Tuesday, May 29, 2012


Learning to co-exist.

One of the lakeside, pre-rainy season, daily sunset nuisances that we have to put up with are the lakeside Bobos....a small, innocuous albeit numerous flying insect that seems to invade us at sunset...they are usually tolerable if you close your windows right before sunset...and thus keep them outside....but if you forget to close your windows or don't shut your windows quickly enough, the Bobos invade your indoor light sources in a frenzy....this evening it seems we weren't quite fast enough and ended up slapping the poor little critters around a bit.

Brad eventually went to read in our outside/indoor studio...and I sat happily on our portico and watched the lighting/thunder show, as the evening rains began...a spectacular proof of just how small humans really are when faced with mother nature at her grandest.

As the rains start, the Bobos cease to be a nuisance....they seem to be pacified by the rain...and there comes a point of equilibrium where you and the Bobos co-exist and are one.   It doesn't mean that they go away, but they leave you alone enough to be able to Skype or write your blog and you don't feel you have to deal with them anymore....such a  metaphor for life, no?  We need to learn to co-exist and be one with each other, with our environment.  Perhaps we should be more like Bobos....we're born, live, mate, give birth and die all within a relatively short time....a day or so.  Imagine how happy they must be to live fully, even if it is just for a short while.

Arbol De La Vida

"Me Muero De La Riza"

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Tlachichilco del Carmen

The town of Tlachichilco del Carmen is located on the highway from Chapala towards Mezcala.  Tlachichilco del Carmen is located in the Municipio of Poncitlán del Estado de Jalisco México.

It is at 1530 metros above sea level.  At last count the population was 433 personas.

Economic Breakdown

In Tlachichilco Del Carmen there are 109 structures.  Of these 104 are residences, 18 have dirt floors, and 9 of these are homes with only one bedroom.  88 of the homes have indoor bathrooms, 89 are connected to public services, 94 have electricity.  Of these, 12 homes have a computer, 57 have clothes washers and 85 have televisions.

In other words, the town is humble, but with a wonderful energy and full of  warm, welcoming people.

Our friend Karuna, who has been our local, pied piper of important social projects, took us to visit Tlachichilco, to meet the women of the local cooperative water purification project, the mayor of the town and her friend Juan Rojas, a youth who has a long resume of building projects and will be spearheading the Super Adobe project in Tlachichilco.

Welcome to Tlachichilco Del Carmen, a united town
one respectful of nature,
home of the Atzincallli Cooperative.
Our Cooperative built this water purification project.
Atzincalli means place where we safeguard the precious
water that gives us life.
July 16, 2011 


Meeting Alicia

As we drove into the simple, quaint plaza we were met by a lovely, smiling, brightly dressed woman named Alice Contreras.  Alice is the head of the water purification project which offers low priced bottled water.  The village now has a water system for filling the 5-gallon drinking water bottles whereby the people can buy them for 5 pesos instead of 20 pesos, saving each family 4000 pesos/year. And in this town 4000 pesos is alot of money!  This is to be a model for 30 million people in rural Mexico. The management and operation is to be run by the women of the town, led by Alicia.

Alicia Opening Up Shop 

Karuna Explains

Alicia shows us the Water Filtration/Purification Station

UV Filtration Station

Final Water Station

Sampling Product

Precios y Horario

While we spoke with Alicia, we also learned that with some of the money the water purification plant is making, a micro loan program is being considered to help local families finance their projects, allowing the loans to be direct and the interest/payback percentages to be lower than those offered at major banks.

Walking To Juan's House

Karuna was very excited to introduce us to 19 year old Juan Rojas, one of the town's youth. When I met Juan I immediately was taken with his open, warm manner. I learned that Juan has a background in construction and an interest in building in his home town with Super Adobe. I asked Juan how many years he had been working in construction and he casually said 12. I told him he had more experience than many of the contractors I had met in my architectural career.

Walking With Juan

Juan toured us through his town, speaking freely about the houses we passed along the way.  When we arrived at his house I was taken aback by the structure he, his mother and his many siblings all live in.  It is a shack, not a formal building.

