Thursday, May 28, 2009

Queretaro: Part 2 - Street art and street life

Young sprite plays a water harp.  The streets and byways of Queretaro's El Centro are filled with lively and artistic touches. The sculptor who created the figure above used narrow streams of water to represent the harp strings. Only one stream can be seen in the picture, possibly due to low water pressure or clogged exit holes. Even so, it was an arresting creation, and stopped me in my tracks for a few moments before I thought to take a picture. We encountered numerous similarly unusual creations, a well as living vignettes which I tried to capture with my camera while we wandered around El Centro.

Jardin Zenea, one of many plazas in Queretaro, is the the city's main plaza.  The Franciscan order of monks were a powerful force in Queretaro and their convent was huge, and included this plaza as part of its atrium. The current plaza was founded in 1874 and named after Benito Santos Zenea, the Governor of Queretaro at that time. The Jardin Zenea forms a cool and quiet oasis surrounded by busy city traffic. 

Balloon seller, Jardin Zenea. A bored balloon seller watches a couple of potential customers walk by. The mother seems intent on hustling her young daughter past temptation. You can see the intricate wrought-iron work on the plaza kiosco in the background.

Ornate fountain in Jardin Zenea contains a statue of the Greek goddess Hebe. Although strictly for decorative purposes now, fountains were vital sources of clean drinking and cooking water in past centuries. Some fountains were specially designated for the watering of livestock. The construction of the aqueduct featured in Part 1 of this series enabled fountains throughout the El Centro area. I love spending time on a bench next to a fountain like this. Something about the cool, cascading water brings feelings of relaxation and peace. It's great for people watching too.

Sidewalk restaurant at Jardin de la Corregidora. The numerous plazas throughout El Centro contained many sidewalk restaurants like this one across from a statue dedicated to La Corregidora, heroine of the War of Independence (see Part 1). The green awnings provided cool shade, and also protected patrons from the periodic short downpours of rain we encountered on our visit. Residents of this cosmopolitan city seem to love the "cafe society" these sidewalk restaurants provide. 

Young violinist outside Meson de Chucho El Roto. This young musician played for tips just outside the small railing that separates the Restaurant Meson de Chucho El Roto from the rest of  the plaza. Several of the expatriates we met bemoaned the supposed low quality of restaurants in Queretaro. Of course, one of the critics was from New York City, and the other was a gourmet chef, so perhaps that explains their higher standards. Carole and I found the food in most to be excellent, if a little pricier than what we find in the Lake Chapala area. 

Queretaro is a bustling modern city. El Centro contains buildings which are still in use although they date back almost 500 years. Here, you are looking down Madero street, facing the dome of Templo San Francisco and the Regional Museum.

Shelley, gourmet chef extraordinaire. Shelley owns the Home B&B where we stayed while in Queretaro. Shelley originally hails from Canada, but has worked in several countries and has served gourmet meals to the beautiful people of Los Angeles. Shelley finally settled in Queretaro as an hotelier. She seems to much prefer the company of ordinary people to that of the stars and has a bubbly, earthy personality. We liked her a lot, and asked her to accompany us on a day-long outing to a couple of very special villages. She was glad to oblige and turned out to be an excellent tour guide. And her breakfasts at Home B&B left me with mouth-watering memories! 

A man of several worlds. Frank, shown here at one of his favorite sidewalk coffee places at the Plaza de Armas, is a widely traveled journalist. He freelances as a TV producer after spending nine years working for CBS 60 Minutes. His goal is to spend as much time as possible in Queretaro with his English girlfriend, but his work still requires regular trips to New York. Frank posts to a blog called Burro Hall, where I discovered him. His blog information indicated that he lived in Queretaro, so we decided to look him up on our visit.  Frank writes with an insightful and scathingly satirical style, to which I was immediately attracted. He turned out to be much younger than I expected, and very easy going. Prior to our arrival, Frank had invited us to a birthday party for a Mexican friend. Carole was too tired to go, but I attended and it was a hoot. It turned out he was an old friend of Shelley, who had invited me to the same party. The expat community is small in Queretaro, and people tend to know one another and to graciously take in random strangers like me.

