The Turtle Sanctuary

Yesterday, we volunteers visited the turtle sanctuary on the Pacific coast of Colima State – the Tortugeria. The life cycle of the sea turtles is fraught with danger from the environment and from predators, including those with 4 legs, 2 legs and those with wings. The environmentalists of the Tortugeria work very intensively to preserve the many species of sea turtles and to educate the public.

Some of the turtles are kept in large tanks at the facility for breeding purposes and for scientific study. When they lay the eggs, or a nest is found on the beach, the eggs are dug up and brought to a protected enclosure on the beach where they can reach maturity in safety.

Unprotected sites on the beach are subject to dogs and humans (and maybe other creatures) digging them up. Once hatched, the babies are picked off by birds.  In the natural course of events, most of the eggs and hatchlings do not survive to make it to the safety of the sea.

The eggs are initially deposited in a hole with a depth equal to about the length of the adult turtle’s flipper. They are laid all at one level, not piled up on top of one another. This insures that the heat in the nest is equally distributed among the eggs. Too much heat and the embryos will die. And so, when they are re-buried in the sanctuary’s safe area, they are laid out in one layer at the proper depth.

A pole is placed at the nest with a tag indicating the date and how many eggs are in the nest. It is expected that after 45 days, the eggs will hatch, and they hatch all at once. When the turtles hatch, the number of hatchlings are counted and collected. The nest is then cleaned of the broken shells and other detritus.

The newborns are then carefully handled on the sides of their shells. You have to have completely clean hands – no hint of chemical odors of any kind, including skin cream or suntan lotion, as it will affect their ability to come back to the same beach as adults. There are also two white lines of some substance on their bellies that help them gather chemical scents from the sand and sea, and the memories of these scents are somehow embedded in their internal biochemical homing systems.

There were 15 hatchlings yesterday, and the volunteers were allowed to release them. To prepare for the turtle release, the environmentalists first drew two lines in the sand at the shore. Volunteers had to stand between the lines and gently place the turtles between the second line and the water.

As soon as they were gently put down, the babies valiantly struggled to make their way into the ocean (remember they have flippers, not arms and legs). A few made it right away, and some were bounced around by the surf, pushed back up the beach until they got close enough for the surf to carry them out to sea. All the while, a bird was circling overhead, but I imagine the sight of so many humans kept it, and any of its friends, from attempting to make a meal of the baby turtles.

This was my third time to visit the sanctuary, and each time I learn a little bit more, but this was the first time that I have actually seen a release. For many of our sponsored students, this will be the first time they have actually seen the ocean and learned about the magnificent sea turtles and about the environment and conservation. So, once again, please visit our web site and learn about how we are promoting education to eliminate poverty in Mexico and consider sponsoring a child.  You can click on the link

1. Conservationist holding a hatchling

2. Protected nests in the sand with poles marking their spots

3.Hatchlings heading for the sea

A Day in the Park with the Kinders

In the village of Quesería live the migrant workers and their families.  The workers go out into the sugar cane fields and cut cane, 9 hours per day, 6 days per week.  Fortunately for the families, Project Amigo has built a primary school on the grounds of the camp, and I understand that the government now considers it an official school.  One of the perks of being in school is the field trip. The children get to see things they ordinarily wouldn’t, such as the Turtle Sanctuary and the Pacific Ocean, as well as museums, etc.

Two days ago, they were able to just be children, having a picnic at the lake, being Little Jedi’s attempting to hit and break open a piñata and gather the sweets, play with hula hoops, go on the slide – and go on the ZIP-LINE over the lake.  It was wonderful to see the joy in their faces, and watch their individual personalities emerge, just as children everywhere do when in a safe and loving environment when they can just be themselves.

I saw one little girl who appears to be a natural-born leader, pulling other kids to various activities, playing mother to some. Instead of getting on the slide herself, I watched as she stood beside it, putting her arms around the ones coming down so they wouldn’t go too fast (even though the slide itself was only slightly taller than her tiny self), and telling the ones still on it to get off because another child was ready to slide down. And – she was very gentle with the shy ones.

