Jupiter’s Kiss – A Lion’s Tale


Jupiter

This was sent to me by a friend and I have watched it a few times now, each time amazed and touched by the humanness of it all. Ana Julia Torres, 47 has been running an animal shelter called Villa Lorena in Cali, Colombia for a decade unfunded and trying to get by with her teachers salary. Amongst the 800 rescued animals that she looks after Jupiter, the African lion was rescued 6 years ago after she found it abused and emaciated in a traveling circus.

“It is amazing to see an animal like that be so sweet and affectionate,” said Torres. “This hug is the most sincere one that I have received in my life.”

She began more than a decade ago when a friend gave her an owl that had been kept as a pet. Torres looks after many abused animals such as limbless flamengos, blind monkeys and mutilated elephants.

Watch this…

“We dedicate our lives to the care of these animals without one single peso from the state,” Torres said. Torres said many of the animals were rejected as infants by their parents in the wild or found abandoned on the streets of Cali. Torres said because she opposes exhibiting animals in circuses, she decided to keep her shelter closed from the public.”

To donate money you can write to:

Ana Julia Torres,
Villa Lorena,
Carrera Novena Norte, numero 84 N30,
Barrio de Floralia,
Cali
Colombia.

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Down the rabbit-hole to Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico


The entrance to Carlsbad Caverns was silent. No-one else around other than the cave swallows swooping over our heads to catch the bugs and hurry to the nestlings peeking out from the muddy holes in the cave walls. No-one mentioned the swallows, only the Mexican free-tailed bats, who had not yet arrived from the south to perform their evening shows of dramatically exiting the ultimate bat cave at dusk. “Curiouser and curiouser”!

The slow walk to the mouth of the cave is simply breathtaking as the sights and sounds take my imagination off into magical tales of underground kingdoms. The opening is large and not surprisingly…cavernous. I am not sure what I was expecting. Yes, I expected to be impressed but not to be totally gobsmacked before even getting down into the first cave. The opening is huge and as I drift into the darkness it takes a few minutes for my eyes to adjust. The lighting is particularly beautiful. Large features are lit from hidden sources and the rest is just visible but not in great detail. The cave entrance, the “Twilight Zone” has to be lit in the most minimal way so that animals are not tempted to enter and get lost and starved.

Carlsbad (2)

As I move deeper into the cave the sounds of the swallows around the entrance area start to subside and I start to notice a different kinds of sound; drip, drip, drip. It takes 8 months for the water to move into the cave and slowly drip through and anything above the surface will eventually make its way into these limestone caves and drip. Unfortunately this includes all of the fallout from the car park on top of the cave. The dripping starts to fade into the background as I begin to grasp the scale of the caverns. I make my way through the first cavern and after turning a corner look down and gasp at the next huge cavern that I am about to descend into. Let me remind you that Chris and I still have the entrance caves to ourselves. When you get to the caverns you have the self guided option of taking the lifts 750ft down into the main showcase caverns or you can walk down – WALK DOWN!

I don’t know what to do with myself, so I just stand there trying to take it all in. No matter which direction I look in it all looks wondrous. So I continue on and am presented with about 3 more caverns each more awe-inspiring that the one before because each one is not expected. By the time I make my way to the base of the cave I gather myself together and prepare for the aptly titled, “Big Room”. This is even more decorated that the caves I just floated down through, glistening white rock of many different shapes and textures hanging from the roof, jutting out of the ground, stalacmites and stalactites creating fairy grotto’s. This cave is busier with people now but all around me I can hear sharp intakes of breathe as the cave reveals it’s quiet glory to passers-by. The park wardens ask that you do not talk louder than a whisper so the cave is full of hushed “wows”, or “awesome”.

Carlsbad

Words cannot really explain how sublime the caverns are and the experience of being able to walk through them marvelling at the wonder of nature. I cannot think of any man-made structure that is more beautiful or human that this. Needless to say, the next day Alice went back for more but could only dream of the wonders to behold in Lechuguilla caves in Carlsbad, discovered in 1986 and known to be the longest cave in the world. It is still being explored and has yet to reveal all of the caves to it’s explorers.

Other Info

The caverns were explored the lost comprehensively by a 16 year old cowboy called Jimmy White who stumbled upon the opening in 1901. “I worked my way through the rocks and brush until I found myself gazing into the biggest and blackest hole I had ever seen, out of which the bats seemed literally to boil. … I couldn’t estimate the number, but I knew that it must run into millions.” He ultimately spent his life dedicated to exploring and preserving the caves for others to see.

