Pátzcuaro; Santa Fe de la Laguna
We had read rave reviews about our inn, Casa Werma--so our expectations were pretty high. Even so, the place proved to be even more spectacular than we had envisioned. In addition to the spacious rooms and artistic décor, our hosts Eva and Christina prepared a delicious breakfast every morning, with fresh fruit, granola, yogurt, juice, coffee, hot chocolate for the kids, fresh local bread/pastries and a scrumptious hot dish. The kitchen area was beautifully decorated with bright linens, and Eva and Christina were attentive to every detail.
We were all very excited about the special plans that we had for today. One of the children that we sponsor internationally lives in a small village called Santa Fe de la Laguna at the northern end of Lake Pátzcuaro. Representatives of Sheila’s project, Niños de Santa Fe de la Laguna, met us at our inn at 10:00 a.m. We then followed them for the 25 minute drive north.
These are just a few photos that we snapped from our car:
Sheila and her family, along with almost everyone who lives in Santa Fe de la Laguna, are Purépecha (aka P'urhépecha), an indigenous people located primarily around the Lake Pátzcuaro region in Mexico.
We met Sheila and her mother at the project offices in the village.
Sheila’s mother was very warm and gracious.
After we had exchanged greetings and some gifts (Sheila’s family presented us with some lovely pottery), we went on a tour of the project facilities.
The main building for the project is very well maintained, with offices for a doctor and dentist, as well as a preschool classroom, a computer room for older students, and other meeting rooms. Here is the dentist room. (Sheila confessed that she does not like to go to the dentist.)
Here we are chatting in the computer room:
The primary language for Sheila and her family was Purépecha, with Spanish being taught and spoken at school. Ben and I could communicate on a basic level with our Spanish, but the exchange of ideas and information on a more complex level often was difficult for us. We were grateful that we had made advance arrangements with the project to have a translator available during our visit.
The project leaders then asked us if we wanted to walk through the town and visit the church. We headed toward the village plaza:
The town plaza is a gathering place for the residents. On the backside is a small market. The project representative explained to us that the people in the village work very hard to be self-sufficient and do not have a lot of money. The market works on a bartering system (trading of items) rather than a monetary system (“buying” an item with money). The front of the plaza:
On one side of the plaza was a beautiful tile mural that had been created by local artists. The mural addressed Mexico’s fight to gain freedom and independence from Spain.
Sheila’s mother was very proud to show me her church, which she visits every day:
The cross in the front walkway appeared to be very old. Sheila’s mother explained that the carved symbols on the front of the cross were Purépecha.
The church grounds had a statue of the bishop Vasco de Quiróga, who arrived in the Lake Pátzcuaro area in 1533 and who allegedly was a compassionate leader and promoter of indigenous rights.
Behind the church’s bell tower, the stucco façade was peeling away beneath the roof, revealing the layers of old adobe bricks.
Nearby, a private high school had recently been completed:
The project representative told us that most of the children in Santa Fe de la Laguna drop out of high school at the age of 15 or 16, and only a few ever go to college.
As we were leaving the schoolyard, these students called greetings to us from the windows:
We weren’t ready to say “goodbye” to Sheila quite yet, so we were relieved when one of the project leaders asked if we wanted to spend some time together down by the lake. (The project has a protective policy of not allowing sponsors to visit the home of the sponsored child.)
Lake Pátzcuaro was very peaceful:
Our translator explained that the lake has been gradually shrinking over the years. Our understanding is that the lake is also polluted from pesticide run-off, sewage and other things, although some steps have been taken in recent years to remedy the situation.
Our kids made a beeline for the water, testing the edge with their shoes. Water seems to be a powerful magnet that attracts children (and adults too!) across cultures:
Sheila built a long train out of mud, and Genevieve helped add some final touches.
We all enjoyed our time at the lake together:
While there, we also watched these fishermen lay their nets:
We drove back to the village and said our sad goodbyes. This visit was one of the highlights of our trip.
One last photo from Santa Fe de la Laguna:
We had driven up the east side of Lake Pátzcuaro to reach Sheila’s village this morning, so we decided to make a full circle around the lake by traveling along the west side on our drive back to the town of Pátzcuaro. It was mid-afternoon, and we were hungry for lunch. Many of the smaller villages do not have restaurants, so we decided to stop at the next “bigger” town. This one looked promising:
It had a pretty church:
We drove down what appeared to be “main street”, past the bus station, where we could hear a man’s booming voice announcing a bus departure on a loudspeaker.
