Monday, November 3, 2008

Yunuen - An Island of Lake Patzcuaro

We head to Yunuen.

Marigold Madness
These two must have been sniffing them.
Wild orchids everywhere.

The cabins beckon.

Lovely Alicia.

We head home at dusk.

We had long wanted to visit the island of Yunuen, and recently picked a day to go. Serendipitously, we had recently met Alma Arias Navarrete. We discovered that she knows a family on the island and has formed the newly fledged Amigos de Yunuén, to assist the Yunuenses in promoting visits. She invited us to make our visit with her.

We leave Pátzcuaro by car through Tzurumútaro, by-passing Cucuchucho. I love this Purhépecha name meaning place of flowers--the syllables drop out of my mouth like ping-pong balls. Now get ready for oral gymnastics. Just beyond Yucazanáztacua (you will be relieved at "Yucas" for short), we turn lakeward at the Pacanda muelle.

Don Chava is our greeter lakeside, and Ivan, son of Alfredo and Alicia, motor-canoes us over. We meet four generations of Alfredo's family, from his father down to his grandchildren. Many Yunuen dwellers have left the island to find work and the remaining population is small. There are five families left, for a total of some forty-five residents.

The island is neat and orderly, and verdant with vegetation. I see not one dog or cat, but there are children, chickens, and carnitas on the hoof. We romp through an inviting field of pungent-smelling zempasúchitl, the untamed three-foot marigolds that the islanders have cultivated for Night of the Dead.

Alfredo walks us through trees and wild orchids to a high point where five cabins have been built. They stand silent, clean and empty, begging for visitors. They have small bedrooms and neat kitchens, and overlook the placid lake.

We have come in the latter part of the afternoon, to see the fabled egrets return to their rookery as evening approaches. Only Yunuen island hosts these snowy-white birds of Purhépecha legend. Alfredo tells us of large snakes with rings of black, white and red that grow plump on eggs and fallen fledglings. They do not kill the snakes, he says, contrary to what we know to be the practice in most of the pueblos of the area. The snakes are harmless, Alfredo continues. They just wind along through bushes and reeds, looking for breakfast.

We wait for Alfredo to have his usual evening meal consisting primarily of fried fish, hand-made tortillas and fierce chile perón salsa. Alicia is embarrassed and offers us food, but we smile and only accept one tortilla. The family did not know we were coming, and anything we eat will be taken from someone's mouth. Alfredo's father and the families of their sons and daughter, which include spouses and children, gather with Alfredo and Alicia for meals. It looks to us like there is one fish per family member in the pile.

At dusk, we glide over the water, past the egrets, and back to the muelle, as we watch the sun drop down through rosy skies to rest behind Janitzio island.

Yunuen is a tranquil place to visit. We think it suits visitors interested in nature and that it is a good place to bird

Monday, October 27, 2008

Patzcuaro: Four-Wheeler for Sale

Here is a good way to go Patzcuareando. Glen is selling (NOW SOLD) his Yamaha Four-Wheeler (su cuatrimoto). It is great to zip around town and easy to park.

Specs: Yamaha YFM250 2005. It cost Pesos $51,500.00 new and has been gently and seldomly used to run errands around the Centro. Price Pesos $35,000, or make offer.

Glen is available to show it this week. Contact glen.novinger {at} gmail (dot) com.

Friday, October 24, 2008

My Patzcuaro Dream Ladder

Last week the Friends of the Library (Biblioteca Federal Pública Gertrudis Bocanegra) in Pátzcuaro held a fund-raising Gala at Susana Santiago's Mistongo Restaurant (the menu includes great Argentine Churrasco Chimichurri and Empanadas de Carne, by the way).

The botanas were delicious, the company good and the music moved the participants to dance.

A plethora of fine raffle prizes were donated. Our guests each won a prize and so did we.

We were lucky enough to share in our guests' seven dozen home-baked, rich cookies from the good kitchen of Donna C., the Cookie Chef. They were so tempting that we got into them before it occurred to me to photograph the lovely presentation. Too late.

