By Jane Bauer
“I love Nature partly because she is not man, but a retreat from him. None of his institutions control or pervade her. There a different kind of right prevails. In her midst I can be glad with an entire gladness. If this world were all man, I could not stretch myself, I should lose all hope. He is constraint, she is freedom to me. He makes me wish for another world. She makes me content with this.” — Henry David Thoreau’s journals
I fell in love with the landscape of this place almost instantly. It were as though the earth reached up and took hold of me and said ‘you are mine.’
Love is an invisible thing, a gravitational pull that can’t be explained and defies practicality and reason. My heart soars everyday as I arrive home. The breeze off the river wakes me each morning with sweet caresses and a rippling sound that reminds me that everything is constantly changing. At night the moon hangs over me with her pensive calming demeanor and a reassurance that all is right in the world. In the afternoon the parrots squawk past my house telling me to find the lightness in things. The expanse of night sky, unblemished by light pollution, is to feel the grandness of the universe greater than in any cathedral. Even the earthquakes and storms feel like a conversation between the elements and an intrinsic part of life.
What is the purpose of our lives if not to find balance and harmony with the natural world around us? More than ever we need to evaluate our effect on the world around us. There has never been a time when human beings’ need for stuff has damaged so much of the planet. Our consumerism is destroying ecosystems.
But instead of focusing on changing our habits: recycling more, driving less, eating more sustainably, maybe we should focus on getting out in nature more. Hug more trees, take more walks, look up at the sky and breathe deeply, listen to the birds, love all animals the way we love our pets. Fall in love with the natural world around you and you won’t be able to help but change the way you live.
This month our writers focus on the environment. The beauty of what it has to offer and the wins of the past year, because it isn’t all dire.
Also we are approaching the deadline for our essay contest about your Mexico Moments. Thank you to everyone who has already written in with their uplifting and interesting tales of what it is to love this place. I look forward to reading the essays that are still brewing.
Thank you for reading and being a part of The Eye.
By Julie Etra
What to do beyond the gorgeous beaches of Huatulco? Well, if you are a nature lover and want to experience unique ecosystems, consider a visit to the lagunas (lagoons) of Manialtepec and Chacahua. These are large, unique wetland ecosystems located along the southern Pacific coast of Oaxaca, west and north of Puerto Escondido. Together they are home to more than 327 species of birds.
Manialtepec, which means place of the lizards in Náhuatl (manine means animal that drags, e.g., lizard or perhaps crocodiles, which are known to inhabit the lagoon, while tepetl means location, usually a raised area) is the smaller of the two lagoonal systems and is located just a short drive west of Puerto Escondido. It is about 15 km (9 miles) long and up to 15 meters (nearly 50 feet) in depth. The water is brackish – a combination of fresh and salt water – and varies in salt content with the season and with the breaching of the barrier beach during the rainy season.
There is one outlet to the Pacific Ocean at the west end of the lagoon, known as Puerto Suelo or El Carnero, where it is joined by an adjacent river descending from the Sierra Madre Sur. Dense vegetation, dominated by mangroves, provides habitat for abundant wildlife, including many species of birds. The lagoon is an excellent site for bird watching.
It is also known for its phosphorescent microalgae, called dinoflagellates, which are luminescent in moving water and visible at night – it is best seen on a moonless night, and is said to be more prominent during the rainy season. When we were there a few years ago, a paddle, or even just a hand, sufficed. The luminescence is caused by a chemical reaction; although not all bioluminescence is well understood, in algae the mechanism provides protection from predators.
The Manialtepec lagoon is easily accessed from Highway 200 west of Puerto Escondido, and guided trips at dawn or dusk via a lancha are readily available.
Chacahua is a much larger system than Manialtepec; it comprises much of the Parque Nacional Lagunas de Chacahua, established on July 9, 1937 (I can’t imagine what the coast looked like that far back!). In the Mixtec language, Chacahua means place of abundant shrimp, or chakal. Like Manialtepec, Chacahua offers a chance to experience bioluminescence caused by microalgae in the water.
The laguna is actually three lakes, Chacahua, La Salinas, and La Pastoria. This rich ecosystem includes 14,000 hectares (almost 35,000 acres), with over 153 species of birds, Abundant wildlife includes mammals and herpetofauna – amphibians and reptiles. There are two species of marine turtles (Laud [leatherback], the largest of the marine turtles, and Golfina [Olive Ridley]) and of course extensive stands of mangroves.
Four species of mangroves occur here: the red mangrove, mangle rojo (Rhizophora mangle); white mangrove, mangle blanco (Laguncularia racemosa); brown/salt mangrove, mangle prieto or saladillo (Avicennia germinans) and buttonhole mangrove, mangle botoncillo (Conocarpus erectus).
Mangroves provide nesting sites and cover for the myriad of avian species, but also harbor the nurseries for fingerlings (young fish) and marine/brackish water species, including crabs and shrimp. Mangroves are also nature’s engineers as they are essential for shoreline protection and erosion control.
There are several small islands in the lagoon, including el Corral, with its 80 inhabitants totally dependent on fishing for a living, and where chicken is considered a delicacy. The western end of the outlet to the sea is maintained by two constructed breakwaters consisting of rock riprap.
There is even a cocodrilario (crocodile nursery) founded in 1969, on the west side of the southern outfall, where two species of crocodiles (river and wetland), as well as caiman, are raised for reintroduction to the wild. The nursery has about 140 animals. Entrance is free, as it is operated by the federal government, but the visitor is encouraged to donate to its maintenance.
