Trip report: Morelia, Michoacan

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Posted by Fernando on August 31, 1999

My family spent nine weeks based in Morelia in June-August 1999. This was our third summer in Mexico, with the summers of 1997 and 1998 in Oaxaca and Xalapa, respectively. Planning an extended stay in Morelia using information from Lonely Planet, Rough Guide, Moon, Mexico/Central America Handbook, Let’s Go, and the Internet was more difficult than it was for Oaxaca or Xalapa. There is simply less information available on Morelia (and the state of Michoacan in general). Presented below is information you might have difficulty finding elsewhere:

Getting to Morelia:

While Morelia has its own airport, you may find that flying directly to Morelia will cost a considerable premium. From Los Angeles, we found it considerably cheaper for two adults and two children to have a friend drive us down to Tijuana and take the midnight flight from Tijuana to Guadalajara. At the time we booked our flights, the ticket difference between LAX-Morelia and TIJ-GDL was about $250 per person. From the Guadalajara airport we took an 80 peso cab to the bus station and caught a 6 a.m. bus for a 4 ½ hour journey to Morelia (cost is 126 to 200 pesos depending on the level of service, about 35% less for kids). At the Morelia bus station (which happily is in the center of town), cab rides to most centrally located hotels are 10 to 15 pesos.

Housing:

Following the advice of many of the guidebooks, we scurried over to Posada Don Vasco. Because of its popularity and laid-back management style, the Don Vasco does not accept reservations. We were pleased to get a reasonably large room, a bit shabby from overuse, for 185 pesos per night. Interior rooms are much quieter than those facing the street. The usual suspects for info on extended stay lodgings (newspaper, Internet cafes, Spanish language schools) were not as extensive for Morelia as they were in years past for Oaxaca and Xalapa. Fortunately we had a secret weapon: Our younger son Malone is uncannily adept at making friends in restaurants with persons who do have the inside scoop on housing. Sure enough, on our second day Malone located our “Rick Blaine” at Los Comensales restaurant.

We were referred to the home of Oscar Jimenez and Elia Maldonado, who presently have four units attached to their home at 170 Amado Nervo (SE corner of intersection with 20 de Noviembre). The unit we got had one bedroom with 2 single and 1 double beds, a kitchenette/dining/living room and a spotless bathroom. The refrigerator was down the outside hallway about 20 feet from our front door. Other units are about the same size in square feet (by counting tiles, I arrived at 24 ½ feet by 15 feet), but one unit has been divided into two bedrooms and another into three bedrooms. Each unit has a TV and VCR. Oscar and Elia have a 12-year old daughter, Flor, and a 16-year-old boy, Oscar Jr., who quickly became Malone and Carrick’s instructors in rollerblading, basketball, MTV and the Simpsons (there’s a bit of a delay in U.S. popular culture filtering to Mexico).

Oscar Sr., who formerly operated a VW parts shop, has an incredibly well maintained VW van, and during the summer he and his family took my wife and kids to various parts of Michoacan.

Elia is a fantastic cook, even by the standards of my own mom. This summer my family feasted on (partial listing): chiles rellenos (mild for Malone’s sake), fish (mojarro and less often huachinango), pastel de carne (meat loaf), tortas de papa (similar to hash browns but tastier), tacos, spaghetti with parmesan cheese, fresh fruit (with mango and papaya often available), enchiladas (mild unless you prefer them otherwise), frijoles (beans, various styles: de olla, refritos, con jitomate y chipotle; but note that Morelia is not a place for black beans), different fresh breads, picadillo, vegetarian picadillo, tortillas (more like wraps) de acelgas (like a monster-sized spinach leaf), beef tongue (obviously on this one Elia is going to ask beforehand), and sopa de fideo. Thanks to Elia, this was the first summer in Mexico when my boys actually gained weight (and despite a fuller program of soccer and swimming than the prior two summers). Elia can adjust her menu not just for kids but also for vegetarians and others with special requirements.

Oh, the price is right, presently $350/month for a unit, with lunches costing 25 pesos/person, and 30 pesos to wash a load of clothes. Elia Maldonado & Oscar Jimenez, Amado Nervo 170, Morelia, Michoacan CP58000; Telephone 011-52-43-137652. E-mail: rasta2001@hotmail.com

Activities for Kids:

Spanish Language: Initially we were hopeful that one of the Spanish language schools would have an academically oriented program for our children at a fair price. That turned out not to be the case. So, we created our own school: My wife wandered over to the university and latched onto a graduate student, Jike (pronounced HEE-ke with the ke as in kerosene) Paramo, whose “day job” is to organize the activities for the summer language program for U.C. Berkeley students. He happily agreed to tutor our sons in Spanish for $6.75/hour (for both kids). We believe Jike will be available through September 2000 (when he is due to matriculate at U.C. Berkeley). Jike, by the way, speaks excellent English. Jike Paramo can be reached via E-mail at JIKINGARE@hotmail.com.

