The Amazing Maya Nut

Indigenous women sort Maya nuts for processing.

Indigenous women sort Maya nuts for processing.³

The Maya rainforest remains one of the most biodiverse places on Earth, second only to the Amazon rainforest. We tend to think of ancient rainforests as virgin forests, untouched by human hands. It might be more appropriate to think of the Central American rainforest as The Garden of the Maya, because the Mayans found numerous ways to utilize its incredible diversity. Studies have shown that 90% of the plants found in the rainforest are useful to humans, and there is evidence to suggest the Maya nut was an important food source for the Mayans.

The Maya nut tree can grow over 100 feet tall at maturity. Photo credit: Wikipedia Commons.

The Maya nut tree can grow over 100 feet tall at maturity.⁴

You may have never heard of the Maya nut. This nut grows on a tree (Brosimum alicastrum) indigenous to central and southern Mexico and Central America. Commonly called ramón or breadnut, the Maya nut is believed to have been a food staple of the Maya civilization dating back thousands of years. Now it is part of a revival effort helping to feed the hungry throughout this region.

Indigenous people in Mexico and Central America roast the nuts and then grind them to varying degrees of coarseness. They mix it with cinnamon to make a healthy tea drink, and children love it for its chocolaty flavor. The tea contains traces of tryptophan, which is great in the evening for helping children relax and get a good night’s sleep.

The Maya nut is a superfood, high in antioxidants, fiber, calcium, potassium, folic acid and vitamins A and B. It is also a good source of complete protein with a chemical structure similar to that of red meat. With additional minerals like iron, it is a healthy nutrient for pregnant women and helps lactating women produce more milk.

Maya nuts are easily harvested as they fall to the ground when mature.

Maya nuts are easily harvested from the ground when mature.⁴

Many indigenous people in Mexico and Central America have barely enough food to avoid chronic hunger. The Maya nut is now being cultivated as a food source that is nutritious and sustainable. There is the temptation to sell Maya nuts to industrialized countries where many people seek its nutritional benefits. However, the profits from sales of the nuts alone are insufficient to replace the food needed to maintain a healthy diet. Efforts are underway to provide refined products like tea and flour for sale to industrialized countries because sales of these items provide significantly higher profits.

Many delicious snacks are prepared from Maya nut flour.³

Fine foods are prepared from Maya nut flour.³

Cecilia Sanchez Garduño, PhD, the featured speaker at a recent meeting of the Newcomers Club of Cuernavaca, is a doctor of botany. At this meeting I was able to taste a sample of a snack cake she shared with us, and it was delicious! It reminded me of gingerbread. Her years of work both with the Maya Nut Institute¹and on her own have benefitted hundreds of rural and indigenous women and helped them form numerous businesses to produce and market Maya nut products and to teach workshops to other women.² Anyone interested in learning more of her work and how to help can contact her via email at

Children get a healthy snack during their school day.³

Children get a healthy Maya nut-based snack during their school day.³

³ Photo credit: Maya Nut Institute
⁴ Photo credit: Wikipedia Commons

living in Panama

Auntie Flo’s Totopos

Auntie Flo's kitchen is an open-air arrangement adjacent to our patio, also know as my office.

Auntie Flo’s kitchen is an open-air arrangement adjacent to our garden spot, also know as my office.

We usually save the food photos for Facebook. However, this just seemed too good to pass up. When I saw Florence frying up the remainder of our fresh corn tortillas to make our own corn chips, I just wanted to share this.

A new batch of totopos fresh from the pan

A new batch of totopos fresh from the pan

I really wanted to title this article “Tía Flo’s Totopos” just for the alliteration. However, I didn’t because many people don’t know what tía means and even fewer know what totopos are, although by now you probably have figured out they are tortilla chips. And considering how many nieces and nephews Florence has, she has always been Auntie Flo.

Corn tortillas fresh from the conveyor belt at the local supermarket cost about $1.00 for about three dozen. The two of us cannot possibly eat that many tortillas while they are still fresh, so we make our own totopos. Lightly salted they are quite tasty.

