Friday, December 20, 2013

Part 2 of our Waterfall HIke and Corn Fiesta: The Upper Falls to Raul's Place

The Upper Falls of Barranca Yerba Buena plunges more than a hundred feet into the gorge. This photo was taken through the thick foliage on the return trail along the east face of the cliffs that line the inner gorge. In the first part of this 2-part series, I took you from the trailhead on the west plateau, up into the bluffs overlooking the gorge, and finally to the top of the waterfall. In this installment, we'll make our way back from the falls, along the cliffs of the east face of the gorge, down onto the east plateau, and finally down to the little pueblo of Citala where we'll meet our fiesta hosts, Raul and Geronima. So, tighten up your bootlaces and let's go!

The country above the Upper Falls

The area above and to the south of the Upper Falls is semi-arid ranch country. The pitayo cactus in the foreground is silhouetted against gathering clouds that yielded a downpour in the later afternoon--fortunately after we had reached our destination. This rolling country extends for several miles to the south and is covered with cactus, dry-country brush, and pasture land. Eventually, the ground rises again in another of the broad staircase plateaus that lead up to the high ridges of the Sierra del Tigre. A few miles to the southwest is Concepción de Buenas Aires, a picturesque little ranching town founded in 1869 on lands donated by the owner of Hacienda Toluquilla.

Lluvia de Oro (Rain of Gold) is technically known at Tecoma stans. Another name is Yellow Trumpet bush, because the little flowers look like golden trumpets. I consulted with my flower expert Ron Parsons who publishes a website called Wildflowers and Plants of Central Mexico.  Ron wasn't real sure on this one because I didn't take a closeup shot, but this is his educated guess. The plants flower in September and October and cover big swatches of the mountainside with yellow. The color gives the illusion of yellowing autumn leaves, but is actually a flowering rather than a dying process. One thing I really love about where I live in Mexico is that there is something blooming during every season. I live my life surrounded by brilliant natural colors.

Looking north, from the inner gorge out through the outer canyon. The outer canyon is a naturaly-carved trench dividing the west (left) and east (right) plateaus. Beyond the plateaus lies the valley, with Citala at the mouth of the canyon. Lake Chapala lies parallel to the mountains in the distance but on the opposite side. Raul's farm, where we originally met him, is on the east plateau. The outer canyon is not as deep as the inner gorge, and its walls are not as steep. However, the sloping walls you see above are covered with loose scree (rock debris) and thick brush, presenting a difficult challenge to those who attempt to climb out to the plateaus above. The base of the outer canyon has a year-round stream fed by the inner gorge falls, but the presence of water means that the canyon bottom is thickly jungled. Those wishing to traverse it, particularly after a rainy summer, will need to cut their way through. Coming south along this canyon was our original route to find the falls. For a look at it, click here.

Nopal cactus grows in front of a pink flower that may be Salvia. Again, the shot was not close enough for Ron to be sure. Both of us are sure about the nopal, however. Since archaic times, this has been one of the most useful plants in Mexico. The flat paddle-like leaves can be eaten, after the thorns are removed, of course. They can be grilled, boiled, sauteed, or just eaten raw. Nopal is not only tasty, but extremely nutritious and healthful, with a very positive effect on cholesterol and on diabetes. In addition, a fruit called a tuna grows on the tips of the paddles. It is sweet and juicy and is about the size of an elongated golf ball. The beauty of nopal as a food source is that it is plentiful and available to anyone. There are 114 known species of nopal in Mexico.

The trail to the east plateau

High tension power lines run along the top of the bluffs and cross the inner gorge at this point. The ubiquitous presence of electrical and telephone lines in Mexico is the bane of my photographic work. I don't know how many perfectly framed shots have been spoiled by such lines crossing through the middle. In this case, I decided to incorporate the lines as part of the story. The towers form one of our landmarks in finding the gorge. I have sometimes wondered about the sweat and struggle it took to erect these towers in such a rugged spot. The first task would have been to clear a broad swath through the jungle, following the direction of the line. In the years since the towers were built, the jungle has partially returned.

Clumps of white Asters grew on large bushes beside the trail. The genus Astereae was once part of a larger genus with as many as 600 species., but in the 1990s Astereae was split off as its own genus. It now contains only 180 species, still a respectable number. Astereae are the North American version of Asters. Like Lluvia de Oro, these flowers flourish during our fall season.

The cliffs on the west side of the inner gorge are every bit as steep as those on the east. Our trail to the head of the Upper Falls took us along the tops of these cliffs, from right to left. In many places they drop off nearly vertically for hundreds of feet. The vegetation you see at the bottom are the tops of tall trees, and the gorge walls extend above the photo for a considerable distance.

Larry hacks his way through. Given ample rain, vegetation in this area grows at an amazing rate. A clear, well-traveled trail can disappear in a short time. The vines and creepers seem to be growing before your eyes as they cross the trail, ready to entangle the feet of the unwary.

Morning Glories, closed for the day. Morning Glory flowers open and shut each day, hence the name. These either closed early, because of the dimming afternoon light, or perhaps they never opened for business in the first place. At this time of the year, the trail along the eastern gorge cliffs is perpetually in shade.

