Friday, March 22, 2013

The Traveler at Home: Los Alamos, NM

Strange formations
New Mexico, where I was born and now live is a major tourist destination. Nearby Santa Fe is home to the oldest house and church in the United States, full of Southwestern charm, beautiful scenery, and a vital mix of Anglo, Hispanic and Native American culture.

I live in Los Alamos, the place where, during WWII, the US Government created a secret base to develop the atomic bomb. Way south of here, near Alamogordo, they blew up the first atomic weapon. The Trinity site is open for visitors twice a year. Just don't pocket any of the radioactive glass (called Trinitite) if you ever want to have normal children.

During the war and the following Cold War, the scientists at Los Alamos tested a lot of other things; rockets, explosives, bombs (non-nuclear) and other ordinances. The canyons are filled with blast holes and hiking trails with big signs at the road warning you not to pick up any ordinances and to report any finds to the labs. In all the years I've hiked around the area, I've never seen anything out of the ordinary. But I've sure heard stories of locals who found unexploded mines or grenades and kept them as souvenirs or used them for door stops.

Twice lately, I've hiked Lower Water Canyon, a watershed that is dry most of the year, but during the heavy summer rains can fill up and flood the whole canyon several feet deep. The trail starts at a turn off on State Road 4, where three tall poles hold up a heavy power line, with the ubiquitous signs saying the area belongs to the government with warnings about explosives.

Ancient Puebloans lived in this canyon, in cavates
like the triangular one in this photo. Look to the right
to see the curved walls that were once inside homes.

The trail has many hikers, dogs, and horses on the weekends, but weekdays, there are rarely any people in the canyon. Last Friday, I went with a group from the White Rock Senior Center. At 59, I was the youngest person to go the full four and a half miles to the saddle overlooking the Rio Grande River.

The entire canyon is bordered on both sides by welded tuff cliffs in various shades of pink over a layer of hard black basalt. A stream bed runs down the center and the trail crosses over it several times before finally heading uphill. The stream itself eventually reaches a hundred foot cliff dropping down to the river, a cliff that must sport an amazing waterfall during the rainy season.

Grooved trail in the welded tuff
The trail circles back towards the road in a big loop. Part of it climbs up the tuff cliff as a groove in the rock, worn down over many centuries of native American moccasins and in later centuries horse hooves, shoes and hiking boots. In places the groove is half a meter deep and no wider than the spacing of a horse's legs. Along the way, the trees change from piñon/juniper forest to tall ponderosas in the bottom of the canyon where it's cooler and wetter, then back to piñon/juniper as it climbs up the cliff. Evidence of flooding in the canyon bottom is everywhere: large clumps of debris piled up against trees, boulders left all alone on the flat meadows, and trees still alive, pushed over into other trees by the force of the water.

Several books by local naturalist and environmental activists Dorothy Hoard and Craig Martin document all the trails in and around Los Alamos with maps and directions to trail heads. The group I hiked with was full of retired scientists who have been exploring the area for decades. The senior center in Los Alamos also has a hiking group, and one of my octogenarian friends belongs to yet another outdoors group called the Wednesday Irregulars. In this town, getting old is an option.
An eagle's nest is seen by evidence of white droppings
 and sticks on the shelf in this cliff. 

Dead trees make a striking contrast
against the beautiful NM sky.

At the top of the trail looking
down into the Rio Grande Canyon. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Charleston SC

A city of a thousand histories: Colonial settlement, pirates, the revolutionary war, the War of 1812, the Civil War (aka: the war between the states, the war of northern aggression), minor wars against the native tribes until they were wiped out by disease or pushed entirely out.

Every brick, cobblestone, bedroom and salon has its story and some have ghosts. Old Charleston is chock full of churches and buildings with signs detailing the past. Yes, indeed, Washington did sleep here…..and here…..and here. And that tree, growing in the very middle of the street, was used to hang 30 pirates in one day, putting an end to piracy in Charleston.

Iconic new suspension bridge over the river.
With only a couple of days to spend in the area, I decided on a bus tour and the boat ride out to Fort Sumter. Our driver on the Gray Line tour was just wonderful. With a cultured drawl, this Southern Belle drove us past landmarks and parks, government buildings, homes, businesses, and schools like The Citadel with colorful pasts (and presents!). She was a wealth of information about trees, flowers, literature, art, and food. She recommended the She-Crab soup, a famous Charleston concoction made from crab and crab roe.