There really is such a thing as a Margarita-in-a-can.

There really is such a thing as a Margarita-in-a-can.

Add some hot, fresh refried beans and locally made fresh salsa and you have the perfect sunny afternoon snack to tide you over until dinner. Some, like me, might wish a cold beer to round out the perfect snack food. Florence is partial to the Margarita-in-a-can. BYOS – Bring Your Own Salt.

This is all part of our effort to explore and better appreciate the cultures of the places we visit. And it will make a great Super Bowl snack.

living in Panama
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Food & Drink

Emiliano Zapata – The Mexican People’s Hero

Remains of Hacienda Coahuixtla - Ayala, Morelos, Mexico

Land owners exploited peasant farmers. Zapata demanded the return of land illegally seized from the farmers. The ruins of Hacienda Coahuixtla in Ayala, Morelos stand as testament to the fate of the haciendas.

Emiliano Zapata grew to be a legendary hero in the State of Morelos, Mexico, where I now live. Morelos is one of the smallest of the 31 states of Mexico, but also one of the most important due to its plentiful water, fertile farm lands and year round growing season.

General Zapata and his staff during the Mexican Revolution.  Photo credit: Wikipedia

General Zapata (center) and his staff during the Mexican Revolution. Photo credit: Wikipedia

Zapata was raised in the humble, rural town of Anenecuilco where his family owned land. At the turn of the century, the surrounding fertile valley of Morelos began producing sugar cane on a global scale surpassed only by Hawaii and Puerto Rico. While slavery had been abolished in the New World, indentured servitude on the great haciendas of central Mexico was akin to feudal farms during the middle ages in Europe. The peons had little control over their living and working conditions, a throwback to when the conquistadors enslaved the natives to work their fields and mines.

Zapata's headquarters was near the fertile land he loved.

Zapata’s headquarters was near the fertile land he loved.  Sugarcane fields are still seen in the distance.

Although Zapata did not have a university education, he was well-educated. He learned not only to read and write, but also the proud history of the indigenous people. Records also indicate Zapata was fluent in Nahuatl, the indigenous language of his region. In 1909, Zapata was elected president of the local town council at the age of 30, an honor almost unheard of since town councils were typically made up of town elders. He had grown to understand the terrible exploitation of the peasant farmers, and with the full confidence of the people, he dedicated his life to looking out for their right to own the land they worked.

The gate is all that remains of the wall at Hacienda San Juan in Chinameca, where Zapata was ambushed. The bullet holes are still visible behind the statue of Zapata on horseback.

The gate is all that remains of the wall at Hacienda San Juan in Chinameca, where Zapata was ambushed. The bullet holes are still visible behind the statue of Zapata on horseback.

Zapata supported Francisco Madero’s successful campaign for President of Mexico. However, Madero was not prepared to institute significant land reforms for the benefit of the peasant farmers. In 1911, Madero appointed a regional governor in Morelos who supported the hacienda owners, and the relationship between Madero and Zapata deteriorated. Soon thereafter, Zapata and others drafted the Plan of Ayala, a land reform plan that called for all lands stolen under earlier administrations to be immediately returned to the farmers.

This 20 foot statue of Zapata stands at his burial site in Cuautl, Morelos.

This 20 foot statue of Zapata stands at his burial site in Cuautl, Morelos.

Inevitably, Zapata placed himself in mortal danger by defying the president. In 1919, Zapata was tricked into believing one of the Federal Army’s commanders was prepared to defect to Zapata’s side. Zapata believed this would be the final step in achieving the victory for his people. Instead, he was ambushed and murdered.

While the Plan of Ayala influenced the revised Constitution of Mexico, not all of the reforms envisioned by Zapata were ever fully realized. Nevertheless, Zapata is revered by the people of Mexico and there are streets, parks, highways and landmarks throughout the country named in his honor.

