"The life you have led doesn’t need to be the only life you have."
- Anna Quindlen
LA RUTA DON VASCO
Explore the P'urepecha Plateau
COVID-19 GIFT PACKAGE
Complimentary Covid Kit includes hand sanitizer, locally made face mask, chap stick, kleenex, hand wipes & lysol wipes
TIPPING IS CUSTOMARY HERE
We understand tipping is not universal, but in Mexico, it is customary. Please offer 10-20% to your waiters and guides.
ITINERARY 11 NIGHTS / 12 DAYS
This Itinerary can be applied to guests needing pick-up in Ajijic, Lake Chapala, Guadalajara, Zihuatanejo, Guanajuato City, San Miguel de Allende, Mineral de Pozos and Zitacuaro. Staying elsewhere? Please contact us for more information on how we can alter this schedule for you. Starting in one place, and heading to another? No problem! Please contact us with your preferences, and we will confirm details.
Depending on your location, we may alter the order of activities and day trips.
6 Nights in Pueblo Magico Patzcuaro
2 Nights in Pueblo Magico Tacambaro
3 Nights in the UNESCO Historical Centro Morelia
Explore outside the tourist areas of Michoacan's Highlands
Sample spirits along La Ruta del Mezcal
Visit the sacred lake of La Alberca
Visit two ancient cities, including the P'urepecha Capital
Enjoy a cooking class with Samantha Lopez of Santo Huacal
Circumnavigate Lake Patzcuaro
Visit a temple dedicated to Santa Muerte
Browse Artist Studios; Purchase directly from Artists
Visit Michoacan's only self-governed town
Investigate the Church ruins of Parangaricutiro
Option for additional tour to Monarch Butterfly Reserves (Nov-Mar)
Option to climb Paricutin Volcano
Don Vasco Quiroga
FATHER "TATA" VASCO
La Ruta Don Vasco traverses a region of Michoacan’s highlands famed for indigenous Purepecha towns and villages that were deeply influenced by the first Bishop of Michoacan, Don Vasco de Quiroga of Spain.
Following the ruthless rule of Nuno Beltran de Guzman, who was later shackled and exiled to Spain in 1537 following charges of treason and war crimes against local indigenous populations, Quiroga took an interest in restoring order among indigenous communities in the state of Michoacan, where unrest and rebellions persisted. He was appointed first Bishop of Michoacan in 1536.
As a lawyer and judge who had studied canon law and theology, Quiroga had become deeply inspired by Thomas More’s Utopia, first published in 1516. He had founded the town of Santa Fe while in Mexico City, which was his first attempt at building what he called a Pueblo Hospital, employing strategies outlined in More’s fictional and satirical novel. Upon arriving in Michoacan, Quiroga founded Santa Fe de la Laguna as a Pueblo Hospital town, and then set about congregating indigenous populations in various towns using this
concept. In order to convince the locals to trust him and come out of hiding, Quiroga utilized his knowledge of the local culture. One such example was his recognition that the Purepecha peoples were proficient metal workers, having even inlaid copper with precious metals such as gold. He convinced the locals to join him in the town of Santa Clara del Cobre, a town that remains very famous in Mexico for the skilled maestro’s who fashion copper into jewellery, pens, cooking pots and kettles, ornate vases, sinks and even bathtubs. Quiroga promised the people exclusive rights to the caso, which is a copper pot used for cooking carnitas (pork) and chicharonnes (pig skins). The town of Santa Clara del Cobre remains one of the most visited of villages along La Ruta Don Vasco, and one whose doorways glimmer with the warm hue of shiny copper wares, attracting art collectors from all over the world.
The Pueblo Hospital model allowed Quiroga the ability to easily convert large populations at once, having concentrated populations into communities. By adopting certain local beliefs and rituals into his Catholic teachings, there remains certain aspects of indigenous spiritualism among the local Purepecha’s here today. Since the 1960’s, there have also been repatriation efforts among indigenous communities to bring back some of their ancient customs, such as the revitalization of the fire ball game. During Dia de Muertos, one might catch a glimpse of this seemingly dangerous game, which involves a burning ball being struck by clubs that resemble hockey sticks. Of course, Dia de Muertos itself is an important example of an indigenous observance that became fused with Catholicism. Among the Christian crosses and biblical quotes, during Muertos the graveyards are an homage to P'urepecha traditions, including the pre-Hispanic altars, marigold arches and pathways, and food offerings carefully prepared for the spirits of the deceased.
