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.
By Marcia Chaiken and Jan Chaiken
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
By Raina Dawn Lutz
I’m a holistic nutritionist and I know that changing the way you eat is hard. One thing I’ve learned consulting with people about their eating patterns and choices is that as we change our diet, we need to allow for space to grow. As we evolve, things fall away and new things enter our horizons. This is one of the emotional challenges around making change. It’s not just about the thing we are removing, there’s a lot of emotional processing around it that’s not necessarily nice to do. As we make changes in our life and diet, some things have to fall away before new things can be properly integrated. Some things get shifted, re-arranged or they transition.
For example, 10 years ago when I went vegetarian, I loved it. But when I started craving meat almost a year later, I could have stuck it out. I could have held on tightly to my vegetarian label and not allowed my body to get what it was asking for. I had to let go of the belief that vegetarian was still working for me at that time. I had to let go of the thought that I was “bad” for changing and no longer following my plan of vegetarianism. I had to let go of fear of change and let go of judgement on myself for ‘failing’ at something. (It wasn’t a failure at all and in fact it taught me to more quickly adapt.)
Moving through food phases, be it foods we love now or diets we are following is a lot like, well, life. Between the ages of 18 and 27, I had moved 17 times. That is a lot of upheaval and “unsettle.” Moving on average twice a year for almost a decade. I got very used to change, even though it was uncomfortable. It wasn’t easy. It was frustrating at times and I would question my decisions and feel anxiety about where my life was and why I couldn’t settle. I was so used to moving regularly that this kind of lifestyle became almost like a game.
When I was 28, I got rid of 80% of my material possessions to live as a “digital nomad.” I’ll play the game. I applied this mentality to other areas of life. I also started to classify my diet as “flexitarian.” It was one great big metaphor that I was living. I was flexible, my diet was flexible, my living situation was flexible. My life became fluid in momentum and so did my nutrition. I embraced change
I used this life/food metaphor to start working with my clients on a level where they could stop dieting and learn to find their power, their sense of choice and freedom.We may think we need a fixed diet label or a meal plan regime to feel secure with our food choices when really we just need a basic understanding of what foods are healthy as well as the freedom and fluidity to allow ourselves to discover what works innately for our body. This is the “Consciousness Over Calories” method that uses mindfulness as the base to success. It’s also letting our attachment to diets die – letting our thoughts on a “certain way” of being, having things or having things look – die.
But once we hit that great plateau of freedom and flexibility in our transitions – then what?
Our minds crave a challenge.
What are the positives of allowing death, death of thoughts, beliefs, etc., about our diet? It makes room for growth, for personal development using food as a platform.
·-Every day we can make decisions to vote with our fork and support slow food, a powerful shift.
·-We can take care of our planet by making conscious decisions.
·-We have the power to choose how our body feels based on decisions we make.
·-We can support local farmers (when our lifestyles and budgets allow).
-We can choose the food that works for us and not feel bound by strict rules.
If healing is a return to wholeness, then healing from trauma by allowing parts of us to die is remembering that we can trust ourselves, we can trust our failures and successes in food and we can trust life as it changes. It is the reintegration into easiness, calmness, and the willingness to allow things to be as they are, rather than trying to control everything.
As you’re making changes in life or feeling that you need to, just remember there is always a new perspective just around the corner. The simplicity, change and freedom you crave is just one new thought away. It’s allowing that transition and questioning it, getting curious about it, welcoming it instead of fighting it, that’s where we’ll find both success and balance.
Raina is a holistic nutritionist based in BC, Canada.
By Susan Birkenshaw
February 2021 is upon us. and while this, traditionally, is a romantic time of year it may take on a new twist of meaning for many of us this year. Valentine’s Day has so many ideas behind its concept. It could mean anything to any of us – from horrific murders, to the loss of a Saint or even love – long-enduring or love at first sight! For me, it is a time to consider and strengthen relationships of any kind – romantic, friend, family or even with your furry four-legged friend!
This has been a long and weird year of lockdowns, health fears, personal loss, and even worldwide turmoil and political unrest, which has brought me to considering how the relationships that are most important to us can survive and thrive. So, I have been on a quest to find out how my pals – close and worldwide – have created success in the relationships they hold most dear. In mid-December 2020, I sent a 5-question survey to 40 of my friends and connections around the world – representing a cross-section of singles and couples, with responses from both men and women aged 45 to 78. Much to my surprise, I received almost 60% back.
