Category Archives: 2020

My Diamond

By Karen Bach

My husband and I originally planned to spend our two-month winter vacations in a different location each year. After visiting several tropical locations including Puerto Vallarta, Playa del Carmen, Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlán and Huatulco. We found ourselves always wanting to return to Huatulco, we even tried Hawaii and Barbados.

The reasons Huatulco is the best place we have visited in Mexico are numerous. Of course one of the first reasons is the amazing weather, guaranteed hot sunny weather year-round and especially important for January and February when most people want to escape our harsh winters in Canada.

Another reason we are so fond of Huatulco is the local people; they are extremely friendly and eager to help with any questions we might have. And another huge plus is the amount of amazing chef-prepared-high-quality foods served in the small local restaurants as well as the street vendors with amazing foods such as fresh home-made potatoes chips, daily baking, several El Pastor spots – so many hidden gems.

We have been to Huatulco six times so far and each visit we find some new restaurant or local store with great foods and drinks. Next and very important are the beautiful beaches and bays. The water is almost Caribbean-like with great snorkeling, clear calm blue water to swim in.

We also love the fact the Huatulco is Eco friendly and looks after its beaches . There are no buildings over four stories and no Mcdonalds or Walmart (yet).

It is a very authentic Mexican vibe and we feel very safe walking the streets day or evening. We love so many things including the organic market every Saturday in Santa Cruz or checking out the markets in La Crucecita . We call Huatulco the hidden “Diamond of Mexico,” and that’s why Huatulco is the best place we have visited in Mexico and continue to come back year after year.

Spanish Lesson

By Julie Etra

This month we’ll take just a little bite out of food and menus.

Appetizer(s): entrada(s) (NOT the main course)

Breakfast: desayuno – ayunar is the verb for “to fast,” as in break [your] fast, just like English

Corn Chips: totopos

Dinner: cena – cenar is the verb. As in ¿Donde quieren cenar esta noche? Where do you all want to eat tonight?

Drinks: bebidas Your mesera/mesero/joven will ask you ¿Quieres algunas bebidas? Anything to drink? (The verb beber means “to drink.” You could also use tomar for “drink”: ¿Algo para tomar? Something to drink?

Lunch: comida. Yes, I know comida also means “food,” but if you go to a translate app or, God forbid, a dictionary, “lunch” will translate as almuerzo, which is not a quick and easy meal; almuerzo could be used for a full brunch or a “lunch” that starts late (maybe 2 pm) and is a heavy meal. And comida is a more complicated term. You will see signs for comida corrida, a fixed-price lunch special with three to four courses. In Huatulco, try the restaurant Albahaca (which means “basil”) on Gardenia, or La Cabaña de Pino on Guelaguetza on the east side of the canal. A comida corrida menu typically includes soup, tortillas, rice or pasta, and a choice of main course. Sometimes they offer a dessert – and sometimes it’s on the house (postre de cortesía)!

Ice cream: helado. Around the zocalo (“central square” in southern Mexico, although an architectural term as well), you will find food carts selling nieves (nieve means “snow,” and in this case is a refreshing frozen treat, like shaved ice flavored with syrups); push carts also sell paletas, the Mexican popsicle on a stick. They are water-based and flavored with natural ingredients.

Snack: bocadita (“little bite”), or antojitos (literally, “whim” or “craving”), from the verb antojar (“to crave”).

Pun of the month: ¿Qué dijo el tortillero filósofo? No hay más allá.

Fertile Ground for Life-Changing Insights,Self-Forgiveness, and Joy

By Kary Vannice

For our women’s issue several years ago (2017), I wrote an article about the mistreatment of inmates in women’s prisons in Mexico. My research uncovered unspeakable human rights abuses and a judicial system that turned a blind eye to reported sexual assault and torture. Many of the accounts were too stomach-turning to include in the article, and I felt deeply for these women. Their stories stuck with me because even law-breaking inmates deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.

There are 102 women’s jails and prisons in Mexico, one of the toughest of which is in Ecatepec de Morelos, in the state of Mexico on the outskirts of Mexico City. This penitentiary houses several hundred women and many report living conditions that are borderline inhumane. Some have reported having to sleep standing up because there is no room for them to sit or lie down at night. Any possession, even a toothbrush, must be carried on one’s person at all times, or it will be immediately stolen.

It is a harsh environment filled with hardened criminals with hardened attitudes toward life and everyone around them. Forced to live in survival mode 24/7, there is no time to contemplate or create community, and vulnerability could mean death.

