Last Day in Cofradía

I am now in Tlaquepaque and will be here until the pre-dawn hours of Saturday – two days from now, so I will wait to describe all that is happening here and tell you about my final 24 hours in Cofradía.

Tuesday morning started out with a brisk 7am walk. The weather cooperated as far as no rain, but it was still cloudy. The volcano was visible, but it was still cloudy enough that it was not optimal for taking photographs of it. We went up past the bull ring as far as the Temazcal sweat lodge and then back again. No one fell or was injured, so it was a good outing. At the end of our walk I put my shoes into a plastic bag and donated them to Project Amigo. I’m definitely looking forward to getting a really good pair of hiking boots when I get back to New York -hopefully something with good foot and ankle support, so that if I should fall again, torn-up muscles and tendons and broken bones will be avoided as much as humanly possible.

PS – I never did make it to the sweat lodge this time, but hopefully when I return I will. With the local one, there is a ceremony before going in to prepare you to be in the proper “zone” and the heat is increased slowly, so all should be OK.

So, back to Tuesday. I am no expert on anything, but having lived here for almost 6 months, I have learned a few things. One of the volunteers is staying on for an extra week, and we were talking about things like buying clothing and pottery and cooking on your own. I introduced them to Doña Meche, and afterward suggested they bring along a student or maybe Stephanie since Donña Meche speaks no English and they would need someone to translate exactly what they wanted to buy.

Also, the volunteer who is staying has specific dietary needs, and was asking about restaurants. I suggested that she would be better off cooking for herself, as there are not restaurants or luncheonettes like they have in The States. They are small establishments, many right out of the person’s kitchen in their home, and the food is purely traditional Mexican, so there are no substitutions if you have food sensitivities, except for maybe no bread or no hot sauce.  That is why, when my friends back home asked if I would want to go out with them to a Mexican restaurant – or was I sick of Mexican food – my answer was that 95% of the time, I have been cooking for myself, and the past 2 or 3 months, I have had very little traditional Mexican food.

I spent most of my day doing laundry and packing up my things. Two large suitcases will stay here, and I will only be going home with a carry-on bag and my canvas bag with my laptop. It is amazing how much stuff you accumulate in a place, and living in one room, it really wasn’t that much, but did fill an extra suitcase.

At 6:30pm we all left for a Project Amigo fundraiser at a cervecería called Jardín Trapiche in Colima. It is a very nice micro-brewery. They actually make beer there and there was an oven outside where they made food (the two choices were a hamburger made with meat and a vegetarian burger made with mushrooms).  The only choice of alcohol there was beer, so I had mineral water instead. I used to like beer, but after my son was born, I haven’t been able to tolerate the taste of it. I guess the pregnancy hormones did something to my sense of smell or my taste buds, which makes it a bit difficult in places like Mexico or Cameroon when the beer is safer to drink than the available water.

Anyway, the food was delicious, and a band called Colorado Felix played as part of the benefit. I bought one of their CD’s and had a nice conversation with one of the members, Jaime, yesterday, since we rode together in the Project Amigo van to Guadalajara, a 3-hour trip. They live in Guadalajara and it was a short taxi ride for me from GDL to here in Tlaquepaque.

They named the band after the Colorado River and an “old-time” actress – Jaime’s words, not mine – (I think from the 1950’s) named María Félix, who apparently is very famous here in Mexico. As an aside, I can’t believe I just wrote “old time” regarding something that happened around 1950. I was one year old then, and I also can’t believe that it was 65 years ago. It just seems so recent in my mind… And for any of you younger people laughing at this, some day, if you’re lucky and live a good, long life, you will be in the same position – feeling in your mind that you are the same person you have always been, but when you look in the mirror, it begs to correct you.

Also attending were 4 members of the Rotary E-Club of the Southwest USA, also known as RECSWUSA, and a future member, who I like to refer to as our presumptive nominee in honor of our crazy U.S. election this year. The current members are me, John, Jenna and Sandy. Jenna’s husband Alex will be a member when the membership process is completed. So we basically had a mini-Rotary meeting.

