Tag Archives: Environment

Editor’s Letter

By Jane Bauer

When I was growing up, gym class was treated as a less important subject than math or English. It was grouped in with art and woodworking (which I wish I had taken). It was a class you would skip without being worried about falling behind and many girls I know routinely came up with reasons for being excused from it. However, in the real world, skills learned in gym class are incredibly useful: it forces people to get out of their physical comfort zones, and it teaches teamwork, discipline, and communication.

On a larger scale, sports unites or separates groups, depending on whether you are a glass half-full or half-empty kind of person. The swell of stadium calls and passionate allegiances to teams have led to violent riots but also to emotional triumphs that have lifted people up and improved their lives.

One such moment is happening as I write this. With the Taliban in Afghanistan returning to power, the world watches helplessly to see how this will play out. Women will most likely be prevented from working (except as teachers and nurses), they will be restricted to women-only spaces at university and I assume limited in the subjects they are allowed to learn. You can bet they won’t be allowed to play sports where any aggressiveness might be displayed, a challenge to the meek silent demeanor the Taliban wants to force upon women. In the face of this, members of the Afghanistan women’s junior football (soccer) team and their families have fled to neighbouring Pakistan.

The international organization Football for Peace worked out the arrangements; Fawad Chaudry, Pakistan’s information minister, tweeted that the team had entered Pakistan at the Torkham border crossing and were met by a representative of the Pakistan Football Federation. The news service Reuters later published a photo taken at the PFF headquarters in Lahore of the 81 people involved – the team, their families, and their coaches; another 34 people are expected shortly.

When it comes to communities where girls and women are restricted in public life, sports can have an effective social impact. Girls who play sports tend to have higher self-esteem, continue further in education, and I would also posit that they learn to value their bodies as action-based, rather than through the sexualized lens of the media and social media.

My philosophy has always been “If you want to help a community support the education of its women.” I think I can take that one step further and include supporting its sports teams.

See you next month,

Jane

Day of the Dead

History
Day of the Dead originated several thousand years ago with the Aztec, Toltec, and other Nahua people, who considered mourning the dead disrespectful. For these pre-Hispanic cultures, death was a natural phase in life’s long continuum. The dead were still members of the community, kept alive in memory and spirit—and during Día de los Muertos, they temporarily returned to Earth. Today’s Día de los Muertos celebration is a mash-up of pre-Hispanic religious rites and Christian feasts. It takes place on November 1 and 2—All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day on the Catholic calendar—around the time of the fall maize harvest.

Altars
The centerpiece of the celebration is an altar, or ofrenda, built in private homes and cemeteries. These aren’t altars for worshipping; rather, they’re meant to welcome spirits back to the realm of the living. As such, they’re loaded with offerings—water to quench thirst after the long journey, food, family photos, and a candle for each dead relative. If one of the spirits is a child, you might find small toys on the altar. Marigolds are the main flowers used to decorate the altar. Scattered from altar to gravesite, marigold petals guide wandering souls back to their place of rest. The smoke from copal incense, made from tree resin, transmits praise and prayers and purifies the area around the altar.

Food of the dead
You work up a mighty hunger and thirst traveling from the spirit world back to the realm of the living. At least that’s the traditional belief in Mexico. Some families place their dead loved one’s favorite meal on the altar. Other common offerings:

Common among offerings is pan de muerto, or bread of the dead, a typical sweet bread (pan dulce), , often featuring anise seeds and decorated with bones and skulls made from dough. The bones might be arranged in a circle, as in the circle of life. Tiny dough teardrops symbolize sorrow.

Sugar skulls are part of a sugar art tradition brought by 17th-century Italian missionaries. Pressed in molds and decorated with crystalline colors, they come in all sizes and levels of complexity.

Costumes
Day of the Dead is an extremely social holiday that spills into streets and public squares at all hours of the day and night. Dressing up as skeletons is part of the fun. People of all ages have their faces artfully painted to resemble skulls and don suits and fancy dresses to mimic the calavera (skull) called Catrina, who represents the decadence of the wealty just before the 1910 Mexican Revolution. Many revelers wear shells or other noisemakers to amp up the excitement—and also possibly to rouse the dead and keep them close during the fun.

