Nature in All Its Glory

27982748_10160137908320637_2440691768523619203_oDo you love birds, animals, marine life, plants? Then head over to the Centro Cultural Multiversidad downtown at 21 de Marzo #36 for Cielo, Mar y Tierra: Vision of the Naturalists. They have a photo exhibit on the second floor with photos from five biologists and an actress (yes, but her photos are good!).

Especially now, when it seems our governor is intent on cementing over everything he can in Mazatlán, treasuring the very natural resources that bring so many tourists to our port seems more important than ever. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow (sorry, I only took my cell phone).

The opening last night was at 7pm, and attended by a couple of hundred people, I’d guess. It was typical: everyone had to wait, crowded into a corridor, but when they eventually opened the gallery it was worth the discomfort. All six photographers spent time with their photos, in order to tell those of us attending the backstory of each photo and answer our questions. It was a terrific chance to get to know a few experts in our local flora and fauna, and to learn a few more places to go out and take some photos!

Once you’ve enjoyed the gorgeousness that our environment has to offer, you might be wondering what you can do to help preserve it. First, I’d urge you to encourage our governor to stop cementing over estuaries and tearing down historic forts in order to cement over that area, too. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly long term for our planet, is to make every effort you can to stop using plastic. You’ve seen the horrible photos of the plastic “black hole” out in the Pacific, and we know how awful our beaches get after a big party weekend. Today I saw a photography project that uses beauty to profile the horrific reality of plastic’s effect on Sian Ka’an federally protected reserve. Click here to view it.

 

Lighthouse Renovations

IMG_4320-1A welcome investment of over 14 million pesos of federal and state funds have gone towards the renovation of our long neglected yet incredibly wonderful lighthouse, a major tourist attraction as well as a popular workout space for residents here in Mazatlán. The design plans included a transparent, cantilevered overlook, and there was talk about a zip line to Paseo del Centenario as well.

While the lighthouse walk was closed for a while, it is again open and just as crowded as ever with happy people out for a walk in the fresh air. Most of the way up the formerly dirt path is now covered with concrete and faced with rock—it looks really nice. I feel for the workers who have to haul their equipment plus the sand for the concrete up the hill. I guess they will be in shape once this project finishes!

In most areas there is a two to three foot wall protecting visitors from falling; in one key area, at the last major turn to the right up the hill, the wall has not yet been built. At the bottom, before the stairs, there is still a lot of walkway that remains concrete and has not yet been faced. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

 

At the bottom of the trail they have installed a rock wall in the roundabout and are in the process of building a nice sign. At the top, they have completed a round viewing platform, with stepped seating for visitors to take in the view. Supposedly they will install a statue of a whale in that space, which I find a bit confusing as it will block the view.

 

The lighthouse keepers will be moving to a new building just to the west of the lighthouse; the lighthouse building itself is scheduled to be turned into a museum. I have noticed a whole lot of trash from the renovation project. Hopefully workers will be cleaning all that up before they finish the job.

What I don’t see any sign of, yet at least, is a transparent, cantilevered overlook. Likewise there has been talk that the zip line is history. If you haven’t climbed up in a while, now is a good time. I find it interesting to watch projects as they progress, and adding some safety and beauty to the natural beauty of Cerro del Crestón is very welcome.

Adios Estuary :'(

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Sunrise over city park, with the new Avenida de la Bahía in the foreground

For eons Mazatlán has been the land of the estuary—brackish water, half fresh and half salt, that rises and falls with the tides. There used to be estuaries all over Mazatlán, from south to north, brimming with shrimp and mangroves, home to turtles and a myriad species of birds, but sadly not many remain. Most have been filled in completely, like those in the Golden Zone, which leads to the frequent flooding of that area in rainy season. Now we are losing Estero del Camarón, shown on the map below (as Laguna del Cameron), which runs south from Rafael Buelna over Insurgentes to the Aquarium at Av de los Deportes, thanks to the building of Avenida de la Bahía.

estero map

Avenida de la Bahía has been in the city’s plans for over a decade; it’s nothing new. What is new is that most everyone believed the road would be built in the “set aside” behind the existing buildings along Avenida del Mar. There was plenty of room beside the estuary for two lanes of traffic plus parking on both sides. Thus, when it was announced that the long-planned road would be built, there wasn’t too much ruckus.

