Friday, October 24, 2008

Hiking the Primavera Forest

A deep canyon in the forest. A couple of months ago, my hiking group ventured into the Bosque de la Primavera (Forest of the Spring). This 100,000 acre area is 90% privately owned but federally protected. The small portion of this vast forest we saw was mostly a rolling plateau, covered by open pine and oak forest and cut by deep, sheer-walled canyons such as the one pictured above. In other areas one can find hot springs and beautiful, permanently flowing streams. The Primavera is almost as big as metropolitan Guadalajara, a city of 5 million. For all its proximity to such a large population, we saw no other people on our entire hike.

Setting off. Our hiking group was led by Robert, an American who lives in Zapopan, a suburb of Guadalajara. Unlike the Lake Chapala mountain country we usually hike, the Bosque de la Primavera had little underbrush. At least until we came to the deep canyons, the country was relatively open and park-like and fairly easy to hike.

Ferns grew in luxurious patches. The delicate leaves of ferns, some of nature's oldest forms of plant life, stretch out over the leaf covered ground.

Luminous moss shines through the leaves. The intense green of this soft bed of moss attracted my attention. It was particularly striking among the thick layer of brown leaves covering the forest floor.

Ancient wall. Dry stone walls such as this abound in the Bosque de la Primavera, as well as in the mountains around Lake Chapala. The wall was probably built by the Spanish as a boundary marker for a hacienda. The open rolling forest country can be seen in the background. Bob, the retired American veteranarian shown above, is a regular in our hiking group and a neighbor of mine.

Cliff in the forest. This photo shows a little of the rugged nature of the Bosque de la Primavera. The rolling plateau is cut by deep wooded canyons with sheer walls.

Down into the canyon. As I hiked along the rim of a canyon, I took this photo down the hill to demonstrate the steepness of the thickly wooded canyon sides, covered with oaks and flowers.

Morning Glory peeps from among the rocks. This flower was the only one I was able to immediately identify. Morning Glories are prevalent throughout this part of Mexico, and were used by the pre-hispanic Indios for a variety of purposes. The shadier the area, the more intense the color, and the ones in this area were almost lumimous.

Anyone want a nibble? We found this unusual mushroom on the floor of the forest. About the size of a grapefruit, its weird angles and bulges seemed almost alien.

Starburst inside a painted yellow shell. I was intrigued by the structure and markings of this unusual flower. The crescent moons on the inside looked as if they had been painted there.

Outside of the yellow flower with the starburst center.

An explosion of red. This red spiky flower appeared to explode in all directions. These flowers liked the steep walls of the canyon.

Blue intensity. We found these Day Flowers, officially Commelina Coelestis, everywhere, but particularly along streambeds. Apparently the local bugs had been nibbling on the top one.

Furled flower. This flower furled itself up in the deep shade of the canyon. When, for brief periods, sunlight reached it, the unfurling began.

A branch in the trail. Streambeds of two canyons merged, creating a choice of directions. The powerful force of the water can be seen here. This would not be the place to be standing in a flashflood. But the day was clear and dry, so we felt relatively safe.

End of the line for the rhinoceros beetles. We found the floor of the canyon thick with rhinoceros beetles, a relative of scarab beetles. These were dead or dying in a life process that appeared to be affecting all the beetles simultaneously. Often the beetles had dug a little circle of sand around themselves as they struggled in their death throes. Rhinoceros beetles are widespread around the world and are eaten as food and even kept as pets in some countries. They are the strongest animals for their size on earth, capable of lifting 850 times their own weight. An equivalent human being would be able to lift 65 tons.

Flora or fauna? What at first appeared to be a large red insect creeping down the face of the rock turned out to be a flower.

Tasty or deadly? We encountered a wide variety of mushrooms on the forest floor. One of our party claimed to be able to recognize which mushrooms were edible, but I was not eager to test the validity of his knowledge.

Always one more turn in the trail. Norm and Larry, a pair of Canadians who live full time in the Lake Chapala area, round a bend in canyon trail. We never knew what we'd find along the sandy path of the dry streambed. The atmosphere in the deep canyons was ethereal. We felt a strong temptation to keep going on and on, but time ran out.

A fallen moss covered tree slowly decomposes on the floor of the canyon. In nature, everything is always in the process of becoming something else. Here, moss thrives on the tree as insects use it for food and a home. Birds and other animals feast on the insects in turn.

