Thursday, November 19, 2009

Corn Harvest Fiesta at Raul's farm

Evangelina brandishes roasted corn ear at Raul's Corn Harvest Fiesta. Evangelina is a regular hiker and is married to Chuck, who leads the Friday hiking group. Last summer we met a local Mexican farmer named Raul during one of our several explorations of the wonderful cascadas (waterfalls) of Barranca Yerba Buena. He put aside his farm work and led us on a spectacular hike to the Inner Gorge falls. After that hike, Raul invited us to return in the Fall for a fiesta when he would harvest his corn crop. On the Corn Harvest Fiesta adventure, I was pretty busy and didn't have a lot of time to take photos, so many of what follow were taken by others. I have tried to give credit to the photographers, but if I missed any credits due, or mis-credited any shots, I apologize in advance. The photo above was by Chuck Boyd.

View of the south side Mt. Garcia looking west. Raul's farm sits high on a plateau overlooking a lush valley on the south side of the mountains which line the south shore of Lake Chapala. In late September, hikers from both the Tuesday and the Friday hiking groups took him up on his fiesta invitation. Many of the Tuesday regulars had been to the Barranca at one time or another, but this was the first time for most of the Friday group. We decided to combine the fiesta with hike up to the cascadas so the Friday folks could get a taste of this beautiful canyon. It fell to me to organize the outing, but I could never have done it without Chuck, who recuited several hikers with 4-wheel-drive vehicles, and Patricia, a Mexican hiker who was our liaison with Raul and his wife Germina, neither of whom speak English.

Mr. Hospitality, Raul serves up some roasted corn ears to the arriving hikers. Raul, seen above with the big grin and the straw hat, had been busy helping Germina prepare some roasted corn so the arriving hikers could whet their appetites before the hike. There was so much interest in this event that we ended up cramming 22 hikers into 5 4x4s for the 90 minute drive around behind the mountains lining the south side of the Lake. The road to Raul's farm begins just below the little town of Citala which is just east of Chamecuero on the map in this link. I was a little concerned about losing anyone from this rather large group, so I cautioned everyone against dawdling or wandering off down enticing side trails. With so many people, hiking at different speeds, and strung out over a large stretch of trail, it would have been easy to come up short a hiker or two when we got back to Raul's farm. In the event, my anxiety was unfounded, and everyone made it just fine.

Germina proudly shows off her bean crop. Germina took the lead to guide us through the farm to the main trail. Along the way, she was happy to field questions about her crop, obviously proud of the bountiful result of Raul and her hard work. The couple owns or maintains several substantial fields of beans and corn on the plateau overlooking the small town of Citala. In some of the fields, the two crops are planted together. The corn stalks form an ideal pole for the bean plant to climb, and the beans fix nitrogen into the soil for the nitrogen-hungry corn. This is a method of planting that long pre-dates the arrival of the Spanish in Mexico.

Scarecrows, Mexican-style. On the way through the fields, we noticed human sillouettes painted in white on flat rocks propped up against the dry stone walls. I suspected these might be scarecrows, and Raul confirmed it with his usual good-natured grin.

Bluffs line the south side of the valley, and above these bluffs lies yet another plateau. We had to drive up a steep, rugged, and unpaved farm road onto a broad plateau to get to Raul's farm. Once on the plateau, we found a line of deep green bluffs running east to west. The Inner Gorge of the Barranca cuts due south into these bluffs, before ending in a deep box canyon, into which drop the magnificent cascadas. On the plateau above the box canyon lies more farm land and a large reservoir, the source of the year-round water which flows over the falls, down the Barranca, and finally into the valley at the foot of the south side Mt. Garcia.

View of the valley below Mt. Garcia, looking due west. In the distance are the blue escarpments of the Tapalpa plateau. We couldn't have asked for better weather, just enough clouds to keep things cool, but interspersed with blue sky and warm sunshine. Photo above by Chuck Boyd.

Friend or foe? As we neared the trailhead into the canyon, we encountered a horse. He seemed amazed at this large group of odd-looking Gringos, and was frozen in indecision over whether to approach us or flee. We were probably more people than he had seen at one time in his life. Having grown up in and spent most of my life in a highly urbanized environment, I love these close encounters with the animals of Mexico.

A flash of gold, then a beautiful pose. Mexico is full of a large variety of beautiful mariposas (butterflies). My friend and fellow hiker Christopher took this shot. Amazingly, the mariposa remained motionless for a very long time, allowing Christopher to capture this great shot. Photo by C. Jordan English.

Evangelina enters the jungle. In late September, we still get a fair amount of rain, and the forest undergrowth had become almost impassable, except on well-defined trails. This was where I was sure we'd lose some hikers. A step or two up the trail and the person in front or in back disappears. A wrong turn could have split our party into two or more groups floundering about in this jungle. Fortunately, we had enough experienced hikers to keep things moving in the right direction. Photo by Chuck Boyd.

The green maze contained many unusual plants. These large leaves contained graceful sworls that caught the eye of the photographer. Photo by Chuck Boyd.

