Tag Archives: huatulco

The Saturday Boarders of La Bocana

By Randy Jackson

They began meeting at La Bocana beach on Saturday mornings for boogie boarding more than a decade ago. Back then the only boards available around Huatulco were boards too small for an adult. Although that meant the rides, even on the biggest waves, were quite short, they had a taste of what great fun it is playing in the waves. They returned in subsequent seasons with boards more suited to their size, and their fun in the waves really began.

A boogie board is a trademark term for bodyboards, just as Kleenex is a trademark term for facial tissues. However, “boogie” in front of “board” is an indispensable descriptor of the use of the device, much as “magic” is a descriptor to the term “magic wand” (a wand in medieval English means stick). To “boogie” is to dance, whereas a bodyboard could mean something you lay a cadaver on. So, in the spirit of good clean fun, the Bocana Boarders prefer the term boogie board. And by adding “ing” to “board,” as in Boogie Boarding, it becomes an activity of jollification.

The origin of this activity is attributed to the indigenous peoples of Polynesia. A lesser-known fact in surfing history is that most early Polynesians lay prone on their boards, and only rarely were they observed standing up on them. The Polynesian term for this form of fun is he’e nalu, or “wave sliding.”

The Saturday Boarders of Bocana are a small non-elite group of gringo-pensioners. They are much less fearful of the waves than the possibility of developing neck wattles. But then again, the waves in the snowbird season are generally modest, not at all like the cresting turquoise four-meter waves off French Polynesia. In fact, the surfer term for the type of winter waves at La Bocana is “shoreys.” In Tahiti, shoreys are mostly used by the surfers’ Swedish girlfriends to wash sand off their calves. To the Boarders of Bocana, however, shoreys are riotously more exciting than even the upward curve of bank stocks.

Like good surfers everywhere, the Saturday Boarders of Bocana have honed their skills using practiced techniques appropriate for the conditions. This type of boogie boarding requires one to stand in waist-to-chest-deep water, watching for the appropriate ocean swell that will break into a curl near one’s standing position. Then, facing towards shore, they tuck the back end of the board into their waist while looking back over their shoulder at the rapidly forming wave. Then, just as the wave is about to break overhead, they leap shoreward onto their board, their momentum joining the force of the wave as it breaks.

From shore, the boarder’s motion will appear to hesitate slightly as the wave crests. Then, tipping earthwards as the wave breaks, the boarder shoots downwards and disappears into the crashing water and foam of the breaking wave. It takes two or three seconds for the laws of physics to work out the boarder’s fate. Spectators on shore hold their breath. Sometimes a riderless board is shot skyward (“oooh’s” from the crowd). But, emerging from the wave-froth is the face of a skilled Bocana Boarder, grinning, out ahead of the wall of foam, careening towards the beach. The crowd cheers.

Oh, and the crowd? It’s an imaginary one. The wives and friends of the Bocana Boarders are there each Saturday morning for the event, but not to watch it. Some stroll along the beach, others are busy with their fish tacos and beverages at the restaurant. Alas, the Bocana Boarders’ daring acts of athletic wave conquest are rarely witnessed.

A good ride ends when the board smooches to a stop on the sand, just centimeters from the highest wave mark. That wave delivering the boarder to the beach was a final bit of energy culminating from planetary forces of wind and gravity. While the earth spins at 107,000 kilometers per hour, the gravitational pull of the moon sloshes the oceans like pulling a beer keg out of a bathtub. But as oblivious to these cosmic forces as they are to farting in Walmart, the Bocana Boarder rises from the beach, tucks his board under his arm, and heads back into the oncoming waves.

Yet in this dimension, where time exists, the fun in the waves must inevitably end. So while galaxies rotate, supernovas explode, and nebulas coalesce, there on the edge of a continent, on this blue spinning planet, the Saturday Boarders of La Bocana leave barefoot tracks from the water’s edge, with a promise of fish burgers and later the open-mouthed oblivion of an afternoon nap.

Email: box95jackson@gmail.com

Chinampas, Calzadas, and Aqueducts: The Ancient Engineering Marvels of Tenochtitlán

By Julie Etra

Tenochtitlán was the capital of the Triple Aztec Alliance empire (formed in 1428 and ruled by the Mexica, the empire joined together the three Nahua states of Tenochtitlán, Texcoco, and Tlacopan). There is not enough space in this column to write about all the marvels of the Tenotchtilán itself, a magnificent city built on the five inland lakes in the Valley of Mexico. The Aztec empire was at its peak when Tenochtitlán was substantially destroyed by the Spanish Conquest in 1521.

Two of the most intriguing aspects of this civilization were its systems of agriculture/food cultivation and water management (they are of course intertwined), especially how these systems were constructed. For those readers interested in more detail, Barbara Mundy’s exhaustively researched and superbly written book is referenced below.

The Valley of Mexico

The basin that comprised the Valley of Mexico had five lakes: Zumpango, Xaltocan, Texcoco, Xochimilco, and Chalco. They were endorheic, i.e., they had no outlet, were hydraulically connected, and formed one enormous lake when flooded. The lakes were shallow, with a depth of no more than 150 ft (45 m); water quality varied. The more isolated southern lakes of Xochimilco and Chalco were higher and protected by the high peninsula formed by Cerro de la Estrella on the east and a “lava plug” to the west; the lakes were fed by springs and rivers, and so held fresh water. Drainage from the higher lakes flowed north to Texcoco (the largest lake), Zumpango, and Xaltocan; the waters of these lakes were brackish (saltier).

