All posts by Deb and John

Feb. 25 – 28: Mexico City – Friends, Art and Politics

Reunions around delicious meals

Despite its monstrous size and population (20 million), Mexico City, DF, offered us intimate connections with old friends. For each of the three nights during our whistle stop visit there, we had heart-warming dinners with people who are woven into our respective histories.

Barrón family (1 of 1)

Soon after arriving at the home of Antonieta Barrón, Deborah’s research collaborator for over 20 years, we sat down for a family dinner of “cochinita pebil”, a Yucantan-style pulled pork slow cooked by Luis, her son-in-law. Antonieta is recovering from surgery, but remains active as a teacher/researcher and matriarch/nurturer of a large extended family. The next day, John’s son Tim got to reconnect with her 4-year-old grandson Emiliano whom he had charmed when we stayed there two years ago.

cochinita cooking (1 of 1)  dinner at Antonieta's (1 of 1)

That night we had dinner downtown with Julieta and the Arturos, both senior and junior, at a fancy Mexican restaurant in the upscale Polanco neighbourhood. Arturo was Elizabeth’s good friend during her first visit to Mexico in the late 60″s. John had suggested that we find a good place to talk and catch up on family news so was a bit dismayed when we got out of the car and heard the roar of  the very trendy crowded  restaurant. We had to shout a bit but had a good time…! The food  was good – although these sort of places seem to specialize in small servings on big plates.  Tim stayed with the younger Arturo and they certainly seemed  to be having a great time, sharing smokes and a lot of tequila.   I urged Arturo to visit us in Canada and he suggested they would come next year.

dinner with Velasquez family (1 of 1)

Tim and Arturo Jr. (1 of 1)   small serving (1 of 1)

Our third and final night in Mexico City, we had a homemade meal of chicken tostados in the home of Sara San Martin and Daniel Ponce, popular educators who Deborah worked with in the 1990s through the Mexican Institute for Community Development in Guadalajara. Daniel now works with the National Commission Against Discrimination and Sara is director of the Ecumenical Centre that works for human rights with groups around the country. It was also fun to catch up with their two kids (Josh hung out with them as a teenager): Sarita doing a residency in gynecology and Danielito, a drummer, most recently accompanying a Lila Downs tour.

Deb photographing Sara and Daniel

Inextricable art and politics

 The one day we ventured to the Centro (maneuvering three different lines of the immense subway system), we met up with John’s son Tim in Chalputepec park. Tim was in the city for a week to attend a huge electronic dance musical festival of 50,000. He got backstage pass benefits and plans to be involved in their festivals across Canada this summer.

The three of us went to the Museo de Arte Moderna to see a joint exhibit of the photographs of Tina Modotti & Edward Weston, focusing on their production in the late 1920s during their affair in Mexico. Tina was very involved with the famous Mexican political artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in 1930s period, the Mexican Communist party, and volunteered in the Spanish civil wars. WE saw a play about her life in San Miguel (in Spanish of which we only partially understood) and had seen a one woman play about her in Toronto almost two years ago.

After the museum closed early because of a planned demonstration about the 43 murdered student protesters, we walked down the beautiful wide Reforma Boulevard admiring the new very stylish modern high rise office buildings and the purple flowering Jacaranda trees and gardens to find a restaurant for  a late lunch. We noticed two sitting  women  with placards protesting the disappearance of a relative. They explained the manifestation would start a bit later further east at the Angel monument. The plaza in front of them had metal plaques on the stone pavement explaining, in the first person ” my name is…and I was murdered/ disappeared  while …” .

John with relatives of disappeared (1 of 1)  Missing student plaque

We spent the rest of the afternoon watching the noisy demonstration of thousands of students and  other political groups (very much tending to la izquierda- the left) marching down the now closed Reforma. Deborah acquired a large cardboard placard with pictures of the murdered students and John made a small donation into a demonstrators  cup and so also obtained a small banner: ” Nos faltan 43!”.   Quite a powerful reminder of the continuing problems the people of Mexico still face despite the veneer of modernity, democracy and economical development.

For a glimpse of the massive march, see our vimeo link:

The next day we returned to a favourite plaza, in Coyoacan, and discovered an amazing array of “catrinas” painted on the wall of an art school. To satisfy Deborah’s fascination and collection of these images reflecting Mexican perspectives on death, John followed the long wall and around the corner to capture these on video (below).

