Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Monarch Butterly Reserve in Michoacán

Monarch butterflies from Canada, the Great Lakes and eastern U.S. migrate some 3,000 miles south each fall to mountaintops in Michoacán, central Mexico, to hibernate. It´s considered one of the world´s great animal migrations.

We hiked from the village of El Rosario up to the Monarch Butterfly Reserve, a cool fir and pine forest at about 10,000 feet. Until 1975, scientists who study the butterfly were unaware of this hibernation site. Now it´s supposedly protected, but it´s surrounded by villages of poor folks who are unemployed and need money. Logging is a source of income.

The Wall Street Journal just did an article on the efforts to protect the Reserve. An article in a Michoacán newspaper tells about World Wildlife Fund activities to encourage preservation and recovery of forest illegally harvested in the reserve.

It´s estimated that some 100 million to 200 million monarchs winter here. This photo by Cindy shows how they huddle together on branches for warmth. The day we were there was sunny, so a few were moving around to get water. They live off fat reserves stored up during their migration to tide them over to February, when they become active again, and migrate north to Texas and Oklahoma where they mate and lay eggs.

In a kind of relay, the monarchs produce several generations as they migrate north, reproduce and die off. It is only the generation that hatches in late summer that migrates south and lives for eight or nine months. More information on the migration is here.




This is part of the El Rosario community, which charges admission to the site and maintains the surrounding areas. They operate dozens of little souvenir and food stands along the route up to the reserve.

We stayed in Zitácuaro the night before going up to the reserve. It´s a very busy provincial town, not very attractive, but the hotel, the Maria Fernanda, was excellent and cheap.

Here is another interesting site with lots of information about the how and when of the monarch migration.

My friend from UConn, Steve Kemper, who writes about wildlife and science for a variety of publications, did this piece on animal migration for National Wildlife, which mentions monarchs.

And of course there is an article on Wikipedia.

Tlalpujahua, with mines of silver and gold
After visiting the reserve we stayed in Tlalpujahua, which bills itself as the Magic Pueblo, and it truly is a lovely small place with lots of interesting buildings.

The town´s wealth came from silver and gold mines, which explains how a little place like this could have such a magnificent church.





The town´s cobbled streets and well preserved colonial architecture captured Cindy´s eye.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Pátzcuaro, charming lakeside town


We arrived on Christmas Eve. The town, in the state of Michoacán, was packed with holiday shoppers. Parents were buying their children piñatas. This little girl had two, and put Santa on the donkey.

The colonial architecture has been carefully preserved. Even the Oxxo (a convenience chain) has a discreet sign painted on the wall by its entrance, just like all the other commercial establishments.

Some of the faithful approached the Nativity scene on their knees, to show their devotion.

A street vendor offers a foldup crib made of colorful string. He has a hammock over his shoulder.



Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas under the Volcano in Michoacán

The volcano of Paricutín, center, emerged from a cornfield in 1943 and rose to a height of about 1,500 feet above the surrounding area.

We went to see the volcano and passed through the nearby Indian village of Angahuan, where they were putting up Christmas decorations at the church. Kids here grow up speaking the native language, called Tarasco, and learn Spanish in school. About 100,000 people speak Tarasco, also called Purépecha.

According to the Mexican census, 6 million Mexicans speak one of some 62 indigenous languages as their first language. Nahautl, the language of the Aztecs, and Maya are the most common. Here are the statistics, by language, from the Mexican government´s own website. Some 720,000 speak only their indigenous language.



The main industry in the town is hosting tourists who want to ride a horse or hike a couple miles to the site of a church that was buried, along with a town of 7,000, by a lava flow, and to the nearby volcano, Paricutín.

All that remains of the town is the church, which dates to 1620. The lava completely filled the nave and reached to the choir level of the church.

No one was killed by the lava flow because it was the blocky, slow-moving type -- faster than a glacier, but slower than a river. It took about a year for the lava to reach the church, several miles from the cone. I remember reading about Paricutín in a comic book when I was a kid. The image of this volcano popping up out of a cornfield stuck with me. Here is a geologist´s description of a visit to the site.

