Tag Archives: tourist sites in Mexico

Playing Tourist–BioParque Estrella

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The school I work for went on an “educational” trip in May to the BioParque Estrella theme park in Mexico State and my son and I went along with them. The promotional material and pictures online made the trip look incredible. The reality was a bit of a letdown.

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Fountain at the entrance to the park

After a LONG bus ride, we arrived and were shuttled along around the fountain at the entry until it was our turn to be yelled at by a person with a megaphone. We were supposed to have a tour guide, but after leaving the fountain area, he wasn’t seen again. Looked like we were on our own!

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Our first stop on the grand BioParque tour was the Subterranium (Underground). It consisted of a mini-museum with pictures of actual miners and a sampling of mining equipment. Then more than 200 of us were herded into a room with only 1 exit for the What is mining? animated video. Fortunately, it was brief. We then descended several flights of unnaturally short steps to the main attraction. We boarded gas powered vehicles and went through a “spooky” mine at incredible speeds completely in the dark. The first few stops were mining scenes, then things got a little fanciful. We passed a huge tarantula, a basilisk, a giant scorpion, Medusa (with glowing red eyes) and the lost city of Atlantis, before returning to our starting position and ascending the unnaturally short steps again.

We lost 8 to 10 members of our group during this process, so we had to set out search parties and stand around for awhile.

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Once we regrouped, we headed to la Tierra de Dinosaurios (the land of dinosaurs) and went on the Rio Jurasico (Jurassic River) boat ride. We all loaded into a seriously tilting motor boat and went around a circular canal, stopping at various dinosaurs that moved or squirted water at us. I was hit by the poison shooting Dilophosaurus, splat right in the face. I was not a happy camper. Despite my fear we were going to capsize, we made it back to the dock and filed out.

I took advantage of the milling about and searching for stragglers time after this attraction to hit the bathrooms. The lines were really long, but there were both toilet paper and seats in the stalls. Five-star bathroom experience! This is an important aspect of any attraction in Mexico.

We then went to the Sendero (path). The brochure described it as a beautiful 1-kilometer hike to admire the natural world with a few surprises along the way. The tour guide at the entrance to the attraction made a disclaimer that the park would not be held responsible if anyone pregnant, or with heart disease or other physical condition took the hike. We had to give our verbal consent before starting on the path. Red flags should have gone up for me then, but I had been lulled into complacency by the ease of the first two attractions.

It turned out to be a 1.4-kilometer hike over a root filled path, with broken guide ropes along the way. There were at least 100 steps of a variety of heights, shapes, lengths and angles. My knees were in agony! I’m not as young as I used to be you know. There were also 2 suspension bridges. They did seem to be in good shape, and there weren’t any problems crossing them. As for the surprises–the first was a mapache (raccoon) enclosure. It was sleeping. Then there was the tiger enclosure–they were sleeping, I expect they were drugged.

There was a monkey on an island and a tortuga de orejas rojas (red eared turtle). The monkey wouldn’t leave it’s cage since the rest of the island was bare of trees, and it was hot. The turtle was sunning itself on a rock. And that was it for the surprises. It was dry, dusty and difficult to navigate. If there were other things to be admired, I didn’t see them as I was too busy watching my feet so as not to break an ankle and have to be airlifted out of the park.

cam04548.jpgThe only thing interesting on the hike was this plant life. I expect it’s a mushroom of some sort because it was growing at the base of several trees. Kinda looks like corn, doesn’t it?

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One of the concession stands with extraordinary prices

Anyway, we dragged our sorry butts back to the beginning and gratefully sat down to wait for the slower members of the group. There was a snack bar conspicuously situated there, and of course, everybody wanted some refreshment. Chips were 22 pesos for a bag that costs less than half of that at a grocery store. I didn’t even bother to price the fruit or soda. We made due with our one allotted 1.5-liter bottle of water per person.

cam04551.jpgThen we headed to Lago Ziwa and the Isla del Mono Araña (Spider Monkey Island). Four-person paddle boats were the main attraction, the route being around the Monkey Island. The lines were tremendous yet again. My knees hadn’t recovered, so I passed on this attraction. My son though managed to loop the island without incident.

cam04690-1.jpgThere was also a smaller paddle boat attraction for the younger kids. Instead of a monkey island, there were two eagles tied to posts as the “bio” part of the ride.