The Park’s famous surf break, called Chacahua, on the south side of the southern breakwater, is where most of the basic – read “funky” – tourist facilities are found, including surf lessons, rustic cabanas, restaurants, and small stores. Spectacular views from the lighthouse (el Faro), located at the southern end, include both the open Pacific and the lagoon to the north. The other outlet to the sea, at the east end of the lagoon south of the small town of Zapotalito, is often blocked by a sand bar and a smaller breakwater.
It is located farther to the west/northwest of Manialtepec – it’s about a 1.5-hour drive from Puerto Escondido to the community of Zapotalito; the Park can also be reached by boat.
Close to Home
If you are short on time but interested in wetlands and lagoons, you can explore several closer to Huatulco. Laguna Cacaluta (blackbird in Zapotec) is considered an ephemeral system, as surface water typically disappears completely during the dry season. Recognized by the Ramsar Convention, an international non-profit organization established in Ramsar, Iran, in 1971, initially to protect aquatic birds, particularly migratory species (www.ramsar.org), Cacaluta was officially included in the global wetlands registry in September 2003 (Ficha Informativa de los Humedales de Ramsar [FIR]). In Huatulco, FONATUR developed the estuary of Chahue into the existing marina, but historically it was a backwater lagoon. Similar seasonal wetlands can be found along the road to Playa San Agustín and at Barra de la Cruz (barra refers to a sandbar).
By Randy Redmon
How did soft-top surfboards enter the world scene of surfing?
Let’s flash back to 2006. Soft-top surfboards first became available at Costco and were manufactured out of Taiwan by a company called AGIT Global. Even at the approximate retail price of $120 USD, Costco’s soft-top brand, called Wavestorm, was not exactly flying off the shelves. Why? Back then, soft-top surfboards were considered only for “newbie” beginners and kooks! In ten years, however, Costco had sold over half a million Wavestorms, was set to sell over 100,000 in 2015, and anticipated ever-increasing sales.
Jamie O’Brien is responsible for that! Jamie O’Brien is a popular professional free surfer from the North Shore of Hawaii. Side point … the North Shore is very respected in the “surf world” for its incredible and dangerous wave, the Banzai Pipeline. So what did this very experienced, well known and respected Pro Surfer do? Well, on one episode of his 19-season YouTuber video series, Who is JOB, O’Brien actually goes to a Costco and buys a Wavestorm soft-top surfboard as a joke. He asked the cashier, who didn’t recognize him as a professional surfer, that if he broke the board would he able to bring it back for a refund. Being Costco, she replied, “Yes, as long as you have the receipt.” Off went O’Brien with this cheap beginner board to the world-famous Banzai pipeline to surf!
It was unreal! O’Brien’s performance was awesome and he fell in love with that soft top surfboard. Those who watched him at the pipeline, as well as the viewers of his video series, were convinced. and the soft-top surfboard’s popularity was born! Wavestorms did indeed fly off the shelves at every Costco in America – and the price jumped from $120 USD to $250 USD.
To meet the demand and to capitalize on the massive popularity of soft-top surfboards, new manufacturers started springing up. One such manufacturer, Catch Surf, is now a Jamie O’Brien sponsor and even has a special “Jamie O’Brien Collection.”
So now you know the history of the soft-top surfboard – what does that mean to you?
The soft-top surfboard is an excellent, and recommended, choice for all beginner surfers. I personally believe it has sharply reduced the number of injuries for both beginner surfers, as well as other surfers who may be hit by a wayward board while a beginner is learning. As a very experienced surfer, with over 50 years of experience, I feel that anyone who wants to learn to surf should start on a soft-top surfboard. This will help them to comfortably and safely learn the basics of surfing, as well as the etiquette of surfing.
There is, however, a word of caution. You will find it hard to gain respect in the world of surfing, and be accepted as a common surfer, if you stay on a soft top surfboard. Why? It is too easy to get comfortable and stay comfortable on a soft-top. The soft-top makes it much easier to get waves.
Does that mean Pro Surfers don’t use soft-top surfboards? The answer is that they do, but often it’s a novelty for them, almost tongue-in-cheek, as well being entertaining for them. It is never their go-to choice for surfboard.
On to the Hard-Top Surfboard, or Hardboard
After you have learned the basics of surfing and have caught your share of bluewater waves, it is time to move to a hardboard surfboard. What’s the difference? Soft-top surfboards are made with an EPS foam core wrapped in either fiberglass or a synthetic wrap with a soft, dentable ethylene-vinyl acetate sheet on top. In contrast, hardboards are generally constructed of a Styrofoam blank with a wood stringer and fiberglass overlay.
So what’s the advantage of a hardboard surfboard? First, there is no better feeling than catching a wave on a hardboard surfboard … this is basically how it should be, as that is the original way to surf. Second, this type of surfing will take you to another level and challenge your abilities as a surfer!
The Long and the Short of It
The next decision you need to make is whether you want to surf on a longboard or a short board. There’s no right or wrong decision. Whether you choose a classic longboard style of surfing, or the more radical, high-performance world of short boarding, either will be an expression of your own personal surfing style and what you enjoy. No one style is better than another, it’s a matter of preference.
