Tag Archives: Lifestyle

Editor’s Letter

By Jane Bauer

The New Year can be magical, depressing or just another day. It’s hard to believe that 22 years ago the world waited with baited breath to see if all our technology would collapse. I was pregnant at the time and already living in a Mexican village without a telephone so I wasn’t too worried about what it would mean for me if all the computers shut down.

Back in 2012 we pondered the Mayan doomsday prophecy that the world would end. I wasn’t too concerned then, either – just wanted to be surrounded by people I love.

Well, technology is still going strong and there are more of us than ever before – even with a pandemic, the world population is 7.9 billion, so I don’t think we will be going on the extinct species list anytime soon.

The go-to man for predictions for the last 500 years or so has been the French physician Michel de Nostredame, most commonly known as Nostradamus. For 2022 Nostradamus has predicted asteroids raining down on the earth, massive world hunger, migrant issues, inflation spiraling out of control, the fall of the European Union, shortage of resources leading to a climate war and a massive earthquake.

And it is the season when the message board threads fill with cringe-worthy questions and comments regarding the cheapest way to get from the airport or warning people about waiters scamming them. The underlying vibe of these queries seems to be that the posters are worried about being overcharged or scammed, which suggests they have the expectation that is the norm here. It is not.

The airport: Like most international airports there is transportation. Average cost, per person, is 180 pesos. There is no need to arrange beforehand. Easy. To return to the airport at the end of your holiday expect to pay about 200 pesos for a standard taxi. The variation in cost between coming and going has to do with airport transportation services paying more for their license etc. This is common practice in many places. Don’t overthink it.

Tipping: Tip a minimum of 15% at restaurants. If the beach waiter adds 10% service (which is often how it is done here) be sure to add some extra to show your gratitude for great service. When someone bags your shopping at the grocery store, pumps your gas, delivers food, massages you, pedicures your dry winter feet – tipping is standard etiquette – not charity. Be generous, be gracious and be grateful and you will find yourself surrounded by a community of hard-working people who will go above and beyond to help you.

My theory is that reality will rise up to meet your expectations. So whether it is what the new year has to offer or what to expect on your holiday, move through the world with positive purpose, be respectful of the unknown, seek out the good in each moment – especially in the difficult moments.

See you next month,

Jane

Ocelots

By Julie Etra

Ocelots (Leopardus pardalis, ocelotes in Spanish) are beautiful animals found here on the southwest coast of Mexico. They are medium-sized cats (adults are 70-100 cm long – 28-40 inches – not inluding their tails). They resemble the oncilla (Leopardus tigrinus), also called the tigrillo, which occurs from Central America to central Brazil.

Ocelots and People

The ocelot is endangered in the very small area where it lives in southern Texas and in Mexico, as a result of illegal poaching for their prized pelts (records show 566,000 ocelot pelts were sold in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s), along with habitat loss and fragmentation. Collisions with vehicles have become an increasing threat. Hunting them is now forbidden throughout their range, which runs from southernmost Texas, through Mexico and Central America, and across the northern half of South America (except in Peru, where it is regulated but not forbidden).

In the heyday of ocelot fashion, people kept them as pets as well, most notably the surrealist artist Salvador Dali, who took Babou with him to all sorts of places, often to the dismay of the people in those places. He is reported to have told an upset diner at a Manhattan restaurant that it was just an “ordinary house cat,” painted up like Op Art.

In Mexico ocelots have been culturally significant since at least the Aztec (Mexica) civilizations, as depicted in their multimedia art and mythology, although whether the Aztecs distinguished between ocelots and jaguars is unclear – the Nahuatl word for jaguar is ocelotl. The ocelotl appears on the Aztec sunstone as the day sign for fourteenth day of the Aztec religious calendar (there was a different calendar to govern agriculture), and was considered auspicious for battle with success and valor.