Today, Pueblo Hospital is mostly a quiet affair in the villages of La Ruta Don Vasco. In Santa Clara del Cobre, 52 families are appointed to the Pueblo Hospital system at the beginning of each year. For one week, each family volunteers their time to work on church restorations and cooking food for a community meal, one of which is held weekly. The villagers bring each family gifts and money, to cover their loss of income for this week. It is said the villagers are very generous, as everyone knows it will be their turn at some point. If you would like to observe the beauty of Pueblo Hospital, the best village to visit is Santa Fe de la Laguna. Here, the locals work in groups to create a community meal each Friday– and this remains quite special, considering Santa Fe de la Laguna is not only the first Pueblo Hospital Quiroga founded in the Lake Patzcuaro region, it is also where some of his personal belongings remain under lock and key. The villagers here are very proud of their history, and consider Quiroga a venerated saint, though as time passes, more critics emerge about the impacts of colonialism due to the exploitation of indigenous resources and silencing of their thriving culture. If you would like to observe Pueblo Hospital during your explorations of this region, please contact us for more information before choosing your dates.
Popular belief is that Quiroga died at the age of 95, but historians now believe he was 86. Vasco de Quiroga is still fondly called Tata Quiroga (Father Quiroga) by many locals, and he is interred in the Basilica in Patzcuaro (pictured below).
Your journey through La Ruta Don Vasco will introduce you to many different handicrafts, with specific association to the towns where they are crafted. You will visit the copper town of Santa Clara del Cobre, visit a pottery studio and market full of textiles in Tzintzuntzan, the Catrina town of Capula, which was formerly famed for terracotta cooking wares covered with dot-flower designs. You will visit a mask maker in Tocuaro, and sample Mezcal in Opongio. We strive to introduce our guests to many aspects of the local culture during this tour, including the ancient Purepcha capital of Tzintzuntzan, and a boat ride to Isla de Janitzio.
SAN JUAN PARANGARICUTIRO
Depart your hotel by 8 AM for the P'urepecha Plateau, seated in the Highlands of Michoacan, Mexico. We will arrive in the small P'urepecha village of Angahuan around 11:30 AM.
After a short ride on horseback (approximately 20 mins), we will dismount for a traditional lunch near the ruins of the Church of San Juan Parangaricutiro.
You do not need to be an experienced rider for this journey. The gradual slope is a wide open path that is almost wheel-chair accessible. Your guide will lead your horse on foot, so you will be moving at a walking pace.
Sturdy, comfortable shoes are a must for this trip, as the lava is uneven and sharp. We recommend bringing a hat, sunscreen, layered clothing and water.
Please Note: We will not be visiting the volcano, but the ruins of the Church of Parangaricutiro. Please contact us for more information if you would like to climb Paricutin Volcano.
Church of Parangaricutiro
THE MARVEL OF PARICUTIN
Two weeks before the Volcan de Paricutin made its appearance, the villagers reported loud rumblings and shaking from below the ground. On the evening of February 20, 1943, Dionisio Pulido and his family located a hot patch of soil, bulging in the middle of their cornfield. Suddenly, the field grew six feet in height, spewing ash and sulphur gas into the night. Within hours, the mound had expanded into a small volcanic cone, with flames dancing as high as 2,600 feet into the sky. The following day, the volcano had pursued another 160 feet, and a week later was 500 feet high. The volcano continued to expand.
The villages of Paricutin and San Juan Parangaricutiro were permanently evacuated, with over 7,000 villagers who had to leave their homes without the chance of ever returning. By the time 5 days had passed, the volcano erupted, burying the two villages. Today, only the church tower of San Juan is still visible - as well, the altar, where the flow of lava stopped - something that is considered quite auspicious to those who left this village behind.
BY JESUS ALEXANDRE
Uruapan artist Jesus Alexandre undertook an amazing feat at Paricutin Volcano, planting fireworks inside the volcano, which were set-off at dusk and photographed for a magnificent series of images.
Alexandre has worked with the P'urepecha on many different photo installations over the past 20 years, creating mesmerizing accounts of indigenous life here. In this image, Kurpitecha, descendants from San Juan Parangaricutiro dance on the lava fields that now cover their ancestral home. If you are interested in any prints by this artist, please contact us for more information.
"Kurpitecha" by Jesus Alexandre
Please contact us for available prints
THE ANCIENT CITY OF TINGAMBATO
Departing from Angahuan, our next short stop will be at the ancient Nahua city of Tingambato. The ruins of Tingambato are in decent condition, with a sunken ball court, several structures with rooms that once were topped with palapa huts, two public plazas, three altars and an 8 meter high step-style pyramid named after the Moon. One of the excavated tombs revealed 15 skeletons and 32 skulls, suggesting there may have been a practice of beheading or trophy-hunting here. One other tomb excavation unveiled the remains of a warrior woman who was buried with a Shaman – something considered quite auspicious and unusual. Behind the ball court is an un-excavated pyramid with an avocado tree growing out of its base, resulting in structural damage. This pyramid is behind a fence, as it is on private property – of which the owner refuses to part with. This is unfortunate, as archaeologists have done enough studies to understand there is astronomical value to this structure – which is common among ancient sites around the world. For now, the site of Tingambato remains void of tourists, making it a lovely site to visit.
