Thursday, January 21, 2016

Opossum Karma

What goes around comes around, right? That appears to apply in the world of possums as well as humans.

Peels and poop
When we arrived in Banámichi recently, we found our back porch littered with poop and orange peels. At first, I suspected the hordes of neighborhood feral cats, but they don't tend to eat oranges. Then the memory popped up...when we first started developing the property, the two Dans routed a toothy snarling opossum from its burrow in the shed with a broomstick. Then, I found an orange with telltale tooth marks. This was no cat! Googling images of possum poop, (You've gotta love the internet!) we quickly identified the present culprit.  It was the revenge of the possum!

Check out those teeth!!
Although it was a fun thought, it was unlikely the original possum was exacting revenge now, as the typical lifespan is only a couple of years. It was more of a collective species revenge...perhaps the descendants of that first individual were coming back to eat our oranges and relieve themselves. Actually, I didn't begrudge them a few oranges, it was their toilet habits that were totally unacceptable.
They really clean out those oranges!

Another annoying behavior was taking the oranges up into the space between the porch ceiling and the sheet metal roof to eat them. We now had orange peels hanging from the ocotillo ceiling that randomly dropped from their roost. Yuck!

Peels hanging from the ceiling

As opportunistic omnivores, possums actually have a valuable place in the ecosystem, eating snails, cockroaches, mice and rats...in addition to garbage and fruit. They are the only marsupial in North America, meaning that the babies live in the mother's pouch until they are capable of living on their own. According to the Opossum Society of the United States (Who would have thought it?), opossums roamed the earth at the time of the dinosaurs. Maybe that is why they have a scaly, rat-like tail. These days, they apparently have adapted to thrive in urban and residential areas. In northern Mexico they are known as "tlacuache."

Ultimately we didn't want to harm the possum, just move it along. Aha! Our friend Rafael is known as the "Walmart" of Banamichi, because he has a warehouse full of one of everything anyone could possibly want. I remembered that he had a have-a-heart trap, which we promptly borrowed.

Baiting it with oranges and a few nuts, the first night we didn't catch anything, but there was more poop and hollowed out oranges everywhere. The second night we baited the trap with cat food and chicken scraps. The next morning I was trying to slip quietly out of the bedroom without waking Dan, when, out of a seemingly deep sleep he clearly said, "We got a coon!" Well, not so much a  coon, but after all, the man was asleep! I ran outside to find a cute little guy curled up in the trap, also sound asleep. There was poop on top of the trap.
Isn't it cute?
Starting to "play possum"
Thinking the little guy might be cold, we put the cage out in the sun. The possum responded by "playing possum," the origin of the term. They roll onto one side, open their mouths, close their eyes, and drool. Sometimes they even exude a foul smell. After a while it sat up, and as a parting shot, peed on the patio.

We took it for a 5 mile ride out to the hinterlands in the desert to the east of Las Delicias, a tiny community that is not even on the main road. Only a small sign on the road even signals its existence. When one of the Dans opened the cage, it just stood there for a moment and then very cautiously stuck out its long pointy snout and peered around as if thinking, "Where the heck am I?"  It sniffed a few times and then very slowly emerged from the trap. Once out, it picked up speed and ran with its odd rollicking gait into the brush. Bye, baby!
Venturing out of the trap

For the rest of the day I worried about it...had it found a new burrow? After the easy pickings of the oranges, would it find enough to eat? Poor little thing! It had seemed to be a fairly young possum. When it snarled, we could see its healthy pink gums and 50+ sharp new teeth.

Bye, baby!
Dan and Tracy believed there was more than one midnight marauder. I myself didn't believe the multiple possum hypothesis. They are largely solitary creatures. Anyway, the trap got set again the next night.

After trapping and releasing a feral cat around 10PM, we woke up to find another much larger possum in the trap. But it didn't go into the trap before leaving a large turd right outside our back door. When they have the whole backyard, why do they have to do this on the porch? Revenge?  This one showed more signs of wear and tear... a torn ear, gum problems. Of course it showed us its fully open mouth...snarling and growling. It must have been a full grown adult. Theories were floated that it was the mother of the previous one. Who knows? Could be.