Getting There

S Highway 62/180 from either Carlsbad, New Mexico (23 miles to the northeast) or El Paso, Texas (150 miles to the west). Carlsbad is served by Greyhound and TNM&O bus lines, or you can fly into Albuquerque, New Mexico, or Midland, Texas. Mesa Airlines flies between Albuquerque and Carlsbad.

Where to Stay

There are plenty of places to stay in Carlsbad or even White’s City which was a bit grimsville US for me. We stayed in the friendly family run Carlsbad RV Park which is about 20 miles from the caves. As for Carlsbad, there’s nothing much exiting going on other than stocking up on your groceries.

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Big Bend, Terlingua, Texas and Mountain-biking


We all have pre-conceptions about a place especially as a foreigner in a distant land, but arriving into the US from Mexico and finding ourselves in the beautiful far flung outpost of Terlingua, West Texas I had most of my pre-conceptions thrown out of the window. Driving to Big Bend national Park was the order of the day to escape the not so pretty Presidio, Texas. A great place to cross the border back into the US from the Ojinaga, Mexico border crossing (Toll road most of the way from Chihuahua City) due to the Loma Paloma RV Park 6 miles from the border, but that’s about it. Terlingua on the other hand is a place you want to hang your hat for at least half the year as many of the current residents do.

Terlingua

On your way to Big Bend National Park you might find yourselves like we did parking up at one of the RV parks outside Big Bend but if you are in this area then make the trip along the road and follow the signs to spend a little time in the not so ghostly ghost town of Terlingua whose name is a twisted version of Tres Lenguas or three languages (tongues) that were spoken by the locals of the village back in the 1800’s.

This is an old mercury mining town close to the romantic and dangerous Rio Grande, established in the late 1800’s and situated in Chihuahua desert surrounded by Chisos mountains and huge cavernous skies. With the closure of the mines in the 1940’s the town was abandoned of it’s workers which by 1905 was over 1,000 mostly Mexican miners. The miners lived on the eastern side of the town and I was told that the stone structures they built are the ones that are more complete. The old graveyard is still there with the local historians working through the graves trying to identify them. The simple yet beautiful naturalistic buildings that were left behind have been slowly rebuilt by the people that have been attracted to this area. Through the 60’s new blood arrived in the town and with the establishment in 1967 of the first Annual Terlingua Chili-cook off this became a town for partying and was christened the “Chili Capitol of the World” by the Chili Appreciation Society. Today there is a mix of people who like to enjoy the great outdoors with river rafting, hiking, biking of all kinds and to hang out in the porch of the old Starlight Theatre to play blues and enjoy the cool evenings under the stars. But there is enough going on here for those who still like the occasional party and I hear from the locals that any excuse to dress up in fancy dress is jumped at.

Another resident explained in her words, “When I came to Terlingua I realised that rather than talk about yourself you talk about each other, so I adjusted”.

This has some benefits and some downsides but when strolling down the road peering at the unfeasibly large pair of great horned owls planning their evenings activities and being checked out by the local coyote I was stopped by the judges wife who handed me the local newsletter. In May there were three benefits for local people who found themselves in a state misfortune of some kind either through illness or just plain old bad luck. In Terlingua people rally round and do what they can to help and they are proud of it.

KosmicCare“What do you do around here for fun”? Well there is the biking for starts. If you like road-biking then this is a dream location, the roads are undulating enough to give you a serious workout and they are quiet. If you like motor-biking then…ditto – the road from Presido to Terlingua is an absolute must. From the ghost town itself there are back roads and some sweet single track for mountain-bikers in the Lajitas and Contraband trail system. To get the low-down pop along to incredibly helpful and just plain old nice people at Desert Sports they will tell more than you need to know to get out there to ride. In fact these guys are the hosts of the Mas o Menos 100k race on every winter, a race that takes 4 days through rugged terrain. During the winter when the river is high then these are the people to go to for your river trip as they offer smaller trips finding the less busy spots along the rivers.

The locals, the people that live here now are not all from Texas let alone West Texas are interesting, engaging, open and very community minded. Now I say this with only having spent a few days in the area but having to leave was actually very hard. I found myself pondering whether I too could own a little piece of dry scrub and an old ruin that I could call home. As one delightful resident said to me, “You either get this place or you don’t,” and I definitely got it.

