Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Elegant Trogons!

Hot Springs at Feliz Estancia
For many years I have heard about the beautiful but elusive (at least in Southern Arizona) Elegant Trogon. " This stunning bird is related to the Quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno), the bird of the Maya emperor-gods." A friend told me she had seen one in Madera Canyon south of Green Valley, Arizona, but nature had never graced me with this experience until we began to visit the hot springs at Feliz Estancia near the town of Aconchi, to the south of Banámichi.

I am not a bird-watcher in the sense of collecting species seen on a life-list, but I love watching animal behavior, so I do tend to notice birds. The first time I saw a Trogon flit by was several years ago during a visit to Feliz Estancia. I have had several glimpses of them since then, but only just glimpses.

This week we visited Feliz Estancia again. I noticed how now, when we go there, I always have a longing to get a really good view of the Trogon. After several hours in the lovely warm water, we were about to leave and noted to myself that once again the Trogon had been elusive. Just at that moment, out of the corner of my eye I noticed a flash of color which registered as a Trogon! Then there were 3 of them, two males and a female, right there in the tree in front of me.

Female Trogon showing me her back

Male Trogon rubbing his beak on a branch

Male Trogon giving me the stink eye from a stone wall

According to the Audubon Society description,  "The male Elegant Trogon has a metallic deep green head, upper breast and back, black face and throat, and red-orange lower breast and belly. He shows grey upper wing coverts. It has a stout yellow bill and a square tipped tail. "  They like to move along canyons and streams through sycamore woodland, and range from south-eastern Arizona to Costa Rica. According to they are about a foot long and weigh about 1/8th of a pound.

Notice how he can swivel his head almost 360 degrees!
I stalked them as silently as I could with a camera. I noticed how they could incredibly swivel their heads through nearly 360 degrees as they followed my progress. Each time I got too close for comfort (unfortunately this was also about as close as I needed to be for a really good picture!) they took off, flying  to another nearby tree...never too far, but very fast.
 Male Playing hide and seek
The Audubon society says that they like to nest in "sycamore tree cavities, abandoned woodpecker holes and earthen banks. They line the nest with straw and anything else that is soft. They lay two-four eggs." Feliz Estancia must be a perfect place for has a canyon, warm water, sycamore trees, woodpeckers and earthen banks.

Finally, I thought I had chased them far enough and we got in the car to leave. As we drove out, we saw them again, this time, the female and one male in a nearby tree while the second  male sat on the ground munching on a grasshopper...apparently their diet consists of insects and fruit, mostly caught on the fly, and it is fairly unusual for them to spend time on the ground.

Feeding on grasshopper...notice the iridescent green back

We headed home in a celebratory mood. What a great experience and treat to have finally seen not just one, but 3 Trogons playing together in the woodland! Banámichi and the Rio Sonora continue to find ways to delight me.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Why Go To Hermosillo?

One of the realities of life in Banámichi is that occasionally trips to Hermosillo become necessary. Where is Hermosillo? It is 2.5 hours drive to the south of us, and is the capital of the state of Sonora, our nearest large city. Why do such trips become necessary? It could be anything from a need for diversion from the quietude of Banámichi, to a  desperate need for items not available locally.

One such item is fresh vegetables. Well, OK, we can get some things locally... iceberg lettuce, green chilis, onions, and sometimes some limp green beans. As you may have surmised I am a bit of a "foodie" and am especially partial to good veggies. So when our friend Gerlinde showed Lynn  a special market with fresh produce, I planned a trip to Hermosillo.

It is a big deal to go to Hermosillo. It requires a whole day and is always a bit of an adventure. You never know what you will encounter and where. This time our first surprise was at the military check point in Mazocahui, about an hour down the road from Banámichi. This is a place where the military is usually out in  the road with automatic weapons asking "Where are you going? Where are you from? What are you carrying?" I suppose this could be somewhat intimidating, but generally they are very young good-looking men, who are given to being friendly and polite when they find we are cooperative and also friendly.