Departing Tingambato by 5 PM, we will arrive in Patzcuaro by 6 PM. Check into your hotel. Dinner Reservations are at 7 PM.
SAILING TO JANITZIO
This morning we will depart Patzcuaro by 9 AM for the boat docks. Boarding our vessel, the cruise to Janitzio only takes about 1/2 hour.
Arriving on the legendary island of Janitzio, be prepared to climb! This quirky, touristy town is a lot of fun for anyone who loves to shop. The island itself is a series of winding staircases that seem to never end, as you climb up past cafe’s, handicrafts stores, restaurants, clothing stores, and more restaurants and shops - until you reach the statue of Jose Maria Morelos.
Construction of the Morelos statue began in 1933, and is an incredible gallery of murals painted by Ramon Alba de la Canal and other famous muralists from around Mexico, who illustrated the history of Morelos life.
The cemetery of Janitzio is very famous, due to this being a central location of Dia de los Muertos, which Lake Patzcuaro is most famed for.
Jose Maria Morelos
SEPT. 30, 1765 - DEC 22, 1815
Born in Valladolid (later named Morelia in his honor) on September 30, 1765, Jose Maria Morelos was a Roman Catholic priest and rebel during the Mexican War of Independence. Following the execution of Hidalgo, Miguel and Costilla in 1811, Morelos partnered with Ignacio Lopez Rayon to assume leadership of the war of independence.
Morelos had a vision for the future of Mexico, as an independent nation that was void of racial discrimination, slavery and torture. Fondly called ‘Generalissimo,” and “Your Highness,” Morelos rejected such superior titles, humbly requesting instead to be referred to as “Servant of the Nation.”
Morelos was captured by the Spanish royalist military in November 1815. He was tried by the Inquisition, renounced of cleric title and found guilty of treason. He was executed on December 22, 1815. Following his execution, his lieutenant, Vincent Guerrero, assumed leadership for the war of independence.
Though Morelos lived his life as a priest, and never officially joined the military, he is regarded as a national hero and legendary military leader. The city of Morelia was named in his honour, as was the State of Morelos.
WALKING TOUR OF PATZCUARO
We will return to Patzcuaro for lunch at the local food market, where guests can find an array of mouth watering flavours for a bargain. Offerings include tacos, pozole, quesedillas, sweet potatoes, chicken, corundas, huchepos and other dishes from the P'urepecha tradition.
From the market, we will begin a lovely walking tour of this enchanting Pueblo Magico, starting with Juan O'Gorman's famous mural, located in the Gertrude Bocanegra Library on Plaza Chica, next to the market. Our tour will include beautiful cobble-stone streets, the Basilica where Quiroga is interred, several historical churches, and House of Eleven Patios, which has long been a favourite of many visitors to our majestic town, for the many boutique shops and artisan galleries.
Following our walking tour, we will break away for free time. We do not have dinner reservations for this evening, but guests are welcome to ask for suggestions.
COOKING WITH SAMANTHA LOPEZ
This morning we will meet Samantha Lopez, of Santo Huacal restaurant, at the grocery market. Enjoy time exploring the market and shopping for cooking supplies before breaking away for a few hours of free time.
We will meet at Santo Huacal Restaurant by 3:30 PM to begin our cooking class with Samantha. We will be learning to make a rich mole and a decadent chocolate-chili desert. Dinner will be ready around 7 PM.
OFF THE BEATEN PATH
This morning we will depart Patzcuaro by 8:30 AM, arriving in the small rebozo village of Ahuiran at approximately 10:00. Here, we will learn about the art of backstrap loom weaving, and explore the village for rebozos, a beautiful garment that accessorizes every woman's wardrobe in Mexico.
We will depart Ahuiran at 12:00 for the nearby instrument town of Paracho, famous for their luthiers. Carlos Santana owns a Paracho guitar, and the small town was more recently made famous, once again, due to Pixar's Coco. If you are interested in purchasing a guitar, please let us know ahead of time so we can ensure enough time here for you to shop.
We will enjoy a late lunch (2PM) at Restaurante los Pinos, before heading to the self-governed town of Cheran. It is necessary to be sensitive around photography in this village, as the locals are a bit wary of outsiders. Here, we will enjoy a walking tour of the downtown, taking in the many murals that are painted around the heart of the village.
We will depart this area at 4:00 PM, returning to Patzcuaro around 5:15 PM. Dinner Reservations are at 7 PM.
A WOMEN'S STORY OF RESISTANCE
On April 15, 2011 the commotion began. Wary of the relentless violence, kidnappings and killings by illegal loggers coupled with collusion among local authorities that had riddled their community, the women of Cheran organized resistance that would pave the way to self-governance. In part, what ultimately motivated the women to act was the threat, via logging, to their local spring and main water supply.
