La Reserva Chara Pinta

An easy day trip, as it’s 90 minutes from Mazatlán, I highly recommend that you spend a couple of nights in the very comfortable yet simple cabins/cabañas at the Tufted Jay Preserve on the other side of Concordia. There you can hike, listen to bird song, breathe fresh mountain air, and just generally relax. It’s a great place to go when it’s hot here in Mazatlán, as it’s high in the Sierras.

Most people go to Chara Pinta for the birdwatching. I love birds, but I sure don’t know their names, nor do I have the lens to capture them in the wild. Some day! If nay of you have an 800 mm Nikon lens sitting around that you’d like to sell me cheap, let me know 😉 Below are a few of the warblers and beauties I was able to catch with my 200 mm lens. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

We saw some tufted jays or charas pintas, the birds for which the reserve is famous, but I’m afraid I was unable to capture them with my camera to share with you. Sorry! They are gorgeous!

We hiked pretty much all day on Saturday when we arrived, and then all Sunday morning as well. I honestly saw the most birds, however, when we stood still. On Sunday I sat in a chair and took most of the photos you see above. Three women talking and giggling (I went with two local friends) while they walk seems not to be the most conducive way to birdwatch!

The views up at the Tufted Jay Preserve are spectacular! There are mountains and valleys, cliffs, a rock outcropping called “The Pyramid,” a clear view to Presa Picachos/Picachos Dam, and views of Mazatlán by day and by night.

Needless to say, sunset and sunrise are gorgeous times of day and not to be missed, nor are the stars! Whoever thinks that stars are white has to rethink things if you visit la Reserva Chara Pinta. The blue, red and white stars blanketed the entire sky; it was amazing! Oh my how we enjoyed our visit! Be sure to enlarge these by clicking on them if you love starry skies!

I have been wanting to go to the Chara Pinta Reserve for a couple of years. My girlfriend Jeanett very much wanted to go, so off we went. We were told we were the first all-female group the ejido has hosted!

We hired Don Santos Vasquez as our guide; he is the President of the Reserve and a member of the local ejido that stewards the land. He took us on hikes up to the mirador/lookout, down in the canyons, and up to the Pyramid. He is a gentle and wise man who really knows this area, its flora and fauna. Santos does not speak English; he charges 100 pesos/hour for his guide services.

The cabins have solar panels so there is light and hot water for showers. There is gas for the stoves, so you can cook. You’ll need to take your own food and a cooler; if you are a group of ten or more you can request a cook who will serve you and your guests in the dining hall. Cabins are of wood, they are gorgeous, beds are comfortable, bathrooms are tiled, and there are barbecue and fire pits outside. The Reserve is a recipe for a wonderful couple of days reconnecting with nature. The caretaker of the property is Javier, another kind and gentle soul, who you can see in some of the photos below. He generously and ably made and tended our fire for us.

There are cabins for two people and cabins for ten people, as well as several sizes in between; all are well constructed and comfortable. Some have fireplaces. Some cabins are grouped together, others are off to themselves for added privacy. The place felt extremely safe, and our hosts were most hospitable.

The hiking trails are fairly easy and vary between jeep and foot trails; some are pretty steep. The vegetation we saw was incredible; such a variety, and all so very robust. We ate blackberries, we found wild cotton, we marveled at peeling bark and every type of fern, we saw dozens of types of pine trees, and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves breathing the fresh mountain air.

I’ll post more pictures of the wonderful stuff we saw below, but for those of you interested in going, let me give you the information.

HOW TO RESERVE AND GET THERE, WHAT TO BRING

To reserve a cabin, call 044 66 9134 0166. You can also have book Don Santos’ guide services via that number. Reserva Chara Pinta is just this side of the small town of El Palmito. Take the toll road towards Durango, and exit at pretty much the only exit there is—towards El Salto. You’ll go about 15-20 minutes on the old highway, and then just before you reach El Palmito, you’ll see a sign for the Reserve on your left. The final 10 minutes are on a dirt road up a steep climb. I recommend a 4WD or at least an SUV. If you prefer, there are also cabañas in town; they are definitely not as picturesque, but they do have easier access.