Ongoing love-hate relationship with technology

 We continued to both relish what our electronic tools offered us (Skype conversations with family, cell phones to reach Mexican friends, our beloved cameras, and this blog!), while also facing periodic small (and large) crises which tried our patience. We left our Mexican cellphone in San Miguel, so John found two (at $10 each), but we’ve yet to figure out how they work (desbloquear, elegir, añadir contactos..?.) John’s computer quite regularly disengaged from the Internet and his Nokia phone/camera went suddenly black and couldn’t be revived. As he mourned the loss of a lot of good pictures, it somehow came back to life, while showing the date to be May 2014….! Deborah’s laptop started displaying erratic lines and then wouldn’t boot up (4 days after the warranty expired); the local Apple doctor concluded the hard drive was finished and suggested either a $1,500 repair job or a new laptop at $5,000. Nonethless, he massaged it and suddenly it came on again, seemingly repairing itself and revived for another round…J

maps and devices (1 of 1)

Our ambiguous relationship with these devices was epitomized by our attempts to leave Mexico City to head south to Oaxaca, using no fewer than 5 tools: a screen shot of google maps on a computer, GPS on a phone, two Mexico city maps – one street map, one from an atlas, and a map of the country. There were major contradictions among them and none could help us as much as asking the locals (though some could also send us on wild goose chases). It took us two hours to get out of the city….and we were rewarded with spectacular mountain views as we passed through the state of Puebla and into Oaxaca state.

DF to Oaxaca mt views


Feb. 8 – 22: Hiking and Biking, Huffing and Puffing around Guanjuato

The mountains of Guanajuato presented their own challenges to us as hikers and bikers, offering us other ways to get to know the city and surrounding countryside.

A1bikes and cityscape (1 of 1)

The first week, John seduced Deborah into circling the city by cycling the Carretera Panoramica, a 25 kilometre circuit of beautiful views, steep climbs, and thrilling downhill drops. We took 7 hours, stopping often to photograph the city below us and the mountains around us. We lunched on tacos at the famous landmark, the statue of rebel hero El Pipila, who torched the gates to allow the first independence victory in 1810. The last two hours, beginning with a jarring steep descent on cobblestone streets, just about finished Deborah’s biking career. Despite her efforts to revive herself at the traditional Mercado de Dulces (sweets), she found it necessary to walk the bike up most inclines, panting to reach the finish line. John insisted on another beer and coffee break at a new trendy hillside restaurant overlooking the city far below.

Biking around Guanajuato


Clearly, we have different skills and approaches to biking: what is easy for John is a challenge for Deborah; what is a challenge for John is torture for Deborah. To prove this difference, John repeated the same circuit the next morning in less than two hours…!

B3Rachel and John in the mountains

Deborah’s very fit cousin Rachel, however, found this an opportunity to revive her cycling passion, and to repair her bike which had sat unused (because it was dangerous for a woman to bike alone). John oiled her chains, replaced the tube, pumped up the tires, and off they went for the challenging trip to Santa Rosa de Lima, Rachel cheerfully tackled the 500 metre climb and the ups and downs of the 15 Km mountainous route. Adam and Deborah, taking the easy way in the van, along with Folly the dog, cheered them on as they passed by and then celebrated their victory at their destination with a meal overlooking the valley. After exploring the exquisite tile stores in Dolores Hidalgo, we packed the bikes into the van, and all five headed back to Guanajuato.

Rachel and John to Santa Rosa


C0bike (1 of 1)

One day John decided he needed a major bike ride (and perhaps Deborah needed some time on her own), so he took off for Delores Hidalgo, about 60 Km to the east of Guanajuato, and made it back just after sunset. The trip included climbing about 1500 metres in total and with a stop towards the end at the artesanal brewery to take out a few more of their interesting products.

John's solo to Delores Hidalgo

The first week we hiked with Rachel into the ravines; much like Toronto ravines, they gave us a feeling of wilderness within the city except that the landscape was desert like and cactus filled. On the way back, Deborah’s discerning eye noticed a new craft brewery, offering John the perfect excuse to stock up on local beers.

John and Rachel hiking ravine (1 of 1)

Constant companions on any walk within Guanajuato were the cacophony of roof-top guard dogs, both large and small, fiercely protecting their owners’ property, and reminding us of the very culturally specific role that dogs play in Latin America. Check out these barking muts in the slide show below (and only imagine the accompanying sound effects!) However, we also made friends with our friends’ very gentle dogs, including Fernando and Hilda’s very large chocolate lab Bruno, and Rachel and Adam’s Folly.


Each mountain surrounding the city beckoned to be explored, with the requisite cross at its summit. So another day we set up to climb one of the steepest. The air was thin, and Deborah got dizzy from the altitude, so we didn’t quite make it to the top before sunset, but marveled at the layers of hillsides filled with colourful houses; with John’s zoom lens, we were even able to find our own home..!