This time, we pulled up to the checkpoint and the men were chatting off to one side, not at all interested in us. But a medium size brown dog with curly fur stood in the road in our path, staring at us. Dan inched the vehicle towards him. He didn't blink. Dan honked, and he continued staring as if deaf. Finally, Dan sighed and drove around him. The military guys cracked up, smacking their hands together as if to say "just hit him!"  and waving us on. We all had a good laugh and off we went.

The main room of the "Old Ferreteria"
Our first stop in Hermosillo was at the Ferreteria Maderas, AKA the "Old Ferreteria," a hardware store that surely must date back to Aztec times. It is the only place around that sells an assortment of Talavera tiles and many unidentifiable bits of rusty metal. Oh, and it also has birdcages, ancient pink toilets, tortilla presses and brown clay cooking pots. It is a truly strange establishment that closes for the day at 12:30PM, meaning that we have to leave Banámichi very early to get there. Anyway, I got the Talavera tiles that I need to re-do a window ledge at the house, and off we went to look for the veggie market.

Random metal parts inside the "Old Ferreteria"

Talavera Tile display inside the "Old Ferreteria"

Driving in Hermosillo can be a nightmare. Most maps are inadequate to the maze of one way streets, huge traffic circles and terrifying flyover bridges. After being in rural Banámichi, the traffic seems insane.
Fortunately we had Lynn with us who mostly knows her way around and so we wove our way to Bulevar Solidaridad and headed north. Lynn said "There it is! Turn left by the tall circular sign." and I realized we would never have found this on our own.

Chaos at the market
We took a ticket to get into the parking area and headed into the utterly chaotic fray. There were cars and trucks driving in every direction, guys weaving in and out on bicycles, and people calling out to us, inviting us to buy huge sacks of potatoes that had to weigh 50 pounds. This was obviously the place where all the restaurants and stores in town came to buy their produce. The market was probably not meant for individual buyers, but since no one stopped us, we entered a lovely shop.

Me choosing avocados
There were some of the most beautiful vegetables I have ever seen.. big, perfect and fresh. There was most of the stuff you can get in a US supermarket, only fresher and prettier, as well as some more exotic items. WOW! I wanted some of everything! I bought stuff without regard to how I would use it, just because it appealed. I wound up with huge green Mexican grilling onions, lots of avocados, super hot jalapenos, gorgeous cilantro, Mexican limes, tomatoes, mandarin oranges, persimmons that were sweet and soft as mush and just ready to eat, and guyabas - guavas. All of this was well under 10 bucks!

Then we headed across the way to a meat shop. Somehow I thought we would find beautiful New York steaks neatly laid out in plastic trays, but instead we were led into a cutting room, where random hunks of meat were sitting on counters and a spray of red meat coated the wall behind a saw. The man pointed to his head and offered us cabeza - head meat, a Mexican delicacy - and pointed to a bloody blob on the table. No thanks! This is why I was a vegetarian for 25 years! We wound up buying a 5 pound block of frozen shrimp for a ridiculously low price and calling it good.

Restaurant Xochimilco
After running several more errands to Supermercado Ley and Costco, we decided to go to the Restaurant Xochimilco for lunch, which we had heard about but never visited. They have been in operation since 1949 (they must be doing something right,) and specialize in grilled meat. We ordered the goat to avoid the beef tripe which we were all a bit squeamish about. The Mexicans eat everything from the cow but the moo, and I admit that as Americans we are spoiled, but tripe? I don't think so! Anyway, we got a big plate of grilled goat, and it fabulous! Melt in the mouth tender and mild flavor - like the very best lamb. It was simply some of the best meat I have ever eaten anywhere in the world, and it came with a large salad, beans, tortillas, salsa and guacamole. What a treat!

Salad at Xochimilco

Meat grilling behind glass partition at Xochimilco
Trailer selling fireworks
 After lunch we made a few more stops - one has to make the most of these outings since they are so arduous - and then got on the road back to Banámichi. The last stop was just north of the town of Ures where there is a solitary trailer in a dusty field selling "cohetes" - fireworks. We wanted some for the New Year's Eve party at Los Arcos Hotel that has become a tradition in out little community. It had clouded over, and the wind had picked up. Outside, a stray dog jumped, startled by a piece of flying cardboard, and inside, the trailer rocked on its foundation in the wind and the doors banged and pounded. The mood was high, though, as we joked with the clerk and picked out a large assortment of miscellaneous things that go BANG!, and another large "box o' bombs"...ball shaped fireworks about 2 inches in diameter with a big gnarly fuse. Should be fun. I wouldn't light them myself, but have to admit that I like explosions!