We passed by this store:
We also found the public restrooms, but there was a lock on the door.
We finally abandoned our restaurant search and decided to buy some snacks to tide us over at this little convenience store:
The woman behind the counter was very nice, asking where we were from. She told us that she has some relatives living in California, and I gave her a post card of our town.
Near the village of Erongarícuaro, we saw this inviting sign:
We stopped at Uekapiani Restaurant, where we had some very good shrimp and beef dishes for lunch.
Genevieve and Sebastian were thrilled to find a small playground on the side of the restaurant. They immediately started playing on the chair swing:
Ben and I were settling into our chairs, watching the kids on the swing, when Ben bolted out of his seat like lightening, running toward the children and shouting for them to stop the swing! The swing appeared to be a home-made fabrication, and Ben had noticed that the metal vertical rod on the back of the chair was creating a “scissor” effect with the metal pole that ran down from the top of the structure; as the kids were swinging higher and higher, the metal “scissor” blades were coming closer and closer together, which would spell disaster for a child’s fingers wrapped around the pole, or an elbow that happened to be sticking out.
With that potential tragedy averted, we eyed the other playground equipment for safety issues. We deemed this see-saw a bit too steep and high for our comfort level, but we allowed the kids play on it for a minute, with our close presence. (I think that the kids silently labeled us as the “party poopers”, but that was okay with us.)
The swings looked fine, so the kids still had some fun:
As we continued around the lake, we saw some larger houses and a mixture of “old” and “modern” walls.
Here are a few people that we saw:
Every small town that we drove through had its own beautiful little church:
In the distance, we could see the island of Junitzio, a heavily populated island that takes center stage during the annual Day of the Dead (El Día de la Muerte) festivities. (Day of the Dead occurs on November 1st and is quite different than Halloween in that it celebrates death, instead of fearing it. Families often gather at the graves of their loved ones, bringing food and staying at the gravesites all night rejoicing.)
We finally arrived back in Pátzcuaro:
We all took a short siesta at our inn. Genevieve gave Sebastian some lessons on meditation in the large and sunny meditation room. (Casa Werma is also a Shambhala center.)
Then the kids wandered the grounds and made up elaborate and adventurous games.
Their favorite playhouse was the old cabin, tucked away in a corner of the property:
On the ground floor, they found some small objects that previous guests had left as offerings.
The cabin had a top floor loft, reachable with a wooden ladder—the kids thought this was a very exciting place!
Genevieve and Sebastian were also quite skilled at riding the garden dragons:
The children and I then set off to do some exploring around town, away from the town plazas.
Most of the buildings were painted dark red on the bottom and white on the top.
The streets were often very narrow, as Sebastian shows here:
We came across this church, which was very beautiful inside. There were quite a few local people inside, so we joined them for a little while, sitting in peaceful silence.
We also discovered this old wall with multiple arches, and another church (called El Sagrario) in the background.
This mural (near the Casa de los Once Patios—the house of eleven patios) engaged the children so much that we had a lengthy and lively discussion about the possible meaning of the many figures and objects depicted.
We strolled back to the main zócalo, where Genevieve and Sebastian looked longingly at the grass. (They wanted to roll around on it, but remained respectful of the obvious desire to keep people off.)
The middle of the zócalo has a large statue of Vasco de Quiroga. (The zócalo is also called Plaza Vasco de Quiroga, or Plaza Grande.)
We walked a block further to the other main plaza in Pátzcuaro, named Plaza Gertrudis Bocanegra. The center of the plaza had a large statue of Doña Bocanegra, who was born in Pátzcuaro and was a heroine of Mexico’s War of Independence from Spain. (The plaque didn’t give us any information about her pet bird).
Both plazas in Pátzcuaro were clean, well-maintained and provided a gathering place for many families and friends throughout the day. This sign indicated that the smaller plaza had undergone a $150,000 renovation two years ago.
We had an excellent dinner tonight in a restaurant off of the main zócalo. I tried a local dish called "huchepas", which were tamales made of sweet corn with Oaxacan cheese and cream on the top--yummy! Sebastian and I also shared a large salad of chicken, avocados, and fresh vegetables--brocolli, cauliflower, mushrooms, tomatoes, carrots and others. Sebastian, who has a wonderful sense of humor, played a game in which he pretended that the salad items were other things; for example, the cauliflower pieces were "volcanoes," the carrots were "lemons," the avocado was really "chicken", etc. Then he giggled his way through dinner, saying things like, "May I have some more volcanoes, please?" He kept us all laughing!
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