The same scenario ensued...we again drove it out behind Las Delicias. When the cage was opened, it acted in exactly the same manner as the first one, extreme caution, followed by a bolt for the bushes. Good riddance! Neither of them are coming back from that distance.
Hinterlands east of Las Delicias...their new home
The trap was set again last night, but all we caught was a black kitten which must have been hungry. The chicken scraps and cat food were gone. The orange was untouched.

Hopefully we have relocated all the culprits at this point. But we have also changed the ecosystem of the neighborhood. Sooner or later, the possum population will redistribute itself and new ones will come back to exact revenge. What goes around comes around.



Thursday, December 17, 2015

Gratitude

I know...its a bit late for Thanksgiving, but back again in Banámichi I have been thinking about gratitude and good friends. Our time here has been richly blessed with wonderful people, for all of whom I am deeply grateful.

From the start there have been Dan and Tracy, who had enough adventuresome spirit to take the plunge and buy the property with us. Over the many years we have been friends, we have shared countless camping adventures, trips to the beach, and now many good times and challenging home improvement projects in Banámichi.  Engineer Dan has a great knowledge and zest for such projects, and has contributed greatly to the overall comfort and functionality of our little homestead. I can't say I always enjoy the projects, but I do always learn something from him ;-).
Tracy and Dan
Where's the turkey?
We have also shared many wonderful "family" meals and good conversations with them.  Since we started coming here, Tracy has moved into life in a wheelchair. She continues to participate enthusiastically in our activities together as much as possible and is a real trouper and an inspiration when it comes to meal preparation. The last time we were here, Dan and Tracy prepared a beautiful pre-thanksgiving feast of turkey and all the trimmings. The whole neighborhood smelled wonderful all day and later all of the local cats enjoyed the scraps!

Other good friends are Tom and Lynn at Hotel los Arcos.  Originally from Colorado, they left the 9-5 world and built a beautiful and successful hotel from a wreck of a building. They have been a great source of local information and support with our property when we are not here. Tile saws, citrus pickers, pickaxes and other supplies flow freely back and forth between us, as do packages from Amazon arriving in Tucson.  There have been several trips, wonderful parties and home made wood-fired pizzas we have enjoyed with them, and many interesting people we have met who were guests at their hotel.

Tom and Lynn
Meeting interesting people who we would not have encountered in our daily lives in Tucson has been one of the great joys of our experience here. In such a small village in the back of beyond in Mexico, I would never have imagined we would meet so many diverse and interesting people.

When we were here right before Thanksgiving, we were invited to dinner at the home of two of those interesting people: Terry and Rafael. Mexicans by origin, they lived and worked for many years in the States and now are retired and back living in Banámichi. Rafael is fondly known as the "Walmart of Banámichi" because of the eclectic assortment of "just like new" items he has for sale. Whenever some odd animal is mentioned, he will say: "You can make good tacos out of those!" Tacos aside,  he makes wonderful grilled chicken wings. His wife Terry is an amazing cook, preparing all kinds of Mexican specialties. She especially loves creating beautiful cakes. So a dinner invitation to their cozy kitchen is always a great treat!
Terry and Rafael
Terry prepared beef fajitas with Mexican rice, refried beans, and her wonderful hand made flour tortillas. Yum! Rafael made some salsa from the local wild chiltepin peppers which was basically a version of chile oil. I really like hot food, but this time, it turned out so hot that I thought I would die from one little bitty drop! Knowing my reputation, when others saw me choke on the heat, they wouldn't even try it! Cowards! But then there was Terry's cake! Oh, my!
Two Dans with Terry's dinner  



Hot sauce of death!
Terry's beautiful cake
There are many others that have also been a wonderful part of our experience here. There are Beto and Vicky,  a lovely young couple who helped us buy our house here and get started. Beto is a jack of many trades. Trained as an engineer, he also runs his family's ranch and dairy farm, has taught math at a local high school, is building a new home, and of late works for a mine near the town of Cucurpe. He makes the best carne asada I have ever tasted.
Beto and Vicky
 Vicky is an accountant who was the treasurer of Banámichi under a previous administration. She is currently a manager at the Hotel Los Arcos, and the mother of 3 beautiful children. She is one of the sweetest people I have ever met.