I’ve learned a lot about black/white history on this trip. For instance many slave owners taught their slaves to read and write. It was practical. They could then leave written instructions and get letters detailing the status of their plantations when they were away. There were enclaves of freedmen, such as in Charleston, where many black families lived middle class lives working as masons, seamstresses, barbers, and blacksmiths. There was an influx of Jamaicans into Charleston. Tobacco couldn’t be grown in the low country so the plantations grew cotton, rice, and indigo. The Jamaicans knew all about growing rice. They brought their own language (Guhlah) which is still spoken in some form by many of their descendents. Some slaves were able to purchase their own freedom with seven years of labor, or with cash they earned by doing extra work or growing food for cash. By today’s standards that would put the cost of another human being in the $200,000 range (my guess). And of course there were the horrifying ships that came to sell their cargo at the slave market, now a museum. If there was any sign of disease, the entire ship and its contents were put into quarantine for 30 days, one of the reasons a sick captive was tossed overboard to drown before they entered port. Slavery was an economy that made some people very wealthy. Our driver pointed out many homes that had been the “townhomes” of wealthy rice planters who came to Charleston for the ‘social season’ in the winter, and during the summer to escape mosquitos and malaria.

Fort Sumter from the inside.

The architecture of homes in the city was interesting. A Single home is a narrow building, two rooms on each floor, with a piazza (long porch) along the prevailing wind side and the staircase on the outside. This allowed the building to be ventilated in the summer. A Double home was the same design mirror imaged with the ventilation hall down the middle. The colors of the city are pastel, reflecting light and making the homes cooler. Shutters are traditionally a dark shade, one color being Charleston Green, which to my eye looked entirely black, very dramatic, no doubt, against a pastel building. 

Fort Sumter was an interesting step back in time. So many of the details from the Civil War are missing from my memory banks, if indeed they were ever there. The Union army took over Fort Sumter (on a little island of sand in the middle of the harbor) and all of its many cannons. So many in fact that they couldn't operate them all, there weren't enough men. The newly seceded Southerners saw this as an act of aggression and responded by bombarding the fort for almost two days with cannon balls, the new rifled points and 'hot' shots - cannon balls that had been heated to red hot, intended to set wooden structures on fire.  One of the hot shots crashed through the officer's quarters which were just above the powder room. The union soldiers could keep firing cannons back at the rebels, or they could fight the fire, but not both. So the Union gave up, and oddly went home as heroes. Not long after, the war was fully underway and the Union returned to take over Charleston (and also Savannah) sparing both those cities the disastrous consequences that other cities in the South suffered later on. 

Transport back to the county park where I was camping left Charleston at 4:00. By 2:30 the tour to Fort Sumter was done and I was starved. A little hike down King Street revealed a nice looking restaurant/bar with the menu on a pedestal outside. I went in, attracted by the She-Crab soup. I don’t think I’ve had anything so unexpectedly wonderful since I stumbled upon Shrimp Etouffee in New Orleans 25 years ago. It was like a cheesy Bechamel sauce, thinned down with Sherry, and steeped in crab meat. A bit salty because of the roe, but delicious! It came with four small squares of dense cornbread studded with bits of broccoli, and a little ramekin of soft butter. Since I had already died and gone to heaven, it made sense to top off that incredible lunch with a slice of key lime pie that was positively vibrant.

Some modern pastel construction....
With time enough left for a short walk down King Street and then back up Meeting, I got a little flavor of Charleston by foot. It’s not just a historic town, it’s a major working city with various industries, a large busy port, and lots of money to be made.

One of the volunteers I’d talked with on the Fort Sumter tour had just moved here from Seattle. He said Charleston is the biggest small town he’d ever lived in. It’s a major southern city, yet it only takes about twenty minutes to drive across. There seems to be good public transportation, several bus routes are free and circulate through the downtown.  It caters to tourists, but looks like a wonderful place to live as well, at least in the winter. 

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Pueblo Magico : Comitán de Domíngues

Just a small number of the flowers inside
San Carlampio church
The Mexican Tourism Board has designated a number of cities in Mexico as Pueblo Magico, an honor indicating a place of exceptional beauty, historical significance, and tourist opportunities that provide a "magical" experience. Most are colonial cities, built before 1650, in the first 150 years of Spanish occupation of the New World. Some like San Cristóbal de las Casas and Comitán de Domíngues in Chiapas were founded a mere fifty years after Cortes invaded the mainland of Mexico.

