Indigenous people around the world have been marginalized for centuries, and México is sadly no exception. Please join me this holiday season to make a difference in the life of a native child by helping Tarámari schoolchildren here in Sinaloa. These kids live in unbelievably poor families, in isolated communities, and make herculean efforts to get to school. Their families often need them at home, so sticking with an education takes enormous the hard work and commitment of the entire family, plus a bit of luck.
We will work with the the Sinaloan Taramari Collective to support Tarámari children living right here in our state of Sinaloa. There are three terrific ways you can help:
1. Let us know you want to sponsor a child. We’ll get you the child’s name, gender, age and town of residence. You fill a backpack for them as you wish: you might include new toys, school or art supplies, and perhaps a set of clothing for your godchild. Please turn the backpack in by December 15th.
2. Donate money to the Colectivo Tarámari Sinaloense, and they will share with you a ticket that proves your donation went to buy products for the children. In the photo below are card numbers for you to transfer money to (you can pay at any OXXO if you don’t have a local bank account). The leader, Hortensia López Gaxiola, is well-known and trusted nationally for her social activism.
3. Donate non-perishable food items, basic food supplies. Local Mazatlán coordinator, Angela Mar Camacho, will pick them up.
Please pass the word around and thank you for your help. Let’s show these kids that Mazatlán’s foreign community supports them!
Ho, ho, ho!!! Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah! Heri za Kwanzaa! Blessed New Year!
I recently had the enormous pleasure of spending two nights of rustic camping at an unbelievably gorgeous spot: Isla Isabel, Nayarit. It is a mini Galapagos three hours’ boat ride from San Blas, which is about a three hour drive south of Mazatlán. I went with a few biologists, an astronomer, an ornithologist and a few friends; eight people in all. The trip was incredible!
On the boat on the ride to the island we were able to jump into the Pacific with our snorkels and masks and swim with whale sharks! We were cautioned not to touch them, but mine came right up to me and stayed beside me, touching me, for a good 30 seconds while she ate from the plankton in the channel. Heaven on earth!!! Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow. All photos are available as prints; contact me privately and thank you for supporting my efforts!
Also on the journey to the island we saw dozens of humpback whales, either courting, which is when you see the males hitting each other with their fins, or with their babies. While my long-held dream of catching one fully breaching went unfulfilled, I took many photos of them spewing and of that wonderful tail in the air pose.
Arriving to the island I was struck by the clear blue water and the volcanic rock. The first thing we did after setting up our tents was put on our swim suits and jump into the “pozos,” naturally occurring swimming holes that surround the island. They were terrific! The waves crash into them keeping things fresh, and if you have a mask and snorkel you can see loads of fish, star fish, crabs, etc.
The island is well known for “Las Monas” or nearby rock outcroppings. We were able to snorkel around them from our boat. There are also a couple of nice sandy beaches.
We chose to go in March as the boobies are nesting then. And boy, did we see boobies! Loads of my favorite blue-footed variety, as well as the brown- and red-footed boobies. The babies are cute and fluffy, with blue eyes to match their feet. Mom and Dad both tend to the nest and the offspring. On the whole the boobies were very friendly and curious. I suppose because Isla Isabel is a nature preserve, they do not seem to feel threatened by human presence. I kept my distance from the nests, however, using a long lens to get the close-up shots.
I especially loved to watch the boobies fly. Their wings are apparently jointed in the middle, and as they fly they bend them vertically in the center, up and down. When they come in for a landing it is downright comical: their big round eyes look surprised or scared, their huge blue feet stick out in front of them as if to say, “Watch out! I’m coming in! Aaaahhhh!” The folding of their wings up and down at ninety degree angles is a sight to behold. In addition to my photos, I will share with you a beautiful video filmed by my dear friend Omar Calvario.
During our stay the frigate birds were also nesting. As with the boobies, both parents take care of the nest and the babies. Sadly, we witnessed at least three babies fall from their nests. The biologists told us that once the baby falls to the ground, the parents abandon it. It was heart-wrenching to refrain from giving these fallen birds food or water, to preserve the natural order. They were soooo cute and very forlorn. The male frigate birds develop bright red gullets during mating season, which they inflate like balloons. They then release the air in those inflated red gullets slowly to make their mating call, which sounds like a guttural vibration or “tap tap tap.” At first I thought they were snapping their beaks together.
Isla Isabel is also covered with iguanas; they are everywhere. Between the huge quantity of birds, the smell of guano, and having to watch your step to avoid iguanas, I really felt that we were visiting the Land that Time Forgot. It seemed to me to be the time of the dinosaurs—a time long ago before humans ruined the natural environment of Pachamama. Below are photos of a couple of tropic birds.
