Excellent Getaway!

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. 

Prices:

• 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.

Prices:

• 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.

Prices:

• 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

CONTACT

Toninasmexico@gmail.com, +52-667-489-8883

Mon-Sun 9 am – 7 pm

Camila and Enrique both speak English very well (and French and a few other languages)

Get Your Pajaritos Now!

One of the most enjoyable local fishing traditions in Mazatlán is when the pajaritos run. In English these delicious fish, normally fried up whole here, are called ballyhoos, flying halfbeaks or spipefish, closely related to needlefish. They are called “flying fish” in our local parlance because they glide over the surface of the water at up to 60 kph/37 mph.

The fishing boats glowing on the bay and reflecting on the beach as they catch pajaritos

Last night the boats were all fortunately very close in fishing, and you could easily watch them come in to unload and sell. The energy was palpable and festive; the fishermen make good money for just a few hours’ work. It was a fun family scene, far tamer than in non-pandemic times but still a lot of excitement. You can maintain your social distance and get down to the boats to buy your fish. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

In May of 2019 I took my tripod and good camera down to Playa Norte to capture the joy and excitement of this event. You can see those photos and read an in-depth story here. This year of course we have a pandemic, and I was not comfortable to take more than a quick masked walk through the area and photos with my cell phone.

Pajarito season can last just a few days or, if we’re lucky, a few weeks. So, head down to your nearest fishing boat mooring and get yours! You can find them on Stone Island, at the embarcadero to Stone Island, and in Playa Norte. It’s best to take your own container—a big bucket or smaller bowl or Tupperware will do. They were again selling for 40 pesos per kg and cleaned ones for 100 pesos per kg. If you don’t want to cook your own, local seafood places have them on the menu now. They are delicious! If you haven’t tried this local tradition, don’t miss it. If you have, I’m sure you’re happy to know the pajaritos are back.

Awesome Opportunity for Nature Lovers!

Protecting Migratory Birds in Mazatlán: A Workshop for Birdwatchers is a new FREE OF CHARGE series of excursions for English-speaking residents of Mazatlán, designed to acquaint us with the incredible biodiversity of Monte Mojino and its upcoming designation as a National Protected Area, the largest by far in the state of Sinaloa at 200,000 hectares in area. It will increase Sinaloa’s protected nature areas by 300%!

Monte Mojino is located in the municipalities of Concordia and El Rosario and is home to an extraordinary range of flora and fauna, including 310 species of native and migratory birds—at least 79 of which are in danger of extinction. Many new species have actually been discovered in the area.

This project, conducted by Conselva, our local award-winning conservation agency, with help from the Packard Foundation and US Fish and Wildlife, will involve five sessions, every other week, January through April 2021:

  • Four excursions:
    • January 28th
    • February 11th
    • February 25th
    • March 11th
  • There will be a final, closing event in April which will include a photography exhibit, when participants will share with the community of Mazatlán what they have learned.

For the four excursions participants will carpool in their own vehicles into Monte Mojino, where they will be guided by local experts and residents of the areas we’ll visit. Sandra Guido, director of Conselva, assures me the trips will be safe. Conselva has worked with the local communities for over twelve years and know the area and its residents very well. 

The goal of all of this is to build awareness of and respect for the natural areas of Sinaloa, as well as enthusiasm for conservation and ecotourism. It sounds like a lot of fun to me and something I don’t want to miss! To register for this terrific free workshop, fill out this form. If you’d like more information please send an email to mazatlanmigratorybirds@conselva.org.

Conselva also has a volunteer opportunity for you:

They will also be conducting a series of birdwatching sessions for youth (15 and up years old). These will be held on Saturdays beginning January 16th. They are looking for people to help engage the kids and help them find birds and wildlife to watch—no need to be an expert birdwatcher. Ability to hike around natural areas within the city limits and ideally some basic Spanish will be helpful. Send an email to mazatlanmigratorybirds@conselva.org if you are willing to volunteer. If you know of young people who would be interested in this, please share with them this link: https://www.conselva.org/aves-2020

Bogging Rocks!

The bucket lists of a surprising number of people include putting on waders to sink into a cranberry bog. So many people have told me that standing amidst the shiny red berries is one of their dreams: people from surprising places like Mexico, Iran and Japan. I’ve personally wanted to get chest-deep in that glorious, glistening redness since I was a child. My birth state, Wisconsin, grows more of the beloved tart-sweet fruit than any other place on the planet—60% of the world’s crop! 