The villagers have about 200 horses that they use to take tourists over the rough ground to the volcano. Kids as young as 6 or 7 lead the horses.

Uruapan
In the national park in Uruapan, we took in the waterfalls, a group of strolling musicians and snapped a few photos of family groups snapping photos. More photos of the park here.






Not far from Uruapan, in Tingambato, we saw the ruins of a ball court, pyramid and other ceremonial buildings built about 1500 years ago and then abandoned.


The Museum of the Dead in Aguascalientes celebrates the figure of Death in Mexican mythology. Death is part of life, a continuation of the cycle. Death makes life possible. This is Death in the garb of a bishop.
The Pope probably wouldn´t approve of the Mexican worship of Death, but it is part of the Catholic culture here, a syncretic mixture of faiths. The Mayans and Aztecs both practiced human sacrifice as a way to ensure that life would continue -- that the sun would stay in the sky, that the rains would come, that the harvest would be bountiful. The deaths of the victims were meant to thank the gods for life.
I liked this museum more than Cindy did. She liked this cemetery in Angahuan. Somehow it seems more festive than the cemeteries we´re used to.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

El Zapatazo, or the Big Shoe Thing with Bush

In Latin America the recent shoe-throwing incident involving President Bush is called the Zapatazo, literally The Big Shoe incident.

My favorite comic strip, Tales of Cops and Robbers, starts every day with a seedy looking crook pulling out a gun and saying, “This is a holdup.”

But the day after the shoe-throwing incident in Iraq, the robber shows up demanding money and the teller says, "Well you don't have a gun, I'll have to speak to the manager."  The manager says, "Our policy is not to hand over money unless the person has a gun."

Whereupon a shoe flies at the manager's head, then another.

They hand over the money, and the robber is back home with his buddy, who asks, "Where are your shoes?" To which he replies, "Let's just call them my weapons of mass destruction."

Trino's weirdly funny official site is here.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The death of the newspaper boy

It says in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times that home delivery of the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News will be cut back drastically in a cost-cutting move.

Delivering newspapers used to be a lucrative occupation for a kid. In the 1950s and 1960s, the kid who had a Cleveland Plain Dealer route was like the owner of a sports franchise. It was a monopoly -- you bought the rights to a territory, and it was a license to print money. Everyone on the block took the paper, and I took home $12 a week.

Kids don´t deliver newspapers any more, for a variety of reasons. Parents gave too much credence to TV reports of child abductions and wouldn´t let their kids go out in the dark.

Adults take over
Adults wanted the work and could do it in a more businesslike fashion. No more would the kid show up every week at your door asking for 75 cents -- the new way was to pay with a check by mail or a credit card. And an adult with a pickup truck could deliver several hundred papers in a morning compared to maybe 50 by a kid.

The newspaper delivery service by this former newspaper carrier, though, was way better than what any adults provided. Drive-by adult delivery meant your paper ended up on the lawn or the driveway. From my older brothers I had learned to fold and throw a paper so that it ended up just below the door on the side with the doorknob. The customer barely had to open the door to retrieve the paper. On windy days I put it inside the storm door.

Having kids deliver papers turned out to be too troublesome for the newspapers. Now it turns out, it´s too much trouble to deliver the papers at all. That might be a small part of the problem newspapers are having. Not the biggest, but a sign of losing touch with their customers.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The circular pyramids of Guachimontones



Nobody knows for sure who built a series of some dozen circular pyramids in Guachimontones. It´s only in the last 10 years that archeologists have been working this site, which is about an hour northwest of Guadalajara.


Archeologists believe the constructions began about 2,000 years ago and that the site was abandoned after a major fire 400 years later.

Many of the pyramids have not been excavated and are overgrown with bushes and trees. It´s a lovely place to go for an afternoon. There are wildflowers and beautiful countryside spread along a lake far below. You can see why someone would build something sacred here. It has a magic to it.