How to Get there

Driving – Highway 170 west of Big Bend

Where to Stay

We lucked out and stayed with some very kind locals and had the ultimate Terlingua experience but you can still have fun staying in the Ghost town at La Posada Milagro or camping at any of the RV campgrounds.

– Big Bend Motor Inn RV Campground, Junction TX 118 and FM 170 at Big Bend Motor Inn with full hookups & pull throughs. 800-848-BEND

– Terlingua Ranch Lodge RV Park And Campground, Full hook ups and tent camping. Swimming pool. Located 16 miles east of TX Highway 118, turn off approximately 12 miles north of junction FM 170 and TX 118. 432-371-2416

– Study Butte RV Park, Electricity, flush toilets and showers. TX Highway 118, Study Butte south of junction TX 118 and FM 170. 432-371-2468

– BJ’s RV Park, Full hook-ups, showers, laundry. FM 170, 5 miles east of junction TX 118 and FM 170, near Terlingua Ghostown. 432-371-2259

Places to eat

For a small place this is packed with fantastic places to eat. Try the Phat Cafe for $10 lunch in Asian fusion cusine or the filmic outdoor cafe called Kathy’s Cosmic Cowgirl for breakfast, Starlight Theater for dinner (check out Mondays for the two for one burger that can’t be missed especially with live music to boot) and for the late evening fun try The Boathouse or La Kiva, a bar built in a cave.

Other Stuff

Check out the documentary that was made of the town interviewing the locals- 24 hours in Terlingua

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Boondocking in Bermejillo, Durango, Mexico


The night was hot. The air was heavy and thick and the ever present Vicente Fernadez’s beautiful voice singing Estos Celos was filling the diesel scented air with his smooth notes. The vulcanizer store next door was still busy with the trucks arriving in late and needing some repairs. The whole family was out in the street with children giggling outside the trailer while the father set about fixing the truck. The truck cleaning men were still waving down the drivers enticing them to park up and have their huge semi-remolques cleaned while they stopped to rest for the night. This is when having an older trailer works – we blended into the mayhem of the place, our 24ft 5th wheel looking petite next to the medley of colourful trucks. After spending a few hours watching the street I realised that it was not mayhem out there at all. This was a small town fully geared to servicing the truckers. The following morning after not much sleep we had a wonderful Huevos a la Mexicana from one of the street stands. Having come from Patzcuaro and Zacatecas where the 7000ft+ altitude gives you hot days and cool nights we were shocked to find that the temperature never really dipped much below 34c even through the night. It was steamy, loud and smelly where just the sheer exhaustion of all the travelling allowed us to store a few hours in the sleep bank. We were not really sure where we were and it was only upon leaving the town the next morning that we found out the name of the town. It was Bermejillo about 40 kms from Torreon in Coahuila.

When you travel in Mexico looking for a place to stay for a night, the Pemex gas stations are generally a good spot. The trick is to buy your gas and ask whether it is alright to park for the night. The Pemex station outside of the towns are generally better as they tend to be large and act as truck-stops. But pick the right one make sure you know what is around you and that you are going to feel safe for the night. Other good places are Police stations or even motels or restaurants – just ask. If you park in street which we did in Los Mochis make sure the street is well lit and that you check out the neighborhood and know what kind of place you are in and don’t be surprised in the morning if you find some curious people checking out your trailer from underneath…

Never park in a deserted area as you never know what is going down in that area it may not be deserted.

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CouchSurfing – Free lodging across the World


Surf ChairHaving the money to fly to places and to see them doesn’t always guarantee that you really see them. Staying at a hotel in the tourist zone of any town can be lots of fun but not always fulfilling. The irony here is that due to having insufficient funds you may find yourself having a much more fulfilling experience than the above traveler. I have just come across CouchSurfing.com through a recommendation of a fellow traveler who has been using this site around Mexico. “Couch surfing” is a choice for the budget traveler who is seeking free lodging and the chance to meet local people. This launched in 2004 and how has 50,000 plus members from 226 countries.

So how does it work? Create a profile and then start connecting with people either by offering your couch or your time for a cup of coffee OR by accepting the offer of either of these two options. Now the obvious question is safety and this one that has been thought through by this on-for profit organisation with verification levels built into the system. However, like anything in life the ultimate decision to connect with strangers in this way lies with you. This is something I will be looking at as I travel for the next few months.