Ocelots in Nature

Ocelots are cryptically colored in that they blend into their typically dense forest environment. They have a small, speckled brown head with two stripes on either side of the cheeks and four to five parallel black stripes along the neck. Their ears are short, wide, and rounded. Ocelot fur is spotted with elongated, irregular, rosette-shaped rings. Their bellies are dark, and tails are 26-45 cm (10-18 inches) and tapered with dark colored rings or spots. Individuals have their own unique pattern, making them easy to distinguish.

In Mexico, the ocelot’s distribution is discontinuous, but includes the coastal Pacific and Gulf of Mexico, the eastern slopes of the state of Tamaulipas to the Yucatán peninsula, and south from Sonora in northwestern Mexico. It is both diurnal and nocturnal, meaning it is active both in the day and night, but is more active at dusk and at night when it hunts. They are solitary, and make their homes in caves, hollow tree trunks and tree canopies for protection. In Mexico habitat includes tropical forests, tropical deciduous forests (which we have here on the coast), mangrove forests (also on our Costa Chica), temperate forests, and thorny desert scrub.

The ocelot is a predator, like other wild felines, but is opportunistic in its diet. It is an agile animal that climbs and swims as well as leaps after its prey, which includes small terrestrial mammals, reptiles, fish, and small birds, and even insects. In tropical Mexico, iguanas are a preferred quarry.

Litter size is typically between two and three kittens. Gestation averages two to three months, and they can reproduce year-round. Their life span has been observed to be as long as ten years.

Seeing Ocelots

Camera traps have been used for decades to monitor wildlife. In Mexico they have been used to study ocelots and other mammals in the Mexican states of Campeche, Veracruz, and Tabasco, and here on the coast of Oaxaca, Starting in 2016, the Huatulco National Park (Parque Nacional de Huatulco) installed at least three camera traps in different points in the Park to monitor native mammals as well as feral dogs (the latter have become problematic on the beaches of Huatulco where they have killed egg laying turtles as well as the hatchlings). The camera traps have captured images of ocelots as well as white-tailed deer, rabbits, anteaters, opossum, coyotes, and armadillos. My stepdaughter Joy caught one on film at her place on the Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica.

Time to set up our camera again, as the back of our place faces the forest. So far, we have only captured photos of the ubiquitous opossum and the pygmy skunk, an endemic. I have my doubts, given the number of barking dogs in the neighborhood (including our own barky), but we will give it a try. Or maybe I’ll get lucky and see one while employing one of the local nature guides.

Year of the Tiger 2022: Big Bold Books to Devour

By Carole Reedy

In China, the tiger is considered the king of beasts, symbolizing power and a great deal of nerve. The authors below have proven their power, using the written word as a way to understand our mysterious world. These are the fresh voices of the 21st century exciting us about the future of books and keeping high the bar for fine literature. (Publication date in parentheses.)

Douglas Stuart: Young Mungo (April 14, 2022)
Stuart stunned us in 2020 with his first novel, Shuggie Bain, richly deserved winner of the Booker prize that year. His story of a young boy growing up in Scotland has assured Stuart a place among classical writers. The ambiance of the place and time, the vivid endowment of the characters, and the raw emotion in the novel drew millions of readers who ended up loving little Shuggie.

Stuart may have another hit on his hands with Young Mungo, the tale of two young men, one Protestant and the other Catholic, growing up in Glasgow. Assuredly, it will generate some of the same emotion and tension that drew readers to Shuggie Bain.

Stuart has led a rag-to-riches life, growing up in Scotland, moving to England, and ultimately having a successful career as a designer in New York. With Shuggie Bain and Young Mungo, his writing career is just beginning, and we can look forward to many incisive novels in the future.

Hanya Yanagihara: To Paradise (January 11, 2022)
A Little Life, the lengthy, imposing novel of friendship and pain, put Yanagihara on the map as a brilliant writer. Many of us thought she deserved the Booker Prize that year for her story of the very emotional journey of four young men.

