Tag Archives: Travel & Tourism

Ghosts: From Manitoba and Mexico

By Randy Jackson

In Canada, back in the early 1980s, one could get a government grant to study French. Many college and university students, including me, did just that. I went to the University of Laval in Quebec City in the summer of 1982, a memorable summer of camaraderie amongst fellow students from across Canada.

The Haunted Manitoba Farmhouse

One evening, on the terrace of the Le Pub Universitaire, a brother and sister (students at the University of Manitoba) held a number of us spellbound with the story of their parents moving their family into a haunted farmhouse. They witnessed numerous poltergeist effects. which terrified them initially, but over time they came to see this ghost as more of a harmless trickster. This Manitoba farm family got to the point they liked having the ghost around. They told us the house would seem empty without it, and it kept unwanted relatives away.

Normally though, it’s the ghosts (not the relatives) that are unwanted. On that warm summer night in La belle province, the brother and sister from the haunted Manitoba farmhouse explained that ghosts were the trapped spirits of people who had died unexpectedly, or by suicide, and most often they died violently.

I now know this is a commonly held belief across virtually all civilizations of all time, from Mesopotamia to Mesoamerica, from early Chinese civilizations to Polynesia. It seems that no matter what the various beliefs different societies hold about the afterlife, ghosts represent an aberration from whatever afterlife system a culture holds. As Obi-Wan Kenobi is supposed to have said, “I sense a disturbance in the force, Luke.” Ghosts are spirits that are not supposed to be here.

The Malevolent Ghosts of Mesoamerica

In all the pre-conquest societies of Mesoamerica, the cosmos, creation, and the afterlife, were the domain of malevolent supernatural forces. Chicunamictlán was the nine-level Land of the Dead to the Aztecs (for most but not all the departed). Here the departed suffered a four-year journey of great pain and hardships to reach Mictlán, their final resting place. At Mictlán they were met by the god of death who received them with vengeance. The departed lived (and suffered) there until finally being extinguished altogether. Spirits of departed people (ghosts), you’d think, would want out of an afterlife like that. But to the Aztecs, ghosts were feared and unwelcome spirits of the underworld who brought only bad news or the foretelling of doom.

To the Aztecs, even women who died in childbirth were not benevolent. These spirits (known as Cihuātēteoh in Nahuatl) returned to earth on five specified days each year where they were thought to steal children, cause madness, and induce adultery in males (I wonder how many Aztec men used that as an explanation for their infidelity). The modern-day Mexican legend of La Llorona may have had its origin in this Aztec belief. La Llorona is thought to be the malicious spirit of a woman who murdered her children. To some, she is believed to be a siren, who lures men to their deaths, or she steals children to replace those she had murdered. Hardly the phantom door knob rattler of that Manitoba farmhouse.

Another sinister ghost-belief of the Aztecs was the origin of the modern day El Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, although to the Aztecs, it was not the respectful, upbeat celebration of one’s ancestors, as it is practiced today. The original ritual was held in August, when family members offered food, water, and tools to assist their deceased relatives in getting through the difficult four-year afterlife journey to Mictlán where they were put out of their misery.

Christianity Rescues the Ghosts

Under European Christianity, this ritual morphed into the somewhat similarly purposed Christian observation of All Souls Day. To the Christians, All Souls Day was introduced in the 10th century for people to pray for their departed friends and relatives stuck in Purgatory. Purgatory was believed to be an afterlife realm for deceased persons who had sinned a little too much to enter the kingdom of heaven directly after death. So prayers on All Souls day were a type of appeal to the divine to reduce the amount of punishment for these souls, and get them released into heaven. And, although this can be seen as a kind of parallel to the original Day of the Dead ritual, there is one principal difference as well.

To the Christians, the afterlife is eternal. To the Aztecs (and earlier Mesoamerican civilizations), life after death was limited. It was believed, following a period of suffering, that existence in any form was terminated – full stop. And this distinction, I think, reflects back on the cultural view of ghosts overall. It seems to me, the ancient Aztec belief system where the endpoint of an afterlife is individual obliteration (ending one’s suffering), any ghost appearing in this earthly realm could only be malevolent. But in all other societies, including Mexico post-conquest, ghosts are seen as far less threatening.

In fact, ghosts in today’s western hemisphere, although generally considered scary, are not thought to be physically harmful. They even make great tourist attractions. And in this light, the story of a welcomed ghost in that Manitoba farmhouse has some degree of cultural believability. To an ancient Aztec though, such a benevolent spirit would be inconceivable. But then again, if this ancient Aztec first visited a modern-day celebration of Día de los Muertos, he or she could probably be convinced.

Surf Etiquette – Is It Still a Thing?

By Randy Redmon

To the casual observer, watching surfers out in the water looks a bit disorganized, but for surfers, it is anything but. There are actually unwritten rules out in the water. These rules are called “Surf Etiquette” and if they are respected, you will see that everybody will get their fair share of waves.
Every surf spot throughout the world has its own special vibe (rules/etiquette). There are, however, some rules of surf etiquette that all must respect and the quicker you learn them, the less drama you will encounter during your surfing experience.

