Greening the barrios in Mexico City

Saving your garbage is a tough sell in a place where gardening is seen as peasant labor. But that doesn’t stop Dulce María Vega from rolling up her sleeves, going door-to-door and recruiting her neighbors for a grand mission. IMG_0465

Dulce is the friendly face of sustainability in her neighborhood. With more than 30,000 residents, Lomas de Plateros is one of Mexico City’s largest apartment complexes. When she first teamed up with Noelle Romero of Organi-K, a local environmental group, to establish a pilot Ecobarrios project at the massive complex, people thought she’d lost her senses.

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Journeys with a cause

Tendai Joe pics

Many of you know I am currently in the process of gearing up for a year-long journey with a mission: to raise the visibility of the unsung heroes of Latin America’s environmental movement.  In the process I hope to build a well of creative ideas and inspiration through the new web portal I’m designing, a networking tool for the groups themselves and a sharp contradiction to the sense of hopelessness and cynicism about the future that has enveloped much of our population. I’m calling it The Esperanza Project, and I’ll be filling you in on the details in the weeks ahead.

Meanwhile, I’ll be taking the opportunity to highlight the journeys of other travelers whose journeys represent a larger purpose. Today I ran across the story of Tendai Sean Joe, a former street child from Zimbabwe who has become an advocate for disadvantaged children and youths. He has launched the Trail of Hope Foundation to provide a base for his advocacy work. Currently the group is raising money for a three-motorcycle trip through 16 countries to document the conditions of street children from Cape Town to Berlin.

Tendai Joe
Tendai Sean Joe

You can follow Tendai Sean Joe on his blog, on Facebook or on Twitter, and you can read his guest post in Deb Corbeil and Dave Bouskill’s excellent blog, Canada’s Adventure Couple, where I first learned about him. Deb and Dave (@theplanetd on Twitter) bring a great deal of insight to the subject, having biked from Cairo to Capetown to raise money for Plan Canada, another group that raises money for underprivileged children. Their blog also highlights journeys for a cause, and you can find a list of stories from their Giving Back, Travel the World and Make a Difference series at the end of Tendai Joe’s guest post.
Here’s one of many photos from Tendai Joe’s Facebook page, taken on a preliminary trip to one of the sites he will visit on his tour.

A leap of faith in Guadalajara

Luis Medina, founder of Eco-Tours Guadalajara: "This is my office."

Luis Medina must be one of the happiest men alive.

“This is my office,” he says with a broad smile and a sweep of his arm toward the mirror-like pool in front of him, the basalt formations all around and the forest beyond. We’re in a place he’s dubbed “Naturaleza Mistica” or “Mystical Nature,” where water has carved these crystalline pools into the rocks all around.

"Naturaleza Mística"It’s a place that invites contemplation, inspiration and renewal. Birdsong ricochets from tree to tree in the stillness of the afternoon; the water drips from pool to pool, and a cricket chirps from a nearby crevice. I can’t imagine a better place for an office. Luis is the founder of Eco-Tours Guadalajara, the area’s first tour company dedicated to outdoor adventure. Now he and his 10-member crew lead adventures in rockclimbing, rappelling, ziplining, mountain biking, scuba diving and canyoneering.  Today he leads a group of travel writers, in Guadalajara for the SATW convention, through various degrees of terror and exhilaration on the first three, beginning with a rappel down a 50-foot sheer wall and a clamber up another one, followed by a leap from a cliff on a zipline.

On a recent El Diente tour, travel and outdoor writer Bob Sehlinger makes the first descent.
On a recent El Diente tour, travel and outdoor writer Bob Sehlinger makes the first descent.

Now we’re following him through a grassy field to a rocky forest as he interprets the geological and biological wonders of this place.

A lava flow over basalt bedrock yields clues of El Diente's origins, Medin explains.

It was a leap of faith that brought Luis to this place in his life. He was an excellent secondary school teacher – so good that he was promoted to school principal. He enjoyed education, and his wife Lucinda taught there, too. But something in Luis kept calling him to the great outdoors, to the wilds of the mountains that encircle Guadalajara.

“Finally I couldn’t take it anymore,” he said. “I needed to be outside, in nature.”

So after 11 years in public education, he and Lucinda left their jobs and founded Eco-Tours, taking their teaching skills to a new audience. Now their pupils learn to overcome their fears and bond with the natural world around them.