At the end of the day, soft-top surfboards will always have place in the world of surfing. They have opened up this incredible sport and made it accessible to a much wider audience than ever before. So thank you, Jamie O’Brien, for having the guts to pull off one of the greatest jokes in surfing history – it has 100% changed the surfing landscape.
Are you interested in surfing or do you still consider yourself a beginner? I encourage you to come down to the Huatulco Surf Company shop in Tangolunda, Huatulco. Our very knowledgable and experienced team would love to support you in your surfing journey!
By Julie Etra
This month, let’s take a look at two verbs with multiple, not-always-obvious meanings – andar and echar.
Andar literally means to walk, but also to go out with or date, to be, to come out, run (operate), to run around, go ahead, go around doing something, to be from; synonymous in some meanings with caminar.
- Andamos juntos al cine. We walk together to the movies.
- Mi coche anda bien. My car runs fine.
- Todo anda bien/mal. Everything is (going) fine / wrong.
- Maria anda con Juan. Maria is dating Juan/going out with Juan.
- ¡Andale (pues)! Move it!
- Tomas siempre anda tomado. Tomas always is/ goes around drunk.
- El andaba borracho cuando se cayó. He was drunk when he fell.
- Ella siempre anda preocupada. She is always worried.
- ¿Andas por aquí? Are you from around here?
Echar is complicated! It is very idiomatic but fun and versatile. There are lots of ways to use this verb. Common meanings: to throw, launch, toss, drop, throw out.
- Echar de menos. To miss someone. Te echo de menos. I miss you.
- Echarse a perder. To rot/go bad. La leche se echa a perder. The milk is going bad.
- Echar ganas. ¡Echale ganas! To be motivated, move it, let’s give it a try!
- Echar un vistazo. To glance. Le echo un vistazo a Carla. I glance at Carla.
- Echar chispas por los ojos. To glare (literally, to throw sparks from your eyes).
- Echar aguas. To warn someone, “Watch out!” (From the medieval custom of throwing dirty water, including night soil, out the window into the street.)
- Echarle porras (a alguien). To encourage (someone).
- Echar hojas. To sprout leaves.
- Echar el ojo. To take a look, to choose.
- Echar tacos. To eat lunch. Echarse un taco (de ojo). To look, maybe leer, at someone very attractive.
By Randy Jackson
Here’s a question for people familiar with Huatulco: How many of the nine bays of Huatulco can you name (without googleandolo)? I conducted a non-random, non-representative survey amongst friends and acquaintances, and came up with a range of between 2 and 7. That’s OK. I wasn’t any better at it until undertaking a fun project with my friend John this season, to swim across each of the nine bays of Huatulco. There is nothing like direct experience as a teacher, as I can now name all nine bays.
But far more important than mastering a list of names, swimming each of the bays means having an experience with the bays in a personal way. It’s like the difference between knowing the name of a particular mountain, and having climbed it. What follows is some information about each of the “official” nine Bahías de Huatulco, and a little about our experience of swimming each of them in the winter of 2022. (NB: The order of the bays is by the dates we swam them, not the geographical order).
Órgano (January 14):
For me the memory of our swim at El Órgano is the “ghost body.” I saw something in the water, floating about 5 feet below the surface. Its shape and colour, obscured by my swim goggles and the water, caused my brain to fire-up an image of a body seemingly suspended in the water. Our brains do that. They instantly form a reality influenced by subconscious expectations. On a deserted bay on the coast of Mexico there is always some unconscious trepidation about swimming out into the Pacific. And when you see something brown in the shape of a leg, calf and foot – well, it stops a fellah cold. Freud and Jung both believed that dreams had equal impact to waking experiences. I wonder if at some advanced age, years from now in a nursing home, whether my remembered reality of the swim at Órgano will come back: The image of a ghost body, or the realisation after investigating, that it was a cloud of brownish algae-like substance, surprisingly clustered in the shape of a human leg.
The walk to the trailhead for Bahía del Órgano from the Hotel Binniguenda in Santa Cruz takes about 25 minutes. Once on the forested trail, it takes an additional 10 minutes to walk to the beach. Our swim at Órgano was out to a point of rock on the right side facing the bay, then across the bay to the roped off swim/snorkel area, then back to the beach. Swim distance, approximately 500 metres (half a kilometer).
Maguey (January 21):
Back in the day before Huatulco tourism development, Bahía Maguey was enclosed by lush vegetation stretching across its mouth. People could only access the bay with a smaller boat. There is also reported to be a “secret” cave, only accessible underwater. The cave was at one time rumoured to be a hiding place for pirates. I wonder though, how did the pirates know about the cave if it was behind the reeds and under water? However, neither reeds nor diving pirates impeded our progress as we swam across the bay and back again, a swim of about 600 metres.
Also relevant to both Órgano and Maguey is a news story (March 2021) that FONATUR had purchased back these two bays from Fernando Chico Pardo (Chairman of the ASUR group). Pardo had purchased this land for development in 2011. The land is zoned for hotel and mixed commercial use, but no development had begun (and presumably no development had even been proposed). I guess the “For Sale” sign is back up on the beaches.