People who live on Avenida del Mar are grateful to have a second egress, as this major city artery is so frequently closed due to races and other events. We actually, naïvely, were pleased to think that those who had “stolen” land from the estuary—hotels and salones de eventos that had “pushed out” into the estuary—would now have to give up that appropriated land in order for the road to be built.

Alas, no such luck. Despite the fact that city park is supposedly a wild bird sanctuary —”protected land,” we’ve always been told— construction of the new Avenida de la Bahía doesn’t even start till way beyond the land that we were told was set aside for the new road. Contractors have spent six weeks now filling in OVER HALF of the estuary facing the Bosque de la Ciudad/City Park! They have been working 24 hours a day seven days a week, dredging the estuary of plant life, then dumping trucks full of huge boulders into the water, dozens of truckloads per hour. They add dirt over the boulders, and cement on top of that. First they built two lanes, which we thought was bad enough; then four. Now they are adding diagonal parking on the west side and possibly more on the east. It just keeps getting wider and wider! The road is now wider than a freeway. After removing all the parking from Avenida del Mar, of course more parking is needed. But does the estuary have to pay the price? Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

The way they have built the new avenue actually leaves water trapped in between it and the Avenida del Mar—water that will attract mosquitoes and disease. I can only imagine they’ve left that area so that property owners (primarily the Tellería family, I believe) can build locales or storefronts facing the planned Parque Central.

The entire project is the most blatant disregard of our environment that I have witnessed. I was told the project was stopped, put in amparo, and according to the Noroeste, that is when they started working at night instead of during the day. A few days later they extended from night work to 24-7 work, and about ten days ago they put up signs that say they are taking care of the environment. I find the irony heartbreaking.

They are now within a couple hundred yards of Insurgentes. To my knowledge they have yet to buy any of the houses they will have to knock down to connect the new avenue with Insurgentes and continue north to Rafael Buelna. Eminent domain?

That housing area already floods in rainy season, as does the area in front of the Gran Plaza. I imagine now that they’ve reclaimed over half of the estuary, the area around the stadium, city park, Insurgentes and the Gran Plaza will flood much more dangerously; where is the water to go at high tide? They have built the road up high, to keep it from flooding. But we sure haven’t seen them build any exit for flood waters. Hopefully I’m just missing something.

Mazatlán’s allure for tourists and residents is its natural beauty, its marine life and seafood. Destruction of the environment like this is shortsighted. I was excited about Central Park and the new Mazatlán Museum, but if losing our estuary is the price we are paying for them, it is way too high.

Fire in the Bosque

DSC_0071EditedHeartbreak! The bird sanctuary behind our house, the estuary in front of the Bosque de la Ciudad (city park), has gone up in flames this afternoon. We have lost dozens of nests, with eggs and hatchlings, of ibis, cranes, herons and storks. All because of human negligence. Bless the volunteer firefighters who came out within fifteen minutes of our call! As I write this, they are still fighting the flames.

The fire started just in front of the construction site to the south of Las Gavias Residencial on Avenida del Mar. We called the fire department, and that is the location where they arrived. The first thing the fire fighters did, even before the firetruck made it in, was to remove some old tires that had caught fire on the edge of the estuary. Once the truck arrived, they got out a hose and quickly used up the truck’s full tank of water. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

Fortunately, shortly thereafter a water truck arrived on the City Park side, followed by more firefighters. I was so afraid the fire would blow through the park, killing the animals in their cages, endangering the children. It moved so quickly! Within twenty minutes the entire estuary was in flames, and in our 11th floor apartment the heat from the flames was incredible! We are at the height of dry season, and wherever there is not water out there in the estuary, is no more. Trees, grasses… all torched. I believe the city park is safe, but the firefighters will need to keep the grasses and brush wet.

