As you’ve probably surmised by now, I am a lover of boats, lakes, history, islands and cool old towns. So far though, I’ve only been able to enjoy one or two of these things at the same time (rough, I know) so when we had the chance to step our game up and do all of them at once we jumped. Where could we possibly do this you ask? The island of Janitzio of course.
Janitzio is the principal island of Lake Patzcuaro and is only accessible by boat, you know, because it’s an island. But it’s not just any island, it’s famous all across Mexico for its Day of the Dead celebration. Each year thousands of people flock here from around the world to celebrate their ancestors or just to drink beer and party. Hey, who am I to judge how you honor your relations? Due to our impeccable sense of timing we’re about 9 months early (or 3 months too late) for the party so we had to find something else to do out there. Enter José María Morelos and his giant rock fist.
Morelos is a national hero, kind of the Mexican equivalent of George Washington. I know that you most likely don’t care about history as much as I do so let’s suffice it to say that Morelos is a big, big deal in Mexico. Not only is he a big deal in Mexico but he’s a huge deal here in Michoacan because you see, he is from here. And that, my friends, is how a massive statue of Morelos raising his giant rock fist ended up at the top of Janitzio Island. This thing is huge, massive, grand, spectacular, gigantic even. It’s about 2/3 the height of the Statue of Liberty and sits at the tippy top of Janitzio Island so it can be seen from miles around, including from our house, the grocery store, the roads around Lake Patzcuaro and anyplace else in town. Tired of looking at it from afar we decided to head out to Janitzio and take a close up look at it.
We read that water taxis leave regularly to head out to Janitzio from the piers of Patzcuaro so we just followed the signs to Muelle San Pedrito. From there we parked the car and moseyed on up to the ticket booth to buy our tickets. Except that no one was working. In fact, there was really no one around at all other than a couple of ducks. There were lots of boats around so we figured we were in the right place and settled in to wait.
A few minutes later a nice guy came up and asked us if we were buying tickets. Due to my poor Spanish and the fact he wasn’t wearing a uniform of any kind I wasn’t sure if he was also looking for the ticket booth guy or if he was the ticket booth guy. Turns out he was the ticket booth guy and that tickets were $50 pesos each and the boat would leave when there were 10 paying customers. The price seemed like a good deal, but I wasn’t sure how long it would take to gather the required ten passengers since there was no one else in sight.
Luckily enough, another couple showed up about then and enquired about hiring a private boat in light of the fact that there were no other tourists around (their Spanish was much better than mine). In the end, we struck a deal to pay $300 pesos for the four of us (about $20 U.S.) and we were on our way.
The ride out to Janitzio was super pleasant and after so much time inland we really enjoyed being back out on the water. On our way out we passed quite a few fishermen in tiny, brightly colored boats who either ignored our passing or just waved. Living so close to such a large lake has me itching to fish but I’ve heard that there are no fish to speak of in the lake due to pollution and silt accumulation. We’ve even been told that the fisherman no longer use their famous butterfly nets to catch the local delicacy of “Pescado Blanco” from the lake and that these days the nets only catch tourists. I’m not sure if it’s true, but I hope that it’s not.
After a half hour or so we arrived in Janitzio and parked among the other boats at the pier and immediately realized we had quite a climb ahead of us. Janitzio is steep and the town just went straight up from the pier. Imagine doing a stairclimber with an uneven step, while breathing through a straw and you get the idea of what climbing these paths at over 7,000ft of altitude is like.
A semi-grueling fifteen-minute walk brought us to the top of Janitzio and the base of Morelos. And man, what a view! The hike up was well worth it and quickly forgotten about. The base of Morelos is surrounded by a lovely plaza with drink stands, places to relax in the shade and 360 panoramic views of the lake. Absolutely stunning.
After spending a few minutes relaxing, soaking in the views and playing on the swings (well, one of us played on the swings) we noticed something important (and awesome) – you can climb the Morelos Monument! That’s right, this huge statue was also a museum. As cool as it was on the outside, the inside really made the trip. The entire interior is covered with murals depicting scenes from the Mexican revolution and even if you’re not a history nerd they’re definitely worth seeing.
Of course there is one catch, you have to climb to see them.
I may be a fan of boats, lakes, history and many other things but one thing I’m not a fan of? Heights. Nope. No sir, I don’t like ’em.
Given the fact that my legs and hands were almost as shaky as my Spanish (from the climb, certainly not fear) I didn’t spend a lot of time reading each mural but they were very detailed and very cool. Upon reaching the “top” we realized we weren’t done yet, we had what appeared to be a spiral staircase to an abandoned lighthouse above us. A lighthouse? I don’t remember any lighthouses around here. Oh well, we’ve come this far so why not? And up we went.
Turns out there wasn’t a lighthouse after all, we were in Morelos’ upraised rock fist surrounded by glass panels. That certainly made a lot more sense than a lighthouse, but it didn’t make it any less freaky, so after a quick look around I descended (very, very quickly) back to the realm of sanity.
If you’re a fan of boats, lakes, history, cool old towns and/or heights then a trip Janitzio Island is definitely something you should add to your bucket list. I know we’ll be back but if I have my way we’ll skip the fist and just make sure to be here for the party.