Chahué (January 28):
In The Edge of Enchantment: Sovereignty and Ceremony in Huatulco, Mexico, author Alicia Maria Gonzalez notes that Bahía Chahué was an alligator-infested marshland up until the FONATUR development. The sand, gravel and rock from nearby construction was used to fill the marsh and create a lovely beach with a lifeguard, public washrooms (5 pesos), and showers (10 pesos). Caution is advised at Chahué for anyone not comfortable in the water. The beach descends quickly below the water and waves crash near to shore. There are occasional rip tides. Chahué is less sheltered than other Huatulco bays so there are often modest waves. These sea swells were moderate, in fact fun, as we swam across the bay and back. The bay is about 400 metres across at the breakwater, so about an 800-metre) swim.
Cacaluta (February 4):
The original name of this bay was Cacalotepec, translated as “the hill of crows.” To get to Bahía de Cacaluta, one drives or walks 5 kilometres from the Binniguenda hotel, passing beyond Maguey, to get to the trailhead. It is then a 20-minute walk along a maintained trail. Part of the trail is along a boardwalk with two viewpoints overlooking what in February was a dried-up wetland – so dry in fact that even the grass growing where the marsh used to be has turned brown. We may need the help of Tlaloc, the Aztec god of rain, and the rainy season to replenish this (and other) marshlands.
Cacaluta Bay has two beaches shaped like side-by-side smiles. There is a small spit of land separating the smiles, and this point is closest to the rock island dominating the mouth of the bay. From that point, we swam across to the island, then across its rocky frontage (no beach), inside the roped-off snorkel/scuba diving area. We then closed the triangle by swimming back to our starting point, about 700 metres.
San Agustín (February 11):
It was about 10:30 in the morning as we wound our way along the gravel road (half hour drive), to access Bahía San Agustín from Highway 200. We followed a convoy of five large tourists buses on the way in. Our beach restaurant waiter at San Agustín, Cristian, thought there were about forty restaurants lining this bay. I didn’t count, but there certainly are a whole lot of them.
A central attraction at San Agustín is the coral reef located close to shore, in shallow water, and is more or less at the centre of the bay. The roped-off swimming and snorkelling area includes the coral reef and a rocky outcrop which is to the right while facing the sea. The boat access to the shore is on either side of this snorkel area.
My favourite part of Huatulco bay swimming is crossing over a coral reef. Not only for the underwater eye-candy this provides, but it also allows for a sense of movement not normally experienced in open water swimming. So even we slow swimmers feel as if we’re “ripping” when crossing over a reef. We did just that at San Agustín, but mostly we swam around the reef following the buoys along the outer edge of it, and then back, an estimated swim distance of 900 metres.
Conejos (February 18):
Some long-time visitors and residents might remember Bahía Conejos before the all-inclusive resort hotel Secrets opened in 2010. There used to be a walking trail, now fenced off, that led down to the beach and a restaurant run by local fishermen. Neither the trail nor the restaurant survived the arrival of Secrets and the subsequent fencing off of the adjacent property by the Melia Hotel chain.
Melia had announced in 2014 it would build a 500-room resort hotel on Conejos – it would have been located just east of Secrets, but as of yet, nothing but the fence and a security guard occupy the site. However, there is another trail down to Conejos west of Secrets, and two local restaurants on the beach.
Thanks to our swim quest, we rediscovered Conejos, and enjoyed the bay and beach from one of the restaurants. The trail access has a handmade sign for Conejos Bay just before arriving at the Secrets resort, about a 7 kilometre drive from Tangolunda. Conejos has the unique feature of a rock outcropping that partitions off a part of the bay. This spot is where the trail leads, and where the two restaurants are located. There is a slightly elevated, full view of the entire bay and beach access from this spot. The rock outcrop serves to screen the view of the resort leaving anyone at the restaurants with the illusion of a lovely undeveloped bay on the Oaxacan coast. In addition, while we were there for several hours, very few people from the resort ventured out onto the beach, solidifying this perspective.
Our swim was straight across from the two ends of the curved bay and back, about 650 metres in all.
Tangolunda (February 25):
Being a foreigner of the snowbird variety, with ten or more winters in Huatulco, it’s funny how much of an outsider I still felt at the resort-lined Bahía Tangolunda (“pretty woman”) bay. Yet for thousands of tourists each year, the view of this bay is likely what they take home as a memory of Huatulco. It’s a beautiful bay, in a resort-esque sort of way. The sandy curve of the bay is framed on one side by the impressive and ordered look of the reddish-orange Las Brisas hotel complex, and on the other side by mansions of Balcones de Tangolunda peeking out on the rocky cliffs.
Getting to the beach I couldn’t help feeling as if we were sneaking onto the king’s estate to poach deer. The public access is from the campground (parking 10 pesos). From here you walk along the chain-link fence of the golf course. The trail is strewn with tires and broken sand bags, placed there when the area was a bog. In February, of course, it’s bone dry. The walk is 3 or 4 minutes to the beach.
The Chontal name for this bay was tecualo, the place of rocks. We found this to be an apt description. The bay itself boasts prominent rocky islands, but there are also rocky mounds near the surface of the bay, cordoned off inside the swim areas. There are two buoy-lined swim areas, one in front of the Barcelo, the other in front of the Dreams resort. There is boat and jetski access between these two roped off areas.
We swam out and along one side of the Barcelo swim area, then further out to a point on the rocky island closest to the shore. From this rocky point we could see there was a line of rocks behind the island stretching out seaward. There is a break in the rocks about 10 metres wide, and through this break we could see the beach in front of Dreams (Camino Real Zaashila has its own cove separated by a rocky outcrop from the Dreams Resort.) We swam through this break in the rocks and across to the swim area in front of Dreams. Then back across the front of the bay to our starting point. This swim route was our longest swim in our swim-the-bays project – the full loop was about 1 kilometer.
