Photos and words by Kate Bellm
For Paper Plane in Issue 65, we got the lowdown on Mexico from Kate Bellm, whose interview and work you can check out here.
She’s a great photographer, bringing to mind a female Helmut Newton off his tits on mushrooms. Kate lives between Mexico and Spain—two places known as much for their beauty and charm as they are for their use of the language known as ‘Spanish’. After flipping a coin, we decided it would be pretty cool to get some insider’s tips on Mexico, and so we begin our journey in the western state of Michoacán, güey. No mames. Here’s Kate.
Entering Michoacán, you already get it. The people of this state seem to have taken over from the government and its lawlessness. The pay stations you pass on every Mexican road have been hijacked by the people in this state, and they flag you through so you can’t pay the road tolls, effectively telling the government to fuck off.
My husband Edgar is from Mexico, which is why we spend several months on that side of the world each year, and get to explore destinations that aren’t exactly in the guide book. The cool thing about Michoacán is there is barely any tourism. This is legit Mexico. Head straight into the mountains that resemble a warmer version of Switzerland, with tall pine trees, mossy hills, colourful wooden cabins, and steaming hot springs, intercepted by retro-futuristic power plants.
The first night, I recommend staying at a hot spring spot called Los Azufres where they have the sulphuric mud cave temazcal, which feels disgusting and amazing at the same time. It sits adjacent to a hot spring the size of a lake, with little wooden cabins on the edge of the steaming geysers. It’s basically a mud spa for elves. The campsite, or ‘spa,’ serves up pot noodles or crisps; pretty basic menu there. It gets cold and snowy here so make sure you stock up on your comfiest Mexican pyjamas made out of the most flammable cheap, yet fluffy-soft, fabric from Superama.
From there you drive to Angangueo, where you can ride horses up the mountain at the Biosphere Butterfly Sanctuary. The hills are covered in wildflowers and you get to witness the migration of the monarch butterfly during the winter season. You see millions of butterflies fluttering on the trees, creating entirely new shapes, and the entire sky is filled with them.
Then keep driving west to the coast of Michoacán past the Mayan ruins of Tzintzuntzan, which are the least touristic temples that you will ever visit. Next, head to Lago de Patzcuaro, where you can rent these little boats to take you over to Isla de Janitzio (fun fact: Day of the Dead started on this island) to see old school fishermen, mariachi bands, little markets and winding staircases that criss-cross through the little island past beautiful cemeteries and colourful villages. I love the deco in the restaurants here; it’s all mega-kitsch and retro.
If you keep driving down towards the coast, you get to my new favourite place on earth: La Ticla. It’s an Indigenous village right on a surf break. There are no signs or directions to get there; you just gotta keep asking people and let yourself get a bit lost until you drive off the 200 Highway through fields of palm trees and avocados until you reach the ocean.
Let me paint a picture of La Ticla. There are tiny wood and straw-roofed houses on the bounciest green grass next to a beautiful clean river lined with palm trees and sand that leads to the ocean. There are old ladies making fires in the morning and chickens running around, with a few travelling surfers camping in their vans next to the river, which you can paddle down to and get a wave. If you follow the perfect white sand of the beach, you’ll find it moves up and into endless miles of soft psychedelic rock forms backed by tall cactus. The sunsets right in the mouth of the river, by the way… What else… I’ve never turned a corner here without being greeted by a motley crew of dogs and puppies, and one morning a giant prehistoric turtle showed up on the beach.
There are a few restaurants, but there are random little shacks on the beach with hammocks that serve ceviche and beer. You can get a mug of oatmeal for breakfast from an old lady in the village, and in the evening you cook fish on the beach… there are coconuts and mangos galore, and life here is simple and good! There is only one little hotel in La Ticla, it’s called Parador Turistico La Ticla, and sits right on the beach. It has nice food and Wi-Fi. There are also some Airbnbs in the area. When you’ve taken in all La Ticla has to offer, you can venture down the coast for a few days and find equally breathtaking beach spots. A particularly mind-blowing one is Playa de Llorona—it is the definition of a perfect, empty paradise beach.