Another friend,  Stevan, has appeared previously in this blog. He is a native Mexican who speaks impeccable English. He bought a piece of property out in the hinterlands of Banámichi where he is  homesteading and creating handmade adobe buildings on his property without running water or electricity. He has taught adobe construction methods in a number of areas of the world.  Highly intelligent and creative, he is a bright light in our little community. His friend Lucia (an architect) has recently joined our circle of friends.
Stevan
Also part of our community here is Gerlinde - who hates to have her picture taken. Gerlinde was born in Germany, and made her way here via Canada and the US. She was responsible for the development of the hot springs near Aconchi, where she lived on her own for several years and trained herself as a healer.

Her partner Loyda is a social worker who is currently employed at a local high school. At one point, she was the Police chief here in Banámichi, and she also had her own business producing worm casings for gardening. She is a social activist and most recently has been involved in the attempt to help the are recover from the mine spill in Cananea.

There are many other interesting folks we have met... Eddie who creates beautiful mesquite furniture with a chain saw, Ramon, Tato and Fito and all the construction workers who refurbished out house, and so many others.

So you see? Who would think you would find such an unusual community of people in a little Mexican village? Banámichi is a special place with special energy that attracts special people. My life is greatly enriched by knowing all of these folks.

To all of you: Thank you for welcoming and accepting us. Thank you for your friendship and for all of the interest, joy and good times you have brought into our lives. Thank you for all that  I constantly learn from you. Being with you here is an amazing experience.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Antidote to the State of the World



When despair grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free. 
______________________ 

Recently I have been despairing about the state of our world. There are so many concerns...the environment, the breakdown of systems and ethical codes, human greed, the political state of the world... all that is unknowable and uncontrollable. Everywhere I look there is so much suffering, and I feel undone in the face of it. At times I feel that I can actually see through the world illusion to the fundamental randomness and chaos of life. Everything constantly shifts and changes and slips away. It is terrifying to confront this and realize that all that I once clung to as safe and secure is false and that there is in fact nothing in the physical world that is secure enough to cling to.

                                  Chaos rules!       (FreeImages.com/ChristinaRomano)

I can sustain this knowledge of chaos only so long before I look for comfort, and invariably, in those times I look to the natural world. Yes, there is randomness and constant change there too, but at least there is no illusion that it is otherwise. This is how it always was and always will be. In a way that I do not understand, the simple reality of sun, wind, sky, and the solidity of the earth ground me in what is essential. In nature it is enough to have food, water, warmth and sleep. All else falls away and I can let go of rumination and fear and just breathe in and out and take my place with the rest of the animals on the planet. 

Being in Banámichi has become my personal escape into nature. Here there is no incessant hum of traffic, no police helicopters flying over our house at all hours to remind me of the chaos. Here, at night, the milky way streams across the sky, and the sounds come from cows, sheep, turkeys, horses, roosters (and the occasional Saturday night fiesta.) I settle into a more basic way of being and focus on simply living in the present.


Digging the work!
So, now the summer inferno has burned itself out, and the days are glorious...pleasantly warm and dry. After the mine spill and the subsequent water shortage last year, everything has settled back down to almost normal. Time for gardening again! I enjoy the physicality of digging over the plots and renewing the soil. It takes me out of the despair of the mind and into the simple reality of flexing and moving. Then there is the raking and smoothing and gently placing the seeds into furrows. All the while I rejoice in the sunlight on my skin, the freshness of the air, the smell of the warm earth, and the anticipation of the harvest, still several months away. Despair for the world dissipates as I focus on the simple
physical action of providing food for out bodies.


Peach jam
Food is nature, and food is fundamental to existence. Whatever else is happening, there is the need to prepare food and eat. And now, there are more peaches to be harvested, and jam to be made.
 




