A Chance to Visit a Mazatlán Organic Farm

v1Just over four years ago, we had the opportunity to go to the community of Guillermo Prieto on the outskirts of San Ignacio and visit the totally organic and innovative farm of Sacramento, one of the regular vendors at Mazatlán’s Organic Market (or MOM for short).

Now, you all have a chance to do the same thing, coming up on Sunday, March 13. This event is coordinated by Verónica Rico, one of the founders and motivating forces behind MOM. At 8:30 a.m., guests will be taken by bus from Plaza Zaragoza to Guillermo Prieto, where you will be shown up close and personal how Sacramento and her team work, teach, learn and live. Highlights include: the water collection system, creation of compost, worms, and the gardens where they grow their beautiful produce.

Later, you will enjoy lunch / brunch in the fields with organic produce, prepared by Sacramento and her team. The cost is only 380 pesos, including the transportation, tour and lunch. You should be back in Mazatlán around 3:00 p.m. or so. This is a great way to understand the origin of organic produce in a small local farm and the people who grow them!

Here is a link to our tour in 2012. I can only imagine how much they have grown since then. Here are a few shots from a similar tour in 2013:

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You can write to Verónica Rico at mazmercadoorganico@hotmail.com or give her a call at 6691-48-4010 for any questions. Verónica speaks English fluently. Tickets will be available at the Organic Market in the Plazuela Zaragoza this coming Saturday from 8:00 to noon.

This is an opportunity that does not come along very often and we encourage you to go if you are able.

More information and updates are available on the MOM Facebook page.

Most Important Archeological Site in Northwestern Mexico: Chametla

©40.DSC_0263It always amazes me how we can have hugely rich archeological history very close by that goes unsung and unvalued, while we all dream about seeing the more famous sites. You know what they say about prophets in their own land, and I guess that’s true about places as well; we don’t value those nearby.

I’ve told you before that archeological evidence indicates that Mexcaltitán, just three hours south of Mazatlán, was probably the original Tenochtitlán—that Mezcaltitán was the legendary Aztlán, where the Aztecs (Mexica) lived before they moved to the Valley of Mexico. It’s so very close, our own gorgeous little Venice, yet we hardly hear about it.

I’ve also heard many people say that here in Sinaloa historically there were no native peoples; that we don’t have indigenous crafts or artwork because this area was only populated after the discovery of minerals in the mountains and the influx of Europeans. Hogwash! I’ve written before about the Mayo-Yoremes in the northern part of our state. Down here in the south, Totorames lived on the coast. They spread over quite a wide territory, as most of southern Sinaloa was connected by estuary; using a canoe they could easily get from one place to another. The Totorames often fought with the cannibalistic Acaxes and Xiximes who lived up in the Sierra Madres.

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Joaquin Hernández

This week I learned from our friend, Joaquin Hernández, that Chametla—just 90 minutes from Mazatlán in the municipio of El Rosario—is the most important archeological site in all of northwestern Mexico! In Chametla are at least two pyramids built in pre-Hispanic times by the Totorames. Both were sacred sites, with platforms on top for sacrifices. Hernán Cortés himself visited Chametla, in 1535, before traveling over to La Paz; there are written documents and paintings that record this fact. Legend has it that he sat in the Cueva del Diablo looking out over the entire valley.

Near Chametla were 22 pre-Hispanic towns. What attracted so many Totorames to Chametla? The area is home to seven hills, which contain many caves. The Rio Baluarte runs through it; it’s very close to the Pacific Ocean; it’s fertile land; there’s jungle as well; and it’s right in the middle of the wonderful estuary system where historically mangroves and shrimp have thrived. In ancient times, there were three regions in southern Sinaloa: Sinaloa, Culiacán, and Chametla. Chametla comprised the territory from Escuinapa in the south to Piaxtla in the north. Only later was Mazatlán founded (on the present site of Villa Unión).

So, where are these pyramids? The first is the setting of the church in Chametla, at the foot of Cerro de San Pedro. I took some photos, but the pyramid is much easier to see live and in person. The church is built at the top, on the platform of the pyramid, while the lower part of the pyramid goes way beyond the church and down the hill. You can see that it’s man-made.

In 1935, when they were renovating the church, they found a secret passageway behind the altar that led to an underground cave. There they found “pagan” icons and relics, so the church quickly sealed it all back up. There was a second entrance to the cave just outside the church, at the entrance to where the original church was located. That cave entrance is now covered with a huge boulder. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

Cool, huh? Not as visually stunning as a Chichen-Itza, by any means, as this pyramid has been built on and tweaked over and over throughout the millennia; it’s located right in the center of town. But, you can most definitely see its vestiges. The conquista of course was not just about conquering territory or even people; the conquistadores wanted to conquer the entire culture. So many churches are built on sacred sites of the indigenous peoples, as in Chametla.

And where is the second pyramid? It’s a 400-meter pyramid on which the local cemetery is built, also clearly visible. Local people say that when graves are dug, they almost always dig up pottery and other relics from the Totorame. The best specimens of these can be found in the small museum that is right next door to the church.

 

If you go to Chametla, I’d urge you to hike the 365 steps up El Cerro de la Cueva del Diablo. At the top is a man-made cave, obviously another sacred site, with a view of the entire river valley, estuary, ocean… The view is spectacular. It is in the cave that you’ll see an indentation that looks like two butt cheeks, and legend says that’s where Cortés sat. While he wasn’t in Chametla long enough to carve a seat, he may have enjoyed the gorgeous view, with the opening of the cave mirroring the curve of the hill it faces. On many of the hills in the area you’ll find platforms, indicating they were sacred sites; Loma de Ramírez has a 100 meter x 100 meter platform. The area is splendid for hiking, with a diversity of flora and fauna as well as elevation and lots of water.

Joaquin is quite the historian. He has spent much time researching, talking to locals, hiking around; traveling with him and his daughter was a joy. One final tidbit he told us? One of the seven hills in Chametla is called Cerro de las Cabras. However, no one has ever heard of there being goats on that hill. Joaquin found an old, old manuscript that referred to a hill in Chametla as Tetas de Cabras, or “Goat Tits.” His guess is that the vulgar-sounding part of the name was dropped or lost, so that only the goat part remains in modern times.

Joaquin speaks excellent English, as he lived and studied in San Francisco for several years. He frequently conducts presentations in both Spanish and English, so be sure to catch one if you are interested in history, literature… any of the many themes that spark the curiosity of this Renaissance man.

We happened to visit Chametla during the festival Chameitlán, celebrating 485 years since the founding of the town. I captured a photo of the cake and a few of the kids breaking the piñata. That’s Hernán Cortés on the piñata, the children told me—not at all like I pictured him to look!

After Mass, the cake and the piñata, there was a parade through town. We didn’t stay for it, but the young men in the Nautica band played, and the kids seemed to dress up as Indians. I also include a few other photos of the town.

If you enjoy hiking, history, archeology, kayaking, or if you’d just like to visit a small town and the estuary where the shrimpers still cast their atarrayas or hand nets, Chametla is a beautiful place to visit!

Las Labradas on New Years

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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?

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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!