Hiking Mexico-style: A little bit of everything

From elegant outhouses to zip lines, frocks to ice cream, and hovels to mansions, a day hike in Mexico plays on all of your senses and then some. Without knowing what to expect, we headed out under sparkling skies and warm temperatures last Sunday to Zirahuen, a small town about 15k away, that sits on a spectacular lake. I will let the photos do most of the talking for this post, but first a word about transportation in a country in which most people do not have cars.

About two blocks from the house we are renting in the historic Michoacan town of Patzcuaro, we flagged down a little combi van. Scrawled on its windshield were the names of several locations including “Estacion,” or “bus station,” which was where we were heading. For 60 cents each, we were dropped at a spot where the shoulder on the side of the street was wide. This passes for the bus station in Patzcuaro. We’d expected to catch the bus to Zirahuen, but upon learning of our destination, a driver approached us. For about $2.50 each he would drive us along with two others to our destination. So we climbed into his “collectivo,” a shared taxi and off we drove. The car was clean, newish and our Mexican car mates were great. They were the ref and linesman for a soccer final taking place that afternoon in Zirahuen.

We’d visited Zirahuen previously and loved it so when I learned there was a small road that went all the way around the lake and that there was what sounded like a lovely restaurant and an “adventure park,” on the far side of the lake, we thought why not? We’ll head off and see how far we get. And that is exactly what we did.

Below are a series of photos that will give you a sense of what we experienced over the next seven hours or so.

As we walked along the side of the lake, we saw fishermen fishing from canoes. The lake is cold and apparently has trout.


We spied a trail and left the road, hoping it would take us around the lake. We followed it for a long time passing through this area that reminded us of the Cheltenham badlands. The trail then ran between a forested area and some farm fields. This area is known for its avocados and we saw lots of new little avocado trees.


Alex looks as though he’s posing for GQ here, but it was actually a candid shot of my handsome man.


This photo of me was taken on our return journey, but it gives you a sense of the beautiful trail and how its lit in the late afternoon.


We came across what reminded us of a maple syrup operation. They were tapping the pine trees for resin. They then impregnate small sticks with the gum and use them as very effective fire starters.


The trail returned to the road and we walked through small town. We came across a little store and picked up a cold drink. This gentleman was 95 years old. We sat and chatted with him, his son and daughter-in-law. Hard to imagine he was born just as the Mexican Revolution was coming to an end and Pancho Villa had been killed by US forces.


Further up the road, we visited a hotel that consisted of a series of beautiful cottages built into the steep hillside that dropped down to the lake. They were set in a pine forest and were at least as beautiful as anything you’d find in Algonquin Park. This lovely young lady was celebrating her 15th birthday, a coming out for young Mexican women.


As we climbed back up to the road, I could hear the telltale music of an ice-cream vendor. Sure enough there he was with a big vat of vanilla or bubblegum ice cream. I wasn’t really hungry, but couldn’t resist the opportunity.


Further up the road, we came to the adventure park. We wandered down the road past the zip line and horses for rent. We came across this lovely “snack bar.” There was a full restaurant too.


We kept climbing down and down until on the edge of the lake there was a bar. We’d been walking for about two hours by now along the road and some beautiful trails, so we couldn’t resist having a beer — in part because we could. We couldn’t imagine a Canadian bar situated in an adventure park. Mexico has its problems, but it does some things very well.


As we sat under the tent sipping our beers and chatting with a lovely young Mexican woman who worked in social services helping other Mexican woman, many of whom have a houseful of children and a husband who has disappeared to the US, people zipped over the lake along this zip line. I was sorely tempted to give it a try, but we elected to take a tandem kayak for a spin instead. I tried a kilometre-long zip line in Oaxaca and am now a staunch believer that zip lines and eco-tourism are great bedfellows.


When we finished kayaking, it was getting late. We had the choice of either walking back, which was about a two-hour hike, or taking this launch. It turned out it ran continuous boat tours throughout the weekend. We ended up walking but it was tempting to take the boat and nice to have the option.


We elected to go kayaking rather than go for a ride. The kayaking was great, but this looked better.


This pairing of houses in a small village we passed through reminded us of the extremes in Mexico. The good news is that Mexico’s middle-class is gaining in size and might. Throughout our time here, we’ve mostly seen Mexican tourists, something far less common 20 years ago.


On our return trip, a short cut turned into climbing seven barbed wire fences only to end up on a trail beside a little farm with a very vicious dog. Just as the dog decided to attack us, I spied this woman staring hard at the crazy gringos. She called the dog off and once we explained we were lost (go figure!), she became all smiles and walked with us to show us the path back to the trail we were searching for.


This was her neighbour. I had to take a photo of all her plants. I couldn’t include them all in a single photo. She seemed very pleased that we admired her handiwork.


I call this a branch garden.


Not far from here, a pickup truck stopped and the driver asked us if we were his neighbours. We said no, then had a half-hour-long discussion about all kinds of things. The couple in the truck lived in Morelia, the capital city of Michuacan, but have a place on this lake. They run camps for kids. He’d learned his trade working in Edmonton and Vancouver, and spoke good English. We now have a standing offer to stay at their place and he promised to show us a hike to a waterfall.


With the delay talking to our newest best friends, the shadows were growing long. It was time to catch a cab back to Patzcuaro.


We didn’t have time to visit Norma’s restaurant for a meal as it was 7ish. We’d had the best meal of stuffed peppers and white fish from her kitchen on our earlier visit. Here she cooking one of her delicious stuffed peppers.


Ending this post with a collage of outhouses is a bit odd, but somehow even these simple structures looked beautiful, or at least interesting, on such a beautiful day.
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