Until 1915, Comitán was known as Comitán de las Flores (of the flowers). It was renamed after its native son, senator Dr. Belisario Domingues, was murdered for speaking out against the Huerta government. President Huerta himself was one of a group of men who murdered Dominguez. They cut off his tongue as a symbolic warning to others. 

Comitán is lower in altitude than San Cristóbal where I have lived periodically for nine months. It's warmer but at a high enough elevation the hotels don't have air conditioning. It is still a place of flowers. Bougainvillea are everywhere, along with many varieties of flowering trees. Every little garden glimpsed through open gates is a flower showcase of color. The Mayans have also used colorful bromeliads from the vast rain forest in their religious celebrations for centuries. Many are now becoming endangered. 

A couple, dancing in the Zocalo
Unlike San Cristóbal, Comitán does not have the foreign tourist draw, and thus has been spared the negative side of massive tourism. There are no wandering street vendors who thrust goods in your face while you sit at a sidewalk cafe trying to eat lunch or talk with your friends. There are almost no beggars. An assortment of shoe shine boys wander the streets with their boxes, and people sit in the shade in the Zocalo with their packets of gum and candy for sale. Little stands are posted here and there on the streets selling tacos, belts and knock-off handbags. But as a tourist, time spent in Comitán is tranquil, without constant bombardment to buy-give-buy. 

Comitán seems to have a forward-thinking city government. Many modern sculptures by some very famous Mexican artists dot the city and Zocalo. Belisario Dominguez' daughter donated her home for a modern art museum, his own home is a historical museum, and the city has a good selection of artifacts from Tenam Puente and Chinkultic in the archeological museum. Housed in that same building is a decent library with a large Internet center and several interesting historical murals. 

Around the Zocalo are small restaurants, side by side, competing with each other by having virtually identical menus. The competition is between the handsome young men who try to persuade you to eat at their particular establishment. And there's a good coffee shop in a corner of the Zocalo with modern murals gracing its interior. 

Iglesia de San Caralampio
A few blocks from the Zocalo, another interesting church, frequented by the local indigenous people, is the center for many celebrations and fairs that set up in the large plaza. Iglesia de San Caralampio is a bright yellow church almost always filled with the sweet scent of thousands of flowers. Outside, the sacred jaguar is represented by a lovely sculpture atop a bright red rock.

Comitán is a center of commerce with many businesses lining the carretera, the main highway through town. It has old and modern hotels, excellent restaurants that serve traditional Chiapanecan food, and a few restaurants feature other cuisines. I ate at one, Cucina Italia, recently opened by an Canadian-Italian and his Comitán born wife. The lasagna was as good as any I've ever eaten, even in Italy. He makes the pastas, and the sauces from fresh tomatoes, picked that morning, and delivered to the market.

The people of Comitán are friendly and courteous. The pace is slow and the desire to enjoy each moment in life is a measure of the local character. A lovely city, and well deserving of its designation: Pueblo Magico.

Santo Domingo de Guzman Church 
Great coffee shop on the Zocalo 
Friendly corn-on-the-cob vendor

Hundreds of bromeliads decorate
the portal of the San Caralampio church

Modern art in the Zocalo, this is a
bust of poet Rosario Castellanos

The sacred jaguar

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

When Atheists Pray

The jungle in Gucamayas, a little
slice of heaven before the combi ride from hell.
A combi in Mexico is a van, usually a Toyota van, stripped on the inside with bench seats installed along each wall, behind the driver's seat, and across the back. Packed they can hold upwards of 20 people, with many standing and holding onto bars installed across the ceiling.

I've had some amazing and frightening combi rides. One in particular was along Lake Patzcuaro when the van was packed so solidly that if it rolled, probably everyone would have remained in the same place when it righted itself. Fortunately, even though the driver was going too fast, on a rainy night with all kinds of livestock looming out of the darkness, we didn't have an accident.

Combies stop and go all the time. Anyone can flag down a combi and unless no one else can be squeezed in, the driver will stop and let more people get on. Combi drivers have a reputation for crazy fast driving around turns, passing other cars on blind curves, for sliding over the yellow line into the oncoming lane and all kinds of driving misbehaviors, yet, miraculously, you almost never hear of a combi flying off a cliff and killing everyone. Sometimes they go off the road and people get hurt, but more often than not, the drivers are just careful enough.

