Agua Azul – Indigenous Zapatista Supporters Jailed in Chiapas for Opposing Ecotourism Project

John and I spent several weeks in Chiapas, so I wanted to share this story on our blog. I learned about it via Kristen Bricker’s blog, My Word is My Weapon.

The article reports on the Bachajón 5, five men who are in prison after a dispute over who controls the tollbooth to Agua Azul waterfalls in Chiapas. It’s pretty complicated with all the parties involved, including: supporters of the Other Campaign (Zapatistas), Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), Agua Azul Tzeltal Indigenous Ecotourism Cooperative (Ecoturismo Indígena Tzeltal de Cascadas de Agua Azul S.C. de R.L.), Organization for the Defense of Indigenous and Peasant Rights (OPDDIC).

The government claims that state police intervention and occupation is now necessary to keep the peace, but other groups claim that the conflict between indigenous groups was actually manufactured by the government to make acquisition and control of the area easier for the plans to build a highway and a multi-million dollar ecotourism hotel on indigenous land.

Read the full article here.


I-10, Our Nation’s Seemingly Endless Artery

Around Phoenix we caught I-10, the highway that flows from Los Angeles, CA to Jacksonville, FL. We pick this route during the winter because there is nearly zero chance for ice or snow. Anything north and your chances get worse. The first thing that comes to memory about this highway has to be that it is really, really straight and boring for many hours.

I try to pick out the subtile differences hidden under the homogenous American highway culture. Two nights ago while driving through the dark, I pondered upon the different words used for a small tributary of a watershed. What we call an arroyo in coastal California changes to a wash once you arrive in the Sonora Desert. I can see why, because when the rain falls, everything (especially the trash) washes down.

All this came to mind as I crossed the great divide somewhere in New Mexico and western Texas and I noticed a new term, draw. It looked identical to a wash, but now on the eastern side of these huge mountains, its name has changed. I guess here in Texas after a big storm, the water draws off the land (it doesn’t appear to wash anything).

We’re on our way to Houston where I believe our hydraulic feature of a landscape assumes the much more widespread term creek. In the comming days we’ll continue to chug along I-10, passing hundreds of more creeks, until we arrive in Florida, sometime next week.

We managed to make a nice detour from the interstate, bypassing the sprawl of San Antonio. For the second year in a row we visited Guadalupe River State Park in Texas. It seemed even more beautiful than we remembered it. Check out the pics below. We highly recommend visiting the Texas hill country if you find yourself in the area.

We woke this morning to a young kid’s voice talking to his father. They were walking by our camper, parked in a campsite at the state park. “That’s not camping”, said the boy. “Camping is when you get out. That’s not camping one bit!”. We both cracked up laughing. What a way to start the day.

Santa Cruz to Arizona

...until we meet again Santa Cruz.

It took an incredible amount of energy and some help from some of our closest friends to get us on the road last Saturday morning. After driving the entire length of the Salinas Valley, we made our first stop near Santa Maria. We drove the back roads and saw the fields planted with broccoli, cauliflower, and strawberries. The berry season will begin here in just a few weeks. The growers here aim for the early window of production, about four to six weeks earlier than the production starts in Santa Cruz county.

Coastal mountains of Santa Barbara county.

John’s job didn’t take long and we headed south into Santa Barbara county. While Amy was driving John kept looking for some surf potential. Somewhere west of Santa Barbara he turned his head all the way around to watch a nice set peel for over 100 yards, down a wind-protected point. Within 10 minutes he had his board rigged and was headed towards the water. It didn’t take long to satisfy his surf appetite, about five really nice waves. Before dark we were back on the highway and headed towards LA to visit Amy’s relatives.

Gettin' 5 on it...

From LA we traveled south and then east, eventually arriving in Arizona. We drove through the desert, passing date groves rising out of the dry earth. Here in the south eastern corner of California begins the agricultural oasis. The crops of baby spinach, spring mix, head lettuce, and celery grow best here at this time of year. The low desert’s mild winter weather keeps the supermarkets supplied with cool season produce from November until March. The dry air makes the pathogens and pests nearly non-existent in comparison to anywhere else in the US.

