Tag Archives: Mexico

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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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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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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Aventura en Potrero Chico

POTRERO CHICO, Nuevo Leon, Mexico – Less than half an hour from the crowded metropolis of Monterrey, the mountains rise in a spectacular series of limestone peaks that have come to be known as a world-class climbing destination. It started as a municipal park with a swimming pool and barbecue pits, but it didn’t take long for climbers to discover the pitted limestone face of these towering walls.

EROCK
Click to see slide show

 Today at the base of the mountains there’s a cluster of businesses catering to the climbers from as far away as Australia and Japan. We chose the cozy Posada Potrero, a picturesque retreat with houses and rooms for rent, grassy places to pitch a tent under the trees, a commodious pool with hammocks and a big communal kitchen that at night becomes a lively community of climbers from all over the world.

We arrived at about 6 p.m., leaving San Antonio at 9:30 a.m. and stopping at the border to buy Mexican car insurance and get car and tourist permits. We’d seen the mountains for an hour or more on the approach, but the hazy blue in the distance gave little clue as to what we’d find: a dramatic series of vertically layered cliffs, pointing heavenward like vast curtains of limestone. I couldn’t imagine myself scaling them, ever. But German and Marco had promised me there were beginner climbs, so I didn’t panic.

There was time for one climb before dinner, so we packed our gear and made our way up to the area known as the Wonder Wall. It was so tall and so vertical that my neck ached from watching German make his way up, leading the way in placing the rope at the very top to secure us as we climbed. I tried not to think too much about it as I stepped into my harness and borrowed shoes.

Unlike Enchanted Rock, where I first learned to climb, Potrero Chico is a sport climbing site, where thousands of routes have been marked and bolted. The bolt fastens a hanger, or a steel loop, that allows a climber to insert a hook attached to his rope, securing his way as he goes.

German had reached an impasse in the climb, and he was retracing his steps to seek another way. I couldn’t see how on earth he was going to make it to the next hanger; it was two body-lengths up a sheer wall, even for a giant like German.

“This doesn’t seem like a beginner’s pitch to me,” I countered. “It doesn’t seem like there’s a way up.”

“There’s always a way,” Marco said, as German felt his way along the wall. “It’s just a puzzle, and you have to figure it out.”

Figure it out he did, and the next up was me. Face to face with the rock, I found my friends’ words to be true. This stone yields its secrets to those who persist. I climbed five pitches during my three days here, working my way up to a 5.9, an advanced beginner pitch, and this with an arm injured in my previous week’s beginner climb.

My guides were Andres and Karla, two young climbers from Monterrey who seemed as much at home on a rock face 100 feet up as they did on the ground. Andres began climbing at 12, and by the age of 19 had scaled most of Potrero as well as Argentina’s Aconcagua, the second tallest peak in the Americas. Karla, at 27, is the single mother of Samadhi, a winsome 6-year-old who carries her climbing gear in a little pink pack decorated with teddy bears. Samadhi’s name is taken from the Hindi word for enlightened consciousness, or, as her mother says, concentracion — an appropriate appellation for a child who began learning to climb before she learned to walk.

With the same care that she coaxed her young daughter up the limestone wall, Karlita coached me up a 5.8 and halfway up a 5.9, meaning I’ve progressed to the level of advanced beginner.

Samadhi and her mother taught me a great deal. After our day on the wall, I feel I’m coming to a sharper focus and a greater mastery of my fear — poco a poco.

Climbing is about more than having a good time, as Karla taught me. It can change your life.