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.

My Return to Toddlerhood

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I think the above is pretty self-explanatory about my morning.

  1. I was teaching a class online, and the earpiece of my phone kept falling out. I was focused, so I kept pushing it back in, each time a little more assertively. When the class was over, I looked at my earpiece. It was broken! When did it break? THAT’s why it kept falling out of my ear! After playing with it a bit, I realized the rubber cap that covers the hard plastic earbud was missing. Where had it gone?
  2. After looking around my desk and on the floor, I realized that it was in my ear. I could feel something, very faintly, in there. It didn’t hurt, but I could feel it. I asked Greg to take a look. He didn’t see anything. Had to get a small flashlight. When he was finally able to see it, he said it was jammed pretty far into my ear canal. Oops! Klutz strikes again! I definitely felt like a toddler who’d shoved something up her nose, though in this case it was my ear.
  3. Greg lovingly got out the tweezers and agreed to try to pull it out. Each time he’d get hold of it, the little rubber thingamajig would push against my ear drum or something inside there, and it hurt like the dickens. It began to feel like I had an ELEPHANT stuck in my ear! After a few more tries at getting the rubber piece out, I was near tears it hurt so bad. What to do?

Our doctor wasn’t in yet; this happened prior to his office hours. A trip to the emergency room would be costly, and rather silly. I felt like a three year old, with a toy stuck in my ear. It was embarrassing. And I kept giggling; this all felt so silly.

What about Dr. Simi, the doctor in the pharmacy? Yes! We took a drive down the street and, through the beauty of medicine here in Mexico, we waited ten minutes while the doctor helped two people ahead of us in line.

I embarrassedly told the doctor what had happened. She took a look with her little lighted scope. She closed her eyes to think. She had me lie on my side and filled my ear with oxegenated water, hoping the rubber would float to the top, closer to the exit of my ear canal. No such luck; the darned thing was wedged in there. The water did soothe the pain a bit though. And we sure did have fun laughing about it all.

Finally, she took a long hook-like tool, and turned the rubber thingy around in my ear canal to get a better grasp. She was very, very gentle, but MAN did that hurt! Darned elephant! She grabbed the ear bud cap with a long tweezer-like tool, I winced audibly, and then she stopped. She didn’t want to hurt me. She wasn’t sure what to do. I begged her to yank it out, she obliged, and oilá. I was free! The elephant was out of my ear canal!

The whole operation cost 40 pesos. It took all of 25 minutes round trip from home to the doctor and back.

God bless Mexico. One more reason I love it here. No paperwork. Not even a signature. The doctor gave me a prescription for some ear drops, as she said it was a bit swollen in there.

You bet I’ll be more careful with those ear buds from now on! Please do the same. 😉

Cheeseburger in Paradise

First, there is a typical day on our terrace: paradise, Mazatlán style. (Click here to listen while you read.)

Add to that two men (and sometimes a woman) who love burgers. But, the beef here is VERY lean, not that marbled fat-filled juicy stuff my boys are used to. No worries!

Chef Greg, charter member of “Cooking Club of America,” to the rescue! He has learned to add some extra fat to the ground beef, to make it juicier once it comes off the grill. Turkey chorizo along with his secret spices in a frequent combination. But the best-ever cheeseburger in paradise was made from our local ground beef with some summer sausage, portobella mushrooms, and pineapple.

“I like mine with lettuce and tomato, Heinz 57 and french fried potatoes.” In our house, we go for sriracha mayo on the bun rather than ketchup, though of course we like lettuce and tomato (and sprouts), too. However, no normal bun will do. Chef Greg must go shopping for ciabatta bread. Mmmmmm. Not easy to find here, but doable. And what about the french fried potatoes? Hey, we’ve got a grill! Grilled vegies are loads better than the french fried variety. We nuke the potatoes first, then refrigerate till they’re cool and firm. Slice ’em, spice them up good, and grill ’em in a basket.
We put the sriracha mayo on the bun, but we still need the Heinz 57 for the fries! Since we live in the land of tomatoes (they appear on the Sinaloa car license plates), you’d think our local ketchup would rock. Not! The ketchup served here in the land of bountiful tomatoes is thin, watery and lacking flavor. Like Jimmy Buffett, we prefer Heinz 57. It’s hard to find here in Maz, but, with planning, doable.

¡Buen provecho!