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Hacienda Petac: “A little piece of Eden” December 22, 2011

Posted by Tracy in : Mexico, Uncategorized , 5comments

noche-en-merida-yucatanMERIDA, Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico – Finally, I can relax.

The sound of running spring water and the night noises of the jungle surround me, the toil and trouble of the city far behind.

This long-anticipated journey with my parents – their first to Mexico, and the first stamp on their brand-new passports – had gotten off to an admittedly bumpy start, what with a raucus all-night party in our hotel on the first night, getting lost in the chaos of the city’s Centro Historico, a virulent case of bronchitis for their driver and guide – yours truly – and too many other complications to mention. Had I made a mistake? My ailing father was exhausted – and this trip had been planned as a healing retreat for him.

IMG_4873But as we passed through the colorful towns on the outskirts of Merida and entered the ornate iron gate into the shady front courtyard of Hacienda Petac, I felt the tension dissolve. Marlene, one of more than a dozen Mayan women who attended to our every need during our stay, materialized from one of the three graceful arches of the hacienda with a traditionally embroidered dress, a beautiful smile and a tray of tempting red drinks.

My heart sank – I was sure they coudn’t be on my father’s diet. They almost certainly had sugar in them, and would be another disappointment. But there was Colleen, greeting us with a hug and a rundown of the ingredients: hibiscus tea and orange juice. Pure, simple and delicious. Dad reached for it and downed it, delighted.
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Earth, fire and why I’m here March 6, 2011

Posted by Tracy in : Mexico , 2comments

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TEOPANTLI KALPULLI, Jalisco, Mexico – I live at the corner of Earth and Fire streets, around the corner from a pyramid. I wake each morning to the crowing of roosters and the lowing of cattle. On Sundays I join my neighbors in kneeling and entering the womb of my mother in the form of a temezcal, the sacred indigenous sweat lodge ceremony, to sing and pray and to burn away the impurities of body and spirit.

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I’ve been here for a little over a month, and the time has come to answer the question of my friend Ruhksana, whose voice came to me over a great distance when I announced my decision to move here.

Why Mexico? She wanted to know. After traveling for a year the length of Latin America, why did you choose to settle there? There are ecovillages everywhere. Why did you choose that one?

The question is a big one, and the answer is a forked river of tributaries that have carved their way through the landscape of my life all these many years. I will forge my way up one of those streams and see where it takes us.

My relationship with this particular piece of land began a little over a year ago, at the beginning of my journey through Latin America, reporting on sustainability initiatives for The Esperanza Project. I began my project in Mexico City with members of the Vision Council and the Rainbow Peace Caravan, a loosely interwoven band of activists, performers, permaculturists and visionaries who have waged a colorful, creative and loving battle for a better world throughout the hemisphere – and in some cases, throughout the world – for nearly two decades.

This network inspired, informed, and in some ways guided my journey, and one of the nodes on that network was here at Teopantli Kalpulli, whose name means “village of the sacred standard”. In the midst of my whirlwind of Guadalajara interviews, I spent half a day here with Levi Rios, a young architect and permaculturist who grew up here and serves as a sort of spokesman for the community.

I was impressed with what I saw: Mexico’s oldest intentional community, located here on a piece of dry and overgrazed farmland 18 years ago, nurtured into a shady and compact village with a bakery, a school, a house of worship, a huge garden and a cluster of temezcals, where sweat lodge ceremonies drawing people from around the region were conducted periodically.

The community was founded by a group of spiritual seekers, practitioners of yoga and vegetarianism who sought a simple life, close to the land. Soon, as Levi explains it, they began to realize that their own indigenous traditions held a wisdom as deep and as powerful as those that had been carried over from the East, and they began reaching out to teachers of those traditions.

Those inquiries brought to the Kalpulli the first calihuey – the house of worship of the Huichol or Wixarika people. It also brought indigenous leaders from the north, Lakota and Navajo medicine men, carriers of traditions that some say originated here in Mexico – the Sun Dance and the temezcal – but were fiercely repressed by the Spanish conquest. Instead of disappearing, these traditions were carried north and kept alive by indigenous groups throughout the States. In 1983, Tigre Perez, a Chicano activist from Laredo descended from Purepecha Indians from Michoacan, completed the cycle. Perez had studied with Lakota medicine men and Sun Dancers and came to the Kalpulli in 1983, shortly after its founding. It was here that Perez first brought his Kanto de la Tierra, song of the earth, back to its ancestral home.

That tradition continues alive today. And although I didn’t know it at the time, it was that energy that called me back here.

(to be continued….)


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Home at last (my Mexican home, that is) January 19, 2011

Posted by Tracy in : Adventure, Ecovillages, Mexico , 5comments

ItIMG_6304 was sunrise when I saw my daughter Tara off at the airport, a tearful farewell to be sure, but one filled with joy at knowing that we are both following our dreams, and that the distance, as my sister Tami once said, is only physical.

It was the journey I had dreamed of and then laid awake nights worrying about: Would we really be able to pull it off? In the end, we did. We spent 10 action-packed days on the road, covering more than 2,500 miles – every step along the way, receiving reminders to SLOW DOWN and to take care of the present moment.

Some of those reminders were costly, others just funny. Many times I looked in the rear-view mirror at the utility trailer I was hauling and thought of my pioneer great-great-grandmother Caroline, who packed all her belongings into a covered wagon and traveled to the wilds of Missouri to start a new life. Apparently some of her pioneer spirit was my heritage, but in an era of internet, motor vehicles and airlines, it’s a much, much easier proposition.
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Heading for Guadalajara January 12, 2011

Posted by Tracy in : Adventure, Mexico , add a comment

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COLUMBIA, Missouri – A shooting star snaked across the blackness of the night sky as we pulled out onto I-70 in our pickup truck, utility trailer in tow, a brilliant blessing on our journey. Some 2,000 miles of road beckoned, with a new home in Guadalajara on the other end. But for now, one last lingering visit with family at my brother’s house in Kansas.

