Medical Emergencies Abroad – Being Prepared

In the almost 4 years that I have been living in Mexico, I have become familiar with the Mexican healthcare system. You know – the normal intestinal problems, falling and twisting my ankle or falling and getting cuts and abrasions. That sort of thing.

This past week I ended up in the hospital and realized I didn’t know what I didn’t know, so I will share this experience with you in general and if you plan on traveling or living abroad, you can apply this information to the specific country which you plan to visit.

This past Tuesday, I found myself in a hospital bed with no idea how I got there. It turns out, I had had a TIA – transient ischemic attack – a decrease of blood flow to the brain.

Before going any further, I will assure you that all is well except for remembering anything about that day, and I am taking medication and will follow up with a neurologist. Anyway, I had enough functioning brain cells when the attack began to call a neighbor to say come and get me. So, without further ado, here are some thoughts about being prepared.

First, make sure you have medical insurance and know what is covered. Investigate travelers’ medical insurance. Learn something about the healthcare system in the country to which you are traveling. When I was in Wales, I had a terrible ear infection in addition to severe back pain resulting from taking a tiny, cramped airplane that was not well pressurized and exacerbated a chronic back problem. Their system is part of the NHS, the national healthcare system of the UK. They apologized when I went to their urgent care and said I would have to pay because I was not a member of their system. Fortunately, it was only 40 pounds for the doctor and clinic and 10 pounds for the medication, so everything worked out.

If you are living in a foreign country, please invest in a good health insurance policy. I have one that covers me not only in Mexico, but also when I am abroad, whether it is in the United States or other countries. I chose this plan rather than the Mexican national plan because this one policy does cover the world. So keep that in mind as you are investigating.

Next, make sure whoever is traveling with you, or your friends or neighbors, have contact information regarding who to notify in case you are unable to communicate. My neighbor had the contact information of my son, and called him that day.

Health care proxies – who will make decisions for you if you are unable to make your own decisions/ are confused or unconscious? I have a healthcare proxy document in the United States, but that is not helpful here. Even if they accepted the document, it is in English and pertinent documents here would need to be in Spanish. My proxies in the U.S. do not speak Spanish, so it wouldn’t do much good anyway.

This is one thing I still need to do, but with more urgency now. I need to find out where I can get such a document and who can legally prepare it and make it official, and select two Mexican friends as my proxies. I have been trying to find out this information for quite a while, but now time is of the essence.

And for your family members or those close to you – they should make sure their passports are current. If they need to come to the country in which you are hospitalized (or worse), there will be no time to renew or obtain a passport. It’s also a good idea to know the visa requirements, if any, for that country.

And next, the medical charges. I needed cash for the ambulance to take me to the MRI, and the doctors would only take cash. Fortunately, one of my friends was with me and provided some of the cash, as I did not have enough for all of it. With other charges, credit cards were accepted.

Also, make sure you get receipts for what you pay. In the hospital bill, the doctors’ charges were listed, but the ambulance crew did not give my friend a receipt, so now we have to question the hospital regarding which ambulance service was used and then I need to contact them and try to get a receipt.

For those wondering how the medical care is here, I received excellent care. In addition, my deductible is around $1800 USD, and my exams, the doctors, three days and two nights in a private room in a private hospital – with all that, I still did not reach my deductible.

I am grateful for the wonderful care I received and the care of all my friends here. However, I don’t know when I will be permitted to drive again, as I don’t want another attack to occur, especially not when I am doing an activity where I could harm others.

One last bit of advice. It would be a good thing if you have at least one friend who is a nurse. When I was studying for my heart failure certification, I was taking an online course as well as my regular study group. I remember the Med Ed instructor named Martha saying to make sure if you are a patient to always have a friend who is “a smart nurse with a big mouth on speed dial.” and that is priceless advice. A knowledgeable nurse who can be a forceful advocate is invaluable, especially when you are sick, distracted and/or confused.

The nurses know how the system works, they are knowledgeable in the medical field and can ask the questions you are too distracted or unknowledgeable to ask. They can also help you navigate the insurance red tape, and let you know when demands for cash instead of the insurance card is not permitted.

I will be forever grateful for my nurse friend for being my advocate and for all my friends here. It is wonderful to live in such a village where everyone takes care of each other.

Fortunately, I am better now. I even baked my pies for the Casita del Cafe yesterday and took one of the new moto taxis to deliver them, since I am not permitted to drive at this time.

Had to cancel my weekend in Guadalajara for the Japanese festival, but at least I wasn’t on an airplane heading overseas when this happened. I’ll be seeing a specialist and we will figure this all out.

So, until next time – Nos vemos!

