Feb. 3-8: Reconnecting with Old Friends: Guadalajara, Jalisco

Yoghurt truck to Guadalajara (1 of 1)  We followed a yoghurt truck from the coast through breathtaking valleys to Guadalajara, a city as large as Toronto, where we both have life-long friends, so our visit there was filled with happy reunions.

We weJohn with Fer and Hilda (1 of 1)re hosted by Hilda Villaseñor and Fernando Garcia, a dear family friend of John and Elizabeth, who was an intern  with organic farmer Diane Kretschmar in the Muskoka region of Ontario a decade ago, where Adam and Anna met.  15 minutes after arriving, we were off to observe a domestic gardening class Fernando was offering to neighbourhood women through his urban agriculture business, Cosecha en Casa.

Deb, Fer, and HIlda (1 of 1)

They are a dynamic and enterprising couple, and we had a lot of fun cooking, eating, and visiting with them.



Devils in the Details of the Devices

Devices! (1 of 1) As two technopeasant viejitos, we continued to have our own hair-pulling dramas with our many devices: 2 smart phones, 2 small and 2 large cameras, 2 laptops (PC and MAC), 3 external hard drives, and more chargers and cords than we can identify…! They were our companions even on the road, since we plugged in John’s laptop for music over the car’s stereo system, Deb worked on blog photos during long drives, and we regularly stopped to photograph a roadside scene.

But we arrived in Guadalajara with neither laptop working properly. So we spent our first day there in its biggest mall with an Apple Store and Best Buy, and walked out with John’s wifi connection revived, Deb’s computer working again with a new $100 85watt cord, and a Mexican cellphone to boot…!

The never ending tale of tomato workers: Gomez Farias and Sayula

Twenty years ago, I first met Teresa Sintero, who was then a 65-year old campesina picking tomatoes for a tomato agribusiness in Sayula, Jalisco. Teresa was featured in my book Tangled Routes: Women, Work and Globalization on the Tomato Trail, and was the honoured guest at the launch of the Spanish edition in Sayula in 2009; her granddaughter Aleida, now working in a cherry tomato greenhouse, was on the cover of the second edition. I hadn’t visited there in several years, and was afraid that Teresa might not still be alive.

Gomez Farias is small town off the beaten track, and was in the midst of preparations for Carnival. Teresa lives in a colonia (neighbourhood) on the surrounding hillside built by Red Cross money from Canada after the 1985 earthquake.

 Gomez Farias va verde (1 of 1)  Carnival time (1 of 1)

Finding her home again turned out to be another adventure of circling around our target, a process oft-repeated. I had forgotten the house number so found in my book a photo of her in front of house no. 92. We went up and down streets but no. 92 eluded us. Only after asking around, we found the house of the photo, the number covered up by a saint’s picture, only discover it was her son’s home and she lived at 156. One of her 50 grandchildren (she had 16 children) led us to the right spot, and we had a heart-warming reunion. “I thought you had abandoned us..” she said.

John and Teresa's family (1 of 1)

We learned that Pedro, her husband, died three years ago; she is heart-broken but still relatively hearty. As she and another granddaughter fixed us an impromptu lunch, and a great grandchild was rocked in a hammock in the kitchen, we were visited by other members of the extended family. We talked briefly about involving both Teresa and her granddaughter Aleida who continues as a tomato worker (in one of the many greenhouses now covering the countryside), in a film based on the book. Follow this visit with our slide show below. (To see full screen photos in the slide show below, click on FS in lower right corner)

Teresa and family in Gomez Farias

On the wOld Sayula church (1 of 1)ay back to Guadalajara, we stopped in to visit Leonardo Lamas, a doctor and environmental activist in Sayula, a town with deep colonial history and tomato plantations, where I had first met Teresa in the tomato fields 20 years ago. Leonardo is part of a local Friends of the Earth group that has built a regional ecological centre, which hasLeonard and Chela (1 of 1) benefitted from our book royalties, and remains a core advisor for any film project, particularly because of his links with Indigenous communities.

John’s adventures with friends in the city

John spent a day helping Fernando with some of his urban agricultural projects, visiting a potential job- a hotel with a problem with their living plant wall, driving out to Lake Chapala where he was finishing up a contract installing a raised bed garden overlooking the lake and later picking up worm composter boxes that had been ordered by the government. Dinner was take out tacos and very good Tequila at Fernando’s brothers house and a chance to meet Fernando’s new two month old nephew.

The next day John biked 30k out to Fraccioniemento Loreto via a very complicated route over about 10 different roads determined by Google maps (and got a bit lost on the return trip) to visit old family friends, the Valascos: Leobardo and Concha and two of their offspring-Leticia and Jorge- and a grandchild living with them. Leticia and Jorge spend part of a summer and another daughter, Lupita spent almost a year on learning English staying with John and Elizabeth. A few years later, the whole family was forced to leave Mexico City because of criminal threats and spent almost a year in Toronto. This was a chance to catch up and keep the connection alive.   Lupita and brother Leobardo Jr, and family are now landed immigrants living in Alberta.