Tomas inspects  a trailside cave. Thinking to kid him, I said "watch out for bats." Just then, several flew out past his head. Tomas was unfazed. He is an experienced hiker who has backpacked the length of the Mexico-to-Canada Pacific Crest Trail. The cave is only about 2 m (6 ft) high and 3 m (12 ft) deep, but it would work fine to shelter a passerby for the night, or against a summer shower like the one we could feel approaching. A few pieces of modern refuse showed recent use. We had previously found another, similar cave about half-way up the outer canyon. Given that the area has been inhabited for 8,000-10,000 years, the caves have no doubt been in use since Neolithic times.

Tomas and other hikers pick their way down a steep trail leading to the east plateau. Above are Tomas, Jim B, Gary, and Chuck. The trail here is moist and slippery and the slope is quite steep. Hiking sticks are very useful in terrain like this, although Tomas seems not to have brought his along.

The great vistas from the east plateau

The view from the east plateau, looking west down the valley. The outer canyon is out of sight behind the vegetation in the foreground. The moutains to the right are those that border Lake Chapala. In the distance you can see the blue escarpment of the Tapalpa Plateau. The long white object you see in the center is plastic sheeting used for green houses. (Photo by Chuck Boyd)

Cerro Garcia rises majestically up from the valley. At 3000 m (9,000 ft) Cerro (Mt.) Garcia is the highest peak directly overlooking Lake Chapala. Here you are looking at its south face. The north face is one most residents and visitors at Lake Chapala see as they look across the lake toward the South Shore. Earlier this year, I joined a small group that climbed Cerro Garcia.

Raul, Geronima and the Corn Fiesta

Raul, taking his ease at the Upper Falls overlook. This Mexican farmer almost defines the term "laid back." He speaks no English, but his easy-going smile and gentle manner communicate volumes about who he is. He tills a farm up on the east plateau,  growing maiz (corn) and frijol (beans). Along with his wife, Geronima, he maintains a small but cozy home in Citala with an orchard in the back. The first few Corn Harvest Fiestas were held at the rustic shelter next to his east plateau fields. However, for the sake of convenience, we held last year's event in his backyard orchard. It was so pleasant that we decided to do it there again this year. For the story of our first meeting with Raul and our first Fiesta, click here.  

Geronima, Raul's wife and our hostess. Like Raul, she speaks only Spanish, but she is warm, motherly, and full of quiet humor. Here, at our first Fiesta, she is explaining the process for making one of the scrumptious Mexican dishes she prepares for these events. Between the food the hikers bring, and that which Geronima prepares, there is always a huge feast with far more than we could ever eat.

Geronima opens her present while Raul looks on. This year, we gave her a lovely crystal and silver pitcher. We traditionally give Raul his favorite tequila, Centenario. Unfortunately, my camera batteries went dead when we reached the east plateau and I had failed to bring a spare set. Fortunately, Chuck got this, the only usable shot any of our cameras captured. Photos or not, we had our usual great time and were invited to come back soon. (Photo by Chuck Boyd)

This completes Part 2 of my two-part series on this years Corn Fiesta and Waterfall Hike. I hope you enjoyed it and, if so, that you leave a comment either by using the Comments section below or email me directly.

If you leave a question in the Comments section, PLEASE leave your email address so I can respond.

Hasta luego, Jim

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Our 5th Annual Waterfall Hike & Corn Fiesta at Raul's place: Part 1- Trailhead to the Upper Falls

The Upper Falls of Yerba Buena Gorge drop nearly vertically down to a pool at the bottom. The pool lies in the cul-de-sac of a remote canyon with sheer sandstone walls hundreds of feet high. As my long-time blog fans know, every fall for the last five years I join a group of expat hikers for a trek to one of the most dramatic waterfalls of Lake Chapala's South Shore. Afterward, we return for a fiesta at the home of Raul and Geronima, a local farming couple who live in the little pueblo of Citala near the trailhead. This October, we visited the Yerba Buena Gorge, a site I have shown in previous blog postings. However, we used a route that we discovered only recently, one which provides spectacular vistas not only of the waterfall, but of the valley and mountains as well. Part 1 of this two part series covers the area from the trailhead to the Upper Falls. Part 2 will cover the trail from the falls back down to the little pueblo of Citala, where our Raul and Geronima live.

From the trailhead along the west side of Yerba Buena Gorge

Our hiking party at the trailhead. We traditionally take a group shot like this at the start of one of our hikes. Including me, there were eight in our party. From left to right are Larry, Stephanie, Chuck, Eileen, Gary, Jim B, and Tomas. All except Stephanie are hikers who are experienced in the rugged mountains around Lake Chapala. Again, except for Stephanie, the "kid" of the group, all of us are retirees in our sixties.

View looking north over the plateau and outer canyon. Lake Chapala's South Shore mountains are in the background. The Lake is just beyond them. The flat cultivated area at the center of the photo is the West Plateau. Just to the right of center you can see a "V" shaped canyon. This heavily jungled trench cuts due south through the plateau to the entrance Yerba Buena gorge. The East Plateau lies to the right of the V. The pueblo of Citala is to the left of the smoke, in the valley between the plateau and the mountains.

Cow bones littered this part of the trail. This is cattle country and the muddy trail was cut up by their hoof marks. When a large animal like a cow or a horse dies in this rugged area, it is left where it falls. This is true even if the carcass lies across a trail. The local people who use these backcountry paths simply divert around it until the scavengers have picked the body clean and scattered the bones. This is simple practicality. Moving the body would require more effort than it would be worth.