So, what are some of the common universal etiquette rules? Well let’s frame them as “things that you shouldn’t do”:

  1. Probably one of the most important things to remember: never show up to a new surf break with a group of surfers and paddle out all as one group. This is considered rude. If you must travel in a group, break up into small groups of 1-3 and paddle out in intervals.
  2. Read the room! It’s easy to see who the dominant surfers are (a.k.a. local surfers). These folks deserve respect and get the right of way. Remember, this is their turf and you are a visitor. Take the scrap waves and don’t insist on the set waves. This will go a long way in gaining the respect of the locals. Yes, this may take some time, but once you have gained that respect, they might possibly invite you to the sweet spot of the takeoff.
  3. Don’t snake! Snaking is where a surfer will paddle out and maneuver in and around the group of surfers that have already been waiting, to try to get into position before the rest. Some try to do this nonchalantly, but pretty much everybody knows what they are doing. So be patient. Take your spot in the back of the pack and wait your turn.
  4. Do not paddle out into the drop zone. Watch the waves and the surfers getting into position and take a wide berth to stay out of their way. Always keep an eye out for incoming surfers.
  5. Do not drop in on other surfers. The surfer who’s closest to the peak has the right of way. What’s the peak? That’s where the wave is starting to break, so watch for this and your surrounding surfers. If you are dropping in, always look to the way you’re going to ensure this is actually your wave and that you are not dropping in on someone else. Yes, accidents do happen and you may drop in on someone, but a simple apology goes a long way. Learn from your mistake, but don’t do it twice in one session.
  6. Do not be obnoxious. Be friendly in the lineup! That does not mean being overly friendly, but a genuine smile goes a long way! A word of caution: eyeballing or scanning your fellow surfers can give off the wrong signal, even if you don’t mean it to. Surfing is a selfish sport and everybody is out for their own wave and pleasure. On the flip side, however, it’s important to be conscious of other surfer’s situations around you. Everyone needs to watch out for the others because when things go wrong, it can go wrong real fast. This is especially the case in bigger surf.

The bottom line: if we all remember basic surf etiquette and observe the local “vibe,” you will have done your part to add to a surf environment that’s friendly and not hostile. And this is true even before you hit the beach. Respect the surrounding community.

If we all do our part, we are supporting a beautiful and healthy sport that can be life-changing. All it takes is getting that one good wave that you’ll remember for the rest of the night and beyond. So make sure that happens with the support of your fellow surfers and without any hard feelings.

Pre-Hispanic Legends that Explained the Natural World*

By Kary Vannice

Historically, every culture in the world has passed down myths and legends to explain the origins of different elements of our natural world. Here are a select few that originate from the region of Mexico.

The Legend of the Bat

The story goes that, long ago, the bat was the most beautiful bird in nature. The bat, seeing that other birds also had beautiful feathers, decided to go up to heaven to ask the Creator to fill his body with the most beautiful plumage. The Creator had no feathers to give him, so instead gave him permission to go down to Earth and claim a feather from each bird.

Back on land, the bat only selected the birds with the most beautiful feathers. And soon, he had filled his body with feathers of many different colors and shapes. From that moment on, the bat boasted about its exquisite feathers in front of everyone and believed that it was superior to the rest of the birds. He even humiliated them.

The Creator perceived the proud attitude of the bat and decided to pluck its feathers. And when he flapped his wings, his plumage instantly shed from his skin. And all the other birds witnessed the shower of colored feathers.

It is for this reason the bat now has no feathers and lives in caves so as not to remember the beautiful colors it once had and lost.

The Legend of the Hummingbird

When the gods created the world, they assigned a task to everything that inhabited it. Stones, trees, and animals all had a mission. But when they finished creating the universe, they realized that they had forgotten something essential: a being who had the task of carrying wishes and thoughts from one place to another, a messenger.

The gods then realized that they had run out of corn and mud, materials with which they had created all the other beings. It was then that they found a piece of jade and carved it into the shape of a small arrow. Then they blew on it, and it went flying off at full speed. The small piece of jade became a hummingbird.

Legend has it that the delicacy of this being allowed it to approach the flowers without moving a single one of its petals and that all the colors of the rainbow shone in its plumage. In addition to being the messengers of the gods, hummingbirds also became the bearers of human thoughts and desires, including messages from the dead.

The men then tried to capture the bird and adorn themselves with its feathers. But the gods got angry and forbade it, telling them that any man who caught a hummingbird would be punished. That is why hummingbirds have never been captive birds of man.

Since then, it is said that the proximity of a hummingbird is good luck. But not only that, its presence also indicates that someone has wished you well and that the bird, as light as it, would carry your thoughts and desires from one place to another.

The Legend of the Cempasúchil (Mexican Marigold)

An old story says that, many years ago, there lived two young people in love: the girl Xóchitl and the boy Huitzilin.