Some other sites offering similar service are Global Freeloaders and The Hospitality Club

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Patzcuaro, Mexico


The more time I spend in Mexico the more excited I am by the people, the culture and the landscape. Driving into the western highlands of the Mexican state of Michoacan past old volcano’s and rolling fertile plains rich with a diverse flora and fauna I am struck by the how different Mexico feels as I move around the country. The Mexican experience is one that is continually varied. Here in Patzcuaro the center-point for the surrounding Purepecha Indian villagers who flock to the town to sell their crafts and food I can feel the spirit of the indigenous peoples striking in their traditional clothes. The air is rich with varied smells of foods and fruits and there are plenty of street cafes to hangout in and just watch the world go by, but never expect quiet because you are likely to have a mariachi band stroll up and start playing beside you at any moment. While your there try the local Tarascan soup which is on most menu’s made with blended beans, dryed chilies and tomatoes, poured over fried tortilla strips, with melted cheese, avocado and cream on top.

Plaza Don Vasco

Patzcuaro (pop: 50,000) in the western highlands situated in the Lake Pátzcuaro region of the Mexican state of Michoacán is famous for the Day of the Dead celebrations in November which is a mix of pre-Hispanic beliefs and Catholicism. The original meaning of Patzcuaro in the Purepecha language is “door to heaven” and this is not far off the mark even today. It is situated in an area thickly forested with pine, oak and eucalyptus so in the cool mornings the air smells divine. The town is a colonial gem with 16th century architecture, stucco walls painted white with dark red borders, friendly people, colourful markets, good food and a laid backness that gets into the bones. There are no major stores or chains just amazing buildings. Peak into any given tienda or store and you will see a long hallway leading to a courtyard garden. It’s is packed with churches, beautiful plaza’s that transform into markets depending on what day it is, Fridays are great as this is the major market day for the villagers from all around the lake who sell their wares in the main plaza’s such as Plaza Vasco de Quiroga. This plaza is named after the still revered Don Vasco , a bishop who fought for the rights of the local population rebelling against any ideas that they should loose their liberty and introduced the concept and skills which still persists today of each village producing a particular craft. Paracho is known as the guitar capital of the world, Tzintzuntzán pottery, Santa Clara copper products and Nurío woven woolens.

Market

And if you have a fascination with the catholic crafts step into the arcade called Casa De Los Naranjos on the corner of Plaza Vasco de Quiroga where you can buy many Dia de Los Muertos figurines, local CD’s and further into the arcade try making a selection from a wall plastered with hundreds of catholic crosses and iconography in that truly Mexican style. When I visited in April there were very few overseas tourists so if you have the desire to experience real Mexico this is the place to visit.

Crosses

Getting There

Patzcuaro Location – By air, there is a small airport that connects with Houston (4 hours), LA (3 hours), Mexico City (55 minutes) or take the luxury air-conditioned bus Primera Plus which is 5 hours direct from Mexico City for about $50 return. Getting to Patzcuaro from any place is Mexico is easy as long as you go through a major city.

Where to Stay

Camping – There are two parks here, I stayed at Villa Patzcuaro Hotel and RV Park has rooms and RV camping in a large garden out the back surrounded by eucalyptus and many birds. Not far from town to drive or jump in a collective.

There are many beautiful historic hotels at great prices in the town center.
Hotel Meson del Gallo, Dr. Jose Maria Coss 20. Single or double, $28; (52-434) 21474.
Hotel Fiesta Plaza, Plaza Bocanegra 24, single $37; double $43; (52-434) 22516.
Hotel Mansion Iturbe, Portal Morelos 59, (52-434) 20360, on the main plaza. is an elegant bed-and-breakfast; $70 for either a single or a double , breakfast included. Discounts for longer stays.

When to go

In terms of the weather, day-time temperatures are consistent year round but winter nights can be very cold as the town is at 7200ft altitude.