Getting the latest. News stands are standard features of the portales surrounding a plaza. They work well with the great little coffee places which serve delicious but "knock-your-socks-off" coffee. Here a random group of pedestrians pauses to catch up on the headlines from a sampling of the myriad of papers published in Mexico.

Studio Billy Tatuajes. Internet cafes abound in Queretaro as they do in the rest of Mexico. Even small towns usually contain an internet cafe or two. They are quite inexpensive (about 35 cents US for 1/2 hour in some places I have used). Mexico is becoming quite a "wired" society in many ways. At the location above, a tatuaje (tattoo) shop provides internet service as  a sideline. One stop shopping, as it were.

The magic flute? I found this statue at an intersection of a callejon (alley) between Calle Corregidora and Calle Pasteur. Oddly, there was no flute. Like that of the harpist at the beginning of this post, the figure is very realistic, lovely and somewhat quirky. Although he looks alone, he is actually closely surrounded by trinket sellers and strollers who are outside of the frame of the picture. 

Plazas have many uses.  As businessmen hurry by, and lovers pass at a more leisurely pace, a lone artist is absorbed in his work in the middle of this plaza. There are countless artists in Mexico and the society seems to deeply appreciate their work. Beautifully created sculptures, paintings, wall murals, and folk art are on display everywhere.

The nobleman who built the aqueduct may have been a dog lover. This playful dog is one of four adorning the corners of the statue of the Don Juan Antonio de Urrutia y Arana, builder of the aqueduct (see Part 1). They were somewhat odd additions to the statue. The only conclusion I could draw was that he was a dog lover. Since they are a part of the fountain, I suppose I should be glad the water is coming from their mouths rather than from between their lifted legs.

Reclining nude graces the center of the Jardin del Arte. We discovered the Jardin (garden) del Arte while randomly wandering in the El Centro. That day, the Jardin courtyard was being used by crafts people to sell their wares. The reclining nude is actually part of a fountain as you can see from the wet pavement around her.

Templo de Congregation. The Church of the Congregation is located on a narrow corner just down the street from Home B&B on the way to the Jardin de Armas. Twilight was enveloping the area, as you can see by the lights just lit in the food-sellers cart in the foreground. However, this was not just the close of the day, but the beginning of the evening. A little further down the street, I encountered a large crowd surrounding a group of jugglers, mimes, and stilt walkers. Down an alley at the next plaza, I came across a full orchestra playing beautiful classical music from the kiosco of the Jardin Zenea while a number of older Mexican couples waltzed. I was enchanted and wanted to linger, but I had to get back. Next time...

This concludes Part 2 of my series on our visit to Queretaro. In my next post, I will show two museums, one for history and the other for art. The buildings are stunningly beautiful works of art themselves and are part of Queretaro's long colonial history as well as storehouses for interesting and beautiful objects.

Hasta luego, Jim

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Queretaro: Part 1- Beautiful city, splendid history

Queretaro's aqueduct and skyline from the the Mausoleum of the Corregidora. Carole and I spent four days in Queretaro in the middle of May. The name is pronounced "car-ay-taro", with the accent in the middle and a rolling "r" at the end.  Friends had told us that the city has way too much to see in one trip, and we found that assessment true. One of the highlights is the still-functioning 18th Century aqueduct seen above. More on that later.

Queretaro's attraction is not just its wonderful historical El Centro. Many of the old colonial cities have this. The difference is in the economic dynamism and modernity, often juxtaposed with Indian or colonial antiquity. Both the city and the state are called Queretaro, and the population is among the wealthiest, most productive, and fastest growing in Mexico. The population is well educated with a high proportion of middle class and professional people. About 1.6 million people live in the state, with about half of them residing in the city. The state is one of Mexico's smallest in geographic area, and much of it, particularly in the north, is mountainous and remote. 

