Nearly Secret Gem of an Overnight Trip

DSC_5157The December party season is exhausting. After the holiday, wouldn’t it feel wonderful to chill out for a couple of days in the middle of a spectacularly biodiverse rain forest, in a large, clean cabin with killer views, incredible stargazing, a full kitchen and all the modern amenities?

Every year tourists from over 25 countries are drawn to this very spot, home to a world-renowned breeding program for green macaws, aiming to rescue them from extinction. This gorgeous nature preserve has a semi-Olympic pool, tennis court, dozens of kilometers of hiking trails, waterfalls, petroglyphs, a museum, aviary and several climactic zones. You’ll witness breathtaking sunrises and sunsets, and amazing stargazing both with your naked eyes as well as through an astronomical observatory telescope.

How far do you have to travel to get to this magical place? Costa Rica? Malaysia? Chiapas? No, the Reserva Ecológica de Nuestra Señora Mundo Natural is right here in Sinaloa, just three hours by car or bus from Mazatlán—twelve kilometers east of Cosalá. It’s home to the most important macaw rescue program in northwestern Mexico, a two kilometer long zip line that is the second highest in the country (500 meters), and an astronomic observatory that partners with observatories in Russia, Chile and New Mexico to monitor near-Earth asteroids and space junk.

Not only is the nature preserve nearby, it’s affordable—because it’s part of our state university, UAS: Universidad Autónoma de Sinaloa. A three-bedroom cabin (for eight people) with loads of natural light, air conditioning and a full kitchen costs 3000 pesos/night; they also have hotel and hostel rooms for 800 pesos/night. You’ll want to be sure and spend the night: the reserve closes to the public at 5 pm and opens at 10 am, so sunrise, sunset, moon and star gazing are not available to day visitors but only to those smart enough to spend some time here. The wild macaws are also best seen at dawn and dusk, yet another reason to spend the night here.

The 60,000 annual visitors to the reserve come for the incredible biodiversity of the area. You may also meet some of the domestic and international scholars conducting research here from Guadalajara, UNAM in Mexico City, Brazil, Chile, Spain and the UK. Fauna you’ll probably see include the green macaws that the area is famous for, plus white-tailed deer, coati, ocelots, lilac-crowned parrots, iguanas, gray hawks, owls, and a few things you may want to avoid: rattlesnakes and tarantulas. Flora-wise there are loads of braziles, amapas, mautos, moras, higueras, apomos, flor de Santiago, sabinos, rosarillas y papelillos and mangos. Should you wish to hold a workshop, large meeting or party here, there is even a conference center with closed circuit TV, a restaurant and space for up to 200 people!

During my visit there were several groups of students visiting from UAS. They conducted research in nature during the day and enjoyed pizza parties at the pool in the afternoon. There was a large family reunion, with family members coming from different states to meet up here, just outside Cosalá. Quite a few area businesses conduct employee-training programs here, and the reserve plays host to religious retreats, as well.

The General Manager of the reserve, José Alfredo Leal Orduño, was kind enough to spend a few hours touring me around the property and facilities. He spends the work week in Culiacán, but is at the reserve on the weekends. Leal told me that when UAS was founded in 1968, Governor Sánchez Celis gave the fully functioning reserve property—including hot water, electricity, a huge freezer and about 85 cabins—the equivalent of 260 hotel rooms—to the university as a source of income. It seems the property owner, a mining company, was delinquent on taxes; their loss was the university’s gain. The university, however, proceeded to nearly completely neglect the facility for the next forty years. By the time Leal took over, looting had destroyed 75 of the original cabins. What remained were the two haciendas on the property, which had been used by the mine superintendents, and the service buildings. The original structures were remodeled to become the cabins, hotel and hostel we see today. The rooms are a pleasant mixture of historic, rustic beauty on the outside and modern convenience and aesthetics on the inside.