This is not the kind of environment that seems ripe for spiritual transformation work, unless you’re two Mexican women with a shared dream of helping this largely forgotten and underserved population.

Enter the Give to Give Foundation, a not-for-profit organization headquartered in New York that supports an organizational change technique called neuro-change solutions, based on the work of Dr. Joe Dispenza, a neuroscientist, researcher, teacher, and best-selling author. As the pandemic closed organizations down, Dispenza became interested in using his approach in prisons. Rose Caiola, Chair of the Board of Directors of Give to Give was more interested in working with women in prison. Through a series of coincidental meetings, Give to Give began a pilot project with at the penitentiary in Ecatepec – a simple three-day workshop to help rehabilitate and bring positive change to the lives of female convicts living in some of the worst conditions imaginable. The project was headed up by Verónica Ontiveros, who is with Give to Give in Mexico, and Sonia Peña García, a certified NCS consultant based in Monterrey.

It may seem that three days would not be nearly enough to change the mindset of someone who had been incarcerated for decades, attempted suicide multiple times, or sold their own child for grocery money, but, in fact, the opposite was true. The depraved conditions offered the perfect fertile ground for life-changing insights, self-forgiveness, and joy to bloom once more.

Twenty-eight women participated in the pilot project. Over the three days, they learned how to shift out of survival mode by releasing emotions like shame, blame, selfishness, anger, hatred, and resentment, and take 100% responsibility for their lives and their circumstances.

Slowly, the women began to laugh, trust, and smile again. One woman said, “I haven’t laughed in years. I didn’t even remember what it felt like to smile.” She was moved to tears just by seeing her own smiling face in the mirror again. Something had awakened in her, an inner knowing, an inner light.

At the end of the training, another woman raised her hand and exclaimed. “I finally got it! It’s not about having freedom outside. Freedom is a feeling. It’s a state of mind. So, if I think and feel that I am free, then I’m free here, even in prison.”

Each day, the women were also taught how to quiet their minds and meditate on the feelings of freedom, joy, and inner peace so that they could feel more in control of their lives again.

Twenty days after the three-day workshop, organizers returned to the prison for a surprise visit to see if the participants had integrated what they had learned into their daily lives. Upon arrival, they discovered that two of the participants had been released for good behavior and that every other woman that remained had been completely transformed. Their faces were brighter, they looked happier, they were more open and accepting of others around them. They were genuinely living examples of what they had learned. So much so that other inmates were requesting to take part in the next workshop.

Many of the women also reported improved relationships with their families on the outside and had eagerly shared what they had learned with their children, parents, husbands, and extended family.

Because of the success of the pilot project, Give to Give is now planning to expand the project to other women’s prisons in several other states in Mexico; they have the support of prison officials, who also noticed the change in the participants immediately, even though the conditions around them had not changed.

These 28 women, who were living in the very worst of conditions, now understand that it’s not the world around you that has to change for you to feel free and happy; it’s your inner world that must change first. That is where the true power lies to control your environment.

Editor’s Letter

By Jane Bauer

“Help each other. Love everyone. Every leaf. Every ray of light. Forgive.”
Terrence Malick

It’s almost Valentine’s Day … again. When The Eye contributors discuss upcoming topics there is always a bit of a sigh when it comes to this issue as we try and weave something about love and romance into it. Most of our contributors are married and have been for decades – the Chaikens met as children and have been married for almost 60 years! Can you imagine! Well, maybe you can, but I assure you it is difficult for me.

I am from a generation that craves variety and doesn’t really expect anything to last that long. Just a few decades ago people bought appliances for life. They would have a TV set for 20 years! I am from a generation that upgrades. And while the latest model may be sleeker and have a sharper image, it’s also made of flimsy plastic and not made to last. It’s built to be tossed into a landfill in four years.

With a cultural diet of romantic comedies, love songs and fairy-tale happy endings, is it any wonder that many of us have gotten used to moving on when things aren’t picture perfect, rather than focusing on repair? We live in a time where you can reject dozens of people with a swipe over your morning coffee. Has romantic love become disposable?

I am very fortunate to be surrounded by many amazing and long-term couples like those who work on The Eye, but I am sure they would tell me it hasn’t always been easy. In a time where women celebrate their financial and emotional independence more than previous generations it is understandable that we have come to expect more, although I am not sure we are better for it.