What began as a blockade of logging trucks escalated into the taking and near-lynching of hostages. The women were insistent against the use of violence, and eventually the police and mayor arrived, along with armed men intent on freeing their associates. It wasn't long before the authorities were exiled from Cheran, with the accusation that they were collaborating with criminal gangs and were thus responsible for the assaults on Cheran's civilians. Politics had divided the town, and were therefore no longer welcome there. Cheran ascended into a state of bliss, void of a police department or municipal government.
2020 marked the 9th anniversary of Cheran's self-government - an important throw-back to ancient times for this P'urepecha town of 20,000 inhabitants. Armed check-points are maintained by local civilians on the road leading in and out of Cheran, and outsiders are expected to explain the reason for their visit.
What began as a potentially violent uprising has resulted in tranquility - a story of success and strength for this inspiring town.
CIRCUMNAGIVATING LAKE PATZUARO
Departing Patzcuaro by 9 AM, we will head for the Temple of Santa Muerto in Santa Ana Chapitiro, before visiting a family of artisans who create wooden hearts and crosses adorned with milagros. Our next stop will be at a mask carving studio in Tocuaro, before we head to a silver jeweller in Erongaricuaro.
After a leisurely lunch in Erongaricuaro, our next stop is at a Mezcal distillery in Oponguio. From here, we will head to Santa Fe de la Laguna, where we will have a chance to visit the main plaza, chapel and (if on a Friday) witness the communal cooperation of what happens here for their Pueblo Hospital.
Following our time in Santa Fe de la Laguna, we will head for dinner at Chef Diego's Los Molcajetes in Quiroga, where we will also have a chance to browse through some of the fun shops along the main vein of the town.
We will return to Patzcuaro around 6 PM.
TO THE ANCIENT CAPITAL
Departing Patzcuaro by 9 AM, our first stop is at a special church in the small village of Tupataro. This stop will be short and sweet, and soon we will be on the road to the small pottery village of Capula.
Famed for cazuelas and beautiful pottery that is typically ornamented with dot-flower designs, Capula has more recently sprung to fame as The Catrina town - even attracting crowds annually, for La Catrina Festival during Dia de Muertos festivities.
We will visit the studio of Maestro Juan Torres, and a pottery collective. From Capula, we will head to Tzintzuntzan to visit the ancient P'urepecha Capital. While here, we will have a chance to explore the cemetery and convent, where the oldest olive trees of the Americas still grow.
We will enjoy lunch at Las Yacatas Restaurant, before heading to Sanabria and Santa Cruz to visit two embroidery collectives. We will return to Patzcuaro before dinner.
AN EVOLVING TRADITION
The Catrina has become an iconic symbol of Dia de los Muertos, though her history is rather complex. Originating with print-maker, cartoonist and lithographer Jose Guadalupe Posada (1852-1913) of Aguascalientes, La Catrina was Posada’s satirical critique of native Mexicans who impoverished themselves at the expense of aspiring to European aristocracy. Politically, Jose Guadalupe Posada’s satires were critiques of Mexican dictator Porfirio Diaz, whose reign created polar extremes between the wealthy and impoverished. While Diaz is praised for contributing to the financial stability of Mexico through modernization, he was also materialistic, corrupt and quite obsessed with European excesses. This era is important in the history of Mexico, as it sparked the 1910 rebellion that ended Diaz’s rule in 1911, while igniting the Mexican Revolution.
The most famous calavera sketch, La Calavera Garbancera, shows a woman dressed in her chapeau en attende, or European style hat. Presented as “Skull of the female stripper who is married to a Dandy,” the leaflet describes her as being embarrassed of and in denial of her indigenous identity.
Posada died in poverty in 1913, and wasn’t recognized until the 1920’s. La Calavera Garbancera remained relatively obscure until Diego Rivera completed his famous mural, Sueno de una Tarde Dominical en la Alameda Central (Dream of a Sunday afternoon along Central Alameda). This mural includes iconic Mexicans from over a 400 year period, including Benito Juarez, Father Hidalgo, Jose Guadalupe Posada, Frida Kahlo, and Diego Rivera himself. In this mural, Rivera included La Catrina, and created her with a full figure, in an elegant dress. His addition of a feather serpent boa, emblematic of the Aztec goddess Mictecacihuatl, not only connected La Catrina to the ancient indigenous origins Posada was originally alluding to, but also presented her as a woman who is proud of her heritage. This clever interpretation focused less on the shame and poverty presented by Posada’s original piece, and instead depicted indigenous peoples as an elegant, beautiful culture that is proud and important. The use of La Catrina in this mural also informs the viewer that no matter our beauty, pride, wealth or importance, death happens to all of us – and that in the end, we are all equal - with perhaps, the exception of La Catrina, who continues to live on. This is a prodigious statement, as the mural itself tells a story about Mexico that not only includes the victors, corrupt leaders, oppressors, leaders and heroes - but ultimately humanizes the indigenous narrative by illustrating their survival in spite of Spanish Colonial rule.