Mud oven under construction (2011)
My wood-fired adobe oven has been sitting unused for too long. I have been wanting to try using the entire heat cycle of the oven to cook multiple dishes. At 3PM I start the fire. The fragrant mesquite smoke swirls out the door and up the chimney as the thick adobe of the oven heats up over the next 3 hours.It will need to hold the heat all night. By 6 PM the interior of the oven is at 700 degrees Fahrenheit. Perfect for pizza! 


I try a new slow fermented dough recipe and make homemade sau
ce from Sam Marzano tomatoes. The result is the best pizza I have ever made! There is also one with pesto for our friend Tracy. 


Mmmmmmm....pizza!

After making the pizzas, the oven has cooled enough to slide a couple of loaves of whole wheat bread onto the hearth. They also emerge perfectly brown and crispy. When they are done, the pot of soaked pinto beans goes in and the door is shut for the night. In the morning they are tender and ready to use. The temperature in the oven is still 150 degrees!


Wood-fired bread
When despair for the world grows in me, I crave the simplicity of life in Banámichi.There, I can rest for a time in the natural processes of life so that when I get sucked back into the whirlwind in Tucson again, I have a sense of perspective. After this contact with physical and natural essence, I can look the chaos of life in the eye, see it for what it is, carry on in spite of it.

PS...Nature has provided us with a feral kitten under our woodpile. May this little one have a decent life!

Sweet kitty




 

Thursday, August 13, 2015

So What's New?

We  haven't been able to return to Banámichi since May, so all the things, both small and large, that that have changed since we were last here really stand out. Also, this is a natural time of reflection, since it is just one year since the toxic spill from the mine in Cananea devastated the Río Sonora. (This week, there was another very similar spill into the Animas River in southwestern Colorado.  It will be interesting to see if the US government does any better than the Mexican government at dealing with it.)

Roadside beauty
The most immediately noticeable change since we were last here is that the season has shifted from the pleasant dry heat of early summer to the swampy inferno of mid-monsoon. Along the roadways, the wild grasses have grown green and high again, and the hillsides are covered with cottony tufts of pink and white shrubs. The air vibrates with insects. A desert tortoise plods into the bushes as we drive by. A red tailed hawk takes flight and narrowly misses our windshield. This is nature at its most extravagant, reveling in the oppressive moisture.

Arriving at our little home in Banámichi, we are horrified to see what time and the changing season have done to our backyard. The yard is once again filled with waist high weeds. A giant branch from the dead tree in our neighbor's back yard has fallen across the block wall in a windstorm. Mountains of leaves fill the back porch. Our work is cut out for us. Ugh! For the first time, I feel too old and overwhelmed to deal with this.


Backyard jungle
Waist-high grasses










But there are happy changes as well. Our peach tree has gone from being newly green to bending low with more peaches than we can possibly use. Just coming up on ripe, they are odd little peaches, not at all like their big and often mealy, tasteless US supermarket cousins. These are somewhere between an apricot and a plum in size, yellow and tinged with green, and have a crunchy bite.  Yet the flavor is sweet and peachy.  I am told that these are an older type of peach, highly desired by some horticulturalists in the states. There is a friend of a friend who actually wants the seeds to grow these in Arizona. While we are here, we will pick and process piles of them for the freezer. Peach jam and peach pies are  in our future!
Peachy keen!
We begin the process of cleaning the backyard at 6:30 the morning after we arrive. It is exhausting work pulling the tall grasses. We ask around to find someone younger and stronger to help, but all able-bodied men are working at the mine these days. It used to be easy to find people who were anxious for a day's work. Now it takes days to find someone. But we certainly do not begrudge folks their jobs at the mine. Banámichi desperately needed a source for jobs, and the mine has provided plenty.  In the last couple of years there has been a new prosperity in town. Houses have been re-painted, repaired and refurbished. There is new construction. The area is flourishing anew.

