Tag Archives: Travel & Tourism

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.

Noisy Birds on the Oaxaca Coast

By Marcia Chaiken and Jan Chaiken

We grew up the East Coast of the U.S., where the primary sounds of birds were sweet and melodious. Their songs marked the seasons. The chirping of robins meant spring was here. The summer was filled from sunup to sundown with trills and warbles of brightly colored goldfinches, cardinals, orioles, and the more somberly attired nuthatches. Fall was brought in by the songbirds flocking together and filling the trees with melodies as they prepared to fly south. And even in the coldest days of winter, tiny chickadees hopped around on snow-covered branches as they cheeped their little conversations.

Imagine our surprise when we were introduced to the noisy birds on the Oaxaca coast making a racket as their sounds punctuated the day. We simply don’t need an alarm clock in Huatulco. The chachalacas wake us as soon as the sun rises. Although they are large and heavy, resembling turkeys or overgrown quail, we heard them long before we saw them. Their name means “chatterbox,” but “clatterbox” would be more accurate. Their calls to each other sound like a metal spoon dragging along a washboard. And since they are clothed in feathers of various shades of browns and greys and hide out in bushes and trees, they can be frustratingly hard to spot even though they sound as if they are close enough to touch.

We first actually saw, rather than heard, chachalacas years ago in Santa Cruz driving on a street that ended in relatively dense and high vegetation. Seven or eight of them were comically hanging out on one tree, their combined weight dragging the branches almost to the ground. At first we couldn’t recognize them, since it was after sunset and they were very quiet. But our headlights disturbed one and he or she gave a loud cackle waking the others who called out in an affronted cacophony. We had no doubt that they were the infamous chachalacas who frequently woke us, so we felt justified in turning the tables. Their ability to hide must be an adaptation to being hunted and cooked. Reportedly their meat is very tasty, and said, of course, “to taste like chicken.” Of course, many wild creatures, including snakes, are said to taste like chicken. But we intend to continue using them as alarm clocks rather than dinner. (For more on this bird, see “The West Mexican Chacalaca – Best Known for Its ‘Song’,” in the July 2013 issue of The Eye.)

We are often amused in the late morning and afternoon by white-throated magpie jays. These noisy members of the crow family have bright blue backs, a long blue tail, white breasts, a distinctive black v-shaped bar that rings its lower neck, and a comical curly-cue black crest that bobbles around as it hops from tree limb to tree limb. Magpie jays seem to spend most of their time screeching at each other and squabbling over insects and seeds. The only time they seem to be quiet during the day is when they are by themselves or when they stealthily position themselves near an outdoor human dining area to swoop down and steal a piece of bread or tortilla chip. On the off chance that a human is fast enough to protect the food from the swooping magpie jay, they are likely to find a nearby perch and scream until the human gives up and tosses the desired food to the irate bird. Some outdoor restaurants on the Oaxaca coast, plagued by aggressive magpie jays, have hung curtains to discourage the little beggars. Although we appreciate not needing to fend off avian thieves, we miss being able to watch the reactions of other diners who suddenly realize that part of their meal has been converted into a magpie jay free-for-all.

Mexico has 22 species of parrots and macaws, so parrots are plentiful on the Oaxacan coast. There are three varieties named for the frontal patch right above the beak – white (Amazona albifrons), lilac (Amazona finschi) and orange (Eupsittula canicularis). The little fellow with the orange frontal patch and long tail is actually a parakeet. But all of them are mostly green. And when they are flying from tree to tree and squawking while in motion, it’s difficult to tell them apart. Our favorite time to watch parrots (and many other birds) is during the period right before sunset. The birds flock together and begin searching for a place to roost overnight. Whole treetops seem to blast into air, as the flocks soar and, as one, find another tree to occupy. This visual phenomenon repeats itself several times until, using unknown criteria, the flock settles down for the night. But each time the flock comes in for a landing the group conversation is close to deafening. The sunset brings out a cacophony of ear-splitting, hard, harsh avian sounds multiplied by up to a hundred or more voices.

Finally, the bird whose noise punctuates the quiet of day all day long and sometimes even at night, is the woodpecker. There are three local varieties of the woodpecker; the lineated, pale-billed, and golden cheek woodpeckers. But they are commonly heard more than seen – even though each has a splash of bright red on their heads. Their distinctive ra-ta-tat-tat as they pound away at tree trunks looking for insects to eat can be heard at long distances. So, although one looks for that flash of red in nearby trees, the woodpecker may be deceptively far away. We grew up with woodpeckers, albeit different varieties, most commonly the downy woodpecker, so their drumming was a familiar noise.