Following the discovery of a freshwater spring in Lake Texcoco at what came to be called Chapultepec (“grasshopper hill” in Nahuatl – chapulin = grasshopper, tepec = place), the rocky island of Tenochtitlán was settled on June 20, 1325. The brackish waters supported salt-tolerant aquatic life and were harvested for a species of algae made into edible patties. Flooding during the rainy season not only joined the lakes, but the backwash could threaten the innovative Aztec agricultural system known as chinampas.

Chinampas

The chinampas were rectangular gardens located in the southern lakes. Swampy land was dredged, creating navigable channels between islands. These islands were constructed with logs, reeds, and sticks woven into frames and covered with the muck of soil, mud, roots, and other dredged plant detritus. Whether or not these farmed rectangular parcels floated, as do the modern Floating Gardens of Xochimilco, is still subject to scholarly debate, although the establishment of willows would anchor them. While more investigation might reveal the actual materials, I would guess that the “reeds” included species of cattails (Typha spp.), bullrush (Scirpus spp.), and reeds (Cyperus spp.), all of which grow in standing water or saturated soils and are supple enough to weave. Ahuejote (Salix bonplandiana), an erect willow resembling a poplar, grew on the drier shores, along with ahuehuete (Taxodium mucronatum), aka sabino and Montezuma bald cypress. Ahuejote is derived from the Nahuatl word ahuexotl (atl = water, huexotl = willow). The Spanish word for willow is sauce; think of Sausalito, California, near San Francisco, meaning little grove of willows.

Young, flexible branches of willows were used in constructing the chinampas, and live cuttings were planted for eventual shade and to stabilize the structures through their vigorous and extensive root systems. (The bark of this versatile plant produces salicylic acid, the active ingredient in aspirin, and was no doubt an herbal Mexica pain reliever). The dense and durable wood of the ahuehuete was most likely used as posts for the multi-functional causeways called calzadas (more about them in a minute).

According to the noted archaeologists Pedro Armillas and William T. Sanders, the swampland converted into chinampas was estimated to be about 12,000 hectares, enough to support a population of between 117,000 – 200,000 with an annual consumption of 160 kilograms of maiz (corn) per head. What else grew on these islets? Chia, beans, squash, tomatoes, avocados, amaranth, cacao (chocolate), chilies, cotton, and a variety of flowers including marigolds, which are native to Mexico. The Mexica fished and also consumed the endemic salamander, the axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum), named after the Aztec god of fire and lightning, Xolotl. The axolotl was important in the diet of pre-Hispanic residents of the city, along with ducks and other waterfowl that were trapped in nets.

Calzadas

Construction of the calzadas, the system of dikes and watery causeways, was begun in the 1420s, initially to separate the brackish from the fresh water. They most likely had openings to manage flows, similar to an agricultural sluice gate. The calzadas averaged five to seven meters wide and eight km (about 4.8 mi) in length. To form the dikes, wood posts, perhaps from the locally available black cypress or pine/oaks in the surrounding forests, were anchored in the shallow lakes and back filled with layers of rock, clay, and a mortar of mud and calcium carbonate (limestone). They required constant maintenance.

Netzahualcóyotl, the tlatoani (leader) of Texcoco – and a scholar, philosopher, warrior, architect, and poet to boot – vastly improved on this system of water management. Aside from his military victories, governmental prowess, and poetic skills, he was a superb engineer. According to Wikipedia, “He is said to have personally designed the albarrada de Nezahualcóyotl (dike of Nezahualcóyotl) to separate the fresh and brackish waters of Lake Texcoco, a system that was still in use over a century after his death.”

The construction of the calzadas took place at roughly the same time as the aggressive expansion of the Triple Alliance empire, which handily had 50,000-plus solders available from Nezahualcoyotl’s army. The calzadas also served as roadways, which ironically contributed to the conquest of the city as the Spaniards cut off supplies, particularly the aqueducts conveying water (see below for this third triumph of ancient engineering), from the mainland. The calzadas were the avenues of trade and contributed to the enormous wealth of the city, as the groups conquered by the Triple Alliance, which extended to Guatemala at its height, paid tribute to the capital.

The aqueducts

In 1466 Nezahualcóyotl began the construction of another important hydraulic work, the Chapultepec aqueduct system. It supplied fresh spring water to Tenochtitlán. Before the aqueduct system was built, water was supplied by canoe from the springs at Chapultepec (now a large park in the middle of modern Mexico City). Water was distributed through apantles (open pipes) to public fountains and noble houses.

A second aqueduct was built by Nezahualcóyotl’s successor, Ahuítzotl, around 1500. Although Ahuítzotl had supervised a huge project to rebuild Tenochtitlán, completing the Temple Mayor (the Great Pyramid), the aqueduct project didn’t go so well. At the springs of Coyoacán, Ahuítzotal had a dam and two holding tanks built at elevations necessary to create enough pressure to send water into new aqueducts that joined the existing system. As the story goes, about 40 days after the Coyoacán aqueduct opened, it began to rain. It continued to rain. It poured. The elevated design sent high-pressure floodwaters throughout the city, Ahuítzol took refuge in the Temple Mayor, hit his head on a brand new rock, and died shortly after.

I am now out of both time and space!

For more information:

https://arqueologiamexicana.mx/indice-tematico-mexico-antiguo/las-chinampas-de-mexico-metodos-constructivos

Mundy, Barbara E. The Death of Aztec Tenochtitlan, The Life of Mexico City (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2015).