Note: According to most accounts, Zapata had 13 children, most if not all by different mothers. Zapata never forced his desires on women. It is considered a tribute to Zapata that the women who bore his children came to him out of love and devotion.

Food & Drink Blogs
Food & Drink

A Brief History of Mexico – Rise and Fall of the Aztec Nation

The Aztecs built the city of Tenochtitlan on an island. Mexico City is now centered on this site.

The Aztecs built the city of Tenochtitlan on an island. Mexico City is now centered on this site.

History portrays Hernán Cortes as a brutal conquistador responsible for wiping out a once proud and highly-evolved indigenous society in Mexico. It turns out he had a lot of help.

The Aztecs worship gods of sun and rain and built great temples, some of which remain today.

The Aztecs worshipped gods of sun and rain and built great temples, some of which remain today.

The Aztecs did not start out as a powerful tribe. In fact, they did not have a homeland for many generations. They subsisted in what is now Central Mexico as mercenary soldiers. They were fierce warriors, and they were seldom defeated. On the other hand, they had no loyalty. Their warriors always fought for those who paid the most. They would even turn against their hosts if their enemies outbid them for their services.

Over a period of centuries the Aztecs had alienated every tribe in the region. The tribes of the central valley banished the Aztecs to a marshy island in the middle of the lake that once covered much of the valley where Mexico City now sits. Over time, the Aztecs built their strength and influence to the point that they threatened to attack any neighboring tribe that did not pay tribute to them. And indeed, those who resisted were wiped out. Over time the Aztecs dominated all of what is now Central Mexico.

An artist's portrayal of Tenochititlan depicts what Cortes encountered as he entered the Aztec city.

An artist’s portrayal of Tenochtitlan depicts what Cortes encountered as he entered the Aztec city.

Then, in 1519, Cortes showed up on the Caribbean shore. When he learned of the great nation of the Aztecs, Cortes set out with 500 men, 15 horses, and a dozen cannons to meet the Aztecs for himself. Cortes discovered the Aztec Nation numbered about six million people and held dominion over another 12 million. The cultivation skills alone needed to produce food for this many people were unprecedented. Cortes was going to need help. It turns out he had no difficulty finding it. Every indigenous tribe readily joined forces with Cortes when they learned his objective was to conquer the Aztecs. It took only two years for Cortes’ army to conquer the entire Aztec Nation. It turned out smallpox was the biggest killer. Over 90% of the indigenous population died from diseases brought from Europe to the New World.

The Palace of Cortes is now a huge museum.

The Palace of Cortes is now a huge museum.

Cortes made his home in a village called Cuauhnáhuac, a native term meaning ‘near the forest.’ The closest word in Spanish was Cuernavaca, or cow horn, a term which bears no relevance to the place. Cortes had a palace built. It stands today as a huge museum bordering the central plaza in Cuernavaca. The Government Palace and the main cathedral are also located near the plaza.

Cuernavaca is now a metropolitan city of nearly one million people with numerous gardens, parks, museums and commercial areas. At an elevation of about 4,500 feet, the climate remains pleasant throughout the year. All of which goes to explain why we made this our home, for now.

Note: This article touches lightly on the history and events spanning the centuries leading up to the Spanish Conquest. I have detailed nothing of the pre-Columbian Mesoamerican societies which evolved simultaneously with post-Christian European societies. Any slight to the sophistication of these cultures is unintentional.
living in Panama

Versatile Blogger Award

versatileblogger111Thank you to the thoughtful blogger/photographer at squirrel and pear for acknowledging me with this award. I have wondered from time to time if my posts were worthy of recognition, so this affirmation is appreciated.

Versatile Blogger Award Guidelines

  • Display the Award Certificate on your website
  • Announce your win with a post and link to whoever presented your award
  • Present 15 awards to deserving bloggers
  • Drop them a comment to tip them off after you’ve linked them in the post
  • Post 7 interesting things about yourself.

