Passion for Beautification

DSC_0002SignWe love Mazatlán. It is a breathtakingly gorgeous place, located on the world-renowned Sea of Cortés, a real working city that plays host to millions of tourists from the interior as well as abroad. We are proud to be featured in world-class travel and tourism magazines. We crow about hosting the 2018 Tianguis Turístico. We brag about the number and variety of cruise ships that visit our port every week.

Yet we do so very little to show respect for the natural beauty with which we are blessed. At sunset on the weekend, we see our beaches covered in garbage. Carnavál revelers throw their refuse everywhere you can possibly imagine. Our streets, empty lots and estuaries are frequent dumping grounds for all kinds of unsightly, unhygienic trash that suffocates our marine life.

Tourists get off the cruise ship or leave their hotels to take a city tour, going to the top of Lookout and Icebox Hills for the views. The panoramas, and the snapshots, are amazing—until you look in the foreground. “Aim that camera up higher, John. That trash in the weeds there ruins the photo.” Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

We have a culture here in Mazatlán that condones littering. It holds us back as a city, as a community, and as a tourism destination, and it’s my fervent passion that we can change that culture!

One man giving his all to do just that is Don Nichols. He has led a clean-up and beautification campaign atop Cerro de la Nevería/Icebox Hill for the past three years, and the results are remarkable!

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Don Nichols

Don and his wife Lori live in a gorgeous house with killer views. He was an employment lawyer in Minneapolis/St. Paul for 40+ years, and they bought their home atop the hill eight years ago in preparation for retirement. They love living here seasonally, and like good Midwesterners, they take pride in their neighborhood. It pained Don to see how people would come up to his neighborhood at night to drink in the views and the beer, leaving all their trash behind. Unlike Cerro del Vigía/Lookout Hill, where there is a homeowner’s association, his neighborhood doesn’t have a street sweeper. So the trash just accumulated. And accumulated.

Don went to the city to complain and to ask for some clean-up assistance. When none was forthcoming, he took matters into his own hands—like the independent Midwestern he is. Along with Juan and Martín, an uncle and nephew who work for Don, he started cleaning up and hauling trash out of the area.

Don, Juan and Martín’s efforts could barely keep ahead of those who trashed the area, however. So, they got the brainstorm to impede access to the empty lots where most of the partying went on by installing fences and beautifying them with brightly colored bougainvillea. They surround the bougainvillea plants with a circle of lime-covered rocks, to discourage ants from killing the plants. When he can find the property owners, Don gets permission, but he has beautified a few parcels for which he’s unable to contact the owners.

During their clean-up efforts, they found sidewalks buried under the trash, brush and sediment that washes down the steep hill. So, their efforts grew to include hauling out dirt and brush to reveal sidewalks that haven’t seen the light of day in twenty years! Don figures that in three years time they have hauled 50 dump truck loads of crud off the hill. I so wish Don were my neighbor!

They installed and painted trash cans to encourage neighbors and visitors to help keep the area clean. The cans are bright pink, the same color as most of the bougainvillea. They get filled quickly, and Don is grateful that city crews come Monday, Wednesday and Friday to empty the cans. The cans have to be repainted at least once a year. He, Juan and Martín have painted a few concrete walls the same pink color, creating a vibrant theme in the neighborhood. They’ve painted electrical boxes green and recently even painted a sign on the side of the road—Mazatlán’s Most Beautiful Hill (in Spanish)—with hopes of instilling pride of place in the local community.

The beautification is a never-ending process. Run-off on the steep hill never ends, so dirt and rocks constantly fall down, covering the sidewalks and the road, and bringing trash downhill. If they don’t stay on top of daily litter pickup and frequent dirt and rock removal, the area will all too quickly return to how it looked before.

Don has found that the bougainvillea so far are a great idea. They have thorns, so people don’t want to walk through them. They’re gorgeous, so people usually respect them. Most of the empty lots he beautifies have no flat space on which to plant anything, however—it’s a very steep hill. So, he builds a wall downhill and grades the soil to make a garden bed.

The problem is, however, that the bougainvillea need water in order to take root. They can get by after a rainy season, but at least the first year the plants need fertilizer and regular watering. So, Don bought a motorcycle with an attached flatbed and put a tinaco in it. They fill the tinaco with water and then ride around watering the plants in the neighborhood. It’s a lot of work, but with beautiful results! His efforts have transformed the area.

