Room with a View

DSC_0066EditedI just had to get to know the guy who’d put the two easy chairs on the beach by the fishing pangas in Playa Norte; talk about a room with a view! Turns out his name is Guillermo, and he’s the same guy you may have seen raking the beach and picking up trash, as he regularly does. He is thirty years old, lives with his parents about a block away, and comes to the beach every day to, in his words, “do God’s work, clean the beach, be in nature and enjoy life.” Sounds good to me!

Guillermo has a stand with several different rakes and brooms in it, ready for beach cleaning. He’s fashioned himself a Mexican flag, he has a cross in the sand “because he loves God,” and he’s made a sofa out of a heavy log he dragged into place. While I was there with him he got up several times to kick around an old soccer ball. He invited me to sit in the recliner and enjoy the view. He also has a second easy chair, located a bit of a distance away, that he pulls closer when he wants to visit with someone. Originally he had the extra chair right next to his, but “then you get guests you don’t enjoy visiting you,” he told me. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

Guillermo says many of the fishermen don’t like him, because he urges them to keep the beach clean and to pick up their trash. Some of them clean their work areas, he says, but some don’t. “The ocean is their livelihood; you’d think they’d want to take care of it,” he tells me.

After my visit with Memo, I took a little stroll around the fishing pangas. The fishermen were scaling and fileting fish to take home with them for lunch, as most of them had already sold most of the day’s catch. I watched a couple of last boats come into shore, and the tourists enjoying feeding the birds. As usual, the pelicans were hanging around enjoying the fishermen’s scraps.

Just as I finished, Greg and Danny came with Danny’s new ADULT residente permanente card for the young man, a ballena for them and a New Mix for me. We sat on the edge of the seawall in the shade of a tree celebrating for an hour or so. The view, people watching and birding are so pleasant. If you’re looking for something to do late morning, I highly recommend pulling up a chair in Playa Norte.

A Walk in Cerritos

The weather this time of year is so absolutely perfect here in Mazatlán: cool nights and warm, sunny days. Greg and I love to take hikes, breathe some fresh air, and see what we can see. This week we set out north, in order to avoid the craziness that is south right now. We went to Cerritos and hiked in from the coconut stand on the road to Manantial, where Danny and the Scouts often used to camp. Greg sometimes runs the trails out there; this time we walked and my loving husband waited while I took photos.

Right now the elephant cactus are in full bloom, and boy are the birds having a field day eating the juicy red fruit hiding inside the fluffy yellow buds! There is a road you can easily walk along, and there are quite a few trails winding in and around the new housing developments they’re building back there. You’ll see a lot of flora and fauna, and the telltale signs that you are on the edge of the city, as well. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

The “yellow roses” (Rosa amarilla it’s called here in Sinaloa), or Cochlospermum vitifolium were absolutely gorgeous this time of year! I couldn’t resist trying to capture their color and texture.

Arnica are also in bloom this time of year; I always love their exuberant yellow flowers. The insect below seems to be thinking, “I’m on the top of the world!” I also loved the “inevitable” shot: life and death.

A few other plants caught my fancy, as you can see below.

But mostly I was fascinated with the hundreds of birds we saw! I’m not very good at capturing them; they fly so fast, and my lens isn’t long enough to capture them unless they decide they’re not afraid of me. It can be easier to catch birds in a backyard garden or city park, where they know they’ll be around people.

My friend John is quite the birder, and he recently gifted me a Peterson Field Guide. I love it, but I still am never quite sure what a bird is (yes, I have the Merlin Bird ID on my phone, too). I believe the birds below are a Mexican Cacique (there were sooooo many of these!) and a Black-Throated Magpie Jay that was quite fascinated with me.

Before the heat and humidity set in, I do hope you’ll get out and enjoy this wonderful weather. It’s been cloudier than usual, which makes it more pleasant to be out and about as well.

Summary of Today’s “Big Dig” Meeting

The body language says it all… Lic. Ochoa on the left, Architect García on the right.

UPDATE Monday 22 May:

The meeting on Friday did take place, and began at noon as originally scheduled. No plan was presented, however. Isaac Aranguré summarized the meeting on his Facebook page:

“Buenas tardes. Proyecto Centro Histórico.

Al final si tuvimos reunión con las autoridades.
No se presentó el plan.
No nos dieron fechas especificas ni etapas.

Lo que se puede rescatar:
Si existe un proyecto.
Si hay investigación e inclusión en el proyecto.
La rectificación por parte de las autoridades para SI tener la reunión.
La creación de comités vecinales para colaborar gobierno y ciudadanía.

Invitación personal:
Tenemos que sumar esfuerzos para que el proyecto salga adelante porque nos conviene a todos, pero no descansemos en garantizar que se mantengan las condiciones básicas de vida necesarias para residentes y comercios. Además será bien importante acercarse a las instancias correspondientes para resolver puntos en lo particular.