Delivering my pies in the moto taxi

Learning Japanese in Mexico

Greetings once again. I just want to begin by saying I would like to receive comments, helpful hints, commiseration, inspiration, advice regarding what I am about to say, especially for those who began learning another language whether or not that language learning included a different writing system.

I am not really whining, just venting a bit and detailing my experience so far. Sometimes I feel as if I am drowning, probably going to fail, but enjoying the experience of being a student again learning something new, and even if I do fail the course, I will still have learned a thing or two which will be useful in the future.

As some of you know, I am a member of Rotary Internation and currently in an e-club, which means we hold our meetings online, as my current club has members all over the world. One of our members lives in Tokyo and invited me to visit his family. Next year, our Rotary International convention will be held in Hawaii, and since Hawaii is roughly halfway to Japan, I will visit my friend and his family, then head off to Hawaii.

Since I like to learn at least a little bit about the native language when I am visiting a foreign, non-English-speaking country, I signed up for classes at the Language Institute of the University of Colima. The first class was held on August 3rd and will continue every Saturday until December 21st.

Before signing up, I had bought some Japanese study guides and tried to study on my own, but realized after a while that it would progress better in a more organized fashion by attending regular classes. As a result, I am now attending classes in the Japanese language in Mexico with a Spanish-speaking teacher, as the only student who is not a native Spanish-speaker.

Initially, my thought was that learning Japanese would be easier than learning another Romance language, since learning a language with the same root as Spanish would lead to confusion, as it sometimes did for me with French. Japanese is SO different from Spanish that there would be no way for my brain to confuse the two languages – that seems to be the way my brain is wired, anyway.

Problem is, there are three different writing methods in Japanese – Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji, so a student needs to start learning a whole new way of writing as well as vocabulary, sentence structure, etc. and that has turned out to be a big stumbling block.

Add to the fact that my teacher speaks VERY RAPID Spanish, so it is difficult to follow her sometimes and I need to speak with her after each class to clarify what I did not understand in English, which she also speaks. And so, I am in reality taking two language classes – Japanese as well as Spanish, as vocabulary in the lessons, instructions in the lessons and classes as well as our official two textbooks which are written in Spanish and Japanese.

It’s certainly giving my brain a workout, but improving my vocabulary in both languages. One trick I use to bypass using English and while thinking of a concept go directly to the Japanese is using Post Its, just as I did when first learning Spanish. As an example, I hung a Post-It from my wall clock with the Japanese characters for clock, printed drawings of the human body and labeled the parts with the Japanese characters that we have learned so far.

Besides learning the language, we are also learning about culture in our course. For our next class we are required to give a brief talk (3 minutes) about some aspect of Japanese culture. My friend in Tokyo told me about the Obon festival, which mirrors our Day of the Dead here in Mexico, so I am researching it, then will have to give my talk in Spanish during class.

In the past, I would beat myself up if I didn’t get an “A” in all of my classes. I have tried very hard to relax, especially since this class is not part of a degree program, but only for my own desire for education. I am putting in a lot of effort to learn all that is required, and it is more difficult than I imagined it would be. I started learning Ukrainian when I was about 8 years old, including the Cyrillic alphabet (only remember one or two words in Ukrainian, but I can still read Cyrillic out loud without understanding most of what I am reading), so there is some experience of learning a new writing system, but many decades in the past – I will be 70 years old in two months (and can hardly believe I am saying that). I studied Latin and German in high school, but, again, that was many decades ago. Started studying Spanish in my 50’s, but being in the medical field and having studied Latin for 4 years helped with the learning.

Anyway, I just figured that I would share my experience so far, and would really appreciate commentary and shared experiences, especially from other adult learners of foreign languages, whether you learned a second language in your own country, a third language in your non-native country and/or also had to learn a different writing system.

Thanks for listening, thanks in advance for sharing, and now I’ve got to get back to my homework… Until next time, stay safe and have a great rest of your week, wherever you are…..


Babies make lactase, an enzyme that breaks down lactose in milk, but 10,000 years ago, babies after weaning could no longer make that enzyme and could no longer digest milk.

Some time in the interval between then and now, men started raising livestock in the form of camels and cattle and over many generations humans evolved to continue lactase production into adulthood. That meant that humans were able to continue drinking milk throughout their lives. Before that happened, people would remove the lactose sugar from milk by fermenting it.

From our domesticated cattle, we receive many gifts – milk, cheese and butter. Thanks to Louis Pasteur’s experiments, the modern world has pasteurization – a process using heat to kill any microorganisms that might be in the milk. Through homogenization, cream no longer separates from the other components of commercially sold milk.

In my father’s time, growing up in the Bronx before the Great Depression, you brought your aluminum containers to a local shop where milk was ladled out of a big milk can. Later on, glass bottles would be delivered to homes. Now you buy it in stores in bottles, containers or plastic bags, depending on where you live. As with much of our food in First World countries, people have lost touch with nature and your packaged foods no longer resemble their original form (think ground beef, hot dogs, etc.).