The poor birds—ibis, cranes, herons, storks—were flying around seeming confused about where to go, their habitat filled with smoke and flames, their babies stranded in the flames.

It is now about an hour after the blaze started, and more fire trucks keep arriving, thank goodness. The fire continues threatening the pond in city park, but in general is heading north towards Avenida Insurgentes.

We’ve lost power… more later…

4:16 pm, it looks like the firefighters have gained control of the blaze. It has stopped moving. It went as far north as the salón de eventos south of Insurgentes, and from the Avenida del Mar side it doesn’t look like it destroyed any of the Bosque itself. Thank goodness for our volunteers!

The whole time it burned, Greg and I kept asking ourselves why the construction workers next door hadn’t called the fire department. They just stood there watching. The fire started very small. We immediately called 911. And, the construction workers had bulldozers, water, all kinds of equipment there; they could have put the fire out when it was still small. Perhaps they were afraid to use the equipment for something they weren’t authorized to do.

Such a sad day for our bird sanctuary. Thank goodness that Mother Nature will regrow it, though the loss of dozens and dozens of hatchlings and eggs is heartbreaking. Let’s use this as reason to FINALLY step up and stop permitting people to build in the estuary!

Final note: In the evening firefighters came with multiple bulldozers, and dug a perimeter/fire line around the burn zone, at least wherever land permitted (bulldozers can’t go in the water…). They did such an admirable job! Please take care of our environment, everyone. Mazatlán used to be one big estuary, full of mangroves, shrimp, and water fowl. In the city now we are down to just a very few. Let’s treasure and keep them!

Passion for Beautification

DSC_0002SignWe love Mazatlán. It is a breathtakingly gorgeous place, located on the world-renowned Sea of Cortés, a real working city that plays host to millions of tourists from the interior as well as abroad. We are proud to be featured in world-class travel and tourism magazines. We crow about hosting the 2018 Tianguis Turístico. We brag about the number and variety of cruise ships that visit our port every week.

Yet we do so very little to show respect for the natural beauty with which we are blessed. At sunset on the weekend, we see our beaches covered in garbage. Carnavál revelers throw their refuse everywhere you can possibly imagine. Our streets, empty lots and estuaries are frequent dumping grounds for all kinds of unsightly, unhygienic trash that suffocates our marine life.

Tourists get off the cruise ship or leave their hotels to take a city tour, going to the top of Lookout and Icebox Hills for the views. The panoramas, and the snapshots, are amazing—until you look in the foreground. “Aim that camera up higher, John. That trash in the weeds there ruins the photo.” Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

We have a culture here in Mazatlán that condones littering. It holds us back as a city, as a community, and as a tourism destination, and it’s my fervent passion that we can change that culture!

One man giving his all to do just that is Don Nichols. He has led a clean-up and beautification campaign atop Cerro de la Nevería/Icebox Hill for the past three years, and the results are remarkable!

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Don Nichols

Don and his wife Lori live in a gorgeous house with killer views. He was an employment lawyer in Minneapolis/St. Paul for 40+ years, and they bought their home atop the hill eight years ago in preparation for retirement. They love living here seasonally, and like good Midwesterners, they take pride in their neighborhood. It pained Don to see how people would come up to his neighborhood at night to drink in the views and the beer, leaving all their trash behind. Unlike Cerro del Vigía/Lookout Hill, where there is a homeowner’s association, his neighborhood doesn’t have a street sweeper. So the trash just accumulated. And accumulated.

Don went to the city to complain and to ask for some clean-up assistance. When none was forthcoming, he took matters into his own hands—like the independent Midwestern he is. Along with Juan and Martín, an uncle and nephew who work for Don, he started cleaning up and hauling trash out of the area.