The day we went there was a youth group dressed in native garb performing dances and invoking ancient gods and goddesses.


Our daughter Bridget was here visiting for a few days and came with us to the pyramids.

I never saw an arcade that I didn´t like. This one is on the town square in Teuchtitlán, near Guachimontones.

Kids dress up for Virgin of Guadalupe



Dec. 12 is the Feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe, and the Sanctuary named for her in Guadalajara is the site of a festival every year. The children don native dress to honor Juan Diego, the Nahuatl to whom Mary, the mother of God, appeared in 1531. The dark-skinned Virgin told him in his native tongue that a church should be built on the site, which is near Mexico City. In order to help Juan Diego convince a reluctant bishop, she made her image appear on his tunic, considered a miracle.







Thousands of people come to this sanctuary all day long to hear mass and to leave flowers at the shrine of the Virgin. The streets are lined with vendors, and there are carnival rides in the square outside the church.
We came in the morning, and there was a steady flow of people into the church. We were told that in the afternoon and evening, even more people come and all the streets around the church are blocked off.
The Virgin of Guadalupe is known locally as the Virgen Morena, or dark-skinned virgin, and is associated with the Aztec Goddess Tonantzin. Mixing of cultures and traditions is common in Mexico. It´s only confusing if you try to find a logical explanation. Ideas merge and morph according to the times and the needs of the people who invent them.


If you want to see what professional photographers can do with a photo opportunity like this, check out the work in Publico and Informador. Informador has some great shots inside the church.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Top women journalists blast Mexican media


(Carmen Aristegui left, Lydia Cacho and Sanjuana Martínez at the International Journalism Conference in Guadalajara, photo by José María Martínez Burgos)

Three impressive women journalists unloaded on the Mexican media at a journalists´ conference in Guadalajara.

I had heard a lot about Carmen Aristegui, CNN correspondent for Latin America, and I had seen her on TV. I was even more impressed with her in person as she dissected the monopoly practices in Mexican television.

Lydia Cacho has gained fame worldwide for exposing pederasty rings, including one involving a prominent businessman who was protected by the complaisant governor of the state of Puebla.

And Sanjuana Martínez is the investigative journalist from the magazine Proceso who lost her job for pressing an investigation into the sexual predations of Catholic priests on young people.

The Televisa Law
Aristegui pointed out that the Televisa and Azteca networks, whose dominance of the airwaves was strengthened by a 2006 law passed under questionable circumstances, has robbed Mexicans of alternative sources and interpretations of the news.

These two networks own a 90 percent share of the Mexican TV audience and 90 percent of TV revenues. The law that protects this duopoly was rushed through the Mexican Congress with little scrutiny.

You can read her remarks in Spanish in La Jornada de Jalisco:

The elegance of self-censorship

Self-censorship is much more efficient and much more elegant than censorship, she said. Censorship is crude. Media bosses prefer to create an environment where self-censorship is the rule.

It´s convenient for journalists to censor themselves to avoid confronting the medium´s owner or the owner´s friends, or to avoid ruffling feathers.

The newspaper Informador also covered the event. It quoted Sanjuana Martínez as saying that self-censorship is a daily occurrence in Mexican newsrooms to avoid making various powers that be uncomfortable.

“Journalists have to ask the questions that the public wants answered, since those who don´t live up to their commitment to society are betraying the public´s right to be informed.“

The three journalists agreed that Mexican media have an unwritten code of not criticizing each other, which makes it easier for media owners to kill relevant stories and not worry about negative consequences.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Alma Guillermoprieto optimistic for digital journalism

New Yorker writer Alma Guillermoprieto believes that despite the collapse of big media companies, new forms of journalism are filling the gap. (Photo from El Informador)

“Online media have displaced the old technology of ink and paper,” she told an audience at the University of Guadalajara in Mexico, where she gave the Julio Cortazar Lecture. “Will the long tradition of journalism collapse along with the big media companies?” she asked. “We´re facing a world so new that defies prediction, but I say no, on the contrary.”

