Monday, April 25, 2011

Patzcuaro Hotels and The Ruins of Zintzuntzan

Patzcuaro Hotels and The Ruins of Zintzuntzan

     The town of Patzcuaro can take you back 300 years to the Spanish colonial era. If it were horses instead of automobiles chugging down the narrow cobble streets you would think that you were in New Spain in the 17th Century. Cars do clog the streets, however, and too many according to some local people who find the afternoon rush hour annoying. Combis, the shared taxis, make up a good portion of those cars and they go everywhere; they are a good resource, however, for the budget traveler.

     I arrived in the old plaza, the Central Plaza Viejo, (not called the zocalo in Patzcuaro) and started my search for a hotel. A big old posada (Inn) squats on one corner of the plaza and I went in to have a look. It sure was a great old building but a little too old for me although the price for a room at 150 pesos or12.00 USD was attractive and the rooms were adequate. I wanted WiFi so I moved on to look at three more hotels on the plaza.

Patzcuaro Hotel Casa del Refugio
dining room
      The Casa del Refugio caught my eye because it is a beautiful hotel in an 18th Century building facing the plaza and it is only in its fifth year as a hotel. The manager offered a special price on the rooms so I asked to see a few and she escorted me to the second floor for a look. Double bed, large bathroom, TV with cable, ventilator, a beautiful restaurant on the first floor by a huge fireplace, and in-room WiFi; it was spotlessly clean and elegant with rich carved wood doors, historic artwork on the walls, and warm brown tile floors; I booked two nights.

      Once settled, I walked the town and found it easy on pedestrians. I toured the buildings fronting the new and old plazas, a block from one another in the center of Patzcuaro. A plaza-side restaurant beneath the portales on the new plaza offered a blackboard-announced, comida corrida, a fixed price, several course meal of the day. That afternoon it was a fish dinner for 70 pesos: (5.90 USD) soup, fillet of Dorado, rice, vegetables, desert, and coffee.

      After dinner I hunted for a cab driver who might give me a private tour in the morning. I met an amiable driver who could pick me up at my hotel at ten in the morning. He would charge 150 pesos per hour. He did not speak English but I looked at this as a chance to practice Spanish, which one must do continually to make any headway towards fluency.

        Usually when I visit a town or city new to me, I hire a cab driver for 1-3 hours to get an overview of the area, to learn about the local culture, and to find places that might not be on the tourist track. The cabdrivers all over Mexico charge between 100 and 200 pesos per hour. This is a good bargain usually, because you have flexibility. You might be able to book a tour with a tourist agency for less so it is good practice to visit a travel or tour agency in downtown to asses the options.

      The cab driver turned out to be a resourceful guy who knew the city after 20 years living there while he raised three sons. Of course he had his own notions of what I should see and his priorities didn't always resonate with mine. After one lengthy stop in front of an ugly old industrial building with him not understanding why I didn't jump out to snap photos, I learned that it was the technical school that his son had attended and he had left a ton of loot with that building over three years.  To him it was the most important shrine in town.
     When hiring a cab for a tour it is helpful if you have done some prior research and have a few target locations.

     We arrived at the Ihuatzio Ruin Site only to find the gate locked. I was ready to hop the fence but the cab driver said, "No problem," as he went down the street to find the guy with the key. I soon had the ruin to myself.

      We next visited several churches and I realized that except for a few hilly streets, Patzcuaro is easily walkable.

Patzcuaro and the Ruin of Tzintzuntzan near lake Patzcuaro

 The following day I caught a combi out to lake Patzcuaro and the ruin of Tzintzuntzan. This involved a combi to a stop called station and then a small bus to the town of Tzintzuntzan.

     While I looked at a 1000-year-old tea service in the Tzintzuntzan museum I was reminded of the elongated necks and spouts of Song Dynasty ceramics. The museum displays some elegant ceramic vessels that demonstrate well-advanced technique by the Tarascan ceramists.
     The name Tarascan is actually a misnomer tacked onto the local Perepecha speakers by the Spanish colonists.  Researchers believe that the Tarascan may have immigrated from South America due to similarities in pottery styles and in the language spoken by the Tarascans. The local Perepecha is similar to a Quechua language of South America. The ceramic and metal work of the Tarascans was unique in Mexico and the area today is still noted for the fine ceramic work of the local artisans.

     The ruins also demonstrate a link to distant areas. They are unique structures in Mesoamerica, round on the side that faces the lake and rectangular on the opposite side where a stairway leads to the top of the platforms. There are no other buildings like them in Mexico and researchers believe that Tzintzuntzan had been a ritual center of the Tarascan people during the post classic apex of their reign in West Central Mexico.
     The Tarascans, I learned, flourished from 1100 AD to 1530AD and had resisted an Aztec invasion in the 1400s. They remained free while most other cultures in Mexico became tribute-paying subjects of Aztec rule.

     The Tarascans could not hold out against the Spanish, however. The conquerors of the Aztecs brought European diseases in the 1520s that the Indians had no defense against. Illnesses depopulated the area. The people abandoned their buildings and disappeared into the hills, devastated by measles  and smallpox. Later arriving priest brought the people back and helped them renew their excellence as artisans.

     I walked the access road back from the ruins and took a set of steps to an artisan street where carvers worked with wood. Further on I came to a park where I asked a female police officer where I could get a taxi back to Patzcuaro.

     "You don't want a taxi," she said, "You want a collectivo, It will save you money."

She then signaled a collectivo to stop and I was soon on my way back to Patzcuaro center.

Next, Bus to Moralia

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