Chachacual Bay (March 4):
Of all the nine bays of Huatulco, Bahía Chachacual takes the most effort to get to. It is accessible only by boat. We rented a lancha at San Agustín for the 20-minute boat ride to Chachacual. As you enter the bay by boat, the long playa Chachacual is on the left, stretching across most of the bay. To the right, is a separate cove known as Playa La India. This beach, often touted as a remote idyllic spot, was partially lined with beach umbrellas and tables. There was a beverage service. A lovely spot with boats anchored in the cove, shallow waters, and a nice beach, Playa La India was the end point of our cross-bay swim.
We jumped off the boat at the entrance to Chachacual bay, opposite Playa La India, where there was a small roped off snorkel or dive area along the rocks. From there we picked a large boat anchored at La India as our line of sight and began our swim. For this swim, John and I had company. John’s niece, Schuyler, an experienced open-water swimmer, joined us for the swim; John’s wife Deborah and her sister Priscilla were the boat spotter crew as we swam across the deep waters of the bay. Our swim distance at this, our final bay, was about 900 metres.
Bahía de Santa Cruz sees the most open-water swimmers. Each morning between about 6:30 and 8:30, there are a fair number of regular swimmers. Besides the ease of access for most Huatulqueños, there are markers for the different swimming abilities. From the beach looking seaward, there are some green buoys that can be used as swim objectives. The first green buoy, referred to by the regular morning swimmers as “El Primero,” is at the end of the cruise ship pier. The distance out and back is about 700 metres. The next buoy further out is at the entrance to La Entrega (round-trip, about 1,500 metres). Most of the longer distance swimmers, if going this far, swim to the beach at Entrega. The Entrega beach is approximately 1 kilometre in each direction from the Santa Cruz beach.
John and I separately do a fitness swim at Santa Cruz each week, so we didn’t include it in “Swimming The Bays Of Huatulco” project.
In all, a fun and interesting project for John and me this season. The swim across each of the nine bays of Huatulco has enhanced our experience of Huatulco overall, and provided us with unique experiences of each of these lovely bays. There will be another swim project for us next season in Huatulco. I hope the above descriptions and swim information are useful and encourage other open-water swimmers to explore Las Bahías de Huatulco.
Randy Jackson: email@example.com
By Marcia Chaiken and Jan Chaiken
Marcia Chaiken has been contributing articles to The Eye, most often co-authored with her husband Jan, since the inception of the publication. Together, the Chaikens have had a broad experience in conducting research in many diverse fields, and their Eye contributions have ranged from results of surveys and interviews conducted in Mexico to descriptions of personal experiences during decades of travel in Mexico.
Marcia was born in the Bronx, New York, and raised in New Jersey, first in Rahway, where she met Jan at age six, and then in Hackensack. After earning a B.A. degree in Zoology at Douglass College (Rutgers University), where she wrote for the college newspaper and worked in the bookstore, she went on to receive an M.A. in Health Sciences at UCLA and then taught in the Ph.D. program at New York University Medical School. After marrying Jan in 1963, she worked on the staff in the Biology Department at M.I.T. until she took a break from research to have a son and then a daughter. She resumed her studies at Columbia University, switching fields to social psychology. She completed her Ph.D. at UCLA and began conducting research at the RAND Corporation in Santa Monica, where she and Jan collaborated in carrying out research and analysis and co-authoring publications in the field of criminal behavior and criminal justice. Marcia also carried out research and evaluations of programs for children and women in underserved areas while she held positions at UCLA, Brandeis University, and Abt Associates in Cambridge, and the research company she founded in 1989, LINC. Her many publications helped develop Federal policy and practice throughout the United States.
After retiring in 2011, Marcia completed a course of study in the Jewish Renewal Movement and was ordained as a maggidah (Jewish story-teller) in 2014; she has told stories in Oregon, California, Israel and Mexico. Marcia also earned certification to teach aqua aerobics and has given classes in Oregon and California.
Marcia first visited Mexico when a graduate student at UCLA. While raising their children in Los Angeles, Marcia and Jan frequently spent school breaks with their family and Sheltie driving down into Baja and other northern Mexico states, hiking in the deserts, dancing at fiestas, and relishing meals in Mexico. During the 1990s both Marcia and Jan were working 70 or more hours a week in Washington DC, so for holidays they would fly to the Yucatán and explore archeological sites, cenotes, and lagoons up and down the coast. Longer vacations were spent exploring every continent except Antartica. In 2001, they stored all their belongings and drove through most of Mexico. Huatulco seemed like paradise and they returned annually, staying about seven years in the condo they bought. In 2019 they moved into a cottage in a retirement community in Saratoga, California, where Marcia is active in many organizations and spends her free time reading, walking and exercising in the indoor pool. But Huatulco still draws Marcia and Jan back for months almost every year.
Her favorite Eye contribution is “Pre-Hispanic Residents of Huatulco” (April 2015), since the research for the article required behind-the-scenes investigation in government anthropology departments in Mexico City, Oaxaca City and, of course, Huatulco.
By Kary Vannice
While climate change research is producing issuing dire assessments about the very short timetable and the very large commitments required to avoid environmental disaster, there have actually been some bright spots on the ground. Here are five of them.