Punto extra:
Buscaremos hacer la solicitud a la instancia respectiva del proyecto integral, para poder socializarlo.

Un abrazo.”

Citizens of the affected area have organized themselves, with a leader appointed for each street/block. They have a WhatsApp group and a Facebook page, and have already met several times to come to agreement on priorities. Let us hope officials will listen to and honor the voice of the people who live downtown. Today there were at least two different streets reported as flooded, and very few workers showed up for work. Some said it was because they had not been paid last week, but I am unable to confirm this through official channels.

 

UPDATE 11:30 am on Friday 19 May:

Unbelievable as it seems, after CANCELLING the meeting scheduled for today at 11pm last night, today, one hour before, they reinstate it! See below. Meeting to take place in Casa Haas at 12:30 with state officials.

Centro Historico Mazatlan Aviso: En vista a todo lo que ha sucedido con respecto a la reunión programada en Casa Haas para el día de hoy, les comento que nos acaban de informar que para las personas que acudan, se contará con la presencia de los representantes del H. Ayuntamiento de Mazatlán que están involucrados en el proyecto para darles una explicación de todos los cambios que se están tratando de hacer en los planes de trabajo, así mismo se contará con la presencia del Subsecretario de Obras Públicas Estatal para que responda a todas sus inquietudes. Sólo les informo que esta reunión dará inicio a las 12:30 pm.

 

UPDATE Thursday night at 11 pm:
NOTICE!!! Tomorrow’s citizen meeting has been CANCELLED! See message below. How very disappointing. Let us hope they really go house by house as they say to deal with citizen and business issues directly.

Centro Historico Mazatlan
Aviso Importante! Les informo que la reunión de mañana viernes 19 de mayo en Casa Haas se cancela, el motivo por el cual no se llevará a cabo es que a partir de una junta q tuvieron las personas involucradas del H. Ayuntamiento de Mazatlan y los contratistas decidieron cambiar su plan de trabajo y llevar a cabo un acercamiento directo con la gente. Por lo q el día de mañana a partir de las 9 am harán un recorrido calle por calle para explicar el proyecto, conocer sus necesidades, dar una respuesta a los acuerdos q se tomaron en la reunión del miércoles y hacer compromisos de manera directa con todos los vecinos para poder trabajar de una mejor manera.

Favor de compartir el mensaje

Original Article from Wednesday 17 May:
Today at noon in Casa Haas was the first (!) citizen meeting regarding “The Big Dig”—as I call it—in “Centro Histérico” downtown. The city calls it a magna obra or “mega project.” The meeting was attended by city officials involved in the project, representatives of the 18 contractors, and about 140 concerned residents and business owners. Mayor Pucheta was conspicuously absent; Lic. Juan Manuel Ochoa led from the city side. Click any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

The latest round of “city beautification” in preparation for the Tianguis Turístico 2018—the national tourism convention—has affected at least eleven different streets downtown (though it’s scheduled to affect 25), rendering residents unable to get to their homes, disabled people confined to their homes, and many businesses losing 70% or more of their incomes. Don’t even ask about parking; for the past two weeks we take public transportation to get downtown because there is little if any parking to be had. Mazatlán’s Centro Histórico already had a dearth of parking, but now the city has removed at least 200 street parking spaces and has blocked access to several public parking garages, rendering them useless during construction.

“It’s easier to apologize than it is to ask permission” is a maxim. I’ve been told that in Mexico if officials announce their projects, citizens object and protest, often causing delays in the project and loss of federal or state funds. Well, this time, “The Big Dig” comes on the heels of an earlier nine-month-long dig, that one to remedy drainage issues (which didn’t work), and several other digs before that. Citizen confidence is low, and tempers are flaring.

The meeting got off to a positive start, with the citizen organizers reading a message to the officials and contractors present. The organizers (including Laura Medina and the “señoras of Calle Libertad”) had wisely gathered questions from the local community and presented them to the city ahead of time. The agenda was that there would be the opening statement by the citizen representatives, we would hear the city officials’ answers to the community’s questions, and then there would be discussion.

The citizen representatives’ opening message explained that the community very much supports the idea of city improvements and beautification, but that we are concerned about an apparent lack of coordination: so many streets closed at the same time, no alternative routing, public and emergency services unable to access various locations, and no instructions for residents on where to park their cars. The message explained that Centro Histórico residents are suffering the effects of previous poor public works projects, with uneven paving, frequent flooding and poor drainage, and that many businesses and homes have had their electric, gas or water cut during this latest project. They pleaded that health issues are a concern: dust affects residents’ lungs and irritates the skin, and there has been far too much sewage backing up onto city streets. The message as read concluded by saying, “We need to understand what’s happening in order to support the project. Please respect us by giving us answers rather than just asking us to cooperate (aguantar/put up with).”

