Saturday, December 13, 2008

Angahuan and Volcan Paricutin

After seeing all of the falls and National Parks in Uruapan (and also unsuccessfully trying to find the "Feria del Aguacate"...The Avacado Fair in the Avocado capital of the world!), we drove up North about an hour to Angahuan, a small Perepecha town with wooden houses, colorfully dressed women, and a lot of dirt. It was very humbling to drive through town...firstly because it was clear that most people's transportation consisted simply of horses, but secondly, because people obviously lived in very humble circumstances.
As we pulled up to the main plaza and stopped briefly on a street corner, a gentleman signaled to me, saying he was a "tour guide" and who knows what else (in Spanish). I showed him my book, and asked him (in my best Spanish) where the 'Cuartos Familiares' cabanas where. He motioned that he would take us there, jumped on his horse, and began leading us through the streets (see him?).
He first took us to what seemed to be the absolute outskirts of town to a large collection of cabanas. I immediately recognized these cabanas as described in my Lonely Planet book as being overpriced for what you get (not the right place!). He grabbed a key from the grounds keeper (obviously a buddy) and showed us a place that I was not interested in staying. I said "Cuartos Familiares!" So, he got back onto his horse, and led us one property further to another place which obviously not "Cuartos Familiares," either. He showed us the cabana, which wasn't all that bad, but I was seriously concerned about how I was going to keep the room warm all night (no heat and the fireplace was in a separate room). And I was simply angry that he was not taking us to the right place" I felt like a snotty American, denying the places he showed. But I had read that Cuartos Familiares was supposed to be the best sleeping option in town, and it also had an attached restaurant. We were hungry, and I knew we'd also need food in the morning.

So, we finally decided we'd have to wing it on our own, but once again jumped on his horse, lead us back into town, and low-and-behold, he took us to "Cuartos Familiares!" FINALLY!! After taking us to all of his buddies...he finally relented, and brought us to the cheapest and obviously best place in town. He then scheduled an appointment to take us on a volcano tour in the morning (the purpose of our visit...and obviously the only reason you'd visit this town). When he talks only Spanish (and us English), this is easier said than done. Whew. But was done.

So, we paid for the cabana in cash, right there in the dirt parking lot at nightfall. We checked into our room, and felt blessed to find a place as nice as we did. Even so, it was the most rustic place we had seen so far. While it was an enormous room (enough beds to sleep 6), the walls and floor were concrete, there was no heat, no hot water (not that it mattered, because the shower didn't have enough pressure to even wash your hands!), and we were already freezing our buns off. There was, however, a nice fireplace and wood for the taking. Jared built an enormous fire, and we tried to heat the place up. We had't come prepared for cold (no long sleeves or jackets!), and at an elevation of 8,800 plus feet it was COLD!

Maiya slept on the floor in her regular little child's tent (with a foam bottom), but it was certainly not warm enough for her to sleep soundly. She woke up at midnight, and went in and out of our bed (making us miserable) all night. She simply doesn't sleep well in the cold (and we didn't have warm clothes for her!) . We were actually relieved when the sun came up. It would have been a perfectly fine experience without her (did I say that?), but we wanted sleep on our menu!

The evening we arrived, we enjoyed a delightful meal of quesadillas on blue corn tortillas (the local specialty). We tend to eat quesadillas a lot when we're out and about. Not good for trying to eat vegan...but I seriously feel safer eating cheese than mysterious meats that may or may not prepared safely. Jared probably doesn't care either way, but I've been nervous about meats my whole life! Now, if I knew everything on the menu was vegatarian, I wouldn't be afraid to try it all! It is VERY rare to find vegatarian food in Mexico. They like MEAT, and they rarely include other toppings, except for extremely hot salsa (not like our tex-mex with lettuce, tomatoes, etc). The lady who "checked" us in (obviously the owner) also cooked our food right there in the open kitchen. Her children came and went, and enjoyed making faces at Maiya.In the morning we had huevos and frijoles (eggs and beans). It is very hard to order food when you know a very limited amount of Spanish. (p.s. Ella has a crayon in her mouth...luckily we haven't yet let her pick up immoral habits while in Mexico)
Brr! We were COLD!!
Looking across the street, I saw a Purepecha woman cleaning up in front of her tienda. The lady at Cuartos also dressed similarly.After breakfast, our guide arrived on time with our horses for our ride to the Volcan Paricutin.