A final blessing of our trip were clear, cloudless skies! We went during the new moon, hoping to photograph the Milky Way. We were blessed with two nights for photography. My only disappointment was that there was a sailboat off the island, exactly toward the galactic center, and it had a bright light on top of its mast. As it was inevitable, I choose to think it adds to the beauty of the photographs. I was also able to capture photos of the nesting frigates, who nest in the trees, with the Milky Way overhead. My dream had been to capture nesting boobies with the galactic center, but as they nest on the ground this was a bit more problematic. I guess I’ll just have to make another trip.
I came home with numerous cuts, scratches, bruises and splinters. Ten days later I am still removing splinters from various spots on my body. Isla Isabel is not high-end luxury travel. I fell in love with the place and can’t wait to return. I am fearful, however, because the Mexican government is building a terminal in San Blas that will have daily ferry service to Isla Isabel as well as the Islas Marías. While they say the trips offered will be eco-touristic, it frightens me that these gorgeous nature preserves may soon be ruined. I am guessing that ferry service may make the islands more accessible as day trips, which could be nice. If you want to go, I urge you to do so soon, before it’s too late. We went with: SARTIAGUIN TOURS Y EXPEDICIONES, Calle Valentín Canalizo, 63740 San Blas, México, Tel. 311 117 1123, e-mail: email@example.com.
If you enjoy my reporting and the photography, please help us continue it by purchasing a print. They make terrific gifts and look great in your home or office. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or via WhatsApp +52-669-122-8962.
You ROCK! Your generosity has made a tremendous difference in the lives of two wonderful Mazatleco men in need. Thank you very, very much!
Last Christmas 85 families contributed to building a small but precious “little blue house” for Juan Manuel and Don Rodolfo. The building and furnishing process took several months and loads of love, but I want to report to you that the two gentlemen are living in their new home happily and healthily!
Thank you and bless you!!! Your year-end love for others and gifting to those less fortunate has made a huge difference in their lives. Rodolfo and Manuel are incredibly proud to own their own home. Below I share with you a video message from them, thanking the donors from the bottom of their hearts and wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
After we began the house project, Don Rodolfo suffered a cerebral hemorrhage that caused partial paralysis in his face and left arm. He suffers great pain, on and off, in the damaged hand. Juan Manuel, his son, was blind and had lost a leg when we started. Shortly after we gave them the home in March 2021, Manuel had to go on dialysis twice a week for 4-5 hours each time. These were major health setbacks for each of these two gentlemen, yet they continue joyful, grateful and optimistic. The gigantic key we gave them when we handed over the keys to the house, engraved with their names, still proudly hangs on the front door. Inside the home is very much a home: family photographs, books, and daily necessities all have a place in the tiny yet comfortable space.
Just last week Rodolfo used the leftover blue paint to redo the exterior of the “little blue house” (Adolfo’s dream color, a play on Frida Kahlo’s beautiful home in Coyoacán). He added a white line around the perimeter, which is a very charming addition; it really makes the periwinkle jump out. Our son’s girlfriend’s father gifted them a couple of papaya trees and a guava, which have grown strong and born them much fruit. They are now very proud gardeners who were recently gifted a lime tree as well. The trees provide shade to the house and back patio, which Rodolfo has covered with a tarp to provide additional shade. Someone generously donated a used washing machine to them, which they located on the rear patio, but it does not work properly, so Rodolfo washes clothes and bedding by hand on the exterior washboard we installed. With his paralyzed and painful hand that is far from easy. They’ve strung clotheslines on the back patio and have a chair on the front porch. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.
You may remember that we received a solid wood trundle bed, which has proven to be absolutely perfect for the space and their lives. Juan Manuel sleeps on top, and Don Rodolfo folds up a plastic chaise lounge and once that is out of the way he pulls out the trundle in order to sleep at night.
The younger son gifted them a beautiful large wooden armoire that locks; that is where they now keep their clothing and valuables. They received a donated, used television and miraculously have SKY TV! The television is invaluable to Juan Manuel, as he listens to news shows throughout the day. It seems the 350 pesos-every-two-months that they pay for electricity includes the television signal as well. The sad thing to me is that we didn’t install a conduit for the cable, so Rodolfo had to drill a hole through the previously water-tight concrete wall. Live and learn.
