Monthly Archives: October 2008

11 Week Experiment

My eleven week experiment ends today. Since August 15th, after leaving my job, I’ve been practicing a different way of living. Each day I woke up, I only did what I wanted to do, nothing more and nothing less. I made very little plans. I followed whatever urges seemed to be coming from my “soul” or internal frame of reference.

The consequences have been nothing but extraordinary. I’m more relaxed and stress free than I’ve been in a very long time. In fact, I don’t remember ever being this stress free. Friends have commented on how they can see the relaxation in my face.

I listened to that inner voice. You know it; the one that speaks softly but gives you excellent advice. Initially I had made huge plans that partitioned out my day so that I could get everything done that I thought I needed to do. I dropped that plan before I even got started. It was based on too many rules and restrictions. I let my inner urges direct every hour of every day.

So, I ended up doing lots of things; travel, hiking, photography, learning new things on the computer, watching movies, reading, spending time with friends and significant others, meditation, yoga, playing guitar, working on business plans and etc.

Funny thing is that I was also able to keep my apartment clean, wash clothes, keep my car up to date and the plethora of other daily and weekly “maintenance” type activities that are required to live decently. The difference is that I did them when I wanted or when the urge struck. Maybe it felt better to do the dishes in the morning instead of at night. I washed clothes at night instead of Saturday morning.

My next experiment is to now incorporate my 11 Week experiment into a long term way of living. I will probably be starting some consulting work next week or very soon after. It will be interesting to see how my life goes.

I’ll be keeping you posted.

Michael

Mexico – Final Day

The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page. – St. Augustine

I travel not to go anywhere, but to go.  I travel for travel’s sake.  The great affair is to move. – Robert Louis Stevenson

Within miles of leaving Creel on a bus to Chihuahua, the countryside dramatically changed. It was easy to tell that we had left the canyon country. Don’t get me wrong. There were still beautiful vistas, mountains, strange rocks, pine forests and dryness but the canyon was south of us now.

Our flight out of Chihuahua didn’t leave until 7:00 p.m., so we had a lot of time to get there. As we traveled northeast, the mountains and pine forests faded away to be replaced by wide expanses of grasslands, small shrubs and several varieties of cacti.

Approaching the town of Cuauhtemoc, we began to see miles and miles of heavy agriculture; wheat and fruit orchards mostly plus a lot of cattle ranches. Cuauhtemoc has a large population of Mennonites; around 50,000, who speak a German dialet called “Plattdeutsch.” We only had time to tour the area around the square and eat some lunch so Erica and I didn’t see any Mennonites.

The rest of the day was spent relaxing in the bus, exchanging contact information and talking about future visits. It took the bus quite some time to get through the city of Chihuahua, population over 700,000, as the airport was on the other side from where we entered the city.

Erica and I flew with the group to Toluca and then hopped on a cab for a fast, over 1 hour, ride to Mexico City International Airport where we would be staying at a hotel for just a few hours until leaving for Dallas, TX. All we saw of Toluca was from the window of a cab at 10:30 p.m. :-(

We awoke after about 5 hours of sleep and headed to Mexico City International Airport. I couldn’t believe the size of Mexico City. As we gained altitude in the plane heading in a slightly northeast direction, Erica said, “Aren’t those pyramids down there?”. I looked out and saw the pyramid complex of Teotihuacan.

Wow!!! What a nice way to end our fabulous trip to Mexico. I have to come back now and tour the ancient sites around Mexico City and the Yucatan.

The rest of the day was long but uneventful. Time for rest.

Michael

Mexico – Day 8

The Lost Cathedral of Satevo

The Lost Cathedral of Satevo

It was early morning when we boarded our vehicles to make the 3.1 mile (5 km) bumpy roller coaster ride to The Lost Cathedral of Satevo. The cathedral is in the middle of nowhere. I don’t believe you can continue on the road with cars or trucks past this point.