He and his crew have also painted lime on many of the trees in the neighborhood, again to discourage the ants. He has met with a few setbacks. Bougainvillea he planted on the landings of the stairway were yanked out by someone, he’s not sure who. They are debating whether to replant or not. There is one place where someone has rolled back a fence they installed, in order to be better able to park their trucks, turn on their stereos and party. Don hopes to plant bougainvillea there and repair the fence, in hopes that the second time will be the charm. A third “failure” is a bed of trumpet vines he planted on the uphill side of the road. While they have grown significantly, they have never flowered, probably due to lack of sun.

Quite a few pulmonía, auriga and taxi drivers have thanked Don for his efforts, saying the beautification has improved tourists’ enjoyment of their tours. While he hasn’t gotten many thank-yous from neighbors, another expat chipped in some money to support his effort, and he’s only gotten one criticism. One neighbor complained that Don had removed sand that he’d been saving (the sand had been in a pile at the side of the road for several years). So, Don got him some new sand.

Don’s beautification efforts have helped increase the value of real estate in the neighborhood, I imagine, but he’s helped his neighbors in other ways, too. Frustrated at repeatedly finding human feces on one empty lot, Don learned that a man living next door didn’t have running water or a toilet. Well, for US$350, he had a shower and toilet installed in the man’s house, in exchange for the man’s promise to keep the lot next door clear of brush and trash. Most definitely a win-win!

Don obviously didn’t set out three years ago to make a full-time job for himself; it grew little by little. He very much hopes that his efforts will inspire other property owners in the area to maintain and beautify their properties, so that Icebox Hill can be not only the most beautiful hill in Mazatlán but in all of Sinaloa. He also very much hopes the city will assign a street sweeper to his hill.

Viajando Por La Libre

DSC_0037©Take a moment to think back on a time you jumped into the unknown with little more than trust? Maybe it was when you decided to move to Mexico. Remember the exhilaration? The joy and excitement? The blessings that flow from such a leap of faith?

Today we found kindred spirits in two twenty-somethings from Tijuana who are living life to the fullest in just this manner They are Sergio Vazquez and Iuvet Sanchez, who quit their jobs, sold their homes, cars, business and clothing, and set off with their two dogs, Ponyo and Ginger, on an open-ended journey through Latin America. These two adventurers prepared for their journey for two years, purchasing and renovating a VW bus (“combi” in Spanish) and starting a fan page on Facebook—Viajando por la Libre—so they might meet people along the way and make some new friends. That fan page currently has 13,000 followers, many of whom are eager to host the couple when they arrive in their city. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

The two were married in Mulege, Baja California Sur, eight months ago. They began their honeymoon trip two months ago, traveling from Tijuana through Sonora and along the US border to Chihuahua and the Sierra Tarahumara: Casas Grandes (Pakimé in Rarámuri), Cuauhtémoc, and Valle de Jimenez. They went through Coahuila to Torreón, and then entered the state of Durango, where they visited the pueblo mágico of Mapimí. I’ve got to visit Mapimí; it sounds gorgeous, and their saint’s day is my birthday! Sergio and Iuvet also loved the nearby ghost town of Ojuela. In fact, they told me that the German engineer who designed the suspension bridge near there—Wilhelm Hildenbrand—also designed the Brooklyn Bridge.

They have obviously learned and seen a lot already, and their trip is just beginning! Their favorite stop thus far has been Durango, where they ended up staying for eight days because they had such a good time. There they were treated like a king and queen, VIPs in every respect: welcomed with a community dinner of discada, entertained in huge and simple homes, given a house in which to reside during their stay, taken out to dinners, tour-guided around, welcomed as friends. Vocho or VW clubs along the way have been unbelievably hospitable to them. Their bus has broken down three times, and each time the people repairing the bus refused to accept payment. Sergio and Iuvet are discovering how good and generous people are, happy to help young people get out and see the world.

Iuvet is a nutritionist who had her own office, and Sergio is an electro-mechanical engineer who worked for a maquiladora in the medical industry. They had good jobs, made good money, owned homes and cars. Neither of them were born to wealthy families; they are representatives of Mexico’s new and growing middle class. Though successful, they could both feel themselves part of the “rat race,” doing repetitive, mundane things in order to buy a better car, a bigger house and nicer things. Iuvet looked around at her female doctor friends, most of whom were very successful at work but not so successful in their personal lives, and she didn’t want that for herself. They were both convinced that life had a lot more to offer.

Sergio told me he has followed the journeys of other travelers for many years: Chilenos, Argentinos, a Frenchman. Most of them traveled in VW buses, and so that has always fascinated him; travelers in combis are “a brotherhood,” he says. The couple took a year-long class on Buddhist spirituality and psychology that they say changed them both as individuals and as a couple, and gave them the confidence to set off on their journey. Both of them see the trip as a chance to let go of ego, which according to Sergio can “grow and grow but never explodes.” They originally dreamed of traveling all of Mexico, but that quickly expanded to include all of Latin America.