La Catrina's presence in Rivera's Sueno de una Tarde Dominical en la Alameda Centra is exceptionally political, and is perhaps the reason why La Catrina became inseparable from Mexican iconography - for she is the only fictional character out of 400, smiling at the audience from her central position. The fact that she is holding Diego Rivera's hand speaks to the artists' intention to make her the most important character of all.
Rivera’s mural was painted between 1946-47, and was originally at the end of Alameda Park. During the 1985 earthquake that shook much of Mexico City to her foundations, the mural miraculously survived while everything fell down around her. The mural is now housed in the Museo Mural Deigo Rivera, across the street from the original location.
Posada's decision to represent an indigenous woman as a calavera certainly connected her to the ancient death rituals predominant in the ancient empires of Mexico, which is likely why La Catrina is most celebrated during Dia de los Muertos celebrations, despite her being just over 100 years old.
Following Diego Rivera's depiction of Catrina came the next artistic response to Posada's original idea. Born in Morelia, Michoacan Mexico on July 4, 1942, prolific Maestro Juan Torres studied at the Popular School of Fine Arts, and with Maestro Alfredo Zalce. Working in various mediums from paint to sculpture, it was 1982 when Torres first began delving into work with clay.
Juan Torres has spent his career exploring the image of the female, in ways that free women from traditional sexism. With a love for women, and a fascination with subjects relating to death, it isn't surprising that Torres would be the first to create Catrina in the third dimension, out of clay. The location of his established studio, La Candelaria, couldn’t have been more perfect, as the surrounding town of Capula has a long-standing tradition of potters predating Spanish Colonialism. It didn’t take long for these potters to mimic these clay Catrina figures – and the shops of Capula exploded with a brand new tradition that has since become an emblem of the town.
Installation by Jesus Alexandre
Photographed in Spain
It wasn’t until 2012 when La Catrina would evolve from the visual & handicraft arts, to one that begged for audience participation in the form of a performing arts installation. Having embarked on a journey of mysticism with an indigenous shaman, Uruapan artist Jesus Alexandre was called to create a series of art installations that would later become an important body of work entitled “Dia de los Muertos: A Human Celebration of Life.” His first installation, Esto es Vida, includes the family of his friend and shaman, and was created in response to a peyote induced vision. Alexandre went on to create a public installation that called for 51 participants, all clad in fancy outfits and painted faces.
It was at this time, Alexandre conceptualized an ever-evolving Catrina – which began by reaching back prior to Posada's 1913 La Calavera Garbancera, in order to explore pre-Hispanic indigenous relationships with life and death. From pre-Hispanic origins, Alexandre has since brought La Catrina forward, transcending the French-loving, extravagant and materialistic Catrina, to one we can all relate to. In the Fall of 2017, Alexandre would take this concept to Europe, where he created 4 major installations in Spain, as well as smaller installations in the Netherlands, Germany and Austria.
And just like that –La Catrina left Mexico to turn heads around the world.
PLACE OF HUMMINGBIRDS
Rising up from a high point overlooking the quiet village of Tzintzuntzan stands these ancient P'urhepecha ruins. Some say this was the second capital, after it was moved from Ihatzio, and some say this was always the capital of the powerful P'urhepecha Empire - an empire so powerful, they managed to not only resist defeat by the Mexica, but to also deeply assault their invaders between 1450 and 1521.
Archaeologists agree the P'urhepecha were able to inflict heavy injury on Mexica invaders due to their metallurgy skills - something the Mexica did not possess. As the P'urhepecha were able to construct metal weapons, their warriors were better armed than those who came to attack. The P'urhepecha were so confident about their military advantages, when Mexica warriors were sent to warn about Cortes, the P'urhepecha killed the messengers and ignored the warning.
Nuno de Guzman arrived at Tzintzuntzan in 1529. Later deemed a war criminal, one of Guzman's first assaults involved burning King Tangaxuan II alive, before dismantling the ancient city. The Spanish looted the ancient city, carting off stones which were used to construct Roman Catholic Churches and buildings, the most famed of which is the 16th century Franciscan Monastery of Santa Ana.
Today, few remnants of the Empire remain - though it is still worth the time to explore what is here. The rounded construction of the Yacatas are unusual and mark the burial tombs of kings.
