Last night I rested in the bosom of Lázaro Cárdenas.
No, not the long-dead Mexican president with a leftward list. Instead, we stayed in the troubled port city in Michoacán named in his honor.
During my six years in Mexico, I have made recurring visits to the state of Michoacán -- without once noticing any of the parade of horribles that clouds the minds of the American state department. According to the august clerks of John Kerry, a visitor to Michoacán should expect the following.
Defer non-essential travel to the state of Michoacán except the cities of Morelia and Lázaro Cardenas and the area north of federal toll road 15D, where you should exercise caution. U.S. government employees are prohibited from traveling by land in Michoacán except on federal toll road 15D during daylight hours. Flying into Morelia and Lázaro Cardenas is the recommended method of travel. Attacks on Mexican government officials, law enforcement and military personnel, and other incidents of organized crime-related violence, have occurred throughout Michoacán. Armed members of some self-defense groups maintain roadblocks and, although not considered hostile to foreigners or tourists, are suspicious of outsiders and should be considered volatile and unpredictable. Some self-defense groups in Michoacán are reputed to be linked to organized crime.It is such nanny-state hand-wringing that causes my friends and family to ask me if I have gone mad to spend time driving through the state with Dan and Patty. (Dan and Patty have faced the same looks of incredulity.)
Let me be frank. There is crime in Michoacán. Some of it quite atrocious. No one wants to get caught in gang fire cross-fire. Just as no one wants to get in the way of police and criminal shoot-outs in Chicago or Toronto. But the most dangerous encounter we had was a herd of cattle blocking the sole north-south Pacific highway.
It turned out our drive from Barra de Navidad to Lázaro Cárdenas yesterday was quite uneventful -- as far as gang warfare was concerned. On the six-hour trip, we encountered only one military checkpoint. And, though we were concerned about holiday traffic this week, we only ran into a few congested spots.
What was eventful was the journey itself.
I have never driven farther south in Pacific Mexico than Tecoman -- where the tollway turns north toward Colima. Yesterday, we did not join the Guanajuato-bound masses. Instead, we turned southeast. Initially, across a broad, fertile plain bowled in by the foothills of the Sierra Madre. And then up into the hills themselves.
Bad writers resort to comparisons when their creative skills atrophy. Try as I may, I could not avoid comparing the northern half of our drive to the beaches I knew in Oregon. Dramatic heads. Long stretches of sands viewed from the heights of hills. Broad swathes of sea blue broken by arcs of white surf.
That combination gave way to the type of beaches a visitor can find on the central California coast. Lower hills covered with a carpet of golden grass meeting an ocean less dramatic, but every bit as beautiful. I almost expected to run into William Randolph Hearst on his way to San Simeon.
Our day was spent driving. The distance was hardly a marathon. And each mile was rewarded with new sights. Had we not set Lázaro Cárdenas as our goal, we may have stayed at one of the beach palapa camping areas along the way. Or, better yet, one of the many hotels.
As it turned out, we found a very good deal online for accommodations in Lázaro Cárdenas -- Hotel Quinta Antigua. It is comfortable enough that we may spend another night here. To rest up, to go to the beach at Playa Azul, and to celebrate the arrival of 2015.
Patty already has us shopping for the required dozen grapes. If there is a tradition, we intend to indulge in it. I do draw the line, though, at red and yellow underwear.