The first part of the trail was a bulldozer road. Although a steady uphill climb, it was easy hiking. Seen with Stephanie, Chuck, and Eileen is the ninth member of our hiking party. Matty is a regular member of our group, at least when Chuck comes along. I hesitate to describe Chuck as Matty's owner, since he himself describes her as his best friend. She adores hiking with us almost as much as she adores Chuck. Matty makes it a point to greet and make friends with each hiker of any group she accompanies. I call her the "Gangster of Love" because she is so expert at stealing your heart.

View across the outer canyon to the East Plateau. Notice the line of cliffs where the plateau drops off into the heavily wooded canyon. The cliffs are higher than they appear because the bottom part is hidden by foliage. The tops of both the East and West Plateaus are covered with a checkerboard of fields. Some are for pasture, but others are planted with corn, beans, mallow, or other crops. All of the fields are small, measuring only a few hundred meters on a side, at most. Generally they are bordered by dry stone walls, made with the debris of old volcanic eruptions. Some of the farmers have planted cactus along these field borders as a sort of natural barbed wire. The cactus helps discourage cattle or horses from browsing among their crops.

(Left to right) Jim B, Gary, and Larry pick their way up a rocky slope. After the short bulldozer road ended at the start of the bluffs, a narrow, overgrown trail led up toward the mouth of the Gorge. Notice the sticks that Larry and Gary are carrying. Virtually all of the experienced hikers I know carry some sort of hiking pole, and some carry a pair. The trails in these mountains are very stony and require you to choose your footing carefully. Some of the trickiest spots are sloping stretches with small pebbles. Traversing these is something akin to walking across slick glass covered with ball bearings. Hiking sticks are essential to avoid falls--and inconvenient injuries--in country like this. They also serve to push thorny branches away from exposed arms and legs. I keep several extra poles handy in case hikers new to the area come without them.

Looking north out of the mouth of the Yerba Buena Gorge. The East Plateau can be seen in the upper left. We hiked south along the upper part of the west face of the inner Gorge. After we visit the Upper Falls, we will loop around behind them and return on the trail heading north along the east face of the Gorge. The east face can be seen on the right side of the photo above. The Gorge walls are several hundred feet high and the lower two thirds are nearly vertical. In most places along the bottom, the inner Gorge is only 30-50 meters wide, but it slopes back a bit at the level of the trail we are traveling. If you look at the East Plateau above, you can see a cleared fleld with a horizonal line of vegetation crossing it. When we emerge from the forest on the east face, we will follow this line of vegetation until we meet a farm road that will bring us down off the plateau and into Citala.

Jim B (rt.) and Gary (lft.) approach a giant pitayo cactus. This one is quite old. It stands about 10 meters high and probably weighs a couple of tons. Sometimes we find giants like this fallen across the trail. We are always glad we weren't under them when they crashed down. The fruit of the pitayo, called the pitaya, is sweet and juicy. The local people collect them from the tips of the cactus' arms, using long poles with a wire hook on the end. Pitaya are sometimes sold in the local street markets, as well as being gathered for personal consumption. Lake Chapala is located in an ecological transition zone between jungly coastal areas and the high deserts of Jalisco. That is why you see cactus growing in a lush deciduous forest like this.

Sheer cliffs line the east face of the inner Gorge. Our return trail will lead from right to left along the top of these cliffs. The Gorge has two large waterfalls, in addition to several smaller ones. The base of the Lower Falls (out of sight to the right) is reached directly from the bottom of the canyon. I have shown the beautiful Lower Falls and its box canyon in a previous posting. Currently, there is no route known to expat hikers which leads from the base of the Lower Falls up to the base of the Upper Falls. The higher cascades can only be viewed from above. The Upper Falls canyon has tantalized us for years but entering it will require some serious technical rock climbing and rope work. It is not clear how, once in, one can then get out again.

Larry (left) and Tomas (rt.) cut their way through the ever-thickening forest.  It was during the dry season when we last used this route and the trail was then clear and dusty. After the rains of summer, the forest reclaimed the area. As a result, we lost our route several times. Many of the hiking regulars carry garden shears and folding hand saws for times like this, and with some effort we managed to hack our way through and get our bearings. The jungle seemed to grow even as we were cutting it.

Across the canyon, we could see the result of a massive derrumbe (rockslide). I used my telephoto to bring this much closer than it actually is. A huge chunk of the cliff face, perhaps 7 meters high x 7 meters wide (21 ft x 21 ft), and 1 to 2 meters thick (3 to 6 ft), has dropped away. Many tons of rock cascaded down the cliffs, finally crashing into the canyon bottom. This derrumbe appeared quite fresh and was probably triggered by the rains of the past couple of months. Looking up as all this tumbled down at you would not be a comfortable experience. Fortunately, it appeared that our return trail ran along the cliffs above the slide, rather than below it. Otherwise, I feared our cliffside path might contain a huge gap.

Jim B ducks a low-hanging branch. These can be an annoyance and sometimes a real hazard. Most of us wear broad-brimmed hats which shield the eyes from glaring sun, but can also hide obstacles like this. Many, including myself, can tell stories about hiking along at a good fast clip while focusing on the ground in search of hidden, potentially ankle-twisting rocks. Suddenly, BANG! We run headfirst into an overhang like this. You can rest assured that it smarts a bit. Usually we tag the hazard with strips of the brightly-colored plastic tape we use for route markers.