Adapted from National Geographic

World Surf League Visits Mexico for the 2020-21 Championship Tour

By Julie Etra

We all know about the pipeline at Playa Zicatela in Puerto Escondido, and some of the surf spots just to the east of Huatulco, including La Bocana and Playa El Mojon. A bit farther east is Barra de la Cruz, known almost as much for its wildlife conservation activities as for its surfing.

The 2020-21 Tour (2020 canceled for COVID-19)

In August of this year, Barra de la Cruz hosted the Corona Open Mexico tournament, part of the World Surf League (WSL) Championship Tour. The Corona Open is an international competition, featuring professional surfers from France, Australia, Japan, South Africa, Brazil, Italy, and the United States, all being countries with good surf. The World Surf League, the governing body of professional surfers, started out in the 1960s, going through multiple organizational and name changes until it became the WSL in 2015, when it was acquired by an investor group with surfing and media interests. The majority backer is the American billionaire Dirk Ziff, an indication that surfing has now become serious and profitable business. The fact that surfing made the Tokyo Olympics this year doesn’t hurt!

Competition in Barra is completely different from what goes on in Puerto Escondido, famous for its huge waves that attract thrill-seeking adrenaline surf junkies. I am told this by my daughter-in-law Joycelyn Turk (aka Joy), who knows much more about surfing than I do. Joy is a “Tica,” living in Costa Rica as a professional chef and avid surfer, and has surfed, up close and in person, Zicatela, Mojon, and Barra. Barra has a “point break” wave, where the wave comes off a headland or point, while the famous Playa Zicatela is a “beach break” that forms huge waves off the ocean floor.

The WSL competition is very intense and difficult to manage due to tournament protocols and the unpredictability of both the surf and the surfers. This is the first year that competitors overlap during heats, with two paddling out about five minutes before the two previous surfers are still in competition. The competitors paddling out must give priority to the pair in the final minutes of their heat, meaning the second pair has to give way to any wave either of the previous competitors has taken.

The championships at Barra de la Cruz were swept by the Australians. For the men’s tourney, Jack Robinson approached Barra ‘”correctly,” by sitting in the critical position outside the farthest rock, where the wave can be bigger and starts off with a “dredging barrel.” For the women’s tournament, seven-time women’s world champion Stephanie Gilmore narrowly won against Hawaii’s Malia Manuel.

Winning the WSL Championship

In 2021, the WSL is offering each of the winners (one man, one woman) of the entire tour a prize of $100,000. In addition the WSL has a prize pool of over $1 million, which is divided by competitive ranking among all competitors during each event.

The finals of this year’s WSL tour took place September 9-17 at Lower Trestles Beach in San Clemente, California; the men’s competition was won by Gabriel Medina of Brazil, who took fifth place in Barra, while American Carissa Moore, also fifth in Barra, took the women’s title.

According to the WSL, judging is on a scale of 1-10. The surfer’s performance on each wave is scored by five judges on five characteristics: difficulty; speed, power, and flow; and different assessments of the surfer’s maneuvers. The highest and lowest scores are dropped, and the three remaining scores are averaged. Then the two highest-scoring performances combine to become the surfer’s “heat total.”

The competition begins with 100 participants, male and female; occasional vacancies are filled with “wild card” competitors, which is how Huatulqueñan Regi (Regina Perez Paoli) was able to compete this year (more about Regi: https://www.montecito.mx/razones/surfing-huatulco – her scores were not available when this was written).

Why Did the Tour Come to Barra de la Cruz?
So, the next obvious question is WHY BARRA? The break, of course, the infrastructure to support the event and its large staffing and entourage, and – very important – COVID-19. Other potential host countries had less friendly protocols during the pandemic, with tourism and foreign arrivals curtailed or prohibited, although Joy and I viewed websites shouting RED status for COVID-19 in Huatulco, “LEY SECA!” (limits on alcohol sales), “50% occupancy!”

