Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Fauna of Pilateno

Pilateno is habitat of various giant insects some with a beautiful aspect like the orange butterfly below or the green and noisy cicada above, others with a monstrous look like the spiders or the horrible creature called "vinagrillo" (or vinegaroons in English). For a European used to tiny innocent insects it is a futile battle acclimatizing to their omnipresence in the forest (especially when braving the midnight torture toilet run ... wondering which insect species will be dining on ones delectable white bottom flesh

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The remote community of Pilateno

Pilateno is a small indigeneous community Nahuatl of about 800 inhabitants of which the half are kids and is situated in the middle of a beautiful valley of humid forest about 40mins by car from the town of Xilitla. Pilateno will be the place where I will spend the next 3 weeks working as a volunteer for an ecotourism project. The group of volunteer is formed by 5 girls: me, my sister Clary and her friend Virginia and 2 other girls from Barcelona (Claudia - 35 & Monica - 44). So far we went on quite well and we can organize each other without problems.

You have to imagine that the community of Pilateno is a village of mostly wooden houses spread all over the valley. Some family could afford more luxus and did build their house with cement and brakes. There is only one main road for the camioneta (private pick-ups which are the only public transportations for the locals to get out of the village) and the only way to reach the single houses is by footpath up and down the forest. In this village don`t exit sinks, showers and bathrooms. Toilets are situated a few metres away from the houses and they consist of a hole, a bucket with water to flush and a small bin for the used toilet paper. To wash clothes and to have a shower there are springs placed all over the village. Each family do also collect rain water from the house roof in big tall containers to wash dishes and for other general uses. Electricity was introduced in 2000 and some houses possess electric coffee and mais mill as well as stereo and TV.

The Indigeneous Host Family
Each volunteer will spend the first week of the workcamp experience by a local indigeneous family in order to get closer to the culture and slowly adapt to the new life-style as well as be part of the daily activities of each family member. My host family lives about 15 mins by foot from the centre of the village which is the "cooperativa" of Pilateno where the only mini shop and the meeting point of the community are situated. The area next to the mini shop (which is formed of 3 walls and a roof all made by hands by the locals) will become our dormitory or house for our 2nd and 3rd week.

The only way to reach the house of my host family is a very tight footpath through the deep green forest. The family is formed by the fairly young grand-parents Camerina (a lovely woman of 54 years) and his husband Thomas. They are both pentioned but still have a lot of work to do. Both very healthy and full of spirit with not a wrinckle in their face. In the house live their son Luis with his wife Lorenza (27) and the two little girls Ceiline (9) and the noty but adorable Anelise (4). The house has 2 bedrooms which are placed on the two opposite sides of the living room that includes kitchen and sitting room. The house is a ery simple house made of wood with a few fornitures; two double beds (the girls sleep each in one bed), one table, another table for various kitchen tools, four chairs (of which three are half broken) and a very simple fire-kitchen (see picture).

I slept in the bedroom of Camerina and Thomas (the grand-parents). My bed was placed next to their one and a provisory courtain was deviding the room into two. Thank God this time I didn´t have to sleep on the floor! Each volunteer received a foldable bed which will be used for the whole duration of the workcamp in Pilateno and it was far better than sleeping on hard soil.

Anxiousness of Insects in the Night
The good point was to sleep on a decent bed but the critical one was to be sleeping in a wooden house with an open section inbetween the walls and the roof and doesn´t have any proper doors. This means that any kinds of insects and bugs are welcome in the house unexpectively. I don`t have a mosquito-net and so my first night in the wooden house in the middle of the forest was a NIGHTMARE!! While I was preparing my bed with the 2 girsl I couldn`t stop looking around my self to check if any horrible animal was wondering around the house... and why have I ever done it?? I kept seeing little ugly creatures of any sizes and shapes appearing and disappearing from every corner and hole such as enormous spiders, cockroach, weird beetles and God knows what else! Hundreds of mosquitos and moths were flying around the house. While I was lieing in my bed I was horrified by being even touched by any of those animals and with my super tiny blanket (that I have stolen from the airplane of Iberia on the way here) I was trying to cover my self from head to feet. When Camerina switched off the light and everybody was in bed sleeping, I could hear millions of noises without knowing where they were coming from and especially how close to my bed they were. I tell you guys I was paralised! I couldn`t move a muscle and my body was like an extremely rigid wooden stick. Finally around maybe 3 or 4am I fall asleep and slept until 9:30am without getting up from the numerous singing gallos (cocks) in the night and in the morning. After this dreadful night I decided not to be too scared because at the end of the day these insects won`t be able to eat me anyway. The following 3 nights weren`t so stressful but still I didn`t feel 100% safe.

