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I have finally found the best place to run in this little northwestern corner of Michoacán. And it has been a long struggle to find a good place to run. A couple of weeks prior I had literally run out of road, or I should say trail, up in the hills the locals call the ‘big panties’. The short 1 hour turn around time was only part of the deal killer. It might have been different if I could have found a connecting trail to Tunamanza but after bushwhacking 2 hot sweaty hours one afternoon through a mile of thorn thickets I came to the conclusion that one didn’t exist. So there wasn’t much point in running the big panty trail day after day.

And in addition to being too short, the trail across the Calzonuda had some other seriously annoying limitations. Like I had to run by the sack of heads (a story that warrants its own future post), followed by trying to keep downwind of the 3 hounds of hell that guarded the empty rock quarry 30 minutes further up the mountain, and assuming you got around those dogs encounter free then there was the turn around 10 minutes ahead when the trail dead ended up on Highway 15; meaning you had to turn around and run the same piece of trail all over again.

Persistence and trial and error led me out onto the vast agricultural plain that began just east of town. The valley is watered by a canal that starts up at Lake Chapala to the northwest. Lake Chapala is the largest lake in Mexico and borders several states including Michoacán. The canal is flanked by service roads that allow machinery to dredge it periodically so that the water keeps flowing.

These service roads connect to numerous other dirt roads that criss-cross the valley linking up all the small villages with their fields. The immense Tziróndaro Valley sits at 5000 feet above sea level and all manner of produce is grown here. With 320 plus days of sunshine per year and an average daily annual temperature of 75 degrees F, there isn’t a growing season here in the tradition sense; it’s more about perpetual crop rotation.

The canal that waters all of this agriculture is hugely long; immeasurably so to this solo runner. There aren’t any running clubs in Sahuayo and there aren’t trail maps and the few local joggers that live here content themselves with the 3 mile loop to El Rincon and back. I know because everyone I’ve asked, ‘Do you know a good place to run?’, always without exception point me to El Rincon.  

I’ve since come to the conclusion that 90% of the local population have never ventured over in to this valley and some, especially those of the gated community crowd, maybe are only just dimly aware that a canal even exists in the valley, or that there are service roads, or that quite a large number of people live and do farm work out there.

But as this gringo had discovered, the canal and the service roads that wind through the valley were a runner’s paradise. But unfortunately like many other things in Michoacán, there were the accompanying hazards. Like snakes. Thus far I’ve only seen 3 but I know they inhabit the canal area in great numbers because the lush cane thickets support such a readily available food larder including vast numbers of birds and a whole bunch of some species of rodent that looks an awful lot like a North American Brown Squirrel; but ain’t. The other day I saw a skinny looking snake that was maybe a foot long swimming upstream. He immediately dove under water once he sensed my presence. And I saw a bigger snake a few days earlier. It noisily slithered away as I crossed the footbridge under which it was resting. And who knows if it was poisonous?

I’ve heard from several people that the deadly Coral snake lives here. A guy told me that his two Rat Terriers had killed four of them in the last 2 months.

The last snake I saw was a big brute of a fellow, probably 4 feet long and as fat as a man’s wrist. I was running north and saw a police truck stopped in the middle of the road a hundred yards ahead. And when I caught up to it I saw two policemen standing on the road taking a cigarette break. I broke off my run when I saw that one of the cops had this huge yellow snake pinned by the head under his boot. The snake just lay there writhing in the dirt. I surmised that he and his buddy cop were just killing time and were entertaining themselves by applying a little abject cruelty to the snake before I reckoned they killed it too.

Thankfully dog encounters out on the canal have thus far been mostly benign affairs with only a couple of small heart stopping moments like when that big shovel headed pit bull terrier crossed the road to check me out. I picked up the biggest rock in reach just as the owner stepped out of the tree line. The dog’s ears pulled back when he saw me pick up the rock and the owner said, ‘I wouldn’t do that, he doesn’t like rocks.’ I am thinking, ‘Shit, this truly is a Mexican stand off’, but thankfully the owner stepped up and grabbed his dog by the collar as I put the rock down. The owner assured me that he was a good dog. And I’m thinking that good dogs in Mexico love taking chunks out of gringos.

I was more than a little grateful for his intersession because I knew there wasn’t a rock big enough that would have made any significant dent in that big old dog’s thick skull and I just knew that me hitting him with it would have pissed him off big time.

On another run I came upon a mounted cowboy with 5 dogs in tow, one of which was a massive German Sheppard. I spied them 30 yards off and was downwind so thankfully I able to alter my course before such a time that things could have gotten out of hand.

So if snakes and dogs and sharp pointy rocks aren’t enough to put some pain and fear into an afternoon run then there’s always the occasional dust storm to contend with. Imagine big open fields as far as the eye can see in every direction with nary a tree in sight and you can get a sense of what can happen when the wind picks up. And the bad dust days are like now because it’s dry season here. It hasn’t rained but one time in the last 4 months so everything is literally bone dry. All the roads are a mixture of brown dirt and gray sharp stones which pretty much describe the entirety of the landscape. So when the wind gets above 15 mph there can be lots and lots of dirt in the air. All this of course is acerbated by big trucks carrying livestock and feed and fast moving pickups that don’t slow down for nothing; all pulling behind them 30 yard long contrails of dust.

But apart from that, the weather on any given day is beautiful and hazards and all, I’ve found myself a place to run everyday. Not as gentle as I’d like but living on the cheap down in Michoacán learning the sandal business reminds me of those shut up and quit complaining words, ‘I beg your pardon. I never promised you a beer garden.’ 

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