A visit to the Upper Falls

Our trail leads down to a creek which flows to the Upper Falls. The creek flows to the left, and about 50 meters or so in that direction the water makes the long drop into the pool far below. The cafe-au-lait color of the water is due to agricultural runoff. The creek originates from a large reservoir on the wide plateau that stretches south from the top of the bluffs we have just climbed. Beginning with the valley where Citala is located, the land rises in a series of stepped plateaus like a broad east-to-west natural staircase. The bluffs into which the Yerba Buena Gorge cuts are like the risers between steps on this great staircase. Over the millenia, water flowing from the upper plateaus to the lower ones, and then into the valley, has cut the Gorge and the outer canyon, finally emerging at Citala.

Crossing the creek required some boulder-hopping. The streams of the North Shore of Lake Chapala are bone dry for 9 months of each year, but those of the South Shore carry water year-round. The rubber pipe running diagonally across the photo is for the purpose of water collection. While the water in the creek is not potable, hoses like this collect drinkable water from springs in the canyon.

The Upper Falls overlook, with a view down the Gorge toward Lake Chapala's mountains. While Larry relaxes against a tree, Tomas peers over the edge toward the pool. A few inches in front of his left foot is a ledge that drops off straight down at least 50 meters (150 ft) or more. The mouth of the Upper Falls is below and to the left of Tomas, out of view unless you hang over the edge.

The view while hanging over the edge. The drop is mostly vertical and much of it through open air so a lot of the water reaches the bottom as mist. The circular pool can be seen at the lower right.  To take this shot safely, I had to lie down on the flat shelf while poking my camera's lens over the edge. Accidentally toppling over the edge here would be, in a very real sense, jumping to a conclusion.

A front view of the falls. This was taken from further down the return trail. Our perch was located above and to the left of the top of the falls. The water continues to drop behind the screen of foliage, finally reaching the brown pool at the bottom. Similar to the Lower Falls, the Upper ones drop into a narrow box canyon surrounded by vertical sandstone walls.

A telephoto view of the pool at the bottom of the Upper Falls. As you can see, the vertical walls rise right out of the water. There is very little scree (rock rubble) around the rim of the pool. Except for the difficulty of reaching it, and the unknown quality of the brown water, it looks like a great spot for a cool dip on a hot day.

Chuck and Matty at the edge of the Upper Falls overlook. This was a gorgeous spot to hang out for a bit so we broke out our mid-day snacks and some water. After observing Matty on a number of hikes, I have come to the conclusion that she takes as much pleasure in a beautiful view as her human hiking buddies do.

Cliff walls of the Upper Falls' cul-de-sac. There are shallow caves here and there in the walls. When Raul first brought a group of us here, he told a story about a man who stole a large amount of money from the hacienda where he worked. Local legend has it that he buried his treasure somewhere in this cul-de-sac, possibly in one of the caves. Various attempts have been made to find it, none of them successful, for which I'm glad. A setting like this deserves a story about a (still) long-lost buried treasure. 

An epiphytic bromiliad grows out of a crevice on the side of a cliff. These plants draw their nutrients from the air, rain, and small debris that may collect around their wiry roots. I often find bromiliads attached to rock walls, tree limbs, telephone lines and many other odd places. When they attach themselves to another plant, the relationship is not parasitic, but simply one of hitching a ride.

Paxtle is another kind of epiphytic plant. Paxtle (Tillandsia recurvata) is related to Spanish Moss. The plant is collected by indigenous people for use in their ceremonies, sometimes serving as "hair" for dancers wearing hideous masks. Recent research has indicated that paxtle may have a beneficial effect on patients with tumors and HIV/AIDS.

Stephanie enjoys an orange. Stephanie and Tomas were the only hikers among us who don't live full-time at Lake Chapala. She is an acquaintance of Chuck who was visiting from the US and decided to take him up on his offer to join us for some hikes in the local mountains. Tomas spent a year as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Bosque Primavera, a large forest adjacent to Guadalajara. He is a seasoned and rugged long-distance hiker who is back on a visit. 

This completes Part 1 of my two-part series on our 5th Annual Waterfall Hike and Corn Fiesta at Raul's. In the next part of this series we will travel the trail from the Upper Falls along the east side of the Gorge. Along the way, we'll take in the gorgeous views of Mt. Garcia and the valley at its base. Then we'll head down to Citala where we'll meet Raul and Geronima, our hosts for the fiesta. I always appreciate feedback, questions, and constructive criticism. If you would like to leave a comment, click on "No Comments" at the bottom of this page.

If you leave a question in the Comments section, PLEASE leave your email address so I can respond.

Hasta luego, Jim

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Mexican Revolution and Ajijic's 2013 Fiesta

A Revolutionary Mona Lisa gazes enigmatically into the camera. Wearing the Mexican national colors, this young woman was chatting with friends along the route of Ajijic's Revolution Day parade. My photographer's eye was caught by her colorful head gear and I managed a quick shot just at the moment she saw me. A fraction of a second later, she burst into gales of laughter. At the time I regretted not catching her laughing, but later when I processed the photo on my computer, I realized this was my best shot of the day.