El Diente (The Tooth)It wasn’t easy in the beginning. Luis approached local tourism officials for support, but they were skeptical.

“Ecotourism in Jalisco? There’s no demand for it,” he was told. But he persevered, and now business is booming. His is one of four ecotourism companies in the Guadalajara area.

“We have one of the most spectacular sites in the country for ecotourism – excellent walls for climbing, beautiful landscapes, amazing canyons, and all just 45 minutes from Guadalajara,” he says. “This place is a natural for ecotourism.”

Click here to take the photo tour

Contact Luis and his crew at promociones@eco-toursguadalajara.com or call (011) (52-33) 13 68 93 11. The Spanish-only website is at www.eco-toursguadalajara.com but Luis is conversant in English.

Mexico City Ecological Park: A wilderness restored

Dahlias were first cultivated here by the Aztecs.
Dahlias were first cultivated here by the Aztecs.

This could be any other forest on the outskirts of any other city, I think to myself as the path curves through a grassy field, past a burst of orange sunflowers and into the shade of a mossy oak grove. Then Guadalupe stops and gestures for us to take a seat on the cool boulders in the clearing.

“Close your eyes,” she says. “Breathe deeply. Feel the peace that is in this place.”

Far in the distance, the murmur of traffic dissolves into the timeless rustle of the wind in the trees.

I do feel the peace; but my mind is straying back to what Guadalupe has just told me about this place, and it defies imagining.

Just two decades ago, this ferny hillside was virtually indistinguishable from the city below. And had it not been for Ajusco’s position as one of the most important aquifer recharge zones in Central Mexico, and a political drama that is still playing out to this day, it would have remained that way.

Nature is a classroom for Guadalupe Nuñez at Mexico City Ecological Park.
Nature is a classroom for Guadalupe Nuñez.

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Amid sweat and tears, Esperanza is born

temezcal wide

Here in the darkness of the temezcal, sweat, steam and mud become one with the throbbing beat of Teresa’s drum. The heat bears down, melting away the boundaries between us. Rhythms from her Mayan heritage rise in the air with the incense-like scent of copal, her voice carrying us to a place beyond time. She asks me to translate, and her songs and prayers flow through me like water.

We fly like eagles, with wings of light/circumnavigating the universe… we are warriors of light.

She calls on the ancients, and on the spirits of the elements and the four directions, asking for a blessing for each of us huddled together in the tiny dome. She teaches us the grito of the warrior, a shout from the depths of our souls that pulls us through round after round of nearly unbearable heat.

Offer your sweat to Mother God, Father God, she advises us. It will help you to endure the suffering.

The heat and the rhythm intensify, and the air is heavy with skin-searing steam. Her words are passing through me now in rhythmic gasps.

Just when we think we can bear no more, she brings out a waxy chunk of white copal and touches it to the red-hot rock in the center of the temezcal. Each of us takes it in turn and whispers the prayer closest to our hearts.

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Bite of El Diente, and Tips for Climbers

Most climbers tackle their art with a passion that could only be called contagious. I exposed myself to that particular virus this spring, carried by veteran rock climber/writer/attorney Jamie McNally, and I suppose that’s why, as I prepare for a week in Guadalajara, I’m packing my climbing gear.

One of the menu of outings offered by the Society of American Travel Writers in its pre-conference lineup was “Eco-Adventure in El Diente,” and with a name like that, how could I resist? Especially with the excellent training provided by Jamie, who nearly killed me in my first exposure to rock climbing this spring. It wasn’t until I went online today and googled it that I realized that where he failed in May, he may have succeeded in October.

El Diente (The Tooth) is about to bite me...

El Diente (The Tooth) is about to bite me…

My account of my May adventure will appear in the Dallas Morning News this fall (posthumously, perhaps) so I asked Jamie to provide a few tips for beginners as I prepare to punish myself on the cliffs of El Diente. (El Diente pic compliments of Marc and Kristi, who climbed there a year ago and made it sound like a piece of cake in their excellent blog… Thanks, guys!)

OK, so after reading Marc and Kristi, and after going through Jamie’s tips (below, for the very brave), I’m feeling better about the climb. Honestly, it’s the mountain biking that I’m kind of freaked out about. I’ll keep you posted – if I’m not in traction.

Read on for Jamie’s excellent tips. And if the climbing bug bites you, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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