Mamut!

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The archeological museum in Mazatlan (located on Sixto Osuno, across from the Art Museum) has a very large visitor on display until August 25. I encourage all of you to take some time to go check out: Mamut: The Prehistoric Giant.

What is Mamut? Mamut is mammoth in English. So, yes, there is a huge frigging mammoth skeleton sitting inside our little, often unnoticed and sorely under-appreciated, museum. This particular mammoth is on loan from Mexico City. If any science nerds are wondering, it is a Columbian mammoth. It was brought here in crates from Mexico City and took a team of five archeologists 12 complete days to reassemble. It is a sight to behold.

The museum is open from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., seven days a week. The cost is only 45 pesitos and you get to see much more than a mammoth. The museum is chock full of pieces of history from Sinaloa and beyond with many placards in English if your sciencey Spanish is a little rusty. Pro Tip: get in free any day with your INAPAM card, and Permanent Residents get in free on Sundays. Gilbran, Director of INAH for Sinaloa, is generally there and speaks great English.

As recently as 10,000-15,000 years ago, mammoths roamed Sinaloa and other parts of Mexico. If you think banda is loud, can you imagine the sound and feeling of a pack of fifty 4-ton beasts coming towards you? This mammoth was not discovered locally, but rather in Ecatepec in 1995. The bones displayed are 80% original to this animal with missing parts replaced with bones from other mammoths or modeled. This is the reason one leg appears shorter than the others, as it was missing and another mammoth had to supply the replacement.

Cause of death is not known, but it’s pretty certain that some of our early ancestors ate well off the missing leg—whether hunted or scavenged. This mammoth died early at around age 25. Mammoths are known to have lived easily to be 80 years old. I could bore you with facts and figures, but suffice it to say, it’s big, it was heavy, and it’s here. Go check it out!

Oh, and here are some pictures (thanks Dianne):

Just click any photo to see it larger.

 

Book Review: Why We Left

616zADxrq6LBook Review: Why We Left: An Anthology of American Women Expats, Collected essays of 27 women happily living in Mexico
© 2019 by Janet Blaser
Available on Kindle and in paperback
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The 27 women contributing to this volume clearly communicate the numerous and varied reasons they left the USA, as the title suggests, focusing primarily on how they made the transition and have forged new lives in a culture and language so very different from their own. I eagerly looked forward to relishing the reading of this book, but it is even richer than I imagined. It contains loads of tips on relocating to Mexico, the advantages and challenges these women encounter in this new land, and what these immigrants have learned by living in their adopted homes.

The volume is comprised of unique and interesting voices whose stories are completely different from one another and yet, on a profound level, very much the same. Amazing to me is that despite huge differences in histories, circumstances and reasons for leaving, every one of the contributors is happy she made the move and feels more connected to herself than ever before.

So, why did these US American women leave? Quite a few were sick of consumerism gone wild, the over-consumption and waste. Some of them were bored or frustrated. Several were tired of the never-ending, senseless murders at concerts, in schools and movie theaters. You’ll read about economic refugees who can’t afford to continue living in the USA, as well as women who are well off yet choose to escape their seemingly perfect lives. Some of the authors were weary of the rat race; that they didn’t have time for family and friends; that they’d come home from vacation to an overflowing, stress-filled in-box. A few fled financial ruin, divorce, or the death of loved ones. A couple moved after serious illness “woke them up” to the fact that life is short and they should live their dreams while they still can. Some mention escaping the rhetoric of intolerance and hatred.

The stories you read in these pages are real and revelatory, not promotional. You learn of a friend who dies in a hospital in Mexico who shouldn’t have, and another who gets state-of-the-art, personalized care for pennies to the dollar. Both are the “real” Mexico, the land of paradox, home of the world’s most comfortable hammocks and most uncomfortable chairs, the land where people greet crisis with both stoicism and joy. The reader will get terrific advice on how to choose where to live, how to prepare for the move, what to pack and what to leave behind, which is the best and most affordable health insurance, where to bank most easily and save fees, how to get the best health care, raising children and dating in Mexico. You’ll learn that wherever you go, there you are; moving abroad will exacerbate—not solve—relationship troubles, family problems or self-esteem issues.

