Livin' la Vida Loca

Trip Start Jan 11, 2006
Trip End Jun 21, 2006

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Flag of Mexico  ,
Thursday, March 23, 2006

¿Qué onda muchachos? Greetings once again from south of the border, and my apologies for an extremely overdue entry. You can blame it on my being converted to the Mexican style of life down here, where the professors always arrive late and the students are slow to update their friends and family. Rest assured Ryan and I have been healthy and well and have successfully escaped the grasp of death on several occasions. Well, things haven't been that crazy, but lots has happened in the (wow) month and a half, so I'll do my best to pull up the slack. Life stays busy down here with classes and work, and I've started working with 2 groups of people learning English in a program called Tandem here at the University. We meet each week just to talk, half the time in English and half the time in Spanish. Now, on to the memories...

When I last left you I made two promises, one to find out why we had our first 3-day weekend, and one to have photos ready to go in the next entry. With any luck, I'll be able to fulfill both in this entry. Our first holiday here was Día de la Constitución, which is always held on February 5 and celebrates, you guessed it, the signing of the Mexican constitution in 1917. Ryan and I headed out of Hermosillo Saturday morning loaded with chilaquiles, eggs with chorizo, beans, mole (a tasty chicken sauce), and tortillas from Señora, ready for an adventure in the mountains. We took a bus to Moctezuma, a small mountain town where we heard there would be a fiesta celebrating Día de la Constitución. The village (or pueblo) is located in the Sierra Madre mountains, where the air was noticeably more fresh and the scenery much more green than we were used to. We wandered around the town and hiked up a surrounding river bed/dam to pass the time before the evening fiesta, which took place in the village plaza. Think of your local city fair but with vendors selling trinkets, tacos, tamales, and corn cocktails instead of burgers and elephant ears. Evening started followed by a huge dance to the classic banda-style music, with men in giant sombreros playing tubas, trumpets, guitars, drums, and the like. We felt quite out of place without cowboy hats, boots, and large belt buckles. My invitations to dance were rejected twice, curses to being a clumsy gringo who can't speak clear Spanish, but I was able to dance a little before we traipsed over to the aforementioned river bed to catch some zzz's.

Sleeping under the stars that night was incredible, as was waking up to the Mexican sun and a large bull grunting around across the river. Our goal for the day was to make it to Aconchi, a village slightly to the north with hot springs and not much else. We met some intern doctors from Hermosillo just outside of Moctezuma, who agreed to take us to the road fork for Aconchi. We had an enjoyable time talking to them and listening to music while cruising on the mountain roads, and before we knew it we'd passed right by the road to Aconchi and were closer to Hermosillo than the fork, so we cut our trip short and headed back to home base with them.

Sometime in the middle of February we finally met up with Dr. Baillod, a wastewater professor from Michigan Tech who is also spending the semester down here. Ideally, the program we're involved in here involves work in water resources beyond what we get in school, and we made tentative plans with Dr. Baillod before we left Houghton to help him in his studies of the Hermosillo water situation. By this time, we had settled in nicely to the somewhat relaxed schedule of school and we're looking forward to having actual work to occupy our time. Our work thus far has involved reading and translating technical presentations on the water situation here in Hermosillo, both to clarify what Dr. Baillod doesn't understand and also to develop some background information on the problem. Even though our reservoir is dry and we're in the midst of a drought here, 100% of the tap water in Hermosillo is considered potable by Mexican regulations. The real problem is with wastewater treatment, where only around 11% is physically treated and the rest goes...well, that's the question. It's illegal here to irrigate with water that's not treated, but in reality it happens and people just look the other way. Currently the city is decided which long-term plan to accept to remedy this problem, and Dr. Baillod may be able to assist them somewhat in this respect. There has been talk of setting up a small test treatment plant for us to learn on and for Baillod to teach a class, but as of this date it's all been talk.

Along with our water work, about a month ago our surveying professor invited us along to help him with a survey job in the city of Obregón, about 300km south of Hermosillo. We spent the whole day in a field working with industry standard surveying equipment alongside our Mexican counterparts, measuring a parcel of land given to the University, and afterwards ate some delicious tacos de carne asada (sort of like finely cut steak, with avocado, salsa, and lime, they're extremely tasty). Also, since we worked unpaid and were technically still on a University trip, our professor bought us "tacos to go" for the next day. We both agreed to his inquiry for future help, all bills paid, and I can't think of any better practice for my trip to Bolivia in August.

We've also made our way down to the cities of Guaymas and San Carlos, both located about 90km to our South on the Sea of Cortez. Guaymas is a quaint town comprised mostly of a giant harbor; fishing is huge there. San Carlos is the neighbor town and is one long stretch of beach, a fancy dancy marina, and many hotels and dive shops. San Carlos is also known as Gringolandia to the Mexicans here, and we certainly saw more gringos than Mexicans there. Our roommate Miguel lives in Guaymas, so we met up with him one weekend after passing some time on the beach watching kids dig for clams. He took us to a quinceañera of a friend's sister, a giant birthday party for a girl when she turns 15. It was more like a wedding reception than a birthday party, and of course had lots of dancing, lots of cowboy hats, and lots of boots. The music was slightly defeaning, but overall an interesting experience.