Interview with a Surfer
Naturally, to further my education on surfing, I took advantage of Joy’s visit to interview her on the topic.

How long have you been surfing? 22 years. It’s wild. All because of my friend Neal McCombs. We met in Carlsbad, California, where he and his family taught me how to surf. North County San Diego has a lot to offer surf-wise – something for everyone. I grew up in Tahoe so it was a natural transition from snowboarding to surfing, but still it took years to actually understand and be decent in the sport. I moved to New York City to work in Michelin kitchens and become a professional chef. While I was there, I was surfing at Rockaway in the city and out on Long Island in Montauk, before The Surf Lodge [a Montauk hotel/restaurant] opened, before it was as trendy as it is now. That’s also where I met another close friend, Danny DiMauro, who heavily influenced my surfing style.

Where is your favorite surf spot? That’s a hard question to answer. I have to say overall, five minutes from my house [in Costa Rica] is the break I’m at every day, all my friends are there, and the vibe is great (most of the time) and it’s always different. Some days it’s big and nasty, some days it’s small and playful, and almost every day it’s head-high for me because I’m short. Pavones would be a close second in Costa Rica because it is only a day of driving to get there and the second-longest left-hand wave in the world.

Tell me about Barra de la Cruz. Depending on the day, it can be very technical, starts off fast, and if it’s the right swell direction there’s potential to get some pretty serious barrel action both on the outside and on the inside of the wave. It can also be scary if there are large swells with overhead and double overhead waves. The current gets really strong during those moments and it’s hard to stay in position. And you have to get behind the rock and avoid falling into the rocks. If you are more to the inside of the rock, the takeoff is easier but that doesn’t mean it’s not intense.

The locals can be pretty territorial. which is normal for surfers, particularly in Mexico, which is completely understandable and ok, as long as you are respectful and give a friendly hello. It is a little different for women, we can get away with a little more, but we really have to prove ourselves. And we sometimes have to fight a little harder to get a good wave if there are a lot of people in the lineup. It has been my experience that, all too often, men will assume you can’t handle certain waves or that women can’t surf as well as men. So, you had better go when it’s your turn or you will forever be at the back of the line.

And other surf spots along the coast? Mojon is a gem. There are a lot of these gems along the coast. I cannot stress enough how important it is to speak Spanish or at least try. It goes a long way with the locals both in the water and on land. Also, really important, if you want to surf the more remote beaches, hire a guide. That will take you to hidden spots, get you some great waves and feed the local economy that depends on surf tourism. I have heard that Lalo with Surf Tours Salina Cruz is excellent.

I know this article is about Mexico and the competition, but where else have you surfed?
Most of Central America with the exception of Honduras because there’s not a whole lot of surf there.

Drew (my media naranja) and I met in Las Manzanas, Nicaragua, located on the Emerald Coast of the Pacific 45 minutes northwest of Chinandega. There’s lots of remote surfing up there, but none of the breaks really had names then. I was shocked to see another person in the surf and in true surfer fashion we thought the same thing at the same time “Who the f*** are you?”

El Tunco and Las Flores in El Salvador. The setup in Las Flores is very similar to Barra De la Cruz.

Bocas Del Toro, Panama, goes off during wet season and has a well-known big wave break called Silverbacks, and then lots of other breaks off the various islands that you can only get to by boat taxi.

Chile has Chicama and Los Lobos. both epic world-famous lefts, Chicama being the longest left in the world (makes goofy footers happy) at 2.2 kilometers from start to finish.

And then there’s Indonesia and the Maldives and South Africa. So many waves, so little time.

To see almost an hour’s worth of the WSL tournament in Barra de la Cruz, check out this video:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eJOKVxFHo8Y.