But even with that, there are changes. Silvercrest Mines, which has owned and operated the Santa Elena Mine in Banámichi since it started, was recently bought out by First Majestic, another Canadian mining company. People here seem concerned that their jobs will not last, though that seems unlikely. Unknown to us, however, is what will happen to our own modest investment in Silvercrest which has been tanking of late.
Dan removing tree branch from the wall

After 3 days of yard cleaning activity, when we are ragged and exhausted, a lovely woman named "Bicky" arrives to help. I gratefully slink into the house, tail between my aging legs, to take a shower and cool off. She powers through the forest of weeds and mountains of raking apparently not at all fazed by the heat and humidity. When I offer her work gloves she looks at me scornfully..."I don't need those!" She does accept the cold water, though. Eventually the yard is transformed from a veritable jungle back to its old self.

Meanwhile, there are more changes. San Judas, our abarrotes (grocery) of choice here in town has a new addition. These days, they have to compete with the new OXXO convenience store. I don't much care for the OXXO (although they do carry bagged ice!)...its like a Mexican Circle K filled with junk food. New and shiny. Corporate. Sterile. San Judas has character, with its dark aisles, crowded shelves, and friendly owners. Hopefully tradition will triumph and they will continue to do well.

Another positive change is the state of Calle Obregón, the street our house is on, which runs the length of Banámichi from north to south. Ever since the great water project a couple of years back, the street has been a potholed disaster just waiting to bend rims and eat tires. There were piles of dirt and rocky places with no pavement. Then someone somewhere decided it needed work and it was even more torn up plus closed to traffic for months. Now it is newly paved, and nearly finished. Looking good! No more twisted ankles after dark!
Calle Obregon, newly paved.

New mayors have been elected in all the towns along the Río Sonora. The state of Sonora also has a new governor. And, friend Tom has opened an Italian restaurant at Hotel Los Arcos serving excellent lasagna and New York style cheesecake. There is also a new carne asada stand on the road to Huepac. This is not a surprise. In a recent Edible Baja Arizona Magazine, there was a quote from José Vasconcelos that the state of Sonora is the place where “civilization ends and carne asada begins.”

Everywhere I look these days there is change and more change. Sometimes it all is too much, and I feel old and world-weary. But life has always been changing this way. In truth, the most troublesome change for me is my own body. I no longer have the strength and resilience that I had when we started out here in Banámichi. My energy runs out sooner and can't push through like I once could. This reality has been creeping up on me for some time, but it all it took was a week of work in Banámichi's monsoon season and a sea of weeds to break through the denial, and admit out loud to myself: "I am getting old!" Boo! I hate it!

My mind and spirit are still young and not at all ready to throw in the towel. I still love Banámichi and our little house here and hopefully I will find the strength to come back again and again for many more years.

Here is one last upbeat moment for today: check out this photo of Americans and Mexicans playing volleyball across the border fence..it will make you smile at the absurdity of our petty human preoccupations!

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Back to Normal...Almost

Everyone predicted that the chemical spill from the Grupo Mexico mine in Cananea into the Río Sonora last August would be catastrophic, changing the way of life along the Río Sonora forever. Now, nine months later, curiously, life in Banámichi has almost returned to the way it was before the spill. This in no way lets Grupo Mexico off the hook for their negligence, but it does speak to the resilience of the land and the people and the need to keep on keeping on.

After months of tanker trucks delivering water to tinacos at every house up and down the Río Sonora, for Banámichi at least, water from a different well further from the river was piped into town, and city water service resumed. The water flow has been strong and consistent, better in fact than before the spill. For a time, there were Federales (Federal Police) guarding the city wells..against what I do not know...but even these guys are gone now.

Our local convenience store
After the spill, water from various wells including the new one was tested but due to lack of organization was never analyzed, so in the end, no one knows if the water the city provides is truly safe for human or animal consumption. Even so, gardens and fields are green again. Many people, however, no longer trust the local water supply for their own use. Those who can ill afford it are buying water in plastic bottles from the local OXXO convenience store. Yet ranchers are talking about building their cattle herds again. Slowly, culture and habit are taking over, and life does go on.

