This town has this amazing feeling of foggy recognition. You feel like you’ve been to it before or have seen something almost exactly like it. The streets call up images of Spain and coastal Italy. The art and fashion might make one think of Paris or Rome. The architecture is a blend of many centuries and styles, Baroque to Neoclassical. In the center, well-dressed business people bustle about jostling against hippies with drums and guitars. As a visitor I felt transported between different worlds as I walked through the city.
In the center of the town the great cathedral dominates the view. Surrounding it are the beautiful buildings of the colonial times now turned modern. Families quietly pass into the warm, calm air of the cathedral while across the street well-dressed teenagers enjoy some fine food or perhaps some icy treats. Down the street a few blocks is the enchanting garden of the roses (jardin de las rosas). Here, one is transported to the feeling of a café in Paris. Patrons sit outside at all hours of the day under the shade of the umbrellas. They sip fine coffees and enjoy delicious sweets while facing the seasonally changing garden laid throughout the square. Since it is winter we enjoyed looking at the carnations which happily bloomed in the hot noon sun of Mexico’s winter. In the midst of the cafes is a music conservatory and students spend time playing music in the garden before and after classes. The style is reserved yet eclectic with students, professionals and raggedy music hipsters elbow to elbow throughout the garden.
Just down the road was a market that Danny and I visited more than any other place in the city. El Mercado de Dulces, the market of sweets. Throughout the halls of the market, which was a city block itself, one found sweet sellers with one nearly right upon another’s stall. The treats were traditional recipes from Michocan, each one a unique flavor and texture. Sweet pressed coconut, tamarind pastes, sweetened amaranth, honey fried coconut, marzipan and sweetened drinks made form eggs and agave. Each vendor had a little something different to offer but mostly it was the same kinds of candy. It was overwhelming trying to figure out which place to buy at as well as what one might buy this time around.
Many of our favorite times in Morelia revolved around a cool, hole-in-the-wall bar called Cactux. The walk to get there covered many blocks of the historic city. Each time we had new friends to chat with on our way to the bar, sharing stories and laughing about our language skills. I was always surprised when we got there. I kept hoping to recognize it but people would have to catch me as I continued down the street. The bar is super low key. It’s tucked back into an old building in the middle of some nameless neighborhood. The entrance is a tiny adobe-walled saloon that can hold about 20 people in it. The mood is always very relaxed up there and the lights are low. We head through to the side alley. It’s dark and the ground is a mixture of stones and dirt. Ahead, light is coming through and we come out to find ourselves in the open-air, stone-and-sand floor back patio of Cactux.
Here the music is loud and very good. Most nights a band or local amateurs take the tiny stage inside the adjoining converted store room. We listened to blues one night, some rock the next and the last time we visited we danced for hours to a two man band that played salsa like they meant it. Everyone seems to recognize each other and small groups grow larger as the night progresses. A few foreigners find their way here with the help of local friends and they are quickly added to the circle. We loved to drink polque, a slightly sour smelling beverage made from agave. $2.50 buys you a liter of it. Every night they like to add things to it. Some nights it is peanuts while another night it might be fresh blackberry juice. We spent hours there talking, dancing and laughing. Once, during one of our many visits to this favorite watering hole, we both stopped to recognize that we felt as at home at this bar and among these people as we did in our own city.
The people we met in Morelia were wonderful and generous. Each one is worthy of description but especially our friend Elli. Ellanora hosted us during our stay in Morelia as well as Nuevo Urecho. I’d spoken to her on couch surfing before we arrived and I was impressed with what she was doing since it related to our own project down here. Currently, she is going to college for agronomy and she studies permaculture/sustainable farming. I later found out that she worked for many years picking fruit in Canada to buy herself farm land in Nuevo Urecho and she was already starting the process of the sustainably harvesting of mangos and guava on her land. She and her parents took us into their house and treated as family, albeit a set of two weird boys in the family.
Our food preferences/allergies were a bit strange to them and often times I think they thought we didn’t eat since we couldn’t join in with their meals for the first few days. Elli’s father was a sworn carnivore and was always asking if the food Danny and I made(loads of veggies and no meat) was “all we were eating?” Still, despite our different preferences, they trusted us implicitly. They gave us keys to the house and after only knowing us 5 days they gave us the keys to their ancestral villa in the hills of Neuvo Urecho as well. Don Miguel, Elli’s father, took us out to dinner many nights to get tacos at a nearby house/restaurant. He loved to brag that we enjoyed spicy food and that they could pile the chili sauce on ours. He even took me to his leatherworking shop one day so I could make a pair of traditional Mexican sandals known as huaraches.
A lot of local people asked what we were doing in Morelia. They wondered why we weren’t at the beach or father south. We were really surprised by this. If anyone visits Mexico they should take a trip to see Morelia. The busy pace of Mexico city is left behind and the cosmopolitan, artistic air breaths a little easier here. I hope to see Morelia again and see even more of its hidden gems.