The important thing for journalists to do in this crisis situation is to go back to the basics of gathering facts, and then “tell us what you see.”

Accounts of her talk in Spanish can be found at El Universal and El Informador.

Seated next to her on the dais was novelist Gabriel García Márquez, whose foundation funds the lecture. Her talk was titled, ”How to Be a Journalist and Not Die in the Attempt.“

Mexican journalists murdered
Guillermoprieto, a native of Mexico who has covered guerilla wars and drug violence in several Latin American countries, said she was disturbed by the number of Mexican journalists who have been assassinated and have disappeared in recent years. Drug violence and corruption have escalated especially in the past few months.

Covering this type of organized crime is extremely dangerous, she said. “In a war, a reporter can go into the trenches on the front lines and come out alive, perhaps; but those who cover the druglords go down into a dark tunnel where the bullets can come from any angle.”

On the subject of the new forms of online journalism, she said, “It will be up to the new generation of journalists to invent not only the new technologies but also the new ways of telling the tales of these times; they will describe some of the most frightening dramas that human beings have ever witnessed, but they will also have the privilege of telling of the adventures and exploits that people today have not yet imagined...

“....if they succeed in reporting on this new world in depth, with knowledge, without prejudices or corruption, phony patriotism or ideological leanings; if they place all their passion and all of their time into their work; if they succeed in telling stories accessible to everyone, they will help all the inhabitants of this planet to move forward, and the journalist´s profession will not die in the attempt.“

Informador has a short video of her remarks.

It was a real treat to see two of my favorite writers. I have long admired Alma´s work in the New Yorker. When I arrived for this lecture I had no idea that García Márquez would be coming. He made no remarks but waved to the crowd.

Snoozing with Gabo

Gabo seats himself at right angles to the audience with his chin in his hand and squints at the speaker, which allows him to pay close attention to what is being said as well as occasionally close the one eye visible to the audience and possibly sneak a snooze surrepetitiously. I thought I saw him drift off once or twice. He´s 80 and has written a bunch of great novels. He deserves a rest.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Mexico´s former top cop in drug war arrested for corruption

There could hardly be a better description of what´s going on in Mexico than this article from the Wall Street Journal:

MEXICO CITY -- Mexico's former anti-drug czar has been detained in a widening corruption scandal that suggests a large percentage of top agents assigned to fight the drug trade here have instead been cooperating with cocaine cartels.


Read more...

Saturday, November 08, 2008

“The West Wing” and Obama´s victory

Life sometimes imitates art, and I was wondering if the spirit of “The West Wing” had something to do with the outcome of the election.

That was a show that captured the idealism of people serving their country and their president within the nasty realities of politics. Their leader was a practical man and a scholar, a man driven by a sense of history and idealism, a man whose command of language could motivate people to strive for better things.

That such a show would gain a following in the U.S. was remarkable. Americans are at heart distrustful of big government and lately have become disgusted with petty partisan bickering. We have come to distrust all politicians as craven, self-serving creatures. We regard government with suspicion and see it as a haven for sluggish bureaucrats who are just marking time until they collect their pensions.

Yet in this election, it was the candidate who talked about the ideals of government serving the people who captured the imagination of people and won the election. He stayed above the usual pettiness and appealed to people´s ideals. That such a strategy would work with the jaded electorate was remarkable.

The typical strategy of going after the abortion vote, the black vote, the immigrant vote, the retiree vote, the blue-collar vote, etc., was driven by an overarching message of belief in a system that had been completely discredited.

There was a spirit of idealism flowing through the country, an idealism that people had almost lost. And I wonder if we were perhaps prepared for such a message, made ready to respond to such a message, by the spirit of a television show called “The West Wing.”