Tiny waterfall trickles out of the cliff face. The stream disappeared into the sandy bed of the canyon floor a few feet from the foot of the waterfall. Vignettes such as these always attract the photographer in me. I liked the water-carved texture of the rock, and the quiet pool back in the tiny cliff face crevice, and the delicate green leaves of the plants contrasting with the grays and tans of the rock. Only the sounds of dripping water and wind rustling leaves overhead disturbed the quiet. I wondered at finding such peace only a few miles from a city of many millions.

Heading out. Jerry, one of our hiking party, heads up the canyon floor toward the long trail up to the plateau. Jerry lives part-time in North Carolina and part-time in Riberas, a community on Lake Chapala's north shore. In the background you can see the sheer face of the cliffs surrounding the narrow canyon.

This completes my posting on the Bosque de la Primavera. Next week, I'll be posting some photos of Zapopan, the neighborhood of Robert, our hiking leader to the Primavera.

Hasta luego!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Independencia Part 3 - Globos & Rebozos

And now for something completely different... The Globos Fiesta was one of the most unusual, hilarious, and sometimes hair-raising events I attended during Independencia week. I haven't been able to trace the early history of this event, except that it originated with local people making relatively small paper globos, or balloons, many years ago. Then, more recently, local artists started creating larger, more elaborate globos financed in part by local businessmen. It took off, literally, from there.

Cheerful crowd gathers for spectacular launches--and disasters--at Globo Fiesta. The globos were launched from the local futbol field (soccer to you folks from the US). Admission was free. The stands were packed, and the suds were flowing, as you can see from the giant inflatable Corona bottle. As usual in Mexico, informality reigned. Members of the crowd who couldn't find a seat, or (like me) wanted a closer view, wandered among the crews setting up their colorful creations.

Setting up the globo. Even a small globo takes about a half a dozen crew to launch. Big ones require not only a bigger crew, but some way to handle the tall globo as it inflates, hence the scaffold.

Scaffolding shows size of some globos. Some of them are huge, this one is mid-sized, but still required a three-level scaffold for successful inflation and launch. At this point, the equivalent of a large sterno can has been lit and the heat has inflated the balloon almost fully. The sterno cans are suspended in a wire framework inside the nozzle at the open base of the globo. Great care must be taken at this stage to avoid igniting the fragile paper sides of the globo.

And there she goes! With bated breath, crew and onlookers watch as the globo rises. They are watching for any tell-tale smoke which might indicate that the globo is catching fire from within. If the globo manages to rise a couple of hundred feet, it will probably make it. Some globos I saw burned up on the ground or after rising only a couple of feet, to the consternation and dismay of the crew.

A brass band helps keep the excitement up. The crowd was a mix of Gringos and local Mexicans, and both groups seemed to thoroughly enjoy the spectacle. The brass band, made up of local men and boys and not always entirely on key, gave a lusty performance. Their music blared at somewhat irregular intervals, sometimes competing with announcements from the microphone. It was all part of the offbeat, humorous atmosphere.

A flaming end to a dream. Sometimes, despite careful design, hard work, meticulous procedures, and the lusty cheers of the crowd at the launch, a globo plummeted to earth in a shower of flaming debris. Perhaps a third or more of the globos suffered this fate, drawing groans from the crowd in sympathy for the hapless crew on the ground. A fire marshal's nightmare, the flaming debris landed indiscriminately, sometimes in an empty field, and sometimes on power lines, or a roof, or the busy highway leading through town. It was all part of the fun. As I watched the launches, it appeared to me that the fatter and rounder globos fared better, while the taller cylindrical designs seemed to oscillate more, exposing the paper interiors to flames from the blazing cans suspended within the nozzles.

Up, up and away! When successful, the multicolored globos drifted majestically away against white clouds vivid blue skies. The crowd cheered the spectacle and to show appreciation for the hard work of the successful globo crew. As long as the hot air lasted, the globs kept rising and drifting, eventually disappearing from view and landing who knows where.

Rebozo Fashion Show celebrates a simple garment.

The serenity of a winner. One of the prize winners of the Rebozo Fashion Show serenely gazes over the crowd gathered around the kiosco in the center of the Ajijic Plaza. The show is a traditional element of Ajijic's Independencia Fiesta. Like much of Mexican culture, the rebozo has a mix of pre-hispanic Indio and Spanish elements, and dates back many centuries. The Indios, both men and women, already wore shawls made of maguey and henequen fibres when the Spanish arrived and introduced wool, silk, and other fibres for weaving. The Spanish insisted that women cover their heads while engaged in Catholic religious activity and from that the rebozo gained its name, based on the Spanish word rebozar: to cover up.