After waiting an extraordinarily long time for everyone to circle the island, we headed to the Kamba tirolesa (zipline). There actually were two zip lines–one for bigs and one for littles. The big Kamba was more than 100 meters long, and I again passed on this experience. I sent my son as my representative, though.

He said that the dude running the zip lines had to verify twice that he was tall enough to go on the ride. As he was taller than the measuring stick, there shouldn’t have been any doubt, but hey, he’s in charge. There were no helmets or any other sort of safety equipment, including brakes. In order to stop, a guy at the end of the zip line was supposed to catch the rider and drag him or her to a stop. My son said that the brake man had a horrified expression on his face as if just knew this one would get away.

By this time, it was early afternoon, and most everybody was getting tired and cranky. The group leaders bypassed the Teatro Muziki in favor of an earlier lunch. There were oodles of school groups milling around the eating area. We had the students sit down at some dirty plastic tables under a roof and went to get some food. We waited in line for 30 minutes only to be told that our order was at the other concession stand. The school had paid for our lunches. We had 3 choices, hamburger, chicken pattie or hot dog and an order of fries and soda. My son and I ordered the chicken patties–which were cold and had nothing on them but cheese. The vegetables were in a buffet area surrounded by dust and dirt kicked up by the milling school groups, so we passed on those and ate them plain. We each received 1/2 container of floppy fries and the smallest soda in the world. It was far from filling, far from healthy and even further from environmentally friendly.

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My son and I finished in record time and opted to hit the bathroom line again and go to the Zoovenirs (souvenirs) store to wait for the slower eaters to finish. The Zoovenirs store was disappointing. The only things I could afford were cheap plastic stuff that I could get anyway. Mugs were $115 pesos, stuffed animals were over $100 pesos, crappy plastic dinosaurs were $450 pesos. Well, you get the idea. No Zoovenirs for us then.

The next stop was the Serengeti. It was a motorized tour of an animal preserve with a petting zoo aspect. We boarded this huge DIESEL tour vehicle and sputtered and smoked our way to the first “free range” animal area. It was mostly goats with a water buffalo and emu thrown in. The emu pecked a little kid and probably traumatized him for life. The water buffalo came right up to the side of the vehicle and opened its mouth for the kids to pour the food in. There were some llamas, camels, buffalos, a variety of deer and antelope, ñandu, ducks, gnu, watusi, nutria, zebras, hippos, and baboons. The main attractions were the giraffes who were too regal to consent to be handfed by our group, the lions that had a 20-foot enclosure and looked to be drugged and the elephants. The elephant enclosure was horrible. It was a circular pit with absolutely NOTHING in it. Both elephants were as far away from the road as they could get and turned their back on our gawking. I expect they were former circus animals that had to be rehomed when it became illegal for animals to be used as circus attractions. What a bleak life these animals now had. And the trash and air pollution generated by this attraction–unbelievable!

Our last stop of the day was Antartica, which was a sliding ride. There were no lines, so most of the kids got two trips in. My son opted to not ride once the braking system became apparent. Some dude at the bottom of the hill would grab hold of the sled and pull it to a stop. If he missed, well, you would get a quick trip to Paraiso de Jirafas (Giraffe Paradise) which bordered the ride. No, thank you. However, you can see that several of our teachers, after crossing themselves, took the risk.

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There were a few animal exhibits on the way out, and we saw the rather interesting Capybara–the original R.O.U.S.–rodent of unusual size.

