Category Archives: 2021

Romantic Picnic Options in Huatulco

By Brooke Gazer

Pondering ideas for a romantic Valentine’s Day? This year you might want to consider something safely away from crowded venues. Huatulco offers many possibilities to enjoy the great outdoors, so an intimate picnic for two could be the perfect option. Here are a few suggestions for sparsely populated destinations and some ideas as to what to bring.

Where to Go

Huatulco is blessed with beautiful beaches. If you are up for a bit of a hike, here are four possibilities.

La Bocana – From Los Güeros Restaurant (the one on the left facing the beach), follow the shoreline to the river. The walk on the sand is about fifteen minutes, passing enormous boulders reminiscent of Henry Moore sculptures. This beach can be rough for swimming, but you can refresh yourself along the way by getting your feet wet.

Playa Arena – On the highway heading west (from Santa Cruz towards Secrets Hotel), about 2 km past the hotels and shops in Tangolunda, you will find a footpath leading to this dramatic virgin beach. The entrance is not marked, but look for a cement post on either side of the path. The walk should not take more than 20 minutes and while not completely flat, neither is it overly challenging.

Cacaluta – Following the highway to Maguey, there is a sign for Cacaluta where the road branches off to the right, about 200 meters before Maguey. Do not confuse this with a service road marked “Tanque Cacaluta,” which dead ends and is difficult to turn around on. Your turn is a bit farther ahead. About 2 km past the turnoff is a small parking lot where the paved road ends. You must leave your vehicle here to continue along a dirt road down to the beach. This scenic walk through the jungle might take about forty-five minutes. Foot traffic and bicycles are permitted on the road, but not motorbikes.

El Órgano – On the opposite side of the highway to Maguey, i.e., when you are returning from Maguey to Santa Cruz, there is an opening in the forest with a sign that says “PRIVATE,” located about halfway between the turnoff to Cacaluta and the last glorieta (traffic circle) after Santa Cruz. There is no parking lot, but people do leave their cars parked on this road. The walk is fifteen to twenty minutes down to El Organo beach. Only foot traffic is allowed on this path.

For those who don’t find the prospect of hiking very appealing, you can rent a panga (small motorboats with overhead canopies) at the marina in Santa Cruz. Your hotel or a tourist stand can make the arrangements for you; if your Spanish is good, you can go down to the marina and negotiate for yourself.

The panga can take you to beaches farther out – Playas Chachacual, La India, Riscalillo, or Cacaluta. These are all gorgeous virgin beaches within the Bahías de Huatulco National Park.

For a shorter excursion, a panga will take you to virgin beaches within a half-hour ride, like Violín or Órgano. The captain will leave you and return a few hours later. You pay only for the return trip, so you can rest assured you will not be left stranded.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for a non-beach interlude, here are two options.

The Huatulco National Park has an access in Santa Cruz. Follow Boulevard Benito Juarez as it branches off to the right at the Binniguenda Hotel and becomes Avenida Oaxaca. The sign says “Sector E.” At the end of Av. Oaxaca, a dirt road takes you into the park. Bicycles, but not motorbikes, are permitted on this. A short distance into the Park is a rustic open-air church where you can sit down for your picnic – just remember to carry out whatever you brought in! There are paths past the church through the park that will take you all the way to the beaches mentioned above or out to the main highway (Route 200) into Huatulco.

The Parque Ecologico Rufino Tamayo is underused and somewhat neglected, but it has some paved foot paths and concrete stairs. There are a few dilapidated benches and picnic tables (bring a cloth to clean them off!). This forest reserve has three entrances; the one on Calle (not Avenida) Oaxaca has parking. Calle Oaxaca is the street heading away from the main entrance to La Crucecita; the park entrance is located directly across the street from Jessic Toys.

What to pack…
Assuming you do not want to cook, these are a few suggestions should travel easily.

Several vendors throughout Huatulco offer roast chicken with tortillas and salsa.

Either of the big supermarkets has an excellent assortment of cheeses, cold cuts, and condiments like olive, pickles, or artichoke hearts.

Dozens of local restaurants will do take out, but these two do only take out. Nutrición Gourmet Huatulco offers a wide selection of sandwiches, salads, and sushi. Order by phone or WhatsApp, 958 124 2799. Punto y Come – offers vegetarian dishes, and falafel pitas, a 90-peso bargain, packed to assemble upon arrival at your picnic spot. Calle Palo Verde 210 in La Crucecita; order by phone or WhatsApp 958 125 5679.

Don’t forget a hat and sunscreen, and of course something to keep you hydrated.

You are unlikely to encounter any vendors, so leave your wallet at home. However, officially there is a small fee to use the Huatulco National Park. If you see a ranger, you might be asked for 10 pesos to buy a paper bracelet indicating you are authorized to be in the park, so have some change in your pocket.

Wherever you go and whatever you consume, I am sure it will be a memorable day. To ensure that others can enjoy a similar experience, please remember this simple international rule for visiting national parks and reserves: Take nothing but pictures. Leave nothing but footprints.

Brooke Gazer operates Agua Azul la Villa, an ocean-view Bed and Breakfast (www.bbaguaazul.com).