We were told that the best time to go is in June, when the guacamayas/macaws can be viewed, and in July, when the tufted jays are nesting. All year round is good, however, as we were told it doesn’t snow at Chara Pinta, nor does it get that cold (we used light jackets).

Bring a towel, soap and toiletries, water, and any food you want to cook or eat as well as a cooler. Bring a flashlight if you want to walk outside at night, and charcoal if you want to barbecue; they have plenty of wood for a fire. We also brought extra blankets, but you don’t need them; the reserve supplies sheets, pillows, blankets and toilet paper. Also don’t forget the sunscreen.

Okay, so on to the rest of the flora. I used to live in Colorado, so I know and love bromeliads, otherwise called air plants. Chara Pinta is absolutely filled with them!

And where there are air plants, there is usually moss. In Chara Pinta there is loads of it:

We marveled at the gorgeous flowers as well. Wild mountain flowers are always so colorful and often so very dainty:

Perhaps my favorite aspect of the flora in the Sierras are the textures: bark, dried plants, leaves, pine cones of all varieties, peeled bark, curly ferns, pine needles three feet deep and joyously comfortable to lay on…

Finally, I really enjoyed the leaves of all colors and types. There were fresh green leaves, leaves with the trail remnants of some insect, leaves in silver and gold, and leaves in red and brown.

We absolutely loved our trip and will be going back in June or July. I highly recommend you make the trip if you haven’t already!

National Recognition for Local Handicrafts

barcinas

Beautifully handcrafted barcinas, which traditionally hold dried shrimp

I am very excited that reporters from eight respected national publications will tour Mazatlán and southern Sinaloa from May 7-10, to learn about, report on, and photograph our regional artesanía and artesanos. The tour is coordinated by Turismo Mazatlán and Turismo Sinaloa, as well as by the Association of Hotels and Tourist Enterprises of Mazatlán.

If you are regular readers of VidaMaz.com, you know that we are big proponents of culture, particularly the preservation of local, regional and indigenous traditions. We also support sustainable tourism, ecotourism, religious and cultural tourism. Thus, we are extremely happy to know that tourism officials are taking action to help promote “the little guy,” those who add so much to our communities by producing the gorgeous handiwork we enjoy.

Most traditional handicraft is beautiful and also utilitarian. It reflects the culture, the environment, the people, and the daily life of the place where it is made. Preserving it, helping it thrive and develop, creates pathways out of poverty, builds healthy communities, and prevents delinquency and violence. Just look at the increased success, popularity and value of Native American handicrafts and music over our lifetimes, and the improvement in the quality of what is produced! We can create such a success story here in Mexico as well. Sinaloa is smart to diversify beyond heavy eco-footprint industries like cruise ships. Cultural tourism can help preserve our heritage and the gorgeous natural environment with which we are blessed, and it can help build strong, vital, resilient communities. It attracts a more savvy brand of tourist, one that is increasingly wealthier and more committed to the welfare of local communities. Kudos to all involved!

Publications participating in the upcoming tour include my personal favorite, México Desconocido; the Reforma newspaper’s De Viaje supplement; the Destinos section of El UniversalConceptos Turísticos magazine; Travelers Guide to MéxicoViaja Bonito magazine; Reportour 98.5 FM; and the magazine, Tiempo Libre.

Here in Mazatlán the group will visit:

  • The museum at Seashell City, to view handcrafted items such as lamps, boxes, crosses, Christmas ornaments, and picture frames made of shells.
  • Onilikan in the Golden Zone, to savor their fruit-flavored liqueurs and aguardiente, distilled in that gorgeous copper kiln.
  • Suaves downtown, makers of the world’s best marshmallows, to meet María Clara and experience the process of creating our much-loved local pride, coconut-flavored marshmallows.

