Mexico: a visit to Patzcuaro, Tzintzuntzan, Tequila and Mazatlan

articles Travel & Destinations

Karen Blue

A Woman’s Perspective on Living in Mexico

Two of my life-long friends from California have been visiting with me the past two weeks. This is Marcy’s third visit. It’s Nancy’s first. I’m always nervous about first-time visitors. Will they see Mexico the way I do? Can they get past the poverty to see the beauty and the warmth of the people? Will they enjoy the contrast of old-world charm and new world technology?

I keep my fingers crossed and then try to show them Mexico through my eyes. So far, so good. Each of my visitors has loved it here, even my 75-year old mother. Next week I’m visiting her in Boise and will try to talk her into moving here. Shh. Don’t tell her.

Patzcuaro and Tzintzuntzan

We spent two days this week in Patzcuaro and Tzintzuntzan, a neighboring village. What a wonderful trip. We drove around the south side of Lake Chapala to get there. The map looked like it was a “six of one, half-a-dozen of the other” choice; and in terms of miles, it was. It took us two hours longer going around the lake than it did coming back through Guadalajara; however, both routes provided one photo-opp after the other. Another learning experience.

Patzcuaro sits 7200 feet high, so we took along jackets, but didn’t need them. We stayed away from the central plazas in a delightful hotel. I’m a light sleeper, so quiet nights are very important to me. Unbeknownst to us, it was Flag Day. Eight different bandstands were set up at the Grand Plaza. Thousands of people celebrated with music, food and dancing. We ate crepes at a lovely little restaurant off the plaza and poked around the plaza stores until they closed at about 7:30, enjoying the enthusiasm of the people — and most of the music.

Marcy has purchased more than her share of large, breakable treasures. Now, when we see something she likes, we just say “Yup, it’s large and its breakable,” or “Naw, it’s not breakable” or “It’s too small.” We’re struggling with how she’ll get it all home. I bought a beautiful hand-carved wooden mirror frame and we nearly had to take the car apart to fit it inside. The brightly painted, hand-carved furniture and woven serapes, tablecloths and place mats are incredible works of art. A huge, hand-carved, hand-painted dining room set with six chairs costs only $800. It would easily sell for $5000-$6000 in the States. Hmm, maybe some day.

Patzcuaro is picturesque, studded with pine trees and nestled next to a beautiful lake, with an island in the center. We didn’t have time to explore the lake in our short trip, but loved this village so much, that we’ll go back when we can spend more time . . . and buy more things! Lots of folks go to Patzcuaro for the Day of the Dead celebration in early November, but to me that’s like going to New Orleans during Mardi Gras. Too many people. I enjoy places so much more when I’m not in a crowd.

We fell in love with the dinnerware at the crepe restaurant and spent part of the next day on a mission in the nearby village of Tzintzuntzan to find some. Hooray! I bought a set — hand painted, glazed and fired clay dishes. Marcy almost bought a set too, because they were big and breakable! However, when we got them home and washed them, they bubbled in the water.

I took them to a potter friend of mine who said she’d re-fire them in her kiln and try to remove the porosity. I may not be able to use them for certain juicy or oily foods; but que sera. At $20 US for a six-person setting, including serving dishes and glasses, I can live with some limitations. And, they look pretty! There’s so much to learn about so many things here. Poco a poco (bit by bit).


Last week we visited Tequila. Here are some things I bet you didn’t know: 100% of the world’s tequila is made in the state of Jalisco, Mexico and 65% of it comes from the town of Tequila. Worms are found only in Mescal and are used for coloring the liquor. Oak aging provides the amber color for reposada and anejo tequilas. There are 165 different agave plants used to make tequila and the cost of the tequila isn’t dependent on either the plant or the aging process, but upon the sugar content. When the sugar comes from the agave plant, then 100% agave is put on the label and that is the most expensive tequila. You can buy peach, raspberry, coffee and other flavored tequilas.

How’d you do? (If you want to learn more on Tequila read ¡Tequila! by Luis Dumois)

It’s a beautiful 2-1/2 hour drive to Tequila — the Napa Valley of Mexico. We went with some friends and when we got there, signed up for a tour of the Orendain factory. It cost ten pesos ($1.50) and we could taste tequilas after the tour to our hearts’ content. Since I was the driver, it’s fortunate I’m not a tequila fan. We had a great lunch in town and briefly stopped in Magdalena because of its famous Mexican Opal mines, but the tours were closed so that will be an adventure for another day.

Mazatlan and El Niño

A few weeks ago, I was invited to spend a week with friends on their boat, the ‘Never-Never Land’, moored at the Mazatlan marina. I met Sarah and Michael when they lived here for a few months last year. Mazatlan is, like most port towns, very commercialized. Many high-rise hotels, beautiful beaches, lots of tourists. With some effort, you can find the lovely old parts of the town and still feel like you’re in Mexico.

They had battled with El Niño during their entire sail from San Diego and were a bit worn out. The Friday before I left, after days of my whining (to go sailing), they agreed to a nice day sail. We readied the 36-foot ketch and motored out of the mooring, almost leaving Sarah at the dock. Brisk winds and sunshine promised a fun day’s sailing. I got out the scrabble game and a book.

Wrong! Our first clue should have been the waves crashing high against the breakfront. As we eased the boat into the Pacific, we were greeted by twelve-foot swells. The first hour was great. I sailed the boat, Sarah and Michael relaxed. Then El Niño started playing with us. Why were there no other boats out, we wondered? The wind increased, the swells got higher and we struggled to keep the boat from being broadsided and our breakfast from coming up.

Enough! Ready to return, we sailed around the islands for some protection from the battering seas and just as we could see “home,” the motor died. I don’t have enough room here to tell you the harrowing events from that point on, but just before dark, we limped back to harbor. It was high tide and the waves were breaking against the channel, spewing foam at least twenty-feet high. We had to get through the narrow channel without being thrown into the rocks or broad-sided by the waves.

As our talented captain guided us in amongst cheers from the on-lookers on the precipice above and underneath a wave that was half-mast high, we cheered with them, said a silent prayer of thanks, and Sarah and I decided that scrabble was better played safely inside our mooring with a glass of wine, Michael’s famous guacamole and mariachi music from the dock. I asked my hosts, “And this is something people choose to do for two years?” Give me my brick home, my dogs, my computer and my maid.

The next day, we heard that an 85′ chartered boat captain had taken one look at the channel and canceled his charter. All boats had been advised not to go out.

I guess my guardian angel wanted me to continue this column.


Published or Updated on: March 1, 1998 by Karen Blue © 1998
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