The red, white, and green fiesta banners in the Mexican national colors can been seen in the photo's background, and behind them the green volcanic mountains of Ajijic rise abruptly behind the town to heights of as much as 8,000 feet

Abuelas wait their turn. Abuela is Spanish for grandmother, and is a term of great affection and respect in the extended Mexican family. While waiting for the rebozo fashion parade, these abuelas chatted among themselves and granted photographic rights as if from royalty. Many of them wear white embroidered dresses to set off their colorful rebozos.

A young madonna. When I asked to photograph these two, they both agreed, but their responses to the camera couldn't have been more different. While her friend hovers a little shyly in the background, the bold young girl in front gazed at me levelly with easy assurance and a slight smile, reminiscent of DaVinci's model.

Wings surround an angel. One of the prize-winners of the show, this woman wears two rebozos, the pink one as a sash, and the white one as a wrap. When she spread her arms, she gave the impression of a lovely multi-colored swan. Her tiny daughter also participated in the show, with her golden rebozo criss-crossed as a sort of vest.

Rebozos on parade. The fashion show gets under way as local women demonstrate the wide variety of styles and colors of the beautiful but highly useful rebozo. The long rectangular garment is used as a wrap against the evening chill, a carrying device for packages and babies, a head covering, a fashion accessory, and who knows what else.

Showing off her handiwork. An abuela spreads her rebozo for the audience to see as she leads the rebozo fashion parade around the Ajijic plaza. Her creation obviously took a lot of work. While in this photo she expresses a grave pride typical of women her age in pubic situations, in more intimate settings among her family and friends, she smiled cheerfully.

A smile for all comers. I was utterly charmed by the beautiful smile of this local woman walking in the rebozo fashion parade. She could have strolled right out of the 19th Century with her clay pot and her hand-woven rebozo. The checked apron she wears over her pink dress is typical for the older Mexican country women one finds on the streets and in the stores of Ajijic and other small towns. Young women more typically wear skin tight designer blue jeans and tank tops and are rarely seen wearing a rebozo.

And the band played on... Mexicans love music and especially their mariachis. These two violinists were part of the band providing the musical background for the fashion parade. Like the charros, mariachis as we know them today were born in Jalisco State in the 19th Century. But, again like the charros, mariachi roots go back many centuries. Linguists think the term "mariachi" may refer to the wooden platforms that pre-hispanic musicians and dancers used for their performances. Originally, mariachi was the music of country people and was somewhat disdained by the classically oriented upper-classes. In 1934, Mexican President Lazaro Cardenas brought one of the pre-eminent mariachi groups to play in Mexico City as part of his program to help support native culture. They were a hit and the music rapidly spread from Jalisco throughout Mexico and became one of Mexico's national symbols.

This completes my series on the Independencia fiestas. There are more fiestas coming up soon, but in my next posting I will take you on a hike in the beautiful Bosque Primavera (Primavera Forest) located just west of Guadalajara.

Hasta luego! Jim

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Independencia Part 2 - Charreada!

The moment of truth. A charro, lariat at the ready, pursues a galloping horse around the ring at Ajijic's Charreada. A charreada is the Mexican equivalent of what US and Canadian residents might think of as a rodeo. The charros, and the charreada, originated in Salamanca, Spain in the and took root in Jalisco State in the 1500s, before becoming popular all over Mexico. Jalisco has many ranches on which young men (and some women) work cattle and horses, honing skills displayed at the charreadas. For more detailed information on charros and the charreada, click here.

Each year, during the week-long celebration of the Independencia Fiesta, Ajijic's charros hold their Charreada and invite other charros from Jalisco and elsewhere to compete. I was fascinated by the similarities and differences between charreadas and the rodeos I had seen around Oregon, another place full of skillful young horsemen (and horsewomen).

Charros on parade. The Ajijic Charreada begins with a parade of charros from different groups from Jalisco State and elsewhere. The charros wear beautifully stitched and ornamented outfits and I was a little surprised that they would risk them in the always muddy and sometimes dangerous events. The outfits did provide a lot of class to the Charreada, however.

The events take place in an arena that looks a little like an old fashioned keyhole. The keyhole consists of a long rectangular chute about 20 yards wide by 75 yards long, which opens out into a circular ring about 75 yards across. Many of the events begin at the far end of the chute and end up in the middle of the ring. The spectators sit in stands that surround the ring, or lean over the walls of the chute on either side. The Charreada was very informal and I was able to wander freely with my camera where ever I wished.