Some of the local laborers, when they received reparation funds from the mine settlement decided to take a vacation from work. And who would blame them? How would you like to do heavy work outdoors in heat and cold, day after day? But soon their windfalls will run out and they too will have to go back to work and life as it was before.

There seems to be an attitude of  resignation here that average people are powerless in the face of the mine and the government, and so with time, even the protests blocking the road to Hermosillo have ground to a halt. People are going about their business again, because in the end, what else is there to do? 

Too much bounty
Here at the expat homestead, in spite of a shortage of water for a good part of the year, our grapefruit tree produced more fruit than we could use or give away. After adjusting our newly installed irrigation system, our garden has also revived. The vegetable garden is battened down for the brutal summer months and awaits a new crop in the fall. In the house, we  have multiple 5 gallon bottles of "River Water" - the unfortunate name of  a nearby reverse osmosis plant  - sitting in our kitchen. Curiously, no one has been charged for city water useage since the spill.However, we no longer use the city water for cooking or hot beverages, and we have been debating if it is OK to use the water for washing vegetables. Still, given everything, these are minor wrinkles in the fabric of life.

Meanwhile, in Banámichi, attention has turned to the local election cycle. As foreigners in Mexico on tourist visas, we are not permitted to get involved in the political process. That is good for Mexico, and also educational for us, as the election process becomes an opportunity for cross cultural observation, discussion and learning.

Political banners for the main candidates flutter from every power pole in town, both for the mayor and for the Governor of Sonora. Mexico has 3 main political parties and quite a number of smaller ones. The big three are the PAN (Partido Acción National, The National Action Party), the PRI (Partido de la Revolución Insitutional, the Institutional Revolutionary Party), and the PRD (Partido de la Revolución Democrática (Party of the Democratic Revolution.)  The PRI was formed after the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920), and held power for 71 years. During these years, the PAN was the loyal opposition, and became the first party to defeat the PRI. The PRD is a left-leaning split off from the PRI, and is strongest in Central and Southern Mexico. There is also a Green Party, a left-wing Labor Party and one called the Nueva Allianca (New Alliance) which is the party of the powerful teacher's union. And there are a host of even smaller parties. The 3 main parties can roughly be thought of as left - PRD, right - PAN, and center - PRI, but the reality is much more complex. For a more complete explanation, go to this article from the Los Angeles Times.

PRI candidate for Mayor of Banámichi
PAN Candidate for Mayor of Banámichi

In Mexico, Mayors and Governors are elected for 3 year terms, and it is that time again. (It is hard to believe that we have been here thru 2 1/2 cycles now!) Campaigns are much lower key than they are in the States and only last a few months instead of a few years. Once someone has served their term, they can only run once more, but not until a couple of others have had a chance to serve. The people running for mayor are ordinary townspeople, not career politicians. The banners here in town are for PAN and PRI candidates. Party loyalties are strong, and feelings run high. Jobs and access to social services are riding on who wins. Parties in power give back to their supporters. And when a candidate wins, the entire previous city government is replaced all at once, making for a chaotic transition and new jobs for quite a few folks.

Women seem to be a bigger presence in Mexican politics than in the States. Both the PAN and the PRI have many women mayoral candidates, and for the PRI, Claudia Pavlovich is running for the governor of Sonora.
PAN candidate for Governor of Sonora

PRI candidate for Governo

As observers, we notice that the candidates seem to run more on personality than on a platform. The campaign banners trumpet platitudes ("Talk to your grandparents...they are a treasure.") and picture the candidates' families. The mayoral candidates run based on being known here in town. The townspeople have long memories and long-standing feuds or mistakes on the part of the candidate can affect  outcomes more than any political or social issues. It is not even clear what local or state issues are. It seems that a candidate  here could easily make the spill into an campaign issue and run on promises to clean up the environment, but that simply does not happen. Promises on issues are not made.

So come July, Banámichi will have a new mayor. Lauro the current mayor will step down from his post and presumably go back to his butcher shop.  The question is, whoever wins the election, will it really make a difference here in Banámichi, where circumstances change, but life stays pretty much the same?