The Dream Ladder has history. It is an actual ladder used on a local construction site and Pátzcuaro painter Jean A. enriched it with symbols and artistic motifs. It now adorns on our wall at La Jacaranda. I can clamber up it to a higher plane for sweet dreams.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Dia de la Raza

Something is always happening around the trio of plazas in the centro of Patzcuaro. Yesterday around 6:00 pm there was a parade of balloon-festooned vehicles--which must have included every taxi in town. Lots of horns and people having fun. Of course, it made it impossible to drive into the Centro. We intended to go in by car, rather than walk, for the Gala of the Friends of the Library, because we would be returning home "late" (by our and Patzcuaro norms)--after 8:00 pm. So we took a detour, and parked far enough away from our destination that we should have walked in the first place.

A good time was had by all.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Creepy Crawly

At the Eduardo Ruiz National Park in Uruapan, we saw this interesting caterpillar. The park is full of running water, ferns and lush vegetation. This animalito looks as if it has sprouted its own garden on its back. The coin is about the size of a U.S. nickel.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Chicken Foot Soup: Caldo de Pies

At the Buffet Regional on Avenida Camelinas in Morelia, we dined on a picturesque soup. (The buffet featured many other items, in case this did not strike your fancy.)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Title Insurance in Patzcuaro

Three years ago, I could not find a title company operating in the State of Michoacán, where the colonial pueblo of Patzcuaro is located. In fact, title insurance is not commonly used in Mexico. Therefore I embarked on a practical project to make title insurance available for our real estate purchases here. At a seminar I had attended in Austin, Texas, I took note when a lawyer who practices in both the United States and Mexico stated that First American Title Insurance issues policies for Mexico. Subsequently, I obtained the name of another possible company. After some internet sleuthing and phone calls to both U.S. and Mexico offices, I decided to work with First American’s head office in Florida for Mexico, Latin American & The Caribbean. They employ knowledgeable bilingual attorneys who come from many countries in the Americas.

The first step was to find a local lawyer/Notario in Pátzcuaro who would be willing to make application to First American Title for approval to do title searches for them in Michoacán; at that time no one in the state had such approval. Arquitecto Luís Stamatio López, a friend with whom we do business in Pátzcuaro, helped me explore local prospects. Although the first few inquiries did not elicit a positive response, Licenciado Ignacio Sandoval Hernández of the Notaría Pública No. 90 in Pátzcuaro indicated his interest and willingness to go through the process. He became the first—and to my knowledge the only—Notario in Michoacán who is approved to do title searches for First American Title.
Being a pragmatic person, I like to see theory applied. My husband and I had purchased and closed on some contiguous properties in the historic center of Pátzcuaro. To test our system, we applied and paid for a single title insurance policy covering the parcels purchased. Lic. Sandoval issued his title opinion in the format required by First American Title, who requested a few documents. Arq. Stamatio and Lic. Sandoval assisted us to obtain these and in 2007 we received the first Title Insurance Policy from First American Title issued for a property in this area. It is in English and payable in U.S. dollars in the United States (Spanish, Pesos and Mexico, respectively, are options). This trial run was not difficult, but it was time-consuming for me to follow up on details to obtain this first policy.

To reconfirm the process, this year (2008) we again applied for and First American Title issued to us a title insurance policy for another property on which we had closed. It gives us satisfaction to know that we hold clear and insured title on our properties and that, should we wish to sell one of them in the future, we can do so with no problems in the chain of title for the buyer.

Arquitecto Stamatio, owner-manager of Re/Max 11 Patios and Licenciado Sandoval, both of Patzcuaro, make a good team for someone desiring to purchase title insurance for a Michoacan property.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Juan O'Gorman Mural

Juan O'Gorman painted a magnificent mural in the colonial pueblo of Pátzcuaro, Michoacán, Mexico. This monumental work of art depicts the history of Michoacán from the Purhépecha creation story to the Revolution.

You can now enjoy the mural online from the comfort of your chair, wherever you may be. See this study that interprets O'Gorman's creation using text as well as photos that zoom in to show details.

Click on link: Live in Patzcuaro

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Rain Concert

Ismael García Marcelino, Purhépecha Poet
Born in Ihuatzio, Michoacán, 1964
Professor for UNAM through the Universidad Michoacana

Tata janikua
jási kúskakueni ka
xánku ia,
ménku ísi aunatani
kústatarasiinti charani ka pirirastani.
Antatseransinti diósi meiamukua íntspentani.
Jiánkani tarheta ka
anatapuecha pasak’usinti.