Just south of Guaymas, I ate what was possibly the most pure form of seafood I will ever eat. Miguel's family took us to a place called Shaka de los Mariscos (Seafood Shack), which certainly lived up to its name. About 15 miles of the highway, located on a beach in the middle of nowhere, we drove on a dirt road to a small shack that looked like it should have been abandoned...but it was packed with people. There were pulling shrimp, clams, oysters, and fish right out of the water and preparing them johnny-on-the-spot. I ate raw clams and oysters for the first time, and while I don't think I'll be jumping to prepare them in my own home, they weren't half as bad as I would have thought. The best part was the fried fish, which is served whole on a plate after being deep fried. It comes with all the makings for fish tacos, and you just pick the meat right off the fish to stuff your tacos. We left full and satisfied, but the bumpy road back put a little rumble in my tummy...but nothing too serious. However, both Ryan and I received our first case of what Mexicans call "the water between the legs" shortly after the Seafood Shack.

Just about a week ago Hermosillo saw for the first time Dave Dambrun, as my dad proved that it's pretty darn hard for me to run away from him! Only kidding, of course. He flew in on Thursday and we enjoyed the sights and sounds of Hermosillo until Saturday morning, when we took a bus to San Carlos (Gringolandia). I was walking my dad's butt of in Hermosillo, so he was looking forward to some relaxing on the beach and some soothing ocean swimming. We were doing just that, swimming in the ocean, when all of a sudden he let out a curse and said he'd been bit by something. We came to shore and discovered he must have stumbled upon a stingray and was made the victim of its defense. It was not a wide cut, but pretty deep and consistently bleeding, located on the heel of his foot. So much for feet getting a little R & R. We hobbled back to the hotel, which had a gorgeous on the beach location, where I returned the favor my dad did for me when I was a baby. There were no reactions and the rest of the weekend passed smoothly. It was a pleasant change to live "in-style" for a weekend here, not on a student's budget, and my dad enjoyed seeing Mexico from the inside out. And of course, we'll be going stingray hunting the next time we're in Mexico together.

This past weekend was our first and only 4-day, thanks to the Mexican equivalent of labor day. Saturday our Spanish class took a trip to Isla Tiburón (Shark Island), Mexico's largest island located a bit to the north of Kino. The island has a bigger bark than bite, as we were informed there aren't actually any sharks around now. It was named after smaller sharks that were seen on the seaside of the island, opposite the side facing land, not after man-eating Great Whites. The island is a Natural Reserve of the Seri Indians (or Kunkaak in their native tongue) and is completely free of infrastructure besides one hut. Explicit permission from the Kunkaak is required to visit the island, but luckily our Spanish professor had the ace up her sleeve and was able to not only get us permission, but charter an old wooden motor boat as well. There were about 20 of us, speaking somewhere around 8 different languages, and I realized how weird it feels to have a conversation with someone in Spanish when Spanish isn't native to either of you, and neither person speaks the same language by birth. We survived the crazy bus ride to Punta Chueca (Weird Point), the departure point for the Isla, and were met by large groups of Seri selling jewelry and trinkets.

Once on the island, 4 of us Americans split off to do some hiking down what appeared to be a river of sorts. It started wide and sandy, with small patches of water and mangroves on either side. Gradually, the patches of water became pools of water, the mangroves closed in, and finally it was pure water and walls of mangroves about 2 meters apart. It continued this way for a while, with water varying from knee deep to chest deep, and felt like walking down a dark hallway. There were crabs running around our feet, chomping at our toes looking for some meat. We also found some crazy sea slug creatures about the size of a giant taco, which felt pretty odd to step on. We reached a point where we couldn't go further, and realized the tide was coming in (and fast). Our walk back out was against the current of the tide, with the water noticeably higher...especially for me because I was the shortest one. We emerged successfully, and after passing a little more time on the island, took the boat back. It was just a short 4-5 hour visit, but definitely wet my appetite to see more, possibly on kayak some day. Unfortunately I didn't bring my camera on our mangrove hike, or it would've been one unhappy digital camera, but I do have a few pictures of the island.

The rest of our 4-day was spent mostly with friends we've made from Fatima Church, very near to our house. We hung out, I finally learned how to dance for real to the music here, we ate tacos, watched movies, and visited La Pintada, a mountain valley with ancient cave paintings. A very enjoyable weekend even if our grand travel plans didn't exactly pan out.

I think we've passed or are quickly approaching the half way point of our time down here. Two more weeks and Katie flies in for Semana Santa (Holy Week), then another month of school followed by a month of traveling in the south, then back to St. Johns for the summer. I'll try and keep the updates coming, but it's pretty fun for me to do a bigger update like this with more to say.

Take care, enjoy the pictures, and always wash your hands after you go to the bathroom.

Hasta luego,
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