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!

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).