El Hatico cattle ranch: The problem is the solution October 30, 2010Posted by Tracy in : Colombia, Latin America, Nature tourism, ecotourism , add a comment
VALLE DE CAUCA, Colombia – When Alicia Calle, an environmental scientist with Yale’s Environmental Leadership and Training Initiative, first told me of El Hatico Nature Reserve, her face lit up for the first time since I’d met her an hour ago. We’d been talking about the state of the environment in Colombia, a subject with much to lament, given the spread of mining operations, cattle ranching, vast monocultures of sugarcane and African palm and coca, deforestation, water contamination, the same story throughout the Americas.
What is it that gives you hope, I asked her, as I do in every interview. It was then that she pulled out a booklet and started showing me photos of El Hatico.
“Let me be clear: I don’t like cattle farming; I think it’s created terrible environmental problems and social inequalities throughout its development in Latin America. But this is a place I’d really like you to see, a place that’s turned a major problem into a part of the solution.”
COATEPEQUE LAKE, El Salvador – The palms are swaying restlessly in the electric darkness, waiting for the storm to arrive. Lightning flashes over Santa Ana Volcano on the far side of the lake; just a few minutes ago I was walking along the shore with Elmer, catching the last bits of sunset over the lake.
He sensed the storm coming before I did. “Ya viene el agua,” he said. Literally, “Now the water is coming.” The timing couldn’t have been more perfect; rainy season notwithstanding, El Salvador gifted me with a blue sky my first full day in the country, perfect for visiting the pyramids of Tazumal and Casa Blanca, then catching a bus to this sparkling expanse of blue amid the volcanoes.
Evo Morales, the plurinational president February 26, 2010Posted by Tracy in : Bolivia, Indigenous culture, Latin America, Mexico, Mexico City , add a comment
Forget Barak Obama – he’s so 2009. Evo Morales is the new rock star president, as I learned in Coyoacan this weekend. A sea of enthusiastic people of every ethnicity waited for hours in the hot sun to hear his plea for a more just society, one that provides a dignified life for all and respects the rights of the Pachamama, Mother Earth. His rousing speech was preceded with performances by indigenous dancers and musicians and a Four Directions ceremony.
Here are a few scenes from the rally on Sunday.
At home with the Subcoyote February 21, 2010Posted by Tracy in : Ecovillages, Latin America, Mexico, Mexico City, Sustainability, Tepoztlan , add a comment
Outside in the darkness, up in the hills not far from here, a chorus of coyotes is greeting the coming of the dawn. How appropriate, I think with a smile. Here in Huehuecoyotl, place of the old, old coyote, I’ve just bid farewell to the greatest coyote of all, Subcoyote Alberto Ruz Buenfil, who is letting me use his home as a base for a few days. Now it’s his time to head into Mexico City, where he is taking the lessons of the Rainbow Caravan for Peace into the barrios of that other place of coyotes, Coyoacán.
Hope prevails through a bitter winter in Bancos de San Hipólito February 11, 2010Posted by Tracy in : Adventure, Indigenous culture, Latin America, Mexico , 1 comment so far
We arrived in the fog-draped settlement of Buenos Aires, Durango, just after 9 a.m. It had been a hard night’s drive through a pouring rain, enlivened only by the stories of my tireless travel companion, human rights lawyer Carlos Chávez of the Jalisco Association in Support of Indigenous People (AJAGI, by its Spanish acronym).
We still had nearly three hours to go before we reached Bancos, but meanwhile, a group of comuneros from Buenos Aires awaited a ride in the back of his pickup truck. Chávez jumped out from behind the wheel he’d manned since 10 p.m. the night before, greeting a shivering cluster of men with good cheer and a round of hearty handshakes. A breakfast invitation followed, and Nora, Cristian and Yaser, three other AJAGI members, joined us as we were led through what looked like a refugee camp. Nora and Cristian had passed the night in the back of the truck; Yaser was less fortunate, having passed the stormy night in Buenos Aires.
A bitter windstorm had ripped through the village, stripping the tin roofs from many of the mud-brick homes in the middle of the night as the residents slept. The unrelenting rains and near-freezing temperatures compounded the misery as residents tried to piece their lives back together.