In addition to customers, Rotarians, Project Amigo people and staff, there was a poor dog walking around with one of those plastic shields on his neck. I presume it was to keep him from biting his tail, which looked like it had been shaved and had a wound on it. Whatever happened to the poor thing was memorialized on the chalk board at the restaurant.

So that’s about it for now. Time to go to the Festival of San Pedro which is going on this week. I’ll probably write up about my stay here either tomorrow night or Sunday, as I have to leave this hotel at 4:45am to get to the airport on time for my 7am flight on Saturday.

As always, if you click on my photos, you will see explanations, and if you still have any questions for me, please feel free to comment.



Rain !!!!!

The rainy season has started in this part of Mexico. Lots of rain with periods of sunshine and clouds. The temperatures are somewhat cooler, the air is fresh and the landscape is becoming a beautiful green.

We need to become careful where we step, not only because of puddles, but also because of the wildlife.  In New York, the sidewalks would be full of earthworms after the rains. Here, it is huge brown toads. About a week or so ago, we saw several dead brown toads in the road, one of which was ever more bloated each passing day. I don’t see it anymore, so I am sure it must have exploded at some point…

My foot has healed and in the mornings Lourdes and I have been walking on the paved road – about 6 km per morning (3 km in each direction), and I have again been going to aerobics class in the evenings.  My windbreaker is not quite as snug as it had been when I first arrived here, so I imagine that I have lost some weight. When I go back to New York, I will get myself a good pair of hiking boots with good support for my feet and ankles and hopefully avoid becoming incapacitated again…

The time is fast approaching for me to leave Cofradía. In 2 days, I will catch a ride to Tlaquepaque, and on July 2nd I will be flying home. The 2nd of July will be a long day, with my flight leaving Guadalajara Airport around 7:15am, landing at Stewart Airport in Newburgh at 10:30pm, with stops in Los Angeles and Philadelphia. The price was right, and it was close enough to home that no one minded picking me up, so it was worth it to me to fly all over the country to get there. Also – only a 2-hour turnaround in Los Angeles, so I will have no checked luggage, as I don’t want to take a chance on missing my connection because of the extra time it would take to collect checked bags, go through customs and immigration and security, re-check my bag and get to the departure gate.

Since I have so little time left here, I am trying to make the most of it. Recently I went with a friend to a restaurant in Jalisco that had been owned by Germans. It was also a hotel and had beautiful grounds, very old rooms with loads of antiques, including cabinets and jars for herbal medicines, fascinating sculptures and photos of the famous people from the area.  One thing I also learned while having lunch there – always taste the food and condiments before diving in.

There was a serving dish resembling a small gravy boat that had a green pureed substance in it. I incorrectly assumed it was guacamole and proceeded to pour liberal amounts onto my food. One taste and my mouth and throat were on fire – it was 100% pure, pureed hot chili peppers. I was able to scrape most of it off my meat, but the beans were a lost cause, and I had to have them bring me another plate.

Last night I had dinner with Richard and Magda, and then coffee with Lourdes and her family. One last morning walk tomorrow, one last Spanish/English class this afternoon and one last aerobics class tonight. One last visit with Doña Meche tomorrow.  So many “one last” things to do here, and then two full days at Tlaquepaque before going back to the States.

Nos vemos……


A Bunch of Nice Videos

Two nights ago, a bunch of us went to the final night of the Gastonomia Festival with Ted and Susan. We had a delicious outdoor dinner, multi-course, prepared by the chefs and some great entertainment. Finally got home around 11:30pm, I think.

There were several groups of dancers, including three men doing the Old Man’s Dance (a dance from Michoacan) and at the end of the dance, they took off their masks and we could see that they were not old at all. There was also a mariachi band, and I am amazed at the powerful voices of the singers in these bands each time I hear them.

I could see way past the many tables of diners three men on horses in the street. They were too far away to get a good video, but these were the “dancing horses” which would dance around to the music. You can see a little bit of it in one of the videos as I pan from the musicians to the horses.