Leobardo & family (1 of 1)

Deborah’s adventures in Tepic, Nayarit

pilgrimage sign (1 of 1)

Two of my long-time research collaborators, Gabriel Torres and Ofelia Perez-Peña,  have started a new alternative university, UniMaia (University of Mother Earth) for communities working to create cooperatives of production and consumption around Lake Chapala. They have also co-founded a new NGO, “From Aztlan to Tenochtitlan”, which is reviving a pilgrimage the Aztec-Mexicas took, according to their codices, or records, centuries before the Spaniards arrived, to found what is now Mexico City. The first peregrinaje last October involved 100 people over 10 days, visiting sacred sites, where they were met by different Indigenous groups. The project aims to raise ecological consciousness and to promote a recovery of the Indigenous cosmovisions and origins of Mexican cultural identity.

pilgrimage painting (1 of 1)  Rincon de los Recuerdos (1 of 1)

I had the privilege of accompanying Gabriel and Ofelia to Tepic, in the state of Nayarit, where the pilgrimage starts, as they met with others to organize the 2015 event. It was a fascinating peek at what are inevitable (and recognizable) tensions between mestizo organizers and Indigenous leaders. The meetings were held in what is now my favourite restaurant in Mexico, El Rincon de los Recuerdos (see slide show below), where one of the organizers, Berta, has amassed artifacts of both Indigenous history and features healthy food (watch the blue corn tortillas being made), music, and public dialogue.

(To see full screen photos in the slide show below, click on FS in lower right corner)

Rincon de los Recuerdos

Gabriel was also speaking to a graduate seminar on food democracy at the University of Nayarit, which I attended and then escaped to a shrimp lunch with women friends. Both he and Ofelia spoke at the launch of a book on the history of Rio Tepic, sponsored by environmental activists working to clean up the river. A highlight was meeting two women who work closely with women of the Cora peoples in the mountains, both interested in food and Indigenous knowledges.


Feb. 1 – 3: In Search of the Sun: The “Great Beach Vacation” in Nayarit

On the way along the coast, we passed through Mazatlán, Nayarit, where Deb got serenaded at the Pueblo Viejo fish restaurant and we stayed at the historic and charming Hotel Belmar, a favourite place of John and family over the years.

serenade in Matzatlan   Bel Mar view 2

(To see larger versions of the photos here, just click on them)

The next morning, we photographed the playful sculptures the longest malecóns in the world (21 km) as the city prepared for Carnival.

(To see full screen photos in the slide show below, click on FS in lower right corner)

Carnival sculptures in Mazatlan

As we headed south along the coast in Sinaloa, we passed the immense greenhouses of large agribusinesses, with fields of tomatoes, corn, alfalfa, and peppers (likely the origin of many of our imported winter vegetables). Then as we entered Nayarit, it was the hillsides of mango and avocado that thrilled us, and that we, of course, had to try.

mango fields  fresh fruit! (1 of 1)

By the time we reached our dream destination, Chacala, we were faced with two full days of downpours and muddy streets. We managed to get an hour ocean swim in every day, and watched the pelicans diving for small fish meals.

cloudy skies (1 of 1)  pelicans

It was probably the low point of our trip, so we burrowed ourselves in our books (we each brought a box full!).

John reading (1 of 1)  Deb questioning

The tide turned on the third day, when we got a gorgeous apartment overlooking the beach (where John had stayed last year) and were finally treated to a sunny day.

chacala apt.  our dining room (1 of 1)


Jan. 27-30: Big Boats, Small Boats: Adventures on the Sea of Cortez


Baja ferries 2

Before boarding the immense Baja Ferry at midnight, we were subjected to hours of security checks, sniffing dogs, and multiple fees, with drivers separated from passengers and men from women. Our reward was a tiny but luxurious cabin and a good night’s sleep before disembarking at La Paz, Baja California, in time for a hefty breakfast overlooking the beautiful malecón.

Baja Ferries

Our home for the next three days was Suzie, the 37-foot wooden trawler built in Asia in the 70s, and winter home of John’s friends, George and Janet Diveky (she was back in their Yellowknife home, so we missed her). While the plan had been for us to sail around the Sea of Cortez, predictions of stormy weather kept us docked but still enjoying the mariners’ life, reading and cooking on the boat, and delighting in George’s tales of his dramatic childhood in Europe or his decades as an educator with Inuit communities in the Arctic.