Thyme and Spice in Time and Space

By Marcia Chaiken and Jan Chaiken

One of the remarkably innovative activities that sets humans apart from our closest primate relatives is cooking our food and flavoring it with spices. According to some anthropologists, this behavior may have emerged while we were still nomadic hunters and gathers. To carry a kill to the next temporary home site, our ancestors probably wrapped the meat in leaves – and a distant relative with a fine palate realized that the meat wrapped in some leaves lasted longer and was tastier than meat wrapped in others. The former leaves became desirable and assigned a higher trading value than others. Similarly, specific flavorful roots, bulbs, berries, flowers and even pollen became prized first as enhancements for cooking and preserving and, after observation of beneficial effects, medicating.

Once humans settled down in farms, towns, and cities and developed writing and reading, one of the first uses of these newly emerged forms of communication was accounting in long-extinct languages for amounts of spices traded. Recipes using spices for preservation, including mummification, were shared; thyme was used as an ingredient over 5500 years ago in Egyptian unguents that were used to prepare bodies for the afterlife. As writing became a method of expressing religious beliefs and poetic expressions, literature produced millennia ago equated thyme and other spices with love, riches and the best of human life. The incredibly beautiful Song of Songs in the Hebrew Scriptures (aka Old Testament) mentions many spices including cinnamon and saffron.

The Song of Songs is said to have been written in the 9th century BCE, so we have evidence from that time period of the availability in the land of Israel of cinnamon native to Sri Lanka and India, and saffron from Crete, which must have made their way via the ships of ancient mariners to the Middle East. In fact, literature from China and other accounts from around Eurasia provide evidence that spices growing wild millennia ago in various parts of the known world were harvested and sold or bartered in distant lands. When given root in favorable climates far from their origin, they were cultivated and harvested for local use or became a currency of exchange.

There is also archeological evidence that in the Western hemisphere, including Mesoamerica, different species of plants from those in Eurasia were also harvested in the wild and began to be cultivated. Like the use of spices across the oceans, they were used to flavor foods, for preservation, including mummification, and for medicinal purposes. It is not surprising, then, that many millennia later, during the Age of Exploration and the Spanish invasion of Mexico and South America, one of the earliest cultural exchanges consisted of adopting Western spices in Europe and Eurasian spices in the New World.

The Spanish conquistadores were accustomed to a diet flavored with garlic, onions and, for the most wealthy, saffron. Imagine their surprise when neither garlic, large onions, nor crocus producing saffron were to be found to be growing in “New Spain,” and the small scallion-like onions were a far cry from the plump sweet vegetable growing in the Mediterranean. Instead, they found a plethora of other spices being used by indigenous civilizations. A wide variety of peppers unheard of in the Old World – ranging from sweet to extremely hot and spicy – were dried and ground and added to many dishes. Cacao, a new and addictive chocolate-tasting fruit, was used to flavor both food and drink. Tomatoes, which originated in the Andes in South America, had been brought north and were cultivated and formed the basis for many different salsas. Anise seeds added a depth to dishes and achiote seeds were “discovered” to impart a distinct flavor and an attractive deep red color to food. Herbs and flowers added while cooking included chipilin, epazote, mint, and pre-Columbian coriander (different from modern day cilantro), each contributing a delicious taste to a diet which, mainly prepared with corn, squash, and beans, could have been quite bland.

To the great delight of those living in Eurasia, tomato seeds were brought from the New World and cultivated in many parts of those continents. Today many Europeans would deny that tomatoes are not native to their countries and would claim they had always been part of their heritage. Similarly, European peppers were primarily sweet peppers, but, learning from their Mesoamerican hosts, Spanish cooks began drying and smoking a large sweet variety of red pepper and then grinding the peppers, producing what is today called Spanish paprika. And of course, chocolate produced from cacao became associated with countries far from the trees that bear the flavorful fruit (think of Switzerland).

In turn, 16th-century colonists began cultivating spices in the lands of the New World that had never grown there. Mexican thyme, which originated in Africa long before the Spanish invasion, was introduced. Cumin, originally cultivated in the Middle East, was introduced and became so ubiquitous that it almost seems synonymous with Mexican cooking – especially in US chain quasi-Mexican restaurants where it tends to be overused. Garlic and large white onions are staples in Mexican grocery stores and kitchens, although relatives of the original scallion-like onions are more flavorful and also still used.

While some of the exotic spices from distant lands could be grown in countries that took a liking to them, other plants have difficulty thriving outside their native land. Over a period of centuries, the spice trade became a highly lucrative enterprise and was dominated by large companies, such as the British East India Company, which was founded at the end of 1600 and continued to exercise a monopoly on some markets for 274 years. Around the time the Dutch East India Company, founded in 1602, folded, two brothers named Schilling, who had immigrated from Germany to San Francisco formed their own spice company. Shortly thereafter, Willoughby McCormick founded his spice company in Baltimore. McCormick bought out the Schilling brothers’ company in 1946. Today, McCormick is still a dominant force in the field, employing 10,000 people and selling $3.5 billion of spices annually.

As with other markets in the 21st century, spice production is global. However, the country that dominates spice production is India, providing almost 11 million tons between 2021 and 2022. We took a walk down a road in the Southern State of Kerala that was lined with shops displaying heaps of ginger and burlap bags of other spices; it was such a heady experience that we will never forget being there. India is such a prolific producer that Mexico actually imports red peppers from that part of the world. Other countries specialize in individual herbs and spices; cinnamon, so ubiquitous in Mexican cooking and baking, is often a product of Sri Lanka. But Mexico has to a small degree turned the tables; nutmeg, originally from the Banda Islands in Indonesia, is now grown in Mexico and exported primarily to the U.S. And although thyme can be grown in most places in the world, China is the world’s leading producer.

As humans emerged from hunter-gatherer groups and small agricultural units to span the globe and conquer time and space, so did thyme and other herbs and spices we so love. Perhaps when humans colonize other planets, thyme and spices will be among the first possessions brought across time and space.