That desire motivated us to drive through central Wisconsin this fall, and what a treat for the eyes it is! The contrasting vivid colors of the bright red cranberries among the gorgeous orange, gold and red autumn leaves and green evergreens are an incredible sight to behold! Over 18,000 acres of sunken beds are raked and flooded in the fall so that the berries can be corralled and harvested. Wisconsin cranberry farmers—still largely family owned—steward an additional 160,000 acres as adjacent wetlands, woodlands and uplands. Each acre of berries requires an additional 7-10 acres of support acreage to naturally purify and recycle the water that is so crucial to this type of farming. Huge networks of ditches, dikes, dams and reservoirs add to the iconic natural beauty of this unique region. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

We were headed to the Wetherby Cranberry Company’s public harvest or “Wetherby Wade” in Warrens, Wisconsin. An independent family farm, Grandpa Jim and Grandma Nodji Van Wychen are third generation growers. Their son, Henry, and son-in-law, Michael Gnewikow, are proud members of the fourth generation. The Van Wychen’s other three children and ten grandchildren—the fifth generation—are also major contributors to the farming operation. All were present last weekend and will be again this upcoming Saturday, October 3rd from 9 am to noon for their final public harvest of the season. This is your chance to put on those waders and slide among the glistening red berries! 

The experience of being embraced by cranberries was way better than I’d even dreamed! Some of the best things in life are difficult to explain, and the wonderfulness of being in a cranberry marsh is one of them. People keep saying this is something they’ve wanted to do all their lives. That wasn’t true for Greg; he’d never even given it a thought; it wasn’t on his radar. Yet, once he got in the marsh he was blown away. As he says, “It’s like playing baseball in a cornfield, swimming with dolphins or running with the bulls. You are sharing space with nature; you can’t get any closer to a cranberry.” I was delighted to see multiple frogs jumping around on top of the floating cranberries! Next incarnation, I may just need to be born as a frog in cranberry country!

I had been a bit fearful of slipping in the marsh as I had my camera and didn’t want to get it wet. But the boots have tread that makes footing steady, and the water is only knee to thigh-high. There were quite a few small children thoroughly enjoying the Wetherby Wade. We walked down a ramp into the bed, and once inside tread carefully on the fragile vines underneath. The night before the bed had been harrowed (picked) so that the berries floated to the surface. In the early morning a bright yellow plastic boom and blowers were used to corral the berries in a bunch on one end of the bed. We then had the pleasure of walking gently around amongst them. The feeling was pure joy and delight! Amidst the laughter and exclamations of “this is so cool!” were ear to ear smiles on young and old. 

Before our experience in the beds we thoroughly enjoyed an excellent tour of the farm conducted by Nodji, who received the Master Agriculturalist award in 2014. We were able to witness a bunch of the farm equipment in action and hear her explain the ins and outs of the growing process. This is an absolutely perfect day for families! Everyone has fun and learns a bit, too. And it checks off that bucket list!

After the tour, instruction and wading in the bog we visited the farm-to-table store where we loaded up on fresh berries, dried berries, cranberry wine, raw cranberry honey and cranberry cookbooks from the local homemakers’ club. The Van Wychens gifted each of us a certificate for a free surprise at the Cranberry Discovery Center and museum in town. The gift we received there was very generous—a whole pound of dried, sweetened berries! There we bought more goodies including chocolate covered berries, cranberry bratwurst, cranberry ice cream, and we even sipped cranberry-infused coffee. Jealous? Would you like some farm-fresh berries of your own? You can order from Wetherby farm and have them shipped fresh to your table!

Agritourism has been a hugely growing industry in Wisconsin’s cranberry region, or at least it was until the COVID-19 pandemic set in. 

  • The annual Warrens Cranberry Festival, which has pumped donations of over US$2 million into local schools and community organizations since 1973 along with an economic stimulus of over US$4 million for Monroe County annually, was cancelled this year. 
  • During harvest season Nodji normally leads tours for about forty buses full of people, who all return back to the farm store to buy berries and wine. It’s a huge source of the family’s annual income but has dwindled to zero this year. 