Lic. Ochoa introduced city architect Joel García. Mr. García got off to an unfortunate start when he stated that city streets, in cooperation with the state, had been “torn up starting two weeks ago.” Everyone present knows we’ve been living in chaos for over six weeks, since March; Mr. García’s comments were greeted with the meeting’s first round of booing and shouting, losing grip on the positive start to the meeting.

Arq. García told us that 14 more streets will be torn up before the project is complete, according to the Executive Plan, which garnered a second round of booing and shouting and the meeting’s first of dozens of pleas to “trust us.” García’s schedule of when streets have been/will be torn up was met with jeers by many residents attending, who said it was “alternate reality.” Photos of Arq. García’s Powerpoint slides are below.

A resident asked where she could park, since her street is torn up and she has street parking. Arq. García told her that Public Security would help her find a place. Another resident said, “Contractors have come from Escuinapa, Rosario… everyone has known about this project except those of us who live here. Why weren’t we informed?” A gentleman then asked what kind of compensation businesses could expect for loss of income; Lic. Ochoa assured him there would be incentives.

Several times the citizen organizers attempted to quiet the crowd, explaining that if we all spoke out of order, we wouldn’t get a chance to hear what the city had to say. For a while Lic. Ochoa encouraged people to vent, and said the city would respond once everyone had spoken. After an hour or so of that, it became obvious that the original agenda would be a better way forward, and Arq. García retook the floor. A gentleman from Atención a la Ciudadanía/Citizen Relations got up to speak, but had trouble holding the floor due to the shouting and jeering.

The most common phrase of the day was “trust us,” followed by “you can’t blame us for the prior administration’s shoddy work.” We were assured that there is a committee of architects supervising the project and ensuring that all work is performed in good order before contractors are paid. We were told contractors have deadlines, and their pay is linked to keeping those; which of course raised concerns about quality and coordination, since all streets seem to be torn up at once.

Some of the key things we learned, and some of the agreements made, include:

  1. There will be a second meeting on Friday May 19 at noon in Casa Haas. At that time the city will present the Executive Plan to us. NOTE: As of Thursday May 18 at 10pm the city cancelled this meeting! They say they will go house to house to be in direct contact instead. See notice at top of this post.
  2. Each contractor is obligated to stay on the street on which it is working; they are not to block cross streets unless they are actively working on the intersection. If such happens, we should report the incident to the police.
  3. García presented a plan of “alternative routes,” and said these are the routes that will be used by public service and emergency vehicles. Sadly, according to the residents present, many of the routes don’t work because though the immediate road may be open, the road it feeds into is closed. García said they will work with Tránsito to change the direction of traffic on several streets to ensure that alternative routing actually flows.
  4. García showed us a map of three parking lots that residents can use free of charge for the duration of the project. He said these lots will be open 24 hours a day through the completion of the project, and that a police officer will always be present. He told us stickers would be handed out at Friday’s meeting enabling residents to use the parking.
  5. García fortunately told us that three new vertical (multi-level) parking structures are planned as part of this project, each accommodating about 60-80 cars. While in my humble opinion these should have been built first, prior to tearing up the roads and removing the existing parking, the plan is to build them only after road construction is complete. By that time the price of land for building parking structures will be much higher, of course. There was no mention of location for the vertical parking structures, nor whether they would be architecturally consistent with the look of Centro Histórico.
  6. García said there will be compensation (incentivos) for Centro Histórico business owners. Lic. Ochoa said he would put a committee of residents together to figure out specifics.
  7. There was talk of doubling up on the shifts so that the work can be done sooner, prior to rainy season setting in. My concern on that is noise for residents.

Residents remained outraged throughout the meeting. Complaints I was able to note included:

  • Alternate routes such as Aquiles Serdán have so much traffic now, and are so congested with buses, that using it is not viable, according to some.
  • Residents should have been included in the planning process, not at this late date, shouted others.
  • Many said it was obvious the city had no plan for residents and businesses during the project, and that it’s only just now beginning to think about it, thanks to citizen demands.
  • Privately, several Centro Histórico business owners told me they are afraid to complain to the city, despite the huge hardships, due to possible reprisals (inspectors, licensing, etc).
  • Wheelchair access is impossible now, as there are no sidewalks.
  • The elderly have trouble walking so far to get to their houses, and are in danger of assault, particularly at night.
  • Historic homes in the area, made of cantera and also adobe, are suffering from the vibration of repeated redoing of the streets. We are ruining the very heritage we are seeking to show tourists, explained two residents.
  • Buses are running on alternate routes, and people don’t know which bus heads where.
  • Gardens and greenery are great, but they need to be maintained or they become garbage cans.

