¡Viva México! ¡Viva Mazatlán!

The Grito de la Independencia—“shout of independence” or “cry of Dolores“—is a traditional Mexican affair that you owe it to yourself to participate in at least once while you live here. We’ve done it a few times both here and on the 200th anniversary in Guadalajara.

In Mazatlán it happens every 15th of September at 11:00 pm in the Plaza República. The Mayor comes out on the balcony of city hall to ring a bell, shout the official words, and lead the crowd in the national anthem. Most of the country shouts at midnight, but since we’re an hour earlier here on the coast, we do it to coincide with them. Before the mayor’s cry there is folkloric dancing, singing (this year was Heidi Herrera) and other performances, and there’s always a name act that plays after the grito. The first time we went, that act was Chuy Lizárraga, who due to sound malfunction sang right over the national anthem. Click on any photo below to enlarge or view a slideshow.

 

This time we read in the paper that the fireworks were going to be fantastic, put on by the same group that does Combate Naval‘s Carnaval fireworks— Lux Pirotecnia (Jorge Márquez) of Mexico City. That was more than reason enough for me to want to go! I love fireworks (5, 4, 3, 2, 1)!

Poor Greg was tired as he’d just driven us from Wisconsin to Mazatlán, plus he had a cold, but when two girlfriends cancelled out on me, he agreed to go despite my assurances that I could go it alone. I was excited to try out my new camera with a brighter lens!

As it’s new, I’m not that good with it yet, so I missed many of the photos I wanted, and I overexposed a few because we were so darned close to the action and you just can’t predict how bright a firework is going to be. Plus, the cathedral wasn’t really lit up, and I wanted it to appear in the shot without having to do a composite.

 

All in all, though, I’m happy. I did get a few good pics; hope you agree. Greg got a great one of the flag and the cathedral; congratulations, sweetheart! And the view we got of the grito itself (above) is sure a different one than the press photographers took.

 

If you’ve never done the Grito, or if it’s been a long while, be sure to do it next year. This year was much less crowded than usual, I guess because the main act wasn’t as popular as other acts we’ve had. There is also a major parade on 15th September every year, including military, police, fire and first responders, and school children. Many children dress up as heroes and heroines of the War of Independence, so attending the parade or visiting a school on the 15th can be very much fun.

Ballenas Jorobadas: Whale Watching in Mazatlán

©2.DSC_0552-EditDo you know that only two types of whales sing? Lucky for us, the humpbacks that frequent the waters of Mazatlán are most definitely singers! The males are the ones that sing, and they do it to attract a mate. They invent new sounds in order to get noticed, and then, just like humans, other whales then copy their innovations.

Our family goes whale watching at least once each year (lots more info and pics in my posts from 2015, the trip with thousands of manta rays, swimming with dolphins in 2013, and a trip back in 2009 in which the whales approached nearly close enough to touch, and engaged in a lot of slapping and wrestling). We go out with Onca Expeditions, and they have a cute little gizmo (amplifier) they stick into the water to allow all of us on the boat to hear the whales’ singing. It’s awesome!

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Not only do the humpbacks sing, they also love to do acrobatics. Often you will see them curling up out of the water and then diving down, tail raised into the air. When they’re competing for mates you can watch them slapping each other around. The humpbacks will breach, often with their full body in the air above the water, in an attempt to impress a female. Once couples pair off, the acrobatics tend to die down as well; lovers in love are more gentle than that. Often times mothers arrive here with their calves, which is gorgeous to watch. Click on any photo to enlarge it or to view a slideshow.

Whale watching season here is during the winter, and it is one of the activities I most highly recommend for you to do here in Mazatlán. Onca’s guides are marine biologists who are actively engaged in researching the cetaceans that frequent our waters. According to Jesús, who took us out this time, Onca has catalogued 420 whales since Oscar Guzón started his research in our waters, but they’ve only gotten through 2010 data. Jesús told me he believes they have photos and data on 1100 unique tails!

While I’ve been told humpbacks live to be about 50 years old, Jesús said they can live to be 80 or 100. He told me the age of a whale is determined via DNA testing and sometimes via photo ID. They’ve also found whales with bone harpoons stuck in them—sort of reminiscent of Moby Dick, don’t you think?

The official viewing distance for whale watching is 16 meters; no boat in our waters should approach closer than that, although if the whales approach your boat, lucky for you. I was told the humpbacks swim about 10 knots per hour, and the babies drink eight liters of milk per day.

Do not miss your chance to see these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat! We do it every year, and never tire of the experience.