A new twist, but surely another whirlwind of emotion, is presented in her new novel, On Paradise, which spans three centuries and covers three different versions of what the US becomes. Surely the themes of love and pain will dominate, as they did in A Little Life.

Olga Towkarczuk: The Books of Jacob (February 1, 2022)
Get ready for the literary ride of a lifetime. This book is being called the War and Peace of modern literature. Polish wordsmith Olga Towkarczuk has gifted us with books such as Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead and taken us on philosophical journeys with her award-winning Flights.

Towkarczuk has clearly taken seriously the responsibility and implications of the Nobel Prize she was awarded in 2018. The Books of Jacob has already won the coveted Nike award in Poland for best novel.

Marcel Theroux of The Guardian explains: “It is a visionary novel that conforms to a particular notion of masterpiece – long, arcane and sometimes inhospitable. Tokarczuk is wrestling with the biggest philosophical themes.” He compares it to John Milton’s Paradise Lost and calls the novel one that “will be a landmark in the life of any reader with the appetite to tackle it.” I hope to be among the first to try!

Emily St. John Mandel: Sea of Tranquility (April 5, 2022)
This young Canadian writer follows up her successful novels The Glass House and Station Eleven (available to stream as a limited miniseries on HBO Max) with her latest glimpse into the future.

The novel begins in 1912 on Vancouver Island and takes us 300 years into the future to a dark colony on the moon. That should pique your interest, but in addition to the metaphysics and time travel, St. John brings the delicate side humanity, as always, to the novel.

This is just the beginning of our 2022 review. In future issues of The Eye, we’ll explore the new books of our favorite and new authors. Perhaps, as I am, you are grateful for the hours of entertainment and contemplation brought to you by these writers.

Learning to Surf

By Randy Redmond

The first thing I will tell you is this: you are going to hate it before you love it! (Remember these words …)

Here are the five things you need to do that help you succeed in starting your new life of surfing.

  1. Hire a surf instructor! Too many people feel that they can learn on their own, which only leads to learning bad habits and it’ll take you twice as long to get to the point of loving the sport.
  2. Start yourself on a soft top surfboard no shorter than 2 meters (7 feet).
  3. Do some beach training with your board. Using your board on the sand, learn how to pop up and stand up out of the water.
  4. Before entering the water, if your instructor has not already done so, please ask them to explain surf etiquette to you. There are rules of the road out there in the water – once you learn them you’ll avoid a lot of drama and possible injury to yourself and others.
  5. Have patience! It’s not gonna happen in one day. Let your surf instructor push you into waves – this is not humiliating- this is how you learn. You will eventually learn how to paddle into the waves yourself.

Surfing is not only one of the healthiest sports, it’s low cost and you get to enjoy nature! Every surfer I know remembers vividly the feeling of their first blue-water wave, in other words not riding the white wash anymore. Every surfer can tell you what board they were riding, where they were surfing, how they got there and who was on the beach. Your first blue-water wave is probably the most important step to your newfound addiction. This is the feeling that you’ll be chasing and cheering for the rest of the time that you enjoy this incredible activity!

I highly recommend that you watch the many YouTube channels that will further instruct you on technique, style, and basic logic of surfing. Once you have mastered the pop-up and stand up on your board and actually catch some blue-water waves, you can graduate to a harder board. I suggest a “fun board,” yes, that’s what the board is called. A fun board will allow you to take your surfing to the next level, staying on a soft top will only keep you from excelling. From there you can gradually work your way down sizes or upsize it depending if you would like ride a short board or a classic longboard.

Huatulco Surf Company is located in the shops at Tangolunda; you can visit them to obtain a list of professional surf instructors.

The Story of SusieJ – A Tiny Tigre de la Calle

By Deborah Van Hoewyk

Much to the displeasure of the two cats we bring from Maine, many a Mexican street cat has tried to enter – over the wall, through the gate – our house in Santa Cruz.

But one of those Maine cats is supremely ungracious to the street cats, given that she herself was born in Santa Cruz, apparently in a giant pothole up at the end of Calle Huautla.