Before they started their journey, there was an aunt of Sergio’s who was aghast that they would try to travel in a VW bus. “You’ll never make it up the Sierras,” she chided. Sergio’s eyes fill with delight when he tells me they climbed to 2500 meters and took a photo to prove it to her. While largely a positive trip, the couple has had a couple of scares, one of them with a drunk guy who was convinced they had stolen his van. Fortunately all ended well; they found a safe place to spend the night and left the town at earliest light of morning. They’ve also had a few naysayers on their page, people who scold them for being irresponsible and foolhardy. But, as Iuvet says, “if we don’t take the chance, we then let fear rule our lives instead of love and a sense of adventure, and I much prefer the latter.” We trust their good luck continues.

Iuvet tells me that the trip so far has been nothing like she imagined. In her mind’s eye she saw herself sleeping in the combi, cooking in the combi, bathing in cold water… In reality, during their two months of travel they have only spent a few nights sleeping in their bus, and have cooked only a handful of meals, thanks to the incredible hospitality of the people they have met. Iuvet imagined an austere lifestyle but, in fact, she has gained weight thanks to the incredible generosity of so many new friends along the way. They are fortunate, because looking inside the bus, it is a very simple lifestyle indeed!

Here in Mazatlán the couple are staying with Iuvet’s cousin, who works at Sea Shell City. They have been loving our beaches and seafood. This afternoon her uncle is barbecuing them some pescado zarandeado; they have plans to kayak to Deer Island, and to chill out on Stone Island. They met with the Mazatlán VW Club a couple of days ago.

The couple do not make plans, and are taking each day as it comes. They’re not sure how long they’ll be in Mazatlán, but want to get out of here before the craziness of Semana Santa and MotoWeek. They do intend to head to Tepic, San Blas and Vallarta from here, and visit her family in Guadalajara. They want to go to Aguas Calientes, San Luis Potosí and the Huasteca, and the Bahía: Querétaro, Guanajuato, and Puebla and Chiapas, before hitting Guatemala. They are not on a schedule, but are open to advice from people along the way on places they should go, things they should do, and people they should meet. They have a fan in Guatemala that corresponds with them nearly every day, asking when they’ll arrive. Their intention is to wind through Latin America until they reach Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego—the southernmost tip, though already Iuvet mentions the possibility of continuing on to another continent.

Sergio’s parents have been very supportive and encouraging, urging them to travel while they are young and able. Iuvet says her father “almost had a heart attack” when she told him she was giving up her successful medical practice to travel. Now he is respectful of her decision, though he can’t quite understand it.

When I asked what they’d like me to be sure to say in this article, they replied, “Get out and travel! It opens you to new worlds! Don’t put limits on yourself, such as you don’t have enough money. If you want to do it, you can!”

Sergio and Iuvet have been selling t-shirts, cups and stickers to help pay for gas and fund their journey. However, those items have pretty much sold out, and they only sell them live and in person. Greg and I told them about our local t-shirt maker, but something tells me they’re not interested in doing that right now with the ocean calling. So far they are not set up to receive donations, but they may eventually try to get some sponsors for their journey. Sergio loves to write and take photos, and would very much enjoy publishing an electronic book of their adventures. Iuvet enjoys making videos, and has started a YouTube channel.

Readers, I trust you will be able to meet Iuvet and Sergio while they are here. They are upbeat, enjoyable people whose excitement for life is contagious.

Best of luck to both of you, Iuvet and Sergio! We will most definitely be following your journey as well as your advice, and sending very positive travel energies!

 

Disrespected Beauty

dsc_0107Mazatlán is blessed with estuaries, lagoons, the ocean, rivers, and all the water fowl and marine life that go with it. Everyday we see glistening fishing boats casting their reflections in the water, and we are blessed to eat the delicious product of their labors.

Perhaps because we are so spoiled by all the natural beauty surrounding us, Mazatlecos all too often seem to take it for granted. Without thinking, seemingly, people throw trash on the beach or the coastline, and that trash ends up in our waterways and all too often into the stomachs of our marine life, murdering them. Especially harmful are fishing nets, lines and plastics, as they entangle marine life and kill them.