Maybe life imitated art.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Cindy´s letter from Guadalajara


Cindy and I went to the U.S. consulate´s election night party last night and felt very proud to be Americans. There were lots of people from Mexican media, academia, politics and business. Here is her latest letter:

Dear family and friends,

I have been asked by several of you what my day is like. It isn’t very exciting ordinarily but we have made a few trips that have been fun. I guess I’m a housewife - grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, laundry. The house is well outfitted now so no more furniture and house wares shopping. I have loads of spare time - no large garden to maintain, no work.

But I am very content and just enjoying my stress-free life. I fill in all that spare time with aerobics (Richard Simmons Sweatin’ With the Oldies - that’s old tunes, not old fogeys), reading, logic puzzles, cross-stitch and my photo project. I am scanning 33 years (1970-2003) of non-digital photographs and will be sorting 2001 thru 2008 into albums. I am only up to 1987 so it will keep me busy for a while. When I finish that I might start scanning all the boxes of paper we’re lugging around so we can ditch some of it.

A sculpted bush on a neighborhood street

I’ve already indulged in one obsessive side project. After buying the soundtrack for “Mama Mia”, which we saw last month, I ripped the CD to my PC and thought it was such great fun that I would put my other favorite CDs on the PC as well. This seemed like a good idea since we don’t have a CD player anymore. But my obsessive nature did not let me stop with the CDs I liked and kept right on going until I had ripped things I don’t even listen to - classics, jazz, opera . . . I managed to come to my senses when I realized I was even thinking of ripping the Cuban band CDs.

I have found an English book club and will be attending the first meeting this week. The members may give me some other ideas for spare time activities though I doubt I’m going to find a bell choir, which I miss a lot. My Baltimore bell choir just had its annual fall retreat and I am extremely envious. It was always one of my favorite weekends of the year. One reason I enjoyed it was because fall is my favorite season and the retreats are always in rural areas where fall can best be appreciated.

Minerva, a patron goddess of Guadalajara


I just realized today that there won’t be an ‘autumn’ in Guadalajara to appreciate. The nights and early mornings can be cool but we’re still running the ceiling fans by afternoon. On the other hand, it never gets so hot that we need more than a ceiling fan. I think this has to be the reason so many North Americans - US and Canadian - retire to this area because it certainly is NOT for the myriad of things to see and do.

Things I couldn’t find (see last e-mail) - I’ve found blankets, a great shopping cart at a great price that even walks up steps, and A HOME DEPOT (a life saver). The apartment looks like a home now with the addition of pictures on the walls and plants in the corners. All of you who know of my very limited success with house plants might send up a little prayer for the plants. Maybe I’ll send updated pictures with my next missive - after we buy a new camera. (Just a hint to the world travelers out there - when an airport worker is searching your check-on luggage and suggests that you might want to take your digital camera in your carry-on, you should probably take her advice.)

Chiapas Journalists give their instructor a few gifts (unfortunately no camera, which was stolen on the way to Chiapas)

Now to the trips. We have had a few day trips to nearby towns and two longer trips courtesy of Jim’s job - either for fund raising, PR, or teaching gigs. Jim has done blog entries for all of our outings as well as several about Guadalajara. You should read the following entries to get good descriptions and pictures of the places we’ve been:

July 2008
...Marriage survives on 2,959-mile road trip
...Bikes take over Guadalajara
Aug 2008
...The Chivas, Mexico’s soccer gods
...A letter from Cindy (my first e-mail)
Sept 2008
...Pagan, Catholic religions blend in Mexico (Mexico City)
...Exploring the history of Mexico City
...Discoveries in Guadalajara and Tonala
...Lake Chapala and Ajijic
Oct 2008
...A visit to Chiapas, San Cristobal, Palenque
(pictures taken with Jim’s new iPhone - not bad for a dinky little phone)

My comments about our outings -

Tlaquepaque and Tonala are part of ‘greater’ Guadalajara, as we would say in the states. They are both touted as being good places to buy Mexican crafts. I liked Tonala’s shops better - better quality, more variety and more goods. Tlaquepaque seemed more of a tourist town while Tonala is where a lot of the stuff is made and so has many factory stores for excellent ceramics, iron work, and papier-mâché. I think I like the town better, too, though it was hard to see the buildings because it was market day and the streets were literally crammed with stalls of cheaper crafts, food, clothes, toys, etc. I would like to visit on a non-market day.

