Tag Archives: huatulco

Editor’s Letter

By Jane Bauer

“Migration is an expression of the human aspiration for dignity, safety and a better future. It is part of the social fabric, part of our very make-up as a human family.”
Ban Ki-moon

Race, gender, sexual orientation and religion are things we use to identify and separate us. We can now add vaccinated and non-vaccinated into the mix.

I am back in my village and it is a full year since kids here have had in-person classes. As in many places, group gatherings have been suspended until further notice- the future is in limbo. Unlike other places most households have ten or more people living there and there isn’t any internet or cell service so zoom classes aren’t a thing. Nobody wears masks or social distances in my village. When this whole thing first came down the village put up a barrier at the main entrance to restrict entry. However, few outsiders stop here and arguments about whose turn it was to monitor the gate soon caused the villagers to remove the barrier. School is still on hold.

The little boys who live next to me call out while I am making coffee. They can see through the fence separating our houses that I am there. They point to pieces of Mega blocks that have ended up on my side of the fence. I pick them up and pass them through. One of my dogs follows me and when they see him they call out his name with jubilation.

These kids have missed a year of school. As I move through the village and I see kids hanging around the tienda, chasing chickens for sport and sword-fighting with sticks, I feel defeated. While this quaint throwback scene to simpler times is touching, it will leave a mark on them if things do not get back on track. Home schooling via zoom with parents at home is a luxury. Access to getting a vaccine is a sign of privilege. While we lament how our world has changed in past year- the frustrations and restrictions regarding travel and home offices- most of us will bounce back. Much of the world will not.

This issue our writers explore the theme of Migration and Transition. Migration is a part of nature: the monarchs, the geese and now, driven by climate change, animals moving south from the Arctic. We are all trying to survive and for most people migration is about survival.

I heard on the news this morning about how there are many unaccompanied children are arriving at the US border with the idea that a better life awaits them on the other side. Why do we have children walking to find new homes? Why are there 26 million refugees currently living in host communities? Because we allow the things that identify us to also be the things that separate us. We get comfortable on our side of the fence with a feeling of entitlement that in some way we are more deserving to be in these positions. However, isn’t it all random luck or the situation you happened to be born into?

Until next month,

Jane

Contrasting Transitions:Guerrero and Aguilar Among the Maya

By Randy Jackson

The path of human history is a story of successive transitions. Few transitions are peaceful enough to allow the individuals affected to adjust without a personal cost. The greatest historical transitions are the collapse of civilizations. Pre-Conquest, and over the course of 3,000 years, Mexico has had seven major civilizations: The Olmec, the unknown culture or cultures that built Teotihuacán, Zapotec, Mixtec, the Maya, the Toltec, and the Aztec. The last of these civilizations, the Aztec, ended with the Spanish Conquest.

When wandering the ruins of some of these ancient civilizations, I believe one question intrigues us all: What was it like to be a person living in those ancient times? Anthropologists and archaeologists can articulate many aspects of the daily lives of people in these civilizations surprisingly well. These aspects are things people did, how they lived, even what they might have believed. But, except for the leaders of these civilizations, very little is known about any individual, especially individuals who had witnessed the transition of one civilization to another.

Two exceptions to this are Gerónimo de Aguilar and Gonzalo Guerrero. These two Spanish men survived a shipwreck and were washed up on the shores of the Yucatan in 1511, eight years before the arrival of Cortés. There were between twelve and fifteen men in all who washed ashore that day. Some were killed (their leaders likely sacrificed); the remaining men were all enslaved. All but two died or were killed in the following years.

The only two men to survive, Aguilar and Guerrero, escaped their initial enslavement and ended up among a rival Mayan group. Among this second group the Spaniards were treated somewhat better. By working hard, over some years they were able to integrate with the Mayan people and learned to speak their language.

The different ways these two men integrated into the Mayan society seems to have been a function of the type of person each man was. Aguilar was educated in the Catholic Church and was a Franciscan friar. As a man of faith, he kept his Christian faith and persevered in his time among the Maya. He hung onto some hope that he might, one day, return to Spanish society and even Spain. Less is known about Guerero’s upbringing, except that he was likely a fisherman before joining a Spanish crew heading to the new world. Guerrero distinguished himself in battle fighting for his Mayan compatriots. He became a warrior chief, he married a woman named Zazil Ha, the daughter of the cacique (chieftain) and had a family.