Here in farm country, it is quite different. Your chicken was probably running around the yard a few hours ago. Fruits are picked off the trees and sugar cane is in its natural state in the sugar cane fields. And so it is with milk.

A while back, I passed a sign on one of the local roads that indicated they sold “leche caliente” (literally “hot milk”). I was curious as to why someone would be selling hot milk and was told this was what they called raw milk. It is caliente because it comes straight from the cow, and therefore is warm from the cow’s warm body.

Yesterday, I had my first taste of this milk. My neighbor and I were hiking and went up to her family dairy farm. There we saw the cats, dogs, horses and the milk cows with their calves.

It appeared that the cows were not milked dry, but some was left for the thirsty calves. During milking, the hind legs of the cows were tied together, and when it was time for them to join their calves, they were untied and shooed out to pasture.

We were all offered some leche caliente, and I was a bit hesitant at first, so I watched the process unfold. First, a little chocolate powder was placed into each glass, and then about 5 or 10ml of alcohol was added to kill any germs that might be there.

The type of alcohol that was used.

The teat of the cow was cleaned and then the milk squirted directly into the glass.

Then it was time to drink the finished product. I felt that since everyone was having it, and no one had a history of becoming sick from it, that it was safe to drink. I normally don’t like warm milk, but it tasted pretty good – maybe the addition of chocolate helped.

Enjoying my glass of milk straight from the source. For those not from New York who are curious, I’m wearing my official Mets baseball team tee shirt. The #7 is for the number 7 subway line that stops at Shea Stadium (the subway station is called Willets Point/Shea Stadium) . “Let’s Go Mets !”

Two people did get upset stomachs from it later on, but it turns out that they both were lactose intolerant and drank the milk anyway. This morning I let them know about products like Lactase that they probably can get here.

For me, this morning I had really bad stomach cramps and some diarrhea, lasting several hours, but I am fine now. Possibly from not being used to raw milk. Some foods do bother me here, but probably because my system is not used to it – such as beans (frijoles) being a staple and served with breakfast, lunch and dinner.

So – such are the pleasures and pain that comes from exploring the cuisines around the world. Until next time – have a great day !

Two Cultures of Caring and Healing

Today I want to talk about another personal experience, which illustrates how we humans could be one inclusive community throughout the entire world, if only we would choose that path.

Since moving into my house at the end of 2016, I had been involved in the life of a neighbor who has a disability. Many of us in the village looked out for her and helped her out so that she could be as independent as possible in her own home.

And then she started to become sick. She was diagnosed with cancer earlier this year. An advanced stage by the time it was diagnosed. Now, except for my parents and son, my experience with illness has always been in a hospital in my capacity as a registered nurse. I was sure that procedures, laws may be different here in Mexico, so I consulted with my Mexican nurse friend to see how things worked here – consents, hospice, attitudes about end-of-life care.

Meanwhile, because this neigbor had a mental disability, I wasn’t sure if there were any differences in verbal interactions with a mentally challenged adult versus one who had full mental capacity.

And for this, I am forever grateful to live in a time that has the wonder of the internet. It is not only a way to show cat photos to the world (of which I am guilty) or arguing with someone whom you have never met (also guilty) but it is a treasure-trove of information and a way for people to connect in the most meaningful ways.

There are many online groups of like-minded people who can connect for various reasons – politically, religiously, professionally. One of my groups is a network of professionals, mainly nurses, started when Joy Behar made her famous “why was she wearing a doctor’s stethoscope” remark (Keep this in mind if anyone wants to publicly impugn the abilities of a nurse. P*ss off one nurse, and you’ll be doing it to all of us.).

Anyway, I put the question out there to connect with anyone who had experience with this type of patient and two nurses answered. I seemed to have more of a rapport with one of them, so I thanked the first one and continued conversations with the second nurse, who lives in the United States.

Over the course of two months, I received advice and much-needed emotional support for which I will be forever grateful, as I was second-guessing myself quite a bit. I was better able to explain things to the family and give the family and this woman the proper kind of emotional support and explain each step of the end of life process because of my conversations with this wonderful hospice nurse. Many years ago, this would never have been possible.

My neighbor passed away in her own home, in her own bed last Thursday, surrounded by family and friends. The process here is that an ambulance was called, they came and pronounced her, and then the funeral home was called. She passed at 6pm, but the funeral home did not come until after midnight. The village church rang its bells at her passing.

RIP Irene

The next day, a tent was erected in the street in front of her house. Seats were placed under the tent where we sat, prayed, talked, while having juice and soup. Her living room had been cleared out and the casket was inside, in front of a red screen, with lit candles and flowers around it, and a picture of her dressed up for a friend’s wedding.