Mexico City was outstanding. The architecture (ancient, colonial, ArtDeco and modern) was great as were the parks, the monuments, the churches, the street sculptures, the murals, the Aztec ruins and the museums. I had a great time except for the 2 days of diarrhea, including my birthday, which I celebrated with saltines and Sprite.

Ajijic was a nice day outing for a sunny Saturday. Small, cozy, nice shops and restaurants, some nice looking houses and gardens. Just a nice place to stroll around for a couple of hours.



The cathedral in San Cristobal de las Casas, one of several beautiful churches in the historical district

Our last trip, to the state of Chiapas, was a whirlwind of canyon boat ride, waterfalls, Mayan ruins, an excruciating 10 hours in a van to get to the ruins, and the beautiful colonial center of San Cristobal. No more vans - I want a private guide and transportation on the next trip, for both the convenience of setting our own itinerary and the comfort. We had this luxury in Bolivia for 10 whole days and it was great.

We got the bikes out last weekend for the first time and rode toward the middle of town and the closed-off boulevard of Vallarta. It’s pretty scary riding the non-closed off streets because the drivers aren’t looking for you, especially those who are turning into your lane from a side street. So the riding is done cautiously and at medium speed. Even Vallarta can’t be done full out as there are traffic lights every few blocks, as well as too many bikers, walkers, skaters, and skateboarders on the street. You would hate it, Christine, but it was just about my speed for a lazy Sunday morning. And it was good to get out and see things at a slower pace than in a car. There are beautiful buildings along Vallarta - they look like colonial mansions.



We also stopped to visit an art museum that I really liked. The sculptures looked like they came right out of Hogwarts (I’ve started reading the Harry Potter series - thanks for the recommendation, Bridget.) Picture the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore with a Halloween / fantasy creature theme.

Short family update - Patrick is in Madison, Wisconsin, with his girlfriend, Emily, who is in a graduate program for African Literature. Emily teaches Pilates classes part time (I think) and Patrick is trying to upgrade the jazz scene in Madison while working for a temp agency to foot the bills. I recommend The Boy of Sax (Aug, 2008 blog entry) for those who know Patrick. If you want to hear some tunes from his solo CD, go to this website. I think my favorite is “But I’ve Never Been to Whitehall.” Here is a review of his CD Vartan Mamigonian, which can be purchased online.

Christine graduates in the spring from Johns Hopkins Univ with a PhD in Theoretical Math. Sounds high falutin’ but the job market still sucks. She is applying for post docs (combine a little teaching with research) all over the country. She has also applied for an NSF grant to do pure research which would take her to Boston. Odds are that she will be moving away from Baltimore next summer.

Bridget is a free-lance dancer and choreographer now. She performs and choreographs for dance companies primarily in Europe but she also did a stint in Chile earlier this year. Someone sent us the link on YouTube to a pirated video of a performance she gave in Rome, about 7 minutes long, to a Liza Minelli tune.

A relief from Palenque

Jim’s job here has been very demanding. His mission is “to create Latin America’s first digital journalism center designed to teach a new generation of Spanish-language journalists how to use state-of-the-art technology to produce quality interactive news.” He has 2 “offices” - home and the Starbucks around the corner - so he’s never not at work. He is also working solo at the moment. He had just hired 3 people and an office was being prepared in August when there was an administrative “coup” - most of the upper level administration changed and Jim had to fire the guys he had just hired because they worked for the previous admin.