 

Handing Out Tickets for Chickens

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So happy to have his ticket for a chicken and despensas! He offered to make us mole.

Thanks to your help we are able to feed 2800 families for a couple of weeks at Christmas time. This has been going on for over a quarter of a century, and is called “The Chicken Breakfast” or Desayuno de los Pollos. On the morning of Christmas Eve (December 24th) we hand out a whole chicken plus despensas (rice, beans, sugar, oil, etc.) to families living in often dire conditions. This is an event coordinated by the Medina family, and it is very multicultural and bilingual. Join us and get to know some very cool people!

There are so very many ways you can help. How about buying some Christmas-themed fabric on sale after the holidays, and either making things for the bazaar next year with it, or giving it to us, and we’ll find women who will transform that fabric into goodies? How about collecting or donating things for the silent auction? Know someone who deals in chickens or despensas? Help us get a deal to better feed the needy! You can attend the fundraiser breakfast next year. Put us on your 2016 calendar!

For this year, gather together some new toys or stockings filled with candy, kitchenware, or gently used clothing. Bring a truck if you have access to one. Meet us early on the morning of the 24th at Quince Letras (directions here at http://www.DesayunodelosPollos.com).

In the meantime, enjoy some of the photos from today. Click on any photo to see it larger or view a slideshow.

This event has made my Christmas for a long time, and it is a pleasure to be able to continue being involved. I wish you the happiest of holidays, and all the best in the new year!

La Reserva Chara Pinta

An easy day trip, as it’s 90 minutes from Mazatlán, I highly recommend that you spend a couple of nights in the very comfortable yet simple cabins/cabañas at the Tufted Jay Preserve on the other side of Concordia. There you can hike, listen to bird song, breathe fresh mountain air, and just generally relax. It’s a great place to go when it’s hot here in Mazatlán, as it’s high in the Sierras.

Most people go to Chara Pinta for the birdwatching. I love birds, but I sure don’t know their names, nor do I have the lens to capture them in the wild. Some day! If nay of you have an 800 mm Nikon lens sitting around that you’d like to sell me cheap, let me know 😉 Below are a few of the warblers and beauties I was able to catch with my 200 mm lens. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

We saw some tufted jays or charas pintas, the birds for which the reserve is famous, but I’m afraid I was unable to capture them with my camera to share with you. Sorry! They are gorgeous!

We hiked pretty much all day on Saturday when we arrived, and then all Sunday morning as well. I honestly saw the most birds, however, when we stood still. On Sunday I sat in a chair and took most of the photos you see above. Three women talking and giggling (I went with two local friends) while they walk seems not to be the most conducive way to birdwatch!

The views up at the Tufted Jay Preserve are spectacular! There are mountains and valleys, cliffs, a rock outcropping called “The Pyramid,” a clear view to Presa Picachos/Picachos Dam, and views of Mazatlán by day and by night.

Needless to say, sunset and sunrise are gorgeous times of day and not to be missed, nor are the stars! Whoever thinks that stars are white has to rethink things if you visit la Reserva Chara Pinta. The blue, red and white stars blanketed the entire sky; it was amazing! Oh my how we enjoyed our visit! Be sure to enlarge these by clicking on them if you love starry skies!

I have been wanting to go to the Chara Pinta Reserve for a couple of years. My girlfriend Jeanett very much wanted to go, so off we went. We were told we were the first all-female group the ejido has hosted!

We hired Don Santos Vasquez as our guide; he is the President of the Reserve and a member of the local ejido that stewards the land. He took us on hikes up to the mirador/lookout, down in the canyons, and up to the Pyramid. He is a gentle and wise man who really knows this area, its flora and fauna. Santos does not speak English; he charges 100 pesos/hour for his guide services.

The cabins have solar panels so there is light and hot water for showers. There is gas for the stoves, so you can cook. You’ll need to take your own food and a cooler; if you are a group of ten or more you can request a cook who will serve you and your guests in the dining hall. Cabins are of wood, they are gorgeous, beds are comfortable, bathrooms are tiled, and there are barbecue and fire pits outside. The Reserve is a recipe for a wonderful couple of days reconnecting with nature. The caretaker of the property is Javier, another kind and gentle soul, who you can see in some of the photos below. He generously and ably made and tended our fire for us.

There are cabins for two people and cabins for ten people, as well as several sizes in between; all are well constructed and comfortable. Some have fireplaces. Some cabins are grouped together, others are off to themselves for added privacy. The place felt extremely safe, and our hosts were most hospitable.