At 4 pm there was a funeral mass, after which her casket was put into the hearse. The hearse then proceeded to the cemetery at a walking pace, since all of us in the village who were attending walked the approximately one mile to the cemetery right behind the hearse.

Entrance to the village cemetery (panteon)

View of the Volcano of Fire from the cemetery

This is the rainy season, but fortunately it did not begin to rain until we were almost at the cemetery. For those who wished to see her one last time, the head of the casket was held open, and shortly thereafter, she was placed in her grave.

Being a Catholic country, the custom is to have the tent outside the house for 9 days, during which prayers are held every evening (a Novena). But with the rains, the tent was taken down and prayers are held inside her house. After prayers, various snacks are served, such as hot chocolate and pastries.

I like many of the traditions here, which emphasize family and caring for one another. Beginning after the death and for 9 days following the funeral, people gather to talk about the departed, comfort one another, pray, eat, give emotional support and allow grieving.

Through technology I was able to deal with being retired, being in a foreign country whose language is not my first language, and not being familiar with the customs and details of caring for a person with her specific needs.

All of humanity has different languages and customs, but underneath we are all brothers and sisters, and I am grateful for this extended worldwide family that technology and being born at the right time in history has allowed me to experience. My one wish for the world is for all of us to incorporate this feeling of “one-ness” into our innermost beings.

Poor dog has been sitting on this grave for days.

A Shout-out to all My Readers

Greetings to everyone, wherever you are. I noticed that after my last post about the eye bank I had more visits than in the more than 3 years that I have been writing this blog.

While my purpose is to alert people to the unexpected situations in which they might find themselves in a foreign country, and how I was able to handle those experiences, I also wanted to share the culture and daily lives of the people of my adopted country.

However, I know that you may have questions or wish to learn about other aspects of life abroad, or of Rotary, and so I am sending out this message to all of you – Is there any new topic you would like covered? Anything into which you would like me to dig more deeply?

Please send me your comments, critiques, and I will be happy to address them and create more content in which you are interested. That would include any comments about my writing style – I will not be offended as long as your critique is constructive.

Thank you again for following along with me in my journey through life. Take care and I eagerly await your comments and suggestions. Have a great day !!!!!

Inauguration of the First Eye Bank of Puebla and the District Governor’s Dinner

Greetings again and I hope everyone is enjoying their summer, wherever you are. Last October I wrote about going to the Mexico-USA Friendship conference in Acapulco and my committee choosing three projects for our Rotary Club to help support. In March I talked about visiting the General Hospital of Cholula, Puebla where the eye bank will be. Now I am pleased to be able to announce that the eye bank has had its inauguration, is open for business and has had its first client from day #1.

On June 28th at 4pm, Rotary club members, hospital staff and dignitaries gathered in the General Hospital of Cholula, greeted by someone in a giant eyeball costume, complete with an optic nerve protruding from the back of the “eyeball.”

Mr. Eyeball with his red optic nerve

After mingling, we were called to order and presentations were given by the people up on the stage – various government ministers, the Director General of the Hospital Dr. Francisco Javier Enríquez Reyes, the head of ophthalmology Dra. Marcela Tejeda Mondragón and the president of the Club Rotario Puebla Campestre Real Mónica (Maby) Flores.

After the speeches we were led into the eye bank. There we were able to see the culmination of all the efforts of Rotary in collaboration with the hospital administration and staff. There was a table set up with gleaming new instruments. There was a new refrigerator which enabled storage of the donated corneas.

Examination room

New Instruments

For me, the crown jewel was the microscope. This instrument did not resemble what you would think of when you hear the word “microscope.” It was a cylinder set on top of a square container next to a computer screen which was also attached to a printer. The cornea is placed into the microscope and its image appears greatly enlarged on the screen. This enables the doctors to view it in great detail at the cellular level and detect any problems which might disqualify it from being transplanted. I must say that I am constantly amazed at the progress in the field of medicine just in my lifetime, but that is a post for another day.

Microscope on the right, cornea as seen through the microscope on the computer screen and the printer on the left.

After the tour there was a reception during which we had many separate discussions with our colleagues from this endeavor. In addition, several more short speeches were made, including by Dra. Tejeda Mondragón and Mónica Flores.

Mónica Flores explaining how the project came about and thanking everyone for their help. Together we can accomplish anything.
Dra. Tejeda Mondragón

Me and Maby with the outgoing district governor
Sign for Eye Tissue Bank, brought to you by Rotary International District 4185 (Mexico) and Districts 5495 and 5500 (Arizona, USA) – and there’s my club, the Rotary E Club of the Southwest USA (RECSWUSA) district 5495

While the inauguration was the purpose, and would be the highlight, of my trip, there was still more to come. After a good night’s rest, it was time for a road trip.

