At Home in Michoacán

Michoacán – the soul of Mexico


The state of Michoacán is an uncommon place. From the sugar cane fields of Los Reyes, the avocados, coffee, and macadamia nuts of Uruapan, the melon fields of Apatzingán, the rice fields of Lombardia and Nueva Italia, the pears of Ucareo, the pescado blanco of Patzcuaro, to the ruggedly pristine Pacific coast, the endless pine-crested peaks of Mil Cumbres, the mines and butterflies of Angangueo and the former mining town of Tlalpujahua.


Michoacán is as varied a state as you’ll find anywhere in Mexico. Michoacán is craft-central for all kinds of handicrafts and ground zero for Noche de Muertos. The guitars of Paracho, the lace of Aranza, the deshilado of San Felipe de los Herreros, the masks of Tocuaro, the devils of Ocumicho, and the pottery of Capula… And don’t miss the Meseta Purépecha, the archeological wonders of Tingambato, Tzintzuntzan and Ihuatzio or the copper workers of Santa Clara de Cobre. Morelia, the most Spanish of all Mexican cities, warrants a book all its own.


This is the state which produced one of Mexico’s most revered leaders – Lázaro Cárdenas. This is the state which has sent off the second-highest number of its own to work across foreign borders. This is the state in which the oldest university in the American continent was founded back in 1540.


Michoacán is craft and industry. Michoacán is history and leadership. Michoacán is a kaleidoscope of natural beauty. Michoacán is art and music, and Michoacán is education. Michoacán is the guardian of tradition, and the face of tomorrow. This is the state whose pride knows no bounds, and this is the state everyone loves.


I wrote that a dozen years ago, dashing it off in a few minutes one evening.  Felipe Calderon, Morelia’s own, had yet to become president.  Narcos were around even then, but they weren’t the center of our universe. Maestras and normalistas overtook the streets, but they were a much quieter bunch back in the day. There was no cuota to the Pacific shores. Altozano was barely a twinkle in its fathers’ eyes.  And still, Michoacán remains the best damn state in the Republic. Every time since, when my plane lands at MLM, when I cross over the Michoacán state line, I know I’m home.

Walking up my street, I realize that I’ve walked that adoquin over four decades of my life.

Some 26 years ago, I sat on a rock in my newly-acquired yard, feeling as lost as Dorothy in Oz. And now I wouldn’t live anyplace else.

Name That Green – Round II

And now on to Round II of Name That Green. We’ve been growing this one, nonstop, since November, but only in the past month has it really come into abundance. A hardy plant, it blends nicely with arugula and basil. This should be an easy one for well-bred and chichi to quickly identify.



Name That Green

We had never heard of this plant when we bought the seeds at a local store. But at $15 MXN a packet, we could easily take some risks. That’s what gardening is about, isn’t it?

Trying not to reveal our ignorance, we casually mentioned its name around those we thought might be more clued in. They weren’t. Of course, that left us smug, a feeling we love to embrace. After all, we were the first of our kind around these parts to grow kale, which is so last year.




Are you au courant enough to recognize what this is?



Are Turks Safe in Mexico?

A Turkish lawyer wrote me on Facebook:

I want to ask your opinion regarding my friend’s daughter (a high school kid) from Turkey who has been chosen to participate in a Rotary Youth Exchange Program whereas she will stay with a family in a different country for 6 weeks this summer as part of the program. Evidently, they have a few countries to choose from. One of these countries is Mexico. The daughter is interested in Mexico because she had Spanish courses in High School along with English. However, Mom has certain reservations as to whether she should send her to Mexico or not due to the safety concerns. As someone who knows Mexico better than anyone I know, your input would be greatly appreciated. Maybe I should ask the question as follows: Would you send your daughter to Mexico for a program as this one for 6 weeks to stay with a family??

My response (with apologies for hasty drafting):

Without hesitation, I would feel safe sending a high school student to Mexico for a program like the Rotary exchange.

The people who participate in Rotary in Mexico are upper middle or upper class, very conservative, and business-oriented. These people and the Rotary organization did not take any chances in years past, and they’re not going to take any chances in today’s environment.

An American kid would very likely find Mexican society to be very restrictive in comparison to contemporary US society. I can’t make the comparison to Turkish society. Mexican society is very conservative compared to European society.

Drug use is still looked down upon in Mexico; it’s a lower class thing here. The worst that your friend’s daughter might do in the country is to drink — and over-drinking is considered bad form.

The narco-violence is exaggerated. The media has blown it entirely out of proportion. I am not denying that it exists, but you have to make a concerted effort to find it – by going to the wrong part of town, hanging out with the wrong kind of people, trying to buy drugs, not immediately leaving a situation that looks suspicious. The targets of narco-violence are other gang members and p0oliticans.

Nearly all of the dangers you read about which affect tourists take place in resort areas like Cancun, where tourists are drinking too much, taking chances that they would never dream of taking back home, and are ready targets.

Your friend’s daughter’s host family is going to take every precaution to ensure her safety – just as they do their own. Mexicans are much more safety-conscious than Americans – we Mexicans double-lock our doors, don’t let strangers into the house, have bars on the windows (which is more of an architectural feature), and our homes are marked by high walls. The girl will probably not be permitted to go out by herself, and she will be escorted at all times by her hosts or a group of friends.

Mexico has a lot of poor people, and their presence is not easy to escape. It is probably like Turkey in that regard. It is an extremely class-conscious country. The mere existence of poor people can be frightening to those who are not accustomed to this.

Mexicans are a lot like Turks (I may be generalizing, but I’m always drawing parallels between Mexico and the Turkey I knew). We are a gregarious, open, helpful people, insisting that others eat all the time!

Because Mexico is really suffering right now from bad press, the government, hospitality industry, and the kind of people who participate in exchanges like the Rotary program are knocking themselves out to make sure that visitors remain safe and have an enjoyable experience. In my opinion, Mexico is definitely a lot safer than Istanbul!


Mexican Wins Chile

Rick Steeves calls him the “The Rick Steeves of South America.” I think he’s better than Rick Steeves, any day of the week.

Few travel writers know the Southern Cone better than Wayne Bernhardson, wrote the Moon Handbooks to Buenos Aires, Chile, Argentina and Patagonia. Before I entered this evening’s contest at Southern Cone Travel, I’d been debating about where to go on my next South American trip. I told myself that if I won, the decision would be easy. And because I know my mountains when I see them, I won the current edition of Moon Handbooks Chile.