Hundreds of visitors to the farm every year shared their disappointment with Nodji that these events had to be cancelled; they would miss their annual family trips! The Wetherby Wade was Nodji’s COVID-safe effort to maintain a bit of the area’s hard-earned agritourism market.

By all means visit if you’re able this weekend or plan on a visit next year during the Warrens Cranberry Festival. Reported to be the largest crafts festival in the world, the three-day festival and parade attract 45,000 visitors per day and 1300 vendors and is held the last weekend in September.

The Warrens region is perfect for growing cranberries, as they have the three key natural resources needed for efficient and effective production: 

  1. Natural peat soil that comprises the bottom of the beds to hold moisture and not let it escape
  2. Lots of sand to put on top of the peat for drainage
  3. An abundant water supply; in the case of Warrens’ growers this comes from the east fork of the Lemonweir River

Countries on four continents are among the world’s top producers of this agricultural gem: the USA, Chile, Belarus and Tunisia. The crop is popular worldwide and eaten fresh, dried and sweetened, as well as used for juice. The cost to grow cranberries is US$35 per 100-pound barrel or 35 cents per pound. Prices, however, have been dropping over the past few years. China has historically bought huge amounts of Wisconsin cranberries: up to 25% of total production. Due to President Trump’s retaliatory tariffs, however, bulk cranberry prices this year have dropped below cost to 15-25 cents per pound. Exports to Europe have fallen as well and are limited to dried berries, thanks to the pandemic. These hardworking farmers are losing money on their crop. While historically very proud not to receive government subsidies, the past two years the government has helped the industry by purchasing berries directly for schools, hospitals, the military and other institutions at a fair price.

 

Trivia : How do cranberries get their name? 
Sandhill cranes are a common sight in cranberry region; I absolutely love watching them, whether in flight or eating in the fields. Did you know that cranberries got their name from the sandhills? Dutch settlers and Native Americans originally called them “crane berries” because the plants in blossom look like the head and neck of a sandhill crane. 

 

We’ve all heard of cranberry bogs, but in this part of the world I heard them called marshes and more commonly beds. Standard marsh size is five acres with a width of 80 feet. Equipment is designed for this width: pesticide and fertilizer booms reach 40 feet out over the marsh from either side for efficiency. Different varieties of berries are planted in order to spread out the work: early harvest, middle and late. Wisconsin’s biggest harvest comes the first three weeks of October. 

Cranberries grow on vines in the two-to-three-foot-deep beds. The vines are perennial. On one side of a bed they are planted one direction, and on the other side the opposite, so that the vines are always facing the right way when equipment drives around the perimeter. After each fall’s harvest, the beds are emptied of berries, which rot and attract insects and disease, and frozen for the winter so that the vines can thrive again in the spring.

We went out to the Wetherby marshes for sunrise, as I wanted to take photographs of the sun’s first glistens on the bright red berries. I was so happy we went early, as just after sunrise family members showed up to begin corralling the berries. Different than raking or picking the fresh fruit, the berries in these marshes had been harrowed the night before and would today be harvested for commercial use in juice and sauce. Tractors with blower attachments and long yellow booms, along with hand blowers, were used to corral the berries towards one end of each of the marshes. I realized how “Ocean Spray” got its name watching the berries soar through the air as they were blown around! It was a whole lot of fun.

It’s encouraging to see families working hard and joyfully together, and in this region it’s not just families but the community as a whole. While they can’t share farming equipment as other farmers often do, because of the fact that they all do the same activities at the same time, I’m told that cranberry farmers freely share best practices with one another. In fact, Jim Van Wychen has invented several important pieces of machinery that he has openly shared with neighbors and colleagues instead of patenting and profiting off his expertise. He is quite the Renaissance man with a plethora of skills! Wisconsin’s 250 cranberry growers also put on a three-day cranberry school each year, where they teach about insects, weed control, and all other aspects of cranberry farming. Equipment is a major topic, as you can’t just buy cranberry farming equipment from Case or the other big dealers. Most equipment is specially made: designed and built by growers themselves. It’s what they do in the winter: maintain equipment, build new booms, refine, tinker… make their equipment better every year. As with any professional conference, we were told that the growers learn the most during the time they have between sessions, when they share their ideas.

This year’s berries, we were told, are a good size and have unusually good color. Lucky us! Nodji told us the light berries are removed from the berries picked for fresh fruit: people don’t like having white berries in their bag. Ironically, however, it’s the whites that have the most pectin, so to make jelly or jam you need those white berries for a solid gel.