Combis that go between towns are usually newer and have seats like a van or school bus. The more expensive the ticket, the more comfortable the seat. Sometimes a combi is owned by the driver who pays a commission to the company he drives for (I say "he" because I have never seen a woman driver....). Sometimes they are paid only a percentage of the take for the day, another reason to pack-out the little bus.

And once in a while a driver is so bad you know your time on earth is limited, so bad an atheist would pray.

Such was the wild ride from Las Guacamayas through the mountains to Comitán.

I had a clue. I could have gone with my gut and not gotten on in the first place, but combies go to Las Guacamayas only when they are called, it's not a regular stop, and I'd been waiting for two hours. The driver was young, probably not yet 25 years old. The van was old, rusty in spots, the back tires bald, and the interior had a foul odor. I knew from experience the odor was the least of my worries.

Clue number two was the windshield. There was a big crack running across it. The top 1/3 of the windshield was covered with some kind of sun shade material to block all light The bottom 1/3 had an opaque layer of white with writing on it, something about trusting God. And directly in front of the driver, just above the steering wheel and directly in his line of vision was his radio with a springy cord holding the mic. And to block his vision even further, he had danglies hanging down that swayed back and forth as he zoomed around corners.  I'd guess he had maybe 20 percent of the normal visual range.

THEN, he had a radio blasting scratchy Mexican folk music full volume so he couldn't possibly be further distracted from the job of driving a van full of trusting passengers. Oh but I was wrong. He could be further distracted. Not ten miles into the trip we picked up a pretty girl who sat in the front seat next to him, and his driving took an immediate turn for the worse, the showing-off and driving fast to impress a girl kind of worse.

I sat in the far back, my arm out the open window, hanging onto the ladder used to put stuff on the roof. I was thrown back and forth across the bumpy seat until I thought my arm might come out of its socket. The window was a slider and it occurred to me that should we go over the edge, the window might just slice my arm off below the elbow. Of course, I might also be dead so it wouldn't matter too much.

They say travel changes you. I thought it had changed me. Long ago I took the attitude that there is only so much I can do to keep safe, the rest is fate.  But in that combi, I was back peddling like a reformed druggie at a Rolling Stones convention.

I was scared. I wasn't at all serene about the idea of a violent end. I wanted OUT. But there was no getting out. We were flying through curves on mountainous roads in the middle of nowhere, in the jungles of Chiapas, zipping past guys on horseback, for Pete's sake. What would I do, alone on that road with my backpack? Could it possibly be any more unsafe?

Ultimately we made it out of the mountains and down into a valley to a small town called Maravillas Tenejapa. I told the driver I was sick, which wasn't the whole truth, but not a lie either. He offered to let me sit behind him. I said no, I wanted out. On solid ground I found a restroom and a nice lady who was selling tortas under a porch. Together we waited in the cool shade for another combi.

This combi also had a cracked windshield with only one dangly, a cross with Jesus on it. The driver was an older man and the tires had tread. He drove fast too, but somehow it was different.

There comes a time when you have to do something, anything, to change your own fear even if you can't really change anything else.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Marimba

The gazebo
The Marimba, I've heard, was invented in Chiapas. Chiapa de Corzo appears to be the Marimba capital with a school and workshop where marimba building is taught. It is the music of Chiapas, with many compositions over the years created specifically for the marimba, though just about any lively piece of music can played on the instrument. The bars of this type of xylophone are arranged just like a piano. The bars are made with hardwoods (rosewood from Honduras is the best, or mahogany is another expensive alternative, or padouk which grows locally.) Beneath each bar there's a resonator. The most authentic marimbas have boxes built from wood that hang down, varying in size depending on the bar's size. Commercial instruments often have aluminum tubes, and in the folk instruments made in the jungle, empty gourds are used.

In San Cristóbal de las Casas, there are marimba concerts almost every night. A large white gazebo-like structure in the Zócalo is the center for Marimba music. It's a two story building with a restaurant on the bottom floor and a large covered performance space above. Last night the door to the upper part was open and a 5-man band, 3 guys on the Marimba, were playing. A few people were standing around so I went up to listen. It's odd that after almost 9 months of living in this town, I'd never gone upstairs in the gazebo!