Now and Then: The Modern vs the Zapotec Concepts of Time

By Brooke O’Connor

When I started researching the concept of time in the Zapotec culture versus the idea of time today, there were many changes happening in the world – one of which is the first public availability of AI, or artificial intelligence. New technologies will change the fabric of how we live our lives, as well as our perception of time.

We’ve probably all experienced an AI “chatbot” – the online conversations that you have when you want to “talk” some kind of customer service. Lately, these text-generating chatbots have moved on to writing entire essays. So … just for fun, I typed my topic into ChatGPT, an advanced chatbot released in November 2022 by Open AI, a nonprofit artificial intelligence research laboratory. This is what came out.

The Zapotec culture, indigenous to the southern state of Oaxaca in Mexico, has a unique and complex understanding of time. The Zapotecs have long held a cyclical view of time, in which the past, present, and future are interwoven and constantly influencing one another. This view is deeply ingrained in their daily lives, religious practices, and social structure.

One aspect of the Zapotec perception of time is the belief in the power of ancestors. For the Zapotecs, the spirits of their ancestors continue to play an active role in the present and are often called upon for guidance and protection. This belief is reflected in the Zapotec calendar, which is based on a 260-day cycle, in which the days are named after various deities, natural phenomena, and ancestors. Each day has its own unique characteristics and significance and is believed to be influenced by the spirits of the ancestors associated with it.

The Zapotecs also have a strong connection to the land and their environment. This connection is reflected in their agricultural practices, which are closely tied to the cycles of the sun, moon, and stars. The Zapotecs use these astronomical cycles to determine the best time for planting and harvesting crops. For example, the Zapotecs believe that certain days are better for planting certain crops, depending on the phase of the moon.

Another important aspect of the Zapotec perception of time is the concept of “tequio.” Tequio is the Zapotec word for community work or service, which is an integral part of Zapotec culture. Tequio is typically done on a voluntary basis and is done for the benefit of the community as a whole. It can take many forms, such as building a community house, repairing roads, or planting crops. The Zapotecs believe that tequio is necessary to maintain balance and harmony in the community and that it helps keep the ancestors’ spirits happy.

Religion also plays a big role in the Zapotec perception of time. In Zapotec culture, gods and goddesses are believed to have a significant impact on the perception of time. They are seen as the creators and guardians of time and are responsible for the cycles of the seasons and the passage of days and nights. These deities are also associated with the passage of time in the human life cycle, such as birth, adulthood, and death. For example, the god Xipe Tótec is associated with the planting and growth of crops, and rituals are performed in his honor at the beginning of the agricultural cycle to ensure a bountiful harvest. Similarly, the goddess Cocijo is associated with the rainy season, and rituals are performed to ensure that the rains come at the appropriate time for the crops.

Additionally, the gods and goddesses are also associated with different stages in the human life cycle, such as birth, adulthood, and death. For example, the god of childbirth, Pitao Cozobi, is invoked to ensure a safe delivery, and the goddess of death, Xoxo, is honored to ensure a peaceful transition to the afterlife.

One of the most important ceremonies is the Guelawe, a celebration of the dead that takes place annually, usually in November. During this ceremony, the Zapotecs believe that the spirits of the dead return to the living world to visit their descendants. The Zapotecs believe that the spirits of the dead have the power to influence the lives of the living and that it is important to keep them happy through rituals and offerings.

However, it’s worth mentioning that Zapotec culture is diverse and there are variations between different regions and even towns. There are many different practices, beliefs, and expressions of their culture. Also, the Zapotec culture has been in constant change over the centuries and is still adapting to the present day, thus, this article presents a general view of the Zapotec culture’s perception of time.

In modern times, the perception of time has been largely shaped by advances in science and technology. The invention of the clock in the 14th century revolutionized the way time was measured and perceived. The development of mechanical clocks, and later quartz and atomic clocks, made it possible to measure time with an unprecedented level of accuracy. The widespread use of clocks and watches has also led to the standardization of time across the world, with time zones being established to account for variations in longitude.

In physics, time is not an absolute but relative to the observer, and in theories such as special and general relativity show that the perception of time can change depending on the observer’s velocity and gravitational field.

In modern Western cultures, time is often perceived as a scarce and valuable resource. People are constantly racing against the clock, trying to fit more activities into each day. This has led to the development of time management techniques and tools to help people make the most of their time.

In conclusion, the perception of time has evolved throughout history and across cultures. The Zapotec culture had a complex understanding of time that was closely linked to their religious beliefs, while in modern Western cultures time is often perceived as a scarce and valuable resource. Advances in science and technology have played a significant role in shaping our current understanding and perception of time.

Note: I had to fix some grammatical errors, but then, when I asked how I should tell people this article was written, it responded, “This article was crafted by the deft hand of artificial intelligence.”

One thing is clear in our modern age; time stands still for no one, and if we don’t progress along with the technology we will be left behind.

Editor’s Letter

By Jane Bauer

“Alice: How long is forever?
White Rabbit: Sometimes, just one second.”
― Lewis Carroll

It is 2023! Is it just me or does it feel like time is moving faster?

As has become our tradition the theme for the first issue of the year follows the Chinese New Year- hence The Rabbit Issue. Past issues have included the chicken, the pig, the rat… you get the idea.

When I was a girl I was very attached to a soft toy Peter Rabbit that I must have gotten very early in life because by the time I was four he was already falling apart. For Christmas my mother told me to write a letter to Santa to ask if he could fix him. I was dubious about this plan but sure enough on Christmas morning Peter Rabbit sat under the tree perfectly put back together wearing a brand new blue jacket.

