Primitive Cliff Paintings

I am told there are something like 2000 known archeological sites in Mexico with perhaps only 200 of those accessible to the public. And then there are those countless others – too tiny or too remote – which also exist but lie mostly forgotten.

Here is a story of one such site.

Saturday we did a lot of walking and had to do some quasi-serious bushwhacking including crossing through a ranch uninvited.  And I broke a cardinal rule of mine – avoid remote ranches, avoid dogs – just to see some cliff paintings that might or might not be there.

It was to be a quest. Could my friend, Max find these paintings five years on? Had vandals painted over or otherwise destroyed the artifacts? We started out not knowing what we’d see, what we’d find or even what would happen. It was to be a mystery trip. And all in all it was a helluva great way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

We took a bus in the direction of Cojumatlán, a small puebla on the SE shore of Lake Chapala but got off a couple of kilometers before.

map of Puerto Leon
SE Shore of Lake Chapala, Mexico

We walked through two even smaller pueblas that the zoom function of Google Maps failed to show.

map of La Palma
Zoom: SE Shore of Lake Chapala, Mexico

Walking counterclockwise around the bay, the first yellow highlight marks the almost nonexistent village of La Puerta, Michoacán. The next yellow highlight marks the slightly larger village of Puerto Leon.  And the highlight right above it (top left) marks the general location of the cliff paintings.

Note: The dotted red line was walking. The two instances of solid red lines was where we thumbed down a couple of rides. (And no, there wasn’t a lot of traffic.)

La Puerta, Michoacán

Note: Lake Chapala lies just over those distant hills.

Just north of Puerto Leon, where road turns east, was the entrance to the ranch we’d have to cross if we wanted reach the rock cliff. I wasn’t especially thrilled about this. I most certainly didn’t want to open the wire gate and I most definitely didn’t want to cross the barrier when I saw the livestock inside.

Max asked, ‘What’s wrong?’ I replied, ‘If there are animals in there then that means there’s at least one dog. And that dog doesn’t know you. It doesn’t know me. The only one it knows is who feeds it. And it knows it’s got a job to do. It also knows very well we don’t belong there. Ergo, we are his job.’

He looked at me like I was crazy. He said, ‘Don’t worry about the dog. I’ll take care of it.’

With great trepidation and a fiercely beating heart I followed him into the lion’s den.

And there were dogs. Five, total.

And just like Daniel in the lion’s den we were somehow supernaturally shielded. I’d never seen such indifferent dogs. I counted it as a minor miracle.

Once inside ranch we had about a one kilometer hike to the lake and from there Max would have to find the cliff. I had my doubts at first as the area was incredibly overgrown with all sorts of thorn bearing plants and there wasn’t even the hint of a path anywhere in sight. But as the photo attests below he found it.

Do you see the ‘stick man’ in the center?

It was about 4 p.m. when we hiked back through the ranch to the road. This time one of the dogs – a big black ugly bastard – started barking at us and so I was much relieved when we cleared the property and shut the gate behind us.

(You don’t want to get savaged by a dog anywhere in Latin America. Unlike the US, there is no legal recourse here. Get bit by a dog down here and chances are it was your fault simply because you were in the wrong place. I’ve had several close calls. Two come to mind on a trip in Bolivia. Once in S. Spain some years ago. And as recent as a month ago I had 4 dogs snarling and snapping around me in Sahuayo. Dogs, my friend, scare the shit out of me. Once bitten twice shy.)

From the lake we could see the town of La Palma off in distance and we reckoned it was maybe 5 km. away so it would be a relatively short walk of maybe an hour. But distances can be deceiving especially when the road winds and winds and winds. So after maybe an hour and still seemingly no closer to our goal we thumbed a ride and got a lift in the back of a pickup filled with 3 teenage girls, their brother, and an uncle plus mom and pop sitting up in the cabin.

The colorful ‘La Palma’ sign is to be read facing the lake with your back to the town

We had a nice late lunch of fish, Mexican style, in a wonderful restaurant that sat on pilings over the water.

La Palma fish restaurant

We finished up lunch with a couple more ice cold Modelo beers and left after the sunset.

Sunset over SE Lake Chapala

And the beauty of this little adventure was it was only a 20 minute cab ride home.





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