The Paricutin volcano has a pretty spectacular story. In 1943, a farmer in a nearby town was tending his fields. All of a sudden the earth began to quake and steam, and sparks and hot ash came flying out of the ground! He tried to cover the holes, but realized his effort was futile, and he left the property. The land began to rise, and up came a volcano! In fact, within a year it reached an elevation of 1,300+ feet, and lava had covered two towns in its path! Luckily, it all happened slowly enough that no one was killed, and the villagers were able to evacute.
Now, the only remains of either of the villages is the top of a ruined Templo San Juan Parangaricutiro (A stone chapel). While some people hike/horse ride to the top of the volcano (8 hours each way), we opted to do a short 2 1/2 hour round-trip to the chapel and back.

The book told us this trip would cost about $250 to $300 pesos per horse (less than $25-$30 each. This is astonishing to us, considering a similar tour in Alaska would probably cost about $175 per person!). We could have easily "hiked" for free to the chapel (more of a walk, really), but with a 3 year old and a baby, we were willing to pay the price to take a horse. Our fabulous book warned us that we shouldn't be surprised if our guide suddenly traded off with a little boy who then would became our actual tour guide to the chapel. Sure enough, when we got to the trailhead, our "guide" waved goodbye, and suddenly an 11 year old boy, Ismael, was leading us along the path! (That was the extent of our communication...simply asking him his name. He didn't speak English, and asking a person's name is about all I've learned from watching Dora with Ella too many times...)
The trail took us through the woods, then out to a clearing which was covered in volcanic rock. We rode along the edge of this rock until we reached the "tourist trap" (ha!) right before the chapel.
Vendors in shabby huts lined the area, and everyone offered us food samples. We had just eaten a hearty breakfast, and felt sad to turn them down (I really sympathize with the individuals trying to make a living by the 'sweat of their brow').We then started our short climb up the volcanic rock to the chapel.
The chapel looked stunning, boldly jutting out of a field of volcanic rock. What an amazing testament to the craft and care that went into building this chapel!
We hiked around the chapel and took photos, while Ismael played with a stick and waited patiently.
I'm down in the archway. Can you see me?
We then climbed back down, got back on our horses, and started the ride back to our cabana. At the end of the trail, suddenly our older "tour guide" reappeared to collect his money. He said the total was just $300 pesos...half of what we expected! Wohoo! We also tipped the boy $40 pesos, and hoped we had given him enough. It is hard to know what is appropriate, and I also wish I knew the arrangment this "guide" had with the younger boy. Perhaps the boy's only wage was a tip? Not to mention...shouldn't this boy be in school? We passed many other young boys leading Mexican tourists (and one Canadian family...the only other minorities we saw on the trip!) to the volcano.
Leaving town, I managed to snap a few more photos of the local scenery.
I tried so hard to get a photo of these three beautiful young woman walking side by side, but when they saw my camera pop out of the car window, they joyfully hid themselves and refused to cooperate...giggling all the while!
We passed the cemetary on the way out of town...
Whew. And that was just the start of the day. It was only noon! So, stay posted for more of this great trip that happened a MONTH ago! (Yeah, I'm WAY behind!)

3 comments:

The Thomson Fam said...

This all looks so interesting! What fun little adventures you guys are going on and things you are seeing! I don't know how you do the whole food thing! I would go nuts not knowing what i'm getting, and from what my sis has said (she went on a mission in Mexico for a year) the food is interesting to say the least!

Lisa said...

Everytime I visit your blog I am in awe of your fabulous adventures! What wonderful experiences you and your children are having!

Morgan and Derek said...

That trip looks amazing!