Not much else to add right now, so I will let you enjoy the







Ted Rose and Susan Hill – The Project Amigo Story

We all know that great, strong oak trees from little acorns grow, and sometimes from the tiniest mistake great things can happen.  All one needs to do is look around, absorb everything you can about the experience, and consider the possibilities.

Being in the wrong place at the right time is exactly what happened to Ted Rose. Ted loves volcanoes, and in 1984 decided to explore the famous Volcan de Fuego (Volcano of Fire), the active volcano on the border of Jalisco and Colima States in Mexico.  Ted’s wife Susan Hill speaks Spanish, but at that time, Ted did not. Because Susan was not with him, he ended up on the wrong bus, and instead of visiting the volcano, he found himself in the little village of Cofradía de Suchitlán – alone, no idea where he was, and unable to communicate.

A young Mexican child noticed this stranger, and took pity on him. He showed Ted around the village, and then brought him to the albergue , a dormitory for students from outlying villages run by the state. At that time, there were no schools for the children of the other villages, so they attended the school in Cofradía de Suchitlán.

When Ted returned home, he and Susan had a discussion about what they could do for the poor people of this village, and for the next 3 years, they would return bearing loads of gifts.

Over time, Susan realized that giving gifts alone was not helping these people. Ted is a Rotarian, and the motto of Rotary is “Service Above Self.” Also in Susan’s mind was the story about “Give a man a fish and he can eat for a day; teach him how to fish and he can feed himself for the rest of his life” which emphasized that this problem needed a different approach. So after much thought and discussion, Ted sold his car and his business in California in 1986, and he and Susan moved down here with a bunch of typewriters and opened a typing school, thereby hoping to give marketable skills to the students so that they could more easily find jobs. And it worked – in two years, 8 out of their 12 students were able to get jobs because of the skills they learned in the typing school.

In 1984, the first of the annual Christmas Fiestas was held, and field trips have been added over the years.  For the Christmas Fiesta, more than 300 children each year are given gifts of clothing and shoes and treated to food and fun activities. Field trips include visits to the beach, airport, zoo, archeological ruins, among other places of education and interest.

Scholarships were first offered in 1996. These scholarships provided for tuition, clothing and books in their schools.  In 2002, the high school graduates broached the idea of obtaining an education at the university level, and so scholarships were now extended from kindergarten through university, and today we now have more than 59 university graduates through Project Amigo in such varied professions as medicine, nursing, engineering, law, accounting, architecture, to name just a few, and our numbers are an indication of the success of Project Amigo in promoting education; the national average for students who complete high is just 5%, while 75% of Project Amigo’s high school graduates enter the university, with most of them continuing through graduation.

Throughout the growth and development of Project Amigo, observations would be made that resulted in additions or changes to the program, so that it is constantly evolving to suit the needs of the students and community.

One of these observations was that only 40-50% of the students remained in the scholarship program from year to year, except in Cofradía, where the students would seek out Ted, Susan and the staff to use their computers in the evening and ask for help with their homework. This led to weekly visits to other villages to similarly help the students, and now one of the requirements for retaining their scholarships is that the students participate in the homework clubs. There are also computer labs in several villages for use by the students.

Another observation was the distance students had to travel to attend higher education.  In 2001, the first “Casa Amiga” was rented, providing our scholars attending high school in Colima with a place where they could live, eat and do their homework.  Most of the residents at that time then continued on to attend and graduate from the University of Colima.

The current Casa Amigo was donated by Catherine Munson, was remodeled courtesy of donations from board members and other donors, and was furnished with funds provided by a Rotary Foundation Matching Grant. With the addition of a second floor providing a new study area, Casa Amiga will be able to house 28 students.