Showing off.  A charro rides around the ring showing off his beautiful horse and riding skills. Curious about the unusual shawl he had draped over the neck of his horse, I tracked him down when he left the ring.

Looks like a lot of work. When I finally got up close, I realized that the shawl was actually an intricate weaving of the silvery mane of his horse. It must have taken hours, but was certainly eye-catching.  Oddly, the rider himself was not particularly dressed up.  He must have exhausted his sartorial creativity on his horse.

Lariat practice.  Numerous events featured fancy work with the lariat. This charro practiced his moves prior to using it for real to capture a fast galloping horse. In one popular event, a charro stands in the ring performing rope tricks, seeming to ignore his fellow charros as they chase a horse around and around the ring behind him. At the correct split second, and without looking, the charro whips the rope behind him to lasso the leg of the fast moving horse. Astonishing!

Charros do everything from the saddle. Without dismounting, a charro accepts congratulations from his friends on his performance in an event.

Dancing with horses. Between formal events, the charros like to show off a little. This one danced his horse across the ring to demonstrate his control over his mount. By lightly slapping the horse on the rump, the charro signaled his horse stop and rear up for the crowd.

Four Sombreros on a sunny day. These stylish charros bellied up to the ring's safety wall to catch the action at close range. A few moments later, as you will see in the next picture, their dignity was put to the test.

Bull in a pedestrian chute. Sometimes the charreada animals got back a little of their own, much to the delight of the crowd and the discomfiture of the charros. This young bull, apparently tired of being chased around the ring, suddenly leaped the safety barrier which runs around the inside of the ring just in front of the stands. This is an area where charros and some spectators gather for a close up view of the action. The bull charged down the narrow passage, causing all in his path to leap out of the slot like hot popcorn out of a pan. Finally, with much waving of broad sombreros and other encouragement, the bull trotted through the open gate and back into the ring. He was not further molested while he took a victory lap and strolled out the exit ramp. Score one for the bull.

Skid marks are the point of this event. The rider begins at the far end of the chute and gallops full tilt toward the broad ring at the end. When the horse enters a certain area, the rider brings it to a sliding stop, with the horse literally sitting on its hind legs and leaving long parallel skid marks in the dirt. The length of the skid marks (the longer the better) and whether they stay within a certain area from side to side determine the score. My photographer friend Jay and I were somewhat mystified by this event until Jay (who speaks excellent Spanish) questioned a nearby charro. This dignified and resplendently-dressed gentlemen was very happy to explain the intricacies to the two puzzled Gringos.

A bronco bucks to unseat its rider. The charro holds on for dear life as the furious horse attempts to rid itself of its unsought burden. Unlike some US rodeos I have seen, the charro has no saddle. The only thing he can hold onto is a rope around the horse's chest. Another charro races up to help in case the bronco rider gets into trouble.

And they're off! The bull launches himself down the chute with the charro in hot pursuit. The charro must quickly reach down and grasp the bull's tail. A miss on this will cost him many points in the event. Part of the scoring is for how quickly the charro can accomplish this ticklish business. The bull, obviously, is not interested in cooperating.

The push off. The charro, after successfully grasping the bull's tail, winds it around his leg and uses the leg to push against the bull's hind quarters as the huge animal thunders down the chute. This push helps tip the bull's balance and sets up for the next step. You can see how fiercely the charro concentrates on this split second effort.

The critical moment. With the bull's tail still wound around his leg, the charro steers his well-trained and fast galloping mount off to the side, pulling the bull off balance. The artfulness and dexterity of this maneuver are part of the scoring of the event, along with how short a distance it takes and how (and whether) the bull falls.

Down goes el toro! The young bull tumbled over a couple of times, and then clambered up and trotted off to the exit chute, apparently none the worse from his experience. I suppose there are some in the animal rights community who might find this sport offensive. However, unlike formal bull fights where the animal is nearly always killed after considerable torture, the only thing injured in the bull toss appears to be the bull's dignity.

Picture of the future. Charros and the charreada are an important part of Mexican culture, especially here in Jalisco, their birthplace. This young boy, practicing his rope skills on the wall of the ring, symbolized to me the future of the colorful charreada. Even at his young age, his skills were impressive. Many children take part in the events, if only as tots perching atop mounts many times their size. If children truly are the future, then the future of charros and the charreada is secure.

My last posting on the Independencia fiesta will focus on the Globos Fiesta and the Rebozo Fashion Show. Both were full of color and drama, but in a different way from the Charreada. Please feel free to post a comment (see below) or email me directly with any thoughts. I love hearing from people who have enjoyed these postings.

Hasta luego! Jim