The gastronomical highlight of our visit was a collectively produced feast of lobster, tiger shrimp, and fish accompanied by John’s original margaritas. With calmer waters on our last morning, George took us for a few hours spin around and outside of the harbour, following sea lions and birds, cooking a big breakfast as we rocked, and pretending to be serious co-pilots.

(See images from George’s boat (the big one belongs to Carlos Slim!) below by clicking on FS in lower right corner for Full Screen, click to move to next image or let it run.)

Adventures on the Sea of Cortez


We managed a day on Playa Balandra, walking 15 minutes in inch-deep water to get to the mouth of the bay so that we could have a hearty swim and view the volcanic rock formations. Back on the beach, John followed the sea gulls with his camera.

Beach with George

La Paz beach 2

bird photographer

We also took a bike ride along the malecón (seaside promenade) and beyond into the hills past amazing rock formations, and then back through the town of La Paz.

John looking at rock cliff  La Paz plaza

Crossing the Sea of Cortez back to the mainland offered an unexpected adventure. Approaching the port, we stopped to take photos of what we thought was our ferry; by the time we parked to buy our tickets, we learned that the ferry had just left, but it wasn’t our ferry. While the Internet indicated our ferry to Mazatlan was to leave at 5 PM, it failed to offer the update that the ferry had broken down two days earlier. The ticket seller told us we had to wait a day or two, mentioning no other options. As we were about to return to George’s boat, a helpful port employee told us about a freighter from a competing company leaving that night for Topolobampo. It may not have been as grand or luxurious as the passenger ferry, but it was free of security checks and provided endless entertainment. We watched the big trucks loading and sat in our van as it was lifted up to the top level. We then joined the 20 or so truck drivers, eating a basic meal in the cafeteria and struggling to sleep in a stuffy salon while the sea rocked us through the night.

Deb, car and ferry

in line for the ferry

John photographing truck loading

Only one week into Mexico, and we had experienced a wide range of sleeping quarters, from seedy hotels to elegant ferry cabins, from Suzie’s cozy bow to the freighter’s plastic salon seats.

(See images of our sleeping quarters below by clicking on FS in lower right corner for Full Screen, click to move to next image or let it run.)

Sleeping quarters

Jan. 21 – 26: From Trains to Boats, Mountains to Sea (first week in Mexico)

First Mexican breakfastWe slipped easily across the border at Nogales, Arizona, with only paperwork delaying us, and tested a roadside restaurant for our first Mexican breakfast.

colonial carving

We spent our first night at a somewhat seedy Leo’s Inn along the Pacific coast at Guaymas, Sonora, but were reminded of Mexico’s colonial history in an old hotel restaurant where we enjoyed our first Mexican fish dinner.

We headed inland the next day to El Fuerte, Sinaloa, a beautiful colonial town, and the launching pad for our train trip.There we discovered a gem of a hotel, Rio Vista, an ecotourist’s dream overlooking the river.

Deb at Rio Vista

It was filled with paintings of birds, Indigenous, colonial and revolutionary figures and collectibles. The owner and self-taught naturalist, Eleazar Gamez, gave us a tour regaling us with stories of Indigenous cosmovisions, his conversations with his plants, and colourful shamanic visitors

(See hotel images below by clicking on FS in lower right corner for Full Screen, then click to move to next image or let it run automatically.)

Jan. 21-27 From Trains to Boats, Mountains to Sea


The next two days took us on a winding train trail into the mountains and through the La Barranca de Cobre, or Copper Canyon, deeper at points than the Grand Canyon. It may not be as vast but offers a more intimate view from El Chepe train, an ever-winding narrow gauge engineering marvel, which passes through 86 tunnels and over 37 bridges on the 8-hour trip to Creel, Chihuahua. Passionate (and crazy) photographers that we are, we hung out in the space between cars where we could try to capture the volcanic-formed ridges and deep valleys. Armed with his 200mm lens, John followed the train in and out of tunnels.

(See images below by clicking on FS in lower right corner for Full Screen, then click on each image for slide show or let it run automatically.)

Chepe train through Copper Canyon


Before taking the train back to El Fuerte the next day, we took a tour of the surrounding valley, home of the Rarámuri peoples, visiting a family living in a cave house, an old Jesuit mission, regional school, and amazing volcanic rock formations.

Our next adventure moved us from mountainous earth to tumultuous sea. This time our launching pad was the charming seaside town of Tolopobampo, Sinaloa. We devoured a big fish dinner on the beach with the backdrop of a fiery sunset.

Topolobampo beach sellers

Topolobampo sunset







Then we happened upon a pedestrian Sunday night on the malecón (boardwalk), complete with tailgate parties and communal exercise machines (a model for Toronto’s waterfront…?)

Exercise machines in Tolopobampo (1 of 1)  John on exercise machines in Tolopobampo (1 of 1)