Las Labradas on New Years

©11.DSC_0227-Edit
Happy New Year! May the Year of the Monkey bring you much joy, playfulness, flexibility, creativity and community!

We all know and love Las Labradas, the gorgeous National Cultural Heritage site with its incredible oceanside petroglyphs that is located just north of Mazatlán in Chicayota. What better, more beautiful and sacred place, to bring in the new year? So we headed there today after lunch.

The petroglyphs include crosses, foxes, spirals, cats, pelicans, and people—faces, figures, arms, hands, the hunters, the swimmer. Last time we visited the new museum was operational. This time we were happy to see that signs have been installed along the path, pointing to key petroglyphs, and there is a small brochure with a map, which really helps. In addition to the magic of the petroglyphs, the site is absolutely gorgeous, as well. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

Most of the petroglyphs are from 750 to 1250 CE, but some could be as old as 3000 BCE. We very much enjoyed the ride and the hike, and our New Year’s toast with Danny and his roommate. It is so very wonderful to have our boy home with us for winter break!

Danny brought me some camera filters for Christmas, including a neutral density filter. It allows me to take long exposures without letting in too much light. In the photos below, you can see several shots taken at normal quick exposure, followed by the same shot taken with the ND filter and the lens open for a couple of seconds (of course using a tripod). Note that the ocean waves start to look soft, smooth, and misty. It’s a whole different look, and both ways of course have their advantages.

Driving up to Las Labradas, there was a HUGE snake in the middle of the road. He had to be about five feet long and about 6-8 inches around. Scary! A few pics of him are below, taken before he slithered away into the brush.  Anybody know what he is? Is he dangerous? I wanted to get close enough to get a good pic of his eye, but caution prevailed.

I also have to share a few of the pelicans playing in the pre-sunset color, and the two kids on a motorcycle on the beach. On the way out, I couldn’t resist getting a few final photos of a regal rooster. Does he look proud or what?

Happy New Year, everyone! I trust the year will bring blessings and, most of all, peace.

 

No Child Labor a Good Thing?

©1.DSC_0402

Doing the wash while her parents are in the fields

The plight of migrant agricultural workers sadly continues, decades after César Chavez’ death.

In one month this year, five children died just in the migrant camps of Teacapán: one fell into a ravine, another was bit by a scorpion, a third choked, a fourth drowned in an uncovered tinaco… On our trip to visit the migrant workers in Teacapán recently, we met a family that had lost a two year old just a few months ago. Such is what happens when adults need to work in the fields to feed their families, and children are left home to take care of younger siblings and neighbor kids. Click on any photo in this post to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

Most of us can agree that child labor isn’t a good thing. Many of us perhaps campaigned or voted to outlaw child labor. Grocery stores up north won’t buy produce harvested by children, so the local growers are vigilant to ensure that children don’t participate in agricultural activities. But, with the absence of effective support systems, and given the horribly inequitable economy in which we live, outlawing child labor has meant that children are dying, and are not being educated, in record numbers.

The thousands of migrant workers in Sinaloa come from places like Oaxaca, Chiapas, Guerrero—poorer states of the republic. Most of the workers are native Mexicans: Miztecos, Zapotecos… Many of them don’t speak Spanish, as it’s a foreign language to them. Most of them don’t have birth certificates or official documentation, as they were born at home and it’s not their custom to register with the government. Given the lack of language and birth certificates, most migrants are unable to enroll their children in school.

Sound like a hard life? Add to it the fact that the migrant workers are treated like outsiders in most any community in which they work. In Teacapán, for example, I was told the migrants pay 2000 to 3000 pesos a month for rent—of a ROOM, with no running water, no furniture, and most definitely no toilet or kitchen. It was heartbreaking to see.

During my trip to visit the migrant workers, there were still huge puddles of standing water on the roads, in the yards and fields. I was told that Hurricane Patricia dumped 25 inches of rain on Teacapán in 15 hours; the puddles were the months-later remnants of the flooding.

The migrant workers are disciminated against. Many of the townspeople tell their children to stay away from the migrants; they call them filthy and stupid. I suppose if I didn’t have access to water or a toilet at home, I’d be dirty, too. Last Christmas a church in Mazatlán brought toys to the migrant workers’ kids, and some of the townspeople made such a stink because their kids didn’t get toys, that the church was afraid to go back this year. The mistreatment of migrants is by no means limited to Teacapán; that is just where I happened to go visit them.

The migrant workers told me they stay here in Sinaloa for about six months, then travel to Baja or Zacatecas to continue their labors, rotating their residence to follow the agricultural cycle. One worker told me he is paid two pesos for a bucket of chiles; how is that for exploitation! Can you imagine how long it must take to pick a bucket of chiles? Women work all day in the fields, then return home in the evening to cook and care for the kids.