The roof of the home is made up of corrugated aluminum and plastic sheeting and the walls are made of wood pieces and stones.

The interior of the home is primarily an all-purpose room...a living room, bedroom, kitchen are all in the same room.  Where the other brothers and sister sleep is a mystery.  Needless to say they all exist in this modest structure.

Super Adobe Structure - Juan's New House?

Super Adobe Interior

As you can see Super Adobe can be beautifully done, a low cost option for building with local and found materials and a good fit for Juan's family and the town of Tlachichilco.  We also met Arturo Ramirez, who is the man in charge of the town, or the town mayor.  Arturo spoke to us about the town's history and we asked him to find us a bit of land for Juan's family's new Super Adobe house.  If you don't ask, you very rarely receive what you want.

Arturo Ramirez - Mayor

Juan online in the town's computer lab

After the tour, Juan and Karuna took us to the town's local computer lab, which is open after school and run with the assistance of two local young women of the town.  The equipment was donated and serves the town well.

Tlachichilco Typical Street

While strolling the town we came upon the most amazing ficus tree...one of the biggest I've seen...the tree and Brad became immediate friends.

Brad y El Gran Arbol

2 Amigos


And so, wrapped in this amazing tree's trunk and branches we were hugged goodbye...but just for a short while.  We will be returning with more Super Adobe building information and images for the people of Tlachichilco to ponder.

Juan and Karuna are on their way to a Super Adobe workshop to be held in Veracruz,  Mexico.  They will get first hand instruction and practical experience with Super Adobe and will return to the town to construct it's first Super Adobe structure.  We'll be there to help in anyway we can and are all excited about this opportunity to create sustainable structures.

Fisherman Class

We left Tlachichilco quickly and headed back up the lakeside scenic coast toward Chapala.  Karuna  had a 3 p.m. Fish Farm Class to attend and invited me to tag along.  The class was being held at the Chapala City Hall, led by our Fish Farm biologists Kurt and Domingo.  This continued instruction in proper maintenance and care of the Fish Farm Project off the island of Mezcala is fascinating and it was good to see familiar faces and to greet each other.

Kurt Teaching

Karuna y Kurt

Today's topic was illnesses of local fish, and truth-be-told, it appeared to me that Kurt was learning a thing or two about the local fish and their particular illnesses from the local fishermen.  What better teachers than the people who work day in and day out with the lake's fish?

Estudiantes/Teachers ?

"Asi" says Kurt.

After class Karuna and I ran around doing some errands and I told her that I had recently explained to Brad the Mexican concept of "accompaniamento" or accompaniment.  In my growing up in Guadalajara it was often that someone you liked or that liked being with you asked you to accompany them.  The reason or destination really wasn't important.  The company and spending time with said person was the primary goal.  I told Karuna that I loved accompanying her on her errands.  I hope that we have many more opportunities to acompaniar each other through our many exciting journeys.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Hearing Harps & Super Adobe

Another reason why I moved to Mexico is that celebration seems to be ingrained in our DNA structure...We live for and love celebrating life, and this is reflected in our cultural festivals.  May happens to be a primary cultural festival month as evidenced  by the 9th Annual Encounter of Harps, Salterios y Mas!, which we attended yesterday at the Cultural Center here at Lake Chapala.

The festival is free to the public and this day, not only was the entry being gifted to the local people, but food and drink was also being generously handed out.  I myself  partook of the tequila...over and over and over again!

Local Audience

Two Damas enjoying the comida y drinks

Beautiful Arpas

The groups ranged from classical, traditional style country Mexican, to hybrid fusion and children's tales told through music...a truly eclectic mix.


En Chapala se ha contado con la presencia del Dueto Los Centenarios, el arpista y violinista Pancho Gómez, Jesús Guzmán y su grupo Santa Lucía, el salterista Daniel Torres, el grupo Luna Sureste, La Orquesta Típica de Chapala, Ensamble Latino, Arpa de Chapala, Luis Ku, el arpista Gaudencio Martínez; el arpista Roberto Díaz Montes, Saúl Gutiérrez, los arpistas de Cancún, Julio González y Julio González Jr. La Orquesta Típica Medrano de Toluca, Edo. De México, Jesús Barajas Oseguera, del Mariachi Tradicional El Carrizo.