I would like to politely suggest that the group visit a few of our terrific local seamstresses such as Sodelva Rios de Garcia, to showcase our long local tradition of sewing Carnavál costumes and royal dresses. They should also tour some of the terrific art and artisan galleries around town. And even though they won’t be active this time of year, I would recommend the official visit include the talleres/workshops for the carrozas or floats of Carnavál, or at least a slideshow presentation showcasing how important, inclusive and wonderful Carnavál is for our local community, and how many terrific artisans contribute to making it a success. Maybe another trip, so they can see monigotes or giant statues being created as well.

Outside Mazatlán, reporters will visit our neighboring communities including:

  • La Noria, where they’ll tour the gorgeous, award-winning Los Osuna distillery as well as visit the leather makers.
  • El Tablón Viejo in El Rosario, where they’ll learn about handicrafts made from gourds by the Larreta Medrano family.
  • Escuinapa, where they’ll watch barcinas, as in the photo at the top of this post, being made. I would also suggest they visit Ernesto at Productos Rivera, so they can watch the wonders the crafty ladies there do with fresh and dried mango.
  • Malpica, Concordia, where they’ll witness mosaic-making.
  • El Rodeo, Cosalá, and the traditional method of making conserva de Papaya. The last time we visited El Rodeo, Saboreando Ando was visiting there as well. Click through to see photos and video of the making of the conserva.

If you have not already visited the places above, or if it has been a while, now is a good time to go! The weather is perfect, national tourists have not yet arrived en masse, and local handicrafts-men and -women are eager to earn your patronage!

Copala: One of Our Favorite Day Trips

1.IMG_2414Copala (San José de Copala) is a picturesque little town southeast of Mazatlán, just past Concordia. The smallness of this village, the charm of its winding, hillside cobblestone streets, and the friendliness of its people, make it one of our favorites.

Populated by indigenous people and then “founded” by Francisco de Ibarra, veins of silver were discovered nearby Copala in 1565 and the town grew to serve the mines. It was destroyed during an uprising by the Tepehuan Indians in 1616; its church was built much later, in 1748.

You can tell by the beauty of its church and central plaza how wealthy Copala became, but it has definitely fallen on tough times now. The incredibly lovely church has plants growing from its steeple and facade, and is in desperate need of restoration—though this mix of opulence and ruin does create a thoughtful charm.

Coming into town you drive past a small cemetery. Once you are in town, children will likely approach you with hand-carved wooden replicas of the home of Copala, quite nice souvenirs. There are several restaurants in which to eat here. Years ago we always ate at Daniel’s, but that is closed since his death. Chalva’s famous banana coconut cream pie (or a replica of it) is still served in several local places. The last time we went to Copala, we ate at a new restaurant—Alejandro’s—just down the hill from the plaza. The view was outstanding, and the cook (owner’s wife) even more so.  For such a small town, it is surprising that Copala also has several places to spend the night.

There are souvenir shops and a mining museum that, despite appearances, we are assured still opens regularly. It was not open the last time we visited Copala. While there isn’t a whole lot to see here, we highly encourage a leisurely visit. It’s a very welcome respite in a busy life: a beautiful place to read a book, make some sketches, or just sit, visit, and relax a spell. Copala is also a very worthwhile stopover on the way to or from Durango.

Driving Directions:
Copala is just over one hour southeast of Mazatlán. Take highway 15 south pass the airport to Villa Unión (about 13 miles from Mazatlán). Turn east on the free (libre) version of highway 40, towards Durango. After about 15 miles, you will pass through Concordia (read here about this wonderful furniture making town) and another 15 miles later you will see the exit for Copala.The exit is clearly marked, but easy to miss if you are speeding or distracted. As soon as you exit, you will be on a cobblestone road — one of the hallmarks of this magic town. The road splits quickly and you should go to the left. You will pass by a beautiful cemetery and wind your way into town. Just stay on this main road, and you will find yourself in the plaza in front of the old church. The drive is beautiful and easy, as you pass plantations of coconuts, mangoes and bananas. Just don’t get on the new highway.