Blogs I admire and wish to recognize for content, quality, and general appeal:

  1. ardent & awkward / in a u s t i n – This writer motivated me to get started writing, and thus warrants the top spot. The content of her blog is not only fascinating, but also technically flawless as you might expect from an English teacher.
  2. Tales from the Motherland – This devoted mother and writer tells tales from the heart. We also have geographic roots in common.
  3. expatlogue – This lovely expat mother courageously bares her sole in some of her offerings with an entertaining and inimitable writing style.
  4. Go Curry Cracker! – This young expat couple makes Mexico come alive with interesting, insightful stories and great photo imagery.
  5. Writing by the Numbers – An aspiring author and entertaining blogger, once you read her blog the title becomes self-evident.
  6. brickthomas’s Blog – A kindred spirit; as he embarks upon a RTW (round the world) trip, I am eager to share his experiences vicariously.
  7. Loca Gringa – An expat Canadian living in the Dominican Republic, our common love of Latin American caused our paths to cross.
  8. Waves and Ruins – This attractive young couple is seeking the best surfing beaches and interesting attractions throughout Latin America. I am eager to read of their experiences.
  9. DavidCrews – Art, poetry, philosophy, and world travel – this blogger brings beauty and thoughtfulness to his web pages.
  10. Around The World With Steve – His RTW adventure started in January, 2013, and I am following along, perhaps to see where I might wish to go next.
  11. Life + Spanish + Travel A photo blog from a fellow expat now living in Mexico. The images are captivating.
  12. Comedy Travel Writing – A humorous and irreverent assortment of travel adventures ideally suited to readers with a somewhat warped sense of humor.
  13. RD REVILO – A poetry blog by an interesting fellow with topical relevance and thought-provoking opinion and insight.
  14. Let The Adventure Begin! – This couple is preparing to start a new lifestyle in Panama. Holly shares the experience of preparing for the exciting changes as they occur.
  15. Through Harold’s Lens – The title is self-explanatory. View various interesting places in the world through the unique images regularly offered.

Seven things about me you may find interesting:

  1. My wife and I met on a cruise to Alaska in 2005. We have done a lot of traveling together since.
  2. We have visited 10 countries in the past 18 months, most of which I have blogged about. Florence is the photographer.
  3. We are excellent at downsizing. We sold two cars, one house, and all other belongings worth anything. We are now unencumbered and free to move about the world at our leisure, and we do.
  4. I have had three careers (min. 10 years each) in my working life: parks and recreation supervisor, Teamster truck driver, and community relations manager with a Fortune 100 company.
  5. I moonlighted as a professional ski instructor for five years before I retired and started traveling. I still occasionally miss the slopes.
  6. I have two grown daughters, and now two grandsons, all of whom I am incredibly proud.
  7. I am coming out of retirement for Summer 2013 to work as a professional tour director in the Pacific Northwest. I will probably write about that, too.

Mexico De-Mythified

The town of Tepoztlán as seen from the surrounding hills.

The town of Tepoztlán as seen from the surrounding hills.

I have spent little time in Mexico prior to my recent move to Cuernavaca. I admit my mental images of Mexico have been dominated by two media-transmitted stereotypes. The first image is right out of movies like The Magnificent Seven or about Pancho Villa where the local people are peasant farmers and the bad guys are horsemen with big sombreros and bandoliers of bullets crisscrossing their chests. In these movies it is always hot, everybody is perspiring, and Banditothere is no water to be found for miles.

The second image comes from movies and news stories portraying drug cartel violence where the bad guys drive shiny Escalades or Humvees, carry machine pistols in their thigh holsters, and are seldom seen without an AK-47 held across their chests. (How they keep those SUV’s shiny while driving on dirt roads all the time is a mystery.) These guys have either just killed a bunch of rivals and innocent civilians, or they are prepared to do so if anyone interferes with their drug transaction to move a few bundles of cocaine across the border into the United States.

Sundays at the market in Tepoztlán are the busiest days.