1) The Monarch Butterfly Bounces Back
In the January 2017 issue of The Eye, I reported on the death of 6.2 million monarch butterflies in a freak severe winter storm in the Sierra Madre mountains of Oaxaca. At that time, experts were so concerned about the fate of the monarch that they speculated that they might be listed as threatened in just a few short years. In 2020, the numbers hit an all-time low.
In 2021, however, some areas along the migration route saw an increase in monarchs by as much as 4900% from the previous year. While others saw only a 25% increase from 2017, biologists and conservationists are encouraged that this is the beginning of a new era for the monarch butterfly.
2) The Giant Panda Delisted
China’s giant panda’s iconic black and white markings have long been a symbol for conservationists worldwide. The World Wildlife Fund, which has used the panda as their logo since 1958, upgraded them from endangered to vulnerable in 2021.
There are now about 1800 pandas thriving in the wild; last year, China also announced the creation of the Giant Panda National Park, which will contribute to growing numbers of wild pandas. The park will be roughly the size of the United Kingdom and will also serve to protect other threatened and endangered species such as the China tiger and the Siberian leopard.
3) Ocean Protection and Coral Reef Recovery
Fourteen countries banded together in the name of ocean conservation. Australia, Canada, Chile, Ghana, Indonesia, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Namibia, Norway, Portugal, Fiji, Jamaica, and Palau collectively committed to protecting all of the world’s oceans, not just focusing on the areas that were already in preservation status.
From shutting down illegal fishing operations to restoring depleted mangrove forests and renewing coral reefs, these 14 nations are committed to doing their part to solve the more significant climate change crisis.
Off the coast of Australia, in the Great Barrier Reef, a “coral IVF” project has aided in the birth of billions of new coral babies in 2021 alone. Australia also announced a plan to create 60 new marine reserves, with two massive reserves planned in the Indian Ocean, one of which will encompass 194,000 square miles.
4) Indigenous Peoples Recognized and Protected
The Peruvian government established a 2.7 million acre reserve specifically for “uncontacted peoples” to preserve their way of life and the land they live from. After 20 years of political debate, a new law has been enacted to protect indigenous people from oil conglomerates and other companies that seek to extract natural resources from the Amazon rainforest.
At last year’s United Nation global climate summit in Glasgow (COP 26, co-sponsored with Italy from 10/31 – 11/12/2021), research was presented that suggested that if tropical rainforest nations wanted to meet their Paris Agreement goals, the most effective action they could take would be to return vast sections of land back to the indigenous peoples and once again make them the land’s legal stewards.
5) Mexico Bans GMO Corn and Pledges to Phase Out Glyphosate
In January 2021, Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador issued a special decree that prohibited genetically modified corn and committed the country to phasing out glyphosate by 2024.
There are 59 distinct varieties of corn that are native to Mexico, the birthplace of corn, and many believe that planting GM corn could threaten the biodiversity of Mexico’s native corn.
Glyphosate, the herbicide used in Roundup, kills broad-leafed weeds and grasses. Glyphosate is suspected of causing illnesses such as cancer, infertility, and liver disease. In the decree signed last year, farmers and other agricultural producers will have to stop using glyphosate by 2024.
Both of these protections are important steps towards keeping the food supply in Mexico safe and healthy, as well as preserving the integrity of Mexico’s most important native food, corn.
By Marcia Chaiken and Jan Chaiken
We first met Dr. Miguel Ángel Quiroz Tovar about twenty years ago. One day our family arrived in Huatulco to visit us from California, and our granddaughter, who was then six, spent the day diving to the bottom of the pool; by that evening she was holding her aching ear and crying. We called a Huatulco resident who had children around age 6 for advice, and within an hour Dr. Quiroz appeared at our condo. After a few perceptive questions and a quick check, Dr. Quiroz assured us that the pain was caused by air pressure in the plane followed by diving, which forced wax deep in our granddaughter’s ear. He said she needed to come to his office so he good irrigate the ear – assuring her that the procedure would not hurt and her ear would feel much better. Sure enough, when she returned from her office visit, she was her usual smiley self and so excited about having met Dr. Quiroz’s daughter who was exactly her age.
Since then, whenever we’ve had a medical problem while in Huatulco, Dr. Quiroz is generally the person we call. We are not alone. Virtually all the English-speaking residents we know in Huatulco have at one time or another paid him a visit for an ailment.
Miguel Ángel Quiroz Tovar was born and raised in Mexico City. He began learning English in primary school and continued advancing his language skills during his secondary education. He matriculated at the prestigious, highly selective National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) both as an undergraduate and in the School of Medicine where he completed his doctorate degree. His internship and residency, with a specialization in General Surgery, were carried out at the Centro Médico (Medical Center) of the IMSS (Mexican Institute of Social Security), a government agency that operates as part of the Mexican Secretariat of Health. He was awarded membership in the International Association of Surgeons in 1993.
Practicing at the Red Cross Hospital in Mexico City, he met and fell in love with a dentist who was also affiliated with the hospital, Patricia Jimenez Bader. Six months after they met, they married. She was originally from Oaxaca, and their wedding took place in Oaxaca City. The young couple traveled to Huatulco for their honeymoon and they found the area so attractive that they decided to return. In 1994 they both set up their practices here.