Once the berries were corralled the booms were fastened into place to keep the berries where they needed to be. We then took a tour of the farm equipment on display. The first piece of equipment we saw during our tour was an original motorized picker or rake from the 1960s. Nodji’s 80-year-old cousin Chuck, who has worked with cranberries his whole life, was one of the first people in the area to own a motorized picker. He had his own beds and would also hire himself out to rake others’ marshes. Chuck explained to us that the picker or rake is used to harvest berries for fresh fruit—to be sold in grocery stores or direct from the farm. Teeth on the picker go into the vines, separating the fruit, paddles and tines lift it and then move it via conveyer belt to a small boat that is pulled alongside the picker. Less than 5% of cranberries are harvested in this way. There are cutters in the picker to catch and sever long runners; this ensures that more fruit-bearing vines will grow next year and avoids wasting energy on non-fruit-bearing runners. The picker’s motor is raised to prevent water damage. 

The second machine on display was a marsh mower, with arms that move and extend in different angles to mow and trim the dikes’ edges, ditches and roadways. It takes over a week to mow the marsh. On display was also a Yanmar tractor with a harrowing attachment on front and back. The black metal rods are mounted on a spring that creates a motion to gently knock the berries off the vine so they can float to the surface. The final piece of equipment parked for display was a tractor with a 100-foot-long fertilizer or pesticide boom. The black downspouts on this arm are evenly spaced to allow all sprays to be placed exactly where needed. It takes ten hours to fertilize the entire marsh each time as they have to circle 57 beds covering almost 200 acres of vines.

The biggest excitement of the day was when the huge berry pump drove up. It was preceded by a dump truck and followed by a semi. The berry pump was invented by Jim, the owner of Wetherby Cranberry Company, and was the first pump of its kind in Wisconsin. It sucks the berries out of the bed and then uses water and air filtration to separate the cranberries—which go into the semi, from the water—which is returned to the marsh, and the trash (leaves, grass, weeds, stems, occasionally a stick)—which goes into the dump truck. The technology is based on equipment used in fish farming, when transferring fish by size from one tank to another. The cranberries that went into the semi-trailer were 97% clean of trash—stems and leaves. Some growers still elevate the berries out of the beds with an elevator, but with that technology everything including the trash goes into the semi-trailer. 

A spray bar that extends out from the pump truck helps move the cranberries, and workers with push rakes and blowers also push the berries towards the pump’s funnel. With the berry pump it only takes an hour or two to harvest an entire bed.

The trailer holds 40,000 pounds of cranberries. The truck takes them to a receiving station where they’re sorted and made into sweetened, dried cranberries. The trash can be used for mulch. Various blueberry growers use it for their fields, and quite a few people from Madison come and get it to mulch their gardens. 

Once cleared of all berries, the beds will remain dormant until mid-December in a typical year, though sometimes till as late as Christmas. The cranberry growers want to get a series of three cold nights in a row—10 below zero Fahrenheit or colder. The farmers will bring the water level up in the bed so it covers the tips of the vines. The water will hard freeze to a solid block during those three nights, and the vines will be protected from the winter’s cold and wind. Normally eight to twelve inches of ice block is ideal—enough to protect the vines and support the weight of a dump truck. They will attach a sand spreader to the dump truck’s tailgate and drive out onto the marsh to spread a half inch layer of sand onto the top of the ice. When the ice melts in the spring the sand will settle to the bottom of the bed, which provides the multiple benefits of: keeping the bed firm for harvest equipment, burying any dead leaves, providing good natural support for the plant roots, and punching runners into the ground so that a new upright that will produce fruit will grow. Beds that are one to five years old are sanded every year; older than that and a bed gets sand every three years.

Returning home with all the farm-fresh berries, I spent a terrific time in the kitchen and at the dinner table! Our family enjoyed homemade cranberry-orange muffins, a terrific cranberry-apple chutney, cranberries jubilee over ice cream… and we still have quite a few left for other tasty delights! Thank you, Van Wychen family!