(Click on images below for full screen view)

John hiking to cross (1 of 1)  Deb hiking mt 3

 Side trip to Leon

The second week we were invited to nearby Leon to visit Ana Guevara, a science prof who had participated in the Food Justice course Deborah co-taught at the Coady International Institute at StFX in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, last May.

John and Deb with Ana's class (1 of 1)

Deborah spoke with two of her climate change classes, making the links to her research on the corporate food system in Mexico as well as local and global food sovereignty movements. As both of us have been reading Naomi Klein’s new book, This Changes Everything, John entered into the conversation with students about the necessary government responses to the coming crisis. Ana gave us a tour of the very wealthy and beautifully designed campus of Tec de Monterrey, introducing us to colleagues and showing us the abandoned greenhouse where she hopes to develop a campus community garden. As a technical university training engineers and architects, it was interesting to learn about its emphasis on “ética y ciudadania” (ethics and citizenship) throughout the curriculum, and how ¾ of the student body does practical training or seminars abroad.

Leon visit

We walked through the Centro of Leon, another charming colonial city, and had a salmon salad lunch at a small alternative restaurant. On the way out of town, we braved an enormous shopping mall to get needed supplies for John’s avocado tree project.

Truco 7 with Ana and Alberto

Two days later, we hosted Ana and her partner Alberto for a weekend in Guanajuato; after lunch and strolling through the intimate narrow streets of the city, we produced a collective feast (and our despedida, or farewell dinner) with Rachel and Adam, which included a red corn pozole with octopus cooked in the solar oven. Ana hopes to keep in contact with Rachel and with our Guadalajara friend Fernando around her community garden projects in Leon; it’s been fun to connect our Mexican friends who share common interests..!


Feb. 8-22: At Home on the Hill in Guanajuato

After a month on the road, we finally settled in for two weeks in magical Guanajuato, a city surrounded by tall mountains with multi-coloured and multi-level houses built on steep hills of a ravine, mainly reached by foot through windy alleyways.

cityscape coloured houses (1 of 1)

It was the site of the Spaniard’s major silver mines (worked by Indigenous slave labour), the historical independence battle led by Criolle rebel leader Miguel Hidalgo in 1810, tunnel passageways and monumental architecture. The birthplace of muralist Diego Rivera, Guanajuato hosts the international Cervantino Arts Festival for three weeks in October (we’d love to return for that and Day of the Dead later this year, John by bike, Deb by plane!).

Hidalgo 2  Don Quixote

Miners monument (1 of 1)

Just strolling through the narrow cobblestone streets is a treat, with mimes and music on every corner, singing along with Los Estudiantes (roaming troubadours dressed in 19th century Spanish attire – listen below). One evening we took in an art history lecture at the massive University on Diego Rivera and his role in the Mexican left (understanding perhaps half of it, and relieved when there were images to look at!)

(View the city in the slide show below clicking on FS for full screen in lower right corner and by starting with first in the strip of images below)

Guanajuato city

We rented a house from Deborah’s cousin, Rachel and her partner, Adam, and shared many meals with them.

Rachel and Deb  John and Rachel (1 of 1)

They live the summer months on an island in Nova Scotia and the winter months here, where they have created whimsical spaces in their home, Casa Rosa, and the rental, Casa Palma (highly recommended for our friends!)

(Click on FS for full screen in lower right corner and tart with the first of the images in the strip below ;  Find Rachel and Adam’s cream coloured house with blue trim the first two images; our aqua coloured house with avocado tree to the right and above a red house can be found later)

Our houses in Guanajuato

Part of the treat for us was reclaiming domestic tasks such as shopping in the immense Mercado Hidalgo and cooking for ourselves. We relished fresh tortillas, tropical fruits, octopus pozole and fish ceviche, helped down with John’s famous margaritas and any new local artisanal beer he could discover. We experimented with cooking with the Uitzi (solar oven) created by Adam, aiming the mirrors at just the right angle to sizzle our octopus with the hot sun. (website for solar oven).

(Relish our experiences in the market, cooking and eating in the slide show below clicking on FS for full screen in lower right corner and by starting with first image in the strip below)

Buying, cooking and eating..!


13John spraying14bugs

 We also immersed ourselves in other tasks, each according to our passions: John worked daily in the garden Rachel has cultivated (with mango, avocado, orange and peach trees, and wonderful beds of arugula and mustards), turned over and revived the compost, and spent hours fighting a massive infestation of sap-sucking insects that threatened the very life of the avocado tree.