I went to visit the migrant worker families on a trip organized by Sue Parker of Vecinos con Cariño. Each of the ten or so of us on the trip that day paid 400 pesos, money which is used to buy food, disposable diapers, baby formula, and basic medical supplies (cough syrup, cold medicine, aspirin, first aid supplies), after paying the expenses of the van and driver.

In Teacapán we visited the home of Helen and Jerry Lohman. They have a gorgeous place, right on the ocean. Their yard is the biggest stretch of green grass I’ve seen in Mexico outside a golf course. The Lohmans and their driver, Ulises Gil Altamirano (a retired engineer), do all they can to help the migrant workers. Helen has learned the hard way that the migrants do not like to wear shoes (they wear huaraches or go barefoot), nor do the women wear slacks. She has personally sewn 22 pairs of jeans, 57 dresses, and 72 receiving blankets that she’s given out to the migrant families just in the past couple of months. She has five volunteers who now help her. Ulises works as ambulance driver, interpreter, and lawyer for many of the migrant families.

On this trip we also met Brenda Irvin, who lives in Teacapán with her husband. Despite having her arm in a sling, Brenda goes out three days a week every week to hand out nutritive biscuits and milk to the migrant children. Oh how they look forward to her visits! She has divided the town into four zones, and each of the days she goes out, she visits a different zone, in rotation.

Brenda, the Lohmans and Ulises worked hundreds of hours to get registration information for 500 members of the migrant worker community. They got a judge to agree to issue them birth certificates, so the kids could go to school, and the parents could get access to health insurance. But, after all that effort, the documentation remains in limbo; the judge has not come through on his word.

Brenda told me that a few years ago she happened to gain an audience with Governor Malova. She showed him photos of the conditions in which the migrant workers live. He agreed to get the state DIF (Family Development Services) involved. Now Sinaloa DIF sends milk, the nutritive cookies, and some other basic items to Teacapán regularly, and Brenda delivers them to the workers’ families.

I am posting a lot of photos, because the photos tell you more than I can with my words.

If you are interested in taking this trip with Vecinos con Cariño (VCC), contact Sue Parker via email. She tells me she will do a couple of trips in January, 2016.

VCC will welcome your donations; 100% of what you donate will go to help the migrant worker families. The money goes a long way; a donation of US$300 helps them clothe all the kids, for example. They will also take donations of gently used clothing, basic medical supplies, disposable diapers, and non-perishable food items.

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!

My Favorite 2015 Day of the Dead Story!

XoloAnubisThis year’s official theme for Day of the Dead cultural activities in Mazatlán was Mictlán—the world of death in Aztec mythology. Navigating the nine levels of Mictlán towards the evening star in the heavens was said to take nearly four years and was full of challenges. The dead needed help, a guide, and they found it in a dog—Xoloitzcuintle—a carnation of Xolotl, the god of fire, lightning, sickness and deformities, twin brother of Quetzalcoatl.

Xolo effigyClay dog statues have been found ritualistically placed in the tombs of Aztecs, Mayans and Colima Indians, as have the skeletons of actual dogs. Sort of reminds you of Anubis, the Egyptian dog-god, lord of the underworld, doesn’t it? They are both black, guide the dead, and have pointy, stand-up ears!

Well, a modern-day incarnation of Xoloitzcuintle apparently lives in El Rosario, and her name is La Tigresa!

For the past year, every time Tigresa hears the funeral bells of Our Lady of Rosario ring, she walks into church and politely sits down to attend the funeral mass. When the mass is finished, she walks in the funerary procession, in front of the casket, all the way to the cemetery. There she stays with the body until the last person has gone home.

La Tigresa distinguishes between the bells of a funeral mass and those of ordinary mass, which she never attends. If there are two simultaneous funerals, Tigresa walks in between the two coffins, treating both equitably. If there’s a funeral in the morning and another in the afternoon, she attends both. If the body is taken back home after mass, that’s where she heads, too.

Photo from the Noroeste by Hugo Gómez

Photo from the Noroeste by Hugo Gómez

I want to thank my good friend Lupita, who shared this story with me from Sunday’s Noroeste. I just love it, and hope you will, too! We’ve got to meet La Tigresa!

Xoloitcuintle is, of course, a breed of dog here in Mexico, often shortened to “Xolo.” These beautiful, often black, hairless (and therefore flea-less) dogs were almost extinct, but concerted efforts to rescue it have been successful. It is believed to be one of the world’s oldest and rarest breeds, dating 3000 to 7000 years. In pre-hispanic times they were considered sacred, with healing properties both for the body and the soul.

The name is a combination of the god’s name, Xolotl, and izcuintli, which means “dog” in Nahuatl, though there are those who say the name means “he who snatches his food with teeth sharp as obsidian.” The breed has three unique features that baffle biologists:

  1. The absence of teeth between the molars and the incisors.
  2. A body temperature a few degrees higher than is normal for a dog.
  3. The dog sweats through its skin rather than by panting its tongue.

La Tigresa is obviously not a Xoloitcuintle breed, but would, indeed, appear to be an embodiment of this guardian of the underworld!

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!