An iridescent insect explores a twig. Christopher is especially interested in insects, and will often lag far behind his hiking party to catch a shot of a particularly interesting bug. He has lately been providing me with a substantial collection of his insect photos, some of them truly beautiful, and I will do a special blog posting some time in the future to showcase them. Photo by C. Jordan English.

Rust-orange flowers grace the trailside. I haven't identified these pretty little flowers, so any help would be appreciated. In our area, Spring is the hot, dry, brown season, with few wildflowers. October is when our wildflowers explode all over the mountains.

Evangelina at the cave. There are several caves in and around the Barranca. In this one we found a live bat, which flew out as soon as someone entered. We also found several old pop bottles, indicating that the local people used the cave upon occasion. I have no doubt this cave has seen many occupants over several thousand years. Photo by Chuck Boyd.

At last, the cascada shimmers in the distance. We could hear the falls long before we could see them. Finally, we began to catch glimpses of them through the heavy growth. Here you can only see the top 20 feet or so of the 150+ feet of the upper falls. The dark objects on the lower right are large seed pods hanging from tree branches.

The cascadas drop vertically to a deep pool in the box canyon. Once again, this shot only captures the middle section of the falls. Because of the undergrowth, the narrowness of the canyon, and the precarious ledges closer to the falls, it was difficult to get one shot of the whole cascada. We have yet to find a way down into the base of this box canyon. Raul told us there is a way, but it is very steep and dangerous without ropes. Lacking equipment, we decided to put that adventure off to a future hike.

Caroline braves the cliff edge for a photo. Caroline is one of the more adventurous of the hikers. Here she peers over the cliff edge down a vertical 150+ feet to the brown water of the box canyon's bottom. Many of the hikers, both men and women, shied from appoaching this rather intimidating drop-off. Obviously vertigo is not one of Caroline's phobias. The cascada spouts from the canyon's rim about 30 feet to Caroline's left. The flat rock she is lying upon is quite large, and easily accomodated all 22 hikers plus Raul and Germina. After a rest, we regrouped for the hike back to our fiesta feast.

Anne and Jim meet a friend. As we entered the farm road leading back to Raul's place, we encountered this little fellow. He may well be the same burro we made friends with some months ago, when one of our hiking party mesmerized a similar burro with celery and peanut butter treats. As before, the burro was wearing a rustic saddle and bridle, but the owner was nowhere to be found. The animal was extraordinarily friendly and seemed to crave pets and attention. We obliged, as did numerous others of our party.

Mexican farmers make good use of local materials at hand. Raul separates his fields with loose stone walls, punctuated by "Mexican fencepost" cactus. This allows him to protect his crops from hungry horses, cattle, and burros, but also provides some place to pile up the incredible number of stones these field produce. It often seemed there were more rocks than dirt. When I first hiked the area last Spring, the fields were fallow and I assumed they were good only for pasture. Then, during the summer and Fall, I realized that the farmers not only planted these fields, but harvested large crops from them. How they manage to plow is still a mystery to me.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch... Raul and Germina chatted with Sally (on left) as the Corn Harvest Fiesta got fully under way back at their rustic farm casita. They used large stones from the fields to build up walls on three sides. Tree trunks formed the supporting posts and straight branches acted as cross braces for the old-fashioned clay-tile roof. The whole thing was held together by twine. Sections of logs formed seats, and a flat rusty piece of iron over large rocks formed a cooking stove. They actually live in town, but can use this primative but homey place when they are working on their fields. I imagine that campesinos have used structures like this from at least Spanish colonial times.

A final note: at first I was blown away by the easy-going generosity of Raul and Germina. They were two of the nicest people I have encountered in Mexico. However, as I have explored deeper into Mexico's back country, I have met with similar hospitality everywhere. Mexico, for all its problems, is a fabulous country full of warm and friendly people.

I hope you enjoyed Raul and Germina's Corn Fiesta Harvest as much as all we hikers did. Comments are welcome and encouraged. You can either used the comments section at the end of this post, or send me an email directly. If you use the comments section for a question, please put in your email so I can answer you.

Hasta luego! Jim

3 comments:

  1. Dear Jim and Carole.

    Impresive work!! Very well structured and your cultural level, beautifull pictures.

    Thanks for such a great job.

    MEB

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  2. Hello Jim.
    My name is Alvaro. It's funny because I'm actually Raul's brother. I'm currently living in Perris CA.
    Thank you for your pictures and
    comments about my brother and his wife. This is very amazing and outstanding work. It's sad because I can't show you all the beautiful things that this place offers to tourist like you. Once again, thanks alot. I would appreciate it if you would email me back at aperez@galassos.com

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  3. Hey is very funny to find Raul in this site, he is a very cool guy , he used to work with my dad when i was little, like 20 yeas ago. Very nice pictures
    Thanks for mention and show Citala in your webside!! Juan Aceves

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If your comment involves a question, please leave your email address so I can answer you. Thanks, Jim