Soccer: My 7- and 9-year-old boys play AYSO and club soccer in the U.S., and we were very lucky to find a summer program of the “Chivas Morelia” soccer club. The club runs a five-week summer soccer program, Monday/Wednesday/Friday, from 10am to noon, with different coaches for the younger (5-6-7), middle (8-9-10) and older (11+) boys. Initially even our older son (with 3 years of AYSO and 1 year of club soccer under his belt) found the practices a bit tough, but by the end of the summer both boys had adjusted to the challenge of the more strenuous workouts and the language barrier. The school is owned by a former Chivas Guadalajara soccer star, Juan Carlos Trejo, and boasts several coaches, its own fields, a club store offering refreshments and soccer gear, and an office with 2 full-time secretaries. Among the coaches we found Aurelio Flores Mendez especially adept at working with the 5-6-7 year-old boys. Last year, our boys played for the Xalapa Delfines, which is larger but otherwise very similar to our U.S. soccer club, Santa Monica United. Not to take anything away from either Xalapa or Santa Monica, but Chivas Morelia definitely has much more in resources and organization. By the way the cost of the summer program is only 80 pesos for the five weeks, but you will also have to pay 150 pesos for a doctor’s examination which can be done there in Morelia by a doctor who routinely checks the Chivas Morelia team. The club runs its regular 11-month program from September to July, culminating in a large playoff cup with teams from throughout the nation. The fields are located just north of the town center, a 15 peso cab ride from our lodgings. Chivas Morelia A.C., Escuela Oficial de Futbol del Club Guadalajara, Libramiento Norte 1239, Morelia 58210, Michoacan; telephone: 011-52-43-126680. There is also another soccer club you might want to investigate: Pumas Morelia (Tamayo Rangel Alonso), Jesus Sanson Flores S/N, Morelia 58290, Michoacan; telephone: 011-52-43-147300.

Swimming: While Spanish and soccer were fulfilling, this being a summer vacation we had to find a swimming program. Within two blocks of our extended-stay residence on 170 Amado Nervo is the Villa Longin, at Villalongin 883 (T-intersection with Villalongin). The Villa Longin is a public pool with sauna and baths, open 6am to 8pm, 15 pesos for the pool and 25 pesos for the sauna. The swimming instructor, Raul Ponce, who was once ranked 6th in the nation in Mexico’s Olympic development program, taught Carrick and Malone for 40 pesos per hour. Carrick already was sprouting scales and gills, but the improvement in Malone’s swimming this summer was absolutely wonderful.

Music Appreciation Program: Granted, boys usually don’t go for this kind of thing, but the format of the music program at the Conservatorio de las Rosas [located at Santiago Tapia and Guillermo Prieto], in affiliation with an annual festival of music, was short and bearable: five sessions, 2 hours/day, for 200 pesos/child. There are also other summer classes for piano, guitar, violin, and flute. A highlight of the music appreciation program had nothing to do with music: President Zedillo came by on the last day of Malone’s class.

Pottery Class: The Casa de Cultura on Morelos Norte and Emiliano Zapata has a number of summer art classes meeting for four weeks, 5 days/week, 2 hours/day for 150 pesos/child. There were classes for watercolor painting and folk dancing, but our kids like to get their hands into the clay, so pottery it was.

Paricutin Volcano: One of our trip highlights was the hike to Paricutin, a volcano that erupted in 1943 and blew itself out in about nine years but not before its lava covered a hamlet by the same name and a town of 6,000 with a church that was founded in 1612, San Juan Parangaricutiro. We stayed the night before in Uruapan at the Mansion del Cupatitzio (telephone -32100; great place, nice dining room with live music, $70 for a poolside room, but watch your bill for egregious overcharging, including for phone calls!). We packed two liters of water and the usual essentials in a small Mountainsmith Mountainlight 2000 pack and had lightweight trail boots.

At 6:00am our prearranged taxi Roberto drove us in 40 minutes to the Purepecha Indian town of Angahuan (270 pesos roundtrip). [Note: The Mexican and Central America Handbook suggests taking a bus from Uruapan, but I don’t think it is feasible to do so and get an early start on the hike. There are very nice modern cabins right at the trailhead and except for the Easter vacation period are often nearly vacant. Roberto took us right up to the hut where the Purepecha guides assemble with horses for the tour of Paricutin. Carrick and I wanted to hike, not ride, and one of the guides, Luis Lazaro Cortes, a 28-year-old Purepecha with four children and a bent for distance running, agreed to take us for 150 pesos.

