Bienvenidos to my new blog Pátzcuaro Then & Now, a deeply personal look at life in Pátzcuaro, the colonial highlands jewel of Mexico located on the southern tip of beautiful Lake Pátzcuaro in Michoacán.
When guests stay at my Hotel Casa Encantada, they ask me how I came to live here. Without hesitation I reply: “It was my destiny!”
I stumbled into Pátzcuaro in the winter of 1992. It was raining hard, which was unusual for that time of year. But even in that heavy rain, I fell under a spell the moment I set foot on the Plaza Grande. I had no way of knowing I would be living here nearly thirty years later.
Pátzcuaro was the crown jewel of the Purhépecha Empire, which encompassed the Tarascan state in pre-Columbian Mexico. It roughly covered the geographic area of Michoacán and parts of Jalisco and Guanajuato. At the time of the Spanish conquest of Mexico it was the second-largest state in Mesoamerica.
Three important religious and ceremonial centers were Pátzcuaro, Ihuatzio and Tzintuntzan. Today, there are many pre-Hispanic ruins and temples in the Lake Pátzcuaro region. Some of the ruins are traditional pyramids, but there are some that are completely different in form and construction. These are called Yácatas. They are similar to those found in Peru. It is believed that the Purhépecha came up from Peru many centuries ago. They are not related to other indigenous groups in Mexico.
So, on that rainy day in Pátzcuaro, I stepped out of the car into my life. I rented a tiny but funky apartment the following year and then, for a number of years, I came down only in the winter. Each year I stayed a little longer. In those days you could count the expat population of Patzcuaro on your two hands. It was very Bohemian, very artistic. I felt right at home. I heated with wood in my little adobe apartment and wore layers until around 11 each morning when the winter sun warmed the air up enough to go outside. Until about 4 in the afternoon it was warmer outside than the inside of my place. I loved buying the wood that was carried to Pátzcuaro on the back of a burro. I literally spent hours in the Mercado, fascinated especially by the Indigenous women who brought in their goods daily, like zucchini and zucchini flowers (calabaza y flor de calabacita). I still love the seasonal foods: mango, mandarina, and in June, the wild mushrooms.
I loved exploring the state of Michoacán every week with a tour guide. During my travels I met many very talented artesanos. I am still friends with some of these wonderful people. I saw things and places that are still off the beaten path.
I believe Michoacán is an undiscovered Oaxaca. We have more Grand Master artesanos than you can imagine. Tucked away in small pueblos are women who weave such fine rebosos that they seem like they are made of silk. And, we have low-and-high-fire potters that are world class. That’s just a sample of the abundance of handcrafts you can find here.
Well, that’s a first taste of Pátzcuaro Then. I’ll be back next time with a look at Pátzcuaro Now. Hope you will come.