Huatulco at that time had a dearth of medical services. There was no hospital. And Dr. Quiroz performed the first surgery in the area. His practice rapidly grew, first with Mexican nationals and then, as tourism developed, with visitors and then foreigners who became permanent residents. Later the IMSS created a local hospital, and private clinics began to be established. Dr. Quiroz practiced in the local hospital for a number of years but has shifted his services entirely to private clinics.
Today, at the height of the tourist season, his practice consists of about 30% foreigners. Although he is certified as a surgeon, Quiroz’s first training as a general practitioner is constantly in use. About 60% of the problems that bring patients to his office are abdominal. Over the years, we’ve heard many reports from English-speaking friends about times when they self-diagnosed problems as simple “Montezuma’s revenge” only to become so ill they sought medical help from Dr. Quiroz, who of course realizes that diarrhea can be symptomatic of a host of diseases which must be diagnosed before targeted medication can be prescribed.
Two long-term members of the local English-speaking community credit “Dr. Q” with saving their lives in 2014. First the husband developed symptoms including chills as well as severe abdominal distress. He saw a doctor who medicated him and then left on vacation. His symptoms worsened, and his wife called Dr. Quiroz, who came over to their condo. When he arrived, the wife was also experiencing severe abdominal distress and shaking so vigorously from chills that she could barely talk. Dr Quiroz immediately admitted both of them to a clinic as inpatients and began rehydrating them intravenously. Their symptoms increased to the point that both of them were hallucinating. A round of tests didn’t prove conclusive and Dr. Quiroz told them that he would bring in a specialist and if that didn’t produce a diagnosis he would need to send them to a hospital in Mexico City. Fortunately, he and the specialist identified the problems as being caused by a specific amoeba that responded to medication. The couple are not only grateful for the medical care but also the kindness of Dr. Quiroz’s wife and children during the episode.
In additional to growing their practices, Dr. Quiroz and his wife also grew their family. They have two sons and a daughter. And he is very proud of all their accomplishments. But he seems most gratified by the success of his wife’s dental practice.
About four years ago, doctors in Huatulco organized as The Association of Doctors in Huatulco (Asociación de Médicos de Huatulco). Dr. Quiroz serves as president of the association. Together the doctors hold conferences, invite practitioners from other parts of the country for educational meetings, conduct community health promotion campaigns and provide informational talks on the local radio. The Association grew to include about 40 active members. But the need to respond to the COVID pandemic reduced active membership to about 12. Now that a major proportion of the population has been vaccinated, including almost all of Dr. Quiroz’s patients, the Association’s activities may be restored.
Dr. Quiroz relaxes when he has time by fishing. He enjoys spending time fishing with his sons, sometimes from the beach and sometimes from a boat. He is also an avid reader of historical fiction. The Journeyer (2010), Gary Jennings’ historical novel about Marco Polo, is one of his favorites. And he has read all six books about prehistoric life by Jean Auel.
We were fortunate to have met Dr. Quiroz so very long ago and to have watched his practice and medical services in Huatulco expand to the point where diagnosis and treatment of many diseases no longer require a trip to facilities in Mexico City. We are also amused by the coincidence that Dr. Quiroz’s daughter. whom our granddaughter met at age six, is now – like our granddaughter – in medical school.
Dr. Quiroz’s telephone number is 958 587 6628 and his email is firstname.lastname@example.org
By Carole Reedy
Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous creation, Detective Sherlock Holmes, never actually used the oft-quoted phrase “Elementary, my dear Watson,” although he often responded to remarks by his sidekick Dr. Watson with the simple deduction “Elementary.” As we mystery readers know, however, things are never as simple as they seem.
Today, mystery novels are among the most-read genre among adults, second only to romance novels. It all started with Edgar Allen Poe’s publication in 1841 of “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.” But even as far back as the 16th century, leaflets that reported details of the latest gruesome crimes were written and distributed, and stories with elements of crime have been around since ancient Greece.
As youngsters, many of us obsessed over the adventures of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. I well remember arranging all of my Nancy Drew and Judy Bolton (recommended by my mother) novels in numerical order on the bookshelves in my bedroom, and I loved perusing the colorful covers.
What’s the attraction to the genre that has endured for 150 years? What are the elements of a successful mystery? I talked to many readers and, after conducting a bit of research, came to a few conclusions. Included at the end of this article are recommendations – theirs and mine – for hours of delightfully mysterious reading.
Tell me a story
For centuries people have gathered to share stories. The craft of storytelling requires believable, distinctive characters, a setting filled with atmosphere, and a plot that stimulates emotion and challenges the reader’s mind. Avid reader Larry Boyer from Denver likes the “puzzle” element of the mystery. And indeed, who doesn’t love a puzzle? Dr. Katherine Ramsland, a professor of forensic psychology, backs up this thought: “A puzzle is a challenge to the brain, and figuring it out provides closure.”
Although mystery novels inevitably involve a crime and a police presence, including a detective, not all are gruesome like Poe’s tales and neither are they all graphic in their description of murder. Solving the crime is the purpose, but the enjoyment comes from multi-dimensional characters – villains, detectives, and police alike. Mysteries have answers, and that is reassuring to readers, especially in our ever-changing world.
In Psychology Today magazine (April 12, 2019), David Evans deduces that mystery novels “are redemptive, they give us hope, and help us move from fear to reassurance.” Many mystery novels are pure psychology.
Patricia Highsmith reigns as queen of psychological murder stories. Strangers on a Train (1950) is her most recognized work, perhaps because a popular movie was created from it, but Highsmith has crafted dozens of stories and novels that surprise and shock, all written in her distinctive style reflecting an existential philosophy. She is never dull.