Marriage in the Time of COVID – A Statistical Review

By Randy Jackson

If we are lucky, we only have to endure various COVID-19 effects on society for one to two years. Any effect that the pandemic might have on the incidence of marriage likely won’t even register as a bump on the long, long road in the history of marriage; however, whatever COVID effects there might be, could also exacerbate some negative trends in the institution of marriage in 2020-21. Sampling from a flood of research, articles, and speculation on the institution of marriage, I pulled together four interesting statistics to see what might happen to pandemic marriages.

The first record of a marriage ceremony is from Mesopotamia in 2350 BC. Anthropologists suggest that marriages between one man and one woman started around the time when humans first formed agricultural societies, about eleven or twelve thousand years ago. With the advent of personal property, men needed to know which children were their biological heirs. Back then, and for a long, long time thereafter, the title of Tina Turner’s 1984 hit song “What’s love got to do with it?” pretty much summed things up. Marriages were arrangements made between family groups for economic and political reasons. They bound one man to one woman (not equally) for the production of children, the division of labour, and the inheritance of property.

How Do We Meet and Marry?

Even today half of all marriages in the world are arranged. India comes to mind in this regard, as 90% of that country’s marriages are arranged. Young people in India, even in the wealthiest and most educated levels of society, still largely prefer to enter into a marriage where a spouse is chosen for them (in modern educated families each marriage candidate holds a veto). There are a number of studies that show arranged marriages are no less successful than those called “love marriages.” Just before COVID struck, 35% of couples met online, the most frequent method for meeting a partner. COVID could only increase this trend.

When Do We Marry?

Another trend going into the pandemic is that people are getting married later. In Greek and Roman times up to the middle ages, marriage was common for girls starting at age 12, for boys it was age 14. By the 15th century records show the common marriage age was closer to 17. By colonial times in Europe and North America, women were commonly getting married by 20 and men by 26. By 2017, the age of marriage in Canada, Mexico and the USA was 27 for women and 30 for men. Marriage age in Europe is generally higher – Sweden had the highest marriage age among countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, well into the mid-30’s. Turkey had the lowest marriage age in the OECD, with women marrying before the age of 25 and men before 28.

How Often Do We Call It Quits?

News stories abound on the extra stress on marriages because of COVID lockdowns and restrictions. One of many such articles is a BBC story from December 2020, “Why the pandemic is causing spikes in break-ups and divorces.” Although the story uses anecdotal or “soft” data, not statistics (it’s too early for that), one source was a major British law firm. The firm reported an increase in divorce inquiries of 122% over the previous year. There have been increases in divorce inquiries in the U.S., China, and Sweden – and no doubt other countries as well. There’s a busy year ahead for divorce lawyers.

One thing that is not news going into the pandemic is that divorce rates around the world have been climbing for decades. The highest divorce rates in the world are in Europe, often greater than 60%, followed by Canada and the USA, nearing 50%. Latin and South America are lower, as is much of Asia. Vietnam has the lowest in the OECD (7%).

This chart shows the percentage of divorces among couples who have been married only once. Divorce rates per capita – perhaps a better statistical measure – are increasing around the world and have been for years leading up to these COVID times. (The divorce rate in the U.S. has actually been decreasing, from a high of 50% in the 1980s, but it varies by age group – “gray” divorce rates are going up.) Divorce rates for 2021 and beyond should be interesting, with couples bursting out of lockdown and heading to their divorce lawyers on the one hand, but fewer marriages in 2020 to hit the rocks further downstream.

How Many of Us Do NOT Marry?

One final statistic that pulls together all the trends mentioned above is the percentage of single-person households.

Following the same country pattern as divorce rates, European countries (especially Nordic countries) have the highest number of single person households, followed by Canada and the USA, then Latin America and Asia. Pakistan has the lowest number of single person households in the OECD.

This statistic is where all aspects of the decline in traditional marriage come to rest. Fewer people are choosing to marry, those marrying are doing so later in life, and more couples are separating and divorcing. All this leads to a higher number of single person households. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If there is a crisis here, it’s that we need more houses. That first recorded marriage back in 2350 BC, between two kids who would be in grade 7 in our times – just doesn’t work. Things have changed, and marriage too will change and adapt.

Increasing equality between the sexes, personal and economic freedoms, birth control, and just plain knowledge of the world all mean that marriage has some catching up to do. In times of COVID and beyond, women and men will find some form of relationship that works for them and for them to have and raise children. Love – Para Siempre. Feliz Día del Amor y la Amistad.

A Year of Reading: Ten New Books for Post-Pandemic 2021

By Carole Reedy

Among the many worlds that man did not receive as a gift from nature but created out of his own mind, the world of books is the greatest. …Without the word, without the writing of books, there is no history, there is no concept of humanity.
— Hermann Hesse

We’re reading now more than ever, and not just because of the pandemic. A new Gallup Poll indicates that more Americans went to libraries in pre-pandemic 2019 than to the movies; 2020 has also revealed a return of readers to independent bookshops.

If you’re already pondering books for 2021, there are numerous new titles from which to choose. Here I present ten I think The Eye audience will want to read (based on your past most-welcome comments). May each of the following new books, by many of our favorite old authors, brighten spirits that perhaps have been dimmed by life during a pandemic.