Construction of the Convent of Santa Ana began in 1570, by the Franciscan Order of the Catholic Church under the Spanish architect Fray Pedro de Pila. The architecture is baroque in style, and the grounds include two churches, open chapels, and some of the more intriguing evidence of iconic images that were utilized for immersion in Biblical teachings of Christ.
There are four sacred buildings to explore, including the Church of San Francisco, which features frescoes and Moorish panels. This was used exclusively by the Franciscan Monks. There are two open chapels, and the Church of La Soledad, which is of great importance to the locals. According to Mexican beliefs, the "Santo Entierro" (or wax sculpture of Christ in a glass casket) is very sacred, as the legs and arms are growing. There is an extension at the foot-end of the casket, as well as Mexican and American currency within. The locals come here to pray for their loved ones, most especially children who are sill or who have died. One will see many children's toys, clothes, photographs and notes left here as prayers for healing miracles.
The Image shows the stone wall that fences the grounds where the convent stands. Note the hieroglyphic symbols etched into the stones, which are evidence that the construction materials for the convent and wall were comprised of stolen temple stones from the P'urepecha capital.
Born on July 20, 1966 in the small Michoacan village of Tzintzuntzan, Teofila Servin grew up watching her mother embroider. Though she began to learn basic stitches as a child, it wasn't until she was 16 that she began to create more complicated pieces.
Working behind the scenes, it is Teofila's husband who has created the countless designs she then embroiders onto various canvases. Teo creates small and large pieces, from napkins and tea towels, patches and pillowcases to purses, blouses, pictures, rebozos and large-scale wall hangings.
38 year later, Teofila has shown her work in international textile exhibitions in Mexico and the US, has won over 60 awards, and has sold to private collectors from around the world.
If you are interested in pieces by this artist, please contact us for more information - or book at tour to visit her in Sanabria, Michoacan Mexico.
JOURNEY TO TACAMBARO
This morning we will check out of our hotel and hit the road for Santa Clara del Cobre by 9 AM. Heading for the town centre, we will enjoy a copper demonstration to learn how the maestro's of this town create countless objects and art pieces from copper, most of which is upcycled from recovered copper wire and other melted-down pieces.
From Santa Clara del Cobre, we will head to Rancho la Mesa for lunch overlooking Lake Patzcuaro, with Isla de Janitzio in the distance.
The commute to the Pueblo Magio Tacamabaro is approximately 1 hour from Rancho la Mesa. Upon arriving, you will have the option of relaxing at Quinta Sauz Hotel & Spa, or exploring the town centro.
We will enjoy dinner at the resort at 7 PM, and enjoy a quiet evening.
JOURNEY TO LA ALBERCA
This morning, we will enjoy breakfast at the resort, departing by 9:30 AM for La Alberca, which is a sacred lake in the crater of a volcano.
Considered sacred to the local P'urepecha, there are legends and stories from around this alluring glade. We will enjoy the lovely scenery, while learning stories from this beautiful place.
Returning to Tacambaro, we will enjoy lunch at Carnitas Rey Tacamba Gonzalez before exploring the town and markets.
Pictured here is "Esto es Vida" by Uruapan Installation Artist, Jesus Alexandre. This installation is of a local Shaman and his family at La Alberca, and is part of Alexandre's Dia de Muertos exhibition. Please contact us if you are interested in any of his prints.
LA RUTA DEL MEZCAL
This morning, we will have breakfast, then check out of our hotel and head for La Ruta del Mezcal in Etucuaro Madero.
Tour a mezcal distillery and learn about the mezcal-making process. If we are fortunate, they may be in the midst of harvest while we are there, though we cannot guarantee this.
From the distillery, we will visit a small, family run agave plantation, where you will see different varietals and ages of agave.
If any of our guests are interested in Pre-Hispanic feather art, please contact us ahead of time so we can make an appointment with the artists in Acuitzeo del Canje. We only offer this stop if guests are serious art collectors who are interested in this medium, as the artists do not have open studios.
Our destination this afternoon is the UNESCO city of Morelia!
What is Mezcal
"FOR EVERYTHING BAD, MEZCAL.
FOR EVERYTHING GOOD, AS WELL"
It is said in ancient times, a lightning bolt struck an agave plant, thus cooking and releasing its juices. Called “The Elixir of the Gods,” Pulque was the original fermented beverage to be produced from agave, by indigenous groups in Mexico. So important was this beverage, there were temples constructed to the Pulque gods. It remains unknown if indigenous groups were distilling spirits before the Spanish Conquest, though the historical record suggests mezcal was the result of a fusion of these cultures – one that harvested, cooked and fermented the juice, and another that also distilled the juice, increasing its alcohol content. One of the factors behind the Spanish development of mezcal was due to protectionist laws in Spain. Though sugarcane and grapes were initially introduced to the Americas following contact, the Spanish Crown feared backlash at home, thus prohibited the continued transplanting of grapes and sugarcane to New Spain. The Spanish were encouraged to utilize local resources, hence creating a brand new industry that has only recently gained recognition around the world.