When Cortés approached the Mexican coast, he first stopped on the island of Cozumel for some ship repairs. While there, the Spaniards were approached by a canoe of Mayans. To the Spaniards bewilderment and surprise one of the Mayans asked in Spanish, “Gentleman, are you Christians?” This person was Gerónimo de Aguilar, indistinguishable to the Spaniards from his Mayan companions.

Aguilar had adapted and survived his Mayan captivity. With Aguilar’s ability to speak Mayan he was of great service to Cortés and when teamed up with Malinche (an amazing former noblewoman with command of several Mexican languages – see The Eye, March 2021), Aguilar had a front row seat to the Spanish conquest of Mexico. The societal collapse Aguilar watched was from the perspective of a Spaniard and conqueror.

Gonzalo Guerrero’s perspective was fundamentally different. Before leaving for Cozumel to meet up with Spanish, Aguilar went to Guerrero to tell him about the Spanish ship and to see if Guerrero would join him in meeting with the Spanish. Guerrero refused, telling Aguilar he would never be accepted back into Spanish society. He was tattooed and had nose rings and ear plugs in the Mayan style. And besides, Guerrero added, “And look at how handsome these boys of mine are.”

Cortés and his conquistadors passed through the Yucatán and went on to defeat the Aztecs in the Valley of Mexico. The Mayan peoples proved much more difficult for the Spaniards to overcome. It took them decades, and the lives of hundreds of Spanish soldiers, to subdue the Yucatán. The successful Mayan resistance is likely the result of having Gonzalo Guerrero to advise them.

The first Spanish attempt to subdue the Mayan Yucatán was in 1527, six years after the fall of the Aztecs at Tenochtitlán. Francisco de Montejo led a group of Spanish soldiers on this mission; his first effort was to try to get Guerrero on his side. From a ship in the Bahia de Chetumal, Montejo was successful in getting a letter to Guerrero promising to “honor and benefit” him if he became one of Montejo’s “principal men.” Guerrero responded, writing on the back of the letter in charcoal. He once again refused to join his former countrymen.

Montejo’s attempt to conquer the Yucatán was unsuccessful. The Mayans used guerilla tactics, as well as craftily supplying the Spaniards with misinformation. These tactics were considered to have originated with Guerrero. The heat, mosquitos and the Yucatán jungle did the rest. There were further excursions and some battles with the Mayans, but by 1535 the only Spaniard living in the Yucatan was Gonzalo Guerrero. By this time Guerrero had been among the Maya for twenty five years. Earlier, in 1531, Guerrero’s former compatriot, Gerónimo de Aguilar, had died near Mexico City on his encomiendia (an estate allowed to exact tribute from the native population after the Conquest).

Then in 1536, the Spanish attacked and overwhelmed a Mayan cacique named Çiçumba at a fortress in Ticamaya, Honduras. After the battle, among the dead, Spanish soldiers found a bearded man in native dress killed by a shot from an arquebus, an early long gun. The Spanish commander, Alvarado, reported that the man was Gonzalo Guerrero. Stories say he arrived from Chetumal with 50 canoes of warriors to support Çiçumba.

The dictionary definition of “transition” is “the process or a period of changing from one state or condition to another.” It’s hard to imagine a greater transition than a civilization collapsed by conquest. Millions of people living in what is now Mexico at the time suffered unknown hardships and death. So many individual stories that will always remain unknown to us. As for Gerónimo de Aguilar and Gonzalo Guerrero, we know the main structure of their lives, the decisions they made, some of the things they faced in life, even how they died. Their stories are grand and the transitions they faced are recorded for all times.

