Friday, November 30, 2007

Wine in the Desert

CUATRO CIENEGAS--It was an unlikely place to find vineyards. But aside from the amazing flora and fauna, people of the Chihuahuan desert also produce a "vino artesanal." That means, like many of the species that are endemic to the area, the wine produced there cannot be found anywhere in the country or abroad. The wines are not mega-produced and they still use old traditions and techniques to make it.

We visited the Vinos Vitali, the smaller and highly recommended winery, for some tasting and a look into how the wine production there works. Because temperatures in that region (about a four-hour drive from Monterrey), reach up to 120 degrees Farenheit, making the wine is tricky. Cooler temperatures during production help give the wine its dry taste. But with blazing heat pretty much year-round, the result is a sweet and fruity wine. YUM!

During the summer, winemakers must hose down the outside of the winery in order to help cool the building. Huge industrial fans are also brought in to production rooms to help circulate cool air. Stepping into the winery is like a step back in time. The barrels they use are still some of the originals from the 1940s.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Salt Swamp

CUARTRO CIENEGAS--We found ourselves in the middle of a salt swamp while checking out the biodiversity here. A lake in the area had dried up, leaving behind a salty muck. A local biologist took Jeremy to the middle of the salt swamp, where tiny shrimp were still swimming around.

When I first jumped out of the car I stepped into the mud-like stuff and quickly started to sink. Luckily, I was pulled out soon. My shoes, though, were not that lucky. I spent hours trying to clean the salt stains.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Seeing green in the Desert

CUATRO CIENEGAS--In many small towns in Mexico you are not likely to find a very environmentally conscious community. Things like trash cans around town can be hard to find. Heck, even in the D.F., where 20 million people live, it can be hard to find a trash can when taking a stroll. So it was refreshing to see that having one of the 13 wonders of Mexico in your backyard does help motivate residents to act green.

In the town's main plaza, there were several battery deposits like in this photo. The city has a campaign to collect the town's old, used batteries and dispose of them properly. People of the town are being taught that toxic chemicals in the batteries can leak into their the water when dumped in a landfill. The challenge has become trying to get companies who dispose of the batteries to travel to the small desert town to pick up small quantities of batteries. But every little bit helps.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Desert Snow? Not Quite

As soon as we got off the bus in the northern Mexico city of Monclova, Coahuila, it felt like home. Northern Mexico accents, pickup trucks, dusty roads, cowboy hats and boots---I definitely wasn’t in Mexico City anymore. It was strange being here and not being on a family trip or something, after all my home Home is only about 150 miles north on the Texas/Mexico border. Before we get there for Thanksgiving, we have decided to stop and write about one of the 13 wonders of Mexico—the Coahuila desert city of Cuatro Ciénegas.

The Valley of Cuatro Ciénegas, which has about 12,000 residents, began organizing tourism of its protected flora and fauna reserve about five years ago. It’s an amazing place full of turquoise waters and endemic species. One of the most impresionante lugares in the valley is the gypsum dunes.

(Raindrops from the previous night left this print on the gypsum dunes)

When the nearby salty lagoon dries out, it leaves behind a residue called gypsum, which then gets blown by the wind to create sand-like dunes. Gypsum is used in everything from drywall to figurines.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

On the Road Again

(photo by my bro-in-law raul fuentes)

After a two-month traveling hiatus, we are finally going to our second home--the Mexico City airport. Goodbye D.F., we are off to breathe some clean air in Coahuila.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Four-legged Intruder

We got up to an abrupt start early this morning when we had a furry creature break into the house in a creative way. I was still asleep when I heard a loud rustling of leaves right in the bedroom. "The chimney!" I cried. Before we knew it, there was a big thud.

A squirrel dropped about 25 feet from our roof all the way down to our chimney, and landed right in the middle of our bedroom. I don't know who was more freaked out-- me or the squirrel. The frantic fella darted throughout the bedroom and into our kitchen. It jumped on top of our microwave, counter and flew over our turtle tank. Poor turtles probably hid in their shells.

That whole time I was screaming like a little girl, while my husband jumped into action and shooed the crazy, hyped-up squirrel out the door. My hero. You might think squirrels are cute, and they are from far away. But believe me these Chilango squirrels are aggressive.

All-in-all, the squirrel did not jump on my face like I feared. The damage was not too bad--just a broken mug.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Tabasco Ignored in U.S.

People trapped on rooftops, looting and dehydrated victims--sound familiar? The comparisons between Katrina and the flooding of Tabasco--a gulf coast state in eastern Mexico are eery. About 80% of the entire state is under water, and this tragedy is being described as one of the worst disasters in modern Mexican history.

Yet, there seems to be little interest about this horrible situation in the U.S. print media. Several major newspapers--including papers we work for-- have decided to publish short Associated Press stories or a brief, if at all. If this tragedy would have occurred in Acapulco or Cozumel, people in the U.S. would probably be sick of hearing about it at this point.

Today, I joined hundreds of other volunteers at the Red Cross headquarters in Mexico City to pack up items such as diapers and canned food for the flood victims. The scene at the Red Cross was both chaotic and inspiring. Many Mexican employers gave their employees the day off to go volunteer. Children, still in their school uniform, came directly to volunteer after school. I spent most of the time preparing kits for babies, with everything from bottles to diaper rash cream.

Click on the blog title to read more about the situation in Tabasco.

Volunteers dashed from one place to the other as more and more donations kept coming in, making it a hectic scene.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Dia de los Muertos celebrations

The sign reads, "It's not Halloween, it's Dia de Muertos."
As the two holidays mesh more and more into one giant celebration south of the border, many Mexicans want to make it clear that the two holidays HAVE NOTHING TO DO with the other. Dia de Muertos (as Chilangos call it) celebrates death and honors its loved ones who have died. There are no goblins, witches or ghouls in the celebration.

Growing up along the Texas/Mexico border, I remember kids from the Mexican side of the border coming to Eagle Pass to trick-or-treat, years later kids from our sister city Piedras Negras just stayed home and trick-or-treated on the Mexican side because the holiday got so popular south of the border. It is sort of a relief that even though the kids here trick-or-treat, they don't say "Trick or Treat," like all kids say on the border. Instead, they say "Me puedes dar mi calaverita por favor," which means "Please give me my little skull (Dia de Muertos trinket)." If you don't have candy, D.F. kids also accept coins.

In her birthplace of Coyoacan (also my neighborhood), Frida has an altar dedicated especially to her.

We also checked out probably some of the best altars in the country at the Zocalo, or the heart of Mexico City, with our friends Joy and Brendan. It was definitely a breathtaking sight. I am sure all of our beloved difuntos were present and very proud of us.