In 1803, Alexander Von Humboldt mentioned mezcal in his Political Treatise of the Kingdom of New Spain, noting the production of this strong spirit in Valladolid (now Morelia), Mexico State, Durango and Nuevo Leon. Confusion sprung from this, as he reported mezcal as a byproduct of Pulque, which it is not. Edward S Curtis also described mezcal in The North American Indian, outlining the fermentation process and potency.
By 1994, Mezcal was recognized as an Appellation of Origin. Oaxaca is credited as the origin state for this diverse and delectable spirit, and their distilleries have lobbied against other states from gaining recognition as a Mezcal Denomination of Origin; even-so, Guerrero, Durango, San Luis Potosi, Puebla and Zacatecas were also granted such designation, as well “Geographical Indication.” Michoacan State gained recognition under these designations in 2012, and has a booming mezcal industry. Chihuahua has a growing sotal industry, made from a plant known as the Desert Spoon. Sotal is the fibre of the plant, also utilized by Raramuri weavers to frame their larger pine-needle baskets. As sotal is not an agave plant, this spirit is not technically a mezcal and its production is more similar to the way tequila is produced.
There are over 30 varietals of agave used in the production of mezcal. This greatly contrasts with tequila, which is only made from blue agave. While blue agave is not cooked for tequila, other agave hearts are cooked for producing mezcal. Agave plants can take anywhere from 5-10 years to mature. During the growing process, farmers must take care to keep the plants healthy and weevil-free, as agave’s infested by weevils cannot be rescued.
An interesting factor behind the overall flavour of mezcal, is the terroir. Like grapes, agave plants pick up various flavours based on the soil, climate and other contributing factors. At harvest time, agave plants can weigh as much as 40 kg’s per plant. Once the harvest is complete, the agave is culled of its outer layers and roots, to reveal the heart of the plant. These are halved, then placed in a ground pit-oven that is lined with hot rocks. After being covered with more hot rocks, maguey leaves and reed-woven mats, the mound is buried with moist soil, and left to steam for 3-4 days. The process of steaming the agave causes the starches to turn into sugar which is crucial for fermentation, while also caramelizing and imbuing the flesh with the smokiness mezcal is so famed for. Once uncovered, the hearts are ground into pulp and placed in vats with water. At this point, the juice is left to ferment, which can take up to 25 days depending on the weather. Once the fermentation is over, the juice can be distilled in clay or copper pots, which will also affect the flavour. Like tequila, mezcal is distilled twice. The first distillation generally produces 75 proof (37.5% alcohol), while the second distillation process increases the alcohol content to as high as 55%. Young mezcal is bottled and sold, while some product is aged in oak barrels for one month to as long as 12 years. For evidence of quality, watch for pearls in your mezcal - as pictured above.
Mezcal comes in a variety of flavours, including cream mezcals that are made with macadamia, coconut, pine nuts, or coffee. One mezcal vegans and vegetarians should beware of is called Pechuga (breast). This mezcal is infused with cinnamon, apple, plums, cloves and other spices, then distilled through the breast of chicken, duck or turkey. The addition of a worm in a bottle of mezcal happens during the bottling process, and is said to impart flavour, though experts agree this is more about marketing, since the worm actually destroys the delicate nature of the spirit.
Today, Mexico has approximately 330,000 hectares of land being utilized for growing agave plants. It is estimated this industry employs 29,000 workers under 9,000 producers. With 6 million litres produced annually, 2 million of which are certified, the export industry has grown to approximately 434,000 litres which generates 21 million in income. While it is amazing to find mezcal in markets around the world, there is nothing quite so fine as driving past fields and hillsides dotted with agave plants, to toast the national spirit of Mexico in a town where it is made.
Image: Omar Alejandre Reyes of the charming Mezcaleria San Miguel, Patzcuaro Michoacan
UNESCO HISTORICAL CITY OF MORELIA
This morning, enjoy a leisurely walking tour of the UNESCO Historical Centro of Morelia. This exceptional city is bustling with traffic and pedestrians, artisans peddling beautiful art pieces from outlying villages, such as pottery from Huancito and pull-through embroidery of the Mazahua, who live in the corner of Michoacan bordering Mexico State. The entire city centro is an attractive setting of plazas, historical buildings, churches, courtyards and gardens. Don't miss the gespacho - a Morelia classic of chopped fresh fruit drenched in fresh squeezed lime juice and a sprinkle of salt.
Our tour will begin at the Aqueduct and Church of Our Lady Guadalupe, down the Calzada to the Alley of Romance, and onwards to the heart of the city and Cathedral, which is the second largest Cathedral in Mexico. We will conclude our tour at the Dulce Market.