By then it was almost 4PM and time to make tracks for home before darkness settled in. As we passed the town of Huepac, it started to rain. Winter has finally come to the Rio Sonora. Hermosillo was fun this time and then it was so good to get back to our nice warm, dry little house in Banámichi!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Vacation From Banamichi

We came back to Banámichi two weeks ago during the last gasp of summer heat to find our yard full of waist high weeds AGAIN!! RATS! The two Dans declared that they did NOT want to deal with the weeds, and my priority was to prepare and plant the vegetable garden, so I was not going to do it. We asked all the usual sources to try to find someone...a Mexican laborer... who might want a day's work to come and clear the mess. Francisco told us that all the able-bodied men were busy working for the Santa Elena mine.Good for the community and for the weeds. Bad for us.

First, Ramon told us that his nephew Miguelito would come. He didn't  show up. The two Dans got out the hoes and rakes and half-heartedly began poking and scraping at the vegetation. Then Rosa told us her uncle would come the next day. The two Dans wound up sitting in the shade shooting the breeze after deciding "why mess with the weeds when help is on its way?" The next day came and went, and no uncle showed up.

The two Dans got serious and began chopping in earnest. One of them borrowed a weed whip and the other wielded the hula hoe. After 2 1/2 days of hard labor and at least one dump run, the yard looked pretty good, all except for the nasty invasive grass that is trying to establish itself on the south side. This will need a herbicide.

We were all from clearing the garden, forking up the dirt, raking and planting, and the guys from the weeds. On a whim, we decided to go to Kino Bay for a couple of days of  R&R at the beach. As it turned out, some of Dan D.'s teaching buddies from China offered us the use of their condo.

I had misgivings about going to Kino. Every other trip we have made there was either disappointing (think camping on cement pavement in a ratty trailer park) or fraught with outright disaster. Once a friend walked into the beautiful clear waters of the bay and within 30 seconds was nailed by a sting ray. After trying the usual remedies without success, we wound up spending our day sitting at the Mexican Red Cross with him waiting for treatment. Another time, we were chased from our estuary paddling adventure by a thick cloud of biting no-see-ums right into the path of an illicit drug operation which was scary as all get out. We haven't been back to Kino Bay in years now.

View from our balcony

Millions of shells
This time was the charm. The condo made a huge was right on an isolated stretch of beach south of town. We had a lovely balcony overlooking the water and the comings and goings of the shrimping fleet. The beach was covered with millions of great shells. The water was the prefect deliciously warm that I could have stayed in all day, floating and riding the waves.

Fisherman's shrine

 The town is divided into Kino Viejo (old) and New Kino. Old Kino is a dusty hard-scrabble fishing village of concrete block homes and tar-paper shacks. It doesn't even have many of the usual Mexican tourist area  curio shops. Real life happens in Old Kino. Fishing boats go out and come back in. It is clear that seafood is the big thing. The seafront is a mishmash of fish vendors, open-air fish restaurants and crumbling fish warehouses. Kids play in the streets along with cats scrounging for scraps and flea-bitten dogs chasing each other with loud barking and snarling as dogs are wont to do. Locals clump together chatting with neighbors, or eat seafood at the many street stalls.

We did our share of eating while we were there as well. La Palapa restaurant served us wonderful fish and shrimp tacos. The Marlin in Old Kino had a great Sopa de Siete Mares (Seven Seas Soup) and Ranchero style shrimps. El Pargo Rojo (The Red Snapper)  in New Kino had amazing crab tostadas. We were invited to a potluck at the Condominios Jacquelynn where we were staying. Someone brought an appetizer that had at least a pound of solid crab meat in it.YUM!