ROAD TRIP !!!!!!!

Wind turbines on the way to Veracruz

View from my hotel room, Veracruz

The Rotary year begins on July 1st with dinners officially celebrating the changing of the guard being held around this time. This dinner was for the district governor of Rotary District 4185, which includes the states of Puebla, Tlaxcala, Veracruz, Morelos and Guerrero.

The dinner was being held in Veracruz, so after spending the night with Maby and her family, we packed ourselves into their car and off we went – me, Maby, her husband, son and daughter.

I slept for part of the way, and for part admired the landscape on the way, including wind farms. On arrival, we checked into the Galería Plaza Hotel, where the dinner would be held, and it turned out that I had a very nice room overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. The dinner started at 8:30pm so we had plenty of time to relax.

The dinner began with traditional dancers, speeches, presentation of the outgoing district governor (Ing. Cipriano Navarro Maya) and the incoming governor (Jesús Pita Barcelata). Plenty of photos were taken and a delicious dinner was served. Kudos from this gringa from New York to whomever prepared the menu. Only a single hot/spicy (picante) item, which was a crouton floating in the crab soup. The rest was delicious and thoroughly enjoyed.

Me and Maby

Thank you for being a part of Rotary and helping to connect with the world. New district governor Jesús Pita Barcelata

I don’t even remember what time I returned to my room for a good night’s rest, refreshed in the morning and ready to see some of the sights of Veracruz before returning to Colima on my 4:30pm flight.

As I said, Veracruz is right on the Gulf of Mexico, so it reminded me of many little seaside towns on the east coast of the U.S. Souvenirs had mainly seaside themes, the fresh fish was absolutely delicious and one tourist attraction reminded me of Acapulco. In Acapulco there were cliff divers who earned money by having tourists watch them dive from cliffs into narrow stretches of water. The divers in Veracruz would dive from the docks to retrieve coins tossed into the water. I noticed that when they stood up, the water was only waist deep. However, a ship was also docked a little ways away. I was told that the ground beneath the water was flat until it almost reached the ship and then there is a steep drop.

After touring Veracruz, we went to the airport, where I was told I could not take my flowers on board. Maby had given me a nice bouquet and I believed that since I was still traveling within Mexico I could take them with me. I was told by the agent that it was not allowed, that it didn’t matter if I was not leaving the country. I don’t know if she was correct or not, so Maby kept the flowers and I kept the wooden box in which they came.

So there ends my latest tale, but I will leave you with one thought. How lucky I am to be part of such a wonderful organization such as Rotary International – a worldwide volunteer organization. I have been blessed to meet so many wonderful, caring humanitarians whose volunteer work makes the world a better place one person and one project at a time.

If you have a Rotary club near you, you might want to check it out, be a guest at a meeting and see what we do. If you are not inclined to join, you may want to help them in some of their activities. In addition, or even instead of, it is a wonderful experience to travel and meet other people from different countries, different cultures. You will see that deep down we are not so different after all.

And so – adiós until next time!

On Obtaining a Mexican Driver’s License

I have been living here in Mexico for three years, and have been a permanent resident for two of those years. Because this is my permanent home, I figured that it is about time to obtain a Mexican driver’s license. About two weeks ago, a neighbor and I drove to the motor vehicle bureau, called the Secretaria de Movilidad. There, I asked a bunch of questions and left with a paper telling me what I needed to have in order to get that license.

Since I was already a licensed driver in the United States, I did not have to take the written test, but what I did need was my passport, a valid driver’s license, proof of where I live (such as my electric bill) and lab work showing my blood type. The proof of where I live must not be more than two months old.

Just as each state in the U.S. has its own license, so do each of the 31 states in Mexico. I live in the state of Colima, and our motor vehicle office is in the center of Colima City – a bit of a drive that I was not looking forward to making.

For those of you who have not read any of the posts which describe the village in which I live, let me say this:

Cofradía de Suchitlán is a rural village of about 1500 people. We have no post office, no bank, no ATM, no supermarket, no government office except for a small medical clinic and the small office of the mayor of Cofradía. It is the same with several surrounding villages. Therefore, I was very pleased when a car with a loudspeaker attached to its roof made its way through our streets yesterday announcing that people from the Secretaria de Movilidad would be here today to allow people to obtain or renew their licenses. They would begin at 9am at the cancha (sports court) within the village.

This being Mexico, I didn’t know if they would show up, if they would show up on time, or what would actually happen, but I didn’t want to take a chance, so I walked to the cancha at 8:15am and thankfully found only about a dozen people waiting.

Around the cancha was an ambulance, police and employees from the Secretaria setting up their equipment. The man in charge gave a speech telling us what was to take place and divided us up into two groups. I ended up being in the renewal group since I already had a license, even though it was from a different country.

