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