The hiking trails are fairly easy and vary between jeep and foot trails; some are pretty steep. The vegetation we saw was incredible; such a variety, and all so very robust. We ate blackberries, we found wild cotton, we marveled at peeling bark and every type of fern, we saw dozens of types of pine trees, and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves breathing the fresh mountain air.

I’ll post more pictures of the wonderful stuff we saw below, but for those of you interested in going, let me give you the information.

HOW TO RESERVE AND GET THERE, WHAT TO BRING

To reserve a cabin, call 044 66 9134 0166. You can also have book Don Santos’ guide services via that number. Reserva Chara Pinta is just this side of the small town of El Palmito. Take the toll road towards Durango, and exit at pretty much the only exit there is—towards El Salto. You’ll go about 15-20 minutes on the old highway, and then just before you reach El Palmito, you’ll see a sign for the Reserve on your left. The final 10 minutes are on a dirt road up a steep climb. I recommend a 4WD or at least an SUV. If you prefer, there are also cabañas in town; they are definitely not as picturesque, but they do have easier access.

We were told that the best time to go is in June, when the guacamayas/macaws can be viewed, and in July, when the tufted jays are nesting. All year round is good, however, as we were told it doesn’t snow at Chara Pinta, nor does it get that cold (we used light jackets).

Bring a towel, soap and toiletries, water, and any food you want to cook or eat as well as a cooler. Bring a flashlight if you want to walk outside at night, and charcoal if you want to barbecue; they have plenty of wood for a fire. We also brought extra blankets, but you don’t need them; the reserve supplies sheets, pillows, blankets and toilet paper. Also don’t forget the sunscreen.

Okay, so on to the rest of the flora. I used to live in Colorado, so I know and love bromeliads, otherwise called air plants. Chara Pinta is absolutely filled with them!

And where there are air plants, there is usually moss. In Chara Pinta there is loads of it:

We marveled at the gorgeous flowers as well. Wild mountain flowers are always so colorful and often so very dainty:

Perhaps my favorite aspect of the flora in the Sierras are the textures: bark, dried plants, leaves, pine cones of all varieties, peeled bark, curly ferns, pine needles three feet deep and joyously comfortable to lay on…

Finally, I really enjoyed the leaves of all colors and types. There were fresh green leaves, leaves with the trail remnants of some insect, leaves in silver and gold, and leaves in red and brown.

We absolutely loved our trip and will be going back in June or July. I highly recommend you make the trip if you haven’t already!

Chicken Breakfast/Desayuno de Pollos: Main

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Kids charming the camera woman while they line up for candy!

Want to have the best Christmas ever? Join us to bring joy to those in need! It’s a whole lot of fun, and a memory you will never forget!

Since 1990, Yolanda Medina and her family from the Quince Letras area of town have spearheaded an effort to feed those in need at Christmas time. Each year we feed over 3000 families with your help!

What is the “Chicken Breakfast?”
It is a two-step process to feed the neediest in our community.

First is a fundraising breakfast held in early December to raise money to buy one whole chicken and ten days’ worth of food for each family—we buy for as many families as we possibly can.

Second, on Christmas Eve morning (24 December), dozens of us gather together to load trucks and go out to the invasiones, the poorest, “squatter” areas of Mazatlán, to make people happy and hand out the goods! We give the chickens and foodstuffs, plus gently used clothing, linens, shoes, coats, and new toys and candy.

It is important to know that several of us go out to the squatter areas the week before Christmas. There we meet with area leaders and go around with them to hand out tickets, to ensure that those in need receive what they need, and that no one cheats or “double dips.” We especially want to ensure that we get food and clothes to the elderly and the disabled, so we go door to door to make sure everyone knows about the event, and to make plans to get things to those who can’t walk to the delivery site.

The history:

Yolanda Medina’s daughter, María Yolanda, was very sick. She and her husband kept vigil in the hospital, taking care of all their daughter’s needs. As Yoly’s sister-in-law Isa tells the story:

“It was Christmas Eve 1990, and María Yolanda’s days were counted. Yolanda and her late husband, Modesto, were in no mood to eat, let alone have a Christmas Dinner with all the fixings. But that night, a woman knocked on the hospital room door and peeked to see if there was someone with the patient. She came in to hand Yolanda and Modesto a box with a hot Christmas Dinner meal — and told them Merry Christmas and that God was with them. Yolanda never forgot that gesture.