Land: How the Hunger for Ownership Shaped the Modern World, by Simon Winchester (2021)

A new book by British/American author Simon Winchester cannot go unnoticed. He’s given us many hours not only of enjoyment, but also of pertinenent and often hidden information and analysis about our world, present and past. His two books about creating, of all things, a massive dictionary (The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary [2005] and The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary [2004]) are truly, believe it or not, compelling reading that will keep you on the edge of your seat. With his in-depth research, Winchester has created a plethora of books on various subjects, including the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, Krakatoa, and Calcutta. This newest book, Land, explores a subject dear to the hearts of humans, past and present: ownership and property, its history and our future.

Double Blind: A Novel, by Edward St. Aubyn (Anticipated March [U.K.], June [U.S.] 2021)

I think the author Anne Enright says it best when she describes St. Aubyn’s writings: “Everything St. Aubyn writes is worth reading for the cleansing rancor of his intelligence and the fierce elegance of his prose.” Certainly, we saw that in the Patrick Melrose novels/series that he wrote few years back. Art, science, and philosophy are interwoven with psychoanalysis, ecology, love, fear, and all that is human in this new novel, which follows three friends for a year in London, Cap d’Antibes, Oxford, and Big Sur. St. Aubyn’s ability to be blunt yet delicately introspective makes this author one of the most respected and admired in Britain and the world.

Philip Roth: The Biography, by Blake Bailey (Anticipated April 2021)

With an emphasis on “The,” this has been a book years in the making. Bailey was given complete and independent access to Roth’s archives and was actually appointed by Roth, before his death, as his official biographer, so this is the book to read for fans of one of America’s greatest chroniclers. It will always be a bone of contention among those of us who idolize Roth that he never was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Letters to Camondo, by Edmund de Waal (Anticipated April [U.K.], May [U.S.] 2021)

The Hare with the Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance (2010) was a memoir that elicited extreme emotions, either love or strong dislike, in response to style and content. It was, for me at least, a fascinating depiction of the decline and fall of the Ephrussi family dynasty in the banking empires of Europe, specifically Paris, Vienna, and Odessa. It also delights with a side story about netsuke, tiny Japanese wood and ivory carvings. This newest by de Waal spins a similar tale in a different style, this time a Jewish banker and art collector who loses his family in the Holocaust. This “memoir” is a series of 50 imaginary letters that the author writes to Moise de Camondo after he’s invited to make an exhibition of his well-regarded ceramics at the Camondo mansion.

Whereabouts: A Novel, by Jhumpa Lahiri (Anticipated May 2021)

Several years ago, Lahiri decided to learn the Italian language not only for her lifestyle (she relocated her family to Rome in 2011), but also for the voice in her books. This new novel was written in Italian and translated into English. Well-known for her award-winning book of short selections Interpreter of Maladies: Stories (1999) and for the novel (and movie) The Namesake (2003, 2019 [2 ed.]), Lahiri is the recipient of many literary prizes, including the Pulitzer. Whereabouts is her first book in a decade. It will be most interesting to analyze the difference between this novel, written originally in Italian, and those that emerged from her English tongue.

Should We Stay or Should We Go: A Novel, by Lionel Shriver (Anticipated May 2021)

The Queen of Sarcasm is the way I think of this witty, spot-on observer of modern-day life in our confused world. In each of her novels Shriver dissects a new fad, lifestyle, and even the tragedies that permeate our 21st century lives. This latest novel looks at old age and the attitudes toward and self-realization of our older population. Always humorous, yet serious, and clever, yet practical, Shriver weaves her stories with silk thread. Although she is known for her award-winning novel (also a movie) We Need to Talk about Kevin: A Novel (2003), her other novels equal and even surpass that honor, among them So Much for That: A Novel (2010 – my personal favorite), Big Brother: A Novel (2013), The Mandibles: A Family 2029-2047 (2016), and Property: Stories between Two Novellas (2018).

Light Perpetual: A Novel, by Francis Spufford (Anticipated May 2021)

Although I’m utterly unfamiliar with this writer, my interest sparked when I read the style of this newest compared to Kate’s Atkinson’s Life After Life: A Novel (2013) and Paul Auster’s 4321: A Novel (2017), both using the parallel-lives device, which can be so effective for writers and readers alike. The novel creates stories for five working-class children in England in a moment best described as “what if they hadn’t died from a bomb that hit a Woolworth’s shop in 1944, killing 168 people instantly.” It also gives us a glimpse of and new perspective on London and England in the 40s and beyond. Spufford’s first book, Golden Hill: A Novel of Old New York (2016), was well-received by critics and won the Costa Award for best first novel. Spufford hopes that this book “has the fascination of following out strands in the lives where everything makes sense when you look backwards, but you are constantly surprised going forwards.”