Major Fiestas

March 14. Don Vasco de Quiroga week: art and cultural fair, concerts. Patzcuaro.
March-April. Holy Week: processions, passion plays, Stations of the Cross, feasts. All towns.
May 3. Santa Cruz Day. Patzcuaro, Tzintzuntzan, Erongaricuaro, Quiroga, Zirahuen, Tingambato.
Oct. 31. Kuirsi-atakua: ceremonial preparation of duck casserole in advance of Night of the Dead: Janitzio, Jaracuaro, Tzin tzuntzan.
Nov. 1 and 2. All Saints’ Day and Dia De Las Muertos: offerings to the dead (food, flowers, candy)
Dec. 8. La Senora de la Salud Day: Dances, Indian artisan fair, parades, bullfights. Patzcuaro.
Dec. 12. Virgen de Guadalupe Day
Dec. 16 to 24. Christmas processions in the streets, fiestas, fireworks, pinatas.

Interesting Articles

Deep in the Heart of Mexico, The New York Times

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San Sebastian de Oeste, Jalisco, Mexico


We arrived in San Sebastian de Oeste on a Sunday after a holiday weekend so apart from a few stragglers hanging out in the town square the streets were deserted. So deserted that a couple of the local kids took advantage of the empty streets on this beautiful sunny winter evening and galloped bareback along the cobbled stoned streets on a couple of horses. Getting to San Sebastian was intriguing, it’s off the main highway down a 7km dirt track giving you no indication of what lies at the end of the road. Having gone there by recommendation with no prior research my expectations were not particulary high but at the end of the bumpy ride I was very excited to find myself in a magical old silver mining town.

Town Square

The town is beautifully preserved and sits high in the rugged hills of the Sierra Madre mountains. In the evening the air was crisp and heavy with the scent of the beautiful pine forests surrounding the village. Time seems to have stood still here, most of the buildings are at least 250 years old and everyone of them white-washed with some of the roofs dating back 16th century. Original stone pavements, plastered mud-brick walls, archways, attics, wooden and tile roofs; all constitute the town’s distinctive traits. The newer buildings are all built to blend into this UNESCO world heritage site. The town just screams to be explored and around each order you are greeted with beautiful stonewalled pathways leading to avocado orchards nestled in amongst mining haciendas and casas along the rivers around the edges of the town.

If you are lucky you might even get accompanied by a local guide. He is not very tall and pretty stocky looking with a mouth that goes from ear to ear but he is friendly enough. Just stroll past his doorway and he will accompany you over the old bridge along to the end of the town where you can get on some wonderful hikes. The guide doesn’t say much and lets you set your own pace and upon returning back through the town wags his tail and settles back down on the porch for a snooze.

Tour Guide San Sebastian Veins of silver were discovered by the conquistadors in these mountains in 1605, and by the mid-1700s it was a large colonial town of 20,000 with wealthy hacienda owners running the thirty silver mines. The Mexican Revolution of 1910 brought an end to the hacienda system with the last of the mines closed in 1921 and leaving the town to oblivion. The Hotel El Pabellón, on the plaza, used to be a fortress where silver shipments were stored while awaiting transport with turrets on all corners top guard the precious metals. One surviving turret is now a cozy nook in a popular bar. The banditos were such a problem a tunnel was constructed from a mine to the garrison to transport the silver so it could not be stolen enroute. As mining operations wound down, the structure was used to store grain.

Today the people living in these mountains support their families by running coffee and agave plantations, raising livestock and providing services for the tourists trickling in by bus, car and plane. The La Quinta organic coffee farm is run by Rafael and his wife Rosa who are the fifth generation carrying on with the tradition of planting, sowing, drying and roasting organic coffee. The store is right at the entrance to San Sebastian.

IMG 6578

GETTING THERE

For driving from Puerto Vallarta follow the highway towards Mascota, 15 minutes of which are made up of seven kilometers of dirt track through mountainous terrain. Shortly before arriving at the town there is an airstrip receiving excursionists who prefer to get there by air. Alternatively you can get the bus or tour with Vallarta Adventure .

Approximate distance from San Sebastián to:
Mascota 54 km 34 miles
Talpa de Allende 78 km 49 miles
Puerto Vallarta 64 km 40 miles
Guadalajara 265 km 165 miles

WHERE TO STAY

My top pick is Hotel del Puente, a 400 year old house managed by 19 year old Sergio Trujillo which has been in the family forever. It has a courtyard and 9 rooms of different sizes. Beautiful hotel and one of the cheapest in town for about $100 peso’s/ person with bathroom. To get there, heading east from the plaza, toward the lower bridge you will see the hotel. Other places include the Casita Alicia or some of the other hotels in town.

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