But the strident sounds of the chachalacas, magpie jays, and parrots, once startling and unfamiliar, have now become part of our cherished environment in Huatulco.

Editor’s Letter

By Jane Bauer

Migration is as natural as breathing, as eating, as sleeping. It is part of life, part of nature. So we have to find a way of establishing a proper kind of scenario for modern migration to exist. And when I say ‘we,’ I mean the world. We need to find ways of making that migration not forced.

Gael Garcia Bernal

I am always taken aback when I hear someone come down on immigration; after all, go back far enough and most of us are a long way from where our ancestors started. Things are always changing and people are always on the move. Whether it is a temporary hiatus for rest and relaxation or seasonal higher wages or a permanent move seeking a different kind of life – perhaps one with more safety or one where our money will get us more. How are we different?

Many would argue that long-term vacationing or owning a second home in a foreign country helps the economy and therefore isn’t the same as when outsiders come into their country looking for asylum and ‘taking’ their jobs. However, I would argue that they aren’t really that different.

While the kind of migration that has its roots firmly planted in ‘expat’ experiences can temporarily help an economy, in the long run it causes prices to rise, initiates gentrification and adds to a class system. I actually cringe when I hear the word ‘expat’ for its colonial connotations and I encourage you to read further on this if you find yourself using it.

On the other hand, the kind of migration that has its roots firmly planted in ‘refugee’ experiences can temporarily put a strain on an economy, in the long run, it is an important part of the economic growth of any country.

We are first and foremost people and it is hubristic to believe that any one of us is more deserving and entitled to movement or humane quality of life. Find your place in the world, make it your own, and let everyone else do the same.

This month our writers explore the waves of migration that have made Mexico the wonderful and diverse country that it is.

Thank you to everyone who submitted essays to our My Mexico Moment contest. I look forward to reading about your favorite places in Mexico for our July issue.

See you in July,

Jane

My Mexico Moment Essay Contest Winner

A Road Trip

By Nancy Westfall de Gurrola

After a year of college in my native Iowa, my parents decided that I needed to see more of the world. Having studied French in high school I assumed it would be Paris or the French Riviera. But no—the plan was for my mother and me to drive to Mexico City for a summer course. Obviously, I protested that I didn’t intend to spend the summer with my mother or riding on a burro or sitting under a cactus wearing a funny hat! I sulked about the trip, sure we would never survive the drive through the long hot desert and, as many friends in Iowa had told me, the “bandidos” might get us.

Despite my resistance, we left for Mexico City in June 1961 for what was to be a 2-day trek through the northern desert of Mexico. Somewhere between Matehuala and San Luis Potosí the car suddenly stopped. Mom lifted the hood of the car but had no clue what was wrong. Trailer trucks and cars whizzed by, but finally a man in a pickup stopped and offered to help the two non-Spanish-speaking “gringas.”

He began to take out one piece of the engine, put it on the ground, then another and another. My mother leaned into the window of the car where I remained sitting sullenly, cursing my fate in the sizzling heat, and said worriedly, “He’s going to dismantle the car, not know how to fix it and just leave us here!”

My mom, who spoke no Spanish, and our “good Samaritan,” who spoke no English, engaged in animated sign language. Suddenly looking very nervous, she said to me, “I think what he has asked for are my underpants! What should I do?” Still angry at being dragged on this trip, I replied that she should just give them to him.

She got in the car, slipped off the underpants and gave them to him through the window. After more sign language she said, “He wants yours too! Maybe then he’ll go away!” I complied.

But no, he didn’t go away but proceeded to tear the underpants into strips and tie them together. Observing this, my mother cried, “God help us! He’s going to strangle us with our own underpants!” Now I was frightened too!

Just as we were about to run down the road trying to escape, he began tinkering under the hood, replacing the parts of the engine that were strewn around. He signaled mom to try the ignition. The engine started! What had been a very scary moment suddenly turned into a humorous incident. He had fashioned a fan belt out of our underwear! We then followed him to a mechanic’s shop in San Luis Potosí to get proper repairs.

Why hadn’t our “good Samaritan” asked for a blouse or a handkerchief? He had needed something that would stretch! (We heard later that besides ladies’ underwear, pantyhose could be used as a fan belt but pantyhose had not been readily available until the mid-1960s and who would have worn nylons in the desert anyway?!)

Moral of the story? My stereotypes of Mexico disappeared forever! The exceptional helpfulness and ingenuity of our clever “guardian angel” inspired me to want to know more about Mexico and its people.

And I fell in love with Mexico and a Mexican. So, I remained, continued my studies, married, raised a family, became a university professor and have lived a wonderful life in Mexico. Before he passed away last year, my husband and I had celebrated 55 years of marriage.