After María Yolanda passed away, Yolanda got us all together and told us what had happened. So, the first couple of years, we had culinary arts students volunteer their time to prepare a Christmas Dinner meal, with donated ingredients from friends and family, and all of us volunteered to fill disposable thermal boxes with the hot dinners, load them into cars and pick-up trucks, and off we went, to hospitals, traffic intersections, parks — wherever we thought we might find people that, for one reason or another, wouldn’t be privy to a nice Christmas Dinner.

However, this was a huge effort, and very expensive, so we couldn’t cover that much ground. So we thought in terms of something more practical, something that could be cooked and prepared at home. This way, we could make sure many more families could have a Christmas Dinner. That’s when we started the Desayuno de los Pollos.”

How to help:

  1. Buy (or sell) tickets for the fundraising breakfast. Contact me at dianne@vidamaz.com, or buy them from anyone selling them around town. Post and Ship in the Golden Zone (down the side street from Farmacía Moderna/Bum Dólar), Tippy Toes in the historic center (across from the art museum), and Surf’s Up Café in Emerald Bay will have tickets also.
  2. Make crafts or baked goods to be sold at the bazaar during the breakfast. Contact me and we’ll arrange a pick up or drop off, or bring them the morning of the breakfast.
  3. Donate (or gather) items for the silent auction (download a gift certificate, artwork, restaurant meals, hotel stays, airfares…). Just contact me and we’ll pick your stuff up.
  4. Help set up, cook, serve or clean up after the breakfast.
  5. Donate money (in person or click on the link), gently used clothing, diapers, lightly worn shoes, linens, blankets coats, new toys, or candy. 100% goes to those in need. Post and Ship will be happy to collect items if you drop them off there (beside Dolce Mami, across from FedEx).
  6. Help pack the food into packets—the two weeks before Christmas.
  7. Join us to go out with community leaders to deliver tickets for chickens, to ensure all receive their fair share, the weekend before Christmas. Instructions are below.
  8. Help us load the trucks and deliver the goodies on December 24th! This is, of course, the most fun and a terrific tradition with friends and family.

When and where is the breakfast?
It’s usually the first Saturday in December, 8:30-10:30 am in the cruise ship dock/API. In 2018 the breakfast will be on Saturday December 8th. Please join us and bring all your friends! Your ticket includes a full homemade breakfast, coffee and juice, a ticket for the door prize, a ticket for the raffle, and access to the Christmas bazaar. This is a very multicultural affair, with announcements in Spanish and English and hundreds of locals and expats attending.

API dock is on Emilio Barragón nearly across from the OXXO. Below is a map. If you can’t find it, ask any taxi driver or blue shirt/Tourism Volunteer.

API

How can I get to Quince Letras on December 24th?
Come by 6:30 am if you are driving a truck, 7:00 am if you are helping us load and deliver. We usually finish by 11:30 or noon, but some years it’s taken longer (depends how many routes you participate in).

Quince Letras, corner of Tampico and Francisco Villas streets We load from either side of this

Quince Letras, corner of Tampico and Francisco Villas streets We load from either side of this “Coca Cola” store on the corner

LOCATION: 15 (QUINCE) LETRAS, corner of Francisco Villa and Tampico, just down the hill from the Church of Cristo Rey (Christ the King—photo below).

  1. From Avenida del Mar turn East at the Fisherman’s Monument.
  2. Go to the first light and turn right.
  3. Proceed one block and turn left (Francisco Villa street, just before the Pemex station).
  4. Go two blocks.
  5. If you are NOT driving a truck or transporting supplies, please park in the next block. This will give us room for loading. Once you’ve parked, walk another block down, past the iron works business called “Quince Letras.” On the corner of Francisco Villa and Tampico you will see a small store with a bright red “Coca Cola” hand painted on the outside, across from a tortillería. A door next to the Cocheras Automaticas business will be open. That’s Yolanda’s mother’s house, and it’s from there that we’ll be loading.
  6. If you are driving a truck or transporting supplies, please drive up to Tampico street (the “Coca Cola” store on your right on the corner), turn right, and park. We will be loading right there.

IMG_0669If you can’t find it, just ask someone for “Quince Letras” or “Desayuno de los Pollos/Medina family.” Everyone in the area will know.

Merry Christmas to all! And see you there!

  1. Download and view or use a PowerPoint presentation with a full explanation of the project: chicken-breakfast-presentation
  2. Download a gift certificate to fill out, and we’ll advertise your business or service at the breakfast! Just contact us and we’ll pick it up!
  3. Download and print a poster to help advertise.

Have questions? Contact the organizers:

  • Jorge Medina (speaks English well) on his mobile, (669) 110-0744
  • Yolanda Medina (some English) at (669) 431-4529