Microenterprise in Mexico: Building Women’s Businesses

By Deborah Van Hoewyk

In 1976, amidst crushing poverty on the other side of the world, an idea popped up. Muhammad Yunus, born into the British Raj in 1940 in what is now Bangladesh, was an economist with a crazy-quilt professional background. An academic, a social activist, a banker, and more, Yunus went out one day to visit the poorest households in rural Bangladesh. He found women making bamboo furniture; to buy the bamboo, they took out money-lender loans, but the interest rates were so high, the women earned practically nothing, despite all their work.

Lending to the “Unbanked” – and to Women

As a banker, Yunus knew that conventional banks would not make tiny loans at reasonable interest rates to the bamboo workers – the banks did not believe these people capable of paying back a loan.

Enter the idea, and what an idea it was! Microcredit – tiny loans for tiny businesses started by people so poor they’d never even been inside a bank. Yunus adapted the idea of lending circles – groups of women were issued the loan, picked the recipient out of the group, and members supported her in making sure her business did well enough to pay it back. Then it was someone else’s turn.

Over the next six years, Yunus would reach 28,000 microenterprise borrowers; the program became the Grameen Bank (“village bank”). Together, Yunus and the Grameen Bank were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006. The idea swept the social and academic world of poverty alleviation – microenterprise development was an innovative, sustainable path out of poverty. Today, 97% of Grameen borrowers are women; the repayment rate is 99.6%.

Why women? To Yunus, it was obvious that poverty inflicts greater stress on women, and when women make money they spend it first on their business, then on their families, and finally on their future. Pro Mujer is a U.S.-based women’s development organization that works throughout Latin America; in Mexico, it operates from Mexico City east to the state of Veracruz. Their research shows that Mexican women reinvest 90% of their income in their families and communities. Men? A measly 40%.

Born in the U.S.A., Bred in Latin America

Back on this side of the world, an organization called ACCIÓN International took shape fifteen years before Yunus came upon the bamboo furniture makers of Bangladesh. In the late 1950s, jumping the gun a bit on President Kennedy’s Peace Corps, a Berkeley law student named Joseph Blatchford undertook a thirty-stop goodwill tour involving tennis (he was an ace) and jazz, meeting with youth across South America in an effort to create cross-cultural understanding. He set up a volunteer “Youth Force” dedicated to international service in 1961, establishing ACCIÓN International in 22 barrios across Venezuela.

With the philosophy of listening to what local communities wanted to do, Acción volunteers helped build schools and water systems and health centers, giving people the tools they needed to help themselves. The United States Peace Corps started doing the same thing by the end of 1961; after eight years of expanding ACCIÓN International beyond Venezuela to Peru and Brazil, Blatchford went home and became Director of the Peace Corps. ACCIÓN International became just Accion and started focusing on microlending. In less than five years, Accion’s program in Recife, Brazil, made 885 small loans; those businesses employed 1,386 people.

Based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Accion began to build a network of financial institutions willing to lend to the poor. The great majority of microlending is conducted through the lending-circle model (now also called a “communal bank”). The networking strategy allowed Accion to expand its microfinance programs to 14 Latin American countries – Mexico among them.

In Mexico, Banco Compartamos (the “We Share” bank) opened its doors in 1990, and Accion invested. Accion also partners with CrediConfia in east central Mexico (Mexico City and the states of Mexico, Hidalgo, Puebla, and Michoacán), as well as the online microfinance platform Konfio, which started up in 2016. There are branches of Banco Compartamos in the Huatulco area in Chahue, Santa María, and Pochutla. Moreover, Oaxaca is almost unique among Mexican states in having a growing universe of credit unions (casas de ahorro, caja popular), often located in remote locations and quite willing to set up lending-circle-type financing. The biggest credit union, Caja Popular Mexicana, has branches in La Crucecita and Santa María.

The Microfinance – Microenterprise Development Connection

Mexican statistics indicate that very large businesses (over 250 employees) make up less than 1% of all Mexican businesses. The remaining 99% comprises medium (51-250 employees), small (11-50), and micro (1-10) businesses. The microenterprises are about 94% of all businesses and provide half of all the jobs in Mexico.