Some were explorers, going to the edge of the lake, swatting the water with small, leafy branches, maybe to stir up whatever might be in the water, or maybe just to see how the water would react. Some just sat on the rocks and stared out at the beautiful scene of a body of water surrounded by greenery and the ever-present volcano in the background, or looking up at their friends and the adults on the zip-iine above their heads.

What I saw were potential artists, scientists, explorers, mothers, fathers, nurturers. For those souls brave enough, they went into the zip-line harness alone, some with their friends close together, and some in tandem, adult and child both in their own harnesses with the adult holding onto the child on the way down.  All in all, a wonderful day.12593745_1117198564978036_2880365560158877413_o

Spanish Lessons, Cooking Lessons and Gathering Firewood


The Project Amigo Alaskan contingent. I am in the purple shirt, Tatiana is in the dark blue shirt, and her Mom is standing between us.

It goes without saying that if you live in Mexico, you soon realize that people speak a different language and eat different types of food. There is no way I would ever be mistaken for a Mexican, and though I say “Buenos días” or “Buenas tardes” when I pass someone in the street, if they know a little English, they say “Hello” to me.  But most of the time, they return my greeting in Spanish.

Initially, way back in 2012, I volunteered as part of the Vision Clinic week. Since eyes were not my specialty, I checked blood pressures and blood sugar and counseled patients regarding those issues at my station.  I did this in 2012 and 2013 and had my script down almost perfectly. I could tell people what their blood pressures and blood sugars were, ask them if they were on medication, and were they taking it, and if not, then why not.  Occasionally, I needed help from one of the Mexican students to translate, or my friend and Mexican nurse, Magda, to make references to a doctor or clinic, but I was basically OK without much translation help needed.

The only initial hiccup was the glucometers – the machines to measure the clients’ blood sugar.  Normal in the U.S. is around 80 – 100 for  a fasting blood sugar. I was seeing numbers in the single digits and  my patients were alert and talking to me!!! It turned out that was a scale that is used in Canada, and a large contingent of our eye specialists were from Canada. We were able to adjust it so I could get readings in the more familiar scale.

The 2013 work week  was the last Vision Clinic that Project Amigo hosted, as it was thereafter to be run by the local Lions clubs. So – in 2014, I signed up to work with the Literacy Work Week crew. Turned out, a few of us who had signed up were nurses, so we were asked to organize and run mini health fairs for the students in the primary grades.

I was very excited to do this, and collaborated with the other nurses, including a public health nurse who had a lot of experience doing this sort of thing, including in low-resource settings.  We did a very good job of hosting these fairs, but now I had a problem – I knew how to talk to adults about very specific issues, not young children about brushing their teeth, washing their hands, exercising and eating healthy food. It was a whole different vocabulary, and I needed someone to translate for me most of the time.

Fluency in a language is very much dependent on the circumstances. My Spanish is passable on the street for very basic things, such as buying groceries, talking about washing my clothes or the dishes – simple things like that.  I know I need to be much more fluent in varied circumstances, and so – enter Tatiana!  She is one of our scholars, a freshman at the University, and she is tutoring me in Spanish..

So now I have “class” with her and drills to practice.  My accent is pretty good, except for one thing – the “rr” sound, where you trill your r’s . I can work on my vocabulary anywhere, but am a little shy about where I practice my pronunciation.  I can just imagine what all the Alaskans would think if they heard me repeating over and over,

“r con r cigaRRo

r con r baRRil

que rápido ruedan

los caRRos con azúcar

del feRRocaRRil”

With each “double-r” I take in a deep breath and force the air out while I bend my head forcefully forward.  I suppose that in a few months with lots of practice I will be able to pronounce these words correctly without having stop to take that deep breath to force out the sound.  At least I was able to practice out loud for a few hours while the other volunteers were out at their project this afternoon.