Harlem Shuffle: A Novel, by Colson Whitehead (Anticipated September 2021)

A two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction (2017, 2020), Harvard-educated Whitehead has left quite an impression on our planet. With this, his eighth novel, a crime story, he takes us to the world of Harlem in the 1960s. It’s a novel he conceived some time ago, but has just completed, in bits and pieces, during the COVID quarantine period this past year. We know Whitehead for his fiction, specifically The Underground Railroad (2016) and The Nickel Boys: A Novel (2019), but his larger career is impressive and diverse. Not only does he write works of fiction and non-fiction, but he has written for the most notable of newspapers and magazines, taught at Princeton University, been a writer-in-residence at Vassar, and received the MacArthur Fellowship (aka the “Genius Grant”).

Crossroads, A Novel (“A Key to All Mythologies,” Book 1), by Jonathan Franzen (Anticipated October 2021)

In my world, this is the literary announcement of the year. In his first book in six years (since Purity: A Novel, in 2015), Franzen has written not one, but three new novels, a trilogy to anticipate over the next several years. Chicago 1971 is the setting and the romp will carry us along with the Hildebrandt family as they “navigate the political, intellectual and social cross-currents of the past 50 years.” Franzen, a passionate birder, outspoken critic of social media, and the leading novelist of his generation, is gifting us, according to his publisher, “a tour-de-force of interwoven perspectives and sustained suspense.” If this is correct, I, for one, cannot wait!

Something to Hide, by Elizabeth George (Anticipated October 2021)

Are you a devoted fan of the Lynley detective series? If so, this is book 21, and I’m sure you’ve read the previous 20, as have I. Others may have watched the PBS television series created from the books. I’ve refused to watch it given what I view as the abhorrent misrepresentation of the character Detective Barbara Havers, one of the brilliant creations of Elizabeth George in the book series. You’ll have to wait until October to find out what snags Barbara creates while honing her fine detective skills under the direction, and often to the distress, of Inspector Lynley.

And thus we move in 2021, led and encouraged by our favorite authors and new artists on the horizon.

The New Global Love Affair with a Mexican Spirit

By Alvin Starkman, M.A., J.D.

Not since the advent of the Margarita in the mid-20th century, has the world been taken by storm by a Mexican alcoholic beverage – but here we are, in the age of mezcal. Of course, we still have tequila, and there are now other spirits being exported from Mexico, including rum and whisky. But it’s mezcal, tequila’s older sister and also an agave distillate, that is receiving global attention. But why, aside from the internet, which reshapes our universe second by second?

Here are a few thoughts.

  1. It all began around 1995, with the arrival of two brands, Del Maguey and Scorpion. The former aimed at attracting a select imbibing audience, that is, spirits aficionados, while the latter sought to pique the interest of mainstream America. Over the past quarter century each has spawned a plethora of other mezcal brands.
  2. It’s been in large part due to the portrayed romanticism of every step of the process: indigenous Mexicans harvesting agave hearts (piñas) from the field by hand and transporting them to their family distilleries on the sides of mules; converting carbohydrates to sugars through baking the agave in a rudimentary pit over firewood and rocks; crushing by hand using a mallet or employing a beast of burden to drag a limestone wheel over the caramelized piñas; standing over wooden vats while the environmental yeasts work to ferment; then finally the smoke billowing into the sky from the wood fueling clay or copper stills. Over those 25 years, and in many instances, industrialization has crept into the process. Some of those big commercial brand owners in fact mislead by representing their methods as those of an era long past. The consuming public eats – or rather, drinks – it up.
  3. The last decade has witnessed a cocktail trade explosion, with mezcal brand owners seeking to capitalize on it by introducing lower-priced agave distillates that restaurant and bar owners can afford to use. We still have those Margaritas, Negronis and the rest, but mezcal is now being introduced as the spirit of choice in their making. Brands, distributors and bartenders work feverishly to develop and promote new cocktails using mezcal as the liquor of choice.
  4. A surfeit of entrepreneurs recognizes the popularity of mezcal, and seeks to capitalize on faddism: alcohol distributors are anxious to represent a brand; restaurateurs are opening mezcalerías; well-known figures in the entertainment industry who want even more recognition are interested in having their names associated with their own or others’ brands; and residents of countries south and north of Mexico, and on the other side of both the Atlantic and the Pacific, are hiring marketing consultants to assist in new brand development.
  1. Over the past several years, multinational corporations – each with an already well-established global reach – have been buying up popular brands of mezcal that continue to be made using traditional means of production. Mezcaleros who have elected to sell their brands did not have the resources to enable them to reach many countries. Not only is mezcal now arriving in far-off lands such as China, New Zealand, Argentina and the Yukon, but the big guns have the financial ability to promote the spirit.
  2. There’s an abundance of money in the pockets of consumers. Despite COVID-19, today a growing middle and upper class has more disposable income than ever before. Both dotcom youths and the older hippie generation now retiring, with their debts paid off and their flock flown the nest, are flush. The former no doubt want to enjoy their wealth, the latter grew up with The Beatles, Iron Butterfly and Jethro Tull, worshipping organic production, Birkenstocks, The Whole Earth Catalog and everything else representing “back to the earth.” Both have the capacity and in many cases the desire to spend $350 US for a bottle of mezcal de pechuga distilled in clay.

There are of course other reasons for the meteoric rise in popularity of mezcal, and some might disagree with this enumeration, but the one point that garners universal consensus is the increasing popularity of the Mexican agave distillate, with a strong likelihood that our love affair with mezcal will continue for decades to come.