He then gave each of us a ticket with a number on it, and I was number eleven. Eventually they called my number and I turned in my paperwork and I.D. and my Spanish was almost good enough, but for questions such as marital status, if I wanted to be an organ donor and who to call in case of emergency, it took me a few seconds to understand.

One thing that did concern me was for them to register my correct birthdate. In the U.S., numerical dates are written month-day-year. Here in Mexico they are written day-month-year, so I gave them my Mexican residency card first as opposed to my U.S. documents.

After that, I went to pay for the license. Yaayy – 50% off today so I only had to pay 380 pesos ($19.87 USD) instead of 760 pesos ($39.74 USD), and I didn’t even have to use my senior citizen discount I.D.

And as an aside, if you are looking anywhere that lists prices, the dollar/peso symbols are almost exactly alike with one exception. The peso sign is an “S” with one line through it, and the U.S. dollar sign has two lines through it. More than one gringo has almost had a heart attack seeing what they thought was an exorbitant price when they were actually looking at the price in pesos.

So the next step is being photographed and fingerprinted. The photograph went fine, but the fingerprinting (since this was my first Mexican license so my fingerprints weren’t in the system) was a bit of a problem. This is the rainy season, but today was bright and sunny, so the electronic machine was put in a cardboard box with a piece of cloth over it to hide some of the light. I eventually stopped counting how many times it took for the machine to capture all ten of my fingers satisfactorily, but ultimately we were successful, then I just waited for my name to be called and I had my brand new Mexican driver’s license issued by the State of Colima.

It’s good for four years and only took three hours from the time I arrived at the cancha until I was walking away with my prize in my hand. And I was number 11 in the line. I felt really sorry for those with higher numbers and hoped that they had eaten breakfast before they arrived, as I believe there were more than 50 people by the time I left.

So that was my adventure for today. Until next time…………….

The cancha of Cofradía on Driver’s License Day

The Pyramids of Cholula, Puebla

When people hear the word “pyramid” the first thing they usually think of are the great pyramids of Egypt. Would it surprise you to know that the tallest pyramids in the world are actually here in Mexico? With a total volume of 4.45 million meters squared, with a 4-sided base measuring 450 x 450 meters and a height of 66 meters, the Cholula Pyramid is the largest pyramid in the world.

However, the word “pyramid” in the singular form is misleading, as it was originally 8 pyramids, one atop the other. With erosion, only 5 or 6 pyramids are currently in existence.

Diorama of the temple complex

At first, this pyramid could be mistaken for a hill. When the Spanish invaded, that is exactly what they imagined it to be, and built the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Remedios (The Church of Our Lady of Remedies) on top of this hill. Little did they know what lay beneath the ground on which they were standing.

Somewhere around 200 BC the first of eight pyramids was built. In reality, it was not so much a pyramid as it was a temple to the god Quetzalcóatl. As each culture was supplanted by another – The Olmecs, Toltecs and Aztecs – the complex grew.

Unlike other pyramids, there are stairs on all four sides of the pyramid, so it can be climbed from any direction. Archaeologists have dug 5 miles of tunnels through the pyramids, so tourists such as myself can explore them from inside. they have also reconstructed one side of one of the lower segments of the pyramid.

Inside the tunnels dug into the pyramids. You can see the walls of the surrounding pyramids.

One of the objects found during the archaeological exploration was a mural of adults drinking. A replica was created on the grounds of this site.

But the pyramids are not the only structures at this site. As with many ancient ruins, there were also altars and evidence of human sacrifice. There is evidence of the sacrifice of children with various explanations given. One explanation was that during a drought, the priests believed that children should be the messengers to beg the rain god, Tlaloc, to bring rain to the land. Two of the decapitated children discovered at this site had severely deformed skulls, so there may have been other, or additional, explanations for this practice because of the children’s deformities.

Also within this complex is a stone plaza, where, if you stand in a certain place and clap your hands, you can hear the call of a bird called the quetzal. Here is a video of the actual bird and its call:

Click on the link and video of the Quetzal bird and its call.

Link to the video of our guide clapping his hands in the plaza to make the sound of the quetzal bird. You can also see a stone slab at the center and the Church of Our Lady of Remedies (Nuestra Señora de los Remedios) at the top of the earthen mound under which the pyramids are buried.

Photo of the plaza. Clapping your hands will elicit the sound of the Quetzal bird

Beginning over 2000 years ago, Cholula grew from a small village to a city ruled by the Olmecs, Toltecs, the Aztecs, and finally was conquered by the Spanish under the leadership of Cortés. It is an incredible feeling to stand among the remains of this temple and ponder the lives and events of the living, breathing people who inhabited this place so long ago.