While we installed a water heater in the home, deeming it a necessity given Manuel’s health needs, they have been using cold water only. Rodolfo told me they have only the one propane tank, and it currently supplies the cooking stove; the tank doesn’t have a splitter valve. With the cold temperatures having arrived, it would be so nice to get the water heater working. They have not been using the microwave we bought them back when they still lived in their rental home, because the electrical current in the invasion/squatter colony is not strong enough to power the oven. Manuel’s brother is keeping the microwave until they are ready to have it.
Over the summer Juan Manuel and Rodolfo had to move out of the little blue house to live with the younger son and his family for six weeks or so. It made for extremely crowded and uncomfortable living conditions for everyone involved. Manuel’s doctor said it was imperative that he not sweat, or the dialysis port would become infected. We had installed a ceiling fan and gifted them a floor fan, plus the windows and doors all open, but our efforts weren’t enough to keep the home cool. There is insufficient electrical current to power an air conditioner. This is a problem that will arise again next summer. Though by then the area may have official metered electrical service, making an A/C and microwave possible.
Each time I visit, both men are warm, smiling and welcoming. They struggle to pay for dialysis, which costs 700 pesos each session plus the 200-peso cab fare to get to the General Hospital and back (1800/week total). They are overjoyed when we bring them despensas/food stuffs. This Christmas they are hoping for some new clothes and a few toys for Rodolfo’s two grandchildren/Juan Manuel’s niece and nephew; Rodolfo told us that his younger son, Manuel’s brother, lost his job four months ago and is now working at one that pays only half what he made previously. Brandon Giovani is nine years old and love to play with toy cars and pistols.
Sofia Beatriz is four and enjoys dolls, jigsaw puzzles and coloring books.
My main purpose with this article is to thank you for your generosity. We truly have a wonderful community here in Mazatlán. Thank you! Should you wish to again help Juan Manuel or Rodolfo in some way (donation towards dialysis, help with propane tank splitter or washing machine, toys for the grandkids or clothes, shoes or food for the two men), please let me know (email@example.com, What’sApp 669-122-8962). I can help you get it to them or pick it up and get it to them for you.
Here’s wishing you a wonderful holiday season and a blessings-filled 2022! Stay healthy and happy.
I don’t know about you, but Greg and I have been really feeling Mazatlán’s growing pains lately. The traffic has gotten horrendous, especially on the weekends. Remember when we used to say you could go anywhere in town in 20 minutes? Not anymore. Yes, if you live downtown and just walk around there, you’re ok. But there is much more to Mazatlán than those dozen blocks. The noise has also gotten nearly untenable. I LOVE parties, music, and people having fun. It’s one of the best things about this beautiful town: the joy of its people. But when a motorcycle, RAZR or auriga blaring awakens you from deep slumber at 3 or 4 am every night of the week, and your dinner guests can’t have a decent conversation on your terrace, well, not so much.
So, for our anniversary, I was looking around for a quiet, romantic place the two of us could celebrate and enjoy some peace and quiet—something close to home. Boy did I ever find it! We have fallen in love with Toninas Ecological Boutique Hotel.
Toninas is on the beach in Celestino Gasca, just over an hour north of Mazatlán on the toll road (just north of Las Labradas and south of Cruz de Elota). What attracted me to make the reservation were its proximity, apparent serenity, the modernity of its finishes (I’ve stayed in eco-lodges that were glorified campsites), and the beauty of its architecture and environment. Each of these surpassed our expectations. And, a big bonus, we feel we have found new and extremely interesting friends in Camila and Enrique, the owner/managers. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.
Arriving at the resort, we unpacked our luggage into Bungalow Cardenal and of course headed straight to the beach. Yes, we live on the beach, but we couldn’t wait to see this one. To our delight, even though it was 3:00 in the afternoon, there were two oyster divers just leaving the water and packing up to go home. Sell us some oysters? Sure! Saul was happy to shuck us a dozen. OMG! They were HUGE and oh so sweet!!!! I paid him 100 pesos for the pleasure and enjoyed them raw that evening and again the next day in an omelet.
Heading back into our home for the next three days and two nights, we took our time to check it out. What first jumped out at me were the wonderful lamps made my local artist Luis Valenzuela. These absolutely gorgeous light fixtures are made with recycled materials—driftwood and rope! I also very much enjoyed the international artwork on the walls. I learned that Enrique and Camilla both worked in the foreign service and were stationed in such places as Paris, Beirut, Beijing,Bogotá, London and Hanoi. They met and fell in love in Rabat, Morocco. No wonder the artwork in the cabañas is so eclectic!
