Disrespected Beauty

dsc_0107Mazatlán is blessed with estuaries, lagoons, the ocean, rivers, and all the water fowl and marine life that go with it. Everyday we see glistening fishing boats casting their reflections in the water, and we are blessed to eat the delicious product of their labors.

Perhaps because we are so spoiled by all the natural beauty surrounding us, Mazatlecos all too often seem to take it for granted. Without thinking, seemingly, people throw trash on the beach or the coastline, and that trash ends up in our waterways and all too often into the stomachs of our marine life, murdering them. Especially harmful are fishing nets, lines and plastics, as they entangle marine life and kill them.

One of the saddest of such beautiful places in Mazatlán for me is Estero del Infiernillo. It’s the body of water to the north of Avenida Gabriel Leyva as you go over the bridge, between Avenida Juan Pablo II and Avenida General Pesqueira. I love this place! It is gorgeous! Yet, it is horribly, heart-wrenchingly awful. The photos in this post were taken from where the star is on the map below.

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I know the area fairly well, because our son was a Scout. The Scouts went out to Estero del Infiernillo about once a month for years and years to clean up the garbage. We, and mostly they, would pack dozens and dozens of trash bags full of garbage and remove them from the estuary. It would feel so good! Nature had a chance to shine again after our cleanups! Alas, the following month, you’d never known we had done a clean up, as the trash had somehow always reappeared. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

People in the neighborhood tell us that Mazatlecos come to the estuary specifically to dump their trash. The city has a big sign posted, warning that there should be no dumping of garbage here. The sign is obviously widely ignored. There are many fishing pangas that anchor here, making the area all the more scenic. It’s my guess that these fishermen, also, frequently throw entrails and other trash onto the shore, making the area stinky and unsightly.

Estero del Infiernillo is gorgeous! It has good views of the military school hill and the faro/lighthouse, and in the other direction great views to the cranes of Parque Bonfil/the port. Despite the trash strewn everywhere there are loads of water fowl, and on a sunny clear day the muddy, brackish water looks blue.

A couple of years ago the Municipio put in a nice park at the estero: a basketball court and soccer field combination, jungle gym and swings. Later, they added in one of the gyms we are fortunate to have all over town. At the time they built the park, there were plans for the city to clean up the area and to have kayak rentals in the estuary; plans that have never come true. Now it’s still usable but pretty run-down; the most remarkable thing are the many shoes hanging from the wires.

Kayaking in the area would be absolutely beautiful, even with the trash, but if we as community members could find a way to come together and re-educate ourselves, so that Estero del Infiernillo, and other waterways in town, stayed free of trash, how much better all our lives would be! I shudder to imagine anyone eating fish caught amidst all the garbage flung in that estuary, yet fish there they do.

Sunrise Hike

dsc_0569I am not a morning person, but with the thought of sunrise over the lagoon at Estero del Yugo in my mind, I got out of bed at 5:15 Saturday morning to make the trek north, so I’d be there and ready by sunrise at 6:00. The guard was ready for me, and I hiked right in and was able to enjoy the pink colors of sunrise over the lagoon.

We are blessed with wildlife in Mazatlán, and this Nature Interpretation Center is another gem for locals, expats and tourists, a non-profit center aimed at conservation through environmental education. It’s a photographer’s dream. Entrance to Estero del Yugo is straight across the street from the Hotel Riu on Avenida Sábalo-Cerritos. The area has a brackish estuary and a fresh water lagoon, an extensive forest, and is great for bird watching: great and snowy egrets, roseate spoonbills, great and little blue herons, black and yellow crowned night herons, bitterns, ibis, wood storks, anhingas, cormorants, crested caracaras, black necked stilts, kingfishers, swallows, ruddy ducks, blue winged teals… Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

My friend John saw a lynx there the other day (his photo below)—the lynx is actually the mascot of Estero del Yugo—and you can sometimes see crocodiles and snakes, as well as iguanas, raccoons and the other usual local suspects. I saw tracks this morning for several other mammals. There are loads of huge termite nests throughout the area; the old, broken-up ones are so very cool!

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The Estero del Yugo CIAD (Centro de Investigación en Alimentación y Desarrollo, A.C., or Scientific Research Institute on Food and Development) is a non-profit civil association, so if you go PLEASE give generously to help support their efforts. They request US$5 per person to enter without a guide. If you make a reservation, a guide will take you around, help you spot birds and plants, flora and fauna, and know what they are. For a guide the requested donation is US$7 per person. What a bargain! They also have weekly and monthly passes.