For those traveling this way from Durango on the new highway, there is a cutoff to the old highway which lands you in Concordia. From there it is a simple 15 minute drive back northeast to Copala. It is a very convenient stopover and well worth a little extra time.

Concordia: Beautiful Town One Hour Southeast of Mazatlán

Over Christmas and New Year’s we had the pleasure of hosting five different sets of visitors to Mazatlán. It felt so incredibly wonderful to spend time with loved ones, and to be able to share the gorgeousness and warmth of our adopted home with them. It was fascinating to us how each group experienced Mazatlán differently. Our city has so many different faces, there is truly something for everyone—the beach bums, the farmers and ranchers, the culture mavens, those who love to eat, party or shop.

During this time we took several trips to our nearby mountain towns. We so love these trips, to a simpler life, a slower and more rural life. It struck me that we have not written that many posts on these day trip towns, so I aim to remedy that. Since we visited at least five, and that’s a whole lot of writing, I trust you’ll permit me to tell you their stories primarily in photos. Photos will give you a sense of the place, and let you know if you’d like to visit—whether for the first time or the 50th.

Let me begin with Concordia, about an hour southeast of Mazatlán, towards Durango. It’s easy to remember Concordia among the many beautiful small towns in southern Sinaloa, because the main plaza in town has that gigantic chair, representative of the solid wooden furniture crafted here. Sit in it, with the gorgeous church behind you, and you feel the joy of childhood again. Concordia is also the birthplace of the famous raspados, or shaved ice flavored with real fruit syrup. Founded as “Villa San Sebastián” in 1565 by Francisco de Ibarra, Concordia today has about 9000 residents. Its history is steeped in the gold, silver and copper mining of this region.

The main church, San Sebastián, is really beautiful. Built in 1785, it has an ornate baroque facade.

Concordia also has hot springs, which are on the left, down a dirt road, just before you get into town.

1.IMG_2229If you’re looking for something to do this weekend, the Féria de San Sebastián takes place over two weekends: from today (Friday January 17th) through Sunday the 26th. This Sunday the 19th is the seventh annual cabalgata or horse race, starting at 11 am and going from Mesillas to Concordia, concluding at the fairgrounds after a march around town. They are anticipating 450 participants in the cabalgata, and you’re sure to see some gorgeous charrería.

My friend Salvador Herrera made a video of Concordia for the “Un Mundo Mágico” project.

Driving Directions:

Concordia is one hour southeast of Mazatlán. Take highway 15 south to Villa Unión (about 13 miles from Mazatlán). Turn east on highway 40, the old free road to Durango, and continue about another 13 miles. The drive is beautiful and easy, as you pass plantations of coconuts, mangoes and bananas. Just don’t get on the new highway. For those traveling this way from Durango, Concordia is also a very convenient stopover.

Religious Tourism in Mazatlán and the Nearby Towns During Holy Week

Crucifix over MZT

I took this photo during the Vía Crucis/Stations of the Cross of PAJUMA Mazatlán (Diocesan youth group). It is taken from the top of the lighthouse after the celebration of an open-air mass. Unfortunately this event does not happen every year.

When I arrived in México I couldn’t wait to participate in some of the incredible Holy Week religious events that I had so long heard about and seen—especially those that re-create Jesus’ long walk to the cross, the Via Dolorosa.

Because our son is still in school, we can’t travel while classes are in session. So, we take advantage of the school break to see some of this gorgeous country, and thus we are usually out of town and miss these great events locally. We have had the pleasure of participating in Holy Week ceremonies in the states of Chihuahua (Copper Canyon) with the Tarahumara, Zacatecas, Guanajuato, and Michoacán among a few others…

Do you know that there is a long tradition of beautiful Holy Week events right here in Mazatlán and the surrounding towns? Kindly, our friends over at Mazatlán Interactivo have agreed to permit us to use their photos and legwork to share with you some of what is available right here in southern Sinaloa.

