“But we’ve never ridden horses before. How are we meant to ride them up a volcano?” This was a good question from Ollie when we were thinking about taking a trip to Angahuan to visit Volcán Paricutín. That is a problem for future Rich and Ollie I said, so we decided to take a bus to Uruapan, Michoacan. There was a heavy US State Department warning about all non-essential travel to this particular state due to the mayor having only recently been assassinated, but we thought that us being neither a government official or Americano, it mattered not.
The bus to Uruapan was 4 hours from Guadalajara, driving through the Central Western Highlands of Mexico. I know I keep saying this about Mexico, but this landscape was absolutely incredible. The seemingly never ending green hills frame the landscape as we zipped up and down towards Uruapan, driving through some remote Purepechan towns on the way. Arriving in Uruapan, a quick taxi ride takes us to the Central Plaza, where Ollie sniffs out the cheapest accommodation on the block at Hotel Colonial for M$200 a night overlooking the main plaza, while I sit in the plaza with the packs, watching the locals watching me. The hotel being rough around the edges we decide to have a couple of drinks before an early night.
Volcán Paricutín appeared in 1943 out of nowhere and rose to 410m within a year. This area of the highlands is populated by the Purepechan people and they all managed to escape with their lives, but the lava flow decimated two towns. The volcano then continued to grow until 1952, where its black cone still looms over the landscape at 2800m, still smoking in places, with two smaller ones next to it. There are visible ruins of the church form one of the villages, sticking out of a lava flow still which we also intended to visit on our trip.
We took a bus to Angahuan, 1 hour out of Uruapan, and before we knew it we were greeted by some locals who had us on horses on moseying on towards the summit, after agreeing the price of M$900 for both of us for the day including a local guide, Benito. (It is impossible to be on a horse and not use words like ‘mosey’ or tip your hat in a way of greeting people.) My horse, ‘El Capitan’, was a moody bastard but after some disagreements, we understood each other. Ollie’s horse was smaller and I named him Nigel. Mainly because he was sneaky, and continually wound El Capitan up. The trip took us 2¾ hours through the pine forests of the highlands, with the
ground turning to black volcanic ash as we got closer. The saddles were wood with a wafer thin strip of leather covering them, making the ride torturous at times. When it was time to get off, about 300m from the summit, our bodies hurt in most places, but we were soon attacking the back of the Volcano with Benito showing us the way. Passing through various steam vents, where the rocks all around us were hot to the touch and the floor felt hollow, he soon had us scrambling up a treacherous rocky slope, ignoring the set path.
The view from the top was stunning, like a scene of a Tolkien novel, but with fewer Orks and more beauty. The ground below was a black cooled lava field, with steam seeping through, but this would then relent, giving way to fields of green before reaching another black mound. There was so much steam and cloud, it was hard to tell which was which. After admiring the view from the top, it was time to descend and we almost skied down it in shoes. It was great fun.
Back on the Captain and Nigel, we headed for the San Juan ruins of the Templo San Huan Parangaricuto. After couple more hours, passing through the landscape of ash and pine, which soon turned into fields of avocado trees, the spire of the church was visible. Benito took us on a tour over the black solidified lava to the church spire and through the doors, which were only just about visible. The only other part of the church that survived was the altar. The lava had come to a miraculous halt just in front of it, where it remains today, covered in decorations from the locals who still go there on holy days. We both agreed that this is one of the strangest things we had ever seen. After a quick quesadilla made with blue corn by a local Purepechan lady on top of an oil drum skillet and washed down with a beer we were back in the saddle of pain and soon back to Benito’s village, where the local language is Purepechan. We moseyed back into town, observing the local ladies in their colorful dresses and long platted hair carrying wood or babies, while children ran riot in the street. The air was filled with the smell of burning wood and the sounds of a woman’s voice in the native tongue announcing that she had rice for sale. We said our farewells to Benito and hopped a mini-bus back into Uruapan for an early night.
The next day, we woke, unable to move. Getting out of bed was almost impossible, but we headed to the Hotel Victoria, to have some coffee, eggs and a chance to exploit their free wi-fi. (The only place in town we have found where there is wi-fi, if you are planning on visiting and staying somewhere without…like us)
After 5 cups of coffee and some damn fine eggs we got a bus to the town of Tingambato to see our first ruin. A beautiful little town set on what I would call the slope of a valley, with the ruins site at the bottom of the hill. The site is small and dates from around 450AD. But is well preserved and wonderfully kept. We were the only people there so had freedom to wander around in peace. Soon we decided to walk the mile back up hill through the town where we watched the locals all eye us with curiosity and a hint of suspicion (but never anything other than friendly)
Deciding to give our aching bodies more punishment, we head back to Uruapan and for the Parque Nacional de Cupatitzio , which is only 1km from the main plaza. Paying the M$25 gringo fee to enter, it’s like being in another world. The river Cupatitzio thunders through in a series of waterfalls surrounded by tropical plants that cover the canopy above. The locals get in free, and were out for a Saturday stroll taking photos in front of the many man-made water features. If you were a kid, this place would be heaven. It’s enormous and has endless areas to hide in. You can get genuine peace and quiet here, despite the sheer amount of people walking around. After losing a couple of hours wandering around, we decide to head back to back to our uncomfortable beds and rest our aching limbs in preparation for the journey to Mexico city
Uruapan was a wildcard destination, and turned out to be spectacular. It is certainly off the gringo trail of Mexico, but if you decide to go, you will be handsomely rewarded for the effort.