but excellent eatery. She will serve an unforgettable multicourse lunch for $10.00
www.rutadonvasco.com.mx.en – gives full information and maps of this route.
www.theroutesofMexico.com gives a description and map of the Don Vasco Route and other suggested travel routes in Mexico.
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Jan FeduckI have travelled to over 40 countries since I was 20 years of age, all on small change. Learning about people, ways of life, the landscape and wilderness of each country is what fascinates me. In my writing I try to inspire others to step out and discover their world creatively. Recently I have discovered visiting places to experience the history in clothing of the past. Adventures are to be had at any age or stage of life. "It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves" Sir Edmund Hillary.
Located: Elora Canada
Likes: World Travels ( budget travel in out of the way places) Travel in History's Clothing, Adventure Travel, hiking, cycling. Volunteer travel