A Determined Tiny Tigre

SusieJ arrived like others, hopping up from the sidewalk and through the ironwork gate into a planter. And there she stayed, peeking out from the plants at the front of the patio. A few days later, however, there was another, smaller face beside hers. Apparently SusieJ had gone back up to Calle Huautla and brought her kitten to live in the planter as well.

Of course, a few days after that, there was another small face at the front of the yard. And once, again, a few days after that – another small face. This third kitten looked nothing like SusieJ or the other two, and was a good six weeks younger. Then SusieJ though it would be better all if they moved into the house. First we just thought they’d left, until we discovered them curled up on the chairs shoved under the dining room table.

We fed them and “fixed” them – the kittens went off to live in Pluma Hidalgo. As were preparing to leave at the end of the season, SusieJ was adopted by a woman who lived in Hache Tres. All was quiet, stuff was getting sorted for packing, we were looking forward to the cool weather of Maine. At 11 pm, three days before we were to leave, hubby comes in carrying SusieJ. Although he believes cats do no such thing, SusieJ had found her way back from Hache Tres.

SusieJ was replaced by two new, younger bonded (and fixed) cats; SusieJ spends her summers in Maine and her winters in Mexico.

The Sad Short Lives of Street Cats

SusieJ lucked out. This is not the fate of the overwhelming majority of street cats in Mexico. They are run over by cars (atropellado), torn apart by dogs, starved, felled by disease, poisoned intentionally or accidentally, and have hard short lives – most last less than a year.

Street cats (gatos callejeros) live in concert with humans – they are not entirely feral. Most would make happy house cats if they got the chance. They are in the street because, historically, Mexico has not had a “pet culture” – cats and dogs have been seen as utilitarian. Cats do in the rats, mice, and other small vermin, while dogs guard property and people. It is thought spaying and castrating a dog or cat would prevent it from being fierce enough to do its job.

This is changing, however. According to U.S. animal behavior consultant Steve Dale from Chicago, Mexicans, “often influenced by European, American and Canadian pet ownership in the community,” are increasingly thinking of cats and dogs as pets, and with this change of mind, sterilization of pets and strays is increasing across Mexico.

The Solution? Sterilization

Sterilizing dogs and cats that roam and street animals is the only proven – and humane – way to control these populations. The Oaxacan coast has a strong contingent of spay-neuter organizations. The first volunteering we ever did in Huatulco was at one of the earliest clinics put on by Snipsisters, an organization formed by Canadians who had homes in Salchi, the next beach town after Cuatunalco. (Cuatunalco is west of Huatulco, before Pochutla/Puerto Ángel, and has hosted multiple Snipsister clinics.)

Snipsisters has encouraged other organizations to conduct spay-neuter campaigns. In Bahías de Huatulco, that organization is the Mexican nonprofit Palmas Unidas de Huatulco; Snipsisters has supported many of the Palmas Unidas clinics. There is a Snipsisters chapter in Puerto Escondido, where they also support TNR (Trap Neuter Release) Puerto Escondido. Altogether, Snipsisters has sterilized over 5,000 cats and dogs in coastal Oaxaca. The independent organization Terre Xtra serves Pochutla and Puerto Ángel, as well as lending a hand with Palmas Unidas and anywhere else they are needed.

Palmas Unidas de Huatulco conducts 6 – 9 free sterilization campaigns a year. Last month, Palmas Unidas held a clinic in Hache Tres in La Crucecita, scheduling 154 surgeries – working into the dark, the surgeons sterilized 159 animals. Those slots were all taken and people were being turned away – unacceptable to Palmas Unidas. Overnight emergency fundraising funded a second clinic with 60 more sterilizations, for a total 0f 219; funds raised will cover another clinic to be held early in the new year.