Slow Food 2.0 in Huatulco

By Alfonso Rocha

I’m pretty sure you’re already familiar with the “slow” concept that’s been tossed around for a few years in reference to sustainability, and maybe also you’ve already heard about a movement called “Slow Food,” which usually goes along with a shiny red snail. But have you ever investigated it? Or formed part of the international network that represents this movement? Now you have the chance to do so from Huatulco or any other part of Mexico.

Even though I have been formally a part of the organization Slow Food International since 2012, headquartered in Italy, I am still amazed at how this philosophy can grow and adapt to any circumstances or themes that surround the food sustainability and justice movement worldwide.

The official textbook definition of Slow Food is “a global, grassroots organization, founded in 1989 to prevent the disappearance of local food cultures and traditions, counteract the rise of fast life and combat people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from and how our food choices affect the world around us.” Since its beginnings in Italy, Slow Food has grown into a global movement involving millions of people in over 160 countries, working to ensure everyone has access to good, clean and fair food.

Slow Food believes food is tied to many other aspects of life, including culture, politics, agriculture, and the environment. Through our food choices we can collectively influence how food is cultivated, produced, and distributed, and change the world as a result.

The Slow Food international headquarters are located in Bra, Italy – the town in the Piedmont region where the movement was born. It is from here that the association plans and promotes the development of the network and projects worldwide. In Mexico, the Slow Food network began around 1999 among the chefs of Mexico City, but it didn’t expand much beyond that urban scenario of high-class kitchens and restaurants until 2012, when Slow Food´s governing body decided to move away from the “old ways” of Slow Food 1.0, the main activities of which were dinner events around the table in an expensive restaurant, drinking fine wines accompanied, of course, by local and seasonal foods of high quality.

During the International Congress of Slow Food in 2012, the association promoted a shift into a new era, Slow Food 2.0, going outside the restaurant environment and involving farmers, indigenous communities, young members, and food justice/sustainability activists who are not involved in the restaurant or chef scenarios.

Slow Food 2.0 – a Good Fit for Mexico

Since then, Slow Food in Mexico has grown and is now present from Tijuana to Chiapas, with a very diverse network that includes academics, indigenous communities, chefs, students, and more people interested in promoting this philosophy in the country. It is an honor for me to have formed part of the great journey and growth of Slow Food in Mexico. As an International Councilor I have been lucky to have traveled to different countries like Italy, Colombia, Costa Rica, China, Kenya, Turkey and USA to learn about the diversity of the movement.

And now I am lucky enough to be in Huatulco where a new Slow Food Community has been founded with local actors. Soon you can join – and enjoy – activities that promote good, clean and fair local food in Oaxaca.

Alfonso Rocha is an International Councilor for Slow Food Mexico. To connect with the local Slow Food Huatulco community, contact him at alfonso.rocha@slowfood.mx or look for “Slow Food Huatulco” on Instagram.

The Many Quelites de México

By Julie Etra

Do you ever wonder about the romeritos in the produce section of Super Che (the Chedraui supermarket in Huatulco), or wherever you shop for produce? How are they are cooked? Or served fresh? As an ingredient in a particular dish? They are one of many Mexican edible wild greens (think of young dandelion greens, which by the way, are not native to North America), known as quelites. The name is Nahuatl in origin, from quilitl, which means “tender edible herb.” They are vital in Mexican cuisine, their use predates the Conquest, and they are recognized for their high nutritional value.

These greens typically grow wild, like dandelions, and can be found in fields of other crops. Over a dozen plants, not all of which are native to Mexico, are considered quelites. Some of these plants are classed as weeds or pests in the United States, as we have not learned how to appreciate them. For hispanoparlantes, this video offers the best explanation and description of quelites: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9OSFM5dy_2Y (it is fun to watch even without knowing Spanish!).

The following is a list of some of the most popular quelites, and examples of their preparation.

Romeritos (Suaeda torreyana), known as sea-blight in English, grow in tidal wetlands and salt flats, and likes salty soils. It is known by many other names in the indigenous languages of different areas in Mexico (as are the other quelites). It is prepared as a traditional Christmas dish, or Romeritos Navideños, which includes mole paste, nopales (cactus paddles), potatoes, and garlic, but can be more simply simmered and served with nopales and shrimp.

