Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Uruapan, the Eternal Spring

I've learned a lot traveling with John, how to ask the right questions, what things are called like the main bus station is not called estacion, but camionera. Centro and Central are two very different things, Centro is the center of town usually, and Central is the big intercity bus station. People are inordinately friendly, and willing to work with me asking questions. They seem to have infinite patience with my limited Spanish, and even compliment me sometimes. It always shocks me when they do because I feel so terribly inadequate and am often confused. 

I hopped a Combi in Eronga and it went less than two kilometers when it began to have difficulties. It sounded to me like it was coughing water from the gas line, but I'm no mechanic. The driver inched the vehicle along for about 30 feet, tried his best to get it off the road, which is difficult as the road is bordered by buildings. Finally the poor thing lurched to a halt and we all just sat there. I wondered when he would say something, or when people would ask if they should get off. A long period of silence passed when one of the women just got up and then everyone else followed suit out the door. The driver opened his own door and walked back up the road and flagged down a vehicle. It already had quite a few people inside but it was a Ford van, quite a bit bigger than the little Combis. We all piled inside and continued on down the road. I think what I witnessed was 'machismo' in action. The driver didn't want to admit failure of any kind and nobody wanted to embarrass him either. So nobody said anything and it all worked out in the way that it should. No one suffered adverse emotions. A very different culture than I'm used to. 

Many springs equal a river.

The road to Uruapan goes south from Patzcuaro over a high pass and down past thousands of avocado trees on every hillside. They are short, dark, ball-shaped trees, or maybe the trees are short because these were pretty young orchards. Uruapan is the avocado capital of the world. It makes S. California look pathetic in comparison. I can attest they are the best in the world too. When you buy them here, the vendors ask when you'll be using them because they want you to have the perfect ripe one. I purchased one last week for 'today' use and then didn't use it till two days later. Big mistake. It had gone bad in multiple spots. 

Uruapan is a fairly good sized town, maybe 300,000. It has a bustling Centro and a National Park smack in the middle of town. 500 years ago, the Tarascans had a sacred spot there, a magic pool which overflowed with water. It is a large pond situated in a low spot at the top of a deep canyon. The water comes up from the floor of the pond, but we're not talking a trickle, it quickly becomes a major river called the Cupazitzio. The spring at the top of the canyon is only the highest of many. By the time the river descends 100 meters it is joined by other major river/springs which makes it a roaring cascade of waterfalls. The entire canyon is carved out of basalt (a very hard rock but often porous) and there are smaller springs up and down the steep sides. The area has been a tourist attraction for a long time and people have built stone walkways and funneled the little springs' waters in culverts next to the walks. Diversion channels were also built to feed the fish hatchery, called a granja. I remember the word because I already knew the word for pomegranate: 'granada'…….a bowl of pomegranate seeds looks an awful lot like fish roe. 
Little girl washes her dolly in a spring.

Near the bottom of the canyon there is a kid's play area, lots of food and curio vendors, the 'sanitarios' (public restrooms) and offices. It cost me a whopping $1.00 to get in. I spent a couple of hours there, taking pictures and just sitting beside the roaring river, marveling at all the springs that cascaded down the lush canyon walls, some mere trickles, others were rivers almost as wide as the Cupazitzio. The walkways are mossy and slick. Just keeping my camera dry was a challenge.

Then I walked down a street toward the Centro. It wasn't terribly far but it was interesting. The shops are as densely packed as the ones in Quieroga, but the city is much cleaner and nicer looking. I got a strawberry 'ice' without any milk, didn't want a rehash of my 'revenge' experience. Then I tried to find a bus that would take me back to the Camionera. That was a challenge. Once again I got several answers, number 27, 33, 105, and 22. I finally found one where the driver assured me he went right past it, but it didn't have any of those numbers!!  The bus stopped numerous times and I really had no idea what the Camionera looked like from across the street. But when the bus stopped there almost everyone on the bus said "Senora Senora, la Camionera!" I couldn't have missed it if I'd tried. Such sweet people to look out for the clueless tourist. 

Re-routed spring water makes for beautiful displays.

On the way back I sat across from a man who looked Quechua, from Peru. Turns out he is from Ecuador. He and his wife have lived in Patzcuaro for 15 years. They make embroidered clothing and sell it at the mercados around the area. He was chattering away to his wife but turned to me when she decided to take a nap. He was very patient and we had a wonderful conversation for the hour it took to get back to Patzcuaro. He has relatives in the states, doesn't everybody?? So we exchanged phone numbers and he promised to look me up when/if he comes to Santa Fe. You never know about these kinds of things. I've actually had some interesting follow ups from meeting people this way. And of course I'm to contact him if I should ever go to Ecuador, I have to stay with his family there. If I ever get there, I might take him up on it. Can you imagine how cool a trip like that would be?

Back home by 7:30, I was starving so I ate one of the chile rellenos that Trini and I had cooked. Yum. What a delicious end to a terrific day. 


Wood carver sells his wares next to a spring.
The fountain is merely a carved
rock put in place to deflect
the rushing spring water.