The women who have written these pages are single, widowed, divorced, raising children and taking care of elderly parents. They live in every region of Mexico, with varied income levels, in big cities, small towns and even completely off the grid. Some of them made the decision to move strategically, with careful, step-by-step planning; others fell in love with Mexico and spontaneously made the decision to move. They make ends meet by telecommuting, starting businesses, working a job, housesitting or collecting a pension or social security. Many came to Mexico the first time on holiday, on a cruise or sabbatical. We learn about women who rent their homes, buy them or live in homes on wheels.

Common themes include how emotional and time-consuming it can be to cull through a lifetime accumulation of “stuff” to make the move—that we identify with our belongings more than we realize, and that the reality of US American life necessitates a lot of shredding. Many of these women speak about how their friends and family think they are crazy for moving to Mexico, and refuse to visit them—out of fear, primarily. Most every American woman in this volume speaks to the challenge of learning a new culture and a new language, as well as the fact that living in a foreign language and culture keeps one’s brain agile and active.

A couple of the authors experienced natural disasters while living in Mexico, and advise of the challenging lack of official government response or help. They caution those who would move here that the country is noisy: parties, laughter, music and fireworks, at all hours of the day and night. The daily bureaucracy can be oppressive; paying bills, banking, it can take weeks to accomplish basic things. There is a huge dichotomy between rich and poor in Mexico, they counsel, and huge differences in male-female dynamics. Some of the women warn about scorpions, mosquitos, street dogs, spiders and iguanas, about the difficulty of leaving family behind. Quite a few of these women, despite the challenges, have become integral members of and even leaders in their communities; all of them speak to deep connections and relationships.

They tell us that Mexico has taught them to smile more, to relax more easily, to be more patient. They say they are thinner and healthier here, eating whole foods rather than processed, and walking more, swimming, hiking, biking and golfing. Many of them take painting or writing classes and volunteer in their new hometowns. They write of a broad variety of friends, local and international, from a variety of backgrounds, who are passionate about life. They tell the reader of the resilience one gains by living abroad, the sense of wonder one feels, that they learn something new every day. These women report learning not to make assumptions, to go with the flow. They report that they’ve become more empathetic, accepting and less judgmental— they experience a freedom in Mexico that they do not in the USA. They admire the culture, history and art in their new home, but most of all Mexico’s hardworking, creative people. They have learned to be more humble, less materialistic, to slow down and not feel so entitled. Many of them report that they now experience culture shock when they go north, back “home.”

The women authors of this book appreciate the proximity of their new homes to their birthplaces in the USA: easier to see children and grandchildren, to care for aging parents, to meet dear lifelong friends. They are grateful for the affordability of their new home, be it the price of housing, food, travel or healthcare. Despite mass media reports to the contrary, the women in this volume report feeling safer living in Mexico than they did in the USA. They find Mexican people generally gentle, kind, happy, helpful and honest. They take pride in raising multilingual, multicultural kids here and to having opportunities they would never have at home. They cite the environmental beauty of Mexico, and, of course, the fact that the winters are far less cold. Many of the women write about the value of their friendships in Mexico and treasure the fact that family and community connection are still huge priorities in life. Several women mention they love all the outdoor living and the deep roots and tradition.

If you are thinking about moving overseas—to Mexico or anywhere else on the planet—this book can be an immense help, whatever your gender. It is living proof that risk has its rewards. If you’ve already made the move, it’ll provide good context for the journey you’ve made, and aid in making sense of your own experience. It’s not a volume to read all in one sitting, but, rather, to sit with when you have time to enjoy and reflect on what you are reading.

Life Cycles and the Wizard of Oz

DSC_3234©Life is all about cycles: birth and death; first day of school and graduation; entering a new career and retiring. An entry entitled “You’re Not in Kansas Anymore” was our first article on VidaMaz.com—on June 14, 2008. That reference to “The Wizard of Oz” meant we were leaving our home in Kansas for Mazatlán, heading out to begin life in a new land full of Technicolor dreams. The photo on that first post showed my husband, Greg, and our son, Danny, posing with cutouts of the stars of the movie based on Frank Baum’s novel.

During the eleven years that we have lived here full time, I have had the joy of double-dipping Mother’s Days. Mexicans celebrate the holiday on May 10th, and US Americans celebrate it on the second Sunday of the month. Greg asked me what I wanted for Mother’s Day, and I asked to go to the Mazatlán Municipal Center of the Arts’ children’s production of “The Wizard of Oz.”

DSC_3411©Directed by Maestro Giovanny Armenta, the 50 performers today at noon in the Angela Peralta included members of both the Children’s Theater Workshop and the Children’s Chorus.