Sundays at the market in Tepoztlán are the busiest days.

As it turns out, I have seen little evidence of poverty, violence, or water shortage. The grocery stores are immaculate. The open air markets have amazing selections of fresh fruits and vegetables at great prices. The arid reaches of the northern desert are nowhere in evidence in the central states. And I have not heard a single gunshot at any time during my first week in Mexico.

My first impression of the cities is they are clean. Even with a scarcity of garbage cans, garbage and litter get picked up regularly. The countryside is a mixture of open space, scenic mountains, and pine forests stretching beyond the horizon. The weather is mild even in January with daily temperatures in the 70° – 80°F range. With these considerations, Mexico is pleasant.

The State of Morelos in Central Mexico is lush, fertile, and scenic.

The State of Morelos in Central Mexico is lush, fertile, and scenic as seen from this mountain view.

The best part of Mexico is the people. On the drive from the airport, I commented to our driver, Vicente, that people seemed less reserved than the local people of the Central American countries we have visited. To which he replied, “Nuestros corazones están abierto.” Our hearts are open. And he is right. I have not felt the suspicious eyes of people watching me like I am an exploitive American. (Latinos have stereotypes of Americans, too.)

It is with a sense of ease and comfort that we begin to settle into our daily way of life in Mexico. We have experienced some of the culture and history of Mexico along with some amazingly good food. These are some of the benefits of living here, and we have barely scratched the surface.

living in Panama

Cuernavaca – The City of Eternal Spring

Our flight leaves Panama City after dark and it is getting late as we touch down in Mexico City. We gain an hour moving into the Central Time Zone. It is dark on the entire drive from Mexico City to Cuernavaca, so we see little else but the road reflectors that mark our lane of traffic and the pine trees lining the highway. That is, until we crest the last hill overlooking the high valley full of the city lights of our destination. We are excited as we catch the first glimpse of our new home – quite a change moving into a metropolitan area the size of Seattle after living near the village of Boquete nestled remotely in the mountains of Panama.

During the drive from the airport, I say to our driver, Vincente, “You know, other countries have their own national drink. In Chile it’s the pisco sour. In Panama, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica it’s rum. What’s the national drink of Mexico?” To which Vincente simply replies, “Beer.” After a good laugh I tell him I was expecting him to say tequila. He grins and says, “That, too.”

There are many choices of fresh fruits and vegetables at the Farmers Market.

There are many choices of fresh fruits and vegetables at the Farmers Market.

Our temporary living quarters is without provisions, so our first stop the next morning is La Glorieta Restaurant, a 10 minute walk up the street. Our eggs are served ranchero style on a bed of deliciously spiced beans. We use our fresh corn tortillas to soak up the beans. The coffee and pastries are included in the meal which we are now too full to finish off. When we tell our host, Julio, that we are new in town, he provides us with a map of the city. I ask where we can watch our favorite NFL football teams during the playoffs this weekend. He walks me back to the adjoining room with the big flatscreen TV which is obviously where the local soccer fans come to cheer on their favorite teams. Julio says, “You come back here when the game is on and I will put on your football game for you. I have the satellite dish.” I love Mexico already!

The cut watermelon sells for $.19/lb at the Market, which is open 7 days/week.

The cut watermelon sells for $.19/lb at the Market, which is open 7 days/week.

After stocking up on food and supplies our landlady, Ruth, takes us on a quick tour into the town center and the public market. Surprise – they have apples from Washington for the same price they sell for back home! I cannot resist the prices and selection. We purchase a papaya, two pounds of tangerines, six bananas, a fresh-cut pineapple, a new variety of orange we’ve never seen before, plus some tomatoes and avocados for a total cost of about $5.00. I almost forgot to mention the kilo of fresh strawberries we purchased for 80 cents, which I am munching on now as I write this. It is still 80°F outside where I am sitting as the sun sinks into the West. I think we will like Cuernavaca, Mexico just fine.

living in Panama