What does it take for a woman to get started on her own business? Here we should note that microfinance and microenterprise development are not the same. Microfinance provides a key tool for business expansion – without money, even if a business owner only needs enough money to stock 20 more scarves in her shop, there is no growth. Starting up a microenterprise is something else entirely. Like poor women everywhere, Mexican women face institutional barriers to getting financing, and the pathways to education and training are often blocked. But they also face cultural barriers.

Gender discrimination in Mexico is far more explicit (and can be extreme, see the article “Hits, Blows and Coffins,” on page 18 in this issue) than in other countries. Sociologist Gina Zabludovsky Kuper, from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), researches gender and power, and has written extensively about women as entrepreneurs and executives. In terms of microbusinesses, Zabludovsky Kuper points out that there’s a cultural perception about “women who start microbusiness in order to contribute to the family economy or get out of poverty” – they have to stay at the micro level because “their work is only viewed as auxiliary”; the women themselves often buy into the notion that just being a sideline business “is what is reasonable for them.”

Microenterprise – Making It Work

Nonetheless, in some places in Mexico, the programs to train and encourage women do come together with microfinance institutions, and women-owned microenterprises do start up and succeed.
The Mexico City nonprofit Crea Communidades de Emprendadores Sociales is typical of a microenterprise development organization. It offers programs to empower women entrepreneurs with training in business skills, technical assistance, and business support; it also brings participants into a support network for each other. It serves central Mexico (CDMX, and the states of Mexico, Aquascalientes, Guanajuato, and Querétaro), offering online services across the country as well.

From 2002 to 2006, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in Michigan funded a program in Oaxaca called Yo Quiero, Yo Puedo … Empezar Mi Propio Negocio (I Want to, I Can … Start My Own Business). Yo Quiero arose out of a women’s health initiative founded in 1985, added life-skills training in 1990, and started Yo Quiero, Yo Puedo as a school-based self-efficacy intervention in 1996. With Kellogg Funding, the microenterprise program served 600 rural women, started 17 bancos communal and 300 women-owned businesses, and had a 100% loan repayment rate. It included training 25 “social promoters,” who continue to run the program in Oaxaca, and have added a youth microentprise program that serves Oaxaca, Puebla, and Michoacán.

South of Oaxaca City, Villa de Zaachila is the site of the largest landfill in the state. A project named Mujeres A.V.E. supports solidarity networks for women to help them start and grow microenterprises that support their families and contribute to the community. Organized by the SiKanda Foundation (Oaxaca) and supported by the British Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, among others, Mujeres A.V.E. helped 45 women build the skills to strengthen their businesses and access new markets in its first year of operation (2018).

See for Yourself in Oaxaca!

There’s a new way to learn about Mexican microenterprise – visit one. Independent women micro-entrepreneurs, along with long-standing family businesses, abound in the craft towns around the state capital, Oaxaca de Juárez, and at least a couple of travel companies will arrange a tour for you.

The online Spanish travel company Authenticities (www.authenticitys.com) has a tour specifically focused on the entrepreurial women artisans – weavers, chicken-raisers, flower-growers, tamale-makers, potters – who participate in a micro-finance program to which Authenticities contributes.

Fundación en Via, which itself runs microfinance and microenterprise developments programs (https://www.envia.org/microfinance-tours), takes you to visit microenterprises where the owner is ready for her next En Via loan. The tour takes nearly all day, visits two communities, and gives the owners the chance to show you what they do and explain how previous and upcoming loans have helped build their businesses.

Love in the Time of Covid: Remembrance of Times Past

By Marcia Chaiken and Jan Chaiken

We have been sheltering in place since March 15, 2020. Just the two of us. Fortunately, fifty-seven years of marriage have allowed us to stockpile decades of memories of times when we sought opportunities to flee our busy lives in the U.S. and find solitary romance – often in Mexico.

Our earliest romantic moments in Mexico took place in the 1970s in archeological sites in eastern Mexico. Chichen Itza, Uxmal, and Palenque were relatively inaccessible at that time and were visited by very few tourists traveling independently. There were only one or two places to stay in each area, and we tried to choose one adjacent to the ruins, a new or newly renovated hotel that was large, luxurious and, for the most part, empty. We usually breakfasted by ourselves at dining room tables covered with pristine white tablecloths.