And that was that. We headed back to the fountain and mosied out to the bus for an even LONGER ride home.

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Playing Tourist–Patzcuaro, Michoacan

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Ex-monastery of San Agustin in Pátzcuaro, Michoacán, Mexico

Patzcuaro, Michoacan is yet another Pueblo Mágico within easy driving distance from La Yacata, so there was nothing to be done but go. Its original name was Tzacapu-Hamúcutin-Pásquaro which roughly translates as Donde están las piedras (los dioses) a la entrada de donde se hace la negrura (where the stones of the gods are at the entrance to where they make the blackness) which sounds ominous. A better English translation would be ‘The entrance to the gates/entrance of Paradise’ or some such idea. The indigenous of the area held the belief that lakes were portals to the otherworld, so it comes as no surprise that there is a lake just outside of Patzcuaro proper.

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Fountain in the center of Patzcuaro, Michoacan in honor of Bishop Vasco de Quiroga.

The Purépechas founded the town sometime before 1300 mostly as a religious center. The Spanish arrived in 1522, and the town remained a religious center with a very small population until about 1539 when the bishop Vasco de Quiroga dedicated himself to the repopulation and revitalization of the area. He was well received by the native people, even earning the nickname Tata Vasco.

In 1776, the indigenous of the area staged a revolution which was put down in 1777. In 1886, the railroad Morelia-Pátzcuaro was finished, and in 1899, Patzcuaro had its first electric lights. That amazes me since La Yacata is still waiting for electricity in 2016!

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Since then, it has been a popular tourist area, known for its pottery and basketry. It really is a beautiful little town, done up in the red and white style, with cobblestone streets, much like Cuitzeo.

Our underlying reason for visiting Patzcuaro was my quest for a foot-pedaled sewing machine. Someone told me that these could be found there. So there we went. The road was clearly marked, unlike our trip to the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary and we were able to take the libre (free) road the entire way.

There happened to be a tianguis (flea market) in the centro (downtown), but there wasn’t much of interest for us. Most vendors were hawking new toys and boxes of cookies for Los Santos Reyes. We did enjoy some gorditas de nata and fresas con crema (strawberries with whip cream).

Around la plaza, we noticed that there were a number of American-styled coffee houses instead of the more typical taco stands. It really smelled heavenly but was pricey, so we opted not to buy any. In line with the town’s tourist popularity, there were quite a number of gringos (white English speaking people) enjoying their cups of joe, playing chess or reading. The stores were chocked full of delightful artesenia (arts and crafts) but at prices that were not accessible to the average Mexican or to us, for that matter.

cam04112.jpgWandering around town, we came across the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de la Salud, built on a Purépecha/Tarasco pyramid platform. Notice the sign by the fence warns against tieing up your horses or leaning against it. I didn’t see much in the way of horses for that to be a current problem. There, outside the Basilica, vendors were selling prayer cards, rosaries, statues and peyote/marijuana cream for arthritis. Nuestra Señora de la Salud seems to be the same virgin found in Soledad, so I expect pilgrimages are made here as well to petition her curative powers. Tata Vasco’s remains are also housed within the Basilica.

We finally found the Singer Sewing store, and they had a foot-pedaled machine on display. However, the elderly owner would not sell it to me because she said it was a piece of crap, China made rather than hecho in Mexico (made in Mexico). My son pointed out that was just as well since if we did buy the machine, how would we get it in Myrtle (the VW bug) and back home? Good point.

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We stopped at a yonke (junk yard) and picked up some pieces for the revitalization of Myrtle and had a late lunch at Las Jacarandas just outside of Cuitzeo. An excellent day trip if rather uneventful.

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Playing Tourist–Cuitzeo, Michoacan

We’ve been to Morelia on several occasions. We’ve gone to the National Migration Institute, only to be told we had to go to San Miguel de Allende for my legalization process. It’s another state you see, although only 45 minutes away. We’ve also gone to Morelia to have my son’s birth certificate and my marriage certificate translated by an official perito traductor, who unfortunately died before we had all our documentation officialized. We did find another perito traductor in San Miguel de Allende later on though, and now we have one right here in Moroleon for all our legal issues.