It’s a large building considering that the congregation for the area was probably not very numerous when it was built. The mystery is who built it and when. Most theories have it built between the early 1600’s to mid 1700’s by either Jesuits or a mixture of Jesuits and then Franciscan monks who apparently drove the Jesuits out of the area. It has been in a continually state of reconstruction for some time.

Our guide said one story of why it was built was due to a Catholic requirement that to ordain priests one must have a cathedral where a bishop is based. Apparently once a cathedral was built then priests could be ordained whether the bishop was there or not. As the monks were spreading across Mexico and into what would become the southwest United States, priests were in need, so this cathedral became the base for the expansion.

It seemed logical to us, but no one really knows the real reason it was built or by who and when.

Waiting for the Road to be Built

Waiting for the Road to be Built

After a late morning breakfast, we piled into our vans and began the long 83.9 miles (135 km), trek back to Creel. The canyons were lit beautifully by the sun this morning. We saw many rock faces in a different light; no pun intended. I still couldn’t get used to looking over the road and seeing the river several thousand feet down. It created a constant anxiety; at least for me.

Once we made it to the construction area on the dirt road, things got interesting. As we went around a left hand curve we had to quickly stop. The road was blocked by two huge earth moving vehicles plus the road was gone. So, we had to wait about 15 minutes while the giant caterpillar bulldozer recreated the road so that we could pass. Wow! I’m glad we weren’t traveling this at night.

The rest of the trip back was uneventful but the constant swaying around the curvy roads made us have to hold on to keep from bumping into the person next to us.

Overall it was an excellent adventure!

Tomorrow we head to Chihuahua but only stay a brief moment until we board a plane to Toluca.

View my photos for the day. (12 photos)

Have a great day!

Michael

Mexico – Day 7

Batopilas Canyon

Batopilas Canyon

We awoke this morning to no electricity and water which made it very hard to take a shower and other such things. Half the town of Creel was without electricity. Eventually the hotel manager was able to get the water pump going which helped immensely. The electricity was still out when we left in four vehicles for our adventure ride down to Batopilas.

The road to Batopilas from Creel is 135 km long or 83.9 miles. 70 km of the road was paved and 65 km were dirt. It took us 5 ½ hours to get there. This canyon road was hair raising. 11 km of the dirt road were being widened which meant detours around large earth moving vehicles on a road about 1 ½ lanes wide hundreds of feet up the side of a canyon. It was very bumpy in parts. The majority of the road was one lane wide which made it interesting when another vehicle approached. The cliffs fell below us several hundred feet to several thousand feet at some points. One slip of the wheel would be terminal. Our driver thankfully was a pro and drives this road twice a week.

What we got in return for this physically numbing ride was some of the most dramatic scenery on the planet. Canyons upon canyons for as far as you can see and then some. Deep ravines filled with massive boulders. Strange shaped rocks poking out of the flora that covered anything that wasn’t bare rock. Even then there were exceptions as we saw a tree literally growing right out of a rock. At one point, where we stopped for a rest and a snack, I swear the cliffs rising from the Urique River approached or exceeded 4000 ft. (1210 m) in height. Stunning nevertheless.

Batopilas Hacienda Ruins

Batopilas Hacienda Ruins

We dropped quickly from 7500 ft. (2286 m) elevation to 1870 ft. (570 m).  The temperature changed from cool and dry to sub tropical. The forest at the higher altitudes consisted of 23 species of oak, 8 species of pine and numerous deciduous shrubs and wildflowers. By the time we got to Batopilas, most of the trees had vanished to be replaced by organ cactus, agave, acacia looking shrub-like trees and other mixed shrubs that could handle the heat and dryness.

Batopilas is a small town of about 700 hundred, but in its day when silver mining was prevalent had over 5000 residents. Now the town supports the many local indigenous people that live scattered all over the canyons, contains a couple of art galleries plus a few hotels and restaurants. Tourism is part of the commerce here but growing illegal drugs like marijuana seems to be the largest enterprise. We were told to stay within certain areas and not venture past. No problemo!