This year is their 20th anniversary! The guard is on location 24/7, but  you’ll need to get a pass at the park office, which is open 8am-4pm. You can call them at (669) 989-8700, or email emurua@ciad.mx. Please don’t remove any plant or animal life from the area, and remove any trash you bring in. There is a small gift shop, also.

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I had not been in quite a while, and I was disappointed to see that the walkway out over the closest lagoon, along with the lookout hut, has been disassembled. Eunice assures me, however, that it’s all just under reconstruction. The bird-watching hut on the estuary was padlocked shut, and the boards over the muddy areas on many of the walkways are in disarray. Even the 3-story metal lookout platform has seen better days.

The hike around Estero del Yugo is about 4km; the paths are fairly clear and well-marked. The trail takes you behind MazAgua Water Park, then winds around and back to where you started. On two sides you have busy roads: the street to Cerritos and the road past Emerald Bay out to the highway. Inside the park, however, all is peaceful. People also frequently bicycle through the reserve.

There were loads of birds but I didn’t have the greatest luck capturing them through my camera lens. I love a few of the photos I took of the scenery, and the one above of the tree. Below you’ll see a couple of bird shots, plus the twisted plant they call “the screw.” There weren’t many flowers in bloom this time of year, but the yellow one below was gorgeous.

My muse spoke to me more in non-birding ways on Saturday. As usual, I was mesmerized by the numerous reflections. In some of them, it’s hard to distinguish between what is real and what is reflection!

Textures fascinate me, also. Here are some of my favorite Estero del Yugo textures from the morning’s walk; can you identify what all of them are?

There are so many trees in the forest here, and such a variety, yet somehow on this day it was the cacti that caught my eye. Here are a few pics:

If you go to Estero del Yugo be sure to wear sturdy hiking boots or shoes, take a hat and some water. In the summer when bugs are out and about be prepared!

Body Painting at Baupres

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Fatima models Adrian’s art

First, let me tell you that my photos (Thru Di’s Eyes) are now on exhibit at both Baupres Gallery and Galería Libertad #312. Prints of digital photographs are available on acrylic, trovisel, paper mounted on foam core and matted, or in postcard format. I trust you’ll check them out. I am so very excited! Below are a few photos of the opening during ArtWalk last night. Click on any photo to enlarge or view a slideshow.

You may remember that I’ve studied photography with Salvador Herrera (1, 2). He’s a consummate professional and a terrific instructor. He teaches and exhibits at the gorgeously renovated historic building that houses Baupres Gallery, owned by the incredibly talented artist, Dory Perdomo.

Last night for ArtWalk, two of Salvador’s friends from Mexico City, Alexander ojodelince (ranked third nationally) and Adrián Art (national champion), who are in Mazatlán for a national body painting competition that takes place today and tomorrow at the Hotel Playa, demonstrated their art for us as part of Art Walk.

Have you ever watched body painters at work? It’s amazing! These two gentleman are true artists in every sense of the term! They have to paint on a three-dimensional, moving surface, attend to the human moods and needs of the “canvas,” and paint so the finished product looks good in both normal and black light.

Last night at Baupres, those attending ArtWalk were able to watch the artists and their models in action. The artists had actually started painting at 11 am, but when we got there about 4:30 they still had a couple hours to go. One of the models, Fatima, is a dancer, and the other, Kiana, is a model. Once they were finished, the models demonstrated the finished product to us, and the artists fielded questions. I so admired the models’ patience! I could never sit for eight hours while someone painted on me, and then another hour or more while other people photographed the result! Fatima, the one I talked to the most, seemed thrilled with the whole process. She is such a delight. She joked about not washing it off and walking around Mazatlán like that to see how people reacted. I wish she would!

After the presentation, the two models proceeded upstairs, where by now it was dark, and we could light up the gorgeous body painting with black lights and take photographs. Salvador placed all the lights, so those of us with cameras were incredibly blessed. Even with a cell phone, the models and artistry were so well lit that the photos turned out incredibly well! Thank you, Salvador! What do you think of the results?

This is the second time Baupres has hosted body painting. They’ve also conducted classes in both body painting and photographic lighting. Be sure to get on their mailing list (via their Facebook page) so you don’t miss future such events. And most definitely visit the upstairs photo gallery there and at 312 Libertad! Thanks!