Don, Juan and Martín’s efforts could barely keep ahead of those who trashed the area, however. So, they got the brainstorm to impede access to the empty lots where most of the partying went on by installing fences and beautifying them with brightly colored bougainvillea. They surround the bougainvillea plants with a circle of lime-covered rocks, to discourage ants from killing the plants. When he can find the property owners, Don gets permission, but he has beautified a few parcels for which he’s unable to contact the owners.

During their clean-up efforts, they found sidewalks buried under the trash, brush and sediment that washes down the steep hill. So, their efforts grew to include hauling out dirt and brush to reveal sidewalks that haven’t seen the light of day in twenty years! Don figures that in three years time they have hauled 50 dump truck loads of crud off the hill. I so wish Don were my neighbor!

They installed and painted trash cans to encourage neighbors and visitors to help keep the area clean. The cans are bright pink, the same color as most of the bougainvillea. They get filled quickly, and Don is grateful that city crews come Monday, Wednesday and Friday to empty the cans. The cans have to be repainted at least once a year. He, Juan and Martín have painted a few concrete walls the same pink color, creating a vibrant theme in the neighborhood. They’ve painted electrical boxes green and recently even painted a sign on the side of the road—Mazatlán’s Most Beautiful Hill (in Spanish)—with hopes of instilling pride of place in the local community.

The beautification is a never-ending process. Run-off on the steep hill never ends, so dirt and rocks constantly fall down, covering the sidewalks and the road, and bringing trash downhill. If they don’t stay on top of daily litter pickup and frequent dirt and rock removal, the area will all too quickly return to how it looked before.

Don has found that the bougainvillea so far are a great idea. They have thorns, so people don’t want to walk through them. They’re gorgeous, so people usually respect them. Most of the empty lots he beautifies have no flat space on which to plant anything, however—it’s a very steep hill. So, he builds a wall downhill and grades the soil to make a garden bed.

The problem is, however, that the bougainvillea need water in order to take root. They can get by after a rainy season, but at least the first year the plants need fertilizer and regular watering. So, Don bought a motorcycle with an attached flatbed and put a tinaco in it. They fill the tinaco with water and then ride around watering the plants in the neighborhood. It’s a lot of work, but with beautiful results! His efforts have transformed the area.

He and his crew have also painted lime on many of the trees in the neighborhood, again to discourage the ants. He has met with a few setbacks. Bougainvillea he planted on the landings of the stairway were yanked out by someone, he’s not sure who. They are debating whether to replant or not. There is one place where someone has rolled back a fence they installed, in order to be better able to park their trucks, turn on their stereos and party. Don hopes to plant bougainvillea there and repair the fence, in hopes that the second time will be the charm. A third “failure” is a bed of trumpet vines he planted on the uphill side of the road. While they have grown significantly, they have never flowered, probably due to lack of sun.

Quite a few pulmonía, auriga and taxi drivers have thanked Don for his efforts, saying the beautification has improved tourists’ enjoyment of their tours. While he hasn’t gotten many thank-yous from neighbors, another expat chipped in some money to support his effort, and he’s only gotten one criticism. One neighbor complained that Don had removed sand that he’d been saving (the sand had been in a pile at the side of the road for several years). So, Don got him some new sand.

Don’s beautification efforts have helped increase the value of real estate in the neighborhood, I imagine, but he’s helped his neighbors in other ways, too. Frustrated at repeatedly finding human feces on one empty lot, Don learned that a man living next door didn’t have running water or a toilet. Well, for US$350, he had a shower and toilet installed in the man’s house, in exchange for the man’s promise to keep the lot next door clear of brush and trash. Most definitely a win-win!

Don obviously didn’t set out three years ago to make a full-time job for himself; it grew little by little. He very much hopes that his efforts will inspire other property owners in the area to maintain and beautify their properties, so that Icebox Hill can be not only the most beautiful hill in Mazatlán but in all of Sinaloa. He also very much hopes the city will assign a street sweeper to his hill.