The City of Queretaro's location, about 160 miles northwest of Mexico City, places it on the route to the silver mines in the north and the old Pacific port cities which were gateways to the wealth of the Orient. This means that the city has been a crossroad for centuries and major historical events have transpired here because of that fact.  Father Junipero Serra launched his expedition from Queretaro to found a string of missions in California which ultimately became great cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco.

El Cerrito Pyramid lies just west of Queretaro in the small town of Pueblito. People settled in the area at least 2000 years ago because of the arable land and the proximity to the river, which they dammed and used to irrigate their crops. The Pyramid, about the size of the Pyramid of the Moon in Teotihuacan, was built around 1000 AD. After the culture which built it declined, the structure was left to disintegrate from the climate and vandals for another 1000 years. It was not until 1995 that the Mexican government began efforts to protect and restore it.  Unfortunately, Carole and I visited the site on a Monday when it was  closed.  All I could get were a few shots from behind a chain-link fence. It looks very intriguing and will be worth another visit.
A ruined church perches atop the pagan pyramid. The Spanish realized very early that to dominate this vast country, they had to utilize not only military but cultural imperialism. Since the Catholic Church provided the ideological justification for the Conquest (naked greed wasn't quite enough), the conquistadors began to plant churches on top of the temples and pyramids they looted and destroyed. Nothing could more graphically demonstrate to the native population who was on top now. This led to an absurd situation in areas sacred to the Indians where there were multiple temples resulting in more churches than there were people to fill them. The poignant result in El Cerrito is a ruin atop an older ruin. 

The people the Spanish found around Queretaro were not the sophisticated temple builders. El Cerrito had  been abandoned for some time when the Spanish arrived. Many of those in the area were hunter-gatherers generally known to the Spanish as Chichimeca, a catch-all name for numerous tribes including the Otomi. Ironically, the Chichimeca often proved much fiercer and harder to subdue than the technologically more advanced city -dwellers. It was not until the very late 19th Century that these more "primitive" people were finally subjugated. What particularly annoyed the Spanish was the Chichimeca taste for raiding the silver caravans which passed through the chain of silver-mining cities from Zacatecas in the north to Guanajuato, to San Miguel Allende, and into Queretaro on their way to Mexico City. 

Mexico has long had an ambivalent attitude toward its Indian heritage. This statue, located in a foot-traffic-only area between two plazas, celebrates the strength and beauty of a native dancer from the period of the Conquest. Mexico has made efforts, particularly since the Revolution of 1910, to encourage and support tribal cultures and folk arts. Still, huge numbers of Mexico's First People languish in extreme poverty. Mexico is not alone in this, however. Similar poverty exists among much of the Native American population in the US. 

Looking into a grim future for his people. The founding of Queretaro was a joint effort by Spanish conquistador Hernan Perez Bocanegra y Cordoba and the Otomi Indian chief Conin. The Otomi were allied with the Spanish against the Purepecha Indians, who had historically dominated the Otomi. Conin, remarkably, became the first governor of the area under Spanish rule. Queretaro has honored Conin with a huge statue at the eastern approach to the city. 

Queretaro got its name either from the Otomi word for "place of the ball game", or the Purepecha word meaning "place of the great city", which might refer to the El Cerrito ruins. The full Spanish name is Santiago de Queretaro, in honor of St. James. Legend has it that at one point the Spanish and the Indians decided  to settle their differences in an unarmed, but nonetheless fierce, "battle without weapons". St. James appeared with a fiery cross just as the Spanish were on  the verge of defeat. The Indians conceded at the sight of this apparition, and agreed  to adopt Christianity. 