It costs approximately 300 pesos (currently about $15 USD, $20 CDN) to sterilize a cat or dog. Long-time Huatulco resident Fran McLaren is the driving force behind fundraising for Palmas Unidas; if you are interested in helping, contact her at franmclaren@gmail.com.

Controversial Tigers

By Marcia Chaiken and Jan Chaiken

Thousands of years ago, when the Chinese zodiac calendar was first formulated, the Tiger was selected to symbolize power and speed. Greatly admired as the King of Beasts (yes, the tiger, not the lion), the sign of the tiger evoked awe. Today, the tiger, whether real or fictional, is more likely to evoke controversy.

In the year that we were born, there were still an estimated 72,000 tigers roaming wild in India and Asia. Today, there are fewer than 5,000 tigers in the wild, mainly in India, and that number is rapidly diminishing. There are more tigers in captivity than free, including in Mexico – a territory where jaguars were indigenous but tigers were not. Some say that keeping tigers in captivity helps preserves the species. But naturalists caution that even tigers raised in state-of-the-art zoos cannot be released back into their natural environments because they lack survival skills.

Even more controversial is the practice of the raising of tigers as pets. Those cute little tiger cubs, such as the one the U.S. border patrol found not long ago being smuggled in a car crossing from Mexico, grow up to be dangerous and powerful beasts. When they slip from the control of their inexperienced owners in cities, including during the past year in Guadalajara, they cause panic and endanger their own lives as they are hunted down. And the owners of big cat parks who bill themselves as “experts” in the care and feeding of tigers appear to be themselves a breed apart.

Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness, an eight-episode series released by Netflix in 2020, attracted a very large audience. Detailing the contentious history between a big cat park owner and an animal rights activist, the documentary literally had a captive audience, since much of the world was locked down to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Given the wide-spread discussion about the series, we decided to watch the first episode and were so disgusted with the characters, the topic and poor quality of the video, that we became part of the controversy between those who breathlessly watched every episode and those who would prefer to be eaten by a tiger than to watch this series.

Even tigers in fiction can’t seem to escape modern-day criticism and controversy. The children’s book Little Black Sambo, written by the Scottish author Helen Bannerman and published in 1899, was based on an Indian tale, Little Babaji, the Boy and the Tigers, by Chibikuro Sampo. Both versions charmingly tell the tale of a little boy in India who was so brave he was able to fool fierce tigers into running so fast in a circle that they turned into butter or ghee. But recently there was a movement to ban the book in the U.S. as politically incorrect – equating Sambo with African Americans. And one small-city book store that placed the book in its shop window was virtually shut down while the community argued about racial insensitivity versus censorship.

The beloved character Tigger in Winnie the Pooh (Winny de Puh in Mexico) did not escape criticism and pushback. When a psychologist gratuitously analyzed the book’s characters, Tigger was diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Ardent Tigger fans growled in outrage, especially when Ritalin and family therapy were prescribed.

Both the book Life of Pi and the movie of the same name – featuring as a main character a magnificent and possibly imaginary tiger – were mired in controversy. The author of the book, Yan Martel, was accused of plagiarizing the story from another author’s earlier book. The film tiger, who of course spoke Spanish in the version we saw in Oaxaca, was virtually created by the visual effects artists at VXF. The industry was in an uproar when VXF was not mentioned by Ang Lee in his Academy Awards acceptance speech when he won the Oscar for Best Director for Pi.

We hope the designation of 2022 as the Year of the Tiger does not portend twelve months of controversy. We have had enough polarization around the world in 2021. We have fond memories of our son as an infant and toddler, hugging his stuffed “tigger” until the plush fur wore thin and the stuffing appeared at the seams; for us the tiger represents the love of a child. Let us hope that for the world, the Year of the Tiger will be seen as originally projected – one of power and speed that can overcome conflict.

Editor’s Letter

By Jane Bauer

“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.” ~Pericles

A year ago we were counting down to say goodbye to 2020, which most people felt was one of our worst years. A year later I am not sure we are doing much better. I have been struggling for a week or so contemplating what I would say in my editorial and even as I latched onto something positive it would quickly spiral in my mind and the reality of our collective malaise would come into view.