Alvin Starkman operates Mezcal Educational Excursions of Oaxaca (www.mezcaleducationaltours.com), and has been playing his part in advancing mezcal’s global popularity.

Travels with Pulque in the Time of COVID-19(Or, What Were We Thinking?)

By Julie Etra

Chapter 1

Love. COVID-19. Non-sequiturs? Like everyone last summer, we were stuck at home, as lovely as it is, but surrounded by fires and smoke for two months. My husband Larry (aka Lars) says “Let’s get a dog.” I am thinking, “My honey needs a dog. I am gone a lot and he needs the company, a buddy, a shep.” We had been dogless for almost five years, and he said it never occurred to him that we would not get another dog.

I remind him about our age (me 67, him 73) and dog longevity (estimate 16), but I am thinking “Good Idea! Responsibility! Exercise! LOVE!” Lars can sit on the deck with the dog, read a book with the dog, shoot squirrels, or watch the dog chase them and the rabbits. That was Friday, we started looking online and making a few calls as we had already decided we would get the same breed we’ve always had since we’d been together. This would be our fourth Australian cattle dog, aka Queensland heeler, and our last. Monday afternoon Larry looked at the pups and Tuesday he selected a 6-week-old male queenie from the back of a pick-up and, lo and behold, we were the parents of Pulque. That was June 23, we now had a handful of puppy love and lifestyle change in what we thought was mid-pandemic.

Why Pulque? Pulque is fermented agave juice, a pre-Hispanic Aztec (Mexica) beverage that preexisted the Spanish introduction of the distillation process. It is also the name of the ranch dog in the great book Como agua para chocolate by Laura Esquivel. He would be bilingual, we’ll take him to Mexico, he can practice there, immersion is a good thing.

Chapter 2

By July 16, in mid-summer heat typical of the Great Basin, I had ants in my pants (thankfully not sweeper or army ants found here on the Pacific coast of Oaxaca), and needed to see our friends on the Sonoma Coast of California. First road trip with the pup, now 11 weeks young, his maiden voyage in a puppy doggie halter. I had been working in Tahoe, about an hour drive from the office in Reno, so I was somewhat aware of the challenges of road travel during a pandemic, namely few pit stops or lunch options. We took our tow-behind trailer, to spare friends not particularly partial to dogs or rambunctious puppies, but also to have a toilet and fridge on the road; it is a long drive. This turned out to be a good plan. Rest areas were closed, the wildlife viewing areas were closed, the stop at the fruit stand proved fruitless, the taco joint in Dixon infeasible with the pup, even if it was open. Valley Ford, where we always stop for local cheese, great wine, and sometimes a sandwich prepared by the same older ladies, but nope, they were not there and had been replaced by creepy young men, but the temperature was 20 degrees cooler and the puppy was miraculously behaving and letting us know when he needed a pee stop (an on/off highway ramp).

We drove through dense summer fog to our destination just north of Fort Ross. It was great to see our friends, enjoy outdoor cocktails and snacks while socially distancing with mandated masks, facing the stunning Pacific from the deck of their former restaurant at Ocean Cove, the pup chewing our feet. The trip home was uneventful, with our typical stops closed and a pup we could not leave in the truck, regardless. He would bark, bark, bark if one of us was out of sight, a trait (often annoying) he maintains to this day.

Chapter 3

August 10. Still no facemask or social distancing mandates in the state of Nevada, still hot and smoky in Reno in the eastern valley of the Sierra Nevada (which means “snowy mountains” in Spanish, as Nevada was once part of Mexico), time to get out of town. Lamoille Canyon was the next COVID-19 Pulque trip, seven hours east across arid, flat, and dull I-80 with nary a tree in sight until we reached Elko and fueled up.

In spite of the pandemic, or because of limited entertainment and recreational opportunities, the campground was almost full. The remote canyon is awesome, formed by a retreating glacier and atypical for Nevada in terms of geology, morphology, vegetation, and wildlife. The energetic pup is hard to handle in a somewhat confined campground with leash regulations and lots of other dogs. He loves to play with and chew his retractable leash, he loves other dogs, he loves EVERYONE, another trait he has maintained (and a bit unusual for a heeler). We try to be patient and are entertained by his other antics and curiosity, bounding up the trail, pouncing through the vegetation, curiously cocking his cute puppy head from side to side at the creek, but again saying to ourselves, “What were we thinking? Are we too old for this?”

Chapter 4

Ocean Cove Campground, California, October 25. The pandemic was in what we thought was full throttle, little did we know at the time. Towing the trailer to the coast again, the pup is now 5½ months old. We have joined our friends again but this time at a private campground located above cliffs facing the ocean. What a gorgeous place. Masks are required at the little store, but folks are not social distancing, and there was the uninvited visit from a totally obnoxious cigarette-smoking COVID-19 denier getting way too close, with of course no mask. It was not easy to manage Pulque with so many other dogs, but he had started playing with the frisbee, which is great exercise and a great babysitter, us tossing it to him on the sandy bluffs in between the rock outcrops.

