My 60th Birthday Photo Safari

c6e6553c-6d3e-4031-a5f7-58555357393fWe all curse COVID every chance we get. That wretched virus has hurt so many in so many ways. I was one of the lucky ones: so far it has only robbed me of the 60th birthday African photo safari that I was so looking forward to. Greg and Danny, however, arranged an amazingly marvelous and surprise substitute.

On my birthday I received a gift-wrapped safari hat and binoculars. Hmm… Then I opened a box with a laminated ticket from the local arboretum (photo above). It was for an African Photo Safari on Saturday morning at 10. What in the world could it be? The arboretum doesn’t have animals, especially not African ones. Both of the men in my life were mum; it was to be a surprise.

e9913795-cd24-4fbf-9c77-f2a90df4c9aaOn Saturday morning I packed up my camera gear and put on my sunscreen, and we went to the park. Upon arriving we suddenly started hearing sounds from the savannah! What?! Turns out the sounds were coming from a wireless speaker in Greg’s backpack. Next, Danny’s phone dinged with a text message.

“Hello, Dianne, and welcome to our private safari tour. My name is Ubiyaongashalita and I will be your guide today.”

What? No group tour? This was all planned by my two incredible dudes???!!! That professional-looking laminated ticket was a fake?! Was there really a guide? Or was Danny making this all happen? How exciting! And confusing. I sure did feel loved. And a bit skeptical…

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Just like I imagine a real safari to be, the animals weren’t just waiting around like in a zoo; we needed to know their habits and habitats and search to find them. The guide instructed us via text how to locate each animal on our tour. How cool! The clues were very helpful, e.g.,

“The first animal we will look for is the monkey, a tricky animal that does not respect human laws and is always looking to steal their food.”

 

There was a nearby community garden, so I knew that monkey would be in there. But what was I looking for? A stuffed animal? My husband and son acting like monkeys? I had no clue. The first animal, therefore, was by far the most difficult to find. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

It turns out the animals I was looking for were those one-to-two inch tall kids’ toys—far from easy to spot in a huge park! More clues followed, such as:

  • “The alligator hides deep in the jungle where there are a great variety of plants, and it ‘bathes’ in lakes and lagoons.”
  • “Gorillas, being our cousins, can be very ‘handy’ using tools and making shelters.”
  • “I think now you are ready to meet the king of the jungle. He likes to rest in the shade of trees on the savannah.”
  • “The cheetah hides in bushes next to flat land. This way the cheetah can wait till an animal comes close, pouncing and sprinting after it.”
  • “Now let’s look for the brave rhino. His tusks are sharp as ‘steel,’ a ‘monument’ to strength. Rhinos can tip over cards with ease.”

To give you an idea, the alligator was in a birdbath in the middle of a flower garden; the gorilla was on a fence post in front of the tool shed; and the rhino was on a steel statue of something tipped-over. Some of the clues contained puns—that’s when I knew that Danny had written them: “Rhi-no you are loving this tour” or “The meerkat is so small we ‘meerly’ missed it!” It turns out Danny had visited the park the night before after work and placed the animals there. How did no one that morning pick up any of my treasures? I was amazed that they were all still right there, hidden in plain sight!

To get the shot I had to lay on the ground, kneel, stretch really tall, get dirty and sweaty… the photography bit was definitely realistic. Fortunately I did not have to run away from anything chasing me!

Another extremely cool aspect of the safari was that it included sightings of the Big Five: the leopard, lion, African buffalo, elephant and rhinoceros! All five in a single morning; can you imagine? Greg had very resourcefully purchased a coin for each of the Big Five animals. In the video below he presents me with the Rhino coin from Zambia.

The safari was a whole lot of fun. One of the biggest joys was watching the reaction of the people who were also enjoying the park. “What’s that sound?” “Did I hear an elephant?” The kids got so very excited! “Daddy, I hear a stampede!” Quite a few of the kids got jealous, though, which made me feel bad but was also pretty humorous: “Mom, I want a toy zebra like she just found. Let’s find some for us!”