Nevertheless his first online course started Sunday, Oct 12. Fifty editors are enrolled from 10 Latin American countries. Jim is grading up to 250 papers a week and also trying to answer the numerous technical questions that the students have. To read more about the course and its success use this link. On top of that he is trying to hire new assistants, put together another course, and help organize a series of seminars for journalists during the Guadalajara International Book Fair, a huge event held here every year in late Nov / early Dec.

I excused my procrastination in writing this entry (and most of you know I am an expert procrastinator) because I didn’t think I had very much to say. Looks like I was wrong. Hope you are all well and happy.

Love,
Cindy

P.S. Yes, we voted - in October.

Friday, October 31, 2008

A visit to Chiapas, San Cristóbal, Palenque


Last weekend I was invited to give an all-day seminar in Tuxtla Gutierrez, capital of Chiapas, for 40 journalists. This is the southernmost state of the country and is famous for Subcomandante Marcos, the Zapatista movement and its rain forests. So I asked Cindy if she would like to come along, and she said, Sure. (This church is in San Cristóbal de las Casas, about an hour up into the mountains from Tuxtla.)




This is the group I presented to. Although Chiapas is almost invariably described as poor and backward, these journalists knew a lot about online journalism. The university classroom where we worked was first class in terms of its technology.


The journalists always make you feel welcome and treat you like a celebrity. Makes me stand up straighter and feel taller.

San Cristóbal de las Casas




San Cristobal is famous for its textiles, and we took advantage of their availability. It´s also famous for Subcomandante Marcos, a leader of the Zapatista guerilla movement. When he burst on the scene in 1994, I was just starting to study Spanish. I wrote a column about him and Mexico and Nafta for Business First. His ski mask and English style pipe are part of his media appeal. (His true identity has emerged in recent years. See link above.) Subcomandante Marcos is protected by a special law and goes about giving interviews, appearing on magazine covers, etc. The Zapatistas are more of a political movement than a guerilla force these days.



Palenque, a political and religious center in the rain forest


About a five-hour drive from San Cristóbal, deep in the rain forest, are the restored remains of the Mayan city of Palenque.
The stone buildings you see here were covered with stucco and painted in magnificent fashion, some few remnants of which survive.




The Mayans were very advanced in astronomy and had developed the mathematical concept of zero, which seems natural to us but was a breakthrough. They discovered it 900 years before the Arabs introduced the concept to Europe.

The Mayans also had a sophisticated form of writing in glyphs that has only recently begun to be deciphered. Their writings tell the story of their civilization, which collapsed in Palenque around 800 A.D.

The city of Palenque was abandoned after that time. It was mentioned and noticed by Spanish explorers, was mapped in the 18th century and recorded in drawings by Jean Frederic Waldeck in the 1830s but was not excavated in a systematic way until the last century.

There is a book on Palenque online at GoogleBooks, and if you have an academic bent, this is for you. If you would like something a little lighter, Wikipedia has everything that the guidebooks will tell you.




The very impressive waterfalls of Agua Azul are on the way to Palenque. The Zapatistas have control of access to the falls, and they also are attempting to control all of the related tourist industries, such as sales of crafts and mementos at the site. However, other indigenous groups are trying to muscle their way in, and there is conflict about who can set up a stand, etc.


iPhone photographs

The photos of San Cristóbal and Palenque were shot with my iPhone, but not by choice. Each of the three times I´ve flown out of Guadalajara, the people who inspect checked bags noted that I had packed a camera and advised me not to do so. Once they said they were afraid it would be crushed in the baggage hold. The last time, the person hinted that it wasn´t wise to leave something so valuable in an unlocked bag. This time it was stolen. The thief took the digital camera and carrying case but left the lanyard behind. It must have occurred in Guadalajara or Mexico City, where we changed planes, because there wasn´t time for someone to do it in Tuxtla. Live and learn.


This photo is from a postcard image of the Sumidero Canyon near Tuxtla, which we viewed from a motor launch. The walls extend 3,000 feet up at the highest point, and wildlife includes big crocodiles (not alligators), iguanas, migratory pelicans, vultures and cormorants, among other things.