Courier March Courier - Page 22

Mountain towns offer glimpses of the real Mexico The nice side benefit of heading to the mountains in search of the monarchs was that it put us in some of the country’s rural areas. While previous Mexico trips had taken me to the Cabo and Cancun areas, this seemed like real Mexico, and it was very compelling. Our first stop after we left Mexico City was Toluca, which is the capital of the state of Mexico. While by no means a small town, Toluca was an absolute gem. (If you don’t believe me, maybe take another look at this magazine’s cover). After we roamed the main plaza area that was anchored by two historical churches, we headed over to Cosmovitral, which is equal parts art palace and botanical garden. The vision of artist Leopoldo Flores, the attraction opened to the public in 1980. It took Flores and his team three years to assemble the millions of pieces of glass from around the globe into a beautiful mosaic that represents the artist’s elaborate vision of good and evil. I’m a sucker for blown-glass art, and it was impossible for me to stop staring at the depictions on the windows. Many times I wandered away from the group and our guide to take in the intricate details of the mosaics (and, of course, to take more pictures). The hundreds of plants and beautifully landscaped gardens, while overshadowed by the surround- ing walls, are also impressive. I don’t know if Toluca is on the radar screen of many tour operators, but as home to a mar- vel like Cosmovitral, it should be. After a lunch stop and another hour or so of riding, we reached our hotel in Tlalpujahua. In addition to being famous for its monarch sanctuaries, this village in the northeastern corner of Michoacán is known for its mining history and as the epicenter of the production of Christmas ornaments. Working around our daytime visits to see the monarchs, we explored a number of places that offered excellent snap- shots of local life. During our walking tour of Tlalpujahua, we encountered rows and rows of vendor booths where residents were selling (and buying) everything from fruits and meats for daily meals to crafts and home goods. I was Dos Estrellas Mine in Tlalpujahua 20 March 2018 Cosmovitral botanical garden in Toluca surprised at how the small town teemed with life, especially for a Sunday afternoon, and being up at the Sanctuary of Carmen just before sunset was a treat. That day we also checked out Dos Estrellas Mine. The mine flourished after gold was discovered at the turn of the 20th century, and it became the country’s top producer of gold from 1908 to 1913. A major landslide on May 27, 1937, left a portion of Tlalpujahua in shambles and ended its mining heyday. The next afternoon we went to El Oro, a nearby town that traces its roots back to 538 A.D. In addition to walking the narrow streets and seeing the many brightly colored build- ings and houses, we checked out its market. Seemingly every one of the town’s roughly 5,700 residents turned out to shop—or run—one of the more than 200 booths that featured an even wider array of items than we’d seen in Tlalpujahua. Our last stop was at one of the factories that is part of Tlalpujahua’s bustling Christmas ornament trade. Area arti- sans annually produce millions of handcrafted ornaments, and Sergio estimated that accounts for around 70 percent of the town’s economy. Tlalpujahua Christmas ornament factory