Doña Meche, who owns the local artisan shop/grocery store gave a cooking class yesterday, teaching the volunteers how to make salsa verde and guacamole.  Basic ingredients in many foods are avocado, red tomatoes (jitomate), tomatillos (small green tomato with a paper-like covering that you peel off), onions, lime, cilantro and – of course – chiles.  I am slowly trying to become accustomed again to spicy food.  I did try the food from the cooking class, and it tasted pretty good. It was fine, that is, until it hit the back of my throat. Fortunately, it wasn’t so hot that I had to make a mad dash to find water.

When I took Tatiana out to lunch in Villa de Alvarez, I found out something else.  Mexicans love ketchup! We bought pizza and she put a spicy green sauce (it was spicy for me, but not her) and ketchup on the pizza, and she said that they love to put ketchup on a LOT of food.

This entry is becoming quite lengthy, so I will finish up with our expedition to obtain firewood. Wood fires are still used around here, and so some of us volunteers took the pickup truck and a van and went out to harvest firewood. We went to a hill about 11 kilometers outside the village, and I am sure that some of the people who need it most here would have been unable to get to that spot.

Tatiana and her mother went along. When we got to the harvesting area, we had to go through a barbed-wire fence, which is harder than I had imagined. Some of the people went up the hill, cut down wood with machetes, then tossed it down the hill for us to bring to the truck.  Tatiana’s mom is a tiny little thing, and she was right up there with the men wielding that machete. I was amazed at how fit she was, but I am sure that she was doing it most of her life.

I settled for bringing the cut wood to the fence, where it was loaded onto the truck. I should mention that this land must also be a cow pasture, as there were cow patties all over the place, so I not only had to watch my step to maintain balance, but also to avoid bringing some natural fertilizer back to my residence on the bottom of my shoes.

Well, time to stop and practice my vocabulary so “mi maestra” will see that I am serious about improving my Spanish.

¡Nos vemos!





Thoughts about the Great Blizzard of 2016

I am going to talk about feelings in this post and continue with life here in Mexico in the posts to follow.  Every so often, feelings that happen unexpectedly will come upon you and must be dealt with, and the blizzard that just happened to the East Coast of the U.S. is one of those times.

When I first heard that the East Coast was going to get dumped on with an amount that should have been happening but didn’t during this winter season, and it was going to happen all in one shot, my first thought was that I moved down here at exactly the right time.  I posted things on Facebook that were a little bit cheeky, to say the least. However, today I saw a video about people snowboarding by holding onto a rope attached to a car, and they were doing it in the streets of Manhattan.  A police car stopped them, but the officer told them to pretend they were getting lectured, and I think I felt a twinge of homesickness – though definitely NOT for the snow and cold.

When you talk about “New York Values,” this is what I think of.  It is people coming together, either to support each other in the face of disaster or getting together to just have fun, such as I saw on the video today.  I think of music in the subways (at the stations as well as in the subway cars) by street musicians as well as Julliard students. During the summer, it will be all kinds of street performers.

I believe that no matter where you are or where you come from, each place has its own character and things that make it special.  Having lived in New York, including Long Island, NYC and the Hudson Valley, I will always have a piece of New York inside of me, and be forever grateful for airplanes and the internet which will allow me to stay in touch with my roots,either physically or virtually.