Standing by one side of the partly restored pyramid
Part of the complex surrounding the pyramids/temples

My friend Martha waving near the top of the stairs.
With our guide at the temple complex.

I have not gone into as great a depth about the history of this area as I could have in order to save time and space. To read more about the geography and history of this archaeological wonder, you can click on the link here: and perhaps put it on your bucket list of interesting places to visit in the future.

Happy Mother’s Day – 2019

First, I want to wish a Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers of the world. It is celebrated in many countries, but not all on the same day. In the United States it is always on a Sunday, but here in Mexico it is always May 10th.

This year, May 10th fell on a Friday, and here is how we celebrate in my village.

On Thursday, May 9th, many in our community went to the village cemetery to clean off the graves and place flowers on them. Many of the graves and mausoleums are covered with tiles, so buckets with soap and water and mops were everywhere in evidence, and flowers were placed once the cleaning was finished.

Looking out through the entrance gate from inside the cemetery. The arch over the gate reads Panteón Municipal or Municipal Cemetery
Sugar cane fields across the road from the cemetery

The next morning, the actual Mother’s Day, we gathered at Lourdes’ house to exchange gifts, which mostly consisted of flowers. As I mentioned when I began this blog, this village gives one a feeling of stepping back in time. No supermarkets, no bank, no post office. Small mom-and-pop stores called abarrotes which sell a variety of things from fresh vegetables and fruits to canned goods, etc. Then we have specialized shops – 3 butchers, a bread bakery, tortilla makers, coffee roasters, carpenters, stone masons and metal workers. And for Mother’s Day, one of the women who works at our literacy project, Project Amigo, was selling roses and other flowers out of her house, and this is where I bought the flowers.

Flowers that I received for Mother’s Day

After greeting each other and exchanging gifts, we went into the next village for breakfast at a new restaurant, which, of course, was very crowded with all the mothers of many generations getting together with their families.

One thing that has always impressed me about Mexico, or at least in the area in which I live, is how cohesive the families are. You will find several generations living either under the same roof or within walking distance of each other. And if you are not a blood relative, you might be a comadre, an honorary member of the family/ close neighbor/ friend.

This being a very religious community, there was also a Mass in the Catholic Church at 6pm, though not as long as the regular Sunday Mass.

In the meantime, it wouldn’t be Mexico without music. Here is a song from a son to his mother (I dare you to listen to the words or read the English subtitles without crying)…

And another video of musicians playing the tune La Mañanita (a traditional birthday song) with the words changed for Mother’s Day.

And so – wherever you are, have a


A Tour of Volcanic Colima

Last week my sister in the United States visited me here in my home. Before arriving she said that she would like to visit the beach and tour our volcano. We did spend a day at the beach, and last Thursday she got to see our volcano up close.

There is a local woman who does group and private tours. For those of you who live locally or plan to visit some day, her name is Lucie, her company is Meshico Magical Tours and her web site is

I had been worried that our tour would need to be cancelled because a few days before we were notified of a yellow alert due to the sensors detecting increased activity. The exclusion zone was changed to include the area within 8km of the volcano. I didn’t see any increase of activity when looking at the volcano with my naked eye, but the Civil Protection authorities are very diligent about keeping the public informed of any danger and precautions that must be taken. The volcano is constantly monitored by members of the Volcanological Observatory and the Committee for the Evaluation of Risk of the University of Colima – the Centre of Exchange and Research in Volcanology.

Thursday morning dawned with no increased severity of warnings, which Lucie also monitored, and so my sister Mary and I gathered up our water bottles, hats, walking sticks and backpacks and headed off to see the volcano.

Actually, there are two volcanoes visible today from nearby villages, such as where I live. There is the Volcán de Fuego, or Volcano of Fire, which is the active volcano and the Volcán de Nieve, or Volcano of Snow which is the inactive volcano. They are part of the Colima Volcano Complex (CVC).

Here you can see the Volcano of Fire on the right, and the Volcano of Snow on the left. The active volcano is 3839 meters (12,595 feet), while the inactive volcano is 4270 meters (14,009 feet) in height. It appears lower in height because it is farther away.
In pre-Columbian times, the Volcano of Fire was called Tonaltepetl and the Volcano of Snow was called Zapotepetl. As with the volcanoes of Puebla, the active ones were associated with masculine figures and the inactive ones with feminine figures.

Fuego is actually composed of two superimposed volcanic cones, the older one being the collapsed Paleofuego volcano whose activity ended with a southward-directed sector failure in the Holocene era. The younger, active Fuego is built inside the horseshoe-shaped depression of Paleofuego.

Figure 2
Open in figure viewerPowerPoint
Perspective view from the SW of the Nevado de Colima volcano (NC), Fuego de Colima volcano (FC), and Los Hijos lava cones (LH). The view was generated from DEM and Landsat ETM satellite image. Vertical exaggeration 1,5X.