Nonetheless, a visit from Carlos Chávez and the folks from AJAGI was more than reason enough for a gathering. One family with a sheltered outdoor kitchen still in good working order invited us to huddle together underneath as the rains began again, and steaming freshly ground tortillas came off the grill one by one to envelop home-grown scrambled eggs and savory pork-seasoned beans and potatoes. Family members clustered around to beam at us and urge us to eat more as we wolfed down what was likely their sole daily portion. But to decline would have been an insult, so we obliged.
The strange winds, the unseasonable rains, and the unthinkable snowstorm of two weeks prior were recurring themes in our visit. The summer rains didn’t come in time to water the harvest, and much of the corn crop dried on the stalk. Of what survived, much succumbed to fungus when the rains arrived late. And then, month upon month of winter rains – and now the tornado-like windstorm that has just descended upon them, the likes of which they’ve never seen.
Climate change is not a theory for the Wixaritari, the tribal people named Huichol by the Spaniards for easier pronunciation. They are convinced that they are living it every day, and they are seeing it in shorter growing seasons and strange weather patterns. They don’t know the reasons, but it worries them.
There’s no time to dwell on it, however. There’s firewood to be gathered, roofs to fix, children to feed – and, for some, a regional assembly to attend down in the valley in Bancos.
Spirits were high as we clambered into the back of Chávez’ well-worn and mud-caked Toyota pickup truck. Bancos is in a sheltered valley, and considerably warmer than Buenos Aires, up in the mountaintops some 7,000 feet above sea level. Also, most of these families originally lived in Bancos. The residents of Buenos Aires are modern-day pioneers engaged in the act of resettling and at the same time reforesting the land ravaged by timber poachers from the neighboring mestizo communities.
The resettlement is all a part of a larger strategy, devised by Huichol community leaders hand-in-hand with Carlos and the rest of the AJAGI team, which has provided legal and technical assistance for nearly two decades, helping the community reclaim 55,000 hectares of land that had been annexed away from their territory and encroached upon over the years. An estimated 140,000 acres are at stake, including a 10,720-acre swath separating Bancos from its core community of San Andres Cohamiata in the neighboring state of Jalisco. In a groundbreaking decision in 1998, the International Labor Organization ruled that the Huichol people had a right to the land based on ancestral ownership, even though they don’t hold legal titles – a ruling the Mexican government has thus far failed to acknowledge. Repeated pronouncements from the international agency received no response until last year, when the Mexican government finally ruled in Bancos’ favor – but with a catch. It failed to recognize the ancestral rights outlined in a key document called Convention 169, and so the case remains in litigation.
“The case of Bancos at one point was once described by the current director of the United Nations Forum on Indigenous Peoples as probably the most important case in the world” with respect to indigenous land rights, said Chávez. “If the case is resolved in the community’s favor, it will be of benefit to all indigenous people in the world.”
But this is only one of many strategies, one layer of the many layers of stories to be told about the Wixaritari people. I was fortunate to hear many of them in the past week, and I will be sharing them as time permits. Meanwhile, here are some images from the enormously resilient little community of Bancos.
Coyoacan: The Coyote Capital January 15, 2010Posted by Tracy in : Latin America, Mexico, Mexico City , 4comments
Coyoacan has always been one of my favorite parts of Mexico City – indeed, it’s the favorite of millions, being a top tourist destination and the home of Frida and Diego, Leon Trotsky and Hernán Cortés. The zone has long been a hotbed of cultural and political innovation, and today it’s one of the most culturally rich and scenic parts of the city, with structures dating to its sixteenth century inception.
On Wednesday I went down for a visit with Subcoyote Alberto Ruz, and after two and a half hours of video, had only enough battery power left for a few shots, sadly. Note to self: NEVER leave home without a spare battery.
This doesn’t pretend to be an exhaustive or even complete tour of this beautiful area, just a meander down Francisco Sosa street to the Plaza Central. “Coyoacan,” I learned from the Subcoyote, means “Place of the Coyote” in ancient Nahuatl, and indeed the Coyote seems to be quite present in modern-day Coyoacan, in spirit if not in the flesh.
I also had the pleasure of stumbling upon the place where, supposedly, the famous Tacos al Pastor were invented: El Tizoncito. Sadly, the battery ran out just as the tacos arrived. I can only tell you, they were as beautiful as they were delicious.
In the meantime, enjoy! I know I did.