The final animal on the safari was the elephant. The clue included these words: “In my village we commemorate the elephant with a dance, usually done in pairs. You and your husband should try it.” Of course the elephant was on the base of a statue of two dancers! Below is me doing the happy dance as I receive my final coin. Geek alert!!!  😉

After the safari we went to the only African restaurant that we could find in the Urbana-Champaign area. It was really good and the air conditioning was most welcome, too.

I still hope to make the trek to Africa and participate in a photo safari. In the meantime, however, I’ll be busy putting together a shadow box of my animals and coins! Bless you, men! I do love you dearly and am so very blessed that you are my family!

Mazatlán Musicians’ Emergency Relief Fund

What first attracted you to Mazatlán? What do you love about living here? My guess is that music is part of it. Yes, our gorgeous natural environment, the warmth of its people, and the joy and variety of its music! Whether classical, jazz, cumbia, bolero, rock and roll, metal, reggae, romantic ballads, pop, folk, country, norteña, banda or tambora, we are fortunate in that Mazatlán offers up every type of music. We are blessed to enjoy live music while we dine, walk the beach, at parties we attend, in bars and theaters. What would our beloved Mazatlán be without that music? We do not want our live musicians going extinct!

Help make sure that we will have music to enjoy once COVID-19 is history! While the whole world is hurting, there are thousands of talented musicians here in Mazatlán who lost their jobs overnight and now have no way to feed their families. They went to bed planning to play the wedding or quinceañera party and their standard weekly gigs, and next thing they knew all concerts and events were shut down, restaurants and hotels closed. Most Canadian and US American residents disappeared suddenly, as have national and international tourists. Locals are confined to home.

Our musicians are desperate. They generally receive no social benefits and have no insurance. Their emloyers have not floated them loans or paid them in advance; they are generally just SOL. The average musician here, as the average artist or worker, lives paycheck to paycheck.

The non-profit (registered tax-deductible in Mexico, Canada and the USA) Sociedad de la Guitarra Mazatlán, in partnership with UMATEM (Unión de Músicos, Artistas y Técnicos de Mazatlán) and other musicians’ unions has set up a the Mazatlán Musicians’ Emergency Relief Fund. You have from now till May 5th—Cinco de Mayo, Giving Tuesday—to contribute what you can to ensure that our local musicians can feed their families and keep playing for us. Please donate now, so you don’t forget and because the need is pressing. To receive your receipt for tax purposes, please email donar@guitarramazatlan.org after making your donation.

100% of the funds received will be paid directly to musicians in need, up to a maximum of 6000 pesos. Your donation via PayPal goes into a fund with INBURSA certified by a public accountant. As is required by law, bookkeeping will be transparent, and records of disbursements and receipts published.

Any working musician is eligible to apply; preference will be given to working musicians over 60 and those who are disabled. Recipients will be limited to musicians who don’t have a secondary source of income—statements will be verified with SAT (the Mexican taxation administration). Musicians needing help will fill out an application and be asked to share copies of contracts that were cancelled or have their union, or an employer vouch for them.

I am proud that the Sociedad de la Guitarra Mazatlán has stepped up to lead the community in this way. They are modeling their effort on a similar program underway in Seattle. Founded in 2013, the non-profit association has done a load of good work here in town in its first seven years. They hold an annual “classical guitar season” of six concerts that is the only one of its kind in Mexico. For every concert they do a second, identical show that’s free-of-charge as outreach to those who wouldn’t otherwise get to hear such music—performances at a local school, aged care facility or public plaza. The association is also starting a youth guitar orchestra—the Núcleo Infantíl de Guitarristas—which will meet every Saturday once the current pandemic is behind us.

I know there are many pulls on our resources right now. Our systems are overloaded. If you are able, if you enjoy the wealth and variety of music that Mazatlán offers, please reach into your heart and into your pocketbooks to help these artists!

Stay home, stay healthy, help your neighbors. I hope to see you again soon.

 

 

Truck Lovers

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The first Semana de la Troca hit Mazatlán this week and over 500 pickups—from classic and beater to custom and modern—hit the Avenida de la Bahía facing the new Central Park this weekend. Participants arrived Friday for a parade last evening followed by a concert (we live streamed it on Facebook), and are partying again this evening. The event will finish tomorrow (Sunday) morning.