For the rain it is not enough
To play good music and no more.
It shakes the sky with lightning and thunder.
It bows down to the fields
To give thanks.
The maize fields and trees applaud.

La lluvia no se conforma
con ser buena música y nomás,
hace cimbrar el cielo con rayos y con truenos.
Baja hasta el campo
para dar las gracias.
Las milpas y los árboles aplauden.

5 August 2008, La Jornada, Carlos Montemayor
Spanish to English translation - Tracy Novinger

Click on link: Live in Patzcuaro

Friday, July 25, 2008

Arty Michoacán

Twice a year, for Semana Santa and Noche de Muertos, artisans from all over Michoacán display their wares around the perimeter of the main plaza in Pátzcuaro. Photo taken on Plaza Vasco de Quiroga. (T. Novinger)

Gente, Pátzcuaro has been discovered by the New York Times.

The bulk of the New York Times Article is as follows:

Move Over Oaxaca, Arty Michoacán Is Calling

Published: July 20, 2008

It all started with an enormous green ceramic pineapple. Seconds after it caught my eye in the Museo de Arte Popular in Mexico City, I began to covet it. The label revealed that the piece had been made in Michoacán, a Mexican state along the southwest coast. Oddly enough, over the next hour, almost every time an especially fantastic object caught my attention, the provenance on the label was always the same: Michoacán.

By the time I left the museum’s overpriced gift shop, I had it all mapped out: a crafts safari though the region, foraging for the fanciful animal masks and brightly painted mermaid figurines that caught my eye.
There was one little snag: Michoacán is not only one of

Mexico’s premier crafts centers; until recently, it was also home to some of Mexico’s most notorious drug kingpins. Less than a decade ago, its coastal highway was nicknamed Bandito Alley, and the region was overrun with marijuana fields and methamphetamine labs.

But in December 2006, just days after President Felipe Calderón was sworn into office, the government launched Operation Michoacán, sending convoys of troops to bulldoze marijuana fields and chase out gangsters and drug dealers. Drug-related violence has fallen in the last year and despite occasional flare-ups — which have been confined to gang-on-gang violence and government crackdowns — Michoacán is beginning to attract visitors besides backpackers and serious collectors.

A new highway, 37, through Michoacán has also helped, enabling travelers from beach towns like Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo to zip up to the charming colonial center of Michoacán in less than three hours. It used to take as much as eight.

A few months after Operation Michoacán was put into action, my husband, Carsten, and I drove west from Mexico City into Michoacán without incident. The only ambush was the orange-and-black clouds of monarch butterflies, fluttering above our windshield. (In March, the butterflies migrate north across Michoacán’s rolling green hills to lay eggs on the milkweed plants of the United States.) And the only indication of a lingering drug problem was a few soldiers patrolling the highway.

But what is a safari without a little adventure? The region has a reputation for a rebellious citizenry, as well as its wildly natural beauty.
The original inhabitants, the Purépecha Indians, were thought to have developed one of the most advanced pre-Columbian societies in western Mexico. Their achievements included unique T-shaped pyramids and tapestries made from hummingbird feathers. While they succeeded in fending off numerous invaders, including the mighty Aztecs, they were eventually conquered (and almost wiped out) by Spanish rifles and the famously brutal Nuño de Guzmán in the 16th century.

An ideal place to be based is Pátzcuaro, a colonial town set above a large blue lake in central Michoacán. Unlike the endless sprawl that surrounds most Mexican cities, the streets leading to Pátzcuaro are hedged by pine trees and old adobes.

While its colonial architecture hasn’t changed much since the 16th century, its residents have. In the last decade, American retirees have swooped into town and turned its historic center into a booming expat community.
Michoacán is “an undiscovered Oaxaca,” said Victoria Ryan, a 62-year-old artist who arrived from New Mexico in 1992 and now runs an upscale B & B named Casa Encantada with her partner, Cynthia de la Rosa. “I felt like I arrived in Sante Fe in the 1940s.”