Always lots of activity in the Zócalo area
A few people my age and some twenty-somethings were standing around listening while a whole lot of dance floor was going to waste. The music was not overbearing and very joyous, like a fiesta! The band was clever and played several styles including a fast waltz and big band numbers.  A young, slender, nice-looking man was trying to get his girlfriend to dance with him. She was a bit embarrassed, quite a bit overweight, and not a good dancer. He was doing his best to show her the moves, but she seemed more interested in checking the messages on her cel phone. I was sorely tempted to go over and give her a good shake! "Chica! You have a handsome man here who wants to dance with you! He wants you, not some other woman. Wake up and pay attention! Twenty years from now you will remember this night, but you won't remember the stupid text messages."

As I watched them, I was unconsciously jiving to the music myself, and got noticed by a different handsome man, closer to my own age, who asked me to dance. He was good and once I figured out his signals we made a good couple. We were swinging and swaying, having a great time. Pretty soon more people came up the stairs and started dancing. "Me encanta" he told me. I headed for home after promising to come again tomorrow night. And I will, it's been awfully hard to find men who are free to dance. Those who can, bring their wives. Those who can't stand around wishing they could.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Yet More Mayan Ruins

Pretty much everyone knows something about Palenque, Tikal, and Chichen Itza, but most people have never heard of Toniná, Tenam Puente, or Chinkultic.

I've written about Toniná several times as it's one of my favorite Mayan ruins, but recent visits to Chinkultic and Tenam Puente are rivaling it for favorite.

View from the tallest temple in Tenam Puente
These two, virtually unknown cities represent the last 300 years of Mayan dominance in the region. The big collapse happened around 900AD. Toniná has the last known long-count date of 909AD for the classic period. The widespread downfall was a result of many factors, over population, ecological depletion, and starvation being the big ones. Tenam Puente and Chinkultic were off on the western edge of the Mayan world, not as easy to get to and dominate, not powerful enough to aggressively take advantage of the serious problems plaguing Palenque like Toniná did.

So these cities survived the collapse and lasted another 300 years, until finally being abandoned in 1200AD.

Chinkultic is built up the side of a mountain giving it a commanding view of the valley and lakes. It can be seen from the highway, glistening edifices marching up the side of a green mountain. It is the only city in Chiapas to have a cenote, a sinkhole lake fed by underground springs. Cenotes were used as receptacles for sacrificial victims, some of whom where tossed in already dead, and some still alive. Several hundred feet below the highest temple, the cenote's water would have been a hard landing and probably fatal to anyone falling in. Archeologists have found some personal artifacts at the bottom of the cenote including jade jewelry.

Well proportioned pyramid in
Tenam Puente
Tenam Puente has a leveled layout without any one temple outshining another on the long flat area at the top. A series of three temples were the last built and completed towards the end of 1200AD. These three were built on the same flattened level as the previous temples, all of which are lined up and appear to face west, even though the commanding view is to the east. From that high level there are several terraces descending west, with temples, buildings, and three ballcourts. The highest court is smaller than the usual size. It gave me the impression of being a children's training court, a "soccer field" for six-year-olds. Of course that's a cultural bias 800 years after the fact! The second level ball court appears to be the normal size but missing much of the "stadium" seating. Only the lowest one is large with many steps leading down to it for the spectators.

Neither of these sites have a museum. There is only a room at the office with posters and information in Spanish mostly, though Tenam Puente had much more English signage. Both sites had stelae describing the feats and accomplishments of the elite rulers, and both have yielded well preserved carved stone artifacts, now in the national museum in Mexico City.

Tenam Puente is about 8 kilometers from Comitán, while Chinkultic is about an hour's drive away, and part of the Lagunas Montebello National Park. There wasn't much in the information about the two sites relationship with each other.  I would guess they are about 50-60 kilometers apart, probably far enough in the days before roads and beasts of burden to remain relatively friendly.

Tenam Puente

Youngest three temples, Tenam Puente

The Cenote at Chinkultic
Sacrificing platform, Chinkultic

Highest pyramid, Chinkultic

View down into the mostly unexcavated area,
from the top of Chinkultic

Friday, March 1, 2013

Guacamayas - Ecotourism

A Mexican ejido is a group of (usually) indigenous people living communally, sharing land, labor, equipment costs, etc, sort of like a large company but with democratic leadership. The ecocenter of Guacamayas is the project of the Reforma Agraria ejido, a group of Chinanteco people who migrated to southern Chiapas from Oaxaca in 1976. 

For several years they tried various ways to make a living. They finally discovered the way to grow export quality chilies and they still do that today. But in 1996, using assistance from the federal government, they built a center of ecotourism. It is a conservation project to protect and encourage wild scarlet macaws, the Guacamayas. 