The architecture of the cabañas and the main communal palapa that I had admired online did not disappoint. Our one-bedroom rock and stucco bungalow with terrace had a direct view of the ocean and sunset from the sliding doors in the living room and the window in the bedroom. It was very well built by local contractor, Manuel Valenzuela. Comfy couches lined the natural wood walls. The kitchen is part of the great room with the living and dining area; our dining table was bar-height with stools. Our bedroom had two double beds and plenty of room to put luggage and our things. The best part of the cabaña, however, is the bathroom! Unlike so many eco-hotels, this one has running water (hot and cold – both with great pressure) and a flush toilet right there, in your unit. Best of all? You open the glass shower door to step outside into your own private rear patio garden, where you can shower amongst the flowers and under the sun or stars! Your excess shower water irrigates the plants.
While our cabaña had an awesome dining area, we ate both our breakfasts out in the palapa. The large central palapa has quite a few seating areas, including easy chairs and cocktail tables, dining tables and chairs, hammocks and hammock chairs. It overlooks the pool and jacuzzi as well as the beach. There is a walkway leading down from the pool and palapa area to another couple of smaller palapas also overlooking the beach (where we enjoyed sunset drinks), and a short staircase from them down to the beach itself. From the property it is an easy walk to restaurants, to the fishing boats or into town. Restaurants are also more than happy to deliver.
Below is a video of our interview with Enrique and Camila, the two terrifically talented and interesting young people who run Toninas. If you’re wondering if they enjoy what they do, just look at their smiles!
AMENITIES Toninas is an ecological resort. The toiletries are all high quality, eco-friendly products from Däki Natural. There is a huge garrafón of drinking water in every cabaña, so no need to use those horribly polluting plastic water bottles. Each cabaña has a compost box, which delighted my soul. The three-part swimming pool is absolutely gorgeous, with a jacuzzi, wading pool and lap pool. The two of us put it to very good use! Water for the saltwater swimming pool is taken from the ocean, filtered to purify it, and eventually returned back to the ocean cleaner than it left; a win-win for everyone! Before construction of the pool began, Enrique and Camilla met with the local fishermen and received their blessings. In a nod to creature comforts, there is wifi throughout the property, mini-split air conditioners in the living and bedrooms, a Smart TV in the bedroom, a generous refrigerator and terrific induction stove in the kitchen, and as mentioned above, very hot running water.
MEALS Toninas supplies pool towels as well as a stocked kitchen: coffee, the coffee maker, a blender, dishes, cutlery, glasses and cups, pots and pans, bowls, knives. Greg and I took ingredients for our breakfasts that we prepared there and very much enjoyed leisurely mornings. While Enrique has plans to have a restaurant on site, currently you need to order in, go out or cook. Thus, be sure to take the food, snacks and drinks that you want. Celestino has quite a few markets and of course sells beer, but if, like us, you want some special wine, champagne or whiskey, best to bring it with.
Our bungalow did not have wine glasses or a bottle opener; I’m confident that Enrique and Camila will happily supply both if you need them. They have scoped out the good restaurants in town and are happy to share their recommendations with you; be sure to ask. Greg and I do not recommend La Esmeralda, which, sadly, is right on the beach north of the property. Pescado zarandeado is popular here, as are ceviche, shrimp, aguachile, and oysters. Just a note, though: here they make zarandeado with mayonnaise and mustard, quite different than what we are used to in Mazatlán.
The couple is intent on promoting local talent and ecologically sustainable development. They told us all about the wonderful couple who have formed a marine turtle sanctuary, and the awesome group of empowered, joyous women who run the restaurant Celestina.
ACTIVITIES We spent three days and two nights just chilling: beach walks, morning and evening swims, leisurely conversations, reading, sunset cocktails, and some wildlife and astrophotography, of course. The beaches here are very nice. Toninas is on a bay, but a very open one, so the surf is strong. I took some photos of the cool dunes and rock formations on the beach, as we don’t see that here in Mazatlán. If we had stayed longer, I would have hired a panga to take us down to Las Labradas. I’ve always disliked that bumpy road leading to this world heritage zone and arriving by boat would be quite enjoyable. If you like to mountain bike, I’d urge you take your bicycles as Enrique has mapped a few wonderful routes. Greg wished his knee was healed as there’s a lot of good place to run. I’m guessing you could also go horseback riding; we saw quite a few horses. In season the Celestino community releases baby turtles, thanks to the turtle sanctuary. You can also arrange to go fishing, there is incredible bird watching, and Toninas has a couple of stand-up paddle boards (SUPs) and kayaking.