According to the Journal of Geophysical Research, there is a 5 km wide, 130-250 meter deep depression on the southwest side of the Fuego active crater near Yerbabuena Village.

Within the past few years, there had been an evacuation of Yerbabuena village, and today it is practically a ghost town. A few people remain, but many buildings stand empty, including a school. The people who remain believe that if they evacuate, then the government will take their land and they will be unable to return

On the road to the volcano we stopped to look at this raised, triangular formation. Lucie told us that behind and beside this formation was a crater lake. In the distant past, much of this land was covered with volcanoes, and over time as a result of much geological activity, we now have the landscape that we were looking at.

As we approached the Volcán de Fuego, we came upon an avocado orchard, within which is a tree called the Guardián del Volcán, a tree which some estimate to be about 200 years old. It is said that if the tree is destroyed, that people in the area will no longer be protected from the volcano. Evidence of this belief is reflected in this graffiti:

Painting depicting lava flowing down the depression in the side of the volcano, leading to La Yerbabuena

The house at the entrance to the orchard is privately owned, but now people are allowed to pass through the gate to visit the sacred tree, The Guardian of the Volcano.

entrance to the orchard and The Guardian

Here is the tree from a distance

and here is the tree up close.

From a distance it looks like one tree with branches and leaves forming a huge dome. Up close, it appears to be many trees growing together. You can see in the photo what appears to be many bare branches hanging above the ground. Lucie told us that they are actually roots heading towards the ground which will then be anchored there. I see many trees here in Colima which have shoots come down from the branches which then anchor into the ground.

Close-up of the part of the tree which will eventually be anchored into the ground

Lucie (left) and my sister Mary (right) at the base of the tree

Looking towards the top of the tree

Looking out from the base of the tree to the branches which almost touch the ground

After visiting the Guardian and the avocado orchard, we headed back towards the coffee plantation La Yerbabuena. Here, the volcanic soil creates a good environment for growing delicious coffee. Unfortunately, when the volcano is active, the ash also disperses acid into the air, which is very destructive for the coffee plants. I witnessed this in 2016 while living in the volunteers’ residence at Project Amigo as I watched the leaves of the bushes in our courtyard sadly turn yellow.

It was the end of the harvesting season, but when the coffee cherries are picked, they are laid out on this cement platform to dry. Some of the cherries are de-pulped first and some are left to dry with the pulp intact. The coffee bean itself is the center of the coffee cherry. Depending on how it is prepared determines its flavor and strength after processing.

In this casita, Ramón, the owner, serves hot and cold coffee beverages as well as sells bags of whole bean and ground coffee. He also sells his coffee locally in Colima State.

After enjoying our cups of prepared coffee, we headed towards the crater lake. On the way we saw this bird:

We searched through a guidebook, but could not identify what type of bird it was. Then I saw it start to fly away with a little gecko in its beak – I wasn’t quick enough to get a good picture – the camera was focusing on the foliage instead of the bird – but what the heck, I’ll share it anyway. At some point in the near future, I will go on a bird-watching tour and get some good photos at that time.

The crater lake was very tranquil and beautiful. I tried to imagine it being the crater of a volcano so many eons ago. At times, I wish it was possible to view in time lapse various parts of the world from billions of years ago to the present, such as the continents crashing together and then pulling apart, and I wished I could do the same here – to see the land go from being many volcanoes with violent eruptions to gradually having many of them collapse, cool off and leaving a few to remain active while the ground beneath turned into fertile soil for the life-sustaining fruits and vegetables that now grow in this state from the highlands down to the sea.

We saw people enjoying the tranquility, canoeing or fishing, or just enjoying the scenery while eating lunch, as we were. Meanwhile, we also admired the variety of birds, the likes of which we had not seen while living in the United States.

There was also a tree next to the lake which I found very curious. It seemed to have one end of the trunk in the ground, curve around and have its other end also in the ground. I’m sure if I had taken a more intensive look, I could have figured out what was going on, but I didn’t. It seems that I am always surprised to find new plants, trees and animals that I had never seen before.

I am always amazed at how easily things grow here. Put something into the ground and it will grow. Even if it looks dead during the dry season – even if you would bet money on it being dead – it springs back to life once the rainy season begins. With the rains, everything is explosively blooming, and everything turns green and clean.

Two views of the crater lake , La Laguna de la Maria

In case you want to learn more about the volcanoes of our regions here are two links:

I hope you have enjoyed learning a bit more about our volcanoes and that the narrative has not been too hard to follow. There was a little bit of something for everyone, no matter your level of interest, from detailed geological history to general knowledge to nice photographs. So until next time, be well and take care.