Thursday, January 26, 2012

Canyon del Sumidero

Canon del Sumidero

There's a nice couple in the front apartment in this little casita complex. We share the garden. Rachel and Chuck are from Portland. They were both bus drivers for years, then became train drivers. Both intelligent, especially Chuck who likes classical music and reads a lot. I've enjoyed their company. Rachel has studied Spanish for a long time, and though she knows a lot, has a large vocabulary, she still has some trouble just talking. So I invited her to go to my first Spanish class so I wouldn't be a class of one. Laurie, the lady I went to the Tiangis Organica with, also came so the three of us crowded around Edith's small table in the corner of her little store on the Andador Guadalupe. It's a tiny place, no bigger than a medium sized bedroom in the typical ranch-style home.

She and her partner are both trying to eek out a living there. The partner is a mural painter, quite good too, who works often on large projects. It's common for successful restaurants to decorate at least one wall with a mural, or perhaps have a mural outside as advertisement. That's less common because the taggers don't always respect art and will spray graffiti all over someone's hard work. In addition to teaching Spanish, Edith teaches art and holds small classes in the tienda. Mostly people work on collages from stuff they find, or photos they cut from magazines.

Edith is a good teacher. She doesn't speak English, but she speaks carefully and slowly, explaining how the verb tenses work, and how they are used. I understood her just fine. We reviewed a lot of material. Rachel and Laurie both have a larger vocabulary, but I can talk faster, I've had more practice in the real world. Now I need to slow down, think about what I'm going to say instead of just blurting out common phrases and winging the rest of my intentions.

We had a fun class and later went out for lunch. Arnolfo happened to be walking down the street just as class was over so he came along. Lunch in Mexico is kind of a misnomer. It happens from 2 to 4, and is not called "almuerzo", the word I was taught. It's called La Comida. Which also means The Food. Since it's the BIG meal, that makes sense. And I've gotten used to eating a large breakfast around 8 or 9 in the morning, then la comida in the afternnoon, and a snack for dinner.  Restaurants advertise antojitos (snacks or appetizers) knowing that's what people really want in the evening. A snack might be a single taco, a plate of rice with peas, or a cheese quesadilla.

Tuesday, I joined Chuck and Rachel for a boat ride up the Grijalva river into the Canyon del Sumidero. We were required to have life jackets (good) and a wrist band, which we held up at the military checkpoint on the river. Once the guard was satisfied that we were "legal" we were allowed to continue up the river.

The lowest 'branches' of the Christmas Tree.
The boat fit under it and water dripped on us!
It's quite a canyon. Some canyon walls are over 1000m tall, that's roughly 3000 feet above the surface of the river. Along the banks we got to see the wildlife that is protected by this national park, a crocodile, lots of buzzards, a monkey family in some trees, turtles and lots of floating plastic bottles. I've never seen such a clog of bottles in my life. Where the river eddies there were thousands of them so thick it looked like an ice floe. Further down the river we saw one of those machines I saw on the lake in Patzcuaro, that drifts along pulling up floating debris with an 'escalator' that rotates in and out of the water, and then dumps the trash onto a floating barge. I'm sure the bottles come from up river, from all the little towns. All the time I see people just drop trash, or combi drivers throw empty bottles out the window as they drive along. At the end of the boat ride was a dam with a row of floating drums and chain link to prevent the trash from clogging up the turbines that generate electricity for the entire region.

Christmas Tree Formation
There are a couple of famous icons along the river, one is the Christmas Tree formation, an enormous natural construction caused by a spring high up on the cliff. Like in caves, the formation was deposited over millenia by mineral laden water dripping down, forming sheets of stone. Now plants grow on that stone and from a distance it doesn't look impressive until you realize our entire boat can fit under the lowest "branches" of the tree. The photos are worth a thousand words!

The other icon is a small cave, that our boat also fit into, where the Mexican patron saint, The Virgin of Guadalupe, has been installed inside a shrine. To get up to it, one must hang onto ropes, get a foothold and then climb up to a ledge where a ladder is installed, and held into place by ropes! Rachel made the comment that here is yet another place to put The Virgin!

At the dam, the guide/pilot passed the hat for tips joking that this is where he leaves you if the hat isn't filled.  Then we zoomed around and headed back the way we came.

It was a lovely day on the river. Our pilot loved to ride the waves caused by other boats, so we jolted up and down far more than my neck appreciated, but the little kids on board loved every minute of it. I'd purchased a broad brimmed hat but it was far too windy zooming along in the boat to wear it. Fortunately, we also had plenty of sunscreen.

Not easy to spot these crocs, they look just like logs.

Buzzards by the bunch.

Leaving Chiapa de Corzo, Military checkpoint.
Those are US supplied assault rifles.