When I was eight my older sister told me Santa was a fake and she found my old Peter Rabbit tucked away in my mother’s closet. I was sad but not surprised to learn about that Santa wasn’t real and I was thrilled to have now two Peter Rabbits- one more worn than the other.

When I was nine my father and I took the Via Rail from Montreal to Vancouver- staying in fancy sleeper berths. I spent my time putting on magic shows in the bar car for the adults. The original Peter Rabbit accompanied me on this journey and was good company for I didn’t meet many children during the trip. Somewhere between Winnipeg and Saskatoon, amid the flurry of getting off to look around and new people getting on and people getting off, Peter Rabbit and I got separated.

My father notified everyone on the train and made sure we checked every lost and found at every station we passed- on the way to Vancouver and on the way back to Montreal. As a parent myself I am touched by my parents’ actions. My mother for teaching me that if I want something it is always worth asking and to have a little faith that I will get it- this is a skill that has served me well. My father’s real concern for finding Peter Rabbit taught me that the things I love and cherish are of value- even if it is just a stuffed animal. Peter Rabbit never did make it home and I still use my Peter Rabbit plate when I need a little comfort.

As we sprint into a new year it is time to reflect on the imprint we are leaving on those around us. What are the ripple effects of our actions? Let us all be more conscious and mindful as we move forward because you are more powerful than you can imagine… make good use of it.
Happy New Year!

See you in February,

Jane

Rabbit Meat: A Mexican Delicacy?

By Marcia Chaiken and Jan Chaiken

Over forty years ago, we read about and decided to visit a family-run, highly-rated Quintana Roo restaurant in the jungle off the road from Cancun to Playa Carmen. We pulled off the road at the designated kilometer post into an area cleared for parking, and wandered down a narrow path to find a charming cottage in a clearing on the bank of a lagoon. Near the cottage was a rabbit hutch with sweet roly-poly bunnies – we thought them to be pets of the family’s children.

When we were presented with the menu and saw the offering of conejo, we were sure it must be a misspelling of cangrejo (crab), but suddenly realized that the dish was indeed conejo (rabbit), and the sweet little bunnies were not pets. Although this was the first time we saw rabbit on a menu in Mexico, it should not have come as a surprise. In France, lapin (rabbit) is a relatively common feature on menus, along with frogs’ legs and snails. And in China, we visited live animal meat markets where cages of rabbits were placed near chickens, ducks, puppies and monkeys – yes, monkeys.

So after our initial encounter, we were prepared to find rabbit on more menus in Mexico. This turned out to be a misconception. Not that we were disappointed. One of us sticks pretty closely to Jewish laws spelled out in the Hebrew Scriptures (aka Old Testament) that forbid certain animals to be eaten including pig, camel … and rabbit. There are many traditional delicious Mexican dishes made with meat from permitted animals, but the experience did raise our curiosity about the place of rabbit in Mexican cuisine.

Although a vegetarian diet has for millennia been the main form of food consumed in Mexico, rabbit, as archeologists have found, was considered a delicacy in preHispanic cuisine. In excavations around present-day Mexico City, artifacts and animal bones from a butcher shop indicated that the business specialized in selling rabbit meat. As historians have made clear, there was no need to supplement the daily diet with rabbit since the food consumed by the indigenous residents was nutritionally complete – so the supposition would be that rabbit was eaten as a special delicacy.

The same is true in Mexico today. As compared to other Latin American countries, Mexico ranks highest in percent of the population that sticks to a vegetarian diet. Nonetheless meat, especially beef, chicken or pork, is the preferred meal of the vast majority of Mexicans. Not rabbit. According to a 2022 paper in Meat Science, “The annual per capita consumption of meat in Mexico is 72.8 kg, of which 34.9 kg correspond to chicken, 20.3 kg to pork, 14.8 kg to beef, 1.3 kg to turkey, 0.8 g to sheep and goat, 0.6 g to horse, and [a minuscule] 0.1 g to rabbit.”

Part of the reason for rabbit being an uncommonly eaten source of protein may be the lack of availability. Unlike beef cattle, chickens, turkeys, pigs, goats, sheep or other sources of more commonly used meat, rabbits are not raised on large corporate farms or ranches that produce thousands of animals for food. Rabbit farms are most numerous in the central states in Mexico; but a study of the characteristics of cuniculture (rabbit-raising) in that area showed that the vast majority (87%) are either small-scale or medium-scale family farms. There are other rabbit farmers scattered around the country, especially in areas where there is a substantial foreign rabbit-eating populace, such as the Happy Rabbit Farm in Rancho Loco Chapala in the state of Jalisco. These small farms tend to produce a limited number of rabbits, sold directly for consumption; the availability of rabbit meat in butcher shops or food stores is limited.

Another barrier to a thriving market for rabbit meat may be the taste. Most people who have tried eating rabbit compare the taste to chicken – particularly chicken thighs – but comment on the gamey flavor. This may be why rabbit dishes are usually prepared with assertive spices. There are four primary ways of cooking rabbit meat in Mexico: adobo (marinated in spices including chilis), al ajillo (cooked with garlic), estofado (stewed), and fried in the same manner that chicken is fried. These dishes may be easily sampled in the small restaurants that line the highway that leads from Mexico City to Toluca. Within Mexico City in the Coyoacan area, the restaurant El Morral, specializing in “Mexican Heritage Food,” also served rabbit before the covid pandemic, but their reduced menu may no longer feature conejo.

In the interior of state of Oaxaca, a dish prepared with corn and rabbit in a mole sauce, segueza, is the preferred preparation. It is true that rabbit meat, as chicken, is nutritionally sound; low in fat and cholesterol and high in protein. Thus, the question remains: If rabbit tastes like chicken, and is prepared like chicken, why not simply use easily attainable and less expensive chicken?

