Sunday, February 26, 2012

Santa Clara de Cobre

Santa Clara del Cobre was a copper town long before the Spanish arrived in the New World. It is almost directly south of Patzcuaro and a little west. It is sometimes called Villa Escalante or Salvador Escalante on maps. The town was dominant in the world of copper for several hundred years until the industries near-demise in the mid 19th century. In the 1940s there was a revival, and in the 1970s recycled copper instead of mined copper began to be used to create their works of art. Now, mainly used copper wire and plumbing pipes and fittings as well as other copper products are melted down and re-used.
The art of working with copper in Santa Clara del Cobre has been passed on from father to son for hundreds of years. Many of the craftsmen are P'urh̩pecha (Tarascan) Indians who are probably still the majority of the population around Lake Patzcuaro. More than 80% of the area population is employed in some way related to copper. There are at least 250 copper workshops in the area. They process about 450 tons of copper each year Рall by hand. Only a few shops are open to the public.
There is a museum that holds some truly marvelous and unique copper works. Each piece is hammered from one piece of copper with no welding involved.
We were able to visit a copper workshop and observe the artisans. First they melt the copper down to a blob (for lack of a better word). Then they beat it into a flat round shape using sledge hammers. One guy turns the hot copper while 3 or 4 others beat a rhythm in perfect time with their large hammers on a solid steel anvil. Note the variety of hammers and tools on the wall and the many copper pieces lying about.
They then begin to work the copper into a more refined shape and the art begins to appear. We are not exactly sure why they sometimes beat the copper when it was still hot from the fire, or sometimes cooled the copper by dipping it in water and then working it.  Note the guy working the bellows to create more heat and the piles of wood in back used to continually feed the fire.
There are many sizes and shapes of anvils and hammers. Each piece is worked using any number of these. Even those things that look like bent nails to the left are different anvils for working smaller pieces. The more they beat on the copper the stiffer and harder it becomes – and more of the copper color begins to appear.
Here is one of the master craftsmen hard at work. Hammering for hours and hours each day builds up some serious arm strength – don’t pick a fight with a coppersmith.

More Patzcuaro

One of the things we love most about Patzcuaro is that we keep coming upon scenes and events that are totally unexpected.
The Templo del Sagrario, above and below, is known as somewhat of an architectural wonder. It was built in the 17th century, and has a tower with a clock. According to the legend the clock was sent from Spain because it tolled an unlucky hour for a Spanish King.
Casa de Onces Patios is a former 18th century Dominican nunnery. It is now a crafts center with workshops and stores. We were able to watch artisans at work, always a treat. The center has two looms that produce textiles sold in several of the stores. One of the weavers was operating the hand loom one day when we were there.
There is a small secluded cloister where a nun and her servants lived that now has several shops.
As we were stopping by Casa de Onces Patios one afternoon we happened upon a film crew making a movie of the Danza de Viejitos, which we blogged about previously. This was a great opportunity to see them since they weren't surrounded by crowds of people. It was very special to see the dancers and musicians in this unique setting. It was like a private performance, just for us and the film crew.

This is the youngest and smallest of the Viejito dancers. The oldest appears to be around 30. None are really little old men as the name implies.
We took a day trip around the lake, which is beautiful. We came upon this man delivering wood in the town of Tzintzuntzan (good luck pronouncing that one - it took us several tries).
There are also some ruins near Tzintzuntzan which we wanted to see. On the day we visited, there were dancers recreating dances performed by the Tarascan Indians when it was the Tarascan capital.
While walking near the plaza we came upon what appeared to be some type of school parade. Don't know why there was a parade, but it was fun to watch.
There were many proud parents and grandparents and it was touching to watch them interacting with their kids. Several of the kids were riding horses.
There were also some floats which featured pre-school kids as kings and queens. I have no idea what that was all about but of course thought it was interesting.
Our RV friends Helen and Paul joined us in Patzcuaro and seemed as enchanted by the town as we were. We had several lunches at Lupitas restaurant, which has the best Tarascan soup ever, and which I would love to figure out how to make.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Patzcuaro Carnival

When we arrived in Patzcuaro last week we  had no idea that we would be here for Carnival. We couldn't have timed it better.
One of the things that we had never seen are the Toritos.  A large groups of guys in costumes, a very loud band, and a guy in a paper-mache bull march through town. They stop every so often to have a fight with the torito (bull) and entertain the spectators. The groups appear to compete with each other to see who draws the biggest crowd and collects the most pesos. We thought it was sort of like a bunch of flash mobs.
Many of the guys are dressed in drag and are very amusing (helped by a little Tequila, I'm sure).
We saw a couple who had just gotten married going down the street in a traditional carriage, followed by several men on beautiful, dancing horses.
It wasn't long before they were joined by a group of Toritos. It completely stopped traffic, but after a lot of laughter and applause everyone moved on.

The children have a chance to participate as well. Several groups of kids from different schools and pre-schools performed on the Plaza Principal. They drew a large crowd and looked like they were having a great time. People voted for their favorite by contributing money to the school of their choice.
This cutie with his straw horse was all set to have a go at the Torito.