I also know many inspirational women who are going at it alone. When I asked an older Mexican friend if she would consider getting a boyfriend she laughed and said that she didn’t want to have to do more laundry or cook for more people.

Wherever you are on the romantic relationship spectrum, it’s easy to invite more love into your life this month. Talk to your neighbors, help a stranger, write a letter to someone you haven’t spoken to in twenty years, call your parents, your siblings. Wish the best to those who have wronged you and fissured your heart and surround yourself with people who want the best for you. Hug a tree, pick up garbage, repair things, use less, buy less, give stuff away, pick up the check. Love your life and let that love spread out and touch everything.

See you next month,

Jane

Mexico’s Natural Wonders

By Deborah Van Hoewyk

Ten major-to-middling mountain ranges, replete with volcanoes and caves. Two oceans, the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean Sea, and the Sea of Cortez. Mega-biodiverse, with over 200,000 known species of flora and fauna. A plethora of online lists of 7, 10, 25 “natural wonders you must see in this lifetime!!!”

There are many must-see natural destinations spread across Mexico – Copper Canyon in Chihuahua, the Rosario sanctuary for Monarch butterflies reserve in Michoacán, Lake Chapala in Jalisco, or Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl volcanoes covered in fourth-grade geography. You could even argue that the ghastly mummies of Guanajuato are a natural wonder, created by the arid soil in which they were hastily buried (apparently too hastily in multiple cases) during a cholera outbreak in 1833.

But if you’re already ensconced in Huatulco, there’s no need to wander afar – southeastern Mexico has plenty of natural wonders at hand.

Oaxaca: Hierve el Agua (“the water boils”) is located high in the mountains about an hour from Mitla, the archeological site to the east of Oaxaca City. Hierve el Agua offers a stunning pair of petrified travertine waterfalls, cascada chica and cascada grande, “falling” from high cliffs to the valley below. The falls themselves are twelve and thirty meters (about 40 and 100 feet) respectively. (The only other petrified waterfalls in the world are at Pamukkale in Turkey, so ¡Aprovechar!)

The small falls are more accessible and actually offer a better understanding of how the cascades were formed. At the top of the falls is a 60-meter-wide (about 200 feet) platform with four springs that bubble up (“boil”) and flow to small natural pools and two large man-made pools where you can swim – the high mineral content of the water, is supposed to have healing qualities. One of the springs spills over the edge, depositing minerals that extend the falls bit by bit, year over year.

There are visitor accommodations for changing clothes, getting a bite to eat, and souvenir shopping; there’s a basic hotel for an overnight. As is common in Oaxaca, you may also experience a bloqueo, a protest blockade, closing the road to Hierve del Agua. You can arrange a tour in Oaxaca City, or take a bus to Mitla and arrange a local tour or just transportation via a colectivo.

Chiapas: Sumidero Canyon is near the Chiapan capital, Tuxtla Gutiérrez (the cañon is the defining feature on the state’s coat of arms). Just north of the town of Chiapa de Corzo, about 35 million years ago, the earth cracked and the Rio Grijalva emerged to start carving out the eight-plus miles of canyon. In places, the walls are now a thousand meters (about 3,300 feet) high; the canyon ends with the Chicoasén Dam, which has created an artificial lake and raised the water level in the canyon – the gorge used to be higher. Should you be a geologist, the walls diagram the history of the earth’s crust in this area, with layers of limestone boasting marine fossils.

The canyon is located in the Sumidero Canyon National Park, designated a RAMSAR wetland. (RAMSAR is the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, Ramsar, Iran, being where the Convention was signed in 1971 – Mexico has 142 RAMSAR sites.)

You can view the canyon from any one of six miradores (overlooks), but the best way to “do” the canyon is via boat. (There was an EcoPark within the national park, to which the boat would take you, but at last word it had closed for financial reasons.)

Most boat trips leave from Chiapa de Corzo. The round-trip boat ride takes about 2-3 hours, because it takes a while to get from Chiapa de Corzo to the actual canyon. You might see wildlife – the park is home to several endangered species (spider monkeys, jaguarundis, ocelots, anteaters). The vegetation in the park is mostly deciduous rainforest (Chiapas is much higher than Huatulco, which has mostly selva seca, dry deciduous jungle.) You can see the entrances to a couple of cave systems in the walls.