In all of the work being done by Ted and Susan and Project Amigo, education is the goal to help the impoverished children of this area of  rural Mexico to be better prepared to support themselves and their families, which also enriches their communities.  Ted, being a Rotarian from California, had many contacts in the world of Rotary International, and Rotary has been heavily involved in Project Amigo – primarily Rotarians in the United States, Canada and Mexico.  From building classrooms to providing mini-libraries and “books of their own” to donating clothing and supplies and so much more, the lives of these children, their families and communities are being changed one step at a time, and all because a man who loved volcanoes and didn’t speak a word of Spanish took the wrong bus and not only decided to turn a lemon into a whole plantation of lemon trees but also to build the lemonade factory so that the figurative  lemons of Cofradía, Suchitlan, Quesería and other areas in need would become delicious lemonade for all.

Among the many ways to help are sponsoring a student or becoming a volunteer during a work week. To find out more information about Project Amigo and how you can help, please visit the web site at .


Ted Rose and Susan Hill

Warning -Read my disclaimer before going any further

OK – the subject matter I am about to discuss will literally make some people sick, so if you have a delicate stomach, please go no further, because I don’t want to be responsible for anyone becoming anorexic.

A few people, such as my son, and maybe my niece Catherine Butzen, won’t be surprised at what they will read, and the fact that I am fascinated by such things, and could even bring myself to participate out of curiosity. But – if I need to be more specific, this post talks about, and has photographs about, insects in the diet of many areas of Mexico. And – to answer a question that is burning in many people’s minds, yes, I DID try some of them.

So, here goes – you have been warned. Continue at your own risk.

Yesterday was the beginning of a 3-day gastronomia festival at the Casa de la Cultura in Comala. The first two days will be right here at the Casa, and the third day, Sunday, will be in the jardín with many vendors selling their wares.

I went with my friends Richard and Magda, who were selling their produce, as well as chutneys, jams, honey, fresh-cut lavendar, etc. Next to us was a vendor selling knives, and next to him was a table with tee shirts and cookbooks.

Inside was a large room where the lectures would take place. There were many chairs set up for the audience, and a cooking area, where food would be cooked as the lecturer explained the process. After that, some of the food could be tasted by the audience. Before the lectures/demonstrations some volunteer firefighters brought in two fire extinguishers.

The first lecture, now remember everything is in Spanish, seemed to be about what you must consider when preparing food – such as origin of the food, flavor and presentation. Then a dish was prepared of fresh bacalao, veggies and sauce. The speaker took us step-by-step through the process and ended up with a very elegant plate of the prepared food.

There was a short break and then the next lecture began. On the screen were pictures from pre-Colombian times of men and corn. The lecturer started talking about corn and the food created from it, such as tortillas, so I said to myself, “OK, so this will be a class about corn.” THEN he started talking about the agricultural pests that resulted from the corn growing – worms and insects living inside the corn or in the soil. Now I realized that this lecture was about edible insects and worms.

Yes, they are a good source of protein, and like bats, we help to get rid of them by eating them, though that is not the reason people began to eat them. When you are hungry enough, you will eat anything. I remember in my father’s memoirs he talked about one of his uncles who described how, during WW I, he ate locusts. I remember in the movie “Castaway” Tom Hanks’ character crying as he killed and ate a slimy raw creature from the sea before he taught himself how to create fire.

So what types of creatures are we talking about here, you might ask. Well, turns out there is quite a variety. First there is ahuauhtli, or ahuatle – the eggs of water bugs and a few other creature, often referred to as Mexican caviar. It is black and white, and when you think about it, normal caviar is just fish eggs, so there is not much of a difference, no?

Chapulín, or grasshoppers and hormiguitas, tiny black ants are two more sources of protein. There was also a photo of what appeared to be large red ants, or maybe they just turned red after cooking, as lobsters do. Finally, there was the Maguey, or white worm, which is actually the larva of a moth,most famous for being at the bottom of some bottles of tequila. I am sure there were a few other things that, because of my limited spoken Spanish or my unfamiliarity of Mexican cuisine, I did not hear or understand, but I think this list is sufficient for now.