But perhaps the most important factor that prevents people from hankering for rabbit stew and other dishes is the adoration developed in childhood for those cute roly-poly soft-fur bunnies that one can cuddle and stroke, along with the rabbits that are featured in children’s books. Just as children north of the border love to hear the Beatrice Potter stories of Peter Rabbit, children in Mexico hear tales of Pedrito, El Conejo Travieso (Little Pedro, the Naughty Rabbit – actually a translation of Beatrix Potter’s 1902 classic Peter Rabbit). More recently, Duncan Tonatiuh, a Mexican-American author of children’s books, has bolstered admiration of our furry friends with a new Mexican character, Pancho Rabbit.

So … although rabbits were served as a delicacy by ancient Aztecs, and a small number of Mexicans still find rabbit meat to their liking, we remain in the camp of most Mexicans who would rather pet them than eat them.

Conejos y Liebres

By Julie Etra

Where we live, in Reno, Nevada, we consider rabbits a nuisance. (Nevada, by the way, means snow-covered, and the Sierra Nevada are snow-covered mountains – certainly so in December 2022). Rabbits eat a lot of grass and they reproduce rapidly and frequently. They deposit concentrated calcium from their urine and solid waste right where they forage, further stressing the grasses on which they continue to graze. On the other hand, rabbits are essential food for predators such as coyotes and birds of prey.

In Huatulco, we live in Residenciales Conejos, the subdivision with a symbol of a rabbit at the entrance, located on the Bahia de Conejos. So, I said to myself when we bought the lot, hmmm, bunnies. After 13 years in Res. Conejos, we do see an occasional bunny and/or their sign (pellets), but no hares (liebre, in Spanish) and our small patch of grass is not suffering from their presence.

What makes a rabbit a rabbit? First, they are mammals. In general, they have long ears (this varies considerably), a short tail, long hind legs, and continuously growing sharp incisors. Most species are gray or brown and range in size from 10 to 18 inches (25 to 45 cm) long and weigh 1 to 4 pounds (0.5 to 2 kg). They feed primarily on grasses.

There are four species of rabbits and one hare (a type of jackrabbit) found in the selva seca, or dry jungle, of Mexico (see Julie Etra’s article on the selva seca in Huatulco in the December 2022 issue of The Eye). Two of the rabbits are endemic, one of these is threatened and endangered, and the hare (Lepus flavigularis) is considered very rare.

Rabbits in the Jungle

The bunnies or cottontails found in the selva seca include the common tapeti cottontail (Sylvilagus brasiliensis), also called the Brazilian cottontail or forest cottontail. It is a small- to medium-sized bunny, with an expansive range from Tamaulipas to southern Mexico, through Central America, and as far as central Brazil. It has a small, dark tail, short hind feet and short ears. The tapeti cottontail is nocturnal and solitary

The Mexican cottontail (Sylvilagus cunicularius) is endemic to Mexico and the selva seca. This is the dude or dudette(s) (macho y hembra) we would be lucky to see in Huatulco. It is the largest of the Mexican rabbits. Preferred habitats include temperate, subtropical or tropical dry forests, and pastureland. It is a common bunny and is found from Sinaloa south to the states of Veracruz and Oaxaca. It breeds year-round, but particularly in the wet season when there is more quality forage available. Although this bunny is pretty common, it still faces the threats typical for rabbits (and other wildlife), including loss of habitat through land use conversion (grazing, agriculture, urban development), hunting, and predation.

The eastern cottontail, Sylvilagus floridanus, is the most common cottontail in North America. Interestingly, it’s not the cottontail that forages on our meadow and lawn in northern Nevada – that’s the mountain cottontail (Sylvilagus nuttallii). The eastern cottontail has a short lifespan due to high rates of predation by numerous predators, rarely living past the age of two. It issues a creepy scream when injured (as does the mountain cottontail).

Sylvilagus graysoni is endemic to Mexico and is in danger of extinction. Its common name is the Tres Marías cottontail, as it is endemic to the Tres Marías Islands off the coast of Nayarit, where it was previously abundant. It is not found along the selva seca of Oaxaca or other dry tropical forests in Mexico. Given its limited range and occurrence, it only has three known wildlife predators: the Tres Marías racoon (Procyon lotor insularis), a subspecies of the common racoon, and two birds of prey, the red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) and the crested caracara (Caracara plancus), the latter being common on our coast. The Tres Marías cottontail is also threatened by hunting. Although not a lot is known about their behavior, given the remoteness of the Tres Marías Islands and the low number of predators, the rabbit is purportedly not wary of humans. As with other rabbits in similar habitats, its diet changes from herbaceous vegetation in the rainy season to sticks and bark in the dry months of winter.

The Hares of the Isthmus

Lepus flavigularis is endemic to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, more specifically the Gulf of Tehuantepec, and in fact the common name is the Tehuantepec or tropical jackrabbit. Historically it was found from Salina Cruz in Oaxaca to Tonalá just over the border in Chiapas, but has not been seen that far east in recent years. Currently there are four small populations, all located around the Upper and Lower Lagoons of the Gulf of Tehuantepec – Salina Cruz is the major population center on the Gulf.

This very large-eared (up to 5 in, or12 cm), slender-bodied hare is well adapted to its often arid and hot environment. The large surface area of its ears helps regulate its temperature; the size of the ears enhances its hearing and ability to detect predators. The hind feet are large and well developed, allowing for rapid escape from predators. In general, adults weigh from 7.7 to 8.8 pounds (3.5-4.5 kg), with a body that measures 22-24 inches long (55-60 cm) and a tail 2.5 to 3.5 inches (6.5- 9.5 cm) in length. This jackrabbit reaches sexual maturity at six or seven months and is polygamous; they typically reproduce during the rainy season when there is an abundance of forage. After around 32 days of gestation, the mother hare gives birth to one to four kits.