Traditional Otomi dress was warm, functional, and beautiful. While the cotton of the white pants and shirt was native to the Americas, the wool of the tunic and the serape was introduced by the Spanish. Many of the Otomi continue to be skillful weavers of beautiful textiles. The Spanish made good use of these and other Indian talents, having a different viewpoint of Indians than their colonial English counterparts to the north. As brutal and destructive as the Spanish often were, they saw the Indians as a valuable labor force. The English, and later American, settlers had solved their perceived need for forced labor with imported black slaves. They viewed Indians as an obstacle to be exterminated or, at best, forced into concentration camps known as "reservations". The saying of the time was "the only good Indian is a dead one". 

Otomi dancers were richly adorned. This mannequin in the Regional Museum wears some fine examples of Otomi weaving and embroidery. The hand clutches a staff topped with a metal rattles used as a musical instrument. 

Early Spanish map of Queretaro in the Regional Museum. The city is bounded by a river on the left and high bluffs on the right. Those bluffs are now lined with growing clusters of condominiums and hotels. Most of the structures shown above still exist within the area known as El Centro. In the US, cities seem to demolish and rebuild themselves every 10 minutes or so, very often with unfortunate results, in my opinion. By contrast, Mexico has carefully preserved its colonial architectural heritage while still allowing the structures to be used for modern purposes. As a result, Queretaro is one of UNESCOs World Heritage sites, one of many in Mexico. 

Water for love, the legend of Queretaro's aqueduct. Like so many other aspects of Queretaro, the aqueduct has its own romantic legend. The Marques Juan Antonio de Urrutia y Arana, shown above, was a rich Spanish nobleman, a hydraulic engineer, a philanthropist, and possibly a philanderer. The 1720's saw Queretaro suffering from a severe shortage of clean drinking water. Already living in an area considered semi-arid, the growing population had outstripped and/or polluted its original water supply and people were dying of various diseases as a result. Legend has it that the Marques, a married man, fell in love with a beautiful nun by the name of Sor Marcela in the Convent of Santa Cruz. Unable to consumate his love, he built the aqueduct so it would bring water to her convent and, incidentally, to the rest of the city. Our B&B landlady told us a different version: the Marques made a deal with the Convent's Mother Superior. He could have his way with Sor Marcella if he could solve the Convent's water needs. Either way, the aqueduct conveniently ends in a cistern adjacent to the old convent.

The aqueduct was a remarkable engineering feet for its time. Construction took nine years, from 1726 to 1735. The water source was located in an ancient settlement called La Canada (the ravine), 5.6 miles distant from the El Centro area that made up the old city. The initial part of the water course runs underground, then emerges and travels along the top of 74 elegant arches, some over 75 feet high. In addition to the Santa Cruz convent, where it emptied into a cistern called the Caja de Agua, the aqueduct provided water to the city from 60 different fountains. The aqueduct continued as the primary water source until very late in Queretaro's history.

Despite its "macho" tradition, some of Mexico's most heroic figures were women. One of these was La Corregidora. The eagles above adorn the base of a monument to this heroine of the War of Independence from Spain. Josefa Ortiz de Dominguez was the wife of the Magistrate or Corregidor, a high Spanish official in Queretaro. Her sympathies were with the insurgents, however, and she plotted with such figures as Father Miguel Hidalgo and Ignacio Allende. She chafed under the secondary role allotted to Spaniards born in New Spain rather than in Spain itself. Under the guise of a literary society founded to discuss Enlightenment ideas, she and others plotted a revolt.  

