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.
Tonalá: A step back in time February 3, 2010Posted by Tracy in : Guadalajara, Mexico , 3comments
As is the case in many big cities, one of the best things about Guadalajara is what lies outside its boundaries. That’s the case with two colonial villages just outside the city limits, Tlaquepaque and Tonalá.
Tlaquepaque is the more carefully groomed, tourist-brochure version of the colonial village – and it’s delightful, with its nightly serenades by mariachis, streets that were made for strolling and lushly landscaped courtyards. Tonalá, on the other hand, is still a little rough around the edges, with an outdoor market where you can still get a hearty meal of steak, chicken or fish in the market for about $2.50, or pick out your fresh produce and a cut of meat to go with it, all while watching the children run and play in the plaza next door.
Tonalá is a destination for shoppers of bargain artenanía, which ranges from kitchy Aztec calendars and frog-shaped ceramics to sophisticated creations from some first-rate artists. Here’s a little peek.
¿Guapa enough for the baño? February 1, 2010Posted by Tracy in : Guadalajara, Mexico , 2comments
I Loved the bathroom attendant at Parque Metropolitano, Guadalajara.
The good lady was taking 3 pesos and giving out carefully wrapped sections of toilet paper at the door, as is the custom in public places.
“I’m not sure I’m guapa enough to enter,” I told her, dubiously.
“Ah, por mucho,” she assured me. “Todos somos guapos aquí. No hay feos.” (Absolutely – everyone is good-looking here.)
I was so amused that I returned with a camera to document the moment. “Ay no, voy a salir espantosa,” she protested. “Oh no, I’m going to come out looking frightful!”
“Not so,” I reassured. “Todos somos guapos aquí. No hay feos.”
She got a chuckle out of this, and sent me on my way with a blessing from God, and a fun memory of Parque Metropolitano.
Here’s a little slideshow of our sunny Sunday in the park.
It’s not enough to be biodegradeable… January 31, 2010Posted by Tracy in : Guadalajara, Mexico, Sustainability , add a comment
Life in Guadalajara is not so different from life in Houston. Sometimes, only the language is different.
My friend Alicia, like me, struggles to remember to bring the cloth shopping bags when she goes to the supermarket. This day, she remembered. Here’s a little reminder she likes to keep handy:
“It’s not enough to be biodegradeable; it’s necessary to be bioAGREEABLE.”
I liked the way this clever slogan captured one of the most important principles of sustainability: “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” In that order.
The Rolling Cameras of Guadalajara January 29, 2010Posted by Tracy in : Adventure, Biking, Guadalajara, Mexico, Nature tourism, Sustainability, ecotourism , add a comment
Last week I had the chance to visit with Carlos Ibarra, news photographer for El Mural and one of the founders of Camara Rodante (literally, “rolling camera”.)
This intrepid group of biking photographers is dedicated to promoting biking in a variety of ways. Besides their weekly outings, which traverse a variety of rural terrains around Guadalajara and further afield, they’ve organized get-out-the-vote campaigns, children’s outings, first aid workshops, bicycle repair workshops, and a fundraiser for Haiti – all aboard the seat of a bicycle.
Guadalajara by night – and by bike January 21, 2010Posted by Tracy in : Biking, Guadalajara, Mexico , add a comment
It’s not every day you get to ride with 500 enthusiastic bicyclists to the theater. But in Guadalajara, you can do it once a week.
Matter of fact, you can ride with a herd of cyclists pretty much any night of the week – just pick your flavor. “Al Teatro en Bici” (To the Theater by Bicycle”) is one of a seemingly endless number of bicycle-oriented initiatives in Guadalajara. There’s Camera Rodante, a hard-riding group of biking photographers. There’s GDL en Bici, a group of young professionals dedicated to reclaiming the streets for all commuters, not just cars. Their nocturnal rides, each one with a theme and costumed riders, have drawn upwards of 4,000 participants.
Tuesday I got a taste of the Guadalajara bicycle explosion, as well as why it may have evolved. Guadalajara is a city that has evolved, like most U.S. cities, around the automobile, and public transit is somewhat disorganized. A morning taxi ride to Tonalá, a village on the southern outskirts, took me 15 minutes; the bus ride back, an hour and a half. It took longer than that to figure out how to take the bus back to Tonalá.
And that’s not even mentioning the aggressive stance a pedestrian must take in order to negotiate the glorietas, traffic circles where a seemingly endless churning mass of vehicles whirl past.
Little wonder, then, in a city where many people don’t have cars, that frustrated commuters turned to bicycles, then teamed up to find safety in numbers. It couldn’t have been easy, however; in a city where just a few years ago, bicycles were seen primarily as a vehicle for street vendors and poor people.
On Tuesday, the first ride after the holidays, hundreds milled about with their bicycles in front of Punto del Arte, a classy cafe in the Centro. Suddenly a shout rang out – “Ya vamos!” followed by the voice of Aretha Franklin blaring from the loudspeakers attached to the lead bicycle.
“What you want, baby, I got it… What you need, you know I got it. All I’m askin’ for is a little respect…”
The eclectic soundtrack weaved from Rolling Stones to Caifanes, from Lynyrd Skynyrd to Café Tacuba to Guns ‘N Roses, and the elation was so high you could feel it bouncing from the Beaux Arts decor in the old city streets. We plied those streets for about an hour before ending up at the spectacular neoclassical Teatro Degollado, where we piled in to see a free showing of ZaikoCirco, a surrealistic international troupe of circus performers who, of course, supported the effort with bicycles in their act.
All in all, a phenomenal performance – beginning with the commute.
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.