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Thanksgiving 2014 in Banámichi

Water in the Rio Sonora
As we drove the last few miles of the road south into Banámichi, the Rio Sonora sparkled in the sunlight, more water in it than we have seen in years. Actually, this indicated a problem...the water was not being used for agricultural purposes as it had in the past, a long-lasting consequence of the toxic chemical spill by the Grupo Mexico mine in Cananea in early August, 2014 which polluted the river and the watershed.

Tinacos of all sorts have sprung up
In Banámichi, the roads, sidewalks and rooftops are punctuated with tinacos...large water cisterns. They come from many sources. Some are being distributed free by the trust set up as part of the remediation extracted from Grupo Mexico. Tanker trucks of water drive the streets daily, filling individual tinacos, and also filling the town cisterns. Then once a day for a couple of hours, the cisterns are opened, and water flows through the taps. It is essential to be home to catch the flow when it comes, or you will be without water until the trucks come by or water flows again.

Those fortunate enough to have tinacos on the roof or on a tower may have them hooked into the plumbing system of the house, while the owners of those on the ground are forced to carry water into the house in buckets. And this is only household water; it is not for drinking. Free 5 gallon jugs of drinking water are still available, but people are not confident even that is clean. Some are drinking it anyway; others who can afford it are buying drinking water at the local convenience store. We saw one elderly woman rolling a weighty 5 gallon jug of drinking water down the street on a hand cart. This is a tremendous hardship for the local people.

But...Banámichi is still beautiful
The scale of the tragedy is enormous. Our friend Beto, for example, has a herd of dairy cows. For almost 4 months now every day he has milked his cows and poured out the milk. No one will buy the local agricultural products that have been the life-blood of the area. Some people have received stipends for their losses; others have not. Some will undoubtedly lose their livelihoods as well as their rich cultural traditions. What the future holds for this formerly rich agricultural area, no one knows.

Our friend Tom has said: " When the spill happened there was the horror stage. Later came the adaptation stage. We have now entered the political stage, which is the scariest of them all."
Sunset in Banámichi, looking towards the river
He is right. The whole tragedy has been marked by confusion, lack of information, organizations working against each other, and governmental entities jockeying for access to the several million dollars in reparations extracted from Grupo Mexico. The result is absolute chaos. People who might be working together to make some progress are turning into enemies.The truth is out there, but no one is sure what it is.  Distrust is rampant.

At first the government said that the water was unsafe and closed the town wells. Now, 4 months later, nothing has changed and the government now says the wells are safe and wants to open them again. People have lost all faith in the government, and are blocking the opening of the wells through protests. Federal police have been brought in.

This state of chaos and confusion cannot persist. Sooner or later, the wells will be opened again and life will sort of return to normal. And then who knows? Five to 10 years down the road, will there be clusters of illnesses and deaths along the Rio Sonora? Will Grupo Mexico ever be held accountable for destroying a way of life for so many people?

For us, this has simply meant no vegetable or flower gardens this year, a small price to pay when stacked up against the daily suffering of the local people. There is an overwhelming sense of helplessness to it all. There is nothing to be done. It just is what it is.

It has really taught us profligate Americans about conserving water.  We spend our days waiting for the hour when the city water is turned on so we can  fill our tinaco. Then one of us inadvertently leaves the irrigation on and flushes out all our hard
Two Dans hard at work on our water system
earned water. Then we have a few gallons to last until the next day. When there is very little water, toilets get flushed less often, showers are short, dishes get washed in a quart of water and paper plates, which have a downside of their own, become the best alternative. Half a cup of water is enough for tooth-brushing. It is very much like camping out with 5 gallons of water for several people for a weekend. Upon our return to Tucson, it is hard to go back to normal water usage. I hesitate every time I open the tap. This could be an omen for all of us for the future. If nothing changes, in 10 years we could all be living like the Rio Sonorans are now.