Two of her other novels have been made into suspense-filled films: The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955; film starring Matt Damon, 1999) and The Price of Salt (1952, under the nom de plume Claire Morgan; republished as Carol under her own name, 1990; film titled Carol, starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, 2015)
Of all the factors that make up successful mysteries, character development appears among the top factors for a writer’s publishing success. This may be the reason that series are so popular. Readers like to become involved in the characters’ lives over time to the point that they sometimes discuss them as if they were personal friends.
Boise reader Camille Oldenberg expresses a shared sentiment: “Long after I finish a series, I don’t recall the details of the mysteries but I do recall the ongoing characters and the setting. I think character development is what most appeals to me in all fiction.” Both Camille and other readers mentioned that a glimpse into other cultures is also a factor contributing to their enjoyment of mysteries. Many different countries and cultures are listed in our recommendations.
In another interesting take on characters in mystery novels, Booker Prize Winner Marlon James, whose mother is a detective in Jamaica, has created a six-part TV series for HBO and the UK’s Channel 4, Get Millie Black, in which a Jamaican detective is forced to quit Scotland Yard and returns to Jamaica in search of a missing person.
“She’s not based on my mum, whatever my mum might think,” says James, though he does like to believe some of the detective work has rubbed off on him. “I am my mother’s child,” he says. “I look at writing as a mystery that I have to solve. I start with a character and follow them.”
Some of our favorite literary novelists contain an element of mystery in their best-selling works. Take two of the most lauded authors of the 20th and 21st centuries: Paul Auster from the USA and Javier Marías of Spain.
Auster and Marías capture the essence of humanity with engaging stories written in unique styles that explore identity and reality. Paul Auster became famous after The New York Trilogy hit the market in 1985. City of Glass, the first book of the trilogy, features an author of detective fiction who becomes a private investigator and descends into madness.
Marías, whose Nobel Prize for Literature award announcement should occur one of these years, also searches for identities. Several of his novels are centered around a crime committed. A Heart So White (1992) starts out with a suicide, The Infatuations (2011) with a murder, and one of the main characters in Berta Isla (2017) is a spy. Marías is a master of digression. Both Auster and Marias deliver food for thought and hours of amazement as the complexity of the characters dominates the action.
Mexico City reader of many genres Mimi Escalante sums up the allure of the genre simply, echoing Marguerite Duras’ sentiment: “They are glamorous and eccentric. The suspense keeps us going…and, after all, crime attracts us.”
Recommending a few mystery writers and their works is onerous. Here’s my attempt to provide you with a variety of choices.
Let’s start with the 19th century
The Woman in White (1859), by Wilkie Collins
The Collected Sherlock Holmes Stories (1887-1927), by Arthur Conan Doyle (four novels, 56 short stories)
Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841), by Edgar Allen Poe
The Experiences of Loveday Brooke (1893-84), a collection of stories by Catherine Louisa Pirkis, the first woman author to create a woman detective
Bleak House (1852-53), by Charles Dickens
Early 20th Century: the Queens of Crime
During the Golden Age of the 1920s and 30s, four British women dominated the scene with their dark detective novels.
Ngaio Marsh of New Zealand wrote 33 novels with London’s Chief Inspector Alleyn as her protagonist. An award, named in her honor, is given out each year in New Zealand for the best mystery or crime book.
Agatha Christie is known for her 66 detective novels and 14 short story collections. You may recognize her main detectives, Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot.
Dorothy Sayers is best known for her detective Lord Peter Wimsey. Quite a diverse woman, she published 16 novels, eight short story collections, seven poems, and 24 nonfiction works, among them translations and plays.
Margery Allingham is “my favorite of the four queens of crime” according to J. K. Rowling, author of the famed Harry Potter series. Allingham is yet another of the four queens who published prolifically, with 18 novels and more than 20 short stories centered around her main detective, Albert Campion.
The late 20th and 21st Century Series
Inspector Lynley series: 21 novels by Elizabeth George. The setting is England.
Ruth Galloway series: 13 novels with number 14 due out this summer by Elly Griffiths. Setting is Norfolk, England.
Three Pines Inspector Gamache series: 17 books by Louise Penny set in Quebec.
Maisie Dobbs series: 18 books by Jacqueline Winspear, set in London.
Kurt Wallander series: 12 books by Henning Mankell. Swedish setting.
Inspector Salvo Montalbano series: 28 novels by Andrea Camillieri. Set in Sicily.
Dublin Murder Squad series: Six books by Tana French. Set in Dublin Ireland.
Vish Puri series: Five books by Tarquín Hall, set in India.
The #1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series: 23 books by Alexander McCall Smith, taking place in Botswana.
Adam Dalgliesh series: 14 books by P.D. James. Set in London.
The Thursday Murder Club series: Two books so far by Richard Osman. Kent, England.
The Warehouse Winery series: Two books to date by Kathy Kaye, set in Washington State and France. Kathy personally wrote me her concerns as a mystery writer:
As a wine mystery writer (Death at 21 Brix, A Death in France and, next year, Death Among the Vines) I ask myself these questions as I begin: Can I really pull this off? Is the story believable? Are the characters interesting? Is the wine information correct? Are the police following police procedural?
She also notes that her readers have asked her to write less about wine making and more about what her characters are drinking!
On that note,