The Tehuantepec jackrabbit is crepuscular, meaning active at dusk, and nocturnal when the ambient temperature drops. Habitat and diet are grasslands, where they prefer to forage native rather than introduced grasses. Threats to this species are typical for many species of wildlife: habitat loss due to urban encroachment and agriculture; introduction of non-native species, particularly annual grasses; hunting; and predation by coyotes and foxes. For more detail check out the following link: https://www.lifeder.com/liebre-de-tehuantepec/.

Since their primary diet in the rainy season is grasses, why is Bugs Bunny always munching on a carrot? What’s up with that, doc?

Huatulco’s Water System: In Survival Mode?

By Randy Jackson

In survival training, there is the Rule of Three’s: You can survive three minutes without air. You can survive three days without water, and you can survive three weeks without food. Air, it seems, is plentiful enough. But knowing we only have a three-day survival window without water should make us all prioritise a clean, dependable, potable water system. In Mexico, as in most places in the world, people depend on the government to provide sufficient potable water for their needs. In Huatulco, the potable water system, built and maintained by FONATUR (the Fondo Nacional de Fomento Turismo, the National Tourism Promotion Fund), is facing the challenge of meeting the growing demands on the water system.

Anyone living in Huatulco, even for part of the year, is well aware of the frequency of water outages. In some sectors, people are without water for several hours every day. Other sectors experience frequent unannounced water outages for multiple days each week. What has mitigated the seriousness of the water delivery problems up to this point is that virtually all residential buildings and hotels have water storage tanks and cisterns that hold three or four days’ worth of water. This mitigation measure can give the appearance of “all is well,” but it seems apparent that the demand for potable water in Huatulco is seriously challenging the capacity of the FONATUR potable water system to provide it.

In my attempt to understand Huatulco’s potable water system, I set out to answer four basic questions.

(1) What area and population does the FONATUR water system serve?
(2) What are the uses of water in Huatulco?
(3) How much potable water is available?
(4) How much potable water is needed?

First, what do we mean by “potable” water? Potable water covers normal household uses. Drinking, cooking, washing, toilets and showers. FONATUR provides “gray” water for irrigating street plantings, but many residents use potable water for lawns and plants. In Huatulco, it also includes the water used in swimming pools.

(1) WHAT AREA AND POPULATION DOES THE FONATUR WATER SYSTEM SERVE?

For a past article in The Eye (January 2022), I noted that the government census showed 25,000 residents in the Tourist Zone of Huatulco, including La Crucecita. This, plus the approximately 7,000 hotel guests here in the high season, means that the FONATUR potable water system is serving approximately 32,000 people. In a 2022 request to fund a water study, FONATUR indicated that this number would rise to 41,000 by 2030.

Other communities within the larger area of the municipality of Santa María Huatulco, which includes the communities of Santa María itself, Copalita, Coyula, and others), all have potable water sources outside of the FONATUR system. The FONATUR water system covers the area from the Copalita River (think La Bocana), westward along the coast covering all the communities and bays along the coast as far as Maguey, and inland to include La Crucecita.

Most of the FONATUR water delivery is by pipe to end use, but in some sectors, like H3, the water is trucked in by FONATUR.

(2) WHAT ARE USES OF WATER IN HUATULCO?

In 2018, FONATUR, under their obligations for transparency, published a presentation on the potable water system for Huatulco. The 2017 consumption data are summarised here:

(3) HOW MUCH POTABLE WATER IS AVAILABLE?

The FONATUR potable water supply comes from eight wells along the Copalita river. The total water extracted from the wells in 2017 was 11 million litres per day. In a recent budget request document (2022), FONATUR reported that their current well production was 15 million litres per day, and stated that the amount was insufficient to meet existing requirements.

A budget of $9.7 million pesos ($500,000 USD) was granted to FONATUR for a pre-investment study in 2023 of locations for new wells, with the goal of bringing the potable water supply up to 21 million litres per day. As this budget is only for well site selection, it is probably safe to assume that any additional potable water for Huatulco is some years away.

For some time now, I have been aware of persistent rumours that some of FONATUR’s potable water wells are impaired or non-functional. By visiting the wells and talking to operations personnel, I can confirm that all eight wells are in operation, and only one well (#8) has a reduced flow rate, roughly 25% lower than the average of the other seven wells. My investigation would confirm that the combined volume of all the wells is about 15 – 16 million litres of water per day.

Of course, the amount produced is not always the amount delivered. As shown in the consumption table above, 14% of the water produced from the wells was lost. Water lost due to leakage is a perennial problem in water delivery systems around the world. The loss rate in Canada and the United States is around 12%. In Mexico overall, the loss rate is thought to be between 20% and 40% as a result of underfunded maintenance of water infrastructure. Here in Huatulco, the reported 14% loss was before the last major earthquake. In just the previous month (December 2022), FONATUR finished replacing a damaged section of mainline pipe near La Bocana. Water lost from leakage is not only from the pipes and tanks used to deliver water to consumers. There are leaks in the water storage cisterns of residential buildings and hotels. Although the loss from private cisterns would not show up in the FONATUR water loss statistics, it would still reduce potable water availability to consumers, requiring even more supply.

One final note on water availability. Stating the obvious, the FONATUR Huatulco water system is dependent on funding. That funding is provided by the administration of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO). In 2022, Huatulco was allocated $250 million Pesos ($12 million USD) to improve deteriorated infrastructure, including water.