We watched as Dorothy—Dorita, was swept up in an unexpected journey with her dog, Toto, which brought her three dear new friends: el Espantapájaros (Scarecrow), el Hombre Hojalata (Tin Man), and, finally, el León Cobarde (Cowardly Lion). Together, just as our family did, the group follows the Yellow Brick Road to the land Oz, in hopes that the wizard will grant them their wishes. In the process, Dorothy learns to value family and home, and everyone learns to trust themselves.

The simple performance was an utter delight. The children’s chorus has a few standouts—I just know that hefty boy in blue is the next banda star, following in Chuy Lizárraga’s footsteps, and the little girl in pink with the incredible facial expressions most definitely knows how to command an audience. Runaway stars of the show, however, were the incredible Wicked Witch of the West, whose evil laugh was absolutely sinister; and Toto, played with joy and gusto by a young child who looked to be no more than three or four. Toto cuddled with Dorothy, wagged his tail, jumped on his hind legs, smelled the Cowardly Lion’s feet, cowered from the evil witch, unveiled the hidden man pretending to be the wizard, and even lifted his leg at one point during the show. Both performers were unbelievably charming, and the cast as a whole was very solid. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

Today’s performance made a perfect Mother’s Day, bringing our move full circle. What cycles has our family, like Dorothy and her friends, passed through? What transitions have we made? We have become blessed with many new friends to add to the beloved family and friends we had before our move. We’ve transitioned from being confused, worried and frustrated to by and large understanding our new language and culture, though of course we continue learning every day. Rather than seeking advice several times a day we are now frequently asked to give it. We have transitioned to being empty nesters who look forward to segueing from working full time to retired at some point in the not-too-distant future. We’ve definitely had our share of metaphorical tornadoes, wicked witches and flying monkeys—we came here to experience life as a minority, and we’ve learned to watch what we ask for! Thankfully, we have all grown, changed and love it here in “Oz,” and living here has in many ways brought us closer to family and friends in our birth home, too.

Learn Traditional Mexican Paper Making

dsc_3909The early history of Mexico, as recorded by both the Aztecs and the Mayans, was on amate paper. The Aztecs used amate (its náhuatl name) to make tributes to their traditional gods of corn, tomatoes, peanuts, chile, coffee, beans, bananas and mango. This native Mexican paper is beautiful and today serves as the canvas for brightly colored yet pricy paintings, is used in clothing, pre-hispanic ulama balls and ropes, and for sculptures.

I’ve experimented with printing photos on amate, as I figure if I’m taking photos of indigenous life, what more natural and appropriate way to present them than on handmade paper made in the prehispanic tradition? My artist colleagues love amate for painting and printmaking. If you do any sort of paper handicraft—card making, lamp shades, pulled paper drawing, journal creation—it works beautifully for that as well. And, perhaps the greatest thing is that making and using amate helps to preserve a centuries-old tradition, connecting us to this land and culture in our adopted home.

Monday and Tuesday, March 11-12 you will have the rare opportunity to learn with one of the very last remaining masters of amate-making in a workshop at the beautiful and historic Galería Baupres, between Casa Haas and Totem in Centro Histórico. The amate workshop will be conducted by Maestro Genaro Fuentes Trejo, an Otomí (hñahñu) elder who teaches paper-making classes at Bellas Artes/The Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City as well as at museums and universities around the country (Tampico, San Luis Potosí, Zacatecas, Saltillo, Querétaro). He comes to us from from San Pablito, Pahuatlán, in the state of Puebla. We are incredibly privileged to bring this talented, humble and personable artist to Mazatlán. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

Making amate is an incredibly labor-intensive process. Fortunately, Maestro Genaro does the heavy lifting for us, leaving us to the fun and creative part. He hikes out into the woods to harvest the trees. He cuts them up, cooks the pieces, and makes them into pulp. During our class we’ll use that pulp—natural fibers of amate, tule, yuca, plátano, etc.—for our creations, and then sun-dry our final products the same way the Aztecs did.