New Kino is not much more than a strip of large houses owned by Gringos (Mexican slang for US citizens), a few hotels and trailer parks and a handful of restaurants. It's relative modernity and affluence provide a sharp contrast to Kino Viejo. The primary focus is on the lovely bay and the recreational opportunities it provides. The city has established a park of palapas...palm frond covered ramadas...for tourists to rent to relax on the beach and have some shade.We succumbed to the allure of getting out of the sun and rented one. It was lovely and peaceful, except for the indigenous southern Mexican vendors who were schlepping and trying to sell us everything from jewelery to hammocks, pottery and wooden bowls.

At least it was peaceful until a busload of high school student from the town of Ures moved in right next to us. We moved to a different palapa to escape the noise and the general activity level.  They seemed like nice kids though, and it was gratifying to watch them enjoy themselves without much of anything. The boys played soccer and the girls chatted in groups and buried each other in the sand. When they went in the water, there was the usual teenage sport of "let's splash the and dunk the girls," accompanied by much screaming and laughing.

Enjoying Myself in Kino
Leaving Kino was tough this time. We had a wonderful time. As we were leaving we went around town trying to find crab meat and fresh fish and shrimp to take back with us, but unfortunately we were too early in the day, and the fishing boats had not returned yet. We did come across a too-thin, sun-browned and wrinkled man of indeterminate age with a bucket of freshly caught  Pargo he was willing to sell us. He took us to an empty but spotless outdoor warehouse where he fileted the fish while a cat with a mis-shapen mouth yowled under the table. The man smiled, obviously tenderhearted, and threw her a skin which silenced her immediately.

The trip back to Banámichi was uneventful. We stopped at a small open stall for friend Lynn to buy 5 ristras (long heavy wreaths) of red chiles. The folks running the place found it amusing that a Gringa wanted so many. Then, when I tried to buy 3 green chiles for our dinner, I could tell that the woman thought I was crazy. The man before me had bought 2 kilos. She told me, "it's only 8 pesos (about 70 cents) for a dozen!" I bought the dozen and challenged the Mexican view of Gringo mental health.

Back here in Banámichi, finally the heat has broken and the mornings are turning cool. Gracias a Dios (Thanks to God)!! The seeds are starting to come up in my garden. The invasive grass has already grown several inches since it was chopped to the ground. Gotta get that herbicide!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Cool Memories

Another year has passed and it is monsoon season again in Banámichi. So far it has rained every night we have been here, and the air is tropical with heat and moisture. The countryside is lush and even the hills and usually brown mountains lie green in the distance. This is the time of year that is pleasant to be indoors and recall the cooler months of the year.

And so it is that I find myself returning to a post that I started last March and then did not finish in the confusion of life and travel that has been my year so far. So, if the rest of this post seems out of place and time, it is. Think of it as a cooling episode in a brutal summer!

Scene at Chena Hot Springs --think cold!!
At the new moon in February we were at Chena Hot Springs near Fairbanks, Alaska. Ever since I was a child I had wanted to see the Aurora Borealis, and this trip was the culmination of that childhood dream. We happened to be there right after a major solar flare, and so the aurora was a mind -blowing experience...horizon to horizon curtains and spirals of pulsating, changing light. Wow!

Pool at Chena within cold
Hoar Frost at Chena
The outdoor temperature never went much over 15 Farenheit while we were there, a relative warm spell we were told. It was practically beach weather! So of course we had to visit the outdoor hot springs. I love the idea of sitting in warm water with the cold all around me, but this experience was a whole new dimension of hot springing..The rock lake was shrouded in white mist so thick that at times it was hard to see the hands at the end of your arms. Hoar frost covered every nearby surface. The bathing suit clad run from the locker room to the water was more than daunting...but the water - oh, the water....what a relief! It was indeed hot. It comes out of the ground at 156 Farenheit. After awhile, the water seemed so hot that I found a rock to sit on, now only waist deep in the water. This was actually quite pleasant in spite of the fact that my hair was frozen into solid little icicles!

Hot pools at Feliz Estancia

Contrast this scene with two that of two weeks later, back in Mexico, at the full moon in February at the hot springs at Feliz Estancia near Aconchi. It was 80 Farenheit and we basked in the sunny warmth of the Sonoran Desert and the lovely warm water. It seemed like a whole different lifetime in a whole different world. One was interesting to visit, the other one felt like home.