The biggest events locally take place on Good Friday, which this year falls on March 29, 2013. The reenactments of the crucifixion are generally held late in the morning. These involve members of local parishes dressing up in period costume and acting out the 14 Stations of the Cross. This can get very graphic, with realistically simulated whipping, nailing of hands and feet, and bleeding. It is a beautiful and very moving sight to behold, and I highly recommend you experience it. The actors’ lines come directly from Bible verses.

In some communities there is also a Procession of Silence  after darkness sets in on Good Friday. Members of the community process through the streets holding lit candles and religious relics. Often there is solemn music and the procession is followed by a mass.


Mazatlán
Here in Mazatlán the Diocesan youth group annually conducts PAJUMA (Pascua Juveníl de Mazatlán) a three-day event that takes place in the baseball stadium Estadio Teodoro Mariscal on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday (March 28-30, 9 am – 7 pm each day). The full three days’ attendance is only 50 pesos, and there is no age limit on participation. The kids reenact the crucifixion of Christ there in the stadium and then, still fully dressed, process from the stadium to the cathedral.

MARCH 29, Good Friday, 5:00 pm
Procession of Silence
PAJUMA participants will leave the baseball stadium at 5:00 and head out to the cathedral of the Immaculate Conception downtown, passing by the Aquarium, along the malecón (not many places in the world you can see a Way of the Cross enacted along the oceanfront!), the Fisherman’s Monument, and the pangas in Playa Norte. The procession will then turn left and go down through Plaza Zaragoza to the cathedral.

MARCH 30, Holy Saturday, 5:00 pm and 6:00 pm
Mass of the Resurrection of our Lord, and then the closing of Pascua Juveníl de Mazatlán. Entrance is free after 5:00.

Pretty much every church in the city will have Stations of the Cross on Good Friday, and a vigil with foot washing Thursday evening. Plus, of course, Easter mass. Some congregations reenact the Vía Crucis as well; check with your local parish. Mouseover a photo above to view the caption, or click on one to view the slideshow.

Cosalá (172 km from MZT)
MARCH 29, Good Friday, 11:00 am
Traditional Stations of the Cross, in the church

MARCH 29, Good Friday, 7:00 pm
Procession of Silence

Mouseover a photo below to view the caption, or click on one to view the slideshow.

 

Malpica (Concordia; 38 km from MZT)
MARCH 29, Good Friday, 11:00 am
Reenactment of the crucifixion of Christ, starting from the moment Judas Iscariot kisses him and Jesus is apprehended into custody in the Garden of Gesthemane.

GALERIA MALPICA 5659

Viacrucis escénica en Malpica. Photo courtesy Mazatlán Interactivo

Matatán (Rosario; 82 km from MZT)
MARCH 29, Good Friday, 11:00 am
Reenactment of the crucifixion of Christ as he made his way to Golgotha.

DSCF1055

Viacrucis representativa en San Ignacio. Photo courtesy Mazatlán Interactivo

San Ignacio (111 km from MZT)
Our good friends, the reason we ended up loving and living in Mazatlán in the first place, are originally from San Ignacio. It is a gorgeous small town with a huge image of Christ on the hill.

MARCH 29, Good Friday, 11:00 am
Reenactment of the crucifixion of Christ, the Via Dolorosa or Way of the Cross.

MARCH 29, Good Friday, 7:00 pm
Procession of Silence (with music)

Mouseover a photo below to view the caption, or click on one to view the slideshow.

Teacapán (Escuinapa; 130 km from MZT)
MARCH 29, Good Friday, 10:00 am
Reenactment of the crucifixion of Christ and his walk to Calvary.