Mary and I wanted Ann and Ron to see a little bit more of Mexico, so Mary did some research on the Internet and picked out the town of Uruapan as a road trip destination.
I don’t think that Ann and Ron were used to traveling by car at ninety miles an hour, but they had read some of my stories and so they knew in general what to expect. Mary tried to put them at ease by telling them that the car’s tires were made by Firestone. Thanks a lot Mary. Stories of tire separation are always humorous.
We took the cuota toward Mexico City (simply referred to as “Mexico” by Mexicans) for about two hours. We exited onto highway 37 and followed that straight south for an hour and a half.
Just a short distance before we hit Uruapan, we came upon a small town that I believe was called Capacuaro. It was one of the sorriest excuses for a town that I have ever seen. The road, which had been pretty good up until that point, really got bad in this “town”. The road on both ends of the “town” dissolved into pools of potholes forcing you to rapidly slow down. Most of the inhabitants of this “town” were Indian.
Everything was dingy. The buildings were old and dilapidated. Trucks were noisy as they decelerated coming into the “town” and as they accelerated leaving it. I’ll bet the ground is saturated with lead from the time when Mexico used leaded gasoline. The “town” is a real dive.
Imagine our surprise then when we spotted beautiful tables for sale alongside the road. I quickly did a U-turn and parked the car.
The bottom parts of the tables were ordinary enough, but the tops were beautiful. Thin slats of wood of different colors had been set on their sides and arranged to create various geometric patterns. I was immediately enthralled with the tables. Mexicans are masters at taking something useless and making something beautiful or useful out of it usually by adding lots of manual labor the one thing that Mexico has plenty of.
I had to have a table. Mary started bargaining with the female owner. The price seesawed up and down as they went at it. I could see the owner was enjoying the bargaining by her relaxed attitude and her smile. They finally got to within a peso or two of each other, when the owner agreed to Mary’s offer. We got the table for less than twenty dollars! It barely fit in the trunk with our suitcases.
We rolled into Uruapan and tried to rent two rooms at a hotel that Mary had researched on the net. They were booked up. Fortunately we were able to get rooms at a hotel located right on the town plaza. There we discovered the reason for the room shortage. For two weeks of the year, local artisans are allowed to take over the plaza to sell their handicrafts. As a result, and because Uruapan is an old colonial town with narrow streets, the town was choked with traffic.
The next day we awoke and drove the free road to Patzcuaro. The road was great with lots of curves, little traffic, and very few potholes. It was very enjoyable. I even drove slowly for the benefit of Ron and Ann.
Patzcuaro is the only town I know of that has two plazas. We showed Ron and Ann around the first one, driving slowly because Patzcuaro has really rough topes. When we tried to find the other plaza we wound up getting lost on some back alley streets that were very steep. Try to imagine the streets of San Francisco only with cobblestones.
When we finally got straightened out, we headed north to Tzintzuntzan. We stopped at the cemetery at the edge of town so that Ann and Ron could see how beautiful it is. Then we drove a block or two to the small tianguis (Spanish for “market”) where Ann and Ron bought a few souvenirs. Ann is a tour director to places like Japan, so their apartment is already crowded with stuff.
We drove back to Patzcuaro and took the cuota back toward Uruapan. This cuota was only a two-lane road, but it was nicely done. We came upon a sign warning that the next few miles went downhill very steeply. I put the transmission into drive instead of overdrive so that I could brake with the motor instead of my brakes, but even so, we were going at about 80 miles an hour on a two-lane road. But I wasn’t too worried since the road was mostly straight. The only real problem was that cars coming uphill were passing each other.
We came to a tollbooth near the bottom of the steep grade. Just as we got in line, a police car pulled up behind us with its lights flashing. Was the cop after us? We paid the toll, and sure enough, a loudspeaker ordered us to pull over.
A cop got out of the car and, of course, started to speak Spanish. I turned to Mary, but she had decided that she didn’t speak Spanish. The cop started talking more to Mary because she started acting like she understood a few words. Finally Mary said to me that the cop wasn’t going to give us a ticket, he was just concerned about us. He didn’t come right out and say it, but his main concern was that some Mexicans are not exactly cautious drivers and we could get killed.
After the guy let us go, Mary marveled over the fact that he had not asked us for a driver’s license, he had not asked for money, he had not given us a ticket he was only concerned for our safety. He treated us professionally and courteously. No US cop could have been any better. Mary’s biggest regret was that she hadn’t gotten his badge number or name so that she could have written a letter of commendation for him.
The highlight of our stay in Uruapan was the “Parque National Eduardo Ruiz”. This is a park in the middle of the city, which seems dedicated to running water. It is fabulous. It is heavily wooded with various trees including banana trees with ten-foot leaves. At the head of the park there is a spring fed pool with crystal clear water. Trout swim in the pool. You can see them quite clearly. You can even see their shadows on the floor of the pool.
The water comes in so fast from the springs that the pool overflows its boundaries and becomes the head of a river that runs steeply downhill in a series of waterfalls. As the water crashes over the falls it turns bluish white because of its clarity.
There are cobblestone sidewalks on both sides of the river that descend along with the river. There are channels cut into the sides of the sidewalk, which carry running water that comes from other springs. These channels cross from one side of the walkway to the other. Sometimes they split into two channels one on each side of you. In the meantime the river is never out of sight or out of hearing as it roars downhill. There are even bridges over the river so you can explore everywhere.
There are vendors selling film and snacks and soda pop cooled by big chunks of ice carried in by human backs. Apparently no animals or motorized traffic is allowed.
As you explore, you come upon tableaus the park designers have set up. One of these is a cement waterfall that looks like a miniature Hoover dam with water spilling over it to form a curved sheet of falling water.
Another, my favorite, is a cement structure, which consists of a terrace of five pools of water, which are fed by a spring. Instead of just spilling over from one pool down into another, the excess water squirts out of small holes set in the sides of the pools. I counted them, and the top pool (the smallest one) has a row of 37 holes in it. The designer even figured out how to handle the water if it was coming in faster than the holes could handle. The whole structure is slightly tilted to one side so that excess water just slops over in one place instead of everywhere. The whole thing is very ingeniously done and looks great.
Another tableau consists of a natural waterfall, which comes down from high atop a small cliff, which you can climb. The water shoots down the falls. It travels underneath a stone floor and shoots up in the air as a fountain. It travels further under the stone floor and shoots out through holes in the side of a stone wall to fall into the river below.
Finally, there is one where water comes out of nowhere, falls down a very small cement waterfall into a pool where a fan of water sprays up into the air. It’s called the peacock. Parents hold little kids over the pool so they can drink the water.
If things aren’t interesting enough, you can stop and watch a young kid engaging in a little street theater. He stands on a board nailed to a tree high above the water. When the crowd gets big enough and the tension has reached its peak, he jumps into the river. And then he doesn’t come back up at least not for the minute or so that we waited.
Your safety in this magical place is assured by rifle-toting police, but at the same time there are very few railings. Don’t go if you are prone to dizzy spells. It costs about eighty cents for adults to get into this unique and beautiful park. It’s costs forty cents for children.
A visit to Uruapan and its unique park is highly recommended.