One of Dueto Los Centenarios (one of our favs)

Trio from Mariachi Tequileno de Pancho Gomez
They were stellar and based in classical mariachi style.

Faux Tequila Brad (ironic since Brad doesn't drink alcoholic drinks)

Mas Arpas!

SuperAdobe in San Juan Cosala
New San Juan Cosala Church

San Juan Brad

Our friend Karuna also wanted to know what we knew about Super Adobe, since she had signed up for a workshop in Veracruz at the end of the month and had a project in mind in a nearby town where Super Adobe might be a good fit.  Luckily, Brad and I have been aficionados of Super Adobe ever since we met Nader Khalili at Cal Earth in Hesperia, CA.  I've taught his theory and technique in my sustainable design courses...and Karuna thought we might be able to help with the local Super Adobe project.

We had heard that in 2009 a Super Adobe structure had been built in San Juan Cosala, so we loaded up the family van and headed west to San Juan.  The Super Adobe structure had been constructed on the site of a local orphanage, Ninos y Jovenes.

Super Adobe at Ninos y Jovenes
Brad inspecting the structure

Super Adobe Interior - Unfinished interior and dome vent

Barrel Window

The structure had been constructed in 2009, but since then all the people who had helped create the project were gone. But a caretaker at Ninos y Jovenes told us that the structure had been used as a storage facility and then abandoned.

It's technique was rustic, and the structure apparently unfinished.  It still was good to see and inspect the building, which measures approximately 10 feet in diameter at its base and 13 feet high at the top vent.

While wandering around town buying fresh local produce, we happened upon the old church of San Juan Cosala, which BTW I liked even more than the present day one.

Old San Juan Cosala Church

Saturday, May 19, 2012


Friday May 18th, 2012 - Lake Chapala, Mexico

Karuna leading preliminary instruction

One of the reasons I moved to the Lake Chapala area was to become involved with sustainable, ecological projects and practices in this lovely area.  My journey led to me to Dr. Todd Stong, a pillar of the ecological community, invested and impassioned with and by the natural beauty found here.  His contact, when he is away from the area, is an amazingly bright, beautiful, sage and dedicated woman named Karuna.  I was fortunate enough to connect and meet with Karuna on Thursday May 17th, 2012.  And this being Mexico, and magic happening all around me all the time, of course, I would find myself on a small boat the next day leaving the Lake Chapala shoreline to experience first hand the Aguaculture project just off of Mezcala Island.

Brad and I were invited to witness firsthand, the overview coordinating efforts of biologists Kurt and his assistant, Domingo teaching interested local fishermen and local residents the ins and outs of the project.

Imagine 10,000 new jobs in the impoverished villages around Lake Chapala. This dream is now evolving into possibility as a six-cage pilot project in fish farming (aquaculture) near Mezcala Island and is creating the essential operational and environmental guidelines.

Approaching Fish Farms off Mezcala Island

Proyecto Federal - Modulo Experimental de Aguacultura

After observing the high density, destructive practices of aquaculture as it evolved these past 20 years in Asia, The Aguaculture project has adopted half a dozen important changes. Their 20-foot diameter floating cages with nets seven feet below the lake have over eight feet of flowing water below them. Gentle, deep water currents, with varying direction hourly provide changes of the water 300-600 times a day in the cages. Compare that to fish raised in tanks which see only one water change each three days. Further, with 4 cages per acre (10 per hectare) the project provides 97% open water about each group of cages. By the monitoring of 22 chemicals and biological factors the project sees the starters throughout the five months required to raise a batch of fish.  They are coming to understand exactly how the algae, plankton and other forms of life in the water naturally digest fish waste, a normal component of the eco system.

