Day at the Spa in Purépecha World
LAGO de CAMECUARO is simply beautiful, featuring a crystal clear lake framed by ancient and magnificent cypress trees. The grassy lawns extend in all directions waiting for your blanket and good book. Then there are the quaint food stands offering the most delicious quesadillas, tacos and salsas to be enjoyed from lakeside picnic tables. A small fleet of wooden flat boats painted in bright colors float nearby at the ready. Resident ducks and geese inhabit their own personal island providing the only sound effects in this peaceful setting on most days that is.
BUT, nothing could have prepared us for what we were about to discover on January 1, 2003. Rising early, quite anxious to head up the road to Ocumicho to enjoy the dances, we soon discovered that tens of thousands of villagers were heading OUR way. The two-lane road to the lago was now a double-lane highway as all roads led to Lago de Camécuaro!
Yes, there were dozens of pick-up trucks, cars and buses, but it was the endless fleet of dump trucks filled to the brim with giggling Purépechans that left us slack jawed! As each mammoth truck pulled up, the gate lowered, and there stood hundreds of smiling villagers ready to picnic. And the trucks kept coming, and coming, and coming. And equally as many visitors were heading to the park on foot. It seems that on New Year's Day, Lago de Camécuaro is the Club Med of the Tarascan empire! Who knew?
As thousands of visitors poured into the park on this New Year's Day, we were off to the pueblos to enjoy the dances. This report depicts the park on a decidedly less crowded day.
LAGO de CAMECUARO is located just east of Zamora on old Highway 15. Driving past the town of Tangancícuaro, start looking for signs to Lago de Camécuaro, an official Mexican national park. Camécuaro means "crying place" (if you should be caught in the New Year's Day traffic), or "places of deep waters" . The park measures 121,480 square meters with the lake measuring 35,482 square meters. In addition to the clear blue-green waters for swimming and boating, it is the size and beauty of the ancient cypress trees-Los Ahuehuetes-that receive national attention and protection.
As is the case with any good resort, amenities abound. You may shop for swim wear, beach towels, and a large variety of souvenirs. For the youngsters, every color and shape of "floatie" is available, as well as nets for catching fish. The massive cypress tree roots create shallow pools, and kids spend hours trying to nab the small fish in them. Tire inner tubes are for rent, and of course there are the boats-for-hire.
A half dozen stands offer simple, fresh food but it seems that most arrive with coolers, barbeque grills, and heavy baskets in tow. Add to this the wandering mariachis and one has all the makings of an instant party. But I imagine that the mariachis serve a much greater purpose in this most-romantic spot. How many proposals have been spoken here? The mariachis surely do their part while the groom-to-be is nervously preparing to pop THE question. Yes, romance is in the air as couples stroll hand-in-hand along the shores, or take a blanket into the sun in search of a perfect kissing spot.
In this small park we have discovered another side of Tarascan life. Life is so hard here. Everyone is always working to feed many mouths, chopping wood to keep everyone warm, and then making clay despite the long, cold rainy season which seems to defy their attempts. But here, the worries of the world dissolve for a few hours, and we at last see villagers of all ages playing and frolicking in this natural paradise.
As the sun sets, visitors reluctantly gather their belongings and head for the closing gates. We can't help but giggle as we pass the prominently displayed signs. And what do they say?
"PLEASE DO NOT USE SOAP IN THE LAKE" !
Lago de Camécuaro is truly
the playground of the Purépechas.