I knew it was going to take us about seven hours, so I didn’t even think about haggling. By 6:50am, with daybreak still 40 minutes away, we scampered down the initial incline into a sandy stretch for about one hour before reaching the lava bed. Another two hours of scrambling from lava rock to rock [wishing we had used sturdier off-trail boots] found us at the base of the volcano, which supposedly is 460 meters above the level of the surrounding land but looks to be much less, about 800 feet (total elevation is officially 2660 meters above sea level). After a longish rest, we started up a 30 degree incline about halfway up to a flatish portion of black sand, rested a minute while looking at a steam vent, and then finished the rest of the climb, occasionally resorting to hand holds mostly to keep from sliding back in the loose rocks, reaching the top in about 27 minutes, with me wheezing and Carrick and Luis about 100 yards ahead of me at this point.

We circled the volcano’s mouth and paused for several views, an early lunch, and digital photo and video ops. The only other visitors on Paricutin that day were four separate groups of 2 Germans, 2 Danes, 2 Brits and 5 Japanese, all arriving on horseback to the volcano’s base. Luis, Carrick and I then fast-forwarded down a black sand descent which felt like skiing in slow motion. At times the sand along this descent was quite warm from the steam beneath the surface. By 11:00am, we had cleaned off the black sand from our boots and socks and were on our way back towards Angahuan, this time along the sandy trail used by horses. We passed a group of Mexican campers about 800 meters from the base and made a promise to ourselves we would do the same when Malone would be old enough to join us. We did a side trip to the church that remains of San Juan Parangaricutiro and were back at Anguahuan at 2:06pm, just six minutes off the time our guide Luis had promised the taxicab driver Roberto we’d arrive back at the trailhead.

For our goodbye’s, we were able to say to Luis, “Ba-ya juangaritse!” [if we understood him correctly, this meant something akin to “so long and good luck until we see each other again”]. Luis is somewhat quiet, but Carrick and I would recommend him. Just don’t expect a Robin Williams monologue. Luis is usually found at the hut where the guides congregate, but you could also look him up at his house, which is across the street from the only medical clinic in town. Malone did not accompany Carrick and me on this trip as this hike is too strenuous for a 7-year-old, in my opinion. Carrick and I had hiked down/up the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and the Kalalau Trail on Kauai, and by comparison Paricutin was easier.

Shopping:

Morelia: Everyone will tell you about the Centro de Artesanias at the ex-Convento de San Francisco. It is very much worth going, but when you do make sure you check the often-closed room behind the nook where the woven goods are sold. In that room, oftentimes there are temporary displays of works for sale by particular artists that have won some recognition. Also, while there, you may want to wander around to the left of the store’s actual entrance and beyond the public display corridor to the offices and second-floor rooms where there may (or may not be) additional items for sale. While it is hit-and-miss, it may be worthwhile. I got a large wooden bowl made of an exotic wood by an artist from Maruata, and I missed getting another large wood carving in granadillo by another artist from Cachan de Echeverria. For modern wood objects, the place to go is Shoemaker (or variously Arrendadora Shoemaker), at Ramon Lopez Velarde 134, at the plaza of Santa Maria de Guido, in a southern suburb of Morelia (telephone 011-52-43-235506; fax 235070). George R. Shoemaker is an American who grew up in Morelia and took over the family wood products business from his father Don. The shop now ermploys only five artisans, with products ranging from large tables, armoires, chests, and chairs to smaller items for the home and office. A large and heavy blanket chest in solid bocote was a reasonable 7000 pesos. Among the other woods used are granadillo, mahogany, maple and walnut. I got four pieces, a picture frame in bocote, a cheese board in diagonal stripes of different woods, a large serving tray in mahogany and maple, and a kleenex-box in bocote, for a total of 840 pesos. A 25 peso cab ride from the center of Morelia will get you to Shoemaker, and on your way back you can hop a bus at the Santa Maria de Guido plaza that will take you to the Iglesia de San Francisco. If you like better-quality lacquer, there is a store/residence, Artes Michoacana Cerda, run by two older Cerda sisters on Zaragoza just north of Melchor Ocampo in the center of Morelia.

The front door is often closed, but if you ring the bell you have about a 75% probability that one of the two sisters will open and show you in. The sisters also embroider blouses and shirts in traditional designs and have some woodcarvings for sale. The main event, however, is their collection of lacquered dishes. Bring oodles and boodles of money. One dish, some of which have 23k gold, can set you back US$300 to US$600. I had already blown my budget at Shoemaker, so all I got were a tiny lacquered box in ivory-and-ochre for 75 pesos and two tiny coaster-sized lacquered dishes for 50 pesos apiece. Finally, L’otra Rana at Aquiles Serdan 848, two blocks from where we stayed at Amado Nervo 170, has a few items we did not see elsewhere, including a largish bas-relief carving in pine.

Capula: Hand painted pottery can be found here. Also, there are two artisans of note: Alvaro de la Cruz makes the catrina figures in ceramic, and Juan Torres does oil paintings.