One day, the boy climbed to the top of a mountain seeking the blessing of the Sun God to ensure their love story would last forever. There, Tonatiuh fulfilled the couple’s wish and blessed their love.

Sometime later, Huitzilin had to go to war, and Xóchitl waited for his return. But the young man never returned, and Xóchitl spent her days grieving.

Legend has it that, seeing that the girl was so sad, the Sun God decided to transform her into a beautiful flower. Soon, a hummingbird perched on the petals of the flower, yellow as the sun. The flower immediately recognized her beloved Huitzilin, who returned transformed into a precious bird.

The Legend of the Firefly

A long, long time ago in the Mayab (Earth in its beginnings), there was a man who could cure all diseases. The news spread, and soon many people came to him seeking healing. To cure their ills, he would take out a small green stone from his pocket and whisper a few words to it. This was enough to cure them.

But one day, the man went out for a walk in the jungle. He walked so much that he became very tired. So, he decided to sleep for a while under a tree. But after a few minutes, a heavy rain woke him up, and he ran toward his house, and in his haste, the green stone fell out of his pocket.

Arriving at his house, he found a woman was waiting for him. She needed him to heal her child. But when he went looking for his stone, he didn’t find it. And he began to wonder how he would find something so small in such a big jungle.

“I know!” said the hopeful man, “I’ll ask Cocay to help!”

Cocay was a small but very agile and fast-flying insect. And he knew every corner of the jungle very well!

Cocay gladly volunteered to look for the stone. He searched in every corner of the jungle among the leaves and grass. He searched among the branches of the trees and the water of the creek. And despite being exhausted, Cocay did not want to stop. When night fell, Cocay cried inconsolably because he wanted to keep looking, but he could no longer see. Then, all of a sudden, his little body began to glow and light up, and the tiny insect was able to keep searching … until he found the little green stone.

Very happy, Cocay took the stone to its owner. The healer, upon seeing the little insect shine, felt so proud that he told him: “You have shown your dedication, effort, and perseverance. You have your own light, little Cocay, and from now on, you will always have it. Your body will shine in the middle of the night.”

And from that day on, Cocay and all his family turned into fireflies.

The Legend of the Toads and the Rain

One day, some farmers had planted corn, and they waited for it to rain. But the water never came. So, they thought to send a bird named Papán to go for the rain. And Papán the bird said “Yes,” and took off to bring the water back.

When the bird, Papán, got to where the rain was, he said, “”Hey, rain! The men who have planted corn need you.”

And the rain answered, “Yes, come on, of course. We will go together at the same time.

And the rain and Papán began the journey to where the corn was planted. But on the way, Papán couldn’t stand the rain because it was so thick. Papán fell from the sky with wet wings.

When Papán did not arrive with the water, the farmers thought to send another bird for the rain. It was a bird named Cheque Cheque.

When Cheque Cheque got to where the rain was, he said, “Hey, rain. I have come for you. You are sorely missed where the farmers have planted the corn.”

Then the rain replied, “Okay, I’ll go where I’m needed. Only we must go together at the same time.”

And the two set out for the sown field. But, along the journey, Cheque Cheque couldn’t stand the rain either; and he too fell from the sky with soaked wings.

So, the farmers thought and thought about who to send for the water. After much thought, they decided to invite the toads.

The toads agreed to go for the rain. And, as they were organized, they advised each other.

“Let’s see, big-footed toad. You are going to put yourself on the hill of that hill. You, dwarf toad, are going to stand on the top of the next hill. And you, big-mouthed toad, will stand on the last hill of the road.”

When the chubby-cheeked toad arrived to where the rain was, he said, “I’ve come for you, rain. They need you a lot where the corn is planted.”

“But how will we go together? Do you fly like a bird?” asked the rain.

“I don’t fly like the birds. But I jump very high. And, from jump to jump, I will take you to where the corn has been planted. And so that you know the way, I will sing on each hill. Wherever you listen to my song, there you will go.”

The rain agreed, and the two began the journey. The chubby-cheeked toad jumped very high and lost sight of the rain.

Then, the rain heard the song of the big-footed toad on the first hill. And there he went. Next, the same rain heard the song of the dwarf toad on the next hill, and she continued her journey there. Finally, the rain heard another song. It was the song of the big-mouthed toad waiting for her on the last hill. And that is where the water went.

Thus, singing to the rain, among all the toads, they took the water to where it was needed. And the farmers were very grateful to them.

Since then, every time it’s going to rain, the toads begin to sing.

*Translated from various sources on the internet.

Six-Legged Saviors

By Kary Vannice

I’ve seen visitors to Mexico visibly gag or turn away in disgust when offered a bowl of chapulines (fried grasshoppers) along with their guacamole. I’ve witnessed a few more daring travelers hesitantly touch their tongue to a margarita glass rimmed with sal de gusano (salt containing ground-up agave worm larva). But I’ve rarely seen a foreigner “chow down” on insects undeterred by their preconceived notions about eating bugs.