You can arrange a tour in Tuxtla Gutiérrez or San Cristobal de las Casas (apparently the best prices are in San Cristobal, and you should make sure your tour includes at least some of the miradors and the town itself). You can also just get yourself to Chiapa de Corzo (less than 20 pesos in a colectivo) – if you can get one to drop you off at the embarcadero (boat landing) in Cahuares, great, otherwise find a colectivo in the square going to Cahuares. If you get to Chiapa de Corzo, you will have no trouble getting to the canyon boats.

The Yucatán, ah the Yucatán! The Yucatán peninsula is all nature, all the time – and archaeology, and beaches, and swimming with sharks, and shopping – but mostly nature. You could go to the flamingo reserve, visit a biosphere, or canoe through the mangroves in Celestún, in the state of Yucatán. You can swim in the hundreds of cenotes, or sinkholes formed when underground rivers caused the limestone above them to collapse (some say Cenote Ik Kil, near Chichen Itza, also in Yucatán state, is the most beautiful). You could visit the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, Mexico’s largest – it also contains the Calakmul archeological site – located in Campeche state. Or the colored lakes at the Las Coloradas salt flats, back in Yucatán. Or go kayaking on the brilliant, multicolored blue waters of Lake Bacalar in Quintana Roo.

But the Yucatán peninsula is home to the 700-mile-long Great Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the world’s second largest, which runs along the Caribbean coast from the tip of the peninsula down through the shores of Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras. Sometimes called the Great Mayan Reef, it’s been described as an “underwater wilderness,” with, at last count, over 100 species of coral, over 500 species of fish, not to mention multiple species of sharks, sea turtles, and dolphins – and a few sunken ships serving as artificial extensions of the barrier reef.

You can book dive trips all along the Caribbean coast of the peninsula. SCUBA divers might have the most fun, especially for the wrecks and the Museo Subaquático de Arte (Cancún Underwater Museum). Never fear, though, there are two galleries in MUSA, and both snorkelers and riders on glass-bottom boats can visit the shallower one to see the sculptures of pH-neutral concrete that explore the human-reef relationship.

Manchones Reef, off Isla Mujeres (Quintana Roo), is considered a “true paradise” for snorkeling and SCUBA diving. The waters of Parque Nacional Arrecifes de Cozumel have great visibility; SCUBA divers can visit the Felipe Xicoténcatl, a C-53 gunboat sunk by the Mexican Navy to start an artificial reef. Ideal for snorkeling is the section of reef in the Biosphere Reserve of Banco Chinchorro – only 5 feet deep and partly comprised of wrecked pirate ships. Banco Chinchorro is off the coast at Chetumal, Quintana Roo. At the Parque Nacional de Arrecifes de Xcalak, also in Quintana Roo near Tulum, the “coral heads” of the reef start only a few meters off the beach and are only 2-3 meters below the surface. The main reef is 400 meters out – if you swam the 440 in high school, and can still do it, you’re good). Xcalak is perhaps the least crowded dive site for the Mesoamerican Reef, and arguably the least spoiled by tourism.

The impact of tourism is perhaps the greatest threat to all of Mexico’s natural wonders, but this is particularly true for coral reefs. You can catch a boat out from the beach at Puerto Morelos in Quintana Roo to see or snorkel Kan Kanán, a huge snake-like construction of hollow pyramids made of cement and micro silica. (Kan Kanán is a guardian serpent in Mayan mythology.) Over a mile long, Kan Kanán lies between the beach and the Mesoamerican Reef; it is the longest artificial reef in the world, intended to protect the coastline from erosion, kickstart the formation of new natural reefs, and regenerate the marine ecosystem. Hope for the future.

Ten Simple Steps to Help Preserve Mexico’s Ecology

By Marcia Chaiken and Jan Chaiken

  1. Sunscreen: wash it off before swimming in lakes, lagoons or ocean bays. Previously, much of coastal Mexico was a natural aquarium, teeming with brightly colored fish and exotic sea life feeding off myriad varieties of coral. Today, many of the most accessible bays and lagoons have a visible oily slick of sunscreen on the surface, with mainly dead coral and greatly reduced sea life. Many inland lakes have also been polluted.

There are still wondrous places to snorkel and dive, mainly accessible by boat. If you are fortunate enough to visit some of these sea or lake homes to see thousands of aquatic creatures, please help preserve them by wearing a sun-guard shirt (an inexpensive teeshirt will do) instead of poisoning the waters with sunscreen.