Danza de Viejitos, or Dance of the Old Men, is another tradition unique to Patzcuaro and Michoacan. Accompanied by music, the dancers come hobbling in on their canes, acting as though they can barely walk.
As the tempo of the music quickens, so do their steps. The dancers have wooden sandals that beat out the music, much like tap-dancers.
We missed the Danza de Viejitos last time we were in Patzcuaro so were really glad we had the opportunity to see them this year. The music, the dance, the old man masks, and the campesino clothing are a traditional component of the culture in this area.

Sunday, February 19, 2012


This post is out of order since it's actually from our time in Melaque. Brian is doing a bit of catching up.
When we went down by the coast near Manzanillo we saw miles and miles of coconut palms. There were countless stands along the road selling coconuts by the ton. We have never seen so many coconuts.On our last day in the area, from our RV spot near Barra de Navidad, we saw how they harvest coconuts. This is nuts.
A guy just about runs up the tree - about as fast as I can walk anyway. He has some sort of spikes attached to his feet. No safety belt or anything other than his hands to hold on. Following is a distance shot and then the same photo zoomed in for a better look.

He then climbs into the fronds where he straddles and sits on one.

He has a very long rope - long enough that both ends can reach the ground - which he now hangs over a branch. My rough guess is that he is about 100 feet off the ground. At the end of the rope is some sort of hook thing which he attaches to the stalk of a bunch of coconuts.  He then chops the coconuts with his machete and then uses the rope to lower them to the ground. He does this at almost free-fall speed, then stops them a few feet from the ground and gently lowers them the last few feet. The coconuts are now resting on the ground, the tension on the hook thing somehow releases, and he rapidly pulls it back up to attach to the next bunch.

Once he has removed all the coconuts he wants he uses the rope to drop himself from the tree at almost free-fall speed until he stops just before hitting the ground. He doesn't appear to be wearing gloves but seems to have something in his hand to use as a brake on the rope, maybe just a piece of the palm tree. If you click on the picture to zoom in you can see the spikes on his feet and his right hand holding the rope. He may be using the hook thing to brake himself but it's difficult to tell.

This guy never stopped to rest. He just went on to the next tree and walked right up it. He was in constant motion. I don't think I have ever seen anyone working quite so hard. If the trees were close enough together he didn't even go back to the ground but just got the rope swinging, caught a frond on the next tree, and pulled himself over. We don't have a picture of that performance.
This whole operation was like having a circus in our backyard. I wanted to applaud but was too amazed to move

Friday, February 17, 2012


We love the town of Patzcuaro and the surrounding area and are glad to be back. The RV park we stay in has great views of the town, Lake Patzcuaro, and island of Janitzio.
A bit of history. Bishop Vasco de Quiroga is credited with founding the town of Patzcuaro in the 16th century. He implemented a plan where area villages were each assigned a different skill, and to this day their descendants have continued the tradition. Hand-beaten copper wares come from Santa Clara de Cobre, guitars from Paracho, baskets and green-glazed pottery from Tzintzuntzan, prize-winning masks from Tocuaro, and so on. We hope to visit as many of these places as possible.

 We spent today in town, checking out the newly remodeled town plaza and enjoying the sights.
It was market day and the smaller square near the market was bustling.
The Day of the Dead is  a holiday celebrated throughout Mexico. The holiday focuses on elaborate ceremonies and gatherings of family and friends to pray for and remember those who have died. Day of the Dead originated with the Tarascan, or Purepecha, Indians who have many descendants in this area. The island of Janitzio has been singled out for its impressive ceremonies, probably due to its indigenous roots and unique setting.
We saw many signs of the importance of Day of the Dead to the area today while in town.

Some were very simple....

And some quite elaborate.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Back at the Hacienda

After leaving the coast our plan was to head for Patzcuaro. Hacienda Contreras in Valle de Juarez is about halfway between the two places so we decided to spend a few days there before moving on.

When we arrived Sal took us to a neighboring village for a parade and fiesta.

It was interesting that only women were in the parade.  Even the statue of the Virgin was carried by women, something we haven't seen elsewhere.

We had a  nice meal in the square following the parade with Sal and some of our new RV friends.
The folks who fixed our meal were lots of fun and very entertaining.

We wanted to get some more of the excellent mezcal we bought when we were here over the holidays and fortunately that was arranged for us. The distilling process wasn't in full swing as it was previously, but there was still enough mezcal to go around and everyone was able to taste and purchase what they wanted.

Just as we were planning to move on to Patzcuaro we got hit with rain. Lots of rain. A few days are fine, but this has been a bit much. The rain is widespread and affecting many of the areas around here so we will stay put until things dry out a bit.
Everyone at the campground agrees that if we have to stay in one place because of the weather, this is a good place to be. Many of the campgrounds in Mexico turn into mud pits when it rains and it's pretty easy to get your RV stuck. Here we have a good base and and are not worried about sinking, and Barb and Sal have been great about planning activities and keeping everyone's spirits up.

Today it cleared off enough for us to go over to Mazamitla for a hike down to a waterfall that Brian and I have tried to reach several times. Today we finally made it.

It felt great to get out for a long hike and so enjoyable to be outdoors again.

Things seem to be drying out here and we will decide on our next destination based on how things look in Patzcuaro and the area around Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende. They have had the same rains and we aren't sure about the condition of the campgrounds in those areas. Hopefully they are drying out as well.