Nancy Westfall de Gurrola
Mexico City

Pickleball – Silly Name, Awesome Game!

By Leslie Trotter

What do you get when you combine ping-pong with tennis and throw in a wiffle ball? Pickleball, of course – the fastest growing sport in the United States and Canada, and soon to be in Huatulco as well!

While usually perceived as a “game for older people,” it really lends itself perfectly for all ages, genders and athletic abilities.

Pickleball is easy to learn. Becoming really competent is another story but almost anyone can successfully hit the ball back and forth over the net their first day. Because the court is less than half the size of a tennis court and the paddle is short and light, it doesn’t require a high level of fitness. Pickleball does, however, work hand-eye coordination, balance, agility, reflexes and at higher levels, mental preparedness. There is definitely a strategy to pickleball once one reaches the intermediate+ level.

Another great thing about pickleball is that it’s inexpensive. A starter paddle is about $40 and from a Parks and Recreation perspective, pre-existing tennis courts work well for pickleball. Many a neglected tennis court has been revived for pickleball purposes!

The one thing that continues to astound me about playing pickleball is how often you hear peals of laughter coming from the courts. While competitive players take the game very seriously, the vast majority of people simply appreciate the exercise amongst friends, where inevitably crazy shots are a thing to cheer about. Pickleball is a very social game!

So now that I’ve got you intrigued to the point of wanting to experience this for yourself, what is a Huatulqueño to do about playing pickleball? Here are the current Huatulco options:

Snowbird Pickleball
This is a well-organized group that had a humble beginning with a net and 2 sticks as posts in 2018! Fortunately, they’ve advanced since then and have introductory classes for those who want to try pickleball.
Levels: beginners to intermediate
Location: Escuela Secundaria Técnica 144, 3 covered courts; Unidad Deportiva, 4 covered courts
Season: November to March
Membership: 90
Protocol: online booking
Fee: 50 pesos per day
Contact: Colleen Gagnon – cgbike33@gmail.com

Bahias De Huatulco Pickleball
This is a drop-in group without a lot of rules other than come and play.
Levels: beginner to intermediate
Location: Unidad Deportiva, 4-6 courts
Season: year-round, typically Mon, Wed, Fri: 8-11 am
Membership: varies, ±24 in high season
Fee: 50 pesos per day
Contact: Norm Ferguson – normferg1955@icloud.com; also on FaceBook

Marina Park Pickleball
This group formed as a way for more seasoned players to hone their game. These are uncovered courts and the play can be intense but in the end, everyone clicks paddles to acknowledge the sportsmanship of pickleball.
Level: intermediate to advanced
Location: Guelaguetza Park, next to Marina Park Plaza, 2 courts
Season: year-round, typically 7-9 am daily in high season
Membership: 15 main founding members with play-priority in high season
Protocol: drop-in when numbers allow
Fee: 50 pesos per day for drop-ins
Contact: Group is basically full – you’ll probably run across “someone who knows” if you play in the places listed above.

There are other places to play pickleball, such as Las Brisas Resort and some of the newer condominium developments. These aren’t listed since they are private clubs with membership fees, although I understand that during the high season, there is a very active group at Las Brisas. Omar is the contact to find out about monthly fees and the pickleball schedule – concierge.hux@brisas.com.mx.

So take heart, pickleball fanatics and interested others! There are great options from beginner to intermediate to make your time in Huatulco full of healthy, fun pickleball games.

The Lebanese in Mexico:How and Why They Got Here

By Deborah Van Hoewyk

The Lebanese began arriving in Mexico even before Lebanon existed as its own country. Its official geographic identity started in the late 1400s, as the Emirate of Mount Lebanon, part of the Ottoman Empire. Mount Lebanon was home to multiple religious groups; leaders of the emirate came from different groups over time, but no one seemed to like each other, much less the Ottoman (Turkish) governors, so there were several uprisings. France first (1860) became an interested party in the area when they came to the rescue of Maronite Christians being attacked by Druse Isamites. (Lebanon would become a French protectorate when the West divided up the Ottoman Empire after World War I; it would win its independence in 1943.)

In 1869, the Suez Canal opened, connecting Europe with the Far East and causing the Lebanese silk industry to collapse. Thus it was, in 1892, that the first Lebanese immigrants arrived on a French ship sailing from Beirut. Over 100,000 Arabic speakers – mostly Lebanese – arrived between then and the 1930s; they settled mostly in the Yucatán and along the Gulf of Mexico, with some moving out across northern Mexico. Although the Lebanese made up only 5% of immigration in the 1930s, they were responsible for about 50% of immigrant contributions to Mexico’s economy. If you go to the harbor in Veracruz, you will find the Plaza of the Lebanese immigrant, which contains a statue dressed in 19th-century Lebanese garb. There are copies of this statue elsewhere in Mexico and around the world, but the one in Veracruz is matched by one in Beirut – the starting and ending points of the Lebanese diaspora in Mexico.