Most of us are disgusted by just the thought of bugs crawling around in the cabinet where we store our food and are horrified to see mealworm larva float to the top of our cereal bowl.

Eating two or four-legged creatures is fine, but add an additional pair of legs, and most westerners are “out.” “No, thank you, I’ll pass!”

But could it be that our social and cultural conditioning is preventing us from taking advantage of one of the planet’s most nutritious, eco-friendly, and sustainable sources of protein – insects?

For centuries, 80% of all the world’s cultures have been incorporating insects into their diets. Countries like the United States and Canada make up part of the 20% that are staunch holdouts to embracing the edible insect.

Over a hundred edible insect species are eaten in Mexico and there are almost 2,000 species of edible insect that humans around the world consume. Nearly two billion people eat insects as a regular part of their everyday diet. And for good reason.

Most edible insects are high in protein, low in saturated fat, and high in fiber. They contain various essential vitamins and minerals, including vitamin B12, vitamin D, phosphorous, iron, calcium, zinc, copper, magnesium, and manganese. And many are a one-stop-shop for all nine essential amino acids, and also contain omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, as well as antioxidants. According to http://www.Hey-Planet.com, “Insects contain almost all the nutritional benefits that you get from eating meat, fish, and rye bread – all at once!”

And if the nutritional benefits alone don’t convince you to start incorporating insects into your diet, perhaps the environmental ones will. The Food and Agricultural Association (FAO) of the United Nations points out that “Crickets need six times less feed than cattle, four times less than sheep, and twice less than pigs and broiler chickens to produce the same amount of protein … and they emit less greenhouse gases and ammonia than conventional livestock.”

In our post-pandemic world, we are facing new food-system concerns like supply-chain disruptions, food scarcity, and the rising cost of food, particularly meat. This, along with the ongoing climate crisis, has led many to suggest insect farming as a viable, environmentally friendly, and lucrative solution to all of the above problems.

Last year, the BBC featured insect farming in an online series focused on the future of food. The article stated that insect cultivation uses only a fraction of the land mass, energy, and water of traditional animal farming and has a significantly lower carbon footprint.

One reason for this is that insects can be farmed vertically, meaning that large high-rise warehouses can be used to grow tons of insects on a very small parcel of land. And farmed insects can be fed on what would otherwise be considered “waste” in other food industries, such as spent grain from breweries, food scraps, and other organic waste, which solves yet another problem.

Because insect farming does not require vast tracts of land, it can be done in and around large urban centers, so there’s no need to ship this protein-rich food source to where the majority of people live. This virtually eliminates the supply chain altogether.

Before making it to the consumer, most insect protein is ground into a fine powder, making it much more palatable and easier to incorporate into a mainstream diet. Imagine eating a delicious batch of coconut cookies that just happens to contain cricket powder or enjoying a protein-packed brownie made from silkworm larva flour. You’d probably never even know you were eating an insect, yet imagine the good you’d be doing your body and the planet.

If you live in Mexico and want to give insect protein powder a try, the Mexican-based company One Chance offers delicious protein shake powders that are all available from Amazon Mexico. I recommend the matcha!

Better Than Ever: Mexico City Restaurant Revival in Full Swing

By Carole Reedy

Mexico City restaurants are ready for your visit! As everywhere, the economy suffered terribly during the pandemic, but tourism recovery is looking up. Our huge advantage, of course, is the weather, which is ideal year-round. Sure, there are some hot spring days and cooler temps in December and January, but outdoor dining is a possibility here in any season.

The government has supported restaurants by allowing owners to block off one street lane next to the curbs for tables, as well as giving permission to use considerably more sidewalk for tables. Attractive wood and glass structures protect customers from traffic and wind, giving customers the feel of dining in a European café.

The city is sparkling!

First thing on my agenda post-pandemic was to re-discover my favorite eateries to see how they survived. Here, a variety of my favorite places to enjoy good food in the Roma, Condesa, and Cuauhtémoc neighborhoods. All provide outdoor and indoor dining, but the outdoor dining provides the safest and most pleasurable social experience.

MEZZO MEZZO, Cuauhtémoc, Río Neva 30
To me, Mezzo Mezzo is synonymous with “Gypsy Pizza.” At first the combination of flavors did not attract me, but a friend convinced me to try it. Now I’m a fan and never order anything else at this cozy bistro. The pizza has a subtle, or rather not so subtle, melange of figs and Brie on a crisp light pizza crust. Give it a try!

The locale is a small venue with tables on the street. The wine selection has improved, and the service is as attentive as ever. Busy hours are between 2 and 4 pm. Happily, the restaurant is open from 1 pm to midnight every day of the week, as are most of the restaurants on this list, an important feature for visitors to the city.

EL AUTÉNTICO MANILA PATO, Locations in Polanco (Virgilio 25), Condesa (Culiacan 91), and Roma Norte (Colima 159)
This highly popular eatery specializes in Pekín duck tacos, served with corn or flour tortillas or as a torta, with won tons and spring rolls as side dishes. And that is the entire menu!

