Mamut!

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The archeological museum in Mazatlan (located on Sixto Osuno, across from the Art Museum) has a very large visitor on display until August 25. I encourage all of you to take some time to go check out: Mamut: The Prehistoric Giant.

What is Mamut? Mamut is mammoth in English. So, yes, there is a huge frigging mammoth skeleton sitting inside our little, often unnoticed and sorely under-appreciated, museum. This particular mammoth is on loan from Mexico City. If any science nerds are wondering, it is a Columbian mammoth. It was brought here in crates from Mexico City and took a team of five archeologists 12 complete days to reassemble. It is a sight to behold.

The museum is open from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., seven days a week. The cost is only 45 pesitos and you get to see much more than a mammoth. The museum is chock full of pieces of history from Sinaloa and beyond with many placards in English if your sciencey Spanish is a little rusty. Pro Tip: get in free any day with your INAPAM card, and Permanent Residents get in free on Sundays. Gilbran, Director of INAH for Sinaloa, is generally there and speaks great English.

As recently as 10,000-15,000 years ago, mammoths roamed Sinaloa and other parts of Mexico. If you think banda is loud, can you imagine the sound and feeling of a pack of fifty 4-ton beasts coming towards you? This mammoth was not discovered locally, but rather in Ecatepec in 1995. The bones displayed are 80% original to this animal with missing parts replaced with bones from other mammoths or modeled. This is the reason one leg appears shorter than the others, as it was missing and another mammoth had to supply the replacement.

Cause of death is not known, but it’s pretty certain that some of our early ancestors ate well off the missing leg—whether hunted or scavenged. This mammoth died early at around age 25. Mammoths are known to have lived easily to be 80 years old. I could bore you with facts and figures, but suffice it to say, it’s big, it was heavy, and it’s here. Go check it out!

Oh, and here are some pictures (thanks Dianne):

Just click any photo to see it larger.

 

V.I.D.A. Awards in Mazatlán

DSC_6493Jeweler to that stars as well as some of us mere mortal folk, Taxco-born Daniel Espinosa is Latin America’s most successful jewelry designer. He was in town today to honor nine Mazatlecan women with his VIDA Award (Values, Intelligence, Dedication, Attitude). Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow. 

The honorees were selected for the many positive changes they have made in local society. VIDA awards have also been given out in Veracruz, Chihuahua, Morelia, Toluca and Tampico—locations of a few of the 75 worldwide boutiques the brand has opened in its 22-year history.

Awardees are well known in our community; many of us are friends with several if not all of them. But, somehow, it would seem we either don’t realize the extent of these women’s achievements and hard work, or we just accept it as part and parcel of who they are. Listening to it summarized this morning filled my heart nearly to bursting. I was so proud of my girlfriends, acquaintances, and those I had the pleasure to meet for the first time this morning. 

Below is a list of the winners. Congratulations and thank you to each of you, for striving to make our Mazatlán a better place in which to live, and for bringing our community recognition on the world stage.

  1. Balbina Medrano: Award for Altruism. Balbina is one of the founders of the Food Bank of Mazatlán and is a member of the Mexican Association for Family Betterment (AMSIF).
  2. Karen Jonsson: Award for Altruism. Karen created the MAPA Foundation for people with mental illness, with homes in Mazatlán and Hermosillo.
  3. María Esther Juárez: Award for Altruism. Esther is a founder of ANSPAC Mazatlán and Separado No es Basura (recycling program), and President of the Lighthouse Patronato.
  4. Ana Belén López: Award for Arts. Ana Belén is the author of poetry books that have been translated into three languages and presented at various literary events.
  5. Itzel Manjarrez: Award for Sports. Itzel ranks among the top five women athletes in the world at the Olympic level. She is a sergeant in the army and air force of Mexico.
  6. Cynthia Cristina Angulo: Award for Business Leadership. Cynthia has a news show and is President of the Mazatlán Association of Executive Women.
  7. Karina Bárcena Vega: Award for Ecology and Philanthropy. Karina is the creator of HoliFest Mazatlán, on the board of the orphanage and awards yoga scholarships.
  8. Cristina Peña: Award for Philanthropy. Cristina is cofounder of Florecer and is currently working with Save the Children to build a safe house in Mazatlán.
  9. Tere Gallo: Award for Philanthropy. Teresa is a lifelong teacher and philanthropist as well as the former director of DIF Mazatlán (municipal family services). 