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José Alfredo Leal Orduño, General Manager of the Reserva

All cabins have hot and cold running water, air conditioning, private bath, and a full kitchen with refrigerator/freezer, stove, microwave and coffee maker. While you have a kitchen and can cook when you wish, if you let staff know ahead of time they will arrange for a local woman to come in and cook meals for your party. There are large decks as well as lookouts and rest areas where you can read a book or watch the nature around you. The cabins are accessible by car, making this an enjoyable respite for the mobility impaired, and the reserve’s 18 employees stand ready to help.

If you are physically fit you can take an early morning hike with a biologist from the lower Habitas River Valley, with its mines, petroglyphs and waterfalls, all the way up to the top of the Sierras, through several climactic zones. The reserve is on the border between Sinaloa and the state of Durango.

When is the best time to visit? Leal says it’s winter, November to May, the dry season. Anytime between June and October is when the rain forest is in full regalia, the river is at its highest and the waterfalls their most powerful. He showed me videos of a thunderstorm taken from within a cabin and it was absolutely beautiful—the sound of fresh, wet summer air! Macaw courting season is in February and March, which should be quite the experience, though Semana Santa is always sold out months ahead of time.

60% of the reserve’s visitors are from Culiacán, with a very small percentage from Mazatlán. That is strange to me, since the two cities are equidistant from the nature preserve. What a loss that mazatlecos don’t take better advantage of this terrific public resource! I trust you’ll help me change that reality by visiting soon.

The Reserve is open Wednesday through Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm, though I urge you to spend the night. To make your reservations call (696) 9650306 between 9 am and 1 pm or 4 – 7 pm (English spoken).

Parque Central / Central Park Update

4d55d780179b1adbc4563c98da8f4dc1I announced the new Central Park to you back in 2014, to be built on the site of the current Bosque de la Ciudad in front of the baseball stadium. Plans, naturally, have changed significantly since then, as you can see on its new website. The developers are excellent marketers, the designs are very modern and world-class, and I know this will be a huge boon to tourism and hopefully to schoolchildren and the general community in Mazatlán.

Construction of the Avenida de la Bahía and the park thus far have been a total destruction of the environment, preceded by the burning of the laguna which murdered thousands of turtles, nesting birds, iguanas and badgers, then by filling in nearly two-thirds of it. The one saving grace is that the new avenue will provide much-needed parking for those nearly 1000 spaces lost when they remodeled the malecón, and it will provide access during the sporting events (marathon, triathlon, etc.) that so often close the Avenida del Mar.

We have reported on concrete mixers and painters cleaning out their trucks into the estuary with zero regard for the environment. Our video on that was shared tens of thousands of times, to no avail. The road is nearly done now, and the estuary is nearly completely filled in with reclaimed land. The builders have a lovely video on their site where they show a biologist relocating some of the animals from the current Bosque de la Ciudad to make room for construction.

It looks like the plan is to completely scrape out the existing lagoon and build small islands that will be accessible by paddle boat to visitors. Our current park is a habitat to so many large migrant birds; I do pray they will continue to visit the new man-made, modern lagoon.

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The new park does look lovely if you don’t think about the flooding that it is most likely to cause. I hope it will be accompanied by civic education around litter and the environment as they’ve said, because otherwise those small islands in the pond are going to become trash heaps. Good news is that designs include water circulation to keep things fresh, and hopefully lots of trash cans and cleaning staff.

I love that the new 5 million liter aquarium, which looks like it will completely replace the old one, will have an exhibit dedicated to Jacques Cousteau, champion of the Sea of Cortés, though no doubt he is turning in his grave to know the environmental destruction leading up to its construction. Greg is excited for the Food Truck Park and the promise it brings.

 

I am excited about the museum as well, designed to look like an oyster, since we are the “Pearl of the Pacific.” It is supposed to contain an IMAX theater and the second floor will have a killer view of the ocean, supposedly, though I think we have so many towers on the malecón that that could be challenging. Best part? The map seems to show it occupying the corner of Insurgentes and Avenida del Mar, where Geronimo’s has stood vacant for how many years. Will be great to get rid of that eyesore!