We spent the early, coolest part of the day wandering over the ruins of temples, climbing reconstructed pyramids, and reading to each other from papers published by archeologists with detailed descriptions of the digs. We filled in the gaps in knowledge by amusing each other with made-up stories of our interpretations of the glyphs – the ancient Mayan pictographs adorning the buildings and stelae, which at that time were still undeciphered.

When the sun became piercing and the busloads of tourists arrived, we cooled off in the hotel swimming pool or, at Palenque, in a memorable artificial stream that fed the pool. Then we ate lunch and retired to our freshly cleaned room. In the cool of the evening, when the grounds were nearly deserted and moonlit, we wandered hand in hand listening to the unidentifiable sounds in the surrounding jungle and watching the shadows play over the remains of the Mayan civilization, while imagining other couples from that civilization also strolling in the moonlight.

A decade later, in the 1980s, after having exhausted exploring many of the Mayan architectural sites, we romanced in Mexico in mainly uninhabited areas with fish-filled lagoons prime for snorkeling. Isla Mujeres was a memorable boat trip from Cancun; our hotel was noteworthy for a spectacular view, lack of hot water, and proximity to a good place to snorkel, but not much else.

Akumal became our favorite place to stay; all we really needed was a studio apartment with a kitchenette, a view of the water, and the sound of the waves pounding on the beach. After packing a lunch, we spent the days swimming side-by-side in waters that were natural aquariums, pointing out spectacular specimens of fish and other forms of marine life. The Xel Ha lagoon, not yet developed for tourists and accessible only by a narrow path through the jungle, became our private pool.

Xcaret was a bit more luxurious, having a changing room, a bathroom facility and chairs for lounging – but at that time not much more. The area was generally less private, but we could always find a place away from other people where we could commune with the fish, large iguanas, and each other. And the ocean in front of our Akumal digs abounded with interesting aquatic phenomena – sponges building their habitat, octopi lurking under rocks and snatching unsuspecting passing fish, and schools of fish, forming and reforming. Deserted cenotes around the area provided a place where we would float on our backs side-by-side and watch the birds and clouds overhead.

The following decade for the most part had rare times for romance. We were both working over 70 hours a week, flying all over the U.S. and almost never to the same destination. We became notorious for planning our flights so we could spend an hour or two together in an airline club in Chicago or elsewhere. We were fortunate enough to have a month’s vacation every year. Then we travelled as far from the U.S. as possible and chose places where it was really difficult for our employers and employees to reach us – mountains in New Zealand; islands on the Great Barrier Reef; rural villages in Italy, Spain and France; rivers in China; archeological sites in Malaysia. Mexico was too close and too accessible to prevent someone from contacting us about a statistical error or an ungrammatical sentence in a report to be published. So, although our stockpile of romantic times continued to grow, Mexico was not part of the pile.

That changed on Inauguration Day in 2001. Jan, who held a presidential appointment in the Clinton administration, was suddenly freed from his pager, cell phone, and government responsibilities. Marcia had developed internet communication between members of her research teams and could work from anywhere as long as she had her computer.

We immediately packed the computer, clothes and other essential items in our car and headed south and into Mexico. We spent the better part of that year driving around the country, staying in memorably romantic beach casitas or apartments with incredible city vistas. We wandered together through art museums discovering new artists. We enjoyed wonderful concerts. And we had numerous adventures, sometimes totally lost, sometimes totally terrified, but always together. And then we discovered Huatulco!

Although we settled down at the end of 2001 in Ashland, Oregon, one of the best tourist destinations in the U.S., we returned again and again to Huatulco, finally buying a condo and spending about six months a year here. For many years we drove our car, loaded with books and supplies, from Oregon to our condo, over varying routes and stopping to see friends or interesting locations on the way. Romantic times abounded – many over meals in fabulous restaurants in Oaxaca, San Cristóbal, Mexico City, and of course Huatulco. When Cafe Juanita was located in Santa Cruz, we had a standing reservation for New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day at our “own” table overlooking the plaza. After the move to the Chahue Marina, Juanita’s continued to be our place for romantic dinners – even planning our 50th wedding celebration there while having a Valentine’s dinner. We also have had a very favorite place in Huatulco for romantic breakfasts – but since we enjoy frequently being the only people there, you’re not going to find out where it is.

