Thursday, 30 October 2008

Full days, full head, full stomach
but only as long as we can afford it, that last one

Oaxaca ― Santa María del Tule ― Ixtlán ― Capulalpan de Méndez and back,
Tuesday 28 and Wednesday 29 October

Days 2 and 3 of the reality tour were charged, long, tiring and inspiring. Tuesday's first highlight truly was one: A visit to the church in Santa María del Tule. The church itself was already pretty nice but its front yard, apart from bushes sculpted into animal figures, is the place where the World's largest tree stands! The 2000-year old fellow you can see on the tiny video is an ahuehuete (Taxodium mucronatum) measuring 14 m through the trunk, and 55 m around it.

It is wonderful that a natural wonder like this is left be. 'Cause others, that are extremely important to millions if not billions of people's everyday life, are not. I have never seen what the big threat of genetically modified organisms could be, and even after the discussion with Master of sociology Fernando Ramos at the smallest and cutest (apart from the armed guards at the gate) university I have ever seen, I was not convinced.

But maybe that was due to this whole group thing. The day's programme looked packed as it was, and already its first item, breakfast, started late, lasted much longer than planned, and the other planned presentation ― Professor Felipe Ramírez was going to talk about the Ecoturismo Comunitario Capulalpan he is presiding ― was cancelled. Also, the morning presentation was to be given by antropologist Aldo González. So having Mr Ramos was the second change on three presentations (and the evening's cancellation the third on four). But we of course listened to him in the charmingly simple classroom of the 2-year old university. Or rather, some did. I sensed an atmosphere of somewhat lost concentration from the beginning. Not because the subject was not interesting ― 'Presence of transgenetic seed corn in the Sierra Norte' ― I think some of us were simply tired and not fully up to it because of the changes and the waiting.

Fortunately, others were even very awake. And their input and me letting the subject rest in one of my mind's corners afterwards made me understand what the deal is. An important one. To cut a long story short, the varieties of corn grown by the indigenous people in Sierra Norte have been infiltrated by transgenetic corn. More resistant to insects, this corn gains territory but its taste, consistency and nutritional quality are way below the natural corn varieties. Plus its invasion prevents the Sierra Norte communities to sell their corn as a biological product to the European Union as originally intended. Now, there is barely enough for the communities themselves. In the long run, the world supply is threatened as the multinationals who developed (now that's a big word) the resistant but apparently tasteless corn can control the market.

For lunch we had a delicious fish ― that, you can still get, clean and fresh ― at the Ecoturismo Comunitario Capulalpan, a covered terrace with a view over a tiny valley with a river running through, and surrounded by trees.

The evening offered another genuine experience: At a clinic of traditional indigenous medicine, a curandera (healeress) reads what is holding you down (if anything) and then you get it cleaned out, meaning treatment of the causes instead of just the symptoms. While you stand up with your eyes closed, the curandera slightly whips you with some plants before rolling an egg firmly all over your body. It ends up in your hands where you have to hold it, and then she crashes it into a glass of water and watches how it reacts, the yolk, the white, the water, and tells you for example how much air is in your head. The air here means what blocks you.

Next step is a massage before you are sent to whip yourself in the temazcal, the traditional indigenous sauna. This was all very nice except for the long waiting time. It was raining all evening and had gotten pretty cold ― here, houses have an open inner yard, and the border between inside and outside is, how shall I say, not as definable as in at least the Northern half of Europe. But it's great, I would love to live a place like that. And I got to hold one of the clinic workers' little baby boy. Well, he was basically sent around between us, the indigenous are so natural and trustful. Their children so beautiful. The boy was very calm with the situation, just looking with his wide-open dark brown eyes, baby-drooling from between his toned bubbly cheeks, and his tiny hand keeping a very firm grip on my European finger (and sometimes in my North European hair).

Home late to a cold cabin. Room mate and I no luck with the fireplace, although it turned out we were the ones who had kept it going for the longest time, some 20 minutes I guess. Saw it was 1 am, so no (cold) shower to wash off the leaves from the whipping that were sticking to the massage wax and the temazcal sweat. Just to bed with almost all the clothes on, and quite a few blankets of varying thicknesses.

Up 5 hours later to go bird-watching. Only one other group member joined, so we had twice as many guides as gringos, but only saw half as many birds, and that one was very tiny and flew away quickly. Didn't see much of a cave either, as the rain had caused a minor landslide making it risky to explore too deeply. But never mind, really not, 'cause there is always stuff to learn, things to discover. Colourful mushrooms, one so big it looked like an oversized pool billard ball. Hairy caterpillars. Wonderful flowers. And not least: clovers. Nothing special you might think, but they were enormous, and four-leafed ones are so common here that you look for those carrying five. Which are not difficult to collect either, so you might wanna go for six. If you are greedy. And that's what it's all about, innit? I say: Let yourself be amazed by what you do get and reach, as it is often already a wonder. You might miss out on more precious things if you choose greed rather than real desire.

At this morning's presentation too, it took me a lot of time and thinking before really understanding the problem: A polluting gold mine on the indigenous' community land was run by foreign companies and had never given any part of its revenue back to the community, who also had never been asked if they wanted the mine in the first place. Once I did understand, I also came up with what I think could actually turn into a good solution. The mine is closed now but in its surroundings a small village has developed during the years it was operating. As most people, it can without being too prejudiced be assumed that the village's inhabitants would like to earn some money. The indigenous do not want the mine to re-open and are at the same time trying to develop sustainable eco tourism in the greater area. Now, how can we try to make everybody happy?

By creating eco tourism in the abandoned mine buildings. It will mean an income and respect for the environment. The villagers want the first, the indigenous community the second ― and with this solution, they will both get both, plus they will get to work together on a common project, gaining mutual respect. A win-win situation. Like that. What's more, they will control or at least influence what is happening in the area, before someone else does. I myself would be happy to contribute with more than just the idea. I believe it can be done. The ball is on their side now, and they do have everything to win.

New words:
gubixa = Sun (in Zapoteco)
tope = 'sleeping policeman' (on some signs it's called a 'reductor')

Beetle count: 129 (thereof just 3 'New Beetles')

Quote: 'Groups… This is the last time I travel with a group.'
(another fellow traveller, on the morning of Day 2…)

Interesting: Stalagmites grow faster when it has rained, stalactites when it has not. The explanation is that the chalk does not have time to settle on the stalactites when there is too much water. Wonder how they measure it, as they grow by just a millimetre a year anyway…

That's it for today. And please, do vote for me ― 5 logos (it's easy, takes just two clicks but they gotta be in the right place). Every day. Thank you.

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