Chapter 5

At last, dear reader, the trip to Huatulco. After some debate, we decided to return to our house here where we usually spend about five months. We were nervous not so much about catching the virus in Mexico as we were about catching it en route, and if we did come down with it in Mexico, we would have very limited options for care. But we did not want to remain in the US, where we presumed it would get much worse, as proper health protocols had become volatile political statements and people were headed inside for the winter.

And so, we began to plan. Not so easy! And of course, it became almost exponentially more complicated with the dog. American Airlines would no longer take dogs, Aero Mexico had too many stops and layovers, including Mexico City. After consulting a few friends and our neighbors here in Huatulco we decided to drive a one-way rental to the border, a two-day trip, and fly directly from Tijuana to Huatulco on Volaris. Yes, they would take the pooch, with super-specific requirements for the paperwork, and kennel. It was also interesting that the cost for the pooch was half that of a U.S. carrier. We also thought that being in country, customs would be easier.

We left around 11:00 on November 13, having picked up the sanitized rental at the empty airport desk and upgrading to an SUV. We took off in the first winter storm of the season. As we left a full rainbow appeared, I am thinking this is a good omen, but driving into an 80-mph headwind, with the pooch perched in between the seats for a good view, we passed four wrecked tractor trailers and I am reconsidering the rainbow and what may lie ahead along the drive to San Diego. Reno to Lone Pine, once we were out of the storm, along the steep and dramatic eastern Sierra Nevada is a stunning drive and we have a styrofoam cooler loaded with snacks and libations, and four home-cooked meals for Pulque. One night in Lone Pine, take out dinner, then back on the road south.

We made it to the border at Chula Vista, staying in the sanitized, restricted, and sort of pet-friendly hotel closest to the airport (an additional unadvertised and non-refundable $150.00 for our precious puppy). San Diego County was now red, with no inside dining, so we ordered delivery and watched CNN and the not-happening transition to the new administration. This was really hard on the puppy. ACK. But so good so far.

The following morning, after dropping the car off, we did a pre-check-in at Volaris on the U.S. side, where they scrutinized the pooch’s paper work. We were fortunate to grab two baggage carts as we had the wheel-less kennel, two big rollers, and our laptop rollers. We figured that once we were on the Mexican side we might be able to find porters (they have their own union). With our Cross Border Xpress passes, we crossed the pedestrian walkway and went through security (and customs, as it were) for the first time and bingo we were in the chaotic and surprisingly full Tijuana airport where we were immediately told to put the dog in the kennel. People were masked but not socially distancing and there was one helluva long line! Barkie, barkie, bark, bark, bark, even with a half a doggie downer. We finally made it to the special needs counter, and with a knot in my stomach I watched the Volaris rep read through our paperwork, not knowing whether we would pass, or what to expect. BARK, BARK, BARK, BARK. Another half a doggie downer, the paperwork seemed to be in order, but wait! The kennel does not meet their specs, it is too big. Can’t be, we mutter to ourselves, after having bought the last suitable but wheel-less kennel in Reno, but this is resolved with an additional too-big-kennel fee, and off goes our six-month old pup (not the required eight, ahem) down the conveyor belt, bark, bark, barking, the knot still there.

We go through security again, and board. The flight is crowded, and has, typical for Volaris, little leg room. Everyone is wearing cubrebocas. The passengers are mostly nationals, maybe a few Americans as we think we hear a little English. Four long hours later we land in Huatulco, get our luggage, here comes the bark, bark, barkie on the conveyor belt, and our friend Larry is there to help us disassemble the kennel and take us home. The pandemic had not even peaked yet in the U.S., we did not know precisely what to expect in Mexico, but this is what we were thinking: “Doggie, Huatulco, home, at least for now.”

Editor’s Letter

By Jane Bauer

“Cows are amongst the gentlest of breathing creatures; none show more passionate tenderness to their young when deprived of them; and, in short, I am not ashamed to profess a deep love for these quiet creatures.”
Thomas de Quincey

Hello 2021!

As we have done for the past four years, the theme for our January issue follows the Chinese New Year. We are entering the Year of the Ox, which hopefully will be better for humanity than 2020’s Year of the Rat.

When I was in India last year, cows wandered the streets as stray dogs do in Mexico. They would approach me and nudge my hand with their head to be petted. These encounters filled me with a strange combination of bliss and sadness. When I returned to Mexico, I went to see some land with a man from my village. There were three cows there and, fresh from my India experience, I approached one and placed my hand on its forehead. Our eyes met and the cow responded to my touch by moving its head towards me. The man who had brought me there looked on quizzically; it was clear he thought I was ridiculous.

So often we overlook the charms of animals that have been domesticated for consumption. As we do with humans, there is a definite hierarchy when it comes to how we dole out our concern for animals. Afterall, I have often made the sassy comment that when people come to a Mexican village and ‘rescue’ a dog, why do they leave the chickens behind? I am being facetious, of course, and this is not a plea that everyone should stop eating meat and welcome chickens into their living rooms (don’t- they are very messy!). I just find it interesting to contemplate how we collectively seem to decide on this hierarchy, and also how it differs from culture to culture.