So Morelia isn’t a new destination for us, but we normally have some official business to take care of and as a result, don’t take the time to play tourist. The other week we had the day off and decided to go just because. Although Morelia yet another city on the UNESCO World Heritage Site, my intentions were not so lofty.  I had the vague notion of finding a Wal-mart or maybe even a sporting goods store to buy some arrows for my son’s bow. It was so much effort just to get it that it was terribly disappointing that it came with only 2 arrows, one which hit a stone and cracked and the other which flew into the great beyond on the very first day.

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That little cement barrier is all that separates you from the lake!

We always take the libre (free) road rather than the cuota (toll) road not just because it saves us a few pesos. It’s a pleasant drive, although I imagine it could be a bit hair-raising during inclement weather. But the sun was shining today.  One time, I was gazing out the window while driving through the lake and BAM–all of sudden a water snake took down a duck.  Just one more occasion that I find myself live on the discovery channel!

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Cuitzeo, Michoacan

We drove through the picturesque town of Cuitzeo, also known as Cuitzeo Porvenir, where all the business and houses are painted red and white. Just outside the town, we stopped at a roadside restaurant Las Jacarandas for a morning buffet breakfast. We enjoyed our meals (I had a yummy fish something or other) and relaxed a bit while Marc Antonio Solis’s greatest hits played on the giant flatscreen TV.

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Las Jacarandas roadside restaurant

Then off again. We arrived in Morelia only to discover that our usual route was closed because of the parade. We were about 5 minutes from Wal-mart when we were deviated. We spent the next 2 hours driving around Morelia. I kept insisting we weren’t lost, but I could not convince my husband. He started pulling on his goatee and transformed into Donald Duck. Never say that men don’t ask for directions. He pulled off the road every 10 minutes or so to confirm that we were on the right track.

We were never lost, just not on the road that we had intended to arrive at. We did finally pass a Wal-mart, but my husband had his face pressed up against the windshield at this point, and I decided that it would be better for all concerned if we just went home. I wonder how we became so inept at city driving! I have driven through New York City and Washington DC during rush hour. How is it a little detour threw us for a loop? I think it might have to do with our overall confidence. So many things can and do happen while on the road in Mexico that the unexpected really takes it out of us. It was a disappointing trip, to say the least. The next day off isn’t for awhile yet–maybe we’ll be able to work up the guts to try a new adventure.

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Cuitzeo, Michoacan

I did convince my husband to stop in Cuitzeo on the trip back, though. There were several ladies selling hand-woven baskets in the town center, and I wanted to get a better look.  Fiber crafts are the most common local handicraft.  Baskets, floor mats, and hats were displayed for my admiring gaze, all made from reeds from Lake Cuitzeo.

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Daisies outside the church en el centro of Cuitzeo.

We bought some churros and fruit covered in powdered chile and walked around a bit before heading out again.  So honestly, our tourist day was spent in Cuitzeo rather than Morelia.  The name of the town comes from the Purepecha word “cuiseo” which means place of water containers. As the town is right next to Lake Cuitzeo, the second largest freshwater lake in Mexico, freshwater fish dishes are local specialties.  Cuitzeo has even been named as one of Mexico’s Pueblos Magicos which is a program designed by the Secretary of Tourism to promote tourism in non-traditional touristy areas.

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Santa María Magdalena monastery was built in 1550.

The Santa Magdalena monastery is the historical highlight of the town.  We didn’t make an effort to tour it, as you’ve seen one monastery, you’ve seen them all.  However, I was impressed with the church door in the town center.

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It’s now on my list of things to do to visit more of Mexico’s Pueblos Magicos.  I think it will be better for my husband’s nerves too!

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