Afternoon SoCal lighting.

We followed the highway east, into the Gila river valley. We found a great spot to camp at Painted Rocks SP (free at this time of year). The spot is known for the unique petroglyphs left by two groups of people. They used small rocks to carve off the dark surface of boulders, exposing the lighter mineral inside. The rocks are part of a pile of boulders deposited in the middle of the valley, by a volcano to the SW.

Next post in a few days…

Santa Cruz Surf

Back to where we started a little over a year ago. We traveled up and down the Mexican and California Coastlines, as well as the southern portion of Taiwan. In all of my travels, I haven’t found place with more variety, consistency, and quality of waves than Santa Cruz. The waves lured me here in 2005 when I first started visiting while living in Davis. Once I got the taste, I eventually found a way to live here and fulfill my longest surf trip yet – about five years in a row.

What is it that makes this place so good? The coastline offers a diversity of points, reefs, and beaches that can have completely different wind and wave exposures. That means that almost any day of the year, decent surf can be found somewhere. Time and time again I tell myself and others, “If I was in Florida, I would be surfing that right now” or “in Florida this would be an epic day”.

Santa Cruz surfers get spoiled real quick. They constantly pass up mediocre waves in search of the best conditions (I’m just as guilty of this as anybody here). All it really takes to stay in the water daily here is a little creativity in board riding, plenty of stoke, and a moderate amount of patience. With a hungry eye, you can find a nice peeler around some not-so-crowded corners of this Surf City. Or you can go hop in the water with 100 of your most aggressive friends at the Lane.

Naturally Beautiful Taiwan

Many times while on the road in Taiwan people asked us why we came. “Nobody from the west comes to Taiwan as a tourist”, they repeated. Some people asked it it was from the recently released surf magazine issue covering Taiwan. Still our answer was no.

Our first inspiration came our cousins, Donna and Joe, who had their wedding photos done in 2009 around Taiwan. The photos blew us away. Giant mountains covered with lush forests, beautiful oceans and rivers. What else could we want? Surf maybe? While on the road in Mexico this year, I met a Japanese surfer who insisted that Taiwan had some good waves. He also told me winter was a very consistent time. Okay, well we already had planned to go to Donna and Joe’s wedding in Hong Kong in December. Why not fly over (1.3 hours) to Taiwan afterward to get some good surf and enjoy some sightseeing.

So far we’ve posted on the surf, the food, the agriculture in Taiwan. Here’s our final post on what brought us to Taiwan in the first place, the incredible natural beauty. We only covered a fraction of the island, concentrating our efforts in the southern sector, mostly around Kenting National Park. We will definitely return to Taiwan someday to discover more parts of the island; hopefully with a better understanding of Mandarin.

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What’s growing in Taiwan

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All that tasty food comes from somewhere. While in Hong Kong we heard the people say that they would try to purchase the most expensive food from Japan, followed by good quality food from Taiwan. Many tried to avoid the industrial garbage coming from China, for its notoriously not-what-you-think-it-is status.

The agriculture of Taiwan blew us away. Of anywhere in the world I have traveled, Southern Taiwan appeared to have the most diverse and advanced horticultural systems. Within one square kilometer we spotted orchards of cherimoya, guanabana, betel palm, coco palm, mountain apple, banana, mango, next to fields of onions, lettuce, choy, beans, and cover crops. In some areas the flooded paddies not only grew rice but taro and water caltrop. As I rode the train north along the west coast we gained an elevated perspective. The farmers were busy diverting the water in the fertile river beds to plant corn and other commodities. Next to the rivers, in protected vineyards, the family farms cultivated trellises of dragon fruit.

The average farm in Taiwan is only 2 ha (~5 acres). The slow food movement teaches that this correlates with diversity and economic stability. Unfortunately the industrialists of Taiwan don’t feel the same. I dug up this website full of big-farming propaganda (, stating that they need more consolidation of small farms to make more efficient agro-industry (bad idea guys).