Every November 20, Mexico celebrates the beginning of its 1910 Revolution. It was a titanic struggle that changed the nation forever, greatly improving the rights and living standards of ordinary people. It was also extremely destructive. Mexico lost 1 out of every 7 of its people and a large part of its infrastructure. In this posting, I'll give you both a look at Ajijic's colorful 2013 Revolution Day parade and a brief history of the Revolution itself. It was a very complex period and I know that this explanation certainly doesn't do it complete justice. I urge those who are interested to delve further into this fascinating time.

A girl's drum corps leads off from the bull ring, heading toward the main Plaza. Most of the people who march in the parade are children from local schools, ranging from kindergarteners to the high school girls you see above. The kids practice their drumming for weeks in advance. Part of my enjoyment of each fall's Fiesta Season is listening to their thunderous drills as they march up and down the streets near my home.

The Revolution had its roots in the unfinished business of the War for Independence from Spain (1810-1821) and the Reform War (1857-1861). The first abolished slavery and ended the dominance of Spain over Mexico. The second reduced the political and economic power of the Catholic Church and established--at least on paper--a liberal republican constitution. Although much was promised to the indigenous people and mestizos (people of mixed race) to gain their support, neither struggle was revolutionary in its result and the same elite class of hacendados (hacienda owners), mine owners, and businessmen remained in control throughout the 19th Century. In the words of a famous rock song, "Here comes the new boss, same as the old boss..."

Young acrobats balance and teeter as they form a human pyramid. There were several groups of high school age kids who erected such pyramids during brief stops during the parade. This year, many school groups performed one sort of an act or another, rather than just march with banners as they have in previous years.

The Conservatives, who lost the Reform War in 1861, then invited the French to invade Mexico in 1862 and install Ferdinand Maximilian as emperor. Maximilian's "empire" met bitter resistance and lasted only five years. Benito Juarez led the Liberal forces that finally expelled the invaders and re-established a republican form of government. The Catholic Church had backed the losing side in both the Reform War and the French Occupation and Juarez demanded that its political and economic power be broken. He and his Liberal supporters objected to the Church's control over a huge percentage of the nation's arable land and its domination of education in Mexico. 

Pretty pom pom girls strut their stuff before an appreciative audience. The crowd was thickening on each side of the cobblestone street. I had to duck and weave to get into position for good shots. A lot of others, expats and locals alike, were doing the same.  We tried--not always successfully--to keep out of each other's viewfinders.

Benito Juarez was a man of unshakeable integrity. Using lands seized from the Church, he hoped to create a large class of independent farmers on which to base a democratic society. Unfortunately, the ordinary people had little capital with which to buy the land, and the government desperately needed revenue from land sales to pay off the debt created by decades of war. Despite Juarez' good intentions, most of the Church land ended up in the hands of the hacendados and foreign investors. In addition, the indigenous people lost what little protection the Church had provided against hacendados who continued their arbitrary seizures of ancestral lands. Once again, the hopes of the common people for land reform and social change were dashed. Once again, the new boss bore a striking resemblance to the old one.

Hula hoop teams were a returning act from previous years. The kids don't twirl them around their waists like they did in my time. Rather, they move them in synchronized routines such as the one being performed above. My guess is that they don't call it a hula hoop either.

Juarez died in office in 1872, and was replaced by his Foreign Minister Lerdo de Tejeda. In the meantime, former General Porfirio Diaz had been maneuvering for power. Diaz had been a hero during the Reform War and the resistance against the French. He won many battles and created quite a name for himself. He was also very ambitious politically and, after the victory over the French, he led several unsuccessful revolts against Juarez. After Juarez died, Diaz continued to maneuver and eventually was elected President of Mexico in 1877. He remained in power for the next 35 years, either directly as president or by alternating with hand-picked successors. Diaz' years in power were known as the Porfiriato. During this time, he modernized many aspects of the economy. However, most of the benefits went to a handful of his political supporters and most of the costs of this wrenching change were borne by Mexico's industrial workers and peones (agricultural workers on haciendas).

This top hat drill was a new one. The serious faces and narrowed eyes are a result of the brilliant morning sun slanting directly into the marchers' eyes. The bright light created stark contrasts that are one of the banes of my photography. Fortunately, a lot of it can be corrected using the iPhoto program on my Mac computer.

During the Porfiriato, new railroads and telegraph lines criss-crossed the nation--but were largely owned by British and American companies. Wealthy Mexicans and foreigners invested heavily in mines and factories. This resulted in high levels of production, but the workers suffered from low wages and brutal working conditions. Agriculture improved in efficiency and cash crops like sugar, sisal, and agave flourished. However, Mexico's land was dominated by a hacienda system controlled by a small number of aristocratic families who made millions while their peones lived in poverty and illiteracy.

These little baton twirlers took their roles very seriously. They tried to follow the directions of their teacher but some, like the girl on the right, were distracted by the crowd. Proud parents lined the streets or followed along on the sidewalks to encourage their kids.

Diaz' strong rule provided the stability that enabled all this modernization and economic development. He threw open the doors to foreign investment and created laws to protect business. He aided the mine and factory owners by crushing strikes and suppressing labor organizing. Hacendados benefited when Diaz drastically expanded the Rurales (rural police). Their job was to stamp out banditry and to catch and return peones trying to escape debt slavery on the haciendas. Ironically, many of the bandits were former peones with few options other than banditry or a return to degradation on a hacienda. Famous Revolutionary General Pancho Villa was a former peon who had escaped into the mountains of Chihuahua to lead the life of a bandit after killing a local hacendado who had raped his sister.

