Friday, October 29, 2010

End of Week 12 - Huixquilucan, Mexico

It is now the end of October and winter is closing in on Mexico too. Last week the environmental education training group traveled to Piedra Grande in the municipality of Huixquilucan (pronounced weeks key lou kahn, accenting the lou), a small town in the mountains on the southwestern edge of Mexico City. The fall weather brought mostly sunny but cold days, with one day of fog and rain. At night, frosts loomed just around the corner. It was jacket weather, and I wished I had brought a winter hat. 

Fog and rain on the last day.

We spent the week at a center called GRUPEDSAC (, training in ecotecnias, or green, low cost technologies, like solar water heaters, rainwater collection systems, bio-intensive gardening, and efficient wood-burning stoves (in reality, I'm still trying to figure out what ecotecnias are). We started the week with 12 hours of a single lecture on diagnostic tools for gender diversity in participatory projects, which is as fun as it sounds. The week got better though; we helped build an organic garden at a local house in the hills and a wood-burning stove at another house. We ended the week by facilitating a workshop on watersheds and soils, in spanish, to twenty women and children from the community.


Piedra Grande is a picturesque village, not at all what I imagined Mexico to be like; it lacks both desert and beach. The village lies in a narrow valley about 3,000 meters in elevation and is surrounded by tall pine forests, oak trees, milpas (corn farms) and mountain ranches. In the mornings, when the sun rose above Mexico City and the volcanoes that surround it, it shined on the east facing slopes of Piedra Grande, illuminating the trees with bright orange light, and the warmth attracted hundreds of birds of all kinds; white-eared hummingbirds, northern flickers, hepatic tanagers, blue-hooded euphonias, grey silky-flycatcher, and red warblers, to name a few.

At this time of year the corn is tall and dry, awaiting the final harvest of helotes (ears of corn) for making tortillas. The rows of giant agave are green, and some are being tapped for their agua miel, or honey water, to make pulque, the local home-made alcoholic drink. Some of the trees have lost their leaves. Wind rustles through bare tree branches and rows of dry corn, chapping the cheeks of those that live there until they are calloused and red.

The Piedra Grande valley.

Piedra Grande is a pleasant, small community, but one that has its problems. Poverty and joblessness are the norm. Water has to be trucked in, and greywater is piped into the streets untreated. Although there is a weekly garbage collection, plastic bottles, paper, and even diapers litter people's yards and the streets. People use every creek and ditch as a landfill. Donkeys and horses are the local beasts of burden and most families have their own chickens and rabbits, but stray dogs outnumber all living things by at least ten to one, although feral cats are a close second. We witnessed the non-stop abuse of the dogs and cats by the local children, who held them down and kicked them in the face, threw rocks at them, punched them, through the cats at the dogs, and stuffed them in deep holes, all for our enjoyment.

Me and the professor (he promised to teach everyone how not to abuse their dogs and cats).

The monster that is Mexico City is not far away; its towers and sprawling suburbs can be seen from Piedra Grande, coming ever closer, reaching further from the valley floor into the mountains. People escape the city by heading further up the mountain sides, but, unfortunately, the city's smog now climbs the mountains with them; every morning as the air heats up the smog climbs higher and by late morning it chokes the air and blocks the sun in Piedra Grande. The smog makes its way up to Piedra Grande, over the ridge above the village, and down again into the next valley. Soon, Piedra Grande will likely be just another suburb of Mexico City; a wealthy subdivision, a high-rise town, or another massive concrete barrio.

Santa Fe - a wealthy Mexico City suburb - and its smog, as seen from Piedra Grande.

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