The ceremony took place in the event salon of Cimaco Gourmet; Cimaco carries Espinosa’s jewelry. Waiters passed a variety of breakfast canapés, coffee and mimosas. It was a very professionally orchestrated event. Those attending were treated to a terrific short video about the VIDA Award and the brand’s history; Espinosa gave a short presentation and then personally gave each winner one of the gorgeous custom-designed awards; and every woman attending was generously given a gorgeous memento as we left.

Madame Butterfly Today for Students

DSC_60341500 primary and middle school children were treated to two operatic performances of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly today in the Angela Peralta Theater accompanied by our beloved Camerata Mazatlán. What a dream come true, right? Or a nightmare, depending on what kind of child you are. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

I have long been a fan of the free performances, “Cultura in the Community,” and today’s event was no exception. It was a win for the children and for the performers, as the cast who were given the terrific opportunity to play these major roles are all from our Municipal School of the Arts:

  • María de Jesús Herrada sang the title role of Cho-cho, the spurned Japanese girl
  • Alejandro Yepes and Alejandro Pacheco took turns as Pinkerton, the spineless American who marries her for convenience
  • Rodolfo Ituarte and Mario Canela performed as Sharpless, the US American consul who is tasked with delivering the bad news that Pinkerton has married another
  • Daniela Cortés and Mariela Angulo rotated as the maid, Suzuki
  • Bonze, the Buddhist monk who curses Cho-cho, was wonderfully performed by José Lora and Miguel Valenzuela
  • Goro, the marriage broker, was, in true kabuki fashion, performed by Eduardo Tapia

The choice of opera for the crowd of students seemed appropriate, as it can be seen as a cautionary tale against teenage pregnancy. The students’ were audibly shocked when María de Jesús announced she was fifteen years old, and then again when she appeared with her child conceived with Pinkerton. The kids absolutely loved Bonze, Cho-cho’s evil uncle, the Buddhist monk. The role was superbly acted. Of course, in the end Pinkerton and his new wife Kate adopt the child, and Madama Butterfly commits seppuku with her father’s sword.

Marsol Quiñonez Castro, General Director of Cultura Mazatlán, reported that it is the first time in the past five years that there has been a full house for an opera performed for children, and that she was very pleased with the audience’s response. Some of the kids looked spellbound, fortunately, and others slept or talked through the performance, causing Maestro Enrique Patrón de Rueda to “shush” the crowd several times.

Roberto Rodríguez Lizárraga, director of DIF Mazatlán, said he was grateful for the opportunity to host students from junior highs Eti #5, Federal #2, Federal #5, Santa Teresa y Solidaridad, and the Valladolid primary school.

There will be one more performances for students tomorrow morning, Wednesday the 20th, followed by a second at noon for the elderly and disabled.

Book Review: Why We Left

616zADxrq6LBook Review: Why We Left: An Anthology of American Women Expats, Collected essays of 27 women happily living in Mexico
© 2019 by Janet Blaser
Available on Kindle and in paperback
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The 27 women contributing to this volume clearly communicate the numerous and varied reasons they left the USA, as the title suggests, focusing primarily on how they made the transition and have forged new lives in a culture and language so very different from their own. I eagerly looked forward to relishing the reading of this book, but it is even richer than I imagined. It contains loads of tips on relocating to Mexico, the advantages and challenges these women encounter in this new land, and what these immigrants have learned by living in their adopted homes.

The volume is comprised of unique and interesting voices whose stories are completely different from one another and yet, on a profound level, very much the same. Amazing to me is that despite huge differences in histories, circumstances and reasons for leaving, every one of the contributors is happy she made the move and feels more connected to herself than ever before.

So, why did these US American women leave? Quite a few were sick of consumerism gone wild, the over-consumption and waste. Some of them were bored or frustrated. Several were tired of the never-ending, senseless murders at concerts, in schools and movie theaters. You’ll read about economic refugees who can’t afford to continue living in the USA, as well as women who are well off yet choose to escape their seemingly perfect lives. Some of the authors were weary of the rat race; that they didn’t have time for family and friends; that they’d come home from vacation to an overflowing, stress-filled in-box. A few fled financial ruin, divorce, or the death of loved ones. A couple moved after serious illness “woke them up” to the fact that life is short and they should live their dreams while they still can. Some mention escaping the rhetoric of intolerance and hatred.