Healer, historian, and taco-maker Edgardo Ganada Kim and Adrian Segura founded the venue in 2014. They combined the Mexican taco and Chinese side dishes to create textures and flavors to which you’ll return frequently. Plum and oyster sauces enhance the flavors of both the rolls and tacos. None of my visitors has ever been disappointed, and those of us who live nearby are on regular repeat.

Beer, water and soft drinks are the only beverages served.
Hours are daily noon until 10 pm.

SAN GIORGIO, Roma Sur, Anahuac 38
Italian natives give this pizzería five stars as the most authentic Italian Napolitana pizza in the city. The ingredients are fresh, and the variety of pizza choices ample. The tomato sauce has that special flavor that only the Italians deliver, and the mozzarella cheese is created for the venue. There are also big, fresh salads, as well as traditional lasagna al ragú. Spinach and ricotta cannelloni completes the pasta menu. Chicken, pork, and salmon entrees are also available.

The street corner ambiance on Anahuac and Tehuantepec in Roma Sur is exhilarating. The waitstaff especially gives warm Italian greetings and service.

The restaurant provides takeout and delivery, their life-saver during the two years of lockdown. Now, they are open every day 1 pm to 11 pm, except Sundays, when they open at 2 pm.

MALLORCA, Paseo de Reforma 365, at the corner of Río Guadalquivir
This Spanish restaurant will satisfy your need for flavors from the Iberian peninsula. Serrano ham in abundance, as well as Spanish omelets and tapas-type breads adorn the breakfast menu. The chocolate croissant is a must! Comida selections include paella, risotto, salads, and meats and cheeses. There is a large wine selection.

The real emphasis here, however, is on the pastries. Inside there’s a separate pastelería with enough chocolate and cream-filled treats to satisfy any sweet-lover. Cakes, tarts, and candies of the highest quality fill the space.

Hours vary day to day, but basically, they are open 8 am to 9 pm.

LARDO, Condesa, Agustín Melgar 6
This is a favorite breakfast place, very busy from 9:30 am till 11 am. Once I take my guests there, they have a tendency to return for all their breakfasts!

Each dish has a special presentation. The combination of flavors, spices, and ingredients used for standard dishes is unique. The entire menu is also eclectic. For your comida, try the octopus with red curry or the squid, black rice, and ginger. There are fish items, such as huachinango (red snapper) and couscous, as well as lamb kabobs and risotto croquettes.

An outdoor area has been added to two sides of the restaurant, enlarging by half the number of clients the restaurant can accommodate. It is a spacious area that is as charming as any Parisian street.

Open daily 8 am to 10 pm.

TAAK-CAL, Roma Sur, Anahuac 36
This new-to-the-neighborhood “kitchen bar,” as it is called, opened right at the beginning of the pandemic. They managed to hang on and now are in full swing. From land to sea, the menu varies from tacos and salmon filet to shrimp, fish, soups, and vegetarian choices. My favorites are the arrachera (marinated skirt steak) tacos and the salmon pistache.

It’s a charming setting, often with a guitarist or other music, and its ambiance certainly brightens the street, with San Giorgio right next door.
Open daily 1 pm to 11pm.

Wherever you dine you’ll see smiles on the faces around you, elated to return to this most desirable existence.

My Diamond

By Karen Bach

My husband and I originally planned to spend our two-month winter vacations in a different location each year. After visiting several tropical locations including Puerto Vallarta, Playa del Carmen, Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlán and Huatulco. We found ourselves always wanting to return to Huatulco, we even tried Hawaii and Barbados.

The reasons Huatulco is the best place we have visited in Mexico are numerous. Of course one of the first reasons is the amazing weather, guaranteed hot sunny weather year-round and especially important for January and February when most people want to escape our harsh winters in Canada.

Another reason we are so fond of Huatulco is the local people; they are extremely friendly and eager to help with any questions we might have. And another huge plus is the amount of amazing chef-prepared-high-quality foods served in the small local restaurants as well as the street vendors with amazing foods such as fresh home-made potatoes chips, daily baking, several El Pastor spots – so many hidden gems.

We have been to Huatulco six times so far and each visit we find some new restaurant or local store with great foods and drinks. Next and very important are the beautiful beaches and bays. The water is almost Caribbean-like with great snorkeling, clear calm blue water to swim in.

We also love the fact the Huatulco is Eco friendly and looks after its beaches . There are no buildings over four stories and no Mcdonalds or Walmart (yet).

It is a very authentic Mexican vibe and we feel very safe walking the streets day or evening. We love so many things including the organic market every Saturday in Santa Cruz or checking out the markets in La Crucecita . We call Huatulco the hidden “Diamond of Mexico,” and that’s why Huatulco is the best place we have visited in Mexico and continue to come back year after year.

