Popocatépetl – Central Mexico’s reminder of who’s really in charge.

This past sunday, while enjoying the long weekend in the state of Morelos, we spotted what looked like a mushroom cloud way off in the distance. In my ignorance I exclaimed “there must have been an accident over there” (cue chuckles from those who know better); I was quickly informed that it indeed was an eruption from Popocatépetl,  a volcano some 70 km south-east of Mexico City.

I’ve always been fascinated by this volcano with the (until recently for me) unpronounceable name. The name Popocatépetl comes from a word compound in Nahuatl, Popoca = It smokes and Tepetl = Mountain, literally “Smoking Mountain”.

I can’t see Popocatépetl from my home in DF, nor was it visible from where I was in Morelos last Sunday. Distance and air contamination make it difficult to make out. When in the state of Puebla it would be much easier to see as its proximity and size makes Popocatépetl dominate the skyline there.

Once I arrived back to Mexico City; I investigated a little on what the situation is with this volcano and if there was any real danger. What I found was that Popocatépetl regularly ‘exhales’ as they say and that scientists do not expect an eruption in the immediate future. However it was clearly pointed out that there is never any way to tell for sure and as Popocatépetl is an active volcano there is always a chance that there could be an explosion at anytime.

The last eruption of Popocatépetl was in December of 2000. 30,000 residents within the immediate vicinity of the volcano had to be evacuated because of the gases and ash that were thrown up into the air. My partner told me that the ash reached as far as the north of Mexico City covering everything in layers of ash and soot.

Popocatépetl, an awesome and constant reminder that humanity is forever just guests on this earth.

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The Loss of Indigenous Languages

In Mexico, 11% of the population is classified as indigenous. To be considered indigenous in this country you are not identified along tribal or community associations (such as it is in countries like the U.S.A. or Canada), but rather along linguistic lines. So instead of being federally recognized as a member of the Chicueyaco community of Puebla state, you instead would receive recognition as a member of the Nahuatl/Aztecan speaking Peoples. To further complicate matters within any linguistic group here in Mexico there can be upwards of hundreds of different dialects dispersed over huge amounts of territory.

According to Eudelio Hinojosa Rebolledo, a delegate from the National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Peoples, the current teaching methods are not conducive to the survival or developement of indigenous languages. “If these languages disappear, so will the cultural identity of the Mayan people, and with it, that of Mexico. Unfortunately, Mayan languages are disappearing because the youth have no interest in speaking them and the Mayan population is dispersed throughout the country”, says Rebolledo.

Isidro Velasquez, one of only two known speakers of the dying Ayapanec language, jokes that he speaks it only with two turkeys he keeps in the backyard of his home.

Mexico is not the only country faced with this problem, according to UNESCO, half of the languages existing in the world today could be lost within “a few generations”, due to their marginalization from the Internet, cultural and economic pressures, and the development of new technologies that favor homogeneity. This however poses a particular problem for Mexico in the very fact that a great part of what Mexico “sells” to the world is its unequalled living pluricultural society. With the loss of indigenous languages and the subsequent loss of its culture, Mexico will be faced with only being able to sell memories.The tangible “living culture” will be gone.

There have been moves made to prevent the disappearance of many of Mexico’s native tongues. According to an article on Wikipedia, “In 1992 the fourth article of Mexico’s constitution was amended to reinforce the nation’s pluricultural nature by giving the State the obligation to protect and nurture the expressions of this diversity. On June 14, 1999, the Council of Writers in Indigenous Languages presented Congress with a document entitled “Suggested legal initiatives towards linguistic rights of indigenous Peoples and communities”, with the goal of beginning to protect the linguistic rights of indigenous communities. The Ley General de Derechos Lingüisticos de los Pueblos Indígenas was passed in December 2002, establishing a framework for the conservation, nurturing and development of indigenous languages.”

Time will tell if these measures will work. There are many experts who say that the eventual erosion of languages is unavoidable and has been happening since humans first started using sound as a means of communication. My hope is that there is a way of preserving the knowledge and legacy of these languages and cultures and that they won’t be relegated to mere chapters in history books.

What is your opinion? Is the disappearance of various language groups natural and unavoidable? Is it worthwhile to preserve the linguistic and cultural legacies of languages in danger of extinction?

Xoloitzcuintle – Mexican Hairless Dog

I want one! I’ve heard it said that “they’re so ugly they’re cute”, but I just see them as adorable. Xoloitzcuintles are known to be loyal and intelligent pets and are ideal for those who suffer from pet alergies (as they have no hair or dander) .

A fixture in Mexican society since time immemorial, at one time the Xoloitzcuintle was bred specifically as a source of food. Thankfully those days are gone and the proud Xolo (as they’re known in short) is reclaiming its position as an emblem of Mexico.

Have you ever met a Xolo?

Pueblos Mágicos – An Introduction

One of my personal goals for this blog, since it’s conception, is the promotion of an image of Mexico that is rarely (if ever) seen by the majority of people who have never been here before.

I see Mexico as so much more than its famed beaches and resorts, drug wars and Frida Kahlo. Don’t get me wrong, anyone could see that these are huge pieces of the mosaic that make up Mexico and it would be ignorant to pretend that they don’t exist.

However, the Mexico I live in, along with the other estimated 112 million habitants is a land of staggering history, cultural diversity, patriotism and heroism, reflection and beauty. It is complex and multi-layered. It has a heart and soul and it is magical! It is precisely this sense of magic that keeps me here.

Alamos, Sonora

The Secretaría de Turismo (Secretariat of Tourism), the government agency in charge of Mexico’s booming tourism industry, has since 2001 been actively promoting some of Mexico’s most magical villages. Working in cooperation with local state authorities as well as other federal agencies, the “Programa Pueblos Mágicos” has sought to promote the cultural heart and soul of this country. To date 41 towns and villages in 28 different states have been dubbed a Pueblo Mágico.

According to the Secretaría de Turismo, or SECTUR as they are known, “a Magical Village is a place with symbolism, legends, history, important events, day-to-day life – in other words “magic” in its social and cultural manifestations, with great opportunities for tourism”.

Malinalco, Estado de México. Capilla de San Pedro

So I had an idea! In keeping with my personal as well as SECTUR’s mission to promote the palpable magic of Mexico; I thought I would write down my experiences in the Pueblos Mágicos that I have been to. 7 towns and village’s in total, thus far. (Only a small percentage of the list, I know! As time and finances allow hopefully that list will grow.)

So soon to come, my perception of just a few of the Magical Towns that I have been to. My wish is that my experiences in these amazing places will inspire in you a desire to explore the magical heart and soul of this great nation.

How many of the Pueblos Mágicos have you visited? Which was your favorite and why?