One of the saddest of such beautiful places in Mazatlán for me is Estero del Infiernillo. It’s the body of water to the north of Avenida Gabriel Leyva as you go over the bridge, between Avenida Juan Pablo II and Avenida General Pesqueira. I love this place! It is gorgeous! Yet, it is horribly, heart-wrenchingly awful. The photos in this post were taken from where the star is on the map below.

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I know the area fairly well, because our son was a Scout. The Scouts went out to Estero del Infiernillo about once a month for years and years to clean up the garbage. We, and mostly they, would pack dozens and dozens of trash bags full of garbage and remove them from the estuary. It would feel so good! Nature had a chance to shine again after our cleanups! Alas, the following month, you’d never known we had done a clean up, as the trash had somehow always reappeared. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

People in the neighborhood tell us that Mazatlecos come to the estuary specifically to dump their trash. The city has a big sign posted, warning that there should be no dumping of garbage here. The sign is obviously widely ignored. There are many fishing pangas that anchor here, making the area all the more scenic. It’s my guess that these fishermen, also, frequently throw entrails and other trash onto the shore, making the area stinky and unsightly.

Estero del Infiernillo is gorgeous! It has good views of the military school hill and the faro/lighthouse, and in the other direction great views to the cranes of Parque Bonfil/the port. Despite the trash strewn everywhere there are loads of water fowl, and on a sunny clear day the muddy, brackish water looks blue.

A couple of years ago the Municipio put in a nice park at the estero: a basketball court and soccer field combination, jungle gym and swings. Later, they added in one of the gyms we are fortunate to have all over town. At the time they built the park, there were plans for the city to clean up the area and to have kayak rentals in the estuary; plans that have never come true. Now it’s still usable but pretty run-down; the most remarkable thing are the many shoes hanging from the wires.

Kayaking in the area would be absolutely beautiful, even with the trash, but if we as community members could find a way to come together and re-educate ourselves, so that Estero del Infiernillo, and other waterways in town, stayed free of trash, how much better all our lives would be! I shudder to imagine anyone eating fish caught amidst all the garbage flung in that estuary, yet fish there they do.

Mexican Bobcat

dsc_0103bThe below is a guest post by John Childress, a birder and naturalist whom I have the pleasure of calling friend and photography colleague, building on earlier post here about Estero del Yugo.

The Estero del Yugo is a small estuary in the northern part of Mazatlan. It is not very well known by residents or tourists. There is a small inlet to the ocean on the west side and two lagoons to the east, on the other side of Avenida Sábalo Cerritos. The water flows from the inlet to the lagoon via a tunnel under the Avenida and is dependent on the tides.

The area to the east of the Avenida is controlled by the Centro de Investigacion En Alimentacion Y Desarollo, A.C. (CIAD)  which is an organization, in part, dedicated to studies “of the socio-economic impact of the processes of economic development and international integration.” There is a gate with very friendly guards who collect a 100 peso fee to enter and enjoy the area around the lagoons. The paths around the lagoon are very obvious and it would be difficult to get lost. There are also paths that go quite a distance into a semi-arid environment. Bicycle tours are also possible.

The morning of 2.13.17 started off very foggy. By 8:30am I had walked almost all the way around the lagoon and the fog was lifting. I was at the Estero del Yugo to take pictures of birds and I had my camera in my hand (Nikon D3300 with a 70 – 300mm  lens). As I walked around a curve I saw something run across the path. I walked back around the curve and saw an animal running towards me. I saw that it was a cat and thought it was possibly someone’s pet. But then I saw that it was at least twice the size of a normal cat. I immediately started taking pictures of it. As the cat turned to run off I saw that his tail was very short and I thought to myself, “Aha, I know what you are.”

This is the second time in my life that I have taken a picture of a bobcat, but the first time that I have seen the Mexican bobcat. This cat stopped in his move to flee and looked back curiously. The picture included here was taken at this moment. I had a way to go before I got to the entry, but I stopped looking for birds. I was very excited to show someone the pictures and hurried to share it with the guard and the biologists working at the center.

Wikipedia states that the Mexican bobcat (Lynx rufus escuinapae) is a “solitary, nocturnal animal, and are rarely seen by humans.” Que suerte!

[FIXED] How to dial in Mexico: “¿Amigo, do you have to make a call?” V 2.0

We found this clever guide to making calls from Mexico and thought we would share it with our readers. Enjoy!

Casa Piña SMA

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Improvements:

  • 4:3 aspect ratio, 11″ x 8 1/2″ paper-friendly
  • Added 045 branch to call long distance from a landline to a mobile in Mexico
  • Accommodated for large urban centres with two-digit area codes and 8-digit local numbers
  • Gave Pineapple a voice

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