Shower and Clothes-Washing at the Spring or at the River
Initially it was kind of hard to get used to live without a sink to wash my teeth, my hands and my face. To live without a shower means never give a good clean to the body being sweaty half of the times and especially not having a proper toilet. Clothes-washing became here a new activity of my life with my local family. In one of the pic you can see the toilet in the middle of the trees. When I needed to go to the toilet in the middle of the night I would rather wait until the morning. There is NO WAY I would go out of the house with a light when it´s pitch black... you never know what could happen! In the other pic you can see el pozzo (the spring) where I would have my shower using a container to throw fresh water on my body and where I would wash my clothes by hands. Near el pozzo there are Lorenza (the mother) and her little girls Selina and lovely Aneliz.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The town of Xilitla - San Luis Potosi

My stay in Mexico city came to an end and it was time to head towards the state of San Luis Potosi, in Xilitla, North of Mexico city where my 3-weeks volunteer workcamp of an ecotourism project will take place. I took a night bus at 9:30pm which drove in 8h directly to Xilitla (a small town in the South -East of the state). Sleeping on a seat wasn´t easy so I had a broken sleep of maybe about 3h. Around 2am the bus stopped for 30 mins. The driver didn´t inform us of anything and apparently the road was blocked by a car accident. Fortunately it didn´t take too long and the journey continued safely.

The bus arrived around 6am at Xilitla where Norma, the coordinator of the workcamp, welcomed us and brought us to the "El Cafe´de las Flores", a restaurant run by a community of women. The main coltivation in this region are coffe and mais and thus are part of the local culture. So I ordered a good cup of coffee with leche... it was DELICIOUS! My perfect type of coffee: not bitter at all, very light and with a bit of sugar, WOW! While enjoying the coffee of my life Norma told us a bit about the project and the programme appeared to be very flexible and changeable if wished. The activities are varied from creating and promoting tourist attracions to sensibilize the environmental conservetion within the locals and playing with the kids. The 3 main activities regarding the ecotourism theme are 1. the creation of a book with local recepies and traditions, 2. paint a map of the village with the main natural attractions and 3. help women in the creation of jewleries made of local seeds and other manual activities. It sounded super interesting and hopefully us volunteers will be able to succed the project!
An hour later we went for a walk into the centre of this tiny town which is basically dominated by the main plaza with the church (see picture) and one main street packed with fruit stalls and shops of any types. Sunday is the day of the market in Xilitla. It gets super crowded with people of the communities selling and buying any sort of things. In the plaza there are guapangos (Mexican folcloristic band) playing and loads of people dancing away with the rythm soave (see picture).
Since I didn´t have any cash left I had to find a bank to be able to change my Traveller Checks and had to go all the way to Ciudad Valles, the closest big city about 2h away from Xilitla. After queueing up for about 20 mins and waiting for the long process (from Traveler Checks into cash) to get going, I finally have been told that in my case wasn´t possible because the signature on my Cheques didn´t exactly look the same as the one on my passport... ?!? Gulp! Great, so I went all the way there for nothing!
Once I was back in Xilitla, we moved our staff into the dormitory... and what a freaken dormitory! It was a 10 square metres room with beach mats placed all over the floor tile on which 7 people had to sleep for that night... I couldn´t believe it! This dormitory called the "Cooperativa" of Xilitla has to be shared between our project group of 5 people and the other one of about 5 people as well plus the coordinator for the next 2 week-ends. Also the only toilet in the cooperativa doesn´t flush properly which meant that if I need to have a number 2 (the solid version) I have to run out on the street to look for a toilet in a restaurant or an internet point!
My first night on the floor (see picture), after a night sleeping on the bus-seat, was absolutely AWFUL! I kept turning around trying to find a comfortable position that wouldn´t completely distroy my bones. I was extremely exhausted that I fall asleep anyway but woke up thousand times and got up at 8am with broken neck and back, puffed eyes and scared of thinking to sleep for the rest of my 3 weeks in similar conditions! NO WAY! The only moment of relief was a bowl of fresh tropical fruits (mango, papaya, pineapple and melon) with natural yoghurt and the so called granola (cereals) for breakfast... yumme!

Xilitla will be our place of resources for food, water, any sort of material for activities and any other essential needs which have to be purchased over the week-end (our time off). The project it self will take place in Pilateno, about 40mins by car (or so called "camioneta") from Xilitla.
By 12.30am the camioneta was waiting for us. Shortly a camioneta is one of the few private pick-up vans of the indigeneous of Pilateno that runs about 2/3 times a day and leaves whenever is full with people or with material. So there isn´t any fixed timetable... it leaves when it leaves. The camioneta doesnt have any seats for the passengers so we had to stay stand up holding eachother to the sides (see picture).
The way to Pilateno is for a small part of concrete road but most of it is pure soil with stones and when it rains of big maddy water ponds. The landscape in this area is a paradise of heavy green mountains and valleys. After climbing a bit we kept going down and down until we reached the community of Pilateno hidden in the middle of a humid tropical forest.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Mexico city; once the Aztec empire of Tenochitlan

I have just spent 5 days in the huge city of the Mexican capital and you will be surprised but I have never felt unsafe; in fact I have been told to travel in day light and stay in the touristy area. Once I arrived in the city and started cruising around by metro (which is the best, cheap and easy way to get around) I did not realize how big was the city until I have climbed the Mirador Torre Latina which offers a spectacular view of the metropolis and gave me the big picture of Mexico city. Regarding the people, they are amazingly friendly and so lovable!!