We ended up meeting Arturo by chance. While we had previously come through the pueblo magico town of Cuitzeo, we had been in motion, eager to get to SMA. Heading south, it seemed like a perfect pitstop during a long drive. Little did we know we were about to meet one of the world’s great dreamers.
The San Juan del Lago campground is mentioned in the Church’s Mexico book, and of course, on ioverlander, but seemed rarely visited, a curiosity due to the prime location. We were about ready to get a crash course in the vast scope of one man’s dream project.
As we barely squeezed down the narrow streets of San Juan, we were hesitant. Our GPS had already taken us on a wild goose chase and we were now relying on mapsme, hoping for better results. The local’s glances weren’t hostile, exactly, but seemed more irritated than the usual curious glances we have come to expect. As we left the paved streets for a pitted dirt road, we again questioned our path. Luckily, just then a couple in a white coupe stopped to tell us that yes, we were on the right road, and even called Art to advise of our arrival.
Secure in our directions, we were baffled to come to a wilted gate with no signage. Surely they had sent us to the correct spot? Jim got out to walk ahead, checking other driveways, when suddenly Art arrived on the scene. We were immediately taken in by his joyous greeting and jubilant attitude. He warned us of the steep climb to camp, and he wasn’t kidding. One of Art’s problems is just that, his property is stunning, with sweeping views of the valley and Lago Cuitzeo, however the road is a doozy. We came to learn that this was but one of several threats to his dream.
Art is from the state of Guerrero originally, but spent over 20 years in the United States, working construction and eventually becoming the owner of apartment complexes. He choose to head back to his home country to create his vision, something more than a mere campground, but a destination. He has the location for it, to be sure. Located a mere 20 miles from Morelia, less than two hours from Patzcuaro, and right next to both the scenic lake and pueblo magico of Cuitzeo, this setting is ripe with possibilities.
His dream began with putting in twenty enormous sites, easily suitable for any size RV, any which can make it up the steep and winding hill, that is. Large spaces exist between each RV site, giving a bit of privacy. Each site contains a box to contain the electric and water hookups and septic feed. While the road is steep, Art has paved much of it, making it more accessible than previously reported. In addition to the beautiful sites, most with stunning views of the lake and valley below, there is a camp kitchen and communal fire pit area, a restaurant that is open when needed, and a large bathroom block with hot showers, and friendly dogs.
Art’s most recent project has been to create a “terrace” his term for an impressive, glass walled structure, which could be used for group gatherings or parties.
We planned to stay one night, simply a place to sleep enroute. Little did we know Art, and fate, had other plans in store for us. That first evening, as we got some laundry done and settled in for a quiet evening, enjoying the view, Art came over to chat and tell us more about his dreams for this land. He offered to be our tour guide to show us the area the next day. I have to say, I was reluctant. As infectious as his enthusiasm was, I was anxious to continue on to Teotihuacan. Then, Jim reminded me that we had made a pact to always say yes to invitations. Well, that was settled.
As we headed to breakfast the next day, Art continued to speak of his dreams for his project, of the many, many features he hopes to add. Then he started telling us of the many obstacles in his way. Of the local municipality that refuses to pave the much better grade of road that would lead to the back of his property, and of his inability to charge travelers for now because to do so would require a business license and, with limited arrivals, it would not make financial sense to invest in that at this time. (That’s right folks.. you can currently spend ONE WEEK FOR FREE at this campground! Donations accepted). He spoke of the old fashioned attitude of the region, of inhabitants unfamiliar with tourism dollars and wary of their arrival.
We enjoyed breakfast at his favorite spot, before heading to visit Jacobo Dominguez, an artisan friend of his in the next village. Alebrijes are a familiar site in Mexico, these made of paper maiche and colored paper, while further south they are of wood. We were immediately taken in by the brilliant colors and fanciful characters, even briefly considering some items for potential sales on our amazon account. Next Art showed us the local hot springs. Not impressive by any means, but the lovely lady in San Juan who ran the baths charged a mere $1 per tub and had impeccably clean, if extremely basic, facilities.
The entire time, Art promoted his dream. By this point, I got it. I understood what he was trying to do, I was just unsure whether it would ever come to fruition, it seemed as though some little details were slipping through the cracks in pursuit of the grand plan. As he dropped us off at camp, I was looking forward to an evening of Netflix and a bottle of wine, when instead he offered up dinner at his house. Well, again, we can’t say no, right?! Of COURSE were in!
It was a delightful time. We ate, and drank, and talked of the differences, and the similarities of our two countries. We dove into politics (oh oh) and ended up back on the subject of “the project” as Art mentioned he also wanted to turn his house (a gorgeous 2bdrm with still more fantastic views of the valley, and, once again, built by him) into room rentals for those visiting the area without a camper. It was at this point that I became a bit worried for him. As I have said, Art is a major dreamer, the kind of man who envisions things far beyond the scope of many. And yet, I do believe that all visionaries need others, those detail oriented folks who get the day to day work done, while the dreamers look to the sky. I’m not sure Art has such a person, and I hope he finds someone to walk beside him as he continues his vision quest.
We headed out the next morning, bidding a fond farewell to one of the most impressive dreamers we have ever, and may ever encounter. He has, so far, spent seven years of his life working toward his dream. I am sure he has more to come, but truly wish him the best, and hope one day to see his project finished. If you are heading through the Cuitzeo area, make sure to stop in. It’s best to call first (443 016 3348 or 443 228 3839 or email firstname.lastname@example.org ) so he knows to meet you at the gate. Trust me, it will be a visit you will not soon forget.
p.s check out these great photos from Travel with Kevin & Ruth of their stay there.