It’s been a long, long journey since I launched the Esperanza Project a year ago, taking me as far south as Buenos Aires and full circle to the place that, Lord willing, will be my new home in Mexico. I found a casita for rent in the ecovillage Teopantli Kalpulli – the oldest ecovillage in Mexico and the subject of a story I recently wrote for Ecovillage News http://www.ecovillagenews.org/wiki/index.php/Indigenous_Past,_Ecovillage_Future. I was deeply impressed with the community when I wrote about it in January, and when my friend Levi told me about a house for rent there that cost less than my storage locker in Houston (truly!!!) I took it as a sign.

I’ve always thought that I would end up living in Mexico someday – not so soon, but finances are telling me, it’s almost time to renew my storage locker and after so much movement, I’m feeling the need to stop for a moment, plant some seeds, do some thinking and some writing, and build a solid base to launch my travels from. Teopantli seemed just the place.

My life has come full circle in a way this year. It was in Guadalajara that I connected with the group at Teopantli and also an indigenous rights group called AJAGI that works with the Huicholes. Long story short, as I was looking for guidance on the direction of The Esperanza Project, I was drawn back to Guadalajara where I will be working on freelance and book projects for the first part of the year and also be volunteering part-time with AJAGI and the Huicholes as I document their struggle to save their most sacred site, as I wrote at www.theesperanzaproject.org.

So just a couple of weeks ago I landed in Missouri and with the help of my amazing father found a truck and a trailer to haul my things. Many twists and turns along that trail, beginning with a bad transmission in the first vehicle, but all is working its way out. My daughter Tara has agreed to accompany me on this journey, and Saturday we drove to Houston to unpack my storage locker, sort out what I wanted to take with me to Mexico, visit with friends – Mona Metzger of Houston Green Scene and Lise Olsen of the Houston Chronicle and head on to San Antonio, to spend the night at the home of Audrey Lee, the dear friend who has backed me up on this journey more than anyone, receiving my mail, dealing with my emergencies and serving as a sounding board and emotional support. Yesterday we did much a much needed shopping trip, and now we are preparing to make our crossing. We decided to splurge our last night in the USA and got a room at La Posada, recently named the No. 1 hotel in Texas by Expedia – and it’s easy to see why.

The second part of the year I will resume my travels with a special focus on indigenous struggles to save their land and cuture.

I will be writing much more about all of this in the months ahead. Meanwhile I continue to pray for guidance and support as I chart my course and share the stories of those who are tending the fires hope from south of the border.

Giving Thanks, Making Peace November 25, 2010

Posted by Tracy in : Colombia, El Salvador, Esperanza Project, Guatemala, Mexico, Mexico City, Travel wisdom , 5comments

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MEXICO CITY, Mexico – Thanksgiving day – I awoke this morning far from home and family but filled with a profound sense of gratitude.

Grateful for the sun that was just beginning to brighten the sky outside my window; grateful for the dear friends who have given me a home in this city of cities. Grateful for the health and the support of my family, who continue to love me faithfully despite my wandering ways.

Most of all on this day, I’m grateful for the path I’ve been given this year, a path that has led me from inspiration to inspiration as I traveled from Mexico to Argentina, seeking to learn from those who are each changing our world in their own way.
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Evo Morales, the plurinational president February 26, 2010

Posted by Tracy in : Bolivia, Indigenous culture, Latin America, Mexico, Mexico City , add a comment

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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.


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At home with the Subcoyote February 21, 2010

Posted by Tracy in : Ecovillages, Latin America, Mexico, Mexico City, Sustainability, Tepoztlan , add a comment

Alberto home

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.
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Huehuecoyotl: An eco-power center in the hills of Morelos February 19, 2010

Posted by Tracy in : Ecovillages, Mexico, Sustainability, Tepoztlan , 4comments

Inside the Theater/Dentro del Teatro
Long before I ever planned this trip, I learned of Huehuecoyotl, an ecovillage inhabited by an international group of movers and shakers nestled into one of the most magical valleys of Mexico, up in the hills outside of Tepoztlán, about an hour outside of Mexico City.

This week I finally got a chance to go and see it for myself, and to meet some of its inhabitants. It was as beautiful as I’d imagined; constructed in the early 1980s by artists, green architects and permaculturists, the community is infused with a colorful yet gentle aesthetic that pleases the spirit as well as the eye.
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Guadalajara Guerreros: Fighting for a better world February 19, 2010

Posted by Tracy in : Esperanza Project, Guadalajara, Mexico, Sustainability , add a comment

Today I awoke in the verdant mountains near Tepoztlán in Central Mexico, far from the commotion of city life in Guadalajara. Before I move on, I want to take a few moments to acknowledge the work of 24 extremely dedicated, talented and creative people I met during my time in that city, people who touched my life and gave me hope for a better future.

To read about them, please visit Guerreros de Guadalajara, a bilingual entry in my Flickr account.

La Minerva, warrior woman of old and symbol of modern-day Guadalajara, photo courtesy of TheLittleTx, Flickr Creative Commons.

La Minerva

Hope prevails through a bitter winter in Bancos de San Hipólito February 11, 2010

Posted 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.

Attorney Santos De La Cruz Carillo, technical advisors Yaser Ventura and Cristian Chávez, and community members Don Jesús and Prudencio, left to right - and still enough room for me.

Attorney Santos De La Cruz Carillo, technical advisors Yaser Ventura and Cristian Chávez, and community members Don Jesús and Prudencio, left to right - and still enough room for me.

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.


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