As the evening approached and the sun was setting we explored the ruins of a large hacienda here that was in service during the silver mining days. The ruins were fascinating with the juxtaposition of stonework and overgrown plants covering the grounds. It was peaceful as we walked the ruins while hearing the Urique river flow over the rocky bed below.

A quick dinner was in order as was a shower to clean off the dirt and dust from the ride down. Tomorrow we explore the Lost Cathedral of Satevo and then head back up to Creel; another 135 km, 5 ½ hour ride.

Please view my photos for the day. (18 photos)

Have a great day!

Michael

Mexico – Day 6

View of the Divisadero

View of the Mirador del Rio Oteros

Our day started at Café Veronique for breakfast. Erica and I had the huevos (eggs) and chirizo sausage plus the mandatory guacamole with fresh tortilla chips. It was a great way to start our day since we had many kilometers to travel and a host of sights to see.

The Divisadero Barrancas was our morning destination. Our first stop was the Balancing Rock. This is very large rock balanced on a much narrower pillar of stone out in the middle of the canyon. The top stone is denser and erodes more slowly than the stone below. Most of the strange shaped rocks in the area are caused by this erosion mismatch.

We stopped at one area where we could walk a path along the edge of the canyon with a bonus at the end being a walking bridge over a deep chasm. The scale was huge. We were looking at the opposite canyon walls miles away and looking down two or three thousand feet. It seemed very close and very far at the same time. Most of the canyons in the Copper Canyon region are deeper and wider than the Grand Canyon which may surprise most people.

Cusarare Falls

Cusarare Falls

Returning to Creel around 1:30 p.m., we had less than an hour to eat and get ready for our afternoon adventure. Our first stop was the elephant rock. From certain angles this eroded rock look just like a large elephant. Next stop was Lago Arareco which means horseshoe lake because of its shape. It’s about 18.6 miles (30 km) long. The indigenous people of the area can be seen around this lake and it is also a popular spot for the locals to relax.

Not too far down the road was Cusarare Falls which means eagle’s nest in the native language. Our driver took us over a 1.9 mile (3 km) incredibly bumpy path along and in the stream to get to the parking lot. A short walk brought us to this beautiful waterfall nestled in this steep canyon. The rock face had two very distinct colors, one being yellowish and the other a very dark gray or black. Erica and I walked down the 280 steps to the bottom of the falls where we were greeted with a beautiful rainbow at the bottom. The timing was perfect as the light was at the best angle.

A short drive later we explored the Cusarare Mission church and village and then onto the Valley of the Frogs and the Valley of the Mushrooms. Like I mentioned earlier the stone erodes at different rates causing bizarre shapes. One area had many shapes like frogs and the next had dozens of stone mushroom shapes. Very bizarre and extremely beautiful!

Our final destination for the day was a Tarahumara family home in a cave. We were allowed to walk in and around their home. It was humbling to see how these people live quite well without all the modern conveniences and crutches we have today. They lived in a small peaceful valley surrounded by beautiful rock cliffs. I’m glad to have been able to experience this.

View my photos for the day. (26 photos)

Michael

Mexico – Day 5

View of the Divisadero

View of the Divisadero

It was time for a lazy morning. After our last breakfast at the Hotel Mission in Cerocahui, we did a little walking, a little bit of packing and a lot of relaxing. Our two buses arrived right on time. After our bags were thrown on top again, we began our bouncy, dusty 45 minute ride to Bahuichivo.

Of course our train was right on time, 1 hour late. I decided that the trains in this region are on time when they arrive. That’s the only criteria that seems to work.

The train ride from Bahuichivo to Creel in the state of Chihuahua has been deemed the most spectacular train ride in North America both in scenery and engineering marvel. We passed over 37 bridges, plowed through 86 tunnels (some over 1000 feet in length) and crossed the continental divide three times. There was an incredible turn where the train track actually crossed back over itself. It was amazing to see.