While I was growing up my mother had a painting that hung in the kitchen of a woman with her hand extended to a cow. Perhaps that is where my fascination came from.

I hope you enjoy this issue. Putting out the magazine has been such a gift during this season when we are separated from so many of our loved ones.

Thank you to the amazing writers, contributors, advertisers and readers who make this possible!

See you in February,

Jane

How Cattle Survive Canada’s Harsh Climate

By Jack Vander Byl

Reading the title, you’re probably thinking about the severe cold weather we Canadians get in January and February, and how cold it must be for cows to be outside. Not so. On a cold, clear, sunny day in January at 30°C below 0, our beef cows are happily lying on the snow chewing their cuds. Their protection from the cold comes with their birth. Calves born in the late fall arrive with a thick hair coat and ready for winter. The rest of the cattle in the herd also grow a thick hair coat for the winter. In the spring, the cattle start rubbing against whatever they can find to slough off this winter coat: fences, trees, buildings, etc. Then they are ready for summer.

Calves that are born in the springtime, however, come with a very slight haircoat to help them cope with the severe heat of plus 30°C summer days. And how do cattle cope with those very hot summer days? They do their grazing early in the morning and in the evening, spending the rest of the day lying in the shade of any big old tree they can find and chewing their cuds. Yes, everything a cow eats, she regurgitates and chews it 70 more times to break it into smaller particles that get passed on down to her other 3 stomachs.

On cold, clear winter days cattle cope very well as long as there is no wind. But if you add some strong wind, cold rain or a severe snowstorm to the cold, the cows eat quickly and head to shelter to chew their cuds. In our case – we’re in eastern Ontario – we have a lean-to on the south side of the main barn so the cows can get out of the wind and snow. A windbreak will also do nicely. If they don’t have a building they can shelter in, they will head to the bush, preferably a cedar bush which gives excellent protection from the wind. If nothing is available, the cattle will form a circle with the calves in the centre to protect them and cows around the outside packed in close together so only their behinds are exposed to the wind, taking turns being on the outside of the ring.

When I joined a veterinary practice in 1975, the dairy cattle in eastern Ontario were all housed in barns of 30 to 70 milk cows. The barns were all packed tight with cattle and not very well ventilated. Cows give off a lot of heat and the barns became too hot for the cows. As a result, we treated a lot of pneumonia in our dairy cows. The farmers were happy because the barns were very comfortable to work in, but the cows are very comfortable at 0°C.

During the summer, the cows had gone to pasture every day during the summer but spent most of the day lying under the trees to get shade. If they were left on pasture too late in the fall, they started to grow a winter hair coat and then the farmers had a big job to clip all the hair off so they wouldn’t overheat in the warm barns.

Gradually, things changed. Ventilation in the barns improved, and milk production improved as the cows were kept in a cooler environment. So now, all new barns have open sides with a curtain that can be pulled up in the worst of winter; the barns are generally just above freezing – good for the cows but not so good for the farmers and veterinarians who have to work with them. During the summer, these barns have massive fans that move air through the barns very rapidly and cool off the cows. Dairy cows do not go outside anymore.

So, even though the Canadian climate may be harsh, cattle will adapt, as long as they have water to drink and enough food to eat.

Jack Vander Byl is a retired large animal veterinarian who now enjoys helping out at his son’s beef cattle farm in Eastern Ontario.

OXXO – What’s Behind the Ox in the Room?

By Brooke Gazer

With eight locations in Huatulco, OXXO signs seem to be multiplying like a squad of bunnies all across Mexico. Who are they and where are they from?

In 1977, the first OXXO stores opened in Monterrey, selling mainly beer, snacks and cigarettes. The name originated with a stylized logo that resembled a shopping cart. Two diagonally stacked XX’s formed the frame of the cart, and the O’s on either end looked like wheels. Before long OXXO expanded its inventory to compete with the 7-Eleven international chain, which had opened its first Mexican store in Monterrey in 1971.

Brandishing a simplified logo, OXXO now boasts in excess of 18,000 convenience stores across Mexico, and the chain is rapidly expanding throughout Latin America. It is estimated that OXXO serves 13 million customers daily. If convenience stores were part of a farm, OXXO would be the Ox – the biggest animal and the one who controls the most pasture.

The OXXO brand is owned by FEMSA (Fomento Económico Mexicano, S.A.B. de C.V.), the fifth-largest company in Mexico. FEMSA has far-reaching tentacles into a vast number of other companies in Mexico and throughout much of Latin America. It is the second-largest Coca-Cola bottler in the world; Del Valle fruit juice is also bottled under the Coca-Cola brand. FEMSA owns 20% of The Heineken Company’s international operations, including Cervecería Cuauhtémoc Moctezuma, a major Mexican major brewery, which means FEMSA controls sales and operations of not only Heineken Beer, but Dos Equis, Sol, Tecate, Bohemia, Superior, Carta Blanca Indio, and Noche Buena. It might be safe to assume that all the beverages inside the refrigerated wall of the OXXO stores are controlled by FEMSA. But this mega corporation also has a refrigeration division, so it is likely that the coolers belong to FEMSA as well.