Chino Tree at Feliz Estancia
These hot springs near Banámichi were one of the initial attractions of the area for us and I still love going there. Located in a natural riparian area, the pools are surrounded by high canyon walls and there are giant Mesquite and Chino (Mexican Ebony) trees. It is a natural paradise visited by all manner of birds. Once we even saw the elusive Elegant Trogon in the canopy of the trees. Since that time I am always on the lookout for another Trogon. Seeing a flash of red in a tree, I called to Dan, "Look over your head...there is a Trogon in the tree there." But it turned out to only be a Tecate beer can that someone had parked there.

We got to talking with Ramón, one of the Ejido(work collective) folks who run the place. An ageless sort of guy, he told us he was born nearby in Aconchi and that he had been working there many years. He and the other workers keep the site spotlessly clean, emptying and scrubbing the pools once a week, and collecting a small fee from visitors.

Ramón the Caretaker
The area is also a camp site....imagine how lovely it would be to sit in one of the tubs under the stars letting the beautiful silky water erase all the aches and tensions from your body, and then snuggling into a sleeping bag to the sounds of water and nature, for a sound refreshing sleep. Ahhhh....

On the property there is a cute little house made entirely of white quartz rocks. For as long as we have been coming to the springs we have fantasized about this house and how great it would be to live there. Were the quartz rocks translucent? Did they let in the light? Was there a pale glow inside the house? Ever practical, Ramon told us that although the quartz blocks were too thick to let any light through,  we could rent the house for 200 pesos a night. What an intriguing idea...maybe in the fall when it cools off...

The house became even more special to us when we learned that our friend Gerlinde Helge, a German expat who lives in Banámichi, helped to develop the hot springs and the house. She lived alone there for a number of years while doing the spiritual clearing work that allowed her to become a talented healer. (People who visit Banámichi can arrange for treatments with her. She is one of the great resources of our pueblo.)

Her story is incredible. Many years ago, she was hitch-hiking in Mexico and was offered a ride by a man who turned out to be a tourism minister in Mexico. He asked he if she wanted a job care-taking and developing the hot springs. At a transition point in her life, and open to new challenges and experiences, she agreed. As the house and pools were built, she described how people came from all over the world to visit the springs.There were great parties and intellectual discussions far into the night in that little house.

She also described how the dry wash that runs through the site used to flow freely. Sometimes in the rainy season, there was so much water that she could not cross from the house to the pools and was effectively trapped until the water went down. That's hard to imagine, as we've never seen even a trickle of water in the wash.

Along the road on the way home
There is a rough barbed wire gate at one end of the property which mostly is closed. Although we have seen people and cars drive through the gate we never dared to go through. We heard a rumor  that there were suspicious crops being grown behind the gate and we were foolish enough to let irrational fear control us. Ramón, on the other hand,  told us that it was fine to go through. When we did, we found another swimming pool under construction, and new campsites being built. At the very end of the road there was a beautiful canyon boxed in by high cliffs. Gerlinde told us that there used to be a great waterfall back there. Of course it was dry in February. With all the rain lately, it might be flowing, but it is too uncomfortable to go there.

The heat and humidity make the thought of hanging out in hot water quite unappealing. But it is already August. The summer has gone quickly, and soon it will be cool again. Perhaps we will rent the little quartz house or even camp at Feliz Estancia. The warm water will feel great on our aging bones and the trees will again raise our spirits high in their branches, Trogons or no Trogons!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Where Has June-Elena Been?

June is a home-body, Elena is a gypsy with wanderlust in her soul. Since January I have been in the grip of Elena, traveling widely and steadily, and have not had the time or inclination to write commentaries on my beautiful Banámichi. We have not been in Banámichi much, and I have only landed at home in Tucson for a few days at a time before taking off again for parts unknown.

This has been the year of the bucket list...time to go places and see things I have longed to see for many years or in some cases, nearly a lifetime. This has coincided with lots of travel for the seva (selfless service, or volunteer work) that I offer to the SYDA Foundation, a global non-profit that disseminates, protects and preserves the work of Gurumayi Chidvilasananda, my meditation master.