Please let us know if you would enjoy a translated tour of the Independencia Mercado - the main artery of the city. A fascinating maze of everything one could imagine can be found in the Independencia, including local cheeses.
UNESCO HISTORICAL CITY OF MORELIA
The capital of the state of Michoacán, Morelia is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is often referred to in Mexico as the "Aristocrat of Colonial Cities." The title is well earned; the delicate pink quarry-stone structures are just as majestic today as they were in the 16th century.
Founded in 1541 by the first viceroy of New Spain, Antonio de Mendoza, the city was named Valladolid, after Mendoza's birthplace in Spain. The name was changed to Morelia, after Jose Maria Morelos, following the Declaration of Independence. Today it is a modern, vibrant city with a historic heart and a youthful spirit.
Some of the key structures here include the oldest musical conservatory in the Americas, the second largest cathedral in Mexico, the gold-encrusted Sanctuary of Guadalupe, the famous aqueduct, the P'urhepecha Fountain and countless more. There are over 200 protected buildings in the centro of this powerful, masculine city.
CUITZEO DEL PORVENIR
This morning, we will enjoy an early visit to the Pueblo Magico of Cuitzeo del Porvenir. This beautiful town is often overlooked by visitors to La Ruta Don Vasco due to its location on the other side of the Cuitzeo Watershed - though it is perfectly located for those who are traveling between Morelia and Guanajuato State.
We will visit the Saint Maria Magdalen Convent and former monastery, and small segregated "Indian" church that was built as a place of worship for the local indigenous peoples.
We will visit a small archaeological site called "Tres Cerritos" or "Three Hills," named after the structures present here. We will have lunch at one of the lakeside restaurants, where the adventurous foodies can dabble in local treats, such as frog legs, charales and white fish. We will return to Morelia after lunch, arriving on time for some rest and relaxation.
This evening, we will enjoy our last feast at Morelia's top rated restaurant, Cielo Cocina Fusion!
Cuitzeo del Porvenir
Cuitzeo comes from the P'urhepecha word "cuiseo" which means "place of water containers," in reference to the large, shallow, spring-fed lake. Along with the P'urhepecha Empire, this site was also influenced by the Toltecs and Nahua groups, including those from Tula and Teotihuacan. When the Spanish arrived, Cuitzeo was under P'urhepecha rule.
The first Evangelists to arrive in the area were the Augustinians under Francisco de Villafuerte and Miguel de Alvarado. Construction of the Santa Maria Magdalena Monastery began in 1550, which is the year given for Cuitzeo del Porvenir's official founding.
Today, with a population under 9,000, Cuitzeo del Porvenir is a small, quaint and quiet town with narrow streets. The main activities here include agriculture and fishing.
The Santa Maria Magdalena Monastery is located on one end of the main plaza,. The complex includes a church, garden, open chapel and cloister. The church here shows a fusion of indigenous symbolism with Augustinian beliefs - something that was quite common in Latin America. As was also common in this part of the world, the Monastery was built from the ruins of a P'urhepecha temple, this one of which was dedicated to the sun god Curicaueri.
The Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia opened "The Museum of the Stamp" in the Santa Maria Magdalena Monastery complex, with a collection from many famous Mexican artists. There are also rooms filled with excellent examples of P'urhepecha and religious artifacts. The top floor of the cloister houses an antique library of over one thousand books. The museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday, 9-5.
Lake Cuitzeo is located outside of Morelia on the highway heading for Guanajuato State. with an area of 300-400 square kilometers, Cuitzeo is the second largest freshwater lake in Mexico, though the western side of the lake has a higher salinity, and even sustains a clam shrimp fishery. Though the lake does not drain into the sea, it does have an outflow canal that was constructed to deal with high water levels. Sadly today, the lake is quickly disappearing.
The western part of the lake was divided into two sections due to highway construction. If you are driving to San Miguel de Allende or Guanajuato from Morelia, you will pass over this highway. The three main inflows are the Viejo de Morelia, Grande de Morelia and the Querendaro rivers. The lake helps to sustain agricultural fields, with major crops including coffee, cotton and maize.
This morning, we will enjoy a decadent Champagne brunch as our final celebration, before guests depart for their next destination.
We can deliver you to a number of nearby locations, including San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato City, Lake Chapala, Ajijic, Guadalajara, Tolua, Mexico City, Zihuatanejo - and so on. Please contact us for more information.
We hope you have enjoyed your travels with us, and will leave the Michoacan Highlands with a deep understanding of the multi-faceted history of this land, from its indigenous P'urepecha roots, to it's significant role during the War of Independence and Mexican Revolution. We also hope you will have found some lovely artisan treasures to pack home, including local mezcals, candy's and cheeses.
Please join us for another exploration in Mexico soon!