The first night of our stay was the lunar eclipse, the so-called “Super Flower Blood Moon Eclipse” of 2021. We were very grateful to set our alarms to wake us up at 2:30 am, as it was a thrill to watch the moon gradually darken, until it turned red and the Milky Way splashed brightly and completely across the sky from west to east! As the morning dawned, the Milky Way dimmed, and the moon regained her sheen. What a night to remember! And of course, being as it is so quiet there, we had no problem sleeping a few hours after the celestial show was finished. A few days later I had the pleasure to see that the astronomers at NASA published my lunar eclipse with Milky Way shot! Bless you, Toninas!
DETAILS AND PRICING
One Bedroom Bungalow (4 people maximum)
Two double beds, wifi, smart tv, stocked kitchen, dining area, living room, terrace, garden bathroom, air conditioning.
• 2499 pesos/night during the week, 3094 weekends with 2 night minimum
• High season Jul 15-Aug 22 and holidays: 3094 pesos/night during the week, 3500 weekends
Two Bedroom Bungalow (8 people maximum)
Same as the above but each bedroom has two double beds and there are two private bathrooms.
• 4700 pesos/night during the week, 5794 weekends with 2 night minimum
• High season Jul 15-Aug 22 and holidays: 5794 pesos/night during the week, 6700 weekends
Double Room (4 people maximum)
Toninas also has an option of a simple room for 4 people maximum with mini fridge, stovetop, coffee maker, bathroom, terrace and ocean view. You will be renting just one of the rooms of the two-bedroom bungalow.
• 2200 pesos/night during the week, 2800 weekends with 2 night minimum
• High season Jul 15-Aug 22 and holidays: 2800 pesos/night during the week, 3200 weekends
During the day on New Year’s Eve I was going stir crazy, an all-too-frequent condition during this pandemic, sadly. Just after noon I asked Greg if we might go for a drive. We headed south towards Villa Unión, past the old textile mill to Walamo, winding around and eventually getting to Caimanero. Once we got there we had a picnic on the malecón, then turned around to head home as the sun was already beginning to set. Why did it take us so long, you might ask? We had originally set out for Agua Verde, a town we never reached.
Well, as you probably well know, yours truly loves her camera. First of all I had to take photos of all the cool vehicles and riders we saw along the road, from a couple of guys carrying a propane tank, to others with a big piñata for that night’s fiesta, to pickups and dump trucks and bicycles with migrant workers commuting home from the fields. Click any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.
The landscape out that way is just magnificent. The ocean, of course, but the farm fields and palm plantations with the Sierras as a backdrop make for some incredible views. There are farm animals everywhere, particularly horses and cows, and I was fascinated with all the birds of prey we came across. There are huge, gorgeous haciendas and more humble homes, in addition to all that migrant labor housing. You’ll see fish and shrimp farms as well. It’s a great half- or full-day trip if, like me, you are needing a breath of fresh air and some safe social distancing. We didn’t get close to any other human all day.
Most of the farm workers were being shuttled home by the time we got there—early quitting time on New Year’s Eve—but there were some people working in the fields. The most heartbreaking for me were the families out there with the children. I know very well that it’s best that migrant parents have their kids with them, as it’s dangerous leaving them alone in the absence of school or child care. But it wrenches my heart to see them working the fields, despite the huge smile on this little girl’s face (note the bag of produce she’s just picked on her back).
The other heartbreak for me was a pair of young men who were spraying in the fields while working barefoot! I am not sure if they were spraying fertilizer or pesticide, but I sure did wish they had eye gear, ventilator mask, long pants and footwear. Still a gringa at heart, after all these years.
I’ve saved my two favorite experiences of the day for last, of course. The first was my virginal visit to a pineapple farm! I grew up in the US Midwest, and am well familiar with the sweet, aphrodisiacal smell of a strawberry field. A pineapple field has much the same effect! The air was heavy with the honey-like smell of these delicious treasures. The fields were gorgeous, and I was amazed by the baskets that the workers put on their backs to harvest the pineapples. I can not imagine how heavy they are when filled! While the workers had already retired, a few full baskets remained in the fields, so heavy that I couldn’t even budge them.
My final delightful experience of the day was meeting two guys plowing a field—again barefoot—with horses. I was so happy to find them! Last spring when Danny and I visited Puebla state we met two young men doing this. The morning sun, however, backlit the guys and the photos did not show off their labor as I had hoped. This time I was lucky that the setting sun perfectly lit their hard work.
I know it’s a challenge during COVID-19 to socially distance, but a drive out into the country, and some walks around sparsely inhabited areas, can be a huge sanity infuser. Enjoy!