Always, there were more drummers, creating an intense racket. These girls were a bit younger, but still wielded their drum sticks with vigor and authority.

Meanwhile, in between the clique around Diaz and the toiling masses below, a small professional class began to emerge. It was made up of doctors, lawyers, hacienda administrators, and middle managers needed by the wealthy classes to make things run. The professionals, along with some of the more forward-thinking elements among the hacendado and business classes, began to chafe under the Porfiriato. Most of them had no desire to change the basic structure of Mexican society, much less to initiate a broad social revolution. They simply hated the glass ceiling that separated them from the vast wealth and power accumulated by the Diaz clique. They thought the solution to their problem would be what people in the US now call "term limits." The theory was that if no one could be elected more than once, a strong man would not be able to maintain himself in power as Diaz had, through a series of rigged elections. The reformers called themselves Anti-reeleccionistas.

Revolutionaries too young to march rode the floats. Proud mothers created their childrens' costumes, often sewing them by hand. Mexican parents love their children deeply and it shines through, not only on these occasions, but in everyday life.

Diaz's strategy for keeping control over the restless middle class was called "plata o plomo" (silver or lead). If special favors (the silver) from the regime didn't bring you into line, an assassin's lead bullet might well be your fate. The Porfiriato was a police state operating behind a mask of "democratic elections" the results of which were never in doubt. Decade after decade, the Porfiriato rolled along, seemingly secure in its power. US and European investors prided themselves on their safe and lucrative holdings in stable, business-friendly Mexico. Unnoticed by them, or by most wealthy Mexicans, a vast upheaval was approaching. The more Diaz clamped the lid down on the boiling pot, the more the pressure built, and the longer it built, the more violent the social explosion was going to be.

Porfirio Diaz and his top-hatted cronies escort their fine ladies in the parade. Diaz liked to appear in photographs and portraits wearing uniforms encrusted with gold braid and medals. Others among the top levels of Mexican society aped the high fashions of Europe. During the Porfiriato, a newspaper cartoonist named Jose Guadalupe Posada began to satirize the pretensions of the newly rich by portraying them as skeletons wearing European finery. The figures in Posada's drawings came to be known as Catrinas. Versions of them are still wildly popular in Mexico, particularly during the annual fiesta known as Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead).

Among those who objected to Diaz' seemingly endless rule was Francisco Madero, a member of a wealthy family of hacendados from northern Mexico. He took up the Anti-reeleccionista cause as his platform when he ran against Diaz in the 1910 election. Although a member of the upper class, Madero gained support among ordinary Mexicans when he spoke out against the repression of labor unions and the enslavement of the indigenous Yaqui people who had been sent in chains to work on sisal haciendas in Yucatan. Diaz promptly imprisoned Madero, but the reformer escaped to the United States where he issued his Plan of San Luis Potosi. The Plan called for armed revolution and, among other things, for the restoration of lands stolen from indigenous people by hacendados. Madero set November 20, 1910 as the date for the uprising.

A dashing group of mounted Revolutionaries prepares to unleash their fury upon Diaz' forces. I thought the "horses" these kids were riding were particularly creative. By this time the kids had ridden their mounts quite a distance along the parade route. While they were still game for more, they were a bit tuckered.

Although the Revolution got a comic-opera start on November 20 when only 10 men showed up to meet Madero at the appointed place, things soon got underway. Over the first several months of 1911, uprisings broke out all over Mexico. The lid Diaz had held down so firmly, and for so long, finally blew off the boiling pot. People of all classes flocked to Madero's cause, but two of the most effective were Emiliano Zapata in the southern State of Morelos, and the bandit leader Pancho Villa from the northern State of Chihuahua.  

A handsome young Emiliano Zapata raises the red flag of revolt. Like this kid, Zapata was a flashy dresser who favored broad sombreros and dark, silver-bedecked charro outfits. The banner indicates the boy is from one of the local Jardines de Niños (kindergartens). 

Emiliano Zapata was not only a brilliant and aggressive military commander, he was also one of the Mexican Revolution's true social revolutionaries. He centered his operations in Morelos. Like hacendados elsewhere in Mexico, many in Morelos colluded with Diaz' officials to illegally seize the lands of mestizos and the indigenous communities. Zapata had led armed resistance against these land seizures since well before Madero arrived on the scene. His battle cry of "Tierra y Libertad!" (Land and Liberty) drew a fervent following among landless and dispossessed people. In the areas he controlled, he implemented a well-organized program of land reform and encouraged the development of democratic decision-making at the local level. Included in his program was compensation for lands that were taken from hacendados. While Zapata favored a general revolt against Diaz, he viewed Francisco Madero's promises of land reform with skepticism, especially given the northern reformer's hacendado background. Unfortunately, Zapata's skepticism proved well-founded.