During the workshop you will be able to make multiple pieces of gorgeous paper. Genaro will probably bring mora wood, which makes a gorgeous white paper, and palo colorado, which produces a beautiful dark colored paper. You’ll learn to lay out your fiber in a geometric pattern on wooden planks, and use a lava stone/basalt mano stone to crush the pulp, fusing it together. You can make plain color paper, or weave the differing colored fibers together to produce a design. Adding flower petals to your paper provides a splash of color, as does adding traditional colored paper cutouts. The maestro also will bring several molds of indigenous designs, and we can mold our paper using those. You’ll finish off your paper with the sweet smell of citrus, as we use orange peel to polish our finished product before drying it in the sun, the same way amate has been made for centuries.

We were delighted with our creations in the last class, and are eager to attempt some more complex pieces in this next one. If you wish, you can purchase large pieces of amate from the maestro, as well as purchase additional pulp and the basalt mano to take home to continue your paper making. Basalt, the lava rock, is said to have calming properties and connect us to Mother Earth.

The class requires a minimum of ten paid participants in order to pay for the Maestro’s transportation, so please register early and help us spread the word! Maestro Genaro is fluent in Otomi and Spanish, but does not speak English; Dianne will be present to interpret as needed. The class and the process are a whole lot of fun and it is a craft you can easily do that opens the door to so many creative projects. Thank you for helping us support traditional Mexican indigenous art!

DETAILS
Monday and Tuesday, 11-12 March, 2019
4 – 9 pm each day
Galería Baupres, Heriberto Frías 1506 (between Casa Haas and Totem)
tel. 669-113-0941, open Tuesday-Fridays from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm and 3:00 – 6:00 pm.
Cost: 1300 pesos, cash only please, pay in advance to reserve your spot and 100% refund if the class does not fill (but it’s looking good; if everyone who says they want to come pays, we could all be happy).
Bring 3 pieces of 10 mm thick plywood sized 60 cm x 40 cm, or let us know and we’ll get them for you at our cost.

 

Gratitude for Life in Mazatlán

Research has shown that gratitude—taking the time to reflect on what we are thankful for in our lives—has physical, psychological and social benefits. Feeling grateful provides us stronger immune systems, fewer aches and pains, lower blood pressure and better sleep; more positive emotions, feelings of alertness, joy, pleasure, optimism and happiness. Thankful people are more helpful, generous, compassionate, forgiving and outgoing; they feel less isolated and lonely.

Gratitude is a major aspect of most every world religion. The three Abrahamic faiths all value thankfulness. From the words of King David in the Book of Psalms—“Oh Lord, my God, I will give thanks to you forever” (30:12), to the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew—“You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (22:37-40) and the words of Muhammad in the suras, “Gratitude for the abundance you have received is the best insurance that the abundance will continue,” it is clear we should appreciate what we have. Buddhists give thanks for all that life has to offer, the good and the bad, as suffering helps us appreciate our gifts and become more compassionate. Hindus show gratitude through service and hospitality. Confucianism and Taoism look at gratitude as a key pillar of daily life. Here in Mexico we have the small pewter milagros, expressions of thanks for healing delivered or promises kept. Etruscan culture had similar gratitude offerings, but they were commonly made of terracotta.

Many people in the world take classes, participate in therapy, or write in gratitude journals in order to cultivate an attitude of gratitude. Here in Mazatlán, however, it comes naturally to most of us. It’s actually difficult to live among such kind, happy people, in such gorgeous surroundings, and not feel grateful.

It is said that gratitude has two components. First is an affirmation of goodness: life is not perfect, but we are able to identify some amount of goodness in our lives. Living here in Mazatlán, we know that things are not always rosy or “paradise”—as the tourist brochures may say. We live in reality, but most of us are also incredibly grateful for the opportunity to enjoy this incredible place, be it our natal or adopted home.

Second, gratitude involves a humble dependence on others or a higher power—a recognition beyond personal pride, that something beyond oneself helps us achieve the goodness in our lives. In this case, Mazatlán itself, the beauty of our natural setting, the friendliness of her people, causes a sense of thankfulness in nearly everyone who lives here.

Today I was reflecting on our lives here. We’ve been coming here since 1979. We were married here. We raised our son in Mazatlán. We’ve lived here full-time since 2008. I am consistently and eternally grateful, for so very many things. Below is today’s “top 15” list. I’d very much welcome hearing what you are most grateful for in the comments below.

  1. Incredible VIEWS—of the port, the ocean, the city, the mountains—including those overlooking the rise of the Super Wolf Moon or the eclipse of the blood moon. Click on the arrow, or just pause and watch, to view each slideshow.