Huazontle – the name is shortened from the Nahuatl huauhzontli – is also known as quelite cenizo (Chenopodium berlandieri). It is frequently found in somewhat salty soils, and is considered a weed in the western United States. It is related to another “weed,” lambsquarters (Chenopodium alba), which is actually quite tasty as a leafy green when it is young. Although huazontle is bitter when eaten raw, it is highly nutritious and can be prepared in a variety of ways, including with battered eggs (capeado), fried, simmered, in soups, and stews; it is bitter when eaten raw. (See “Mexican Vegetables: How about Huazontle?” in The Eye, August 2014.)

Verdolaga, Portulaca oleracea, or common purslane in English, is another quelite that shows up in irrigated pastures and vegetable gardens, including mine, and is highly nutritious. A common recipe is to sautée it in oil with onion, garlic, tomatoes, and chilies, but it is also eaten raw and in salads and tacos.

Alache, Halache or Vilota (Anoda cristata) is malva cimarrona and is in the same family with the hibiscus, the source of the delicious jamaica tea, and hollyhocks. These greens grow rapidly, like a robust weed. The tender leaves are used in the preparation of soups and broths, in combination with garlic, onion, pepicha (Porophyllum linaria, in the sunflower family. another quelite) and served with serrano peppers. It is also prepared as a medicinal tea.

Chepil (Crotalaria longirostrata), also known as chipilin, is an attractive quelite in the pea family. Once you recognize this plant and its pretty yellow pea-like flowers, you will see it growing everywhere around Huatulco. The leaves are used in traditional Oaxacan tamales in the masa, or dough. They are also used in the Oaxacan soup called espesado de chepil, which includes squash blossoms, zucchini, corn, lime, and salt. In Chiapas they make a soup with corn dough balls mixed with chepil. Sometimes you can find the tamales de chepil in the Mercado Organico de Huatulco, and it is very popular in Oaxacan cuisine.

Hoja santa or momo (Piper auritem). Hoja santa means “holy leaf”; a favorite Mexican recipe, quesadillas de hoja santa, uses the leaf of this plant as a substitute for the tortilla, with quesillo (Oaxacan cheese), mushrooms, onion, garlic, epazote (another Mexican herb), salt and pepper. YUM. There are recipes for chicken in hoja santa, and aguas (beverages) made with hoja santa. This is a versatile plant, with the leaves used to wrap all sorts of ingredients, and is an essential component of the green mole of Oaxaca.

Pápalo (Porophyllum ruderale). This leafy green is said to taste somewhere between arugula, cilantro and rue, and is used in salsas (salsa verde, guacamole) and to season meat. It is also used in tacos, and soups, and should be served raw. Also known as quilquina and papaloquelite, the root of the word, so to speak, comes from papalotl, the Nahuatl word for butterfly.

Quintonil, also called bledo (Amaranthus spp). This quelite is well known from its seeds, but preparation of the greens varies, and it is used in several dishes. The leaves can be boiled with salt and combined in stews with chilis, onion and tomato. Sometimes they are also steamed and sauce is added. In the municipality of Naupan, Puebla, the greens are used in tamales with pork.

Hierba mora (Solanum nigrescens). This plant has good company as it is in the same family as potatoes, chilis, and tomatoes, all edible, and the nightshades, which are poisonous. It has medicinal value, for pain relief and for cleansing of the liver and kidney. The leaves, flowers, fruit and even the root are used. It is also used in stews and soups and is a vegetarian alternative for Catholics abstaining from meat on Fridays. The tender leaves are boiled; sautéed tomatoes, chilies, and onions are added. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zpdFRAyVzgk

Chaya (Cnidoscolus aconitifolius). I first learned about this plant in Merida, as it is very popular in the Yucatan, but I have also enjoyed delicious agua de chaya at the Saturday Huatulco Organic Market, which is especially tasty with cucumber (pepino). Chaya leavers make an excellent soup an a great torta with potatoes, like a potato pancake. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yHE3XKWludM

Flores de agave. Also known as galumbo, agave flowers can be simmered until tender, and with, guess what, sautéed tomatoes, chilies, and garlic. Add a pinch or two of salt and bicarbonate of soda, then add the drained flowers. Serve with tortillas de nopal. Although not directly related, yucca flowers (Yucca spp.) can be fleshy in texture, almost like endive, eaten raw and in salads.