For 2023, the PPEF (El Proyecto de Presupuesto de Egresos de la Federación , basically the Budget of Expenses project) has announced their proposed funding for the tourism sector as follows:

*Ixtapa (Guerrero), Huatulco (Oaxaca), Bahía de Banderas (Nayarit), Los Cabos and Loreto (Baja California Sur), Pacific Coast (Sinaloa), Cancun and Cozumel (Quintana Roo)

The 2023 appropriation for the Mayan Train is $8.7 billion USD. A Bloomberg news story from July 2022 reported the total cost to Mexico to complete the Mayan Train could reach $20 Billion USD.

(4) HOW MUCH POTABLE WATER IS NEEDED?

Water systems around the world are sized in accordance with the formula:

Population times average water use/person/day = Volume of water needed per day

The volume of water per person varies in different countries and regions. The international OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) has collected data on the per capita use of potable water. The United States leads the world in consumption at 380 litres/person/day, Canada is at 335, Italy 250, and Sweden at 200 litres/person/day. I found only one reference on comparable water use in Mexico, and that was for Mexico City, which uses 200 litres/person/day.

To figure out Huatulco’s per-person use of water, I used the Huatulco water consumption by category table above. If residential users consume 34% of the supply, and the population is about 25,000 people, consumption would come to 154 litres/person/day. Per person use by hotels, 28% of consumption, is substantially higher. Depending on occupancy rate, hotels use between 450 and 900 litres/person/day.

I’m still, however, trying to answer this question: How much potable water is NEEDED? The full answer to this question would depend on what “need” means. Or better still, do we need all the water we use? So let me throw out one more number. The World Health Organization suggests the minimum per person requirement for water use is 30 litres per day (for drinking, cooking, personal hygiene and laundry). As we all use way more than that, it is an open question as to how much even modest conservation efforts might reduce the demand on the Huatulco water system.

Although water conservation could be an important part of the solution to Huatulco water shortage problems, conservation of a shared resource never seems to happen voluntarily. So Huatulco-ites should expect to see their water bills continue to rise, and water outages to keep on keeping on.

Randy Jackson email: box95jackson@gmail.com

Mexico’s Rabbits – Many Are Endangered

By Kary Vannice

Mexico is home to 15 different species of rabbits and hares. Of the 15 distinct species, eight are endemic within its borders. Wild rabbits and hares play a vital role in the check-and-balance system of ecosystems. Like other rodents, rabbits must constantly be consuming. Their front top and bottom teeth never stop growing their entire lives, so it takes a lot of daily gnawing and chewing to keep them worn down to usable lengths. This means they contribute to the control of vegetation within their habitat. In turn, they provide food for animals further up the food chain, such as coyotes, weasels, wild cats, hawks, eagles, owls, and some snakes.

According to an article published by the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, it is illegal to hunt wild hares and rabbits to sell commercially in Mexico. However, it is a common practice in some rural areas to hunt these animals for subsistence.

For most of us, any hunting of hares we’re doing is with our eyes. After all, in many cultures, it is considered good luck to see a rabbit in the wild. However, you would be fortunate indeed to see any of the following species in the wild during your travels here in Mexico. They are all either on the threatened or endangered species list.

If you happen to be in the mountains of central Mexico, keep an eye out for a Zacatuche, or volcano rabbit. They are officially on the endangered species list here in Mexico, but if you did catch sight of one, you would know it by its tiny brown body and distinctive small ears and small tail. It’s also likely you’ll spot them with or near others in their small familial group. But, if you want to have any chance at all of catching sight of this rare rodent, you’ll have to head up to the high alpine meadows because its habitat is similar to that of the northern pika.

Spotting an Omilteme cottontail rabbit would not only be lucky, it might just make you famous. They are one of the most endangered rabbit species on the planet. In fact, they may already be extinct. Thought to have gone extinct over 100 years ago, there were two specimens officially confirmed in 1998 that gave biologists hope that perhaps this Sierra-Madre-mountain dweller was making a comeback. But there’s been no evidence since to substantiate that theory, except one inconclusive photo taken in 2011. That was the last time anyone claims ever to have seen an Omilteme rabbit. Despite multiple expeditions in 2019 in search of evidence that the Omilteme were still living, there have been no confirmed sightings or DNA evidence gathered in almost 25 years.

The San José Island scrub, or brush, rabbit is also on the endangered list, and its continued survival is further threatened because its only habitat is San José Island off the coast of Baja California. Essentially “landlocked,” not much is known about this little bunny. Still, because it shares its limited home range with many other animal species and humans, it will take considerable conservation efforts to keep it from going extinct.

If you venture into the pine-oak forests of the Sierra de la Madera in Coahuila, you might mistake a Davis rabbit sighting for a common cottontail. Again, not much is known about this species because, until 1998, it was considered a subspecies of the Castilian rabbit. Now that it has the distinction of being recognized as a unique species, it also has the distinction of being on the threatened list.

If you’re not planning to travel much further than your own backyard, you still might catch site of one of Mexico’s most endangered species, the Tehuantepec hare. If you do happen to spot one, you’ll know it by its most distinctive feature – two black stripes that run from the base of each ear to the nape of its neck.

This endemic species only has two pups per litter, reproduces only once a year, and is only currently found in the state of Oaxaca. You’ll have to have a keen eye to spot one, however, because they are well adapted to their environment. At rest, they look gray, but when they run to flee, they expose their belly and their white sides become visible, but as they change direction, they once again appear gray. This helps them to blend in with the surrounding vegetation and evade predators – and perhaps even those simply hoping to catch a glimpse of a very rare hare.