Ocumicho: Near Zaragoza, this small town is the home of Purepecha artists Carmela Martinez (painted clay nativity scenes and other subjects) and Zenaida Rafael (santos and other figures). My wife picked up a few large nativity scenes for 200 pesos. They are quite fragile!

Patzcuaro: In the building where the restaurant Primero Piso is located, on the Plaza Vasco de Quiroga, there are good quality artisan shops featuring straw frames, hand painted wood frames, and ceramic cups. You will also want to visit the Casa de los Once Patios in Patzcuaro.

Restaurants:

Obviously my family had nearly all breakfasts in our unit and most lunches at Elia Maldonado and Oscar Jimenez’ home on Amado Nervo 170. But there were several opportunities to sample restaurants, and below we indicate our favorites:

Breakfast Places: We had several breakfasts at the restaurants on the sidewalk in front of the Hotel Casino; while the food is just o.k., it’s a good place to aclimatize to Morelia. The Shalom Café on Vicentes Santa Maria somewhere south of Antonio Alzate is quite peaceful; the proprietor is very helpful. Sunday brunches at Casa del Portal, upstairs on Guillermo Prieto just north of Madero Oriente, are a good splurge. Another breakfast favorite was Trico on Morelos Sur and Valladolid (upstairs from the bakery).

Los Camineros, near Garcia de Leon, is a taco house where eight people can eat comfortably for 170 pesos. Elia and Oscar took us in the VW van, so we don’t have a good fix on the address!

La Posta del Gallo, also near Garcia de Leon, is a more upscale taco house.

Quinto Sol, Aquiles Serdan 729, is a veggie restaurant, quite close to our place at Amado Nervo 170, and very popular with the locals, as the commida corrida is only 22 pesos.

Hosteria del Callejon on Madero near Callejon del Romance and also close to our abode at Amado Nervo 170 serves Spanish tapas but also has about the best burgers for kids in Morelia. Compared to tapas bars like El Ingenio, Monje, Belmar, El Buey, El Txoko, Errota Zar, and Taberna de Daniela in Madrid, as well as Bodegas Castaneda in Granada, Taberna San Miguel in Cordoba, and Bodega Santa Cruz in Sevilla, and even the Chiki-Jai in Tijuana, Baja California Norte, the Hosteria del Callejon is quite a bargain.

Los Comensales (Zaragoza north of Melchor Ocampo, across the street from the Cerda sisters) has a longish menu of standards in a nice courtyard setting.

Viandas de San Jose, at Alvaro Obregon 272 near Emiliano Zapata, has a menu that appears to be identical to Los Comensales with a similar locale yet a tad more romantic. Telephone 123728.

La Cabana del Lenador, on Villa Campestre next to the Chevrolet dealership and Le Bon, has some unique dishes in a rustic cabin setting. I had a Purepecha soup and very nice cabrito, while my wife had a white fish. There is kids’ menu.

Bizanchio, on Corregidora very near the Hotel D’Atilanos, has decent Italian food in another fine colonial courtyard whose view is somewhat marred by a series of large black plastic water tanks visible at the top of the adjoining tall building.

La Flor de Las Mercedes, Leon Guzman, has a post-Aztec décor with huge stone columns and orbs one can imagine will crush you during an earthquake, with good fish at prices one would consider significantly above average for Morelia. Despite the price tag, this was my favorite restaurant in Morelia.

[Note: For many of these restaurants where there is outdoor seating, you should be aware that mosquitoes are prevalent in the evenings. I use DEET and my kids and wife opt for no protection or some environmentally friendly stuff that doesn’t seem to work as well.]

Cafes:

Café del Teatro, above the Teatro Ocampo, on Melchor Ocampo.

Libreria, on Calzada Fray Antonio de San Miguel, near CMI.

Condesa Café on Madero Oriente.

Limbo, at Dr. Miguel Silva 181 (corner of 20 de noviembre): Interesting artsy place also doubles as an Internet locale. One block from our place at Amado Nervo 170.

Café del Conservatorio, at Plaza de Las Rosas, south side of the street from the music conservatory.

Gymnasium:

Forthus Gym, Dr. Miguel Silva 125, just north of Aquiles Serdan.

Posted by Jim on September 01, 1999

What a tremendous report and a great service! Thanks!
Two questions pop up:
1) What about language schools for adults?
2) What’s the weather like in July in Morelia?
Thanks,
–Jim

Posted by Fernando on September 03, 1999

The Baden-Powell Institute, as well as CMI, are probably the better language schools. But adults can also avail themselves of a graduate student as I suggested in my book, er, write-up.

Weather in July is fairly perfect but there was a fair amount of rain this time in part from the hurricane off the Pacific Coast.

Published or Updated on: August 31, 1999 by Discussion Thread Forum © 2009
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