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December 26, 2011

As we made our way East into the heartland of Mexico we found ourselves climbing high into the mountains on winding roads and through mountain villages clinging to the hillsides. As we approached one of these small villages we noticed that a makeshift checkpoint had been erected across the road. We had become quite familiar with both police and military checkpoints. However as we got closer we noticed that the barricade was manned by ununiformed men wearing balaclavas and carrying shotguns. We were too close to turn around and were very relieved when they waved us through. On the other side of town there was another barricade made out of a burnt out truck and barbed wire but again, and much to our relief, they weren’t interested in us.

A bit further on we were waved to the side of a road by a lone policeman. He came over to us when we had stopped and introduced himself, shook hands and then started talking in Spanish. We didn’t understand him and after lots of shoulder shrugging and bemused expressions he said “Buenas Dias” and walked away. If he had been after a bribe he failed!

We finally made it to our stop for the night which was a lovely hotel off the main road in the hills above Uruapan called Hotel Sierra de la Pie. They allow campers to park in a section of their car park overnight. They also allow full use of their facilities including a big swimming pool.

In the morning we jumped in a taxi down into the town of Uruapan – which was surprisingly large. The taxi dropped us off at the smallest National Park in the world called Parque Nacional Eduardo Ruiz.

This small park is built around a natural spring and the river that arises from it. There are lots of man-made features in the park such as fountains and waterfalls all in thick forest. It is a real oasis from the heat and bustle of the town.

After exploring the park we walked into the main plaza of the town and around the central area. Eventually we got a taxi back to the Hotel and after lunch we headed off for the 30km drive to a small indigenous town called Angahuan. This is the location of the trailhead to a church that had been spared from the lava flow when the Paricutin volcano erupted in 1943 in a field and in 8 years of activity formed a cone 400m high. The hamlet of San Juan Parangaricutiro surrounding the church was not so lucky.

The hike to the church takes about half an hour down through a highland forest to the lava field and then another few minutes across the lava before you arrive. Only two pieces of the church are still standing. At one end the church tower remains and at the other end the altar is still standing. They are both surrounded by high walls of lava and the surrounding village has been completely engulfed.

We spent the night in the car park of the tourist centre in Angahuan which was a quiet night and in the morning we continued our Eastward trek towards Patzcuaro.

On the way we stopped at another set of ancient ruins – Tingambato which is just outside the small town of Tinganio. This is a site that was first inhabited in 450-600AD but which had its heyday between 650 and 950 AD.


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