Wetherby Cranberry Company is at 3365 Auger Rd, Warrens, WI 54666, telephone 608-378-4813, email wetherby@freshcranberries.com. Cost for the marsh tour and excellent explanation is $10 ($5 for children 12 and under, kids under five years old are free), and the same prices to rent waders and enter the bed. We are in a pandemic but rest assured that the Van Wychens and staff wear masks (last Saturday I didn’t see any visitors without a mask, either), promote social distancing, sanitize the wader boots and have proper handwashing and bathroom facilities. Last weekend the event was not crowded, and we felt very safe. Definitely do not miss this once-in-a-lifetime experience, or forget to order your fresh cranberries online!

 

Lost Mazatlecan Tradition?

DSC_4630©Mazatlán has a tradition of fishing that dates back probably a thousand years: shrimping with hand nets. The gorgeous way the tarayas spread out and then splash onto the water has always fascinated me; it’s a very tranquil, rhythmic dance. Below are a couple sequences of the net throwing, to give you a better idea.

Riparian shrimp fishermen go out in small pangas in pairs. Reminiscent of the gondoliers of Venice, the non-fisherman sits in the back of the boat and holds a long stick (la palanca, made of mangrove wood) with which he pushes the boat through the shallow lagoon or estuary. The second person stands in the front of the panga and casts the net. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

Watching shrimp fishermen work in the estuaries and lagoons of Mazatlán has brought me joy since I first arrived here on La Bala train in 1979. Back then much of the Golden Zone was still covered with waterways (Laguna Gaviotas and Estero El Sábalo), as was the whole of the marina area (Salvador Allende). El Venadillo, Laguna del Camarón and Estero del Yugo were much larger. And there were shrimpers everywhere! We were all in shrimp heaven!

Just as we can hail an oyster diver or a fishermen to buy his catch today, up to a few short years ago we could buy the catch direct from shrimpers easily here in Mazatlán. But now? It’s a gorgeous and delicious tradition awaiting the final nail in its coffin. I posted a couple of photos on Facebook a few days ago of buying shrimp from the shrimpers in Estero de Escopama, and I immediately had about 20 people asking me privately (they don’t want others to know!) the secret to where they could go to buy such shrimp. Now that we’ve cemented over our waterways, we have to travel that much farther to see the beauty of the tarayas.

If Mazatlán were Patzcuaro, we’d be promoting the beauty of our traditional fishing methods as tourist attractions. There, of course, the “butterfly net” fishermen catch tourist tips much more frequently than they catch fish. In Mazatlán, however, we seem to have purposefully worked the past 50 years to kill our centuries-old tradition. At the same time we seek UNESCO certification as a Creative City in Culinary Arts, we lose the tradition for harvesting the shrimp for our famous aguachiles.

I was very fortunate to be welcomed into the last hand net shrimping cooperative in our city, The Veterans of the Mexican Revolution. They most kindly agreed to take me out with them while they fished. The first day I joined them, they caught 135 kg of shrimp that they sold to the owner of a pescadería at the Stone Island Embarcadero. The second day I joined the group they sadly caught far less: maybe 35 kg. They told me that was because it’s the end of the season, and because it was a cloudy day. Cooperative members share equally in their catch. Some may choose to take their daily pay in shrimp, others prefer cash. Either way, it’s equal: you fish, you get paid.

85 year old José Ibarra Rodriguez is the only surviving founder of the cooperative. In the video below he tells me that they started the fishing cooperative in 1967, and their first day of fishing was August 16, 1968. At the time, they purchased a 50 year federal concession to fish. There are currently 24 members in the co-op.

However, due to the government losing documentation, and to the emphasis on tourism and development over the environment, over the years they have lost most of the estuaries that they used to fish, and are currently fighting over the rights to everything between Escopama and Pozole (Dimas).

The estuaries and lagoons of Mazatlán used to be lined with mangroves, filled with shrimp and fish, and home to endemic and migratory birds. Our gorgeous bay, dozens of miles of beaches and the wetlands, with our view of the Sierras to the east, is what attracted the Who’s Who of Hollywood as well as so many renowned writers and artists to our city.

The sad thing to me is that very soon we will have to go even farther to see the beauty of the tarayas. Other fishermen in the group tell me they have lost their concession to fish the Escopamas, and that the Salinitas concession has also expired. Mazatlán’s centuries-long culinary tradition continues to die out at the very time we seek UNESCO accreditation.

I leave you with a few happier shots of the pelicans that gladly clean up the smaller fish that the fishermen fail to throw back in, as well as some cormorants fighting over a fish.