La Corregidora has been honored by numerous monuments in Queretaro. The one above is her tomb. The grounds of the monument also contain statues of other great historical figures from Queretaro's history, including the statue of the Marques who built the aqueduct. La Corregidora's plotting was discovered and she was locked in her room while Spanish authorities prepared to arrest the other plotters. Legend has it that she attracted the attention of her servant by tapping her foot on the floor, and then whispered instructions through the keyhole. The servant alerted another plotter, Mayor Don Ignacio Perez of Queretaro. He rode through the night to alert Father Hidalgo, who then issued his famous grito, or cry for freedom and thus the War of Independence was launched. The door lock with the famous keyhole is preserved in Queretaro's Regional Museum. Most of the early plot leaders came to a bad end, with their heads adorning pikes in Guanajuato. La Corregidora was tried and sentenced to a convent from which she was released three years later. After the revolt finally succeeded, she refused all honors until her death in 1829, maintaining she only did her duty as a patriot.

Cannon in Regional Museum is enscribed "1860". The date means that it probably was used during the struggle against French occupation under the so-called Emperor Maximillian (1861-67). One of Mexico's great men was Benito Juarez, a full-blooded Indian who became president in 1858 and held the office until 1871. He led the struggle against the French, ultimately defeating Maximillian in Queretaro. In July of 1867 "Emperor" Maximillian was executed by firing squad on Cerro Camapana, now a lovely park in Queretaro. The execution went forward despite pleas for mercy by several European countries. Too many people had died because of the foolishness of this Austrian Duke, and his sponsor Napoleon III of France. Juarez was adamant about sending a message to other would-be monarchs regarding Mexico's determination to remain a republic. There was no indication on the cannon about which side employed the weapon.

Queretaro holds several other distinctions. It was briefly the capitol of Mexico in 1847 when the US invaded, an act which ultimately forced Mexico to give up half its territory. The city also hosted the signing of the Constitution of 1917 at the end of the Mexican Revolution. This document remains in effect today, with some amendments.

This concludes Part 1 of my series on Queretaro. In my next post, I will look at the street life and art of this wonderful city. I always appreciate comments, which can be left by clicking on "comments" below. Please feel free to send the link to this site to friends and others who may be interested.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Waterfalls of Chiquilistlan Gorge

Double falls in the deep canyon of the Chiquilistlan River.  Five of us, two Americans, two Canadians, and a Mexican, recently decided to explore a remote canyon in the mountainous plateau southwest of Guadalajara near Tapalpa. Robert, our American rock climbing expert, had visited this canyon once before. He persuaded us that for a hot May day, the cool pools and rushing waterfalls were just the ticket. Our Canadian friend Larry offered to drive the group. It would be a long drive, so we piled into Larry's 4-wheel-drive at 8 AM. For a Google map of the area, click here.

Fill 'er up! Larry noticed his gas was low when we arrived in Chiquilistlan, the nearest town to the gorge of any size. We circled through the town, looking for one of the ubiquitous green PEMEX stations, distributors for Mexico's government-owned petroleum company. None were to be found. Figuring that we had somehow missed the station, we asked several local people for directions. As usual in Mexico, we got several contradictory answers. Finally someone directed us back to the road where we had entered town. Still no station. Some local cowboys lounging nearby nodded vigorously when we asked, pointing to a rather anonymous-looking adobe building across the street. Someone went into a small store next door and, in a moment, a young man came hustling up spouting cheerful apologies. He filled up a large plastic jug from a big green holding tank inside the adobe building, and siphoned in enough gasoline to fill our tank. Welcome to Mexico's back country!

This was cowboy country. Cattle were everywhere, as were tough-looking Mexican cowboys in their stetsons and leather chaps. We parked in the small village of Comala, on a bluff overlooking the river and its canyon. At the gate of the road leading down into the canyon, we encountered these two critters. They were torn between fright and curiousity, and huddled in their protective mother's shadow.

Tom, suiting up. Tom is a fellow Oregonian, a retired dermatologist, and the possessor of an extraordinary knowledge of birds, geology and a great sense of humor. By May, the "snow birds" (temporary Gringo residents) have returned home and the hikers left are the hard-core. Tom and my companions are of this group. Because of the watery nature of the proposed hike, I had left my camera behind. Tom brought his and generously offered to share it with me while we hiked. I have identified the pictures which are his.