I am writing this on the eve of American Thanksgiving and coming up with things I am grateful for on a personal level is an easy task. I love most aspects of my life. I have a job that I am excited to go to, I work with dedicated and kind people who exceed my expectations. My daughter is a smart and loving person who is doing well in school and we say ‘I love you’ with the same ease we did when she was four years old. My house is an oasis and a delicious meal is never too far off in the future. This week I have seen the faces of customers who over the years have become friends and I am thrilled that people are traveling again. The sun continues to shine in Huatulco, the ocean is refreshing, the economy is slowly recovering from pandemic shutdowns and I have an amazing support network of friends.

But looking beyond my bubble I am less optimistic. Groups of displaced people continue to push against borders in an effort to improve their lives or even just to survive. Today marks the 100th day since the Taliban took over Afghanistan and much of the population is struggling just to get enough food to survive. Women’s rights in the US are being challenged as violence breaks out on the streets in Wisconsin. Delhi is on lockdown because of poor air quality, while British Colombia is battling mud slides and heavy rains. This year saw record-breaking natural disasters from erupting volcanos, droughts, floods and hurricanes. Nearly two dozen species of birds, fish and wildlife were declared extinct this year.

So what can we do beyond recycling, eating less meat and all the other little acts that we do to make us feel like part of the solution instead of the problem? What can we learn from this coronavirus experience? We are interconnected. There is so way to move through the world bouncing only on the walls of our personal bubbles.

Our resolutions for 2022 should be to spread empathy and compassion all across the globe. To learn to have civilized conversations with people who don’t have the same political views as our own. Our goal should be to ensure everyone is safe from persecution, has food and shelter. We need to get kids out of immigration detention centers where they are held like prisoners without a place in the world. It’s no longer enough to resolve to exercise more and eat better in 2022- these are drastic times that call for BIG peaceful and loving action.

Let us embrace our interconnectedness and see the suffering of one as the suffering of all as we strive to make our world more inhabitable.

See you in 2022,

Jane

A Notable Mexican Artist … and a Noble Father

By Brooke Gazer

In 1951, Vicente Gandía immigrated. with his widowed mother and sisters, from Spain to Mexico. He was just sixteen, but within a few years he enrolled in UNAM to study architecture. After two years, he realized he preferred drawing existing buildings to designing new ones and left to pursue his career as an artist.

Those two years were not wasted, however; many of his pieces are grounded by detailed architectural elements like windows, patios, and doors. His work was strongly influenced by the great French impressionist and post-impressionist painters: Manet, Bonnard, Cezanne, and Matisse. This movement is inspired by the concept of capturing the moment. His paintings have a decorative quality with a bold use of color. Organic matter springs to life as landscapes, gardens, and floral arrangements seem to move within the canvas.

Like many artists, he struggled, but by the mid 1970s, Gandía began to achieve international acclaim. His work has appeared in museums and galleries throughout North and South America, as well major cities in Europe. In 1988, the catalogue for the Palacio de Bellas Artes, in Mexico City, stated: “The work of Vicente Gandía is part of the best tradition of Spanish painting. It starts out from real, solid things, and makes them glow from within, as though with the hidden splendor of their true essence.”

I like the work of this artist, but even more, I believe I would have liked the man. He was my friend’s father, and she told me a touching story about him and one of his paintings.

When she was nine years old, Mariana walked into her father’s studio, which was part of their home in Cuernavaca. She’d fallen in love with an enormous canvas titled, Ventana con Magnolias, which he had recently completed. Even as a small child she was frugal and had been saving her pesos. Their Spanish conversation went something like this.

“Pappa, I love this painting and I want to buy it from you.”

“Oh, sweetheart, you don’t have to buy it, you can have it. It is yours.”