Flores y cogollitos de Colorín (Erythrina coralloides). Flowers and flower buds of the colorín tree – yes, we do have a Calle Colorín in la Crucecita, where the streets are named for native trees. This beautiful tree attracts lots of hummingbirds. They can be prepared with beans to make pancakes. In the Nahua region of Mexico state, they are eaten cooked or fried; scrambled with eggs; mixed with a chili sauce, garlic, and epazote; served with beans and flavored with chili and cumin.

Lengua de vaca, or cow’s tongue (Rumex mexicanus). This quelite is used as a condiment due to its sour and slightly bitter taste. It is related to dock and sorrel, both foraged and grown in the U.S. Its use varies with location, of course, as Mexican cuisine varies enormously by region. In central Mexico, ground stems and leaves of lengua de vaca is used to flavor the mole de olla broth; they are also used in salads and sauces, steamed or stewed in tomato sauce.

Malacate, Malacote (Hydrocotyle ranunculoides) is an aquatic plant. Known as floating pennywort in English, the plant has naturalized to the point of being an invasive species in Europe. A relative of carrots, celery and parsley, the young leaves and stems of malacate are used in salads – the fresh flavor is reminiscent of celery. Older leaves are bitter, but can be cooked.

Okay Eye readers, you have enough to digest. ¡Buen provecho!

Editor’s Letter

“We look and listen to the mortally wounded nature … where the worst is yet to come.”
Zapatista Manifesto

We have been waiting in sweltering humid days for drops from the sky to give us a respite. We move through the world masked-up, struggling to breathe and wondering when relief will come. Grey skies that yield not a drop and thunderous sounds seem to taunt us. May and June on the Oaxacan coast are months filled with longing and anticipation. The landscape is brown and thirsty, its hunger mirrored by the people, who after an anemic tourist season, are also in limbo.

This month our writers explore the environment. To most of us, this means nature but it is also a state of being. We accept in nature the cycle of life which inevitably leads to death; dry tree branches or a fish that ends up on our plate. That which once danced through the fantastic blue depths of the ocean eventually stops swimming, whether by having fulfilled its allotted time or by being prematurely snatched up in a net.

For the past year we have lived in a collective environment, whether you are in Calgary or Delhi, we have all been moving towards a common purpose and defeating a common enemy. Humanity has become a school of fish that moves in sync like some other worldly dance. Yes, there are still so many things that we disagree about, but we are like the great network of trees that communicate through root systems; united by our fears and worries.

I have never felt greater reverence for nature than I have this past year. The symphony of birds is like the voice of god, whichever one you believe in, majestic trees have been reminders of our own individual insignificance. How can we ever improve our environment more than a tree does?

The world is slowly unfolding into its previous normalcy. People say it will never be the same but I believe they are wrong. We will slip back into our minutiae of concerns; getting more stuff, more power, just more for the sake of more. Will this time have been in vain? I hope we will remember the importance of nature when contrasted with the human experience and revere the one that has the greatest importance.

Then the sky opened, rain fell and suddenly everything is green.

See you next month,

Jane

Huatusco Showcases Bamboo at Its Best

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

Standing in the midst of a massive grove of bamboo is a sensuous experience. The beauty and power of the fastest growing plant in the world is breathtaking – literally. The genus Bambusa regulates the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide, and so one feels a sense of rejuvenation simply being amongst the vast expanses of bamboo. A simple grove of bamboo releases 35% more oxygen than an equivalent stand of trees.