My questions were simple to write but when I started to write my own answers, it was much more difficult than I anticipated. The questions I asked all related to the lockdowns in 2020 and included the respondent’s top three critical relationships, what was most important to keep these relationships moving forward, what gets in the way, what is next in keeping relationship success going in the near future and how are we feeling about the coming year 2021 – specifically and in general?
Here are the respondents’ common themes. First, friends old and new are critical – my sense is that by year’s end everyone is craving connections and a wider variety of conversations, especially if they are living alone. I know that my mom who is 94 years old – spry, savvy, and with-it – wants desperately to be able to meet new people in her seniors’ residence, not because she doesn’t like those whom she knows but because a variety of connections give her energy!
Second, the absolutely most important connection was family – the definition here changes often from a single person (spouse, mother, brother, one person from the family at large) to a broader focus, say with a weekly family group ZOOM meeting. I find it fascinating that these definitions were not surprising when I spoke to my respondents – for example, I spoke to one person who has a large and widely spread family and the most important connection he has is his sister. On pondering this, he found this realization curious, but then his comment was “Well, my kids are busy, and I shouldn’t bother them!” I’d say this is something to think about.
Another critical insight that came up regularly was the friends who were long-term pals, the ones people have known for as long as 70 years. These come in the form of college or university friends, friends from first jobs, spouses of 50+ years, siblings who are close and supportive, and of course kids and grandkids.
In reviewing all the answers that I received, I found the most common themes of what worked and keeps the connections ongoing is a shared history, using technology (many learned new tech) – playing bridge online, fitness classes via ZOOM, simple phone calls. People develop new mantras that become important to them, often quotations: “It will be fine in the end and if it’s not fine, it’s not the end.” And my New Year’s Resolution, which I can’t claim to have written myself, but it works for me: “Think with honesty, speak with sincerity and act with integrity!”
Most of my respondents were grateful for two or three common things – laughter was first, honest conversations and a friends’ network that remains optimistic/supportive/challenging. Those who have pets of any kind were grateful for a different type of responsibility and sounding board: “Lucy (my pug-dog) doesn’t talk back but she does listen to my ideas as I talk them through, and she really does hear my sad tones when I need a cuddle!” “No matter what, I have to walk the dog!” “Sure, I can’t travel but it’s not as difficult to have a dog who I love when I have none of that choice.”
What I found deeply saddening was when I asked what gets in the way or makes it difficult to keep these important connections going in the times of lockdowns, there were many responses that were self-critical (“it’s my fault that …”) or less than positive when reviewing personal successes during 2020.
There were detractors or negatives common throughout the responses, such as fear of so many unknowns – COVID, economy, lack of personal value; perceived personal laziness; anxiety was a big issue along with self-doubt; lack of personal purpose; really poor time management with no personal schedule and if there is one, it is often tipped by a well-meaning spouse; no energy and becoming complacent.
The whole impact of COVID fatigue eats away at our personal foundations and the lack of clarity from each other and from any government agency is getting to us. Many of us are suffering My fear is that self-sabotage might become a habit and excuses are easy; since 2021 may continue to be stressful and fear-ridden, we all need to find ways to avoid these horrid habits. They get harder and harder to break!
Now, thinking about this new year we find ourselves in – what will we do better, how do we feel about the short-term future, is there any reason to be optimistic? My survey folks all had a similar responses – their goals and commitments to themselves and to their relationships all had a similar flavour. We all want to use our time better – more personal development that may be on our own or include our close connections, protecting the good health we have so that we could if absolutely necessary ward off any disease or virus. Increasing family connections came up surprisingly often – more regular Skype or ZOOM with siblings and more honest asking for support, simple help, or ideas for problem-solving – either personal or business-related.
My last question was one that I asked to test the waters of where our lives might be going in 2021; of the two dozen or so responses I received back, an overwhelming number of people are quite optimistic about what this year will bring. Without a doubt, there is some pessimism, which seems to stem from the anger so many feel about the things the news media spit out every day (many of us have turned off the news). This pessimism also stems from fear of the disease – especially in those who have vulnerable family members.