The Trogons of Mexico – Then and Now

By Julie Etra

Meet the Trogonidae, an avian family with two branches of stunningly attractive birds – the trogons and the quetzals. There are 46 species altogether, 25 of them occurring in the Western Hemisphere. There are at least nine species of trogons in Mexico; in Costa Rica there are nine species as well, including two “endemics” (occurring only in Costa Rica), one of which is the rare Baird’s trogon. The fossil record of trogons dates back 49 million years to the Early Eocene; both trogons and quetzals have played an important role in Latin American culture since well before the Spanish arrived.

Along the coast of Oaxaca, the citreoline trogon (Trogon citreolus), also known in Mexico as the Coa citrina, is one of the most beautiful birds of the area, and has a very distinct but subtle call (https://ebird.org/species/cittro1).

Although some birding sources describe its range as being limited to southern and western Mexico, it has actually been found from Tamaulipas in northern Mexico all the way to the Gulf of Nicoya in western Costa Rica. In general, this trogon prefers drier or more arid habitats and is happy in our bosque caducifolio (winter deciduous forest). Habitat includes arid to semiarid woodlands, thorn forests, plantations, hedgerows, and other semi-open areas with taller trees.

In our neighborhood in Huatulco (Conejos), we often see a male citreoline trogon perched in the neem tree outside our upstairs bathroom. It is closely related to the elegant trogon (Trogon elegans), which is found as far north as southern Arizona and as far south as Costa Rica, but apparently not along our coast (the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology shows its habitat skipping right over Oaxaca, and picking up again in Guatemala and extending to northern Costa Rica). The citreoline trogon is also related to the resplendent quetzal (more on this later). The word trogon is Greek for “nibbling” or “gnawing.” These birds excavate and peck holes in trees and termite nests.

Like other trogons, the citreoline trogon has a varied diet that includes insects and fruits. They feed on the wing, so they are short legged with weak feet and don’t walk or hop very well. Unique features of all trogons are their heterodactyl feet where the outermost front toe points backwards, resulting in two toes in the front and two in the back. They also have short bristles around the nares (nasal passage of the beak). The citreoline trogon can be hard to detect, as it sits upright and usually motionless, except when foraging, displaying mating behavior, and feeding newly hatched chicks. They have a yellow belly and black or slate colored chest and may appear a bit dull in color until the light changes and one can see their gorgeous blue-green/golden-green iridescence. Another distinguishing characteristic is their pale-yellow pupils. The female is similar to the male in appearance.

The most compelling reference on citreoline trogon nesting behavior is old but fascinating; Alexander Skutch published “The Life History of the Citreoline Trogon” in The Condor in July of 1948. They make their nests in termitaria (termite nests). The birds excavate a cylindrical opening, with the male usually taking the lead. This is an arduous task, due to the tough material from which the termitarium is constructed and the fact that the trogons typically build the nest in the heat of the day versus in the cooler mornings, which is what one would expect in a hot climate. One account indicated that it takes the couple roughly six days to complete the nest, which is not lined and remains occupied by termites (perhaps the trogon occupancy deters termite predators).

The clutch consists of three eggs. The males and females share incubation duties, which lasts around 19 days. The hatchlings are fed regurgitated insects by both parents; this otherwise arboreal bird can be observed on the ground prior to entering the nest to feed the hatchlings until they are almost mature enough to leave at 16-17 days. The termites go to work resealing their nest after the birds have flown.

The most well-known trogon is the resplendent quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno), in my opinion the most magnificent of all, especially the male with his long, elegant, colorful (brilliant teal), and iridescent tail. The birds have a very limited range, and are only found in cool tropical cloud forests with high humidity. In Mexico they can be found in Chiapas, and farther south in Guatemala and Costa Rica. The resplendent quetzal is the national bird of Guatemala, and the namesake of the Guatemalan currency (the quetzal). We were exceptionally fortunate to observe a nesting pair in Monteverde, Costa Rica, a few years ago.

The resplendent quetzal is well known in Mexican (and Central American, particularly Guatemalan) culture – quetzal feathers, along with feathers of the lovely cotinga, roseate spoonbill, and Piaya cayana (squirrel cuckoo), formed Moctezuma’s penacho, or headdress. There is a reproduction of the original in the Museo Nacional de Anthropología e Historia; the original is in the Museum of Ethnology in Vienna, Austria, and may (or may not) be allowed to return to Mexico on an extended visit. Quetzal feathers were the most valued and precious components of headdresses of Aztec (Nahuatl) emperors and the higher nobility, and the birds were raised in captivity for this purpose or trapped and the feathers harvested, as it was a crime to kill them.

If you’re not an avid bird watcher on your own, I highly recommend spending an early morning with a local bird guide to catch sight of not only the trogon, but all our diverse, rich Oaxacan coast bird life. (See the article “A Birdwatching Guide for Huatulco” elsewhere in this issue.)