Jogging on the Hippodrome January 10, 2010Posted by Tracy in : Latin America, Mexico, Mexico City, Uncategorized , add a comment
The sun peeked out from the clouds for awhile today, and as my afternoon appointment had been canceled, I took it as a cue. I shed the sweater and switched to jogging gear, grabbed my iPod and hit the street.
I’m not a natural-born runner; my body resists it in every way. But I took up the hobby last year, realizing that if I were going to stay fit on the road, I’d need to rely on means that don’t include going to a gym. Besides, running doubles as an aerobic form of sightseeing – albeit without the camera, the only thing I regretted about today’s run.
I headed straight for Calle Amsterdam, a verdant loop through the heart of La Condesa with a tree-lined path in the center. Formerly called Calle Hipódromo, the loop is what remains of the old Condesa racetrack. Now laced with fountains and gardens and lined with colorful cafés and boutiques among the classic art-deco architecture, it bears no semblance to a racetrack – except for the presence of the other joggers.
The high point was Parque México, an enormous stretch of greenery filled with children learning to rollerblade, boys kicking a soccer ball, tiny dogs in colorful sweaters and their attentive owners, elders perusing newspapers, youngsters listening to MP3 players and families pedaling a four-seated bicycle contraption for rent in the plaza.
Smells of roasting corn, savory pork tacos and fresh flowers filled the rain-washed air. A gentleman sat in front of a booth surrounded by small tables and filled with wooden objects and painting supplies; for $3 you could buy a small animal or for $6 a little wooden jewelry box, and you could paint it however you liked.
Further along I found Mejor en Bici (Better on a Bike), a nonprofit group that provides free bicycles for “rent” in several parks around the city. All you have to do is leave your ID and a 200-peso note, and you can take the bike for a spin.
I don’t know whether it was because of the altitude (Mexico City is about a mile and a half higher than Houston!) or that I’m out of shape after three weeks of huddling in the cold, or simply because there was so much to see, but it was a run-walk type of run. At any rate, it felt great to unclench my huddled shoulders and feel the sun on my skin again.
From Mexico to Palestine: Carbon offsets January 10, 2010Posted by Tracy in : Latin America, Mexico, Mexico City, Sustainability, ecotourism , 5comments
Much has been written about the pros and cons of carbon offsets. The idea, if you haven’t been following, is that you pay money to a nonprofit organization to plant trees or invest in renewables or otherwise reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere in an attempt to offset the carbon you’ve generated.
There are many calculators online that help you to figure out how much carbon you’ve generated and where you should donate it. Carbon Footprint is a nice flexible one that lets you calculate individual aspects of your life as opposed to doing a whole audit – both can be good, but since I’m on the road, my lifestyle doesn’t easily fit into many of these calculators. Since my main impact is travel, I figured my mileage and multiplied the air travel by 1.9 to account for the increased impact airplane emissions have (the amount used by Carbon Footprint). It then lets you select from a variety of worthy projects from Kenya to Central America.
Critics compare this system with the Catholic Church’s system of indulgences in Medieval times – a system that allowed people to “buy” forgiveness for their sins by making donations to the Church. They argue that there’s a wide variance among carbon offsetting groups, none of them are regulated and there’s no way to know for sure that the trees you’re paying to plant wouldn’t be planted anyway.
La Condesa blooms through the chill January 8, 2010Posted by Tracy in : Latin America, Mexico, Mexico City , 17comments
My first 24 hours in Mexico City couldn’t have been more colorful. A cold front has settled in here, as well, with temperatures dipping into the mid-40s, and since there are no heaters, people are huddling over soups and hot coffees in the open-air cafes. Except for a few golden hours yesterday morning, a drizzly grey pall grips the city. Still, the flowers are blooming and a general air of cheerfulness has made headway against the gloom – especially on Wednesday, Dia de los Reyes, a Mexican holiday celebrating the arrival of the Magi to visit the baby Jesus.
Southward Bound January 6, 2010Posted by Tracy in : Adventure, Esperanza Project, Latin America, Mexico, ecotourism, voluntourism , 12comments
I’ve made my list and checked it a million times; selected and reselected my gear; said my goodbyes and received good wishes and safe travel blessings from near and far. I’ve left my car keys, my smart phone and my GPS behind. I’ll be making my way by foot now and by mass transit; everything I’ll need is either in my pack or shoulder bag, or it’s something I’ll have to find along the way, or live without.