The first falls of Chiquilistlan Gorge. Not far from the trail-head, we heard the roar of a cascade and encountered these beautiful falls. The pool at the bottom is both deep and wide enough for a good swim. The locals have rigged up a knotted rope which you can see hanging from a branch in front of the falls. Because there is easy access to this point, unfortunately there is a fair amount of trash strewn about. This is not public land, and there is no one to police any rules. I have noticed this kind of problem both north and south of the border. I have also noticed that the trash problem fades away as one gets to the point where a person's arms get tired carrying a cooler of beer. Since the country above this waterfall requires increasing levels of effort to reach, it got cleaner and cleaner as we went along.

Another critter encounter. Tom discovered this beautiful butterfly sunning itself on a rock along the stream.  (Photo by Tom Holeman)

Robert and Larry taking a breather. Behind them is the rim of the first big falls. Each set of falls required some sort of climb. In some cases it was a steep, slippery trail, in others a serious rock climb. Robert came prepared with a rope for safety's sake. As we moved higher into the canyon, the walls closed in and the climbs got trickier.

The Double falls was graced with a deep green pool. The water in the pools and stream was crystal clear, and safe to swim in, but probably not to drink. The deep green--almost turquoise--water was not in the least murky. The color may come from minerals, or from the reflection of the trees and vegetation close around.

An odd sort of "moss" drew our attention. As we moved up into the gorge, we kept encountering this fuzzy moss-like feature on the rocks and on the sides of trees. The line under this rock over-hang is about 30 feet long and 6-12 inches wide.

A hairy-looking mass. Upon closer inspection of the fuzzy "moss", it looked like the fur of a very long-haired black dog. Robert, who'd been here before, pointed out that the individual hairs were actually the legs of tens of thousands of "daddy-long-legs". These creatures, also called "Harvestmen" are sometimes called spiders but are not actually true spiders. They have small oval bodies about the size of a pea and long thin legs. You can see some of the spider bodies in the light colored area of the picture. I'm not particularly phobic toward spiders, and these definitely weren't dangerous, but so many together gave me the "willies".  At one point, I walked a little to close to a tree with one of these masses along the trunk and a huge foot-ball-sized glop peeled off and dropped to the ground. The mass exploded in all directions with running spiders. (Photo by Tom Holeman)

One of the trickier climbs. This one gave us a bit of concern until Robert pulled out his rope. A fall without the rope would have dropped me back on some rather nasty looking rocks. Robert is very safety conscious, and I sometimes get a little impatient with the slow pace of his rope-rigging, but as I climbed up I was glad that he knows his stuff. (Photo by Tom Holeman)

Omar finds his own way. Omar, our Mexican hiking friend, decided to forgo the ropes and climbed directly up through the pouring water of this cascade. He managed to find hand and foot-holds in the slick, moss-covered rock and emerged soaking wet but triumphant. Above, he surveys the route he came up. When I told him he was "muy loco" he just grinned and gave me one of his infectious laughs. (Photo by Tom Holeman)

Omar and Tom discuss the finer points of gorge climbing. Omar, a very smart and personable young guy, had the time to accompany us on our adventure because he recently lost his job due to the economic downturn in Mexico. He and his girlfriend Angie came along last November on our trip to climb the Nevado de Colima volcano. He has the confidence of youth and I'm sure he'll land on this feet.

The walls of the upper gorge began to close in. The higher we climbed, the narrower the gorge became, with vertical walls on either side of more than 100 feet. The space to walk on either side of the stream became increasingly limited and we moved by jumping from rock to rock. This was a very peaceful setting, but I could imagine the raging torrent that would pour through here in the rainy season. I wouldn't want to get caught here in a flash flood.

Dripping, mossy stalactites covered the walls. Ferns sprouted from small islands in the stream bed and others from crevasses in the walls. Heavily mineralized springs have created rock formations known as travertine, much the same as dripping water in caves creates strange stalactites.