Bambuver

A visit to the nonprofit (or A.C., Asociación Civile) Plantación Bambuver in the tropical town of Huatusco, Veracruz (only 4 ½ hours from the city of Oaxaca), teaches about not only the environmental importance of the 1,200 or so species of bamboo (the most common being Bambusa vulgaris), but also the multiplicity of diverse uses and applications: from commercial/industrial to artistic/aesthetic, from domestic/home to, of course, horticultural. Within the context of a three-hour tour of its installations, one cannot help but be impressed, through learning of the plant’s remarkable versatility and its environmental and ecological value as a sustainable industry.

Bambuver works in collaboration with the state of Veracruz, the national forestry commission, the national science and technology advisory board, and other national as well as state and local government branches. Its mission centers on the ongoing development and promotion of an integrated bamboo industry.

The Bambuver facilities are spread over three main locations in and around Huatusco, all easily visited in an afternoon.

  1. The green area consists of expansive forests comprising several species of bamboo, and includes a science and research center in addition to greenhouses for propagation. There is also a sales component so visitors can purchase small plants in plastic sleeves, and three-meter lengths of mature bamboo also suitable for growing back home. One can also buy large sacks of compost, with or without lombrices (earthworms). Lombrices create the compost from feeding off the exterior casings of coffee beans. Nearby coffee plantations (which can also be visited) provide Bambuver with the outer bean casings, otherwise waste, to use as feed for the lombrices. You’ll learn of the symbiotic relationship between the bamboo industry in Huatusco and the current as well as historical presence of the region’s coffee plantations; each and every bamboo forest at Bambuver has been nurtured with the aid of this natural fertilizer. You can even buy a bag of lombrices enabling you to kick-start or enrich a compost bin!
  2. A showroom in downtown Huatusco displaying examples of the plethora of uses for bamboo for domestic/home applications.
  1. A processing factory where the bamboo is treated and then fabricated for home and commercial/industrial use. The natural/renewable resource can be substituted for other building materials, to the extent that entire homes are now being built using bamboo rather than reinforced steel and other manmade construction products.

In the course of a tour of Bambuver, one inevitably begins to appreciate and consider the use of bamboo in construction, given that it is available in a variety of thicknesses, strengths, textures and colors (natural and dyed). It is used for building frames and beams, roofs, flooring, walls, windows, decorative interior panels, home bars, furniture, craft products, and much more.

Interesting Stops En Route to Huatusco
Starting from Oaxaca (or perhaps the Puebla-Cordóba-Acayucan route to Huatulco), consider a 2 – 3 day driving trip. The route north and east on the toll road from Oaxaca passes through several appealing towns and regions, some steeped in history (Córdoba), others producing crafts using materials native to the particular area (San Antonio Texcala for onyx and marble), still others showcasing environmental attractions (the water museum near Tehuacán, the biosphere near Cuicatlán, and the thoroughly impressive snow-capped Pico de Orizaba). And for the home garden aficionado, you’ll be passing through Fortín de las Flores, noted for cacti, succulents and anthuriums, to name just a few.

The Drive
Take the toll road north from Oaxaca until reaching the junction of 135D and 150D. Exit to the right, towards Orizaba / Córdoba, and continue along 150D. Leave the toll road when you see the Fortín / Huatusco sign. After paying a toll, keep right, and then left at the Huatusco sign, then left again at the next Huatusco sign. This takes you to Mexico 125, on which there will be clearly marked signage to downtown Huatusco.

Lodging and Bambuver Contact Info
Hotel Huatusco has underground parking, a restaurant, and even a conference center. It’s clean, with reasonably priced rooms (including a floor fan for the asking): Av. 1 Ote 399, Centro Huatusco 94108 (tel: 273 734 3852).

Bambuver A.C. is located a few blocks from the hotel: Av. 4 Ote 336 (tel: 273 734 0680 – both their website page list other numbers); you can learn more at http://www.bambuver.com.

