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

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!

Campbell Concert Series 2020Sunday

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.

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Season calendar

Noche de Luz

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The premier of Noche de Luz was THE event of the season last year, showcasing to many in Mazatlán for the first time ever the inside of the old Observatory, as well as sharing with us a joyful amalgam of international music and talent. This year’s second edition of the outstanding event—put together by Raul Rico’s crew at Vivace Productions—made Christmas for many of us attending.

The view from the Observatory atop Lookout Hill is the whole of Mazatlán: south beyond Stone Island to north beyond Cerritos, including the entire city and port to the east and the best view of the lighthouse and the Pacific to the west. This is precisely why the conquistadores used this location as a lookout for English pirate ships approaching and intending to sack the city, and why the hill is called Cerro del Vigía. To me it’s the premier location in Mazatlán, and an incredibly gorgeously restored and decorated venue. Thus, I am over the moon to  know that it will soon open to the public as a museum! Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

Cocktails started on the back patio at 5:00 pm. The wine was free flowing; there were a good variety of canapés. The concert started promptly at 6:00 pm on the front terrace, facing the lighthouse. The weather was perfect—fresh, not cold or warm—and the performers were more relaxed and joy-filled than last year. They seemed to feed off the energy of the sold-out audience. Those of us in attendance thoroughly enjoyed their animated emotions, vamping, and changes of accessories to suit the song. While we were not treated to one of Mazatlán’s signature jaw-dropping sunsets, it was THE best Christmas event one could ask for! My girlfriend and I came home singing and dancing, filled with the spirit of the season (and a bit of the wine).

Principal performers included internationally acclaimed baritone José Adán Pérez, Mazatlecan currently residing in New York City; soprano Marysol Calles, the very talented Tapatía, mazatleca by adoption, who currently resides in Madrid; mezzo soprano Sarah Holcombe, our Mazatlán-born, blue-eyed beauty; and pianist Michiyo Morikawa, Japanese by birth and Mexican by adoption.

The performance was in four parts: Opera, perfect for these three incredible voices; Broadway and Hollywood, a terrific sing-along; Boleros, with much swinging and swaying in the audience; and Christmas songs, which served as the cherry on top of a perfect evening.

The boleros section of the evening was a magnificent tribute to three internationally famous Mexican composers with connections to Mazatlán on the 100th anniversary of their births. The singers delivered outstandingly animated and emotive performances of:

  1. Sabor a Mí (my personal favorite), La Mentira, Luz de Luna by Álvaro Carrillo—composer and singer born 1921 in Oaxaca and died 1969, a good friend of local singer Antonio Pérez Meza.
  2. La Ley del Monte and Échame a Mí la Culpa by Ferrusquilla—José Ángel Espinoza Aragón, composer, singer and actor from the Golden Age of Mexican cinema, born 1919 in  Choix and who lived and died here in Mazatlán in 2015. He has a statue on the malecón—the man with the guitar holding his hat in the air.
  3. El Diccionario, a lovely song by jazz composer, pianist and singer Fernando Teodoro Valadés Lejarza—born in Mazatlán in 1920 and died in Mexico City in 1978. Valadés also has a statue on the malecón—sitting at a piano.

History of the Observatory
Mazatlán was named the first high port of the Pacific by the Court of Cadiz in 1821, and functioned as the largest and busiest Pacific coast port for decades, connecting the Americas with Europe and Asia. 52 years later, in 1873, the observatory was built primarily as a weather station and, until 1892, also operated as a lighthouse. The weather station’s first director was the engineer P. Acosta León. The building was designed by Friaco Quijano and originally had two cupolas—one on each side. In the latest restoration of the observatory, the cupolas have not been rebuilt.

Much of the history of the observatory has, sadly, been lost. I have read that ours was an astronomical observatory as well, the second such facility in Mexico—built just one year after the National Astronomic Observatory in Chapultepec castle. In 1882 astronomic observation around the world gained huge popularity, as Venus passed in front of the sun. Having spoken with Joaquín Hernández, local historian, our guess is that the astronomy aspect may have come in to teach the cadets at the merchant marine academy—also the oldest academy of its kind in Latin America.

The building was destroyed by a hurricane in 1887. In the 1940s state-of-the-art meteorological observation equipment was installed. For most of its functioning history it was staffed by the military. In 1967 the weather station tools were moved to Juan Carrasco, in order to consolidate equipment from various locations. The observatory was abandoned. I remember visiting it as a tourist when it was accessible to the public, but very much in ruin—probably in the 1980s. It was a highly scenic abandoned structure perfect for photo ops! I absolutely loved going in there.

Nearly one hundred years after the observatory was built, Neto Coppel (owner of the Pueblo Bonito chain) bought four or so of the properties atop the hill and combined them, building a huge mansion and sealing off the observatory from public access. You could still get in on a private tour or if you knew someone, but the site was not generally accessible to the public for over a decade.

The old observatory remained private, and Amado and Karla Guzmán (owners of Red Petroil) purchased the entire property from Coppel, spending years fully restoring the antique observatory and planting beautiful gardens from which to enjoy those incredible views. The facility’s original bell, used to announce inclement weather to the surrounding city, still functions at the base of the stairs. The couple have added antique nautical furnishings, historical photos, comfortable dining and seating areas and a full bar; it is absolutely beautifully done and by far the premier location in Mazatlán, if you ask me!

For the past few years, if you knew the family you could arrange to hold an event in this amazing location. This past year the Guzman’s have built a tram or funicular from sea level to the top of the hill, to carry passengers and things more easily than does the winding road. It was used for the first time on Thursday evening and functioned perfectly. It will not quite yet open to the public, however, as there is a bit more construction of the building below to do.

The great news is that the Guzmán’s are planning to open the now-named Observatory 1873 as a museum! Access will be via the new tram. It will include information and items detailing the nautical history of Mazatlán as well as information on the history of the facility itself, as the first observatory and lighthouse in Mazatlán. There is no firm date yet, but we have another exciting new attraction to look forward to!

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.