Solistica, another branch of FEMSA, controls much of the beverage distribution in Mexico, moving its brands from production to warehouse to point of sale locations such as OXXO and its competitors.

A favored location for OXXO stores is adjacent to gas stations, so FEMSA has been a major franchisee of Pemex stations. When Mexico reformed the laws that ended Pemex’s monopoly on petroleum, FEMSA began investing in this sector as well. OXXO Gas has yet to arrive in the state of Oaxaca, but there are over three hundred OXXO gas stations dotting the rest of the map of Mexico. In the past, the government set the price of fuel through Pemex, but could FEMSA trucks buy their own fuel at a discount?

The little beer store OXXO has come a long, long way in just over forty years, and they continue to expand their services. It is estimated that about sixty percent of Mexicans have no bank account – OXXO saw a tremendous opportunity. They introduced computer scanning software that allows anyone to plunk down cash and pay for goods bought online, partnering with retailers like Amazon and Mercado Libre. Like VISA, OXXO charges a percentage to the merchant, and they add ten pesos to the buyer’s purchase price. Even those with bank accounts might find this service useful. You can deposit cash into someone’s bank account simply by giving the receiving person’s bank card number. For a mere ten pesos, it’s quicker, easier, and more accessible than going to the bank.

Without question, OXXO is a convenient place to stop for a snack or a drink. It is easy to spot these ubiquitous outlets and they have so much to offer. I’ve used the payment option myself when my bank card was being uncooperative. But I worry, just a bit, when one firm has so much control over a market. It’s practically impossible for independently owned stores to compete with these clean, well-lit, well-stocked convenience stores. But when the company also controls the product and its distribution, it is no longer an even playing field. Yes, the customer wins – at the moment. But what if they became the only game in town?

Brooke Gazer operates Agua Azul la Villa, an ocean-view B&B in Huatulco (www.bbaguaazul.com).

Sacred Cows

By Marcia Chaiken and Jan Chaiken

The term “sacred cow” and the related expression “holy cow!” probably derive from the reverence Hindus pay to these ubiquitous bovines in India. One lasting memory shared by almost all travelers to India is the sight of cows placidly winding their way through dense vehicular traffic. And most also can easily recall the omnipresent smell of cow dung being burned for cooking and warmth by people living on city streets throughout India.

The cow was also considered holy in ancient Egypt and in other religions that emerged in the Middle East. “New world” religious beliefs, including those of the indigenous peoples of pre-Hispanic Mexico, were for the most part pantheistic and designated specific animals as possessing supernatural powers. However, in those days, cows were unheard of in Mexico.

Many of the indigenous residents of the western hemisphere shared a reverence for the serpent, as can be seen when exploring archeological digs throughout Mexico and Central America. The Mayans also attributed divine powers to creatures that bridged the heavens and the earth – bats, owls, hummingbirds and eagles. Anyone who has risked claustrophobia and climbed up into the inner recess of the temple of Kukulcán in Chichen Itza has also come face to face with another Mayan sacred animal – the red jaguar.

The introduction of Christianity into the western world essentially attempted to wipe out indigenous civilizations’ pantheistic beliefs and their sacred views of animals. Although Christianity refers to Jesus as the lamb of God and represents the Holy Spirit as a dove, the Christian view of the nature of animals is firmly planted in the monotheistic doctrine of Judaism.

The Hebrew scriptures, also called the Bible or the Old Testament, were explicitly written in opposition to the doctrines and beliefs of surrounding religions. The opening chapters of Genesis depict humans as far superior to animals. While oxen are mentioned at least fifty times in the Bible, they are always described as a possession of men. The Bible includes commandments to be kind to oxen – for example, not to muzzle them when they are used for threshing, never to use them for plowing in tandem with a less strong animal, and to allow them to rest on the Sabbath. But humans are viewed as responsible for the actions of oxen, and no doubt is left that humans are in charge of all animals.

Not only is there no holy cow in the Bible, but on the contrary any animals considered sacred by foreign religions are expressly depicted unfavorably. Consider the serpent in the Garden of Eden, a memorably evil fellow if there ever was one. And remember that worship of a golden calf is described as one of the most grievous actions committed by the ancient Israelites.

Admittedly some animals are featured in the Bible in a more or less positive light. A storied talking donkey could see an angel while his master Balaam was blind to the angelic presence. A yearly practice to alleviate Israelites from their sins involved placing the sins on a goat and exiling it off to the desert – the original scapegoat. And some bovines were designated to serve as sacrifices to expiate for sins.

For Jews who eat only kosher food, cattle are favored animals, as long as they are certified as slaughtered humanly and handled properly in food preparation. Remarkably, since Mesoamerica was unknown to those who wrote these dietary rules, the eagle, the owl, the bat, the serpent and the jaguar are not kosher and are never eaten. Of course, the prohibition against consuming them is unrelated to their sacred status in this formerly unknown world.

Christianity in general, and particularly the Catholic religion imported to Mexico, avoids any prescriptions about edible and inedible animals, or of sacred animals. So when you are driving in Mexico and see an ox or a cow or a herd of cattle blocking the road, you can say “Holy cow!” (¡Santo Dios!) simply as an expression of annoyance without any genuine religious overtones.