What we have come to for now in Banámichi is to is to try to simply keep our fruit trees and some of our favorite plants alive with minimal water while we are not here. But, since we are up the hill near one of the town cisterns, counter-intuitively, there is not enough pressure (due to elevation) to pump water into our tinaco even when city water is available. Without that, nothing gets watered and everything dies. So first we bought a pump. Then we learned it would not shut off when there was no city water. It would burn itself out in no time. Now, the two Dans have installed a complicated system of switches to start and stop the pump at appropriate times and levels. ( Doing even this much would be beyond the means of most people here.) So far it appears to work. Time will tell.

Even in an imperfect world, there is still so much to be thankful for. Banámichi is still beautiful. The culture is warm and welcoming. The sunsets are gorgeous. The weather is perfect. Even amidst great challenges, life here is good.

Tom and the turkey
Once again, Thanksgiving has rolled around. Of course this is an American holiday that is not celebrated in Mexico. Still, friends Tom and Lynn have each year gathered an international group of folks for the traditional feast. And a splendid feast it was! It is a time to be thankful for friends old and new, for the opportunity to experience the best of Mexico and the worst of Mexico, and to hopefully to learn a cautionary lesson about how some events lead to irrevocable results that change life forever.
Friends of many countries

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Rio Sonora Ecological Disaster Update

At the time of the last post, the entire Rio Sonora valley had just been affected by a chemical spill at the Grupo Mexico copper mine in Cananea. Since that time, there have been meetings reviewing the disaster and many accusations and counter-accusations about who did and did not do this or that. There have also been many news reports about the possible consequences for the mine, what is needed for the clean-up of the river, and what the future holds for the communities along the river. The information changes daily, and meaningful action seems a long way off. The only thing that is clear at this point is is that there is no clarity.

This will be a guest post, authored by Tom Matthews, co-owner of Los Arcos de Sonora Hotel in Banámichi. Tom and his wife Lynn are forming a non-profit organization to assist the people of the Rio Sonora  in gaining compensation for their losses and for the clean-up of the river.

Here's Tom:


On August 6th, a process pond at Groupo Mexico's Buenavista copper mine in Cananea, Sonora Mexico failed and dumped millions of gallons of heavy metal laced sulfuric acid into the Rio Bacanuchi and the Rio Sonora. The mine is just 25 miles south of the US border and in the past has also destroyed the San Pedro River flowing into Arizona. This recent spill has cut off municipal drinking water for 22,000 residents along the Rio Sonora (it is still off), has destroyed the dairy industry and farming, has killed wild life and has impacted all other aspects of life along the 180 plus miles of prime riparian habitat. 
Life after the spill in Banámichi (Photos courtesy of Los Arcos de Sonora Hotel)

After five weeks, people are still forced to use buckets to move water from the street to their homes. The most basic things have become more difficult. Washing clothes with buckets, trying to keep the evaporative cooler running in 105 degree heat, juggling large bottles of drinking water to get a drink or cook breakfast make things harder and more time consuming versus just turning on the tap the way people did before the spill. Bathing babies in a bucket makes a cute photo but it is difficult for someone who has worked all day. Older folks are having an especially hard time. People are afraid. They don't know if the water they use for washing is healthy, they don't know if the kid's pajamas have been washed in toxin-laced water and they don't know if their crops and animals will be poisoned and unfit to eat or to sell.

We are up against big money and their political influence at all levels. We are in the process of creating an organization to force Groupo Mexico to clean the river and compensate those affected. We are also demanding that the huge tailings pond at the mine, unlined and leaking, be fixed immediately with lined, secondary containment ponds in place. We are also demanding that the government regulators inspect and require adherence on the part of the mine to Mexican and international laws and best practices. 

At this time, we are looking for seed money to get our organization started and to be incorporated in both Mexico and in the US. We need money to begin our campaign, and to pay for phones and the travel expenses for US experts whom we have asked for help. Your donations will shine light on the problems at the Groupo Mexico mine in Cananea and send a message to every potential polluter in Mexico there is no more “business as usual. 

For more details on the spill, google  'Sonora river acid spill.' 

To make a contribution to the effort, go to http://www.gofundme.com/e7679g

On behalf of the people of the Rio Sonora, thanks to all of you for your interest, your good wishes, and your contributions.