Most of the agriculture we saw appeared to use conventional inputs (we spotted hundreds of empty bags of synthetic fertilizer on the margins of the fields). Numerous instances we saw small spray rigs, usually man-driven, working across the fields. Only in the flat paddies did we see use of cover crops on fallow land. If we could only speak Mandarin, we could provide a more complete perspective. Until the next trip I guess.

Good Eats in Asia

The top two activities in Hong Kong are eating and shopping. Probably in that order. In Taiwan there is no shortage of tasty food either. Check out some of the delicious and strange things we ate on the trip.

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What the F*@k is Betel Nut?

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For residents of a country that doesn’t allow most drugs, the Taiwanese consume an awful lot of their legal drug, betel nut. I learned about this drug (actually two plants and mineral) over eight years ago in my ethno-botany classes at the University. I had not yet had the experience until arriving in Taiwan.

My first night on the island I accompanied my new friends to dinner. Following the meal somebody broke out a bag of B-Nut (as they called it in Southern Taiwan). I partook but with a little apprehension that it would upset my stomach, wasting the previous tasty meal. I was wrong. The only side effects that I experienced were a numbness in my mouth and slight constriction of my throat. As for positive effects, I couldn’t tell. The only thing noticeable was that my breath smelled nice.

It took another three tries to actually feel the effects. I tried B-Nut for the fourth time in the mountains north east of Kaohsiung in the SW part of the island. I had been driving for about three hours and felt fatigued as we began to ascend the twisty-turny-technical road. I spotted a B-Nut shop, which was made of three sides of glass. Usually the shops employ a beautiful young girl without much clothing. I got lucky and found the only shop run by a mature Betel Nut beauty, well over 60. Her Betel Nuts worked the same. Within 30 seconds of chewing the concoction, my eyes were wide open and my mind tuned into my driving. I couldn’t remember the fatigue I had felt only minutes previously. The stimulating effects are different than caffeine in that I didn’t feel nervous or twitchy. My heart rate was elevated but not like the palpitations that come with strong coffee. I felt 100% but not high or wired.

So what is the B-Nut? In Taiwan, green nuts from the Areca catechu palm are wrapped in a leaf from a vine, Piper betle, which have been swabbed with a solution of lime (calcium hydroxide) and water. In the past, pulverized coral or limestone was used as the alkaline mineral; modern lime is often synthetic. Other areas of the world have different variations and may add other herbs for taste.

Chemical action on the human consciousness is attributed to the arecoline of the palm nut as well as an array of allylbenzene compounds from the betel leaf. The lime acts to keep the chemicals in their freebase/alkaline state so that they can absorbed sublingually. The positive aspects of the experience (stimulant, learning enhancement) may be outweighed by the negative (red stained teeth and increased risk of oral cancer).

I observed a large amount of cultivation of both the nut and the leaf in southern Taiwan. The palms seem readily adapt throughout southern Taiwan, (west coast, lower mountain range, and east coast). Cultivation of the leaf was concentrated to the Taitung area on the east coast, nearly entirely under shade houses. When the trees grow in marginal areas and on vegetated hillsides, they appear to not present a significant detriment on the environment. While observing the intensive cultivation of the palm and vines on the flat land, I saw signs of soil compaction and runoff pollution (due to synthetic nitrogen soluble fertilizers). Many farmers maintain their palm plantations with herbicide; the soil appears ill and covered with slime molds.

All around Taiwan we saw the betel nut chewed by a large part of the population. Besides the popularity with workers, in one mountain town we visited nearly every older lady on the street had her cheek packed full. Drivers appear to consume the most B-nut. I think it’s a pre-requisite for entering the highway in some parts of the country. I have uncountable images in my head of the faces of scooter-ists, raging down the road with a mouth bulging of betel.

Taiwan Surfing Review

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Notes on Taiwan

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A few random observations jotted down during our expedition.

1. Scooter drivers:

a) As a rule, they do not look at traffic as they pull into the lane.

b) Generally have a red mouthful of betel nut.

2. Toilets have names such as “amoeba” and “maximum”

3. No tipping necessary at restaurants.

4. Minimum wage is 80-120 NTD which is about $2.50-$4.00 per hour for basic jobs such as 7-Eleven and yard work.


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