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Starlight Star Bright

DSC_0573©Like this photo of a starry night over Deer Island, with a splash from an ocean wave thrown in for good measure? I know I do! (You can click on it or any photo in this post to view it much larger.)

Last night I went out with a new photography partner and he taught me how to use the “intervalometer” on my Nikon. He had already been experimenting with taking photos of the night sky, and advised me to set my ISO to its highest, adjust my white balance, open my aperture as far as it’ll go, and set the speed to eight seconds. Sounds very simple, but it was amazing! The photo below, of the trees on Deer Island, is taken from the beach in front of El Quijote Inn in pitch blackness—my eyes couldn’t even see the island, yet look at that detail and color in the pic!

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My partner explained to me that the human eye could actually see this and much more, but our eyes are set to “video mode.” Isn’t he brilliant? The other really cool thing he said is that my camera’s aperture controls depth of field, speed controls flow or movement, and ISO controls graininess. Why don’t photography sites and teachers speak in terms like this? How simple and accurate is that description, I ask you?

Obviously I was thrilled with my camera’s capabilities; there is most definitely a whole computer inside, just waiting for me to figure out how to use it. There was a lot of light on the beach, and a party going on with a laser light show, so that obviously interfered with picture quality (or added interest; your call). I also had some fun taking photos of the lights from the restaurants playing in the waves.

I was so excited that I spontaneously woke up about 4:00 this morning, and set my camera up out on the terrace. Living here on the malecón, there was way too much ambient light to take star pics over the island or the city, so I pointed the camera up at the sky. And, I caught TWO shooting stars! I also made my first time-lapse movie! It’s cool to watch how the stars move over the course of two hours. Take a look, below:

My new mentor encouraged me to make a star trail. I did so, using the very same images as you see in the video above. The photo below shows you the lines the stars followed over two hours:

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I then changed my shot to look out over the city, and filmed a time-lapse of the sunrise. I like it, too, and I hope you will. Yes, I now see that my lens needs cleaning; a little late! I could have photographed longer, but we needed to get hiking the lighthouse before starting work!

We are thinking to start a photography club here in town. It would be bilingual (Spanish and English), and we’d take turns being in charge of new techniques to teach or excursions to arrange. If you’re interested, please contact me. Thanks!

The Best Views in Mazatlán

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Looking back at downtown over Goat Island from the top of Deer Island

Where are the best views of Mazatlán? Atop the lighthouse? From up top of the Freeman? I believe that the views from atop Deer Island rival even those taken from the air in a helicopter. They are some of the most glorious vistas our fair city has to offer.

If you’ve taken a kayak, catamaran, or any other kind of lancha over to the islands, or if you’ve swum, you know that. The water around the islands is so crystal clear—the color of turquoise—and you can view Mazatlán in its entirety, from north to south, with the Sierras as a backdrop. Click on any photo to enlarge it, or to view a slideshow.

Then, as you climb up the island from the beach, each hill reveals new views and surprises. I have climbed up the first hill before, but I had not done a trek of three of the four hills, as we did this past Tuesday. I have not gone to the backside of the island, and looked out from different elevations. It is truly stunning!

Petroglyphs in Mazatlán. No, not Las Labradas. Here in Town.
And, on Deer Island, in a cave on the back side, there are petroglyphs. Not just those north of town, in Las Labradas. There are petroglyphs right here in Mazatlán!

When our friends saw the photos, they said the petroglyph of the footprint looks like proof that aliens were here. Right next to the foot is a petroglyph of an animal with a long tail.

Footprint petroglyph on Deer Island, Mazatlán on the right. Modern-day pedicured foot on the left. ;)
Footprint petroglyph on Deer Island, Mazatlán on the right.
Modern-day pedicured foot on the left. 😉

Our Photo Class
It’s a funny story how I discovered this. I’m taking a (wonderful!) photography class with Salvador Herrera, and loving it. Well, he invited us to Deer Island for photography practice. He advised us to wear tennis shoes, and to bring sunscreen, a lunch, and water. He also said we’d be home by 2:00 pm. Little did we know that we’d be hiking all day, in quite precarious conditions, seeing the most spectacular views imaginable, and then even rappelling down into the cave with the petroglyphs, to return home after 5:00 pm! You gotta love Mexican communication style and spontaneity! It was an incredible day!

One of the students in our class is a cheerleader. He had a friend visiting him from León, and she’s a cheerleader, too. They were kind enough to do some jumps and flips for us, so we could practice our photography skills. Take a look.