The stories you read in these pages are real and revelatory, not promotional. You learn of a friend who dies in a hospital in Mexico who shouldn’t have, and another who gets state-of-the-art, personalized care for pennies to the dollar. Both are the “real” Mexico, the land of paradox, home of the world’s most comfortable hammocks and most uncomfortable chairs, the land where people greet crisis with both stoicism and joy. The reader will get terrific advice on how to choose where to live, how to prepare for the move, what to pack and what to leave behind, which is the best and most affordable health insurance, where to bank most easily and save fees, how to get the best health care, raising children and dating in Mexico. You’ll learn that wherever you go, there you are; moving abroad will exacerbate—not solve—relationship troubles, family problems or self-esteem issues.

The women who have written these pages are single, widowed, divorced, raising children and taking care of elderly parents. They live in every region of Mexico, with varied income levels, in big cities, small towns and even completely off the grid. Some of them made the decision to move strategically, with careful, step-by-step planning; others fell in love with Mexico and spontaneously made the decision to move. They make ends meet by telecommuting, starting businesses, working a job, housesitting or collecting a pension or social security. Many came to Mexico the first time on holiday, on a cruise or sabbatical. We learn about women who rent their homes, buy them or live in homes on wheels.

Common themes include how emotional and time-consuming it can be to cull through a lifetime accumulation of “stuff” to make the move—that we identify with our belongings more than we realize, and that the reality of US American life necessitates a lot of shredding. Many of these women speak about how their friends and family think they are crazy for moving to Mexico, and refuse to visit them—out of fear, primarily. Most every American woman in this volume speaks to the challenge of learning a new culture and a new language, as well as the fact that living in a foreign language and culture keeps one’s brain agile and active.

A couple of the authors experienced natural disasters while living in Mexico, and advise of the challenging lack of official government response or help. They caution those who would move here that the country is noisy: parties, laughter, music and fireworks, at all hours of the day and night. The daily bureaucracy can be oppressive; paying bills, banking, it can take weeks to accomplish basic things. There is a huge dichotomy between rich and poor in Mexico, they counsel, and huge differences in male-female dynamics. Some of the women warn about scorpions, mosquitos, street dogs, spiders and iguanas, about the difficulty of leaving family behind. Quite a few of these women, despite the challenges, have become integral members of and even leaders in their communities; all of them speak to deep connections and relationships.

They tell us that Mexico has taught them to smile more, to relax more easily, to be more patient. They say they are thinner and healthier here, eating whole foods rather than processed, and walking more, swimming, hiking, biking and golfing. Many of them take painting or writing classes and volunteer in their new hometowns. They write of a broad variety of friends, local and international, from a variety of backgrounds, who are passionate about life. They tell the reader of the resilience one gains by living abroad, the sense of wonder one feels, that they learn something new every day. These women report learning not to make assumptions, to go with the flow. They report that they’ve become more empathetic, accepting and less judgmental— they experience a freedom in Mexico that they do not in the USA. They admire the culture, history and art in their new home, but most of all Mexico’s hardworking, creative people. They have learned to be more humble, less materialistic, to slow down and not feel so entitled. Many of them report that they now experience culture shock when they go north, back “home.”

The women authors of this book appreciate the proximity of their new homes to their birthplaces in the USA: easier to see children and grandchildren, to care for aging parents, to meet dear lifelong friends. They are grateful for the affordability of their new home, be it the price of housing, food, travel or healthcare. Despite mass media reports to the contrary, the women in this volume report feeling safer living in Mexico than they did in the USA. They find Mexican people generally gentle, kind, happy, helpful and honest. They take pride in raising multilingual, multicultural kids here and to having opportunities they would never have at home. They cite the environmental beauty of Mexico, and, of course, the fact that the winters are far less cold. Many of the women write about the value of their friendships in Mexico and treasure the fact that family and community connection are still huge priorities in life. Several women mention they love all the outdoor living and the deep roots and tradition.

