Sunday, June 20, 2010

Mexico Memoirs: Part 2

Morelia is a very well preserved colonial city and the capital of the state of Michoacan where the famous Monarch butterfly Mariposa Sanctuary had been established close to the State of Mexico, east of Morelia. The mountains there are covered with coniferous forests, mainly of pines and oaks, making a perfect place for the butterflies to live during winter. The monarch butterfly migration, which covers more than 3000 miles north, is an amazing feat. I know I was close to the Reserve but I headed west as my travel destinations were all to the west. I was told by my friend in Morelia that Monarch is the name of the Morelia football team.

About 50 kilometers southwest of Moleria is Lake Patzcuaro (1,000 square kilometers), where powerful Tarascan Indians settled and had rivaled the Azteca Indians. Tzintzuntan, the ancient capital, now a quiescent little village on the lake, boasts itself as the home of hummingbirds as well as the comic indigenous dancing "Danza de Los Viejitos," literally meaning dance of the old men, with masks and canes. This lake is Mexico’s highest lake.

Another 50 kilometers southwest of Patzcuaro is Uruapan, the city I enjoyed the most on this second trip. Uruapan (pronounced ooh-ru-AH-pan), meaning "a river that sings," was founded by the Franciscans in the early days of Spanish exploration. It served as an administrative center for the area's sugar cane haciendas. In the late-20th century sugar cane dwindled in importance. Today, the avocado is king. So now, Uruapan is known as the avocado capital of Mexico. The coolest thing was the Parque Nacional Barranca de Cuptatizio, formerly (when I visited) Parque Nacional Eduardo Ruiz. In this serene park of 20 hectares (50 acres) with the tropical lushness, I spent a full day together watching the local children playing and splashing in the gushing water. At the northern tip of the park was the legendary fountain where a pool of clear water was burbling out, called "El Rodillo del Diablo," Devil's Knees.

The night train left Uruapan with few passengers in the evening, arriving at Toluca in the morning fully packed with passengers and chickens in cages and all kinds of Mexican merchandise for the Toluca open air market. I changed trains going south to Taxco, a colonial silver mining town. I learned a lot about silver. "Real silver, defined as 0.925 pure, must be stamped on the item with the number 925."

The Aztecs called it Cuauhnahuac, the edge of the forest; Spaniards called it Cow Horns for some reason. But Cuernavaca has been known for the famed eternal spring, thus an ideal weekend exodus for Mexico City residents. I had known Japanese florists there after WWII. Actually, Conqueror Cortez built his castle here, and Emperor Maximilian and Muralist Siquieros their second homes. I enjoyed a week stay here visiting historical buildings and gardens. The trees were all in bloom in various colors and with fragrance. Jardin Borda, built by the Silver Magnate Borda family, became the summer residence of Maximilian. I visited the garden twice, as it was a great place to relax.

Close to Jardin Borda stands the Cathedral protected by large high-walls. The Templo de la Asuncion de Maria inside originally served as the church for a Franciscan monastery founded in 1526. It then became the Cathedral for Cuernavaca in 1891.

In 1959, when a crew was refurbishing the church, a fresco was found. The narrative fresco showed Missionary San Felipe de Jesus, originally from Mexico, martyred in Nagasaki together with 20 Japanese converts to Christianity by the order of Hideyoshi. I read the name "Taiko Hideyoshi" on the darkened Fresco and I couldn't believe my eyes.

About 25 kilometers northeast of Cuernavaca, Tepoztlan has the ex-Convent of Dominico de la Navidad as the UNESCO World Heritage building. It is a picturesque sleepy village, at the foot of spectacular El Tepozteco National Park (2,100 meters) and another retreat of Emperor Maximilian. "The climb to the top is just about an hour" I was told, but I had to quit near the top, as I was exhausted and breathless. Tepoztlan means "a copper axe above the hill."

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