With an extra week off school for the kids, Sam and I decided to hit the road for a couple of days and explore Michoacan, due south of San Miguel about 3 to 4 hours. With a New Year's resolution to make the kids more self-sufficient, I left their packing to them. Redding: two bags containing three long-sleeved rugby shirts, a plaid button-down, white cotton stretch pants, his old gym pants and a pair of jeans, footie pajamas, a Ralph Lauren sweater with the American flag, four Spanish textbooks on Civics, Social Studies and History from his old school, assorted board and card games, an iPod, a wallet, 12 miniature toy horses, and his 14-in-one all-purpose tool with belt clip. Mason: all his stuffed animals in ascending order (Cattie, Hedgie, Big Hedgie, Pandy, Gnomie, two felt mice filled with sand, and one ceramic bulldog), his Hugh Hefner monogrammed robe with plaid pajama pants and red henley top, a coloring book (no crayons or pencils), one Junie B. Jones book, a ball of yard and scissors, a sweatshirt, and several pairs of underwear. Bo: the clothes on his back and Deltora Quest Volumes 5-8, which he has read now two or three times.
An auspicious beginning: I'm at the wheel, barreling through the gorgeous Mexican countryside, maneuvering successfully around loose livestock, street dogs, and the occasional young boy on a burro crossing the street. Skies in San Miguel are nice, though not as blue as they usually are, but we're heading south to higher altitudes andPatzcuaro," one of the loveliest villages in all of Mexico," an hour southwest of Morelia, the capital of Michoacan, Guanajuato's neighbor. Stalls selling carnitas and barbacoa (goat steamed in banana leaves and Sam's favorite Spanish word) line the road, alongside rows of terracotta pots, copper trays, and woven blankets. We pull into Patzcuaro in record time: 2 hours and 45 minutes, and check into our lodging, the esteemed little B&B, La Casa Encantada, an adults-only inn that has made an exception for us and our three children under ten. Times are tough in the tourist industry these days.
And then the skies open up. The low, gray clouds that started following us right about the time we drove through a gauntlet of fir trees painted white along their bases and lining the main street into the village have decided to empty themselves of all the water they've been holding since June when we arrived and the drought began. The temperatures drop ominously and the drafty, street-side windows in our room, six feet tall and constructed in the 1800s, start to whistle. Sam masters the gas fireplace in our room and we warm up. There is no place we know of in Mexico with interior heating, and Patzcauro is no exception. The room feels about 50 degrees.
We play some Scrabble, some Skip Bo and a lot of Michael Jackson on the iPod, all the while telling the kids they have to keep their voices down. Eventually we brave the elements, run through the rain to the nearest restaurant under the portales that line the main square on four sides, and tuck into the local specialty, bocaneros, tiny fried fish, eyes and all. Sam has a plate of them, about 100 strong; he makes it about halfway through before crying uncle. I have the sopa Tarasco, a delicious smoked tomato soup with tortilla, avocado, and cheese. Then we run back to our room.
The boys' clothes are so wet there's really no way they can go out again. I have to pour the water out of their shoes. So like a good camper I line up the shoes on the fake logs, monitoring their progress by the amount of steam rising off of them. I get distracted and one of Bo's moccasins starts to smoke. I have melted the top half of it into a shape that is now crispy and impossible to put on his foot. Mason's scissors now make sense. I snip an opening into each side of the shoe and make Bo wear socks. Sam goes in search of a lavanderia to dry their coats and pants, and to buy a bottle of wine to get us through the afternoon. He finds some awful Chilean red that eventually is poured down the drain, as well as a bottle of charanda, something like tequila, though twice as rough, but the laundromat tells him it will take three and half hours. We don't have that kind of stamina, trapped in the room with three loud kids and a few board games. I don my place at the flames again and hang their clothes onto the crucifix above the fireplace.