Bird Watching Guides and Resources
for the State of Oaxaca

By Kary Vannice

Of the 1,100 species of birds that live or migrate temporarily to Mexico, 736 inhabit Oaxaca. Oaxaca boasts the greatest biodiversity in the country, not just for bird life but for all plant and animal species.

For this reason, many biologists, naturalists, ornithologists, and birders flock to Oaxaca each year to explore and understand the immense diversity of bird life throughout the region. This avian diversity is attracted by Oaxaca’s vast territorial biodiversity, from 10,000-foot peaks and high mountain deserts
to coastal seashores and dense mangrove lagoons – it’s no wonder so many bird species either live or temporarily migrate through this region.

Whether you’re a serious, money-investing birder or simply a casual observer of nature, there’s a resource out there to help you enhance your appreciation and understanding of the birds of Oaxaca.

Several detailed bird books have been published dedicated to the birds of Oaxaca alone. If you’re the type that wants to have an entire encyclopedia of local birds to leaf through when out exploring, then you may wish to add these to your personal library.

Aves de la Lagunas Costeras de Oaxaca, Mexico – This detailed and beautifully published paperback book identifies 133 species of birds that live in or frequent the lagoons of the coastal waters of Oaxaca. Written by Paul Germain and Mateo Ruiz Bruce, this book was published in 2016. Paul, an Englishman who lived in the small village of Ventanilla while writing the guide, took years to painstakingly detail the characteristics of each bird species, as well as photograph them in their natural habitat. The book is written in English and Spanish. Even for those not dedicated to birding, it is a delightful book to explore and may just inspire the reader to pick up their binoculars and take to the lagoons in search of the unique species that live there.

This book is available for purchase locally in several shops in Ventanilla and the surrounding area.

Birds & Birding in Central Oaxaca by John M. Forcey is more of a checklist than an Audubon-type field guide, although it provides some information on each bird species included. One reviewer described it this way… “This annotated checklist includes details of habitat, elevation, breeding, dates for migratory birds, and local subspecies alongside information on the best locations in the area for bird-watching.”

This guide focuses on bird species you will find in the central portion of Oaxaca, including the Sierra Madre and high desert areas that occupy the center of the state. A handy tool for serious birders to keep a running tally of species they’ve spotted in the dense jungle or wide-open spaces as they tick each one off the list. The second edition was published in 2009 and is still available via Buteo Books online.

There are also many general field guides that cover the region of Oaxaca. A Field Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Adjacent Areas: Belize, Guatemala, and El Salvador, by Ernest Preston Edwards (3rd edition, 1998) is an illustrated guide to birds of these regions and contains 850 beautifully drawn, full-color depictions of regional birds. Many of the most common Oaxacan birds can be found in this guide.

Another popular bird book is A Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America, by Steve N.G. Howell and Sophie Webb (2003, a new edition is coming out in August 2022). This book is very similar to the one mentioned above. It contains similar drawings/paintings of bird species, and it covers, generally, the same information about each individual species. Either of these books is a good choice for a general bird book for this region.

If you’re not serious enough about birding to invest in a field guide to have on hand but still enjoy identifying local birds while you are out enjoying nature, make a trip to the Mercado Orgánico de Huatulco, held in the main square in Santa Cruz Huatulco on the first and third Saturday of each month. Once there, ask for local naturalist photographer Jon Church. Jon almost always has a booth set up and sells some excellent one-page laminated bird guides that you can easily pop into your backpack or beach bag to have on hand.

If you have an excellent memory (or a good camera), you can snap a mental or real photo of the birds you see in the wild and use some of these online websites to identify the birds you’ve spotted once you get home.

Avibase – the World Bird Database is an excellent online resource that allows you to search by region (Oaxaca) and access a vast amount of detailed information about each species, including photos and recorded bird calls. (https://avibase.bsc-eoc.org/)

Ebird – Much like Avibase, this is a crowd-sourcing database where birders can register and submit data, including photos, bird calls, location found, and other details about each sighting. The page dedicated to the state of Oaxaca identifies 739 different bird species from this area. (https://ebird.org/region/MX-OAX)

Naturalista – This is a Mexican website written in Spanish. Still, with the photos provided, one can easily identify the bird they are looking for and use the translation feature to learn more about the habitat and unique details about each species. This site also has an interactive map that will show you the location of each observation, if you are aiming to locate that one elusive bird, you just haven’t been able to cross off your list yet. (https://www.naturalista.mx/projects/aves-de-la-costa-oaxaca)

Of course, there are many friendly, dedicated birding guides with local knowledge that can arrange to take you to exactly where you need to go to get all the bird-watching action your heart can handle (see articles elsewhere in this issue). Checking out some of the books and websites above just might spark a passion you didn’t know you had!

Huatulco: A Paradise of Bird Habitats

By Nick Pitman

Birds. They have a superpower. Unlike us mere ground-bound bipeds, if it takes their fancy they can just open up their wings and soar above the treetops and beyond. What a view it must be from up there! (Sometimes I feel them laughing down at our inadequacies.) We tend not to pay them too much attention, but they are all around us.