  1. Picnics: if you carry it in, carry it out. The beaches, vista points and forests in Mexico are great places for a picnic. It’s tempting after an afternoon of eating and drinking to just leave your empties and other trash behind. If you do, you’re basically creating an unattractive garbage dump and providing the animals with materials that can choke or otherwise kill them. It’s so simple to bring and use paper bags to collect your detritus (recyclables in one bag and trash in the other) and dispose of them in bins for recycling.
  2. Flora and fauna: observe but do not disturb. Plants and animals, both on the land and in the water, are fascinating. We can spend hours watching whales playing in a bay, or geckos scrambling around our patio walls, or an octopus hiding under a rock and sending out a tentacle to catch a fish or a sea turtle nesting on a beach. We’ve also watched in horror as people use sticks to poke at iguanas and disfigure other animals, or disturb nests of turtle eggs, or surround whales with multiple motor boats, or dig up plants that support multiple forms of animals. Please remember that you are a guest in their homes and, just as you wouldn’t enter a human home and purposely maim or torment your hosts, be a good guest to the animals and plant life here.
  1. Paths and trails: stay on the beaten path. In addition to not trampling or otherwise disturbing flora and fauna, staying on the beaten path will help you avoid unpleasant encounters with the native life. Many forms of plants and animals in Mexico have developed excellent forms of self-protection, including sharp spines, toxic stingers, pincers and teeth that can deliver a painful bite. Not all snakes rattle or give a warning before they spring. So keep on track and keep your eyes where you are about to step.
  2. Drinking water: avoid plastic bottles. In many places in Mexico the water is fine to drink. If you are at a moderately or expensively priced hotel or restaurant and you are served water from a pitcher, it generally is filtered and potable. The same is true of ice. If you are at an economy-priced place where you are not sure about the hygiene, you can ask for a glass of water from their garafon, the huge jugs of filtered water kept on hand for the staff to use. But please, please, please, help stop the world-wide pollution of the earth with billions of tons of plastic bottles. Until someone figures out how to turn plastic back into its natural components (a future Nobel-Prize-winning discovery), every plastic bottle of water you drink and discard will contribute to choking off life in Mexico and around the world.
  3. Restaurants: no plastic straws or one-use plastic anything. Plastic straws are literally killers. They find their way into the ocean and are gobbled up by short-sighted sea turtles. Hundreds of turtles die each year from ingesting a plastic straw. Many fish and sea-birds are also injured. Other plastic utensils also contribute to the injury and death of marine life. If you must use a straw, at least use a paper straw. But folks, who really needs a straw? Every sip from a plastic straw you take shortens the life of rapidly disappearing species.
  1. Shopping: bring your own bags and select ecofriendly packaging. Buy organic.
    Fortunately, most Mexican supermarkets are legally prohibited from providing plastic bags for packing your purchases. And there are wonderful colorful cloth or other material shopping bags for sale in gift shops and from vendors all over Mexico. They’re not always environmentally friendly but they are easily packed, great souvenirs. But before you even reach the checkout counter, please think ‘green’ before you place something in your shopping cart. Two or three tomatoes really don’t require a thin plastic bag to keep them separate from an avocado; and the avocado comes in its own natural wrapper. By reaching for the fruit and vegetables that are labelled ‘organic’ you may pay a little more, but you are helping keep toxic pesticides out of drinking water and out of the bodies of many living creatures – including your own.
  2. Signs: read them and obey them. Much thought and effort has been spent on placing signs around Mexico to protect wildlife and to protect you. The road signs depicting silhouettes of local fauna are charming – but they are danger signs. Keep your eyes peeled on the road in front of you and to either side and slow down so you can stop in time to avoid an animal that darts out to cross to the other side. The signs on beaches and in parks that have the universal multiple “no” symbol should be studied and heeded. At the very least, they will give you a heads-up about human behavior required to protect life in Mexico. And ultimately, you may be saved from a hefty fine or even drowning.
  3. Showers: keep them short. Many places in Mexico, as throughout the world, are suffering from severe water shortages. You are encouraged to shower off before entering pools to save filtration systems; but all that is required is a quick rinse to remove sand and salt. A long hot shower before you dress is as passé as a flip-top cell phone. Remember to save water in other ways too. Turn off the water while you’re brushing your teeth. If you have a kitchen, fill that dishwasher before you run it. And although washing your hands frequently is highly recommended, turn off the water while you soap and sing the canonical ‘happy birthday’ song twice.
  4. Prevent COVID: You may be on vacation, but the coronavirus never takes time off from work. Until Mexico vaccinates most of its population and enters a low COVID tier, wear your mask, frequently wash your hands and stay at a safe distance. The life you save could be your own.