“No, this is your work. I want to pay for it, but I can only pay 9000 pesos because this is all I have saved. Will you sell it to me?”

“Of course, my love.”
This was 1985 and 9000 pesos might sound like a lot for a nine-year-old girl to have saved. To Mariana it was, but keep in mind that Mexico suffered a horrific devaluation in the 1980’s, and in 1985 it was the equivalent to about $40 USD.

Vicente was becoming “discovered.” The writer Gabriel García Márquez had heard his name mentioned in art circles, and asked to come to the house to see Vicente´s work. He intended to purchase a piece of this up-and-coming painter. This was a huge opportunity for any aspiring artist and of course Gandía was both honored and excited.

When Garcia arrived at their home, he was immediately drawn to the piece Mariana had purchased. Unaware that it was not for sale, he asked the price. Vicente told him it was not for sale because it belonged to his daughter. The writer’s ego could not accept that this artist, of some small acclaim, was refusing to sell him the piece of his choice. But he was infuriated that the man was withholding it in favor of a mere nine-year-old girl.

Gabriel García Márquez left in a huff, without making a purchase, and never returned. The sale to a famous writer might have advanced Gandía’s career, but to Vicente, a promise to his daughter was more important. This painting, which is currently valued at $50,000 USD, is prominently displayed in Mariana’s Mexico City apartment.

Vicente Gandía passed away in 2009 but both originals and prints can be found online and in several galleries.

On Sand and the Making of Castles

By Randy Jackson

To build a snow fort or sand castle? That is the (real) question. At this time of year, some northerners enjoying Huatulco might be wondering if their snow-fort building skills are transferable to constructing a sand castle. The short answer is no. But the desire to create an objet d’art out of something you try not to track in the house shows the right attitude. To build a moderately impressive sand castle involves five simple steps following the acronym LWBSF, and remembered by the phrase: Leave Winter Before Soul Freezes. Just two pieces of equipment are needed: A good sized bucket for hauling water, and something to sculpt with.

LOCATION: Choose a location. First choose a beach, one of the bays of Huatulco based on the type of sand. The more powdery the sand, the better it will compact for a lasting structure. Grainy beaches like Cacaluta are not good for sand castles. Once on the beach, choose the location of the castle itself. A place where the sand is moist below the surface is best. The farther from the water, the longer the water-hauling trips. And, of course, you want a spot above the high tide line.

Sand: As an avid hiker in the Canadian Rockies, I sometimes stand on some majestic rocky peak and grapple with the time scale it would take for the rock beneath my boots to become sand on a beach. It will, eventually. Sand is ground or eroded rock. Ocean waves do some of the work bashing against rocky shores, but streams bring most beach sand from rocky areas to rivers, then to oceans, where currents and tides deposit the granules back on land to make a sandy beach. Once a granule is chipped off a rock somewhere on a continent, it takes about one million years to move that granule each 100 miles along waterways. Think of the eons of time we could save if we all brought a jar of sand down on the plane.

WET DOWN THE AREA: Often a good location for a sand castle is closer to a beach restaurant where beverages can be supplied to the castle builder, but this usually means the sand is dry. Mark out a six-foot square with your foot. Then haul buckets of water up to this spot to soak the sand at least to the depth of one foot.

Sand: Not all sand is the same – there are some differences in the sand even among the bays of Huatulco. Around the world, sand comes in six different colours: white, grey, black, pink, green (yes, green – the most famous is a green beach in Hawaii), and the most common, golden or brown. Consistency of the grains also varies widely. Desert sand differs from beach sand. Beach sand and sand mined from river areas is in great demand, whereas desert sand has few uses. The issue with desert sand is that the grains of sand journey to the desert overland, blown by the wind. This makes the desert sand grains smooth and rounded, and rounded grains don’t bind well even in concrete. It’s the angular grains delivered through rivers and oceans that allow for bonding between grains and allows for compaction. Dubai, for example, has imported millions of tons of sand from Australia to build their new islands for condo towers. Their own nearby desert sand is of no use.