Here in Huatulco, we are woken up by the screech of the white-throated magpie-jay and the piercing jungle call of the West Mexican chachalaca, and we watch the sun go down to the loud accompaniment of the orange-fronted parakeet (see “Noisy Birds on the Oaxaca Coast” elsewhere in this issue). Birds truly provide the soundtrack to our outdoor lives.

My own appreciation of birds has been a quite recent development, but what’s not to like? You get to go out early and enjoy the cool mornings, open up your ears and learn the language of the forest. You connect with nature and are reminded that we humans are just a small part of something so much larger, you relax and exist in the present moment. The more you observe birds, the more you see how different they all are; you get caught up in their colorful outfits, rituals, habits and drama, a soap opera waiting to be discovered. A recent scientific study linked exposure to nature, and in particular birds, with increased well-being and life satisfaction; hikers experienced greater joy proportional to the amount of birdsong. The greater the diversity around you, and here we have a lot, the happier you are. So it turns out that great big smile on your face has nothing to do with the sea and sand after all. It’s the birds!

There are more than 10,000 different species of birds in the world. Around 1,100 of those are found in Mexico, which ranks 11th in the world for bird species. More than 700 of those species can be found here in Oaxaca, more than any other Mexican state and more than the whole of Canada.

The Habitats in Huatulco

Huatulco itself, situated geographically as it is, provides rather a unique and multifaceted habitat. Steep mountains directly inland create a “rain shadow,” blocking the rain from reaching Huatulco and resulting in a specially adapted deciduous forest, dry for half the year. This is extremely rare in the tropics. And just like the plants and trees that have evolved to these conditions, so too have the animals that live here.

Along the coast here we have the Huatulco National Park, the finest preserved tropical dry rainforest in Mexico, where you can find spectacular endemic bird species such as the orange-breasted bunting, red-breasted chat, golden-cheeked woodpecker and the citreoline trogon (see “The Trogons of Mexico – Then and Now” elsewhere in this issue). And of course, my personal favorite, the russet-crowned motmot, a bird that actually prunes its own tail to look more sexy!

Then there’s the riparian habitat along the Rio Copalita, home to many varieties of heron, four types of kingfisher and of the exotic roseate spoonbill. Just 10 kilometers inland, around Santa María Huatulco, new species appear, such as the masked tityra and the black-headed saltator. Another 45 minutes up into the hills, it changes again and you start to see species such as the red-headed tanager and our only member of the toucan family, the northern emerald toucanet.

Where Which Birds Are When

So now that you’re getting more excited about birds, where are good places to go near Huatulco to find them? Well, in downtown La Crucecita there’s Parque Ecologico Rufino Tamayo, which boasts hilly trails offering plenty of early morning viewing – listen up for the distinct call of the ferruginous pygmy owl. Right there in Santa Cruz, kitty-corner from the Itoo restaurant on Mitla, is a square of green that is surprisingly rich with some of our more common birdlife, such as the yellow-winged cacique and hanging nests of streak-backed oriole.

The access trail to Playa Pescadores near Tangolunda has water and is a great place to look for the elusive green heron, combined with a stroll around the old campground next to the golf course where you might spot the lineated woodpecker. One of my favorites is to walk along the beach at La Bocana to the river. The estuary there is packed full of birds, look for tricolored herons, reddish egrets and the tiny green kingfisher. Of course, I have a few secret spots but I think I’ll keep those to myself.

Good resources for learning more about the birds of the Oaxacan coast include the website inaturalist, bahias de Huatulco checklist (www.inaturalist.org/check_lists/230415-Bahias-de-Huatulco-Check-List), which lists all wildlife not just birds.

You can download the Merlin app, created by the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology (merlin.allaboutbirds.org/) to your phone, and from there you can add the Mexico: Oaxaca and Chiapas bird pack. This useful tool has all the calls and songs for each bird it shows, so you can start to become Dr. Doolittle and start a conversation with your neighborhood long-crested northern cardinal. It works offline, too; in theory, you can put it on your computer, but it’s really designed for your phone. Locally, when you are down at the Huatulco Organic Market on Saturdays in Santa Cruz, you’ll see Jon Church selling his excellent local bird posters.

If you really feel like getting serious, then why not take a bird tour – we have three very knowledgeable guides in Huatulco. Pablo Narvaez (958 108 5087, http://www.facebook.com/pablo.narvaez.144) does private/group tours locally; he can show where those motmots are hiding. Bird Guide Cornelio (see “A Bird Watching Guide for Huatulco” elsewhere in this issue for more information) maintains an eco-ranch, a small private reserve, above Copalita where you could see the northern potoo. Huatulco Birding Cesar (958 107 3736, http://www.facebook.com/lasninfas06/) has a small reserve in La Jabalina near Rancho Tangolunda, a great habitat for the blue bunting. Contact them directly for more info.

Happy hunting and I’ll see you on the trail!

To see photos of all these birds and more, please follow me on Instagram, @nickjourneyman.