Long green moss-covered stalactites pour down the slope. What looks like a fringe on the edge of the stalactites are small extensions of the travertine rock above. The whole atmosphere of the place was ethereal. I half-expected Hobbits to pop out from the canyon walls.

End of the line. Finally, we reached a point where the walls were so close and the water so high that to continue meant to swimming. Sometime I'd like to attempt it, but the day was getting late and we faced a long hike back, and an even longer drive before we reached our homes. (Photo by Tom Holman)

The hikers' reward. It is a tradition of my hiking group to end each adventure with a cold beer or other drink of choice. Sometimes this occurs outside an anonymous little tienda in a small mountain village such as Comala, where we emerged from the gorge. One of the local cowboys was kind enough to take this group photo for us. Left to right: Jim, Larry, Tom, Robert, Omar.

This concludes my posting on the cascades of Chiquilistlan Gorge. Please feel free to comment in the section below or directly email me. I enjoy hearing from people. Also feel free to pass along a link to this blog to your friends.

Hasta luego! Jim

Friday, May 8, 2009

Lake Chapala's south shore treasures Part 3: Windy Point

The stunning view from Windy Point. We discovered Windy Point through our friends Denis and Julika, with whom we had shared our previous south shore treasure hunts. They, in turn, discovered it through John Pint who writes for the Guadalajara Reporter, the English-language newspaper in the area. According to Pint, Windy Point is also called Mirador del Valle (Valley Lookout), but since we started calling it Windy Point at our adventure's beginning, I'll stick with the name. We went seeking the view, but also to see the hawks, vultures, and other birds soaring on the afternoon updrafts that pour up the sheer cliffs of the 2000 foot south-facing escarpment. The altitude of Windy point is 6775 feet or 2065 meters.

The south shore town of Tuxcueca basks in late afternoon sunshine. Tuxcueca lies due south from the north shore town of Chapala across the broad middle of Lake Chapala (click the link for a Google map of the area). The town of Tuxcueca fringes a small bay. The haze you can see over the Lake comes from the many wildfires burning on both shores. The slopes behind the town, thickly covered with brush, rise gradually to a high, broad plateau. The plateau, running east to west along the crest of the ridges, contains numerous small cattle ranches. When you travel across the plateau heading south, you come to an abrupt and very sheer escarpment which drops off to a lovely farming valley below.

Denis and Julika, transfixed by the soaring birds. These two are quite an adventurous pair. Denis was born in Great Britain, and Julika is originally from Germany. They have traveled over a good deal of Mexico and to a number of other countries. Although most expats in the Lake Chapala area are either Americans or Canadians, there is a small but significant contingent of Europeans. The overall mix creates a fascinating expat community.

Raven soars effortlessly in the powerful afternoon updrafts. As far as we could tell, the ravens, black vultures, and other birds we saw were not hunting. The only explanation that made sense of their soaring was for the simple fun of it. Unfortunately, I found it extremely difficult to get close-up shots of the birds as they soared. Some were too far away for any detail. Those that came close zipped by me so fast that I couldn't catch the shot. This was the only half-way decent shot I could get.

Another drama unfolded around us--fire! As the winter ended and the weather got increasingly hot and dry, I began to wonder if  there would be wildfires in the mountains. A few days before this trip, I smelled wood smoke all night. This photo was taken from Windy point looking west along the ridge. It was far enough away that we didn't feel threatened, but the land all around us was also tinder dry. It appears that many of these fires are of human origin. Small farmers still use slash and burn techniques to clear land, and sometimes these get seriously out of hand. 

The plateau was relatively open, except for occasional barbed wire. You can see how brown and dry the land is, except for some evergreen trees and cactus. In a few weeks, when the rains start, this land will turn emerald  green. Walking through this area was relatively easy, and provided some ideas for future hikes along the escarpment rim.