A quartet of young soldaderas compares notes during a pause in the parade. Soldaderas were the women who went to war. They followed their soldier-husbands to gather firewood, set up camp, cook, and act as nurse in case of wounds or illness. After a battle, they scavenged the dead for weapons, ammunition, food, and other useful items. Particularly in the early days of the Revolution, armies on all sides lacked support services to perform these functions. As the war continued, more and more soldaderas picked up a rifle and joined the battle when their mates were wounded or killed. Some with strong leadership skills rose to the rank of colonel and commanded male units in combat. The clothing the girls in the photo wear appears historically accurate. Notice the two in the middle who wear their rebozos crossed over their chests. This mimics the crossed bandoliers (bullet belts) that the men wore and was the informal insignia of the soldaderas. Two of the girls carry dolls strapped to their backs, just as the original soldaderas carried their babies. 

Pancho Villa, operating in northern Mexico, launched slashing cavalry attacks on the federalist forces of Porfirio Diaz. Born José Doroteo Arango Arámbula, he adopted Pancho Villa as his bandit name and under it became famous as a Revolutionary general. He was born on the great Hacienda San Juan del Rio in Durango State. Francisco Madero was desperate for good leaders from whatever source and soon recruited Villa to the anti-Diaz cause. Villa remained steadfastly loyal to Madero until the latter's death.  

The crowd in the plaza became densely packed. You can see a scattering of expat faces in the milling throng. Despite the crush, people courteously stepped aside to allow me to photograph the parade. 

Despite his limited education and lack of formal military training, Pancho Villa's hard-hitting tactics led to many victories and he quickly rose to command an army known as the Division of the North. Newspapers grandly dubbed him the Centaur of the North, a reference to his dazzling horsemanship. His friends nicknamed him La Cucaracha (the Cockroach) and his soldiers sang a campfire song by the same name which is still famous. He broke up haciendas, distributed the land to the farm workers, and sometimes held the hacendados for ransom to raise money for this army. This gained him the undying hatred of the big landowners, but won the support of their peones. Unlike Zapata, Villa never developed a detailed social reform program of his own, but he did support Zapata's ideas.

One of the top-hat girls takes a break outside Ajijic's Delegación (city offices). The parade was at its height at this point, with masses of children stretching for blocks into the distance. Those who had completed the route chatted with friends or rested in the shade like this young woman.

After 35 years in power, Diaz and his clique had become complacent. His regime was like a great tree, seemingly strong, but rotten at the core and ready to fall if given a hard push. Uprisings sprouted all over the country. In the south, Emiliano Zapata had been leading a guerilla war even before November 20 and now he pushed northward toward Mexico City. In the north, Villa took Ciudad Juarez on the US border. This opened the floodgates for arms and supplies.  On May 25, 1911, only six months after the Revolution's outbreak, Porfirio Diaz resigned and sailed for France. Ironically, he would be the only major figure of the Revolution to die peacefully. In October, 1911, Madero was elected President of Mexico with 90% of the vote, the first honest election in more than three decades. That was when the trouble began.

A squad of police keeps a watchful eye for trouble. Armed and armored, the local police can use their powerful motorcycles to zip through traffic, down narrow alleys, and across open fields. Although they look pretty intimidating, they are friendly enough. 

Madero quickly lost the support of key allies like Zapata and Revolutionary General Pascual Orozco of Chihuahua when he failed to fulfill his promises of land reform. He foolishly allowed a Diaz loyalist to become interim president until the national elections, and left in place a national Congress that had been hand-picked by Diaz.  Once he was elected, Madero staffed his Cabinet with former Diaz supporters such as wealthy hacendado Venustiano Carranza, whom he appointed Minister of War. Madero turned to a former Diaz general named Victoriano Huerta to head the army. He apparently viewed these appointments as steps toward unifying the country. Instead, he alienated  his strongest supporters while surrounding himself with men who looked at him like a fox looks at an unwary chicken. Huerta was an especially disastrous choice. Within a short time the general was conspiring with US Ambassador Henry Lane Wilson to overthrow Madero and make Huerta president. Meanwhile Zapata went back to armed resistance and Orozco launched a revolt in Chihuahua.  

The Associación de Charros de Ajijic is an enthusiastic participant in most fiesta parades. Charros are Mexican cowboys who are highly skilled horsemen. The Charro Tradition in Mexico began in the State of Jalisco, but has its roots in Spain. The riders are noted for their elegant costumes which typically include a broad sombrero and tight, silver-bedecked jackets and pants. Their beautifully groomed horses are as skilled as their riders. The men above would have fit right in with Pancho Villa's cavalry.

Pancho Villa remained loyal to Madero, in good part because the new President had prevented Huerta from executing Villa on trumped up charges. Villa assisted in the defeat of Orozco's revolt, but he never fought against Zapata. The plotting between Huerta's clique and Ambassador Wilson continued. Their conspiracy resulted in La Decena Tragica (Ten Tragic Days) when, in February 1913, Huerta's forces staged a coup d'etat. A week later, Madero and Vice President Piño Suarez were summarily executed. Huerta appointed himself president, but his actions resulted in public outrage that was both national and international. Pancho Villa started a revolt in Chichuahua and joined forces with Zapata against Huerta. Newly elected US President Woodrow Wilson recalled Ambassador Wilson and refused to recognize the Huerta government.

Riding side saddle, women and girls participated in the Charro delegation. The Charros marched at the end of the parade, as they usually do. At first I didn't understand why, but then I reflected on the amount of poop that gets produced by a large troop of horses. The parade organizers clearly wanted to spare the children from having to march through it.

