“Dos cervezas, por favor” I said after greeting the smiling barmaid in Bar Montecarlo located in a rough part of Uruápan, Mexico. We were desperate for a cold beer.
My companion, Chrissy, somewhat averse to entering seedy cantinas, scanned the joint with a critical eye. Eyebrows rose on sighting “girlie” calendars on the walls.
Cold “Victoria” beer arrived promptly plus a free plate of tacos with a delicious avocado-chili mixture. We were offered a sample of caldo de camarones – (prawn soup) the speciality of the day. Some men and girls chatted noisily at the bar. A friendly guacho with a guitar came and sang us a song all for 5 pesos.
A bronzed, mustachioed guy at the next table introduced himself as “Gasper”. Chrissy took the opportunity to practice her Spanish. It turned out that he owned an avocado ranch in the countryside.
“Would we like to visit it tomorrow?” He would come with his pickup to our hotel at 10 am and it was a 45 minute drive to the ranch.
Around the corner from this friendly meeting place we soon found the elusive Internet Cafe on Calle Juarez, our reason for being in this part of town. Chrissy sent off a bulk email to all our friends and I did some online banking and checked up on the Australian stock market. What a change from travelling a few years ago!
Our budget hotel, Hotel del Parque, is only half a block from the entrance to the mini-National Park encompassing the headwaters of Rio Cupatitzio – a rocky canyon full of tropical vegetation. Springs of cold water gush out from under ancient lava beds and flow into a trout farm.
The fish-out pond is 3 metres deep with crystal-clear water full of rainbow trout up to 4 lb size. You pay so much for fish caught (10 pesos per hour and 35 pesos per kilo for the fish). Only 3 anglers are allowed to fish at one time and you have to wear a lifejacket … in case you fall in with excitement.
The fish ignored my large streamer flies but a nymph produced instant success. I quickly caught 2 fish of 1 lb size and called it a day. The big fish were too well fed to be interested. We cooked our trout over a camp stove in our hotel room.
Our new friend Gasper arrived next morning as arranged. We drove off through pine-forested volcanic hills and intensely cultivated valleys. Countless avocado plantations extend far up the slopes. Uruápan is the largest avocado producing region in the world and it is experiencing an export boom.
The farm homestead was a humble single-storey rambling building by the roadside. There
we met Gasper’s wife Maria Teresa and sons and dog Osso. Immediately we had drinks at the kitchen table. By now we were accustomed to Mexico’s national drink … tequila with a squeeze of lime juice.
The family was keen to learn about our homeland. An antique school atlas was produced. We felt like visitors from another planet as we explained the geography of Australia.
Gasper was keen to show off his ranch and suggested a stroll through the plantation. We donned sombreros to fend off the harsh sun. I noticed Gasper slip a revolver into his hip-pocket … were there bandits or pumas about? I wondered.
He explained that the ranch had 2500 avocado trees and harvesting continues year-round.
When picked green and packaged properly, avocados will stay fresh for up to a year. This allows them to be exported all over the world, to Japan, the USA and Europe. The Calavo packing house in Uruápan has a capacity of 100 million pounds of fruit annually.
Late afternoon we bounced home with friends and relatives in the back of Gasper’s pickup, stopping off at San Juan Nuevo for a roast pork take-away – carnitas. The cheery Indian street vendor plucked the portion of pork of our choice off the coals with her bare hands and slapped it on a tortilla.
The original San Juan village was buried by a lava flow from Volcán Paricutín, famous for first erupting in a farmer’s cornfield in 1943. Subsequent lava flows buried two Indian villages. All that remains of San Juan are the steeples of the cathedral which poke grotesquely above the scraggy black rock.
Next day we bussed out to the Indian village of Angahuan located close to ParicutÃn where the lava flow ended. It is a 45 minute hike to the cathedral. I felt a little guilty not going by horseback thus depriving the local Indians of their tourist dollar, but they had plenty of customers without us.
The lava had burst through the side of the building and filled the interior. The altar is intact and flowers are arranged there daily. We scrambled underground with a flashlight down dank passages to the vaults. This is the first time I have examined a fossilized church.
Were we explorers from another planet?
No, just Australians enjoying the wonders of Mexico.
Uruápan city is located in the Western Central Highlands of Mexico, altitude 1620 metres, population 260,000, second largest city in Michoacan State. This scenic volcanic region has extensive ranches producing avocados, macadamia nuts and beef cattle.
There is easy access by bus from Mexico City (430 km West, 6 hours) or from Guadalajara (305 kms SE, 5 hours).
Both Lonely Planet and Rough Guides on Mexico have a comprehensive list of accommodation available in Uruápan. Recommended budget hotel, and for location, is Hotel del Parque, with singles/doubles US$8/12.
Logicentro at Calle Juarez #57
This is a convenient starting point to visit the famous volcano “Paricutín” which erupted in a farmer’s cornfield in 1943.
For a DIY day trip take the local bus ($1) to the Indian village of Angahuan. Hike from bus stop on main road (1 km) to village and on to Las Cabañas restaurant and lookout point for Volcán Paricutín (3170m) and the lava flow that engulfs the cathedral. The restaurant is a great resting/refueling spot.
To climb the volcano, best to stay over night at Las Cabañas and arrange for guide and horses.
Warm, pleasant climate. Day temps about 19°C year round. Check weather today for Uruápan.
One US dollar equals 9.3 Mexican pesos, but check the rate today.
You can visit Allano’s web site by clicking here.