Here is a more “creative” version of our time in Pátzcuaro.
Our car jostled down the narrow cobblestone street, flanked on either side by two-story, white-washed adobe walls with red doors and overhanging red tile roofs. As we looked at these 400-year-old haciendas with wrought iron balconies and open, inviting patios, we felt the anxiety of the last fifteen days ease out of our tired bodies.
“This is what I thought Mexico would look like,” I exclaimed excitedly.
My husband shrugged and asked me which way he should turn.
Squinting out the dusty car window, I frantically searched the building walls for any kind of street sign that could help me fulfill my duty as navigator. Unable to stop on the narrow street, I saw Mex’s forehead start to wrinkle impatiently. “Izquierda,” I shouted, having no idea where we were on the map. He swerved to the left and the towering 200-year-old ash and elms of Plaza Vasco de Quirago, more commonly called Plaza Grande, came in to view. “Thank goodness,” I thought. I had guessed the correct direction.
After circling the plaza three times in search of our hotel, the crisp uniformity of the buildings in Pátzcuaro became slightly less charming and a little more frustrating. Once the homes of the areas rich land holders, these beautiful haciendas are now restaurants, shops and hotels. Finally, we saw a small circular sign on the sidewalk proclaiming Hotel Misión San Manuel and darted in to the last parking space.
Walking through the grandiose archway, we felt like we were entering a realm of spa treatments and luxury linens. Then, remembering we were only paying $40 a night, we reined in our expectations. The petite woman behind the desk handed us our keys and we toted our suitcases up two flights of cement stairs. Buttery yellow walls, 20-foot archways with pale stone pillars and orange floors seemed to glow in the afternoon light. The central courtyard, which would have been open in the 1700s when the home was built, was now covered by an elevated sheet of Plexiglas allowing air and light but not rain to enter. The iron railings were punctuated with terracotta pots filled with draping plants and flowers.
After putting the suitcases in our quaint, beautifully tiled room, we walked around Plaza Grande looking for souvenirs. In 1536, Bishop Vasco de Quirago arrived in this region of southwestern Mexico to help the Purépecha Indians recover from the blight of Spanish conquistadors. Some say that in order to reduce competition and create proficiency and economic stability, Quirago taught each village surrounding Lake Pátzcuaro to specialize in a different craft. Those specialties can still be found in the shops around the plaza, almost 500 years later. We passed shops displaying delicate lacquer boxes with designs so intricate they seemed to have been painted by elves, and painted pottery with electric blues, pinks and greens. We ducked through a doorway and into a small courtyard circled by copper pots of all different sizes, straw sculptures of people and animals, and hundreds of skull and skeletal figurines, which seemed to call us back for November’s Day of the Dead celebration.
Exhausted from shopping and driving over endless speed bumps, or topes as they are called, we were lured in to a café by the smell of ground coffee and fresh pastries. Seated under the shade of the towering trees, we watched the uniformed school children play in the plaza. Ordering two iced mochas and, at the last moment, a slice of strawberry cheesecake, we felt like we were back in Minnesota living our normal lives. Putting aside itineraries, budgets and travel worries, we relaxed and begin to sketch a menu for the restaurant we hope to own one day.
Waking up the next morning, the peacefulness of Pátzcuaro was forgotten and the ticking of my watch seemed to echo off every stone wall in our room.
“What do I wear?” I said anxiously. Nothing in my suitcase looked appropriate. Had I not thought of this until now? After six years together I was finally meeting his father and five sisters and with only one chance to make a first impression, I needed to get it right. My stomach wrenched.
“Anything,” Mex said. “They all look nice.”
“This is no time to try and score brownie points,” I sputtered. “I need help! My hair looks terrible.”
Seeing that there was no right answer, and clearly a lot of wrong ones, he chose to turn his attention to refolding clothes in the suitcase. Looking at my husband’s face I saw his cinnamon skin wrinkled in thought. Remembering that this day was his, a return to his father’s house after 13 years in the US, I grabbed my green travel pants and pink striped shirt and hurriedly put them on. With a quick hug, I said, “Let’s go, olorosito. I’m tired of travelling.”
As our car left the shadowy canopy of Pátzcuaro and returned to the sun-drenched highway of Michoacán, I squeezed his hand, looked at my map and pointed east, counting the miles until we would arrive home.