Landing in a new location every few weeks or months can be a bit disorienting. It’s not just trying to remember where the bathroom is in the middle of the night or the trick to getting the key to work in the front door. It’s also trying to figure out where the grocery store is, where to find staples such as wine and coffee, and where the hospital is because, as my history has proven, there’s a good chance it will be needed.
We’ve found that the best way to orient ourselves in a new house sit and start to feel comfortable in a new location is to step outside the front door and just start walking. It helps gives us a sense of the community, the people and where to buy toilet paper. In Xcalak it was easy to orient ourselves since there was only one road to explore. Here in the town of Patzcuaro though, there are many, many more streets to figure out. Not only are there lots of streets running all different directions (no grid pattern here), all the buildings are painted exactly the same. While this looks nice, it has led to a bit of confusion on an occasion or two. It’s okay though because the best part about getting lost while walking? It just makes it a longer walk.
We’ve spent loads of time wandering up (and up) and down the many hills, exploring neighborhoods, and finding all kinds of delightful markets, shops and restaurants tucked into the nooks and crannies of Patzcuaro. And since we rarely step outside without a camera we’ve captured many our experiences around town and wanted to share some them with you. So prepare to be charmed by the charming charm of the streets of charming Patzcuaro.
As is traditional with most colonial towns, the heart of Patzcuaro is a beautiful central square or plaza. There’s actually more than one, we just happen to be closest to the largest, Plaza Vasco de Quiroga otherwise known as Plaza Grande, which is where our walks tend to either end or begin.
Patzcuaro is a Pueblo Magico, a designation by the government for cities in Mexico that offer some kind of cultural or historical significance or natural beauty. Preserving the culture and history is important here (hence the paint job), so most of the streets are the same size as they were when horses and buggies, or your feet, served as the sole means of transportation. This means some of the streets are incredibly narrow and you can barely fit one car down them. Some of these streets are one way, but many more are, for some questionable and inexplicable reason, two-way. This makes for some interesting impasses when two cars come in opposite directions at the same time, and requires a lot of patience, courteous driving and occasional backing up. It’s another of the reasons we prefer to walk everywhere versus drive. And also?
One thing that is not in short supply in this town is churches. It seems like there is a church on every single block and they hold mass several times a day. How do I know this? Because of the ringing bells. And also? Cohetes. Translated this means rockets. Yes, rockets are part of the church services here. I’m not really sure of how this all works together, but my limited understanding is that the rocket fireworks are incorporated into each service, so at some point during the mass these rockets are shot off. Each church is associated with a different patron saint and has services at different days and times. What they all do have in common, though, is the ringing of the bells and shooting off of the cohetes.
I’m telling you, I’ve been in our backyard and dropped to the ground when the church just a block away shot off cohetes and I’ve jumped several feet off the ground when we’ve been walking by another church and they shot one off. Imagine a bottle rocket with a charge the size of a beer can and you get the idea of what these things are like. They’re loud and plentiful and apparently we’re the only ones who seem to notice them because when it sounds like mortars are going off, no one else even pauses what they’re doing. I have not figured out what the purpose is of these giant rockets, but I might have to have a talk with whatever saint insists they be shot off at 2:00 AM on a Tuesday.
Don’t believe me? I actually recorded this with my phone while I was writing this post, listen for yourself!
And of course walking around town has led us to find some of the best places to find food. There are several grocery stores, abarrotes and small markets to get staples at. There is also an open-air mercado that stretches for several city blocks, is open every day and where vendors sell everything from fruits and vegetables to meat and freshly baked bread. Every single one of these stands is more plentifully stocked than the average Xcalak grocery truck, there are hundreds of them and they’re open every day! We’re in food heaven!
So if you ever find yourself in a strange place and are bit disoriented, do what we do. Keep a flashlight by the bed to find the bathroom and get out and walk around your new town. You’ll get to know the people, the restaurants and the neighborhood much better than by whizzing past it in your car or by Googling everything from behind closed doors. Get out there and explore, just watch out for giant rockets.