Thursday, September 30, 2010

Noche de Muertos 2010 - #1

More coming soon on Noche de this site.

Everywhere around Lake Pátzcuaro fields of zempasúchitl, a species of bright orange marigold, are being cultivated for Night of the Dead. Take particular note of the usage "Night" of the Dead. The rest of Mexico observes Day of the Dead and many mexicanos come to Pátzcuaro to observe the unique customs of the Purhépecha pueblos around the lake. In fact, some 95% of Pátzcuaro visitors year-round are mexicanos, which makes for a very traditional ambiance.

Common both to the town of Pátzcuaro and to the pueblos are flowers, decorations and bedizened altars during the week that precedes Noche de Muertos. However, the vigil in the cemetery of Pátzcuaro proper is held during the day, as in the rest of Mexico, while the singular vigil in the lake pueblos is held at night.

More about Night of the Dead around Lake Pátzcuaro.

Photos on Flickr of The Flowers.

Photos on Flickr of The Cemeteries.

Why not live in Patzcuaro?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Palate Pleasing Papaya

I love plump, palate-pleasing papaya and can eat this fruit in astonishing quantities. I have eaten it most of my life, except for stints in cold so-called temperate climes from which I have fled. In Pátzcuaro I can buy my ripe papaya at the street market by Plaza Chica in every month of the year and I do not have to pay a king’s ransom to end up with a greenish, unripe, tasteless fruit.

Here are some exciting facts to wade through on your way to the anecdotes following. The probable origin of the papaya is Mexico and Central America. Even though it looks like a tree, the papaya plant is classified as a large herb, Herbaceous perennial. It grows worldwide in tropical climates. Papayas are the only natural source of papain, which naturally aids digestion. It breaks down protein and cleanses the digestive track so that less food metabolizes as fat.


Papayas are rich in vitamin C, folate, and potassium, as well as providing fiber, vitamin A, vitamin E, the eye-saving carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, and lycopene. For nutritional value, papayas rank in the top three fruits. They have 13 times more vitamin C and more than 2 times the potassium of apples; they have 4 times more vitamin E than both apples and oranges. All that and it tastes good, too.

Did you know that papain is the tenderizing ingredient in Adolph’s meat tenderizer? Check the label in a store somewhere sometime. In Tahiti we used to use the papaya leaf to tenderize a tough cut of meat. We would buy “steaks” and wrap each one in a washed papaya leaf. We then placed the packets in the refrigerator overnight and the next day, voilà, we had tender steaks instead of having to attack the slabs with our machetes. If we left the meat in the leaves for a second day, I accidentally found out that it had begun to predigest—rather slimy and not at all appetizing.

See full size image

On a holiday week-end, when we had more time off from work, we would hike two hours past the end of the road on Tahiti-Iti (the little part of the island’s figure 8) and camp by a river and waterfall. There we would spear fish and grill them on coral heated in a wood fire. Once a hapless feral chicken showed itself and it was hunted down with a fishing spear-gun. It was a tough, wiry bird, before and after its untimely demise. I shinnied up the trunk of a papaya “tree” and picked several green papayas. We peeled and seeded them and cut them up like squash. We simmered the chicken with chopped onions and garlic which we had brought, and the green papaya. The papaya tasted like squash and it tenderized the chicken beautifully. Healthy and tasty over rice.

When my children were infants, to introduce fruit with vitamin A and C into their diet, I would scrape the papaya flesh with a spoon and feed the resulting purée to them. Much less acid than orange juice, babies can have papaya when they are tiny. They digest it well and it is very good for them.

In Patzcuaro I eat papaya almost every morning (I confess that I do like variety from time to time). I am so spoiled. Maybe ripe, voluptuous mangos mañana…

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Driving Gringa & Sola

Practical travel information always seems to be of interest to those contemplating a driving trip. A female friend made the following driving trip by herself in August, Patzcuaro-Tucson-Patzcuaro. With her permission, I publish the following:

Sent: Tuesday, August 17, 2010 7:56:46 PM
Subject: Driving Gringa and Sola

   chihuahua hwy

  Lest you have been fearful of driving from the central area of Mexico and Tucson, I want everyone to know I just did this trip. I drove from Patzcuaro to Tucson, up what I call the middle road. The route encompasses Morelia, Leon, Aguascalientes, Zacatecas, Torreon/Gomez Palacio, Chihuahua, Nuevas Casas Grandes, Agua Prieta and on to Tucson via Bisbee and Tombstone. The pavement is fine along the way with minor blemishes in the blacktop between Nuevas Casas Grandes and the border. The scenery is gorgeous, and the tolls are reasonable (more so than other routes north).
     Going north, the biggest delay was at a Mexican military stop, 10 minutes south of Agua Prieta. We waited nearly an hour, amongst lots of semi trucks with no car lane. That was okay as far as I was concerned because I am a birder and it was nice to have time to watch bird activity as we inched along the road. The
gendarmes were most polite and waved me on with "have a safe trip". I also handed them a package of shortbread cookies that I had on hand. In case you are
wondering, they were not concerned about my living in Michoacan, the supposed home of La Familia.
     Coming back, the biggest hassle I experienced was on the US side of Agua Prieta. The US Border Patrol combed through my car, asked me if I was carrying arms or $10,000 or more in USD, and why I had Texas plates if I lived in Patzcuaro. Again, I was okay with this process, because, after all, someone is providing the narcos with arms and I didn't want to be treated any differently than anyone else driving this route.

agua prieta map

     I was stopped at both Aduana's (Mexican Customs). One stop was at the border; the other was near the confluence of traffic from Cuidad Juarez and Agua Prieta. My vehicle was pretty full with condiments I cannot buy here, a power washer for cleaning tiles on my steps, a new laptop for a friend, a case of hummingbird feeders for the Patzcuaro Birding Club, and 30 pairs of binoculars for the Audubon Society located in San Miguel. After minor questions at the first stop, I was passed on with friendly wishes for a safe trip. At the second Aduana, I had to produce my permiso for the car, which is in my husband's name. They asked
me to pull over for further questioning by a higher official. Rather than have everything in my car examined, I told them that I was transporting 30 binoculars for educational purposes by SMA Audubon. I had three letters attesting to this. One officer read the letter from the Mexican Dept of Ecology out loud while the other opened a box of binoculars and looked through them. They promptly allowed me to pass on, didn't want these documents, and bid me a safe journey.
Mind you, my Spanish is fair to middling so my easy passage wasn't due to fluency.
     I am not saying that everyone's experience will be like mine; however, I have never had problems with my trips to Tucson or McAllen. All Mexican officials have been polite and professional.
Courtesy of ”G.C. on Lake Patzcuaro, Michoacan”