Karuna taking oxygen and temperature measurements

Tilapia, a vegetarian fish that can convert 1.5 pounds of grain-based feed into a pound of flesh, is the choice for our lake. By comparison cattle must be fed eight pounds of grain to produce a pound of beef. Or, consider salmon, a carnivorous fish, which must be fed up to five pounds of other fish to produce a pound of flesh. With 7.2 billion people on Earth, we must move towards efficient fish for animal protein and we must focus on fish, such as tilapia and catfish, which thrive on grain. In addition, the waste of tilapia floats so it is easily digested biologically and back into the cycle.

Aclimitizing fingerling, starter fish

While man began the farming of chickens, pigs, and cattle 5,000 years ago, or more, only in the past 50 years has the serious farming of fish finally begun. During the past 30 years, stocks of ocean fish all over the world have been trending downward due to over fishing. Realistically it may not be possible for governments to control the excessive taking of the wild fish.

Starting in 2009, over 50% of the fish consumed in the world each year have come from the emergence of aquaculture. In our own Lake Chapala we have seen a reduction of fish resulting in a fisherman’s daily catch being cut from 130 pounds to now less than 20 pounds per day. The annual yield of 12,000 tons from the lake has dropped to 2,000 tons. It would require the placement of over 6,000 of these cages in the lake before the number of grain-fed fish matched the reduction of 30 million wild fish from our lake. The yield from those cages could annually provide nearly 50 tons of grain-fed fish which could be sold for $1.09 US/lb versus the ever-smaller wild tilapia fish from the lake that sell for about $0.33 US/lb.

Kurt teaching

Imagine further, if the 2,600,000 acres of lakes and reservoirs in Mexico were to support aquaculture. Consider that if just 1% of the area of these lakes and reservoirs were opened to this activity as per our model here at Lake Chapala that up to 500,000 direct and indirect jobs could be created in this nation.

Everyone learns...releasing fish

And given job poor Mexico has only a 10% stake in aquaculture while the world average is 55%, and given that the focus of Mexico’s effort is on the ocean coast, this proposed project offers a low risk method of bringing this industry to the interior of the nation. In partnership with a junior college like school in Jocotepec fish will be raised from the egg stage to 50 gram size in 2 months. They will then be transferred to 15 floating cages in the lake near to San Juan Cosala for 4 months feeding to bring these fish to a 500 gram weight. The immediate plan is to produce 12 tons of tilapia each month. The longer range plan is to create 30-40 of these village based floating fish cage operations on the lake so as to create jobs that will keep youth from leaving their villages. Federal government wishes to support this pilot effort and is expected to begin funding about July. Planning continues.


 Dr. Stong sees  the possibility for this project to create 100,000 to 400,000 new jobs in Central Mexico.


Going Home



On the boat trip home, one of the young men, who did not have money for transportation to the class, but who did arrange a ride to the class, was studying his notes.  This show of dedication to learning, to doing what was necessary to take advantage of this unusual opportunity, epitomizes the will of my people, the ability to overcome adversity and to supercede immediate challenges to reach the goal of improvement of self and ultimately of pueblo.

My journey here in the Lake Chapala area has just begun.  But I feel confident that I've landed in good hands.  With the experienced advice and guidance of Karuna and Dr. Stong, how can one go wrong?

Another project of note and interest is the Tlachocilco Water Project...Low priced (5 pesos) bottled water system to be operated by the women of the 700 person Tlachochilco Village. It will be a first in Mexico and perhaps the model for 30 million more rural village people. The site is 11 km east of Chapala, 25 minutes from Ajijic. At the request of the village we are building a structure resembling a church, the “home of the precious water.”  The project is into its 25th day of effort with 3000 bricks, 100 meters of pipe and much concrete placed.

Four village men volunteer each day. 

The village now has a water system for filling the 5-gallon drinking water bottles whereby the people can buy them for 5 pesos instead of 20 pesos, saving each family 4000 pesos/year.

This project has yet to mature, but shows great promise.  I will visit the village of Tlachocilco soon, to see what I can offer in the way of assistance....more soon!


Fco. y Brad