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  2. 20 miles of gorgeous BEACH on which you can relax, eat and drink, play volleyball or soccer, swim, do yoga or tai chi, fish…

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  3. The world’s most amazing SUNSETS, not to mention SUNRISES!

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  4. CULINARY experiences for every palate, from street carts to beach palapas and fine dining, traditional to fusion. Food offerings are anchored in our fresh-caught SEAFOOD: lobster, oysters, scallops, and fish and supplemented by the harvest of fresh VEGGIES grown right here in the tortilla basket of Mexico. The ORGANIC FARMERS’ MARKET on Saturday mornings brings together local and international community members who value health and sustainability.

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  5. World-class VISUAL AND PERFORMANCE ART—opera, ballet, modern dance, symphony, mariachi, norteño and indigenous arts. Our local art community is both talented and welcoming, more than willing to teach as well as collaborate. Mazatlán is also blessed with an international caliber municipal art school with classes for anyone in the community, and we are, of course, home base to the international music sensation that is banda.

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  6. A long history as a mixed COMMUNITY OF NATIONALS AND INTERNATIONALS, from back in our heyday as a major hub on the trans-Pacific sailing trade route. This gives me the benefit of LOCAL FRIENDS who teach me so much, are patient with my lack of understanding, and who make me very grateful to call this place home; and INTERNATIONAL FRIENDS who bring me love and understanding in ways that are familiar and comfortable, allowing me to go out and explore and experiment with the new and unfamiliar and also find respite and reflection. Expats here are amazingly talented, adventurous people, give back in hugely beneficial ways to the local community, and make life in Mexico so much sweeter!

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  7. Any kind of SPORT you could want to participate in: runners have loads of organized marathons, triathlons and 5 and 10k races; swimmers have an Olympic pool, open-water swim club and ocean-fed public pool; we all enjoy the world’s largest open-air gymnasium, the malecón, where you can bike, roller blade, run or walk; hikers can enjoy the lighthouse, Deer Island, or any of a myriad of rustic trails around the municipality; we have baseball, golf, tennis, surfing….

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  8. Amazing WILDLIFE! We have BIRD WATCHING: in the mangrove jungle, Estero del Camarón, Estero del Yugo, Playa Norte, the botanic garden… pretty much anywhere in town. Look to the ocean and you can see whales, dolphins and rays jumping. Just outside of town you can enjoy watching and photographing macaws, jaguars, deer or coati, among many other animals.

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  9. HOLIDAY CELEBRATIONS that people travel across the world to attend, including our family-oriented and inclusive CARNAVAL, supposedly third-biggest in the world, and our DAY OF THE DEAD celebration combining the best of Mexican tradition and innovative artistry. Many mazatlecos are globally minded and talented, so we also are able to enjoy HOLIFEST, ANIME festivals and other innovative events.

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  10. Excellent diversity of EDUCATION at affordable prices, which attracts national as well as international families to life in our port, and an ECONOMICALLY DIVERSE city, with tourism, the port, fishing, farming, a brewery, coffee…
  11. Loving and inclusive SPIRITUAL COMMUNITIES with services in multiple languages, where we can grow, reach out to help others and feel loved.
  12. ARCHITECTURE lovers will find a mix of unique historic buildings downtown in tropical neoclassical style and award-winning modern structures such as the Carpa Olivera remodel or the Montessori school.

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  13. FIREWORKS nearly every night of the week somewhere in town, and loads of free public entertainment in the various plazas.

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  14. Nearby SMALL TOWNS to escape city life. These include BEACH TOWNS like Barras de Piaxtla, Stone Island, Caimanero, Escuinapa or Teacapán, where we enjoy dozens of miles of pristine beach. Also wonderful are MOUNTAIN TOWNS such as La Noria, El Quelite, Copala, Concordia, where we can take a day trip to learn about mining, see completely different flora and fauna, or eat fresh cheese and meat. These small towns offer a completely different way of life from Mazatlán as well as local arts and craftsmanship, and the opportunity to take killer night photos of the Milky Way.

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  15. The FRIENDLIEST PEOPLE you’ll meet anywhere on the planet. I’ve traveled and lived in most of it; I have a bit of experience on which to place my judgment. Here you’ll find the riches of the rich and the poorest of the poor, and most everyone you meet will be eager to offer a smile, a salutation and an offer of assistance.

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    Please remember to let me know in the comments below what makes YOU grateful to live in or visit Mazatlán! All photos are my own, ThruDisEyes.com.