Not waiting for the rains. This tree has already started to bloom, despite the lack of water. The blooms occur on the very tip ends of the branches, before any leaves sprout, creating a very odd effect.

The edge of the escarpment from across a ravine. You can see where the flat plateau at the upper right of the photo drops off sheer cliffs into heavily wooded ravines.

A fellow photographer at the edge. Jay Koppelman is one of the area's finest young photographers, a true artist whose work has repeatedly graced the covers of local magazines. For a look at some of his beautiful work, click here. Jay and I have become friends through our common interest in photographing the wonders of Mexico. Above, Jay stands at the edge of the Windy Point precipice, looking down at Atotonilco, a small farming town in the valley below.

Atotonilco, the view from above. Atotonilco is a small town of 380 people which hugs the base of the escarpment. The patch-work pattern of the farmers' field spreads out to the east, south and west. Most of the population is probably related through family.

Citala lies on the far side of the valley. Citala is several miles south of Atotonilco, across the patch-work of fields. Citala has about 1475 people. As I studied Citala, I became increasingly intrigued by the landscape immediately to the southeast of the town (upper left).

A mysterious gorge opens up on the edge of Citala. As a hiker, I am always on the lookout for new turf to investigate. This gorge appears to be long and deep with sheer cliffs and an unknown end. Just the sort of thing our Tuesday hiking group might like to check out.

Larry, our intrepid driver. I can truthfully say that this particular adventure might not have occurred without Larry. He is the owner of a high-clearance 4-wheel-drive vehicle and without his vehicle, we would not have had enough passenger space for all of us to come. It didn't take any arm-twisting to get him to come, since Larry is the adventurous type to begin with, and the jaunt appealed to his nature. Here he is sitting at the edge of the Windy Point drop-off, enjoying an orange.

The plateau is high-desert country. Cactus abounds, particularly Nopal, or prickly-pear cactus, with its needled leaves shaped like flat paddles. The Nopal pictured is in the late stages of blooming. The flowers grow out of the ends of fruits which are about the size and shape of a small hen's egg. The blooms have wilted or fallen off the buds in the background and the immediate foreground, while the one in the middle still displays its delicate flower. Nopal has long history as a useful plant. The flat paddles can be eaten, as well as the fruits, although one must be careful to clean off the spines. The plant is a source of proteins, vitamins, and minerals. Nopal has historically been used to treat diabetes, stomach problems, fatigue, shortness of breath, prostate enlargement, and liver disease, and hangovers.

Veronica adjusts her camera. Veronica is Jay's Mexican girlfriend. She is very sweet, but a little shy because her English is still a work in progress. Since my Spanish is in about the same condition (actually not as good as her English) we have found something in common as we puzzle out strange words in each other's language. A few months ago, Veronica invited Carole and I to her birthday party, the first Mexican party we had attended. It turned out to be loads fun, despite the language barriers. Her family made us feel very welcome.

Long shadows gather as the sun heads toward the western horizon. I took this telephoto shot at the extreme range of my camera. In the tan field at the lower right, you can just make out what appear to be horses. These fields are probably growing corn, wheat, hay, and truck-farm products like beans. The fields are not large by American or Canadian agribusiness standards, but are considerably larger than many I see on the north shore.
Fire over the Lake. A plume of smoke rises from wildfires on the far side of the mountains on the north shore of Lake Chapala. I took this shot as we returned across the plateau toward Tuxcueca. The field in the foreground is extremely rocky, similar to many at this level. This land is probably only good for pasture, as plowing would be a very difficult proposition. The rocks are volcanic basalt, a product of the vulcanism all around the Lake, and around Jalisco State in general.

This completes Part 3 of our investigation of the treasures of the south shore of Lake Chapala. I hope you have enjoyed it. Please feel free to comment below or directly to my email in the comments section. Also, feel free to share the link to my blog with friends or relatives who may be interested. The more the merrier!

Hasta luego! Jim