Most were looking forward to the vaccine process; most are quite proud of what they have learned in the lockdown months, and many had a clearer plan about how they will handle the isolation of lockdown better. People definitely see things that sit at the end of the vaccine rainbow – hugs without fear, shoe shopping, a meal with nice menus instead of QR codes and certainly live entertainment, including concerts and galleries and sports with a real audience.
Finally, focusing on Valentine’s Day 2021, I believe that it is a perfect time to rekindle the fun in self-care, relationship nurturing and the romance in our one-on-one relationships. So here is a simple list of ideas of things to put energy back into your most critical connections. Of course, all of these ideas can be done purely as self-care, over ZOOM or Skype with your closest folks or in person with your live-in partner.
- Find some sunshine, outdoors play or simply sit on the balcony. SAD (seasonal affective disorder) is truly a thing – commit to getting enough Vitamin D.
- Have breakfast in bed.
- Recreate a special event – go on a date, attend a concert (Spotify), take an art class.
- Create a scavenger hunt within your lockdown boundaries – around your condo, in your back yard – like an Easter egg hunt for kids or adults!
- Take a class on a subject new to you – mixology, wine appreciation, Van Gogh painting night, singing (yes, to yourself works!).
- Game night – cards, Monopoly, gin, JENGA – dig out the old cottage board games – checkers, chess, even Chutes and Ladders.
- Movie binge night – yes, you can do this on the net! Each one of your “safe” group gets to choose a title.
- Write a love letter – romantic, grateful or expressing things others may not know about you or how you feel about them. You don’t need to hit the send button – this is for you and those you choose.
- Plan out series walk routes – for yourself alone or with your partner and another series of routes for your connections in their neighbourhoods. Take the time to make it interesting for them – Google Maps is incredible for this. Please stay safe here – walk in the daylight.
- Plan an incredibly special meal for yourself, get your group to do the same, choose a common time and then cook and eat with them at a ZOOMed table – there is something about breaking bread with those who mean the most to you.
- Stargazing – take a long moment to look up when walking the dog just before bed.
Here’s what I have learned from this exercise. Any relationship or connection will benefit from some simple reminders.
- “Pay It Forward” works when you find yourself grateful for some amazing thing in this time of lockdown.
- Be strong!
- Share a smile!
- Be kind – to yourself and others!
- Wear a mask – safety for you and others, and purely simple respect for those around you!
Thank you to my “survey pals” – I deeply appreciate your thoughts and time and willingness to share.
By Jane Bauer
“It is preoccupation with possession, more than anything else, that prevents men from living freely and nobly.”
The Christmas/Holiday season always presents us with an interesting dichotomy. It is the time that we are encouraged to be generous and think of others, especially those whose needs are not being met, yet it is also the time of the greatest and most decadent consumerism and gluttonous excess.
While this year may be different, with Covid lockdowns restricting mall visits, I am sure online shopping will be there to pick up the slack. If you are anything like me then you have a roof over your head, food at the ready and plenty of things to entertain you. What more could any of us possibly need?
The key to happiness is to stop wanting and finding the balance between what we need more of and what we need less of. It is simple. Stop wanting a new car, more vacation days, your political party to win, your leaders to provide you with more, your neighbor’s dog to stop barking, your kids to get jobs, and whatever else it is you find yourself complaining about or ranting at. There is nothing you can buy that will take away your frustration.
Just stop wanting and instead focus on having less; a smaller house, less responsibility, less clothes, less screen time, less information. I am guessing that you are free – that you are not reading this from prison or a refugee camp. What do you want your life to look life? You have the power to make it happen.
Let this be the season of getting rid of stuff and simplifying. Let us be prepared to face 2021 with a clear head and not the rose-tinted glasses of the past. Let us appreciate the time we have and not waste it on the accumulation of more stuff.
In this issue, our writers explore trash and the obvious conclusion is that we are creating too much of it. Even though we have given up using straws and plastic bags it has barely scratched the surface of how much waste we create.
I know it has been a challenging year for everyone – health concerns, economic restraints and political worry. I am not sure that 2021 will be much better but we can prevail freely and nobly.
See you in 2021!