Perhaps the most noted Lebanese citizen of Mexico is Carlos Slim Helú, born on January 28, 1940. Multi-billionaire business magnate Slim made his money mostly in telecommunications. In 1989 President Carlos Salinas de Gortari, Mexico’s first economist president, embarked on a program of economic modernization that included privatizing telecommunications. In 1990, Carlos Slim put together a partnership that bought a controlling interest in TelMex. Nowadays, building on his fortune – he was the world’s richest person in the early 2010s – Slim is more known for his philanthropy, if not for the Soumaya Museum in Plaza Corso in Mexico City (there is an earlier one [1994] in Plaza Loreto). Slim built it in 2011 in memory of his wife Soumaya Doumit, who died in 1999.

As Maronite Christians, the Lebanese brought with them a favorite religious figure, the “miracle monk of Lebanon,” Charbel Maklouf (1828-98). Maklouf, a hermit thought to be responsible for miracles of healing; although he was not beatified until 1965 or canonized until 1977, he arrived in Mexico with Lebanese immigrants in the early 1900s. Saint Charbel is fairly popular; people adorn his statues with listones, long ribbons with requests for miracles or intercessions written on them, accompanied by a drawing of a cedar tree. Lebanese Muslims built the first dedicated mosque in Mexico in 1989; the Suraya Mosque is located in the city of Torreón in Coahuila.

Perhaps the most delectable Lebanese contributions to Mexican culture are culinary. While the meat on the spit is more likely to be pork or goat, not lamb, don’t we all crave tacos al pastor (shepherd tacos) or tacos árabes (Arab tacos)? Lebanese culinary influences are probably strongest in the Yucatán, where the Lebanese first arrived. Eggplant and potatoes, legumes such as chickpeas and lentils, lamb, yogurt, onions, and olive oil, not to mention mint, oregano, cinnamon, and cumin, are all used in Mexican adaptations of Lebanese cuisine.

An Eye on the Women of The Eye

By Marcia Chaiken and Jan Chaiken

Julie Etra has drawn on her professional background in environmental sciences to write many articles about Mexican plants and animals, ever since the second issue of The Eye was published. Julie was born, raised and educated in New Rochelle, New York. When she was still in junior high, the New Rochelle high school building completely burned down, so her high school classes were held in temporary barracks. She then studied in real classrooms at the University of Colorado in Boulder, earning a BA degree in Environmental Biology, followed by completing an MS degree in Soil and Crop Science at the Colorado State University in Fort Collins.

Continuing her westward trek, Julie worked for the U.S. Forest Service in South Lake Tahoe, California, for three years and then decided to start her own business, Tahoe Native Plants. One of her USFS projects involved restoration of land at a community college, and it was there in 1985 that she met her future husband who was also working on the project as a general engineering contractor. In 1990, Julie and Larry decided to buy land in Washoe County, Nevada (near Reno), and build their own home. Living in a 14′ travel trailer that was freezing in the winter and boiling in the summer until their construction was completed, they finally moved into their home, where they still live when not in Mexico. Once settled in Nevada, Julie moved her office to Reno and changed the name of her company to Western Botanical Services, Inc. She has continuously provided botanical surveys and soil analysis as a contractor to private engineering and landscape architecture companies and public entities overseeing implementation of erosion control and land restoration projects. Her business was incorporated in 1994.

Julie is avid about music, plays the piano, and listens to “almost everything.” She also enjoys playing tennis, swimming, gardening and, like the other writers for The Eye, constantly reads books, magazines, and newspapers. Julie first visited Mexico in 1977, where in Cozumel she was certified for scuba diving. In 1988, she and Larry began spending 3 months each year in Baja Sur. They visited Huatulco in 2007 and in 2008, decided to spend the winter here and built a home in Conejos. They also are extensive travelers and, with the exception of Antarctica, have visited every continent; Julie’s favorite is (subSaharan) Africa. Julie has two step-kids from Larry’s previous marriage and two grandkids with whom they stay in close contact.

The first articles Julie published in the Eye focused on corn – three articles on corn – until our editor suggested she might explore other topics and something less technical. The Eye article she enjoyed writing most described her travels with Larry and their puppy during COVID – “It was fun!”