Tag Archives: Mexico

Earth, fire and why I’m here

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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….)


Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

At home with the Subcoyote

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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Guadalajara Guerreros: Fighting for a better world

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

It’s not enough to be biodegradeable…

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

Camara Rodante
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”.)

Carlos with his collection of miniature bicycles and a photo of his father, an avid bicyclist.

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.
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Guadalajara by night – and by bike

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.


Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

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.

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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.
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“What you want, baby, I got it… What you need, you know I got it. All I’m askin’ for is a little respect…”

I don’t know about the impatient drivers who waited as the wheeled hordes streamed through the red lights, but the message wasn’t lost on me.
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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.

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All in all, a phenomenal performance – beginning with the commute.

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From Mexico to Palestine: Carbon offsets

treeMuch 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.
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