The lecturer started out with the Maguey, and held up a live one (see photo). He invited anyone in the audience to try it, and a woman went up, took hold of it, and swallowed it. Then the cooks on the stage went about frying them and someone passed around a plate of them. I raised my hand to try it, then initially tried to wave them away. But then I said to myself, well, they ARE cooked and tried one. The initial bite into it revealed a slightly soft inside, but the outside was crunchy and surprisingly tasty. I don’t know what oil or spices they used, but I am sure that is what I was tasting, rather than the larva. They were also squashed flat and blackened from frying, so they didn’t look as they did when alive, and that helped a bit.

The other thing I tasted was a quesadilla of crickets and cheese. There was a little linen bag of something also on the plate, and I have no idea what was in it. I only took one bite of the quesadilla, as the crickets were very dry and the cooks had put hot sauce on it, so the hot sauce alone prevented any further tasting.

There was another class about traditional bread which I did not attend. At that point I REALLY needed to go to the bank to replenish my heavily dwindled supply of pesos, and then to keep Richard company at his table. I first went to the ATM, and then to the window to get all my 500-peso notes changed into smaller bills. I told the cashier what I wanted, and she automatically said they do not change U.S. dollars. I replied that I was changing pesos, so everything was OK. About 90% of the people here automatically recognize me for what I am and make assumptions, but I guess that is normal, while some people do start speaking to me in Spanish. I suppose I will always stand out, but that is OK, too. But then, some do speak to me in English just to practice their English and that is also OK. I am very flexible like that.

So there you have it, possibly, but not definitely, the only post that has the capacity to induce illness. There will be suitable warnings if this should be necessary in the future, so with that thought in mind – I wish all my readers a Happy Remainder of their Weekend!!!





A Restful Week

One week down, and one more week to go and then off comes this splint from my leg. Guess I have to go out and get a really good pair of hiking boots, probably ankle-high might prevent this from happening again.

I was moved into Suegras residence, as there are no stairs that I will have to use. In the evening, I can hear the music from my exercise class, and for the past two evenings I have heard church bells, followed by fireworks and a band playing. Tomorrow I will ask someone what that is all about.

I have also been watching truck after truck go by loaded with sugar cane. These trucks are so big that I can see the tops of them above the wall that surrounds the residence. Am also watching the various life forms around here. The ground was covered with the ash from the burning of the sugar cane fields, and next to one of the plants, I thought I saw a piece of ash – but then it scurried into the plant, and I realized it was a tiny gecko.

This morning, I also saw a hummingbird flitting around from one plant to the next, and in the fountain, the chichalacas were taking bird baths, and one even seemed to be washing off whatever it had in its mouth. These birds are pretty large, shiny solid black with eyes like white buttons. They have long tails and long, thin, sharp beaks, like something out of a scary Hitchcock movie. The sound they make is not melodious at all, but quite different from the crows that they resemble.

There are also tons of tiny, tiny light reddish ants. While still at the Hacienda, I saw a dead beetle on the floor of the downstairs common area, and watched its body being carried out by a whole army of little ants. I wondered what would happen when they got to the stairs, and surprisingly they carried it over and under the lip of the stair, without dropping it and without me noting any disturbance in their rhythm. It was absolutely amazing to see the coordination of these tiny beings carrying something that must have been at least 100 times the size and weight of each individual ant, and to have such a tight hold on it against gravity, too!

The spiders are interesting, too. Saw a large one (well, large compared to what I’m used to seeing here) at the base of my refrigerator in the Hacienda. Blew on it, and it scurried away. I had heard that the spiders that don’t create webs here are very quick and that is how they catch their meals of insects.

Also included in the following pictures are a grasshopper that I saw on a door jamb, and one of the typical butterflies here, with wings that remind me of inlaid wood.

Not much else here from this week. Tomorrow starts the Primer festival gastronómia Comala 2016. Tomorrow and Saturday will be lectures, classes and the only people selling food/produce will be Richard and Magda. Sunday will be the really big event, with vendors throughout the jardín. But tomorrow there is supposed to be classes, including, I heard, about insects. So – I just have to go to that one to check it out. Catching a ride with Richard and Magda, and Sunday night or Monday will post again.