Finally, for the past 10 years, we’ve found many romantic moments, exploring together and writing articles for The Eye about our adventures. You can read about many of these in the Eye archives. So, thanks to you, readers, to our fellow Eye writers, and most of all to our Eye editor Jane for the many opportunities you have provided for building memories of romance in times past and hopes for more romance in Mexico, post-pandemic.

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).

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.”

Love by Any Definition in the Age of a Pandemic Lockdown

By Susan Birkenshaw

February 2021 is upon us. and while this, traditionally, is a romantic time of year it may take on a new twist of meaning for many of us this year. Valentine’s Day has so many ideas behind its concept. It could mean anything to any of us – from horrific murders, to the loss of a Saint or even love – long-enduring or love at first sight! For me, it is a time to consider and strengthen relationships of any kind – romantic, friend, family or even with your furry four-legged friend!

This has been a long and weird year of lockdowns, health fears, personal loss, and even worldwide turmoil and political unrest, which has brought me to considering how the relationships that are most important to us can survive and thrive. So, I have been on a quest to find out how my pals – close and worldwide – have created success in the relationships they hold most dear. In mid-December 2020, I sent a 5-question survey to 40 of my friends and connections around the world – representing a cross-section of singles and couples, with responses from both men and women aged 45 to 78. Much to my surprise, I received almost 60% back.

My questions were simple to write but when I started to write my own answers, it was much more difficult than I anticipated. The questions I asked all related to the lockdowns in 2020 and included the respondent’s top three critical relationships, what was most important to keep these relationships moving forward, what gets in the way, what is next in keeping relationship success going in the near future and how are we feeling about the coming year 2021 – specifically and in general?

Here are the respondents’ common themes. First, friends old and new are critical – my sense is that by year’s end everyone is craving connections and a wider variety of conversations, especially if they are living alone. I know that my mom who is 94 years old – spry, savvy, and with-it – wants desperately to be able to meet new people in her seniors’ residence, not because she doesn’t like those whom she knows but because a variety of connections give her energy!

Second, the absolutely most important connection was family – the definition here changes often from a single person (spouse, mother, brother, one person from the family at large) to a broader focus, say with a weekly family group ZOOM meeting. I find it fascinating that these definitions were not surprising when I spoke to my respondents – for example, I spoke to one person who has a large and widely spread family and the most important connection he has is his sister. On pondering this, he found this realization curious, but then his comment was “Well, my kids are busy, and I shouldn’t bother them!” I’d say this is something to think about.

Another critical insight that came up regularly was the friends who were long-term pals, the ones people have known for as long as 70 years. These come in the form of college or university friends, friends from first jobs, spouses of 50+ years, siblings who are close and supportive, and of course kids and grandkids.

In reviewing all the answers that I received, I found the most common themes of what worked and keeps the connections ongoing is a shared history, using technology (many learned new tech) – playing bridge online, fitness classes via ZOOM, simple phone calls. People develop new mantras that become important to them, often quotations: “It will be fine in the end and if it’s not fine, it’s not the end.” And my New Year’s Resolution, which I can’t claim to have written myself, but it works for me: “Think with honesty, speak with sincerity and act with integrity!”

Most of my respondents were grateful for two or three common things – laughter was first, honest conversations and a friends’ network that remains optimistic/supportive/challenging. Those who have pets of any kind were grateful for a different type of responsibility and sounding board: “Lucy (my pug-dog) doesn’t talk back but she does listen to my ideas as I talk them through, and she really does hear my sad tones when I need a cuddle!” “No matter what, I have to walk the dog!” “Sure, I can’t travel but it’s not as difficult to have a dog who I love when I have none of that choice.”

What I found deeply saddening was when I asked what gets in the way or makes it difficult to keep these important connections going in the times of lockdowns, there were many responses that were self-critical (“it’s my fault that …”) or less than positive when reviewing personal successes during 2020.