If you are thinking about moving overseas—to Mexico or anywhere else on the planet—this book can be an immense help, whatever your gender. It is living proof that risk has its rewards. If you’ve already made the move, it’ll provide good context for the journey you’ve made, and aid in making sense of your own experience. It’s not a volume to read all in one sitting, but, rather, to sit with when you have time to enjoy and reflect on what you are reading.

Pajaritos: A Mazatlecan Tradition

DSC_5515-PanoMazatlán has a decades-long tradition of fishing for and enjoying pajaritos; it is a highly anticipated and valued part of our local culture. We are not lucky enough to get them every year, but this May they are running! And big time!! Deliciousness AND a bonus income for the fishermen and resellers—who cannot love this? They’ve arrived with absolutely great timing, as well—just as UNESCO staff are in town to discuss Mazatlán becoming a Creative Gastronomic City.

During the very short season Playa Norte and the embarcadero for Stone Island turn into a madhouse of activity after dark, with hundreds of people showing up to comparison-shop this warm-water delicacy that’s also popular in Japan and Hawaii. People arrive with every kind of container imaginable: wash basins, buckets, bags, Tupperware… and the fishermen are more than happy to fill them up! People purchase bucket-loads of the savory little creatures to prepare for family and friends or to clean and resell. They are usually served pan fried with beans. You can buy some and take them to any palapa, or some restaurants, and they’ll fry them up for you and provide the fixings. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

Like most anything in Mazatlán, this is a family affair: grandparents, kids… Smiles and  joking abound; everyone is happy. Entire extended families camp out on the malecón and the beach, watching the activity and enjoying the scene. It reminds me of festival season in Japan, and I love it! It’s a wee bit dangerous getting a nice camera and flash setup in amongst the boats, what with the tide coming in fast at our feet, causing the pangas to move every which way, the huge crowds of people pushing for the best catch and the fishermen grabbing at the bills flying their way.

Pajaritos are ballyhoos, also called flying halfbeaks or spipefish (heporhamphus in the hemiramphidae family), closely related to the needlefish. In Mazatlecan dialect they are called pajaritos because they “fly” at up to 37 mph/60 kph, gliding over the surface of the water for quite a distance! As nearby as Teacapán they are called differently: guaris. They skim the surface of the water, jumping up and out frequently in shallower surf. They have large scales that end up completely covering the fishermen: hair, face, appendages, clothing. Their eyes and nostrils are at the top of the head and their upper jaw is mobile—well adapted to surface dwelling. Sadly, loads of their eggs seem to be scooped up as they are caught, as you can see in the photos.

Pajaritos lay their eggs all over the waters around Cerro de Chivos and other islands in our bay: that pungent smell really carries! They have an elongated, narrow jaw filled with sharp teeth. When young the pajaritos feed on plankton and algae, and as they grow eat smaller fish. They are a migratory fish that run along the Pacific coast from Santa Ana, California to Costa Rica.

The season usually lasts a few days or, if we’re lucky, weeks, so be sure not to miss out. Between 2012 and 2016 there were no pajaritos, attributed to over-fishing and contamination. This year, fortunately, there seems to be a bumper harvest, with between 500 kg and two tons sold each evening here in town! They are caught near the islands in our bay as well as near the coastline—in calm waters, primarily at night. Pajaritos are attracted by light, so it’s easy for us landlubbers to spot the pajarito fishermen out in our bay with their bright lights and hand nets. Some nights I’ve seen as many as 50 pangas surrounding the islands! During the day I’ve seen the fish out in the bay; their jumping makes it look like the ocean is boiling. It’s great work for our local fishermen, as they can fill their boats in just a couple of hours, and last night, as most nights, their haul sells out in a matter of minutes.


Monday night the fish were selling for 40 pesos per kilogram (60-80 fish), though that varies according to the number of boats at the dock with fish and the number of buyers (basic supply and demand). The fishermen charged 200-250 pesos per cubeta, depending on the size of the bucket. Cleaned pajaritos were being sold on the malecón, ready to fry up, for 100 pesos/kg (weight is prior to cleaning), though that also varies depending on the night and the vendor.

This valued local tradition will hopefully continue for many more decades. It will require, however, fishing limits to preserve the species, as well as adequate water treatment. Let’s all work towards that and, in the meantime, be sure to enjoy the spectacle and a great meal!