Life in the village of Cofradía de Suchitlán

I think I will start out by describing life here in the village. Cofradía is a small village of about 2000 people within sight of the famous Volcán de Fuego, the Volcano of Fire.
The streets are cobblestone, so it is a good idea to wear thick-soled shoes. My first trip here, I wore my beloved Sketchers, and I could feel every stone through the soles. No need to wear hiking boots if all you are going to do is walk in the streets. There are sidewalks, so on days where I need to wear my thin-soled nicer shoes, I try to keep to the sidewalks.
The village shops remind me of stories my father would tell of growing up in the Bronx in New York (he was born in 1919 – and if anyone wants to read his stories of serving in WW II or growing up in the Bronx, you can find those stories here: )
Anyway, the small grocery stores are called abarrotes, and they sell many of the same things, but many have specialities. For instance, the carnecería sells meat (carne = meat), the papelería sells stationery (papel = paper) and so on. The first part of the word tells you what they sell or do, and the “-ería” tells you it is a store or business.
My favorite so far is the cafetería – the coffee shop. It is just outside of town, about a mile walking distance, so you can walk off the calories you have ingested after drinking one of their delicious cold frappés – it tastes like coffee-flavored ice cream, topped with whipped cream and fresh blackberries. Probably a ton of calories, so I am limiting myself to once per week.
Behind the cafetería, they spread out the coffee beans to sit in the sun on platforms of cement. Behind these platforms are the machines where they finish processing the beans. Sitting in the café, you can sip your hot or cold coffee and eat some freshly made sweets while having a nice view of the bull ring and the green landscape. As you then head back into town, there is a magnificent view of the volcano.
One other thing I need to become accustomed to is buying things by weight. I couldn’t buy a half-dozen eggs. Instead I bought a half-kilo, which turned out to be about 8 eggs of various sizes. You can pick up however many pieces of fruit you want, but it is weighed and priced according to weight. Come to think of it, the supermarkets back home in Upstate New York DO put the produce on a scale at the register, but some of the more exotic fruits you do end up paying by the piece, such as “2 persimmons for $3.”
Also – your groceries are put into bags, so I carried the bag of my loose eggs VERY CAREFULLY to my residence. It’s not like at home, where you have the sturdy egg carton. The advantage was that none of the eggs was damaged – at home I would need to open the carton in the store to make sure none of the eggs was broken or cracked.
Everyone is friendly, and everyone says hello if I don’t say it first, as you pass by in the street. I have walked the village daytime and night-time in perfect safety.
There is a village square called the jardín, where celebrations are held, complete with music, dancing and fireworks, farmers’ markets and people cooking and selling delicious street food on the weekends. It is also just a nice pace to sit and admire the landscape.
I will add pictures once I figure out how to do it. Learning all the aspects of doing a blog is a bit like learning all the different aspects of living in Mexico – sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know until you suddenly need to do it.
I will post a blog about transportation separately. There is no bank or post office in Cofradía, necessitating a bus or car trip to one of the larger towns, such as Villa de Alvarez, Comala or Colima City (Colima is one of the 31 states of Mexico, and one of its cities is also named Colima, similar to New York State and New York City.)

Adventures of an ex-pat in Mexico

Welcome to my page! After 66 years of living in New York State, 45 of those years working as a Registered Nurse, I have decided to be a long-term volunteer in Mexico – specifically in the small village of Cofradía de Suchitlan in the Pacific Coast state of Colima. Within about 2 months, I hope that I am comfortable enough here to make the next step, which would be to move here. Currently I am here on a 6-month visa. I look forward to sharing my thoughts and feelings as I experience life in Mexico, first as a gringo, then as an ex-pat.
Cofradía is a small village, in an agricultural area. The main products are coffee and sugar cane. I learned about it at the Rotary International convention in New Orleans in 2011. Looking for a way to volunteer, but with limited time and money due to working full-time, I happened upon the Project Amigo booth at the House of Friendship in NOLA.
I talked with the founders, Ted Rose and Susan Hill, and thoughts swirled around in my brain: “It’s close to home” and “I do speak a little Spanish” and “It’s only a week; I can manage that,” and so I made my first trip as a volunteer.
It was love at first sight, falling in love with the climate, the beautiful landscape and the beautiful people. Most of all, it was the children that we were helping. Project Amigo provides scholarships to children, enabling them to go through school, eventually attending and graduating from university as professionals, making a better life for themselves, their families, their community and their country.
With this blog, I not only want to share my experiences, but also open people’s minds and hearts to the real Mexico that many do not see – the Mexico beyond the newspaper headlines, political talking points and Mexican tourist vacation spots.
Also, I just want to point out that I am a newcomer to blogging, so if anyone has any suggestions about improving my format, etc. please gently guide me to making this a better and more memorable site.
So, welcome aboard and here we go!