Plans still include two walkways from the park out to the malecón, which would be hugely welcome to all those who enjoy sports and the outdoors. I’m confident the park will be a huge boon to the city, as long as we can keep it clean and maintained. I remain saddened that “development” has to mean “destruction of nature.”

Municipal Treasures

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You’ve walked by it dozens of times, as you leave the Plazuela and head down towards Topolo or the Mercado Pino Suarez—El Archivo Municipal. It’s a beautiful and colorful old building, but have you ever peeked in?

Yesterday Greg and I got a terrific tour by a long-lost acquaintance of ours, Chon (Concepción), who was our waiter back in the day at the Hotel Camino Real, where we were married. We were thrilled to see it all! Our city, Mazatlán, has (literally) tons of written archives dating back to the early 1800s. It is a treasure trove of history and heritage!!! Rooms and rooms full of city historical records, piled floor to ceiling, many dating from the early 1800s! We saw some of the earliest maps of Mazatlán, Angela Peralta’s wedding certificate, construction permits for some of our most historic buildings, etchings of the French invasion of our port, and editions of every newspaper ever published in our fair city. Click on any photo to view it larger or see a slideshow.

While in Europe, Canada or the US such an archive might be something we take for granted or at least expect, the fact that we here in Mazatlán have such an incredible resource is truly remarkable! Culiacán’s archive burned down, so they lost most of their historical records. But, throughout the centuries and despite decades of minimal funding, our Archivo Municipal is a sight to behold! Historians, researchers, university and school-aged students are able to come in here to look up what they need to know, thanks to the foresight and perseverance of our forebears.

We met, or re-met, Chon, who speaks beautiful English. We met the lovely Lorena Ferral, who is so excited to see interest in the archives. They are very passionate about the work they do. They love the treasures they guard and catalog to the best of their abilities—and the limited resources allocated to them. The head of the Municipal Archive is Aristeo—Sergio Aristeo Herrera y Cairo Yarahuan—though he was not present during our tour yesterday.

Staff members bind some of the documents by hand, using serviceable yet antique, artesanal equipment. I thought you might like to see.

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How did we come to be at the Municipal Archive? For several years we’ve been loving the photos of Viejo Mazatlán that the Amigos Viejo Mazatlán group has been sharing on Facebook. A year or so ago, we met Fernando Higuera when we went to the Plazuela to buy a CD of the photos from him. Monies received were earmarked to fund a museum of the photos of old Mazatlán. Since then, the Amigos Viejo Mazatlán has held several exhibitions, historical talks, and fundraising events. I wrote about one of those events here.

We’ve stayed involved with the group, and we keep hoping and working to create space for a photo museum here in town. The good news for our small yet significant project is that we might be given a room at the Municipal Archive in which to display historic photos of our fair city. What is especially exciting to me is the perfect dovetail this would be! Amigos Viejo Mazatlán could display historic photos alongside documents from the city archive. The Municipal Archive could be reinvigorated by public talks and events, by locals and tourists coming in to view photos, thus raising awareness of the treasures it guards within.

The Municipal Archive needs time and attention! Many of the documents are fading, crumbling; they need expert care. If you have archivist or restoration skills, please let Lorena Ferral at the Archive (981-00-48) or Fernando Higuera of Amigos Viejo Mazatlán know! Join with us to help preserve and make public Mazatlán’s rich history!

The archive has a small display of books on Mazatlán’s history, along with a price sheet. If you read Spanish, you may be interested in a volume or three.

This is yet one more piece of bright news for our city’s heritage! Right now, several new museums are in various stages of planning: one of Sinaloan music, another on Carnavál history, and the new Neto Coppel city museum that was front page news earlier this week. To us that is all good news. Mazatlán has so much to be proud of! Locals, national and international tourists need to know about our claims to fame! And a city that is proud of its heritage builds on its strengths. I’d like to wish godspeed to all these worthwhile projects.