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Daytrips from Zihua - Shopping Lake Pátzcuaro
"Never send three women traveling on a shopping excursion with an empty Suburban."
I was asked to go on a scouting/shopping expedition to Michoacan, specifically the area in and around Pátzcuaro, with a friend. I have been to Pátzcuaro before and thought a return to the city I had become so enchanted with would be a wonderful reprieve from the rainy season on the Pacific Coast. So off we headed one cool morning, on the road for Michoacan. The Suburban was empty, with the exception of a cooler full of beer and food and our random bags of all the things needed to go shopping. Thank god we did not need much to go on this shopping excursion, because all the space in the Suburban would be needed, every last inch. Never send three women traveling on a shopping excursion with an empty Suburban. Not exactly a day trip, but definitely do-able in a weekend. The drive took us nine and half hours, due to fact that I suffer from extreme car-sickness, when I have a hangover. Usually, the drive takes about seven hours. In order to get there by bus, just head to Morelia and then catch one of the many buses headed to Patzcuaro. But I suggest bringing your own car. Getting around by bus is doable, but while shopping, it can be rather cumbersome.
Our first stop was the town of Patzcuaro itself. Here you can find all of the handicrafts of the area towns and villages. The higher-end stores are here, conveniently located around the main square. The old Dominican convent located one block off the square is now the location for many shops selling the local crafts. The prices here are a little higher than in the towns but the quality is high and bargaining can be a fun part of the shopping experience. Hand woven products, such as clothing, table dressings and rebozos (scarves used by the local women for many many purposes) can be found in most of the stores, there is even a loom upstairs where you can watch the weavers at work. So our first day we spent walking around the square looking at all that was available. Our driver, my friend who really had a reason to be shopping, was enamored with a hand painted chest with different types of fish and marine life. In my wise advice I talked her out of buying it right then and there, as we were planning on going to the village that specialized in woodwork in the next few days.
The next day we went to Santa Clara del Cobre, a town known for its copper wares. Here you can find anything and everything made out of copper. A hint to those in need of kitchen ware. Santa Cobre del Cobre is the place. All that was purchased by us was some bottle openers.
Next on the list was a drive to the west side of the lake, stopping at the furniture shops that dot the road. It is here that you can purchase beds, pillars, frames, carved suns and moons, and the one thing on everyone's list, six foot wooden statues of Don Quixote. Perusing, we bought nothing. Then we made it Tzintzuntzan; here you can buy woven products of straw. The Suburban filled up more.
Morning woke us with the sound of bugles, as it was the week of Mexican Independence. It was 6:30am. Time to get prepared to shop. This day we set out to find the best of Mexico's mask makers. Rumor had it he lived in Tocuaro. We had read that the house of Juan Orta Castillo was on the street with the bus station and the church, somewhere in the middle. Mr Ortiz has won Mexico's National Mask Maker competition a few times, and once we were led to his workshop by his wife, we saw why. His masks are unique in every way. The detail and creativity are unsurpassed. The masks range in price and the most expensive we saw was $1800 pesos. The purchase made was a small merfish (half mermaid - half fish) very catching.
We then journeyed a little further up the road to Jarácuaro, a very small village of no note, with the exception of the hat factory. Definitely worth a look if you are in the market for a hat. Then it was on to Erongarícuaro. A town noted for its furniture and the internationally renowned, Mueblos Finos. We stopped here and looked at the catalog. Nice stuff. Then it was on to Quiroga, a town where you can really get some good bargains. Tin mirrors, wooden products, leather products, glass products, lots of things. I made my only purchase of a tiled tin mirror. On its side it did not take up too much space in the Suburban.
The last day, we were headed to Paracho, the town known world over for its guitars. Before we left Patzcuaro, our driver made one last sweep through the town, buying the beautiful wood chest I tried to talk her out of the first day.
So, if you want to head up the road and do some shopping, make it the area around Lake Pátzcuaro. And, remember, leave some space in your car for all that you will buy.