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We met truck lovers from several states, lots of families, members of truck clubs, Mazatlecos now living outside the city and coming home for a visit. The car show, rally and musical event is sponsored by Mzt Trucks and the Asociación Trokera Nacional. We experienced a whole lot of excitement and bonding, and big hopes for making this an annual tradition. I guess Mazatlán is becoming the motorized vehicle capital of the area?

I am recovering from major surgery, so hobbling around with a cane. I was excited to get outside, if even for an hour, so put on my fisheye lens and had a bit of fun with what we saw. I trust you’ll enjoy the pics! Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

 

Randy Noojin as Pete Seeger Sunday!

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This year’s edition of Gordon Campbell’s Camerata looks to be outstanding! I will write more about the full season in a subsequent post, but I want to get this out to you so hopefully you do not miss the first concert date which is tomorrow, Sunday 5th January at noon in the Angela Peralta.

Randy Noojin, who performed that incredible Woody Guthrie show for us, will be back with an award-winning show on the life and music of Pete Seeger. As Gordon tells us in the video below, we wouldn’t have had Bob Dillon, Joan Baez or many other folk singer activists without Pete Seeger showing the way. Today Maestro Campbell and his wife, Guianeya, stopped by my house to tell us a bit about the show tomorrow.

Buy your tickets at the Angela Peralta Theater. Better yet, purchase the entire season and don’t miss out. Below shows you the season lineup. Every show is at noon, and a couple have  a second performance at 5 pm. Two concerts are in Casa Haas with the majority in the Angela Peralta.

Season calendar

Must-Read Novel on Mazatlán

51wVr9BRpHLAnyone who loves Mazatlán, history, stories of friendship or iconic buildings infused with spirit should peruse Hotel Belmar: The ghost has the key. It’s a terrific read, a perfect holiday gift, and it’s free with your Kindle Unlimited subscription!

The novel is written by local snowbird resident Sue Carnes, who I first met years ago on an Art Walk when I purchased both a book and a print of one of her paintings—she’s obviously multi-talented! I had the privilege of having her call me years later as she started her research on the Belmar; she asked me for directions to the municipal archives. I took her there, introduced her to the crew as well as to my friend Joaquín, a well-known repository of Mazatlán’s past, and the rest quickly became history.

I sort of forgot about Sue’s efforts until, months later, Joaquín told me how much fun he was having helping with her new volume! He has authored a long list of his own non-fiction books, and helping Susan weave a story of historical fiction seemed to delight his soul.

Hotel Belmar is told in first person by Lori, a foreign resident of Mazatlán who enjoys her morning coffee on the ocean-facing terrace of the 100-year-old Hotel Belmar in Centro Histórico—the beloved yet long-neglected beauty of a hotel filled with hand-painted ceramic tiles imported from Europe and hand carved woods from around the world. If you have not spent an hour or more exploring the Belmar, you owe it to yourself to do so!

Lori becomes intrigued by snippets of stories about Hollywood stars, Carnaval queens, governors, generals and even presidents of the country, all seeming to revolve around the hotel. Then, one day, she senses a spirit in the hotel; could it be one of the ghosts her friends who live in the hotel have told her about? But, she doesn’t believe in ghosts!

I am an avid reader of historical fiction, but it never would have crossed my mind to write a novel about the Belmar that would both entertain and educate the reader about its elegant and storied past. Sue had that vision and executed it very well. My dream would be that this novel would catch on with such popularity that we might see this architectural and historic gem restored to its former glory.

Any resident of Mazatlán will recognize quite a few of the characters in the book: those who call the rooms of the Belmar home, and those who dine and dance on her patios. Local expats will identify with Lori’s life: her friendships with locals as well as other expats, visits of friends from up north, her curiosity and ongoing quest to figure things out. This is a quick and interesting tale, and in the process the reader learns a whole lot about local history, including Mazatlán’s mining heyday, visits from famous people, and mazatlecos’ role in the Mexican Revolution. Inside you’ll find quite a few historic photos and some very cleverly drawn chapter dividers.

Come on, folks. Take time this holiday season to put your feet up and enjoy a good ghost story set right here in Mazatlán. In addition to buying it online, you can purchase the novel locally at the offices of the Pacific Pearl in the Golden Zone, San Francisco Quilt Shop downtown, or at Susan’s house during the monthly downtown Art Walk.