On behalf of the bucket list, in February we went to Fairbanks, Alaska - an interesting time to go that far the dead of winter. I am not sure the temperature ever went much above 10 degrees Farenheit - a warm spell, we were told by the locals. This was a challenge for an old desert rat. Even taking a walk around Fairbanks was restricted by my face burning with cold. However, since I was old enough to have heard about the Aurora Borealis - I was a science buff as a child, so it was early on - I have longed to see it, and living in the Southwest desert has not afforded that opportunity. So Fairbanks in February it was.

Aurora, Chena Hot Springs, Alaska, Feb. 2012
We had one spectacular night of viewing on a hilltop near Chena Hot Springs just outside Fairbanks. There had been a massive solar flare the day before we arrived. (SomeOne was looking out for me!) The aurora stretched from horizon to horizon, shifting, swirling, curtaining,and then pulsing red and blue. It was everything I had hoped it would be and more - a magnificent example of God's handiwork splayed on the dome of the heavens. I lay on my back on the snow in the sub-zero night in awe and wonder, finally feeling complete with this desire.

Me and Dan chilling in the Grand Canyon
May saw another long time desire fulfilled as we spent 8 days rafting in the Grand Canyon. Wow! Everywhere I looked, I saw God: in the cliffs and reflections, in the shimmering heat of the afternoons, in the crushing force of the rapids and the ebony depth of the night sky. I was almost unbearably happy. We hiked up some of the side canyons, scaling cliffs and scrambling over slippery rocks, to stand at the end under the cooling force of remote waterfalls. My body told me that this was my last chance at this rugged activity in this lifetime. I think I need a new right hip now, but it was totally worth it.

In a deep pool of turquoise blue water I was swept around and around in an eddy caused by a waterfall, treading water and laughing with joy. The wildness of the place spoke to and evoked that which is wild and primitive in me. I was free, unfettered! Once again, there was that deep satisfaction and a sense of completion.

This bucket list year will continue in September with a small ship cruise in the Greek Islands. As a child I wanted to run away to sea, and later on, the lure of the Greek Islands called to me. I wish the Greek economy well for the sake of the people, and also for myself. I don't know yet what it is that is held so deeply and tightly within me about this place, but I am trusting that something wonderful will be released on that trip as well.

Sea World: Lily with Dolphin Trainer
Then there was a family trip - in March I went to San Diego to Sea World with my daughter Rebecca and my little grand daughter Lily. We dined with Shamu, petted dolphins and had lunch in La Jolla. It was a sweet bonding time with my little family, and I am looking forward to heading to San Diego again in July to avoid some of the southwestern heat this year.

My reflection with two friends in giant bean sculpture, Milennium Park, Chicago

The seva trips have been short and intense. There was Austin and Houston in January, Phoenix and Tucson in February, Denver and Boulder in April,  Albuquerque, Madison and Chicago in May. My role was to meet with the meditation centers in each city and help them find a point of sustainability into the future, created by their own members. There were so many challenges, so many opportunities for growth, and I met so many dear people - old friends and new - some of whom  I have known for several years only by their voices on the other end of a phone line. Each trip I came home exhausted, but in truth I have no complaints. Each visit was an ecstatic experience. With each trip I was reminded how much goodness and joy there is in this world, and of my immense gratitude to have it as part of  my life!

A Cultural Surprise: Mexican Ingenuity
(Photo courtesy of Tracy Williams)
In this same time frame we have been to Banámichi only 3 times, and not nearly for long enough. I have missed being here. My garden has suffered and I have not had the down time and creative time that I need to stay on an even keel. I miss the little cultural surprises that happen so frequently here. Life in Banámichi is  rich and wonderful, and it feeds my soul as much as all the travel and adventure. Still, life is short, and at my age (69,) it is getting shorter every day, and when the time does come for me to pass, I would prefer not to be held back by unfulfilled longings and desires. And....I may just make it! After this year, most of my bucket list will have been fulfilled. Sure, Elena still has the wanderlust, but it is not such a driving force any more. If I get to travel, great. If I get to stay home, great.

In either case, all is well.