Down the street from Casa Encantada is Plaza Don Vasco de Quiroga, a small grassy park with towering ash trees and a stone arcade filled with craft shops and cafes. The square was named after a 16th-century bishop, Vasco de Quiroga, who might be called the patron saint of Michoacán crafts-making

Photo taken in Santa Clara del Cobre. (T. Novinger)

A student of Sir Thomas More’s “Utopia,” Quiroga gathered the ravaged Purépecha Indians into several villages around Lake Pátzcuaro, and encouraged each to adopt a specific craft as a means to survival and self-governance. His utopian vision lives on 400 years later: the village of Santa Clara del Cobre is renowned for its copper products, Capula for its rust-colored pottery and Ihuatzio for its woven baskets and mats.
On the cool evening we arrived in Pátzcuaro, the quiet streets were lined with rickety food carts and whitewashed adobes with red tile roofs and matching base trim. It felt like we were walking through a sepia-toned photograph.

For dinner, we ended up at Plaza Chica, a lively square with a packed taco stand where we feasted on soft tortillas filled with spicy beef, onions and cilantro. Along with glasses of horchata, a cinnamon-spiked rice drink, our sidewalk banquet came to less than 20 pesos — under $2 at 10.5 pesos to the dollar.

The next morning, Kevin Quigley, a guide we had hired, was waiting outside the hotel in a beat-up gray van. A 58-year-old expatriate from San Francisco, Mr. Quigley has been offering crafts tours of Michoacán to tourists and professional buyers for 20 years. The plan was to drive to the village of Capula, known for its colorful ceramics. Actually, we were heading to the home and workshop of Juan Torres, one of Michoacán’s best-known artists.

After bumping along a narrow road that wove past fields of tall grass and wildflowers, we pulled up to an adobe-and-glass complex atop a hill covered with cactuses, blooming trees and gigantic copper sculptures. Mr. Torres, a rugged man in his 60s with a graying mustache, greeted us in the driveway and invited us in.

The house itself was a work of art: the front stoop was a mosaic of cow knuckle bones, and a claw-foot bathtub was surrounded by boulders and ferns. Oversized Day of the Dead-themed paintings, a series he was doing for the Universal Culture Forum in Monterrey, were piled up in his airy studio.

Next, we made our way to the ceramic workshop, where Mr. Torres and his wife, Belia Canals Henríquez, produce and sell their colorful Catrinas, which depict elegantly dressed women as skeletons. For about $100, I couldn’t resist taking a foot-tall Catrina home, carefully wrapped in newspaper like a mummy.

Later that afternoon, Mr. Quigley informed me that my coveted green ceramic pineapples, the inspiration of my trip, were made in San José de Gracia, a small village about two hours north of Pátzcuaro. It would have required a half a day and, unfortunately, we didn’t have time; I had plans to continue to the coast.

So the following day, we drove instead to Santa Clara de Cobre, the copper-making village, about 30 minutes to the south. The atelier-lined streets of this quaint town flashed with glittering copper pans, decorative sinks and enormous cauldrons, like the kind witches use in fairy tales.

We wandered into the small showroom of Ignacio Punzo Angel, where about 10 copper and silver vases were on display, ranging in price from several hundred to several thousand dollars. Mr. Angel was behind the counter. I asked a simple question about the work, and it inspired an hourlong conversation about being a metalsmith.

He took us behind the shop to his workshop — complete with open fire, bellows and sledgehammers — and showed us his latest creation: a gorgeous Art Deco-style silver vase that reminded me of a Jean Arp sculpture. It was so spectacular that for a moment I forgot all about green pineapples...

Thursday, July 24, 2008

One Visitor's Appreciation

Read on a Travelpod post:

"The next few days were filled with the incredible quality art and culture of the area... [Patzcuaro] is one of the typical most beautiful towns of America. Its magnificent constructions of adobe and tile, monumental temples, and the spectacular Vasco de Quiroga Square converts it into one of the main tourist centers of the Mexican Republic."

Pátzcuaro is, in fact, one of Mexico's better kept secrets--a real gem to discover. I greatly appreciate this traveler's appreciation of our mountain pueblo. Nice photos, as well.