Where is the Cave?
The cave with the petroglyphs is on the back side of Deer Island, just below the crest of the third hill. You climb up from the south side of the island, on the southern end of the beach. From the top of that first hill, you’ll proceed along the crest of the island, down and up two more hills. Then, on the top of the third hill (not the fourth or northernmost, the second from the north), you turn west and hike down in altitude a bit.

The climb gets steep and is not for anyone without great balance as well as good strength and stamina. The final entrance to the cave involves a five-meter sheer drop. Agile climbers can find footholds and handholds, but we used a rappelling harness and rope for added safety.

The Three Islands/Las Tres Islas
Quick! Do you know their names? Starting from the south: Isla de Lobos/Wolf or Sea Lion Island, Isla de Venados/Deer Island, and Isla de Pájaros/Bird Island. Many people and websites erroneously call the southernmost of the three islands Isla de Chivos/Goat Island, but that is actually the island in front of the lighthouse.

The biodiversity of the islands in our bay is an incredible treasure. Four climactic zones are found within such a small area: semi-desert, tropical, coastal and mountains. Over 500 species of birds can be found here, including gorgeous waterfowl and my favorite, blue-footed boobies! 20% of the species found here are unique to this area—you can’t find them anywhere else! The islands are composed of volcanic rock, landslides and foothills. On the islands you can find cacti, agaves, lichen, and deciduous shrubs including lots of beautiful plumeria. Plus, of course, goats, lizards, a multitude of butterflies and other wildlife.

The middle island, Deer Island, is the most-visited of the three. Its attractions include its beach, with fine white sand and crystal clear water, rippling out from the beach in increasingly darker shades of turquoise. The north side is great for snorkeling, lobsters and scallops, and it makes for a terrific kayak trip. Deer Island is 2.3 kilometers off the coast, 1.8 km, long and between 250 and 700 meters wide. It’s highest point is 178 meters (and don’t my legs know it!), and it has an area of about 54 square hectares.

Bird Island, on the north, is 120 meters high and has an area of 48.5 hectares. Goat Island is pretty much inaccessible.

For Sale?!
While most anyone in town will tell you that these three islands are an ecological preserve, and I sincerely hope they are protected by legislation, there is currently an advertisement to sell these three natural treasures.I do hope it’s a joke!

Do You Know the Legend of the Three Islands?
It is said that the indigenous people of this area were suffering from a succession of horrible hurricanes and flooding. The Mazatl people were beside themselves with grief; they were exhausted and starving.

The village chief asked the curandero what he could do to put things right and bring prosperity back to his people. The curandero went into a trance, and told the chief that the only way to put things right would be to sacrifice one of his three daughters—one of the three beautiful princesses—in order to restore the welfare of the pueblo. The chief loved all his daughters dearly, and was distraught because he loved his pueblo, too. He just could not bear to sacrifice one of his daughters.

Unbeknownst to the chief, his daughters swore a secret pact. The three of them loved their home, their neighbors, and their father so much, that they would sacrifice themselves and thereby restore the prosperity of the area. One night, under a full moon, dressed in white and with the diamond their mother had given each of them when they were born, the three princesses held hands and walked into the ocean, drowning themselves for the sake of their people. One sister’s hand came free, and she was swept slightly away from her sisters, but the other two sisters hung onto each other tightly.

The morning after their sacrifice, the Mazatl people saw three gorgeous islands out in the Bay of Mazatlán! One island was located slightly to the north, on its own, while the two to the south were connected. That was when they discovered that the princesses were missing! Such an act of pure, selfless love!

Thereafter, the climate changed and the weather of Mazatlán became tranquil and pleasant. To this day the three princess islands continue to protect the people, sheltering them from winds, storms and hurricanes. It is said that in the heart of each of the three islands can be found a diamond.

Do you know the name of the annual swim out to Deer Island? Yes? The Travesía!

Even if you are not incredibly mobile, you can get out to Deer Island on a boat and enjoy the views from the beach. If you haven’t done so, I highly encourage it. Spend the day; you’ll feel like you’ve gone to a Greek Island. If you are fit, take a hike up, at least to the first hill. The views will astound you. If you want to go to the cave, I’d recommend you go with someone who knows the route; it’s pretty tricky, at least for my level of adventurism.

And, of course, we couldn’t have asked for a better day!

An update/adaptation of this post appeared in M! Magazine in October, 2015 under the title, “Three Time’s a Charm.”