 17Dining room with laptops (1 of 1)

Cyborg Deborah reconnected with her pilates class via internet, Skyped with family, friends and students she is still supervising, and worked on her evolving website, with long-distance tech assistance.

Exploring our barrio

 We got to know Apollonia, the local storekeeper; Pepe, our neighbor who painted the mural that covered our wall, and exchanged “Buenas Tardes!” with folks we passed on our hikes up and down the hill.

Las Palmas mural (1 of 1)

One day while exploring the neighbourhood, we passed by one of the ubiquitous murals of the Virgin of Guadalupe, got a whiff of dope, and watched a group of local youth duck down to hide from Deborah’s camera. Jorge, the friendliest of the gang, offered to show us a local mural project in a garbage-strewn vacant lot they were reclaiming down the hill. There we met Leonardo, a regional coordinator with Pacto por el Pueblo, a project with “chavos banda” (local street youth into graffiti and hip hop). He and Ingacio, the local community leader, invited us back for the mural opening on the weekend. Ignacio himself offered a fascinating life history: sent for security training in arms around the world (including Canada), he was a bodyguard for federal politicians and witness to endless demonstrations of corruption; rejecting that life, he has now chosen to be a “generador de cambios”, or change agent, with local youth.

1Pacto por el barrio (1 of 8)

(View  the slide showof the youth mural project by starting with first image in slide show and clicking on FS for full screen in lower right corner)

Neighbourhood youth mural project

The first mural, a Mayan calendar, was flanked with the number 13, to represent the transformation of the youth and of the barrio hoped for from this project. As special guests, we were invited to pose with the youth for everyone’s cellphone cameras. We chatted with local women and enjoyed a community meal of chicharrón and a big birthday cake they had prepared. Deborah exchanged with the Pacto’s coordinators contacts with other youth mural projects in LA and Toronto.

See the next blog entry for our adventures around Guanajuato..!

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)


Jan. 18 – 20 Luxury retreat in Tucson, Arizona

Leaving the canyon, we passed many amazing vistas and arrived at the home of my life-long friends Valerie and Ralph in time for a saguaro sunset.


The next day, John took a 70 km bike hike toward Oracle, while Deb and Valerie swam, and later we hiked with Ralph up the Sabino Canyon.

John-heading-to-bike-canyon  hiking-in-saguaros

Then with some strong requests from Deborah and encouragement from our hosts, who declared they had never seen such a dirty car, we got the red caravan cleaned – inside and out…and it looks like new…let’s see how long it lasts…!

clean-car-interior  clean-car-exterior

We had a hangout day in our friends’ luxurious home to confront and conquer some computer and camera issues – so we could send our first blog covering our U.S. road trip and the first two weeks of our four-month adventure…!


Jan. 18-20 Luxury retreat in Tucson, Arizona



January 15-18 – Adventures in the Grand Canyon


We finally arrived at a dream destination, and spent two days hiking inside and biking around this amazing natural wonder. After a week of sitting in a car, our bodies were ready for some exercise, but we really challenged them: a 7 hour hike down the Kaibab trail (Deb did 4 miles and John an additional 2) and a 6-hour bike ride around the rim (40 km).


As two passionate photographers, we were constantly trying to catch our awe at the landscape through our lenses…and to fathom the ‘deep time’ that the layers of rock represent about the 1.75 billion year old formation of our planet.


On our way out of the canyon, we passed some bucking deer and visited Elizabeth Coulter’s famous watchtower, whose design was based on native architecture and wall paintings.


January 12-13 – From cousin to cousin, Texas to New Mexico

A 10 hour drive through Arkansas landed us in Malakoff, Texas, where we had a genuine Mexican meal (the owners from Guanajuato where we’re headed) with my cousin, Rick Barndt, the only cousin on my dad’s side.


Then off to Taos, New Mexico to visit two cousins on my mom’s side, Vian and Robin Collier. It was a 13 hour drive ending with a snow storm greeting us to Taos. The next morning, we walked out into a winter wonderland, so wandered with our cameras around the town before connecting with Robin, who had arranged for me to talk about my tomato research to a grade 9 math class taught by his friend Miguel, an Hispanic biologist/activist. Then we went to lunch with his partner Margaret, a curandera, or healer and midwife, who works with medicinal herbs. And had dinner with cousin Vian and his partner Juanita, another amazing Hispanic woman, teacher/weaver/artist. We stayed in her house which was a traditional adobe home filled with art, looms, and books…a real treat..!

Deb-at-Juanita's-house  Juanita's-house-2

Jan. 13-14 New Mexico