There were detractors or negatives common throughout the responses, such as fear of so many unknowns – COVID, economy, lack of personal value; perceived personal laziness; anxiety was a big issue along with self-doubt; lack of personal purpose; really poor time management with no personal schedule and if there is one, it is often tipped by a well-meaning spouse; no energy and becoming complacent.

The whole impact of COVID fatigue eats away at our personal foundations and the lack of clarity from each other and from any government agency is getting to us. Many of us are suffering My fear is that self-sabotage might become a habit and excuses are easy; since 2021 may continue to be stressful and fear-ridden, we all need to find ways to avoid these horrid habits. They get harder and harder to break!

Now, thinking about this new year we find ourselves in – what will we do better, how do we feel about the short-term future, is there any reason to be optimistic? My survey folks all had a similar responses – their goals and commitments to themselves and to their relationships all had a similar flavour. We all want to use our time better – more personal development that may be on our own or include our close connections, protecting the good health we have so that we could if absolutely necessary ward off any disease or virus. Increasing family connections came up surprisingly often – more regular Skype or ZOOM with siblings and more honest asking for support, simple help, or ideas for problem-solving – either personal or business-related.

My last question was one that I asked to test the waters of where our lives might be going in 2021; of the two dozen or so responses I received back, an overwhelming number of people are quite optimistic about what this year will bring. Without a doubt, there is some pessimism, which seems to stem from the anger so many feel about the things the news media spit out every day (many of us have turned off the news). This pessimism also stems from fear of the disease – especially in those who have vulnerable family members.

Most were looking forward to the vaccine process; most are quite proud of what they have learned in the lockdown months, and many had a clearer plan about how they will handle the isolation of lockdown better. People definitely see things that sit at the end of the vaccine rainbow – hugs without fear, shoe shopping, a meal with nice menus instead of QR codes and certainly live entertainment, including concerts and galleries and sports with a real audience.

Finally, focusing on Valentine’s Day 2021, I believe that it is a perfect time to rekindle the fun in self-care, relationship nurturing and the romance in our one-on-one relationships. So here is a simple list of ideas of things to put energy back into your most critical connections. Of course, all of these ideas can be done purely as self-care, over ZOOM or Skype with your closest folks or in person with your live-in partner.

  1. Find some sunshine, outdoors play or simply sit on the balcony. SAD (seasonal affective disorder) is truly a thing – commit to getting enough Vitamin D.
  2. Have breakfast in bed.
  3. Recreate a special event – go on a date, attend a concert (Spotify), take an art class.
  4. Create a scavenger hunt within your lockdown boundaries – around your condo, in your back yard – like an Easter egg hunt for kids or adults!
  5. Take a class on a subject new to you – mixology, wine appreciation, Van Gogh painting night, singing (yes, to yourself works!).
  6. Game night – cards, Monopoly, gin, JENGA – dig out the old cottage board games – checkers, chess, even Chutes and Ladders.
  7. Movie binge night – yes, you can do this on the net! Each one of your “safe” group gets to choose a title.
  8. Write a love letter – romantic, grateful or expressing things others may not know about you or how you feel about them. You don’t need to hit the send button – this is for you and those you choose.
  9. Plan out series walk routes – for yourself alone or with your partner and another series of routes for your connections in their neighbourhoods. Take the time to make it interesting for them – Google Maps is incredible for this. Please stay safe here – walk in the daylight.
  10. Plan an incredibly special meal for yourself, get your group to do the same, choose a common time and then cook and eat with them at a ZOOMed table – there is something about breaking bread with those who mean the most to you.
  11. Stargazing – take a long moment to look up when walking the dog just before bed.

Here’s what I have learned from this exercise. Any relationship or connection will benefit from some simple reminders.

  1. “Pay It Forward” works when you find yourself grateful for some amazing thing in this time of lockdown.
  2. Be strong!
  3. Share a smile!
  4. Be kind – to yourself and others!
  5. Wear a mask – safety for you and others, and purely simple respect for those around you!

Thank you to my “survey pals” – I deeply appreciate your thoughts and time and willingness to share.