BUILD A VOLCANO: When the sand in your spot is sufficiently soaked, build a base in the shape of a volcano. Dig the sand up around the sides of a base about three feet across and keep piling it on, up to a height of about three feet. Keep flattening the top as you go. Once the sand volcano is high enough, scoop a crater out of the flattened top.

Sand: Sand is the second most-consumed natural resource on the planet, right after water. Cement is by far the biggest use for sand. But there are other substantial uses as well. Asphalt, glass and computer chips use significant quantities of sand. Civilization as we know it could not exist without the buildings, roads, and computer chips that are made from sand. Although in geological time, sand is a renewable resource, on a human timescale sand is a limited resource.

Demand for sand is outstripping supply. Most Southeast Asian countries have banned or restricted the export of sand. Sand mining has completely obliterated at least two dozen islands in Indonesia since 2005. The main culprit – Singapore, the world’s largest sand importer. Singapore wants to make more land, and sand is the best material for that. The Times of India has reported that the Illegal sand trade amounts to $2.3 billion per year. There have been hundreds of killings between “Sand Mafias” in India. Even beaches themselves are a source of demand for sand. The US Geological Survey estimated that two thirds of Southern California beaches may be gone by 2100 – only 80 years down the road. Moreover, virtually all of California’s water flows into the ocean are dammed and used upstream. This means the natural erosion of beaches is outstripping the natural sources of supply.

Remember in the movie, The Graduate, where Mr. McGuire (Walter Brooke) says to Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman), “I just have one word for you – plastics”? He could have said “Sand.”

SOAK THE VOLCANO: Haul more water and pour it slowly into the crater on top of your sand volcano. Physics experiments have shown the optimum strength in sand structures has the ratio of eight parts sand to one part of water. Keep patting the sides of the volcano. Haul sufficient water until the flattened top of the volcano seems solid when you push down on it. Once this is done, flatten the top out further so it no longer looks as much like a volcano. You will now have the base of your sand castle, and it should last for more than a day.

Sand: Given sufficient geological time, with the gradual erosion of continental mountains into sand, will the earth one day be a planet of sand, as in the book/movie Dune? No: Very slooooooowly, rock makes sand, and sand eventually makes new rock. Sand settles in certain places where winds and currents leaves it. More gets added, and more and more, and the weight of the sand compacts and pushes the sand deeper and deeper into the earth. Pressure, temperature, and chemical reactions eventually transform sand into sedimentary rock. Yada yada … , and eventually tectonic plates push that sand-made-rock up to form new mountain ranges.

FREEHAND SCULPTURE: Here is where you need a wood sculpting tool. A wooden ruler is ideal, although one of the wooden book markers that vendors pedddle on the beach works OK, too. Begin by squaring out the sides of your flattened sand volcano. Next, scoop sand into your bucket, about 1/3rd full. Add to that enough water to easily cover the sand and let the sand settle into the bottom, below the surface of the water. After a minute or so, scoop out a handful of wet sand from the bucket and work it between your hands until enough water is pressed out to make a mucky ball. Place the ball on the top of your sand base, near the edge, making small piles about eight inches high. Each pile you make will become your castle turrets.

Once your blobs have been arranged all around the edge, use your sculpting tool to carve the sides into circular turrets. Notches can be carefully carved out of the turret tops. Use your sculpting tool to make a brick looking crosshatch in the turrets and the base of the castle. Use the soaked sand to add other features like walls between the turrets and a drawbridge.

Knowing a bit about sand makes the construction of a sand castle a kind of celebration. Celebrating that in the face of geological forces and time scales beyond our comprehension, we are here on a beach, making something from a substance the earth itself uses like playdough. True, our structure lasts a day, mountain ranges somewhat longer. Yet, both are temporary, on different time scales. But then again, who tries to contemplate all that when the air is warm, the waves are washing ashore, and you’ve built an outdoor structure without having to wear your snowsuit!