Click on link: Live in Patzcuaro

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Graduation Photos on Plaza Grande

11 July 2008 was an important day in Pátzcuaro. The trio of plazas in the center of town were buzzing with more activity than usual. Men and boys in suits and ties and women and girls dressed in their best clothes decorated the streets. Restaurants and hotels were full. Special celebrations were held at the Basílica, watched over by Nuestra Señora de la Salud, patron of health and of Pátzcuaro. Commemorative photos were taken on the Plaza Grande.
It was graduation day for CONALEP, the Colegio Nacional de Educación Profesional Técnica. Founded in 1978 by presidential decree, the school provides technical education and training to students of high school age.
Congratulations to the Class of 2008.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Michoacan Topography Maps

Today a group of three from Patzcuaro drove to Morelia to buy topographical maps of the Patzcuaro region and environs We visited the Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografia (INEGI). The office was inviting, we received very attentive and pleasant assistance, and we each purchased several interesting maps which we will use for wandering, hiking and birding. One look at the relief map pictured above will explain why we were interested in topo maps.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Quiroga: Fiesta of Christ's Precious Blood

6 July 2008

On the first Sunday of July, the busy and commercial little town of Quiroga celebrates its patron with the Fiesta de la Sangre Preciosa. The red in the decorations represents the blood. The town spilled over with people.

We ate at the Rey de las Carnitas. One orders the fork-tender pork by weight and by cut. The rib-meat is moist and falls off the bone.

We left around 4:30 pm after our afternoon comida when the festivities were revving up into high gear.

See this list of Festivals and Events of the Patzcuaro Region.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Digital Kids in Pátzcuaro

Free Computer Classes at Biblioteca Pública Federal Gertrudis Bocanegra, Pátzcuaro ( Pátzcuaro, 3 July 2008)

The Biblioteca (Library) in Pátzcuaro is a rich resource for students. Modest in mien and big in digital talent, the Biblioteca's knowledgeable techie, Hilario Martinez Onofre, teaches summer computer classes to a group of eight- to twelve-year-olds.

Hilario won a 2008 prize for his Módulo de Servicios Digitales de la Biblioteca Pública Gertrudis Bocanegra. He placed first in the State of Michoacán and third at national level in Mexico.

The library is a rich Pátzcuaro resource: It houses an acclaimed Juan O'Gorman mural, has a bank of modern computers with Windows XP and internet access (yes, you can check your e-mail here for a modest cost), and to generate income for the purchase of books and supplies, the library sells a bi-lingual brochure interpreting the mural, a CD with interpretation and photos of the mural, DVDs with photos of Noche de Muertos/Night of the Dead and much more.

The Directora/Librarian, Maestra Gloria Blancas López has dedicated virtually her whole professional life to the library and to students in Pátzcuaro. She has instituted programs to teach young people subjects from computer skills to the arts and crafts that represent the heritage of this region rich in Purhépecha tradition.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Brass Quintet Performs in Pátzcuaro

Metales M5 performed in Pátzcuaro Friday evening, 4 July 2008

The newly formed Asociación Civil Pátzcuaro Cultura scheduled an opening performance at Casa del Refugio, Plaza Gertrudis Bocanegra (Plaza Chica). These superb musicians orchestrated an entertaining, humorous, talented performance--a delightful sampler of the versatility of brass instruments. It was a most enjoyable musical performance. More, please.

I am having just too much fun.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Monday, June 30, 2008

Birding in Pátzcuaro

El Jilguero - The endemic Brown-Backed Solitaire of plaintive song that, for me, evokes Pátzcuaro.

We have long been interested birding and because of some fortuitous circumstances and good birding, I have decided to systematize and record our birding activities in Michoacan in one place:

This Pátzcuaro birding weblog includes a checklist of the birds to be found in this region and will include posts on what birds we find, where we find them, and other birding information.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

We are back Patzcuareando...