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

The “Poor Man’s Ox” – The Mexican Burro “¡No seas burro!”

By Julie Etra

Burro, donkey, jackass, mule, hinny.

Starting with nomenclature, burros are the same as donkeys and are related to horses and zebras (the Equidae family). They were bred in Egypt or Mesopotamia around 5,000 years ago, originating from the African continent, where they were used as beasts of burden. A jenny or hinny is the offspring of a male horse and female donkey; they are usually sterile and therefore cannot reproduce. A mule is a cross between a male donkey and a female horse, and is also sterile (sterility also applies to zebra hybrids). A male donkey is also called a “jack” or “ass” (hence the word “jackass”). A young donkey is called a “foal.” In Mexico one often hears the expression “no seas mula” or “no seas burro,” as per the COVID 19 signs posted around Huatulco (also saying ‘with all due respect to the animal), and meaning “Don’t be stubborn,” just as we say, “Don’t be a jackass” (although that implies more than stubbornness).

Although I have read that the current population of burros in Mexico is estimated to be three million, I have also read that they are in danger of extinction with only 300,000 burros left. We do, however, forget about the usefulness of this animal in Mexico, and its historic significance.

Popular belief has it that Bishop Fray Juan de Zumárraga (1468-1548), felt sympathy for the native load carriers or porters (cargadoras, or Tlamemehs or tamemes in Nahuatl), and the strenuous burdens they carried. Part of the lower social class called los macehuales, tamemes were not slaves but were trained from birth for this work, following in their parents’ footsteps. They fulfilled an important role in Aztecan society and were essential, as there were no pack animals in Mexico before the arrival of the Spaniards. They wore a wide leather strap with ixtle (agave fiber) rope that held the load carried on the back. Called a mecapal, the strap was wrapped around the forehead; some of them included wooden structures for additional support. The tamemes could carry up to 60 pounds; although travel routes and distances varied, a common trip averaged 15 miles.

Back to the burros. At the time of their importation to New Spain, burros had been domesticated in Spain for at least 3,000 years. There is evidence that four male and two female burros accompanied Columbus on his 1493 voyage, and that they disembarked either in Cuba or Hispaniola (the island made up of Haiti and the Dominican Republic). On his first voyage (1492), Columbus – with a European eye – noted that crops and domesticated animals were in short supply, and recommended that all subsequent voyages include them. Along with the burros, horses, longhorn cattle, crates of chickens, and seeds and cuttings of about 30 crops, including sugar cane. The cattle lost no time crossing the Gulf to Mexico and quickly became successful, in terms of both production and money-making. So, although oxen (technically speaking, an ox is just a big strong cow, usually male, trained to work – plowing, hauling, milling, etc.), were well-established in New Spain by perhaps 1520, they belonged to the ranchers of New Spain, not the lower classes of the conquered Aztecs.

Fray Juan apparently accomplished the Mexican importation of burros in 1533, with animals from Castile (Castilla), in northwestern Spain. The burros evidently found conditions in New Spain to be ideal, and so the donkeys went forth and multiplied throughout areas of the Spanish conquest, but particularly in Mexico and Central America, where llamas, endemic to areas of South America, were already in use as pack animals.

What makes a burro a burro? We know they have long ears and colors vary. They are usually calm and astute but can also become stubborn; they are known to be playful and affectionate. They emit a long “bray” (rebuzno in Spanish). Lifespan averages 15 to 30 years, depending on the care they receive. They are vegetarians, with a diet based on grasses, alfalfa, shrubs, vegetables and, especially hay (which can include multiple baled species including alfalfa), but are very tough and can find forage even in deserts. Reproduction varies according to sex: the male reaches sexual maturity at about three years and the female at about four years. Pregnancy varies from 11 to 14 months, typically with just one offspring. In the wild, they are solitary and don’t form groups or harems of females as do wild horses. They have a well-developed olfactory system, detecting smells up to six miles away. And unlike a llama, they can carry up to four times their own weight. Hooves help.

So, “¡No seas burro!” Wear your cubreboca, maintain social distancing, be respectful, and listen to what the experts and authorities tell you. We’ll get through this pandemic eventually.