Let us hope that the chaos we are suffering is worth it in the end. Functioning drainage, potable water, and well-groomed streets in Centro Histórico would be completely wonderful. I personally think more pedestrian areas will add to the area—as long as there is sufficient parking for residents and the public, and access for the handicapped and elderly. It is a shame to me that there needs to be citizen outrage in order for the municipal government to share its plans and take resident concerns into account, but, let us hope these meetings result in positive steps forward.

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!

La Nautica: Latin America’s Oldest Merchant Marine Academy

DSC_0319Edited2Mazatlán has been renowned since colonial times as one of Mexico’s premier maritime and shipbuilding centers. It is thus quite natural that we are blessed with the country’s oldest merchant marine academy—La Escuela Nautica Capitán de Altura Antonio Gómez Maqueo, or “La Nautica,” as it is affectionately known. The school also distinguishes Mazatlán as home of the oldest merchant marine academy in Latin America.

Visiting family and I were fortunate to get up close and personal with the highly disciplined young adults parading in their dress whites during the school’s recent 137th anniversary ceremony. Watching hundreds of young people march in crisply choreographed unison during the golden hour at sunset was truly a sight to behold! We were invited to the bugle, drum and flag-filled festivities by Captain Rodolfo Cinco Arenas, who has taught at the academy longer than anyone on the staff—since 1982. Though Captain Cinco was able to retire a few years ago, the school persuaded him to come back as a contract teacher because he is a leading expert on ship stability and GMDSS, the global maritime distress and safety system. Walking around campus with the Captain was so much fun, as all the gorgeous young cadets saluted us as we walked by.

The Nautica is a public school operated under the auspices of the Secretary of Communication and Transportation’s FIDENA (Fideicomiso de formación y capacitación para el personal de la marina mercante nacional). It currently educates 653 students from throughout Mexico and Latin America as officers and engineers for all types of commercial vessels: container ships, ferries, fishing vessels, freighters and tankers. Cadets are nearly evenly divided between deck (mates and captain) and engineering. The school opened to women in 1994 and currently includes more than 50 female cadets. Since its inception it has trained 2500 officers who are able to sail vessels from almost any country around the world, frequently including Algeria, Brazil, Dubai, and Venezuela, though Canadian and US American vessels limit officers to citizens from those respective nations. Tuition is $67,000 pesos/year and includes everything: housing, food, books, classes and simulators. The experience is of course highly subsidized by the federal government.

Despite presidential decrees founding a merchant marine academy in Mazatlán in 1857 (Ignacio Comonfort) and 1880 (Porfirio Diaz), fates dictated that the Nautica’s first classes weren’t held until December 1888, when the Chilean vessel Buque México arrived in Mazatlán from San Francisco. The ship served as home to the school’s first class of 15 students. In 1921 the Nautica moved to 43 Calle del Arsenal, which today is where Venustiano Carranza meets the malecón; a plaque indicates this fact. In September of 1939 classrooms, workshops, dormitories, sports fields, a cafeteria and a small dock were constructed at the school’s current site at 2111 Calzada Gabriel Leyva. During World War II the school was temporarily transferred to the navy (1941-58), and for a few years graduates could opt for a degree as either military or merchant marine officers.

The curved façade of the main building of the Nautica is reminiscent of the bridge of a ship. Classrooms and dormitories form a large central square, where the ceremony was held. Spiral staircases, stone columns, carved wood, antique tile floors, student-painted murals and lush palm trees make for an impressive campus. From 1982 to 2006 the academy had an educational ship named “Nauticas México;” cadets navigated the vessel throughout the Americas and Europe. It was the only merchant marine training vessel in Mexico, but has never been replaced, as the government has decided simulators are cheaper and better for educational purposes. The Nautica today has 45 professors, 25 classrooms, 12 simulators, beautiful lap and diving pools, and Mazatlán’s only planetarium (built in 1986), which sadly is not open to the public.

Nautica cadets are civilians, not military, though education is military style. They reside on campus six days a week, and have strict regulations regarding uniforms (dress whites and blues, international and khaki in short and long sleeves), hair length, lights out, language and behavior both at school and during time off. Privileges include Saturday nights and Sunday mornings off campus, and visits by family and friends on Thursday evenings. Those privileges are easily and frequently lost, however, as we well know from our son’s friends’ experiences.

Entry to the academy is extremely competitive, open to high school graduates and those who pass very challenging entrance exams. Even when accepted, quite a few cadets drop out prior to graduation due to the rigor of the curriculum and lifestyle. Cadets live and study on campus July through December and January to June, with one month break in the summer. Graduates must pass their classes and professional exams, be able to swim, and have English proficiency to complete the four-year program. Once they graduate, they still need to come up with $50k pesos to pay for their professional title (título), something common across most careers in Mexico. Graduating from it, however, pretty much guarantees a lucrative career.