Our plane arrives over two hours late at the Morelia airport and at 10:00 PM we start the drive to Pátzcuaro in light rain. We arrive at La Jacaranda and when we unlock and open our portón the myriad and tiny blossoms of the huele-de-noche (Night Jessamine - Cestrum nocturnum) that stands as a tall sentinel just inside the gate drench us in their heavy perfume. Scents act upon a primitive part of the brain to conjure up vivid visions, emotions and memories. This exotic night scent is the perfect welcome back.
We sleep heavily and awake in the morning to fresh temperatures of 58F outside and 68F inside in this high mountain climate.We breakfast at El Patio on the Plaza Grande--a tradition when we arrive and have yet to reprovision our kitchen with fresh produce. The owners of El Patio, as always, greet us warmly. We enjoy many familiar faces.

Then we go to purchase the bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables available in this region. Eggs are sold loose and by weight. I forgot to bring my egg carton to transport them and so carry them gingerly.

After the afternoon comida I walk to Ribepan in the Centro. I float through a cloud of rich aromas to select freshly baked breads.
That is all for today, folks.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

A Fine Spring Day in Patzcuaro

It was a good day to stroll to and around Plaza Vasco de Quiroga (Plaza Grande) in Patzcuaro. The temperature was perfect to lunch in the courtyard at Cha Cha Cha and listen to the fountain prattle. Then it was time for an after-comida coffee at Liliane's, to watch all the people see and be seen.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Calling a Cell Phone Number in Mexico

Do you want to call someone with a Mexico cell phone number? This may not be for the faint of heart. Here goes:

From the U.S.
To a cell phone in Mexico, you must insert a "1" between the country code and the area (lada) code:

In Mexico

From a land line phone to a cell phone with a different area code:
Dial 045 before the area code and number - 045-888-888-8888

From a land line phone to a cell phone with the same area code:
Dial 044 before the area code and number - 044-888-888-8888

From cell phone to cell phone:
Simply dial the area code and number - 888-888-8888

Telephone numbers are usually broken into two-digit segments in Mexico. The U.S. convention of 434-342-8888 would be expressed as 43-43-42-88-88, but sometimes as 434-3-42-88-88. The different style of breaking up the numbers equally confuses persons from both sides of the Rio Bravo/Rio Grande.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Patzcuaro: Good Friday / Viernes Santo

Plaza de la Basílica, Patzcuaro
Semana Santa / Holy Week

In the evening on Good Friday, in various neighborhoods of the high mountain pueblo of Pátzcuaro, people participate in and watch the solemn processions of the Crucified Christ.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Purhepecha Corn with Piloncillo

Semana Santa / Holy Week
Plazuela San Francisco, Patzcuaro

The Plazuela de San Francisco is blanketed with the smoke of fires in the late afternoon and evening. Purhepecha women cook tamales and corn with piloncillo (a coarse, flavorful brown sugar) until the corn kernels are plump and tender--the corn is tasty despite its formidable appearance.

Judas in Patzcuaro

Semana Santa / Holy Week
On the Plazuela San Francisco, Patzcuaro
When we went to a reception to see the magnificent woodcut prints by Maestro Francisco Oñate, we were greeted at the door of Zócalo Arte Popular by this giant Judas figure. Next Sunday night, after the Easter Resurrection of Sunday morning, there will be a "celebration" on this plaza--the burning of Judas figures.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Friday of Sorrows - Viernes de Dolores

Our Lady of Sorrows, Nuestra Señora de los Dolores, is celebrated with processions, masses and altars on the final Friday of Lent, just a week before the Crucifixion of Christ on Viernes Santo. This Feast Day is a prelude to Holy Week, and honors the Mother of Christ in her anguish over the Crucifixion. In Patzcuaro a number of altars were built in homes and in businesses around the three plazas in the Centro to condole with Our Lady of Sorrows. Host households open their doors to share their altars and serve special refreshments to all who visit on the Friday of Sorrows. The altars remain on display during all of Holy Week/Semana Santa.

We walked from place to place to visit the altars, and were offered a sweet beverage made from chia seeds. This liquid represents the tears of the Virgin Mary and its sweetness represents her love and compassion.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Tu or Usted?

People often wonder just when they should use tu and when they should use Usted to address a person as “you” in Mexico. For an explanation, see

Friday, February 1, 2008

On Cultural Time

© Tracy Novinger 2008

American culture teaches its members to “save time”... In Mexico one “spends” time…

Go to

Friday, January 25, 2008

Lift Off

This morning, very early, we fly to Austin.