President Wilson kept the US border open for arms and supplies traveling south to Villa and the anti-Huerta forces. He also sent the US Navy to seize Vera Cruz, Mexico's main Gulf port, so that Huerta could not receive arms from Europe. Venustiano Carranza, the Minister of War under Madero, called for a nation-wide uprising against Huerta and was supported by other important Revolutionary generals including Álvaro Obregón, Emiliano Zapata, and Pancho Villa. While Obregón was a strong supporter of Carranza, Villa and Zapata did not trust the War Minister and supported him only as the lesser of two evils. Carranza and the other generals were collectively known as the Constitucionalistas because they held that Huerta had not assumed power legitimately under the Constitution of 1857. While Zapata fought Huerta's forces in the south of Mexico, Carranza, Obregón, and Villa moved down from the north. 

A Charro rides with his daughter on his lap. Kids learn to ride horses at an early age in these parts. Often I see youngsters hardly bigger than toddlers casually riding large horses through the streets, sometimes with no adults in sight.

Friction between Carranza and Villa grew. Carranza felt, with some justification, that Villa was undisciplined and insubordinate. Villa felt, with equal justification, that Carranza was deliberately favoring Obregón in his strategic decisions so as to limit Villa's opportunities for action (and for time in the limelight--this was a very political war). Ignoring Carranza's orders, Villa captured Zacatecas, an important silver mining center and a major source of Huerta's finances. Carranza, in turn, arranged that he and Obregón would reach Mexico City before Villa so that they could make a grand entrance. While the entry into Mexico City was dramatic, it was the taking of Zacatecas that broke the back of Huerta's resistance. Victoriano Huerta fled to Vera Cruz, then to Europe, and later died in a US jail.

Dancing horses are always a great favorite in Ajijic parades. The Charros train them to prance in time with the music played by the marching bands. Watching the local horses perform is one of Carole's favorite activities.

With Huerta gone, the Revolutionaries began to set up a new government at a Constitutional Convention in Aguascalientes. Neither Villa nor Zapata wanted to be President of Mexico but neither trusted Carranza, fearing he would be another Diaz. The Convention chose Eulalio Gutierrez as interim president and he was supported by Villa, Zapata, and many other important Revolutionaries. However, Carranza refused to accept Gutierrez as president and Obregón backed Carranza. If the first phase of the Revolution was the struggle against Diaz, and the second was the fight against the usurper Huerta, the third was the terrible civil war among the Revolutionary generals. Initially, the united forces of Villa and Zapata held the upper hand, and they entered Mexico City in triumph, forcing Carranza and Obregón to flee to Vera Cruz. However, Vera Cruz was a very important base for them because of the revenue from imports. It was also a key entry point for arms and supplies.

A rider and his son lead yet another proud delegation of Charros. The boy is now old enough to ride his own horse in the event, although his legs don't yet reach the stirrups.

Villa's troops were undisciplined and Mexico City's leaders soon encouraged him to leave. Zapata's forces, by contrast, were disciplined and very polite to local people, but Zapata was never very comfortable outside his home territory. The two armies separated, Zapata heading back toward his old stronghold of Morelos and Villa marching north. Álvaro Obregón was an excellent general and a shrewd tactician who carefully studied the lessons of  World War I, which had recently broken out in Europe. He realized that technological advances in artillery and the machine gun had changed the balance of war to favor the defense. Obregón used this knowledge to defeat Villa in a series of battles that are collectively known as the Battle of Celaya. US President Wilson, growing tired of the turmoil in Mexico, decided to recognize the Carranza government and cut off supplies to Villa. Angered, Villa attacked Columbus, New Mexico, and Wilson sent US General "Black Jack" Pershing into Mexico in pursuit. Villa ran circles around him until 1917 when the US entered World War I and Pershiing was forced to withdraw.

A solemn young soldadera is draped with bandoliers. Mexico's children have much better possibilities now than before the Revolution, but many still face large obstacles such as poverty and poor education.

Villa lacked supplies and, in Obregón, faced a general who was at least his equal. The Centaur of the North continued to lose battles and supporters and his army eventually dwindled to a few hundred men. Villa finally agreed to a deal with Carranza that allowed him to retire to a hacienda outside Parral, Chihuahua. He was assassinated in 1923, possibly on Obregón's orders, but just as possibly by his old enemies among the hacendados. Zapata had previously been assassinated in Morelos in 1919, on orders of Carranza. This left Carranza in the Presidency, with Obregón as his military chief. In 1920, Obregón rose against Carranza, forcing him to flee toward his old haven of Vera Cruz, but he was assassinated enroute. Obregón became President and served his full term--the first leader to do so since 1910. As president, he instituted a number of important labor reforms and radically overhauled Mexico's education system. However, he too was assassinated in 1928 after he had won a second election but before he could take office. The Revolution effectively came to an end with Obregón's victory over Carranza in 1920, although there were numerous aftershocks, including the Cristero War of 1926-29. A long and difficult decade had passed since it all began on November 20, 1910. While all the top leaders of the Revolution met violent ends, Mexico survived, even as it will survive the challenges of the present day. 

This concludes my posting on the Mexican Revolution and Ajijic's celebration of it. If you would like to leave a comment or ask a question, please do so in the Comments section below or email me directly.

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Hasta luego, Jim