Tours are available for 6 – 20 people, but smaller group / private tours can be arranged with sufficient notice, in either case at a nominal charge.

The one three-meter length of mature bamboo Alvin Starkman purchased at Bambuver several years ago is now a small forest. Alvin operates Mezcal Educational Excursions of Oaxaca (www.mezcaleducationaltours.com).

Sembrando Vida – Seeding Life?

By Julie Etra

Sembrando Vida in Mexico

On October 8, 2018, President Andrés Manual López Obrador (AMLO) kicked off a new program, Sembrando Vida (Sowing Life), in the hope that it would achieve two parallel purposes. The program encourages sustainable communities through cultivating trees with commercial value – fruit-producing (mango, cinnamon, soursop) and timber (mahogany, cedar, rubber, cocoa) trees. It also combats rural poverty and environmental degradation; planting trees combats environmental degradation because they uptake carbon, a greenhouse gas, thus fighting climate change.

By paying residents of rural areas to plant the trees, along with garden crops for their own use, the government hopes to “rescue” rural areas, reactivate local economies and regenerate the social fabric in communities. The program works by turning communal land into a strategic tool for developing the countryside, increasing the productivity of rural areas, and thus reducing the economic and social vulnerability of farm families in remote areas. Inaugurated in 2019, Sembrando Vida has been adopted in 20 of Mexico’s 32 states.

Sembrando Vida will end up costing the Mexican government between 12 and 15 billion pesos; growers receive 4,500 pesos a month in addition to the value of what they grow. Many of these people participated in a program fielded by the previous administration, through which communities were paid to protect and maintain the jungle and its ecosystems. Sembrando Vida replaces that program, with the unfortunate result that, in order to provide land to qualify for Sembrando Vida, farmers have chopped down or burned the same jungles they had been protecting. This is not encouraged by Sembrando Vida, of course, which intended to reforest/replant “degraded land.”

Sembrando Vida and the World

But this unintended consequence (among others) is not why Sembrando Vida is in the news in 2021. In April, at U.S. President Biden’s virtual Leaders Summit on Climate, AMLO promoted Sembrando Vida as a tool to resolve the dual continuing crises of Central American migration north to the United States through Mexico, and climate change. AMLO claimed that planting three billion trees in southern Mexico and Central America would create 1.2 million jobs, which in turn would cut down on northward migration to the U.S.

The U.S. would pay for the expansion from Mexico into Central America. Reuters reported that AMLO also suggested that the “U.S. government could offer those who participate in this program that after sowing their lands for three consecutive years, they would have the possibility to obtain a temporary work visa” to the U.S., followed by U.S. residency or citizenship.

Most analysts consider the Sembrando Vida program to be naïve, simplistic and unlikely to substantially curb the violence and poverty that has fueled immigration from Central America. According to the Mexican newspaper Reforma, the U.S. responded a little more clearly: “The United States is not interested in President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s proposal to link an extension of the Sembrando Vida program to Central America with a plan that offers work visas to Central Americans.”

If you check out the official government webpage for Sembrando Vida, it makes no mention of Central America (www.gob.mx/bienestar/acciones-y-programas/programa-sembrando-vida). It’s been suggested by Carolina Herrera, a writer for the U.S. nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), that AMLO was “attempting to distract from Mexico’s failure to advance a clean energy transition.”
In his presentation at the Leaders Summit, AMLO offered two other proposals – first, Mexico would limit crude oil production to domestic use and refine it locally, and second, Mexico would modernize existing hydroelectric plants to displace the use of fossil fuels. Given that Mexico has made few efforts on the federal level to curb greenhouse gases and encourage renewable resources, the first proposal demonstrates AMLO’s intention to support PEMEX, the state-owned petroleum company, over working on renewable energy options. Modernizing hydro plants supports the state-owned electric company CFE at the expense of solar and wind.

AMLO’s proposals, Herrera argues, will “essentially ensure that Mexico will not meet its international climate commitments and clean energy targets” for the international Sustainable Development Goals set for 2030.