Lagos de Montebello
Apr 28th, 2010 by robert

After going to Oventik I looked into going to another Zapatista caracol, La Realidad, which lies close to Laguna Miramar, a large, pristine lake surrounded by tropical rainforest. I would spend a night in the caracol, and the next day hike into the lake, through the jungle, to camp on its shore for a night.

Unfortunately there is an arduous journey to reach La Realidad that requires about eight hours standing in the back of a truck pounding down a rough dirt road. The journey itself did not put me off, but I was a little short on time because I (joy!) had managed to insert myself into a trip to the biosphere reserve El Triunfo. No, the journey was complicated by social unrest in the region. Not so long ago the federal government (the army) had evicted several Zapatista communities from the edge of the forest, in order to expand the Aguas Azules biosphere reserve. Paramilitary forces tied to the army also have been threatening Zapatista communities, or even attacking them. The region is tense. Read the rest of this entry »

Apr 28th, 2010 by robert

San Cristobal is a hub of political activity in southern Mexico. Many non-profits are based in the town, working for all kinds of causes. The Zapatista rebellion of 1994 was directly felt in San Cristobal and the surrounding region spreading eastwards to the Lacondon forests. Although the Zapatista army is demobilized, it has catalyzed a vibrant political movement called La Otra Compaña. Spreading throughout Mexico, especially in indigenous communities, is the simple concept that the current government is bad government (mal gobierno), a government that is structured to support the interests of business and the wealthy. This is a worldwide concept. Its logical conclusion is that the political system does not work in the interests of the poor, and that an entirely new system needs to be built.

I decided to dig a little deeper, Read the rest of this entry »

Huítepec, a Scrap of Cloud Forest
Apr 27th, 2010 by robert

Huítepec is a well-known place among international birders. It has a fragment of cloud forest protected in a reserve close to San Cristobal, and cloud forests can be so much fun to bird! As well as crescent-chested warbler, various trogons and other cloud forest species, I was on the lookout for the fabled pink-headed warbler.

The first time I went to Huítepec I caught a ride to the entrance in time for it’s 9 AM opening, already late for birding. The gate was locked, and I waited. Read the rest of this entry »

San Cristobal de las Casas
Apr 26th, 2010 by robert

I arrived in San Cristobal (about two weeks ago)  just in time to go out to dinner with my friends Peter and María Elena, who I hadn’t seen in sixteen years. Peter and I worked together in Costa Rica and Nicaragua during the turbulent 1980’s. Peter´s mother was visiting too, so I began a needed period of regrouping: laundry, writing, talking with friends, and just hanging out. There was no lack of social opportunity, as every night there was an engagement with some of their friends. The conversation in Spanish was rapid and intellectually stimulating, lots of it centered on politics in Chiapas. Read the rest of this entry »

Trash birds. . . and deforestation
Apr 25th, 2010 by robert

Sitting in a bus winding along the serpintine road from Palenque to San Cristobal de las Casas, I remembered what one of our Bacalar hosts had said, such a long time ago. She had been living in Bacalar for four years, leading wildlife and birding tours, and only recently had added great-tailed grackle to her yard list of over 200 species. For days I had been living in the absence of grackles, and only when reaching the town of Ocosingo did I start to see them again.

Trash Birds

Usually I’ve thought of trash birds as introduced species like English house sparrow and European starling, but Jacquies, the Bacalar birder, considered trash birds those that flourish with the environmental changes wrought by humans. The urban birds, especially the noisy, obnoxious ones. In Cancún, the most radically altered place I have been to on this journey, practically the only birds seen, and certainly the overwhelming number, were grackles house sparrows and domestic pigeons. Some of the places I have been have been swarming with chickens, certainly a trash bird if ever there was one, despite its palatable qualities.

Steep Plantings

Now rising in elevation towards cooler San Cristobal, I began to see the occasional house sparrow and pigeon. Black vultures also became much more numerous, but I cannot bring myself to call them trash birds.

As we passed by barren, rocky fields, I was more struck by the impoverished indigenous communities through which we were passing, than by trash birds. The many indigenous communities in upland Chiapas are literally marginalized, pushed to the edge of society. It’s the same old story: colonists invade and take all the best land for ranches or plantations, evicting entire communities and terminating their way of life.

In Chiapas many indigenous communities base their economy on cultivating crops in poor soil only 5 centimeters thick. For before the land was divided and distributed to the rich, it was deforested, and erosion on the steep terrain left to the poor caused the soil to flow into the oceans.

Ek Balam deforested

I have been observing deforestation throughout the trip, beginning in the Yucatan. Rural people cut down trees for both firewood and expansion of la milpa, the family corn and vegetable plot. Occasionally the rural poor also clear land for cattle. The problem is that lands available are already marginal for agricultural production, steep and rocky. Cutting and burning the second- (or third-) growth forest bares the land to yet another round of erosion, and then to get anything to grow impoverished farmers buy inorganic fertilizers and pesticides. It is a vicious circle through which the campesino always loses.

Pojoj deforestation

It is heartbreaking to see the last vestiges of virgin forest being cut and burned around the edges, but it has become such a common sight. Yet I cannot help thinking that this grief is actually a by-product of privilege. I grew up in a part of the country that was deforested centuries ago, with the indigenous peoples extinguished or removed. Scraps of forest were set aside long, long ago, in parks. Those battles were fought, boundaries set.

El Ocote deforestation

What is happening in Mexico, and everywhere else in the world for that matter, is no different than what has happened in the developed world. Think of the lost Eastern hardwood forest that stretched for a thousand miles, of the great northwestern redwood and fir forests decimated, the denuded islands of Southeast Alaska or the United Kingdom. How about the clear-cuts out Birch Creek way, or in your neighbor’s yard to improve a view?

The solution in Mexico seems pretty simple. Redistribute some of the best agricultural land back to the people who once owned it, and give them electric ranges. It’s not simple, of course. No social movement ever is.

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