I stayed almost the entire time on the observation deck. Remember this is the small place between cars. For me, this was the best way to experience the scenery and the train ride in its most raw form. The highest elevation was 8071 feet (2460 M). We stopped a few times to take on new passengers. There were always a group of indigenous Tarahumara people selling their wares. Erica and I found several really nice woven baskets from a mother and daughter who came right up to the train window.

One of the most awe inspiring places we stopped at was a view point of the Divisadero Barrancas. This canyon is deeper and wider than the Grand Canyon. I’ve never seen anything like it. The scale was so immense it was hard to fathom the distances and heights we were seeing. The photo on the top left is from one viewpoint. We reached Creel shortly after spending time here. We were all ready for a quick meal and then some rest.

We have a big day planned for tomorrow; more exploration of the Divisadero, Cusarare Falls and Mission, Valley of the Frogs, Valley of the Mushrooms and an up close and personal tour of a Tarahumara family home.

View my photos for the day. (21 photos)

Have a great day!

Michael

Mexico – Day 4

Barrancas de Urique

Barrancas de Urique

After a slightly un-restful sleep, Erica and I headed to breakfast. I love the Mexican style breakfasts; huevos (eggs), bacon, biscuits, refried beans and coffee. Very satisfying!

Our destination today was the beautifully rugged and dramatic Barranca de Urique. The trip was about 18 miles (30 km) and took approximately 1 ½ hours. We were in a small bus for the bouncy ride over dirt roads with an elevation climb of over 3000 feet (900 m). Cerocahui is in a little valley north of our destination.

The ride south immediately started with a steep ascent along the southern face of the canyon encircling the valley where Cerocahui is nestled. We ultimately ascended to around 7500 ft. elevation (2300 m) and then down again for the views of Barranca de Urique.

Basket Weaver

Basket Weaver

The geology of the region is fascinating and has been crafted over millions of years from volcanic/tectonic activity coupled with water erosion from the many rivers that crisscross the area. Most of our trip was through vast expanses of pine forest with some mixed deciduous trees and shrubs. Many wildflowers were blooming above 6000 ft. (1800 m). What was amazing is that when we looked down upon the town of Urique, we were told that it was a sub-tropical climate which was a dramatic difference to the cool dry air of the pine forests. Barranca de Urique and The Copper Canyon is as dramatic as the Grand Canyon. The scenic vistas seemed to go on forever!

Many indigenous people still live their simple lives here without electricity or many of the modern conveniences that were are used to. We found some wonderful hand woven baskets from two ladies. (See the photo link below for an example)

The bus ride back to Cerocahui seemed to go faster than the trip out. Maybe the anticipation of what we were going to see affected our perception of time.

After a quick lunch and a short afternoon rest, several of us hauled ourselves up on some horses and with a guide walked a bit around the Cerocahui valley towards the Cascadas de Cerocahui or small waterfalls of Cerocahui. The falls were not that big today but the area was rich in color (reds, sandstone, yellow, white, brown, gray and black). The peaceful ride was just what my soul was craving; a no rush meandering along the backcountry.

Our day ended eating another fantastic meal with new friends sharing the adventures of the day. Tomorrow we head northeast on the Chihuahua Pacific Railway. Our destination is Creel which seems to be the northern gateway to the vast Copper Canyon area. The train ride is supposed to be the most spectacular in all of North America.

Enjoy viewing my photos from the day (21 photos).

Have a great day!

Michael

Mexico – Day 3

On the Train

On the Train

We leave the Hotel El Fuerte 15 minutes late for the train station. The Chihuahua Pacific Railway was our preferred mode of transportation to the very small village of Bahuichivo where a bus would take us to our final destination of Cerocahui. The Hotel Mission would be our home for two days as we explored the surrounding countryside and the small village of approximately 1800 people.

Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your perspective, our train was 1 hour and 10 minutes late. According to our guide, Mexican trains have their own time table and the schedule can change continuously. You just have to learn to go with it.

The trip was long (4 ½ hours) as we inched our way up the canyon slopes and followed one of the many rivers very closely. The train swayed back and forth as we crossed multiple bridges and traversed many tunnels.  This area was incredibly rugged. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

The Mission Hotel Bell

The Mission Hotel Bell

Before we boarded the train, our guide told us that there would be observation decks to take photographs and view the rugged landscape we were traveling through. I had to laugh as I entered the observation deck. Basically, it was the area between the train cars. So, to take a photograph, you had to hold on to the hand rails with one hand, lean towards the opened train car door (top half was opened) and take a photograph with the other hand. The intense swaying and bouncing made it quite challenging. I was reminded of trying to take photos of orcas in Puget Sound earlier this summer on a severely rocking boat.

We reached Bahuichivo safe and sound but still swaying to and fro.  :-) Cerocahui is 8 miles south of Bahuichivo. So, we boarded a bus-like vehicle, our bags thrown on the top and off we bounced down the dirt road towards our destination. 45 minutes later we thankfully reached the Hotel Mission. Cold margaritas were waiting for us. A late lunch was quickly consumed giving us time to walk around the small village or rest.

The evening started with some local entertainment. It was quite relaxing. Dinner consisted of local caught fish peppered with a multitude of spices, rice and a bowl of lentil soup. Hmmmm. Very tasty.

Time for bed. Tomorrow we will travel to Barranca de Urique to see some dramatic canyon scenery. Who knows what else?

View my photos for the day (28 photos).

Michael

Xenophobic Thoughts

Xenophobia – [an unreasonable fear or hatred of foreigners or strangers or of that which is foreign or strange. ] from Dictionary.com.

For many years, I’ve harbored stereotypical thoughts about Mexico. Most of them were negative or unpleasant. You must understand these are not thoughts of prejudice but more along the lines of fears or phobias. This is not unusual for me as I have a history of fearing things that I don’t know or know well.

So, I’ve thought a lot about where those ideas have come from. Some of them are from stories of people I know that have traveled here. Others are from movies or news reports. But, frankly, all of them have been one-sided, narrow views of a country with a rich culture, wonderful people, colorful history and a laidback style of living.

For example, on our first full day (Oct. 21st) we passed through some areas that were very dry and dusty with people barely etching out a living. But, I’ve seen the exact same thing in back road parts of the southwest United States. It’s a rough country where the people need stamina, perseverance and a strong will to survive.

I’ve already met some wonderfully nice people, ate some amazing food and seen some spectacular scenery not to mention an awe inspiring sunset each day so far. (Sorry, I did not take any photos of the sunsets. I decided to enjoy them and not photograph them for a change. I know what you are thinking. How strange?)

So, the best way I’ve found to overcome fears, phobias and stereotypes is to jump into the thing that is challenging you and keep an open mind. When you come out the other side, you’ll have grown more than you anticipated, expanded your horizons and found out that people are pretty much the same everywhere you go. I love that!

Michael

Small Stars

Even a small star shines in the darkness. – Finnish proverb

How often do you compare yourself to others? How often does that comparison lead to a complete disregard or minimization of your contribution to your family, friends or society?

Sometimes the big things start with the small things we do.

It’s the unseen or behind the scenes effort.

It’s the single parent working two jobs to take care of their children.

It’s the quiet person who tirelessly works to help others but no one ever sees them. It’s the charitable contributions that never get reported in the news.

It’s the smile you give a stranger who looks like they need a boost.

It’s cooking a meal for a friend who is sick. It’s giving a hand to someone who needs help without being asked.

It’s listening instead of thinking or talking. It’s spending real time, both in length and quality, to your children.

Remember that the little things you do may be really big to the person on the receiving end. Don’t underestimate your contribution, whether big or small.

If everyone did a little bit to help others out, deep and long term social change would be the outcome. Not bad for a small star.

Have a great day!