The center is on the edge of the Lacantún River, on the southern side of the Lacandon jungle, a national park called Montes Azules. Opposite the center the jungle is dense and dark. A contrast to the "people" side where much of the undergrowth has been removed to make room for farms.

The center consists of a reception building, a restaurant, and about 30 hotel rooms with private baths, each part of a cabaña with two to three rooms, covered by a tall palapa roof. The ceiling of each room and all windows are covered with insect screen, but the space above is open under the organic roof. Any talk or noise is shared with the neighbors!

Cabaña with two hotel rooms under one roof
In addition there is an area for backpackers and tents, plus the "economico" shared housing, three beds to a room with bathrooms outside. The cost of the single bed is about a quarter of the hotel room. Traveling solo can get expensive, so I opted for the shared room. However, there were only two other couples in the entire place so I had the room and bath-building all to myself. Not a bad deal at all, and my little cabin had a river view, something you pay extra for if you get the hotel room!

One of the other couples was touring with a private guide. They had reserved a boat tour for the next morning and asked if I would be interested in sharing the cost. We pulled away from the dock at 7am in the cool of a slightly overcast morning. 

Directly across the river, the ejido had installed a couple of nesting boxes for the Guacamayas and a pair have taken up residence. We got to see both birds in flight as well as many other species as the tour went on: Toucans, parrots, fishing eagles and a Cojolite, which a search of the Internet revealed is a crested guan, just as endangered as the macaws. 

We turned up a tributary of the Lacantún River, shallow and of a different color. The Lacantún is the color of Chiapan jade; the tributary was teal. Such a beautiful scene as we rode up the mirror surface, surrounded by emerald jungle topped with blue sky and white clouds. Nature's palette skewed to the indigo side. 

Cojolite, also known as the jungle turkey
The boat pilot was fantastic. In the narrow and rather shallow tributary with many fallen trees and hidden rocks, he managed to zip through barely visible spaces. Far upstream we came up against a short water fall. A line of rocks about a foot high with water pouring over. There was one small gap with water gushing out. The guide mentioned something about the tour being over, so I expected us to turn around. The next thing I knew, the boat was roaring towards that tiny break in the wall, the front of the boat rose up and slammed back down. In an instant, we were up and over the falls. In retrospect, the guide must had said, “If we don’t make it through the crack, this tour will be over!”

After the tour, and breakfast in the palapa-covered restaurant, I wandered around the tiny village. Houses were wood or concrete block with stucco, roofed with fronds (the palapa roof) or corrugated metal (hot and noisy!!). They were simple one or two room buildings with an outhouse a few feet away. Some appeared to have indoor plumbing, and wires were strung all over indicating ample electricity and maybe phones. Each house had a decent plot of land, used for chickens, gardens, animals, banana plants, and coconut palms.

Festive little church in the village
The only businesses appeared to be activities of the ejido: a greenhouse, a mechanic shop, the ejido meetinghouse, and an outdoor clothing store. The food store was a tiny lean-to against a house where an elderly woman sold junk food along with staples like cereal and shampoo. Her TV roared in the background. 

The tourism center had a large flight cage with four macaws. Other fenced-in areas were populated with native Mexican deer. I'd never seen any and thought them to be relegated to zoos, but they do live in the Lacandon Bioreserva across the river where their main predator is the jaguar. They're small, about the size of a large goat with long slender legs. In the village there was a bigger flight cage with more scarlet macaws, some were nesting pairs. Their nesting box overlowed with straw and feathers.

After the tour of the town it was time for a swim. Beneath the short cliff near the restaurant, there was a rocky beach. People had been diving off the boat dock, but I thought it would be better, swimming alone, to be near the shore. One of the meseros assured me that the crocodiles were upstream and downstream, but not over there where I wanted to swim. 

Swimming hole 

Hundreds of black tadpoles wiggled in the solar heated water between the rocks. I had to swish my sandals to keep from killing dozens at a time while wading into the river. The water was quite cool. The current between a rocky outcrop and the shore had created a fairly deep channel with water just strong enough to swim in and not actually go anywhere. A true swimming "hole". 

Neck deep in the water, I watched a foot-tall gray heron fishing in the shallows. It walked slowly among the rocks pecking up small black round shapes with tails. So much for my attempts at tadpole conservation!

Mexican Venado

Wild hybiscus in abundance

Here is their website: