If you have been watching the news, you know that Guerrero state has been in a state of chaos recently. Some students, protesting the inequalities of the government’s placement of teachers (urban students favored over rural) were rounded up by police and disappeared. It is assumed that the then mayor of Iguala and his wife, who has connections to a drug cartel, ordered the police to transfer the students to the cartel inferring that some of the students had rival gang connections.

Well you can just imagine what happened.

The students are missing and presumed dead.

All over Mexico, and the world, people have protested these barbaric actions. Unrest is high and tempers are short.

Protesters, tent city, Chilpancingo, MexicoProtesters have built a tent city, on the zocolo, in the middle of the market in Chilpancingo, the state capital. The government is on full military alert, which means there is a heavy Federal Police presence in Chilpancingo, Iguala, and other cities with universities (including Taxco), especially so during holiday periods when the students do not have classes.

Tent City, Chilpancingo, MexicoAlthough all is quiet here, the heavy military presence feels a little like Madison during the height of the Vietnam War protests.

With this unrest comes insecurity and people are more aware than usual of their vulnerabilities. It is not uncommon for people known to be successful or have wealth to build a “fortress” of protection around themselves. Now even the average Juan is doing the same.

Wall with broken glass on top, Taxco, Mexico

Houses already secured by solid metal doors, walled courtyards, and decorative ironwork over windows, are raising walls higher to make access to their homes impossible.



Wall with broken glass on top, Taxco, Mexico


Broken bottles are set into the cement on top not so much to deter birds landing and dropping gifts into the patio below as to keep possible intruders out.

(This used to be one of my favorite houses too. A lovely courtyard behind a one story wall, provided privacy yet was bright and airy. Now with its three story wall, it is more like a dungeon.)

Houses, Taxco, MexicoEven the little guy, between these two much larger, taller buildings has added onto his house, though his found materials construction and corrugated metal roof pale in comparison.

Yet, if anyone were to consider his humble abode worthy of breaking into, the resident turkey would give a gobble.

Chilpancingo and beyond

I came into the country with a nasty cough, the remnants of a nasty virus that seems to be going around. I spent most of my first week here just resting or snoozing, since a head/chest full of gunk and high altitude really do not go together very well. I started to feel human about the end of the week so I took the chance of traveling to Chilpancingo with my friends, Vanessa and Lili, to see other old friends at the Chilpancingo English congregation (ah finally I understand and am understood) and then further down the road for a party and overnight at Lili’s family’s home.

The food was fabulous, the entertainment (a drama about Moses and the 10 plagues of Egypt performed by the children) brought tears to my eyes.

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After a few games, everyone danced and danced and ate and ate some more. A good time was had by all. When the night was over, everyone chipped in and cleaned up the compound, you never would have know that a party had been raging just moments before.

Did I say compound? Oh yes.

Lili’s family lives the way many do in these small towns. They own a chunk of property (perhaps a 1/4 acre or more) on which they build a house, plant some citrus, banana, and avocado trees and build a simple dwelling, used mostly for sleeping, since cooking, washing, and most other activities happen outdoors. As the family grows so does the house eventually including other houses for married sons.

Initially 3 rooms and a big porch running the length of the house (for a family of 5), Lili’s parents recently added new quarters for themselves with an indoor “kitchen” — a stove, counter for prep, and a table to eat at; water for washing dishes, etc is outside. It is like their own little efficiency apartment until the whole family shows up for a meal that is. The initial three rooms now provide a separate bedroom for Lili, when she comes home, and her sister, with a living room area between.

There is no running water in the house, as in many Mexican houses outside the cities. A washbasin (for dishes, clothing, and washing up) is located on the porch; the bathroom and shower are at the opposite end of the compound for sanitary purposes – keeping any smell or flies away from the living quarters (though both were so impeccably clean that I doubt any self respecting fly would come anywhere near. ) Though a little unusual by American standards, this is a delightfully simple way to live.

As tradition has it, they are building a new house for their son and his wife and eventual family (if there are many sons, each builds a house along the perimeter of the property). Again, this dwelling is used mostly for sleeping and some privacy. Outdoor cooking, laundry, bathing, and living space, including a big hammock under the trees, are communal. (Sorry I did not get any photos, my phone and only camera this trip died prematurely.)

This is an fine example of the importance of family in the Mexican culture. Father and son work together and everyone lives and helps each other, working in harmony. True family unity.

It was a real honor to be invited to the fiesta and to stay in Lili’s home, meet her family, and view old family photos. After this visit it is easy to see why Lili is such a delight to be around.


Barely in Taxco a day and a half, and I boarded another bus, with my friend Vanessa, for Chilpancingo to visit mutual friends  from a couple years ago (when I visited her there). It is a long and winding road through the mountains to a lower altitude and about 10 degrees or more increase in temperature. (Mas caliente!!! Or calor, if you are talking about the weather.)  Along the way, there was evidence of the severe flood damage this area received from the torrential rains associated with the hurricane that hit Acapulco this fall. Actually Chilpo and the surrounding area suffered more damage than Acapulco (sort of like the Peshtigo, Wisconsin fire that destroyed more property and lives on the same night as  the Chicago fire — the big sister got all the attention and sympathy.)

The highway showed evidence of having been washed out by the raging river as we traveled over smooth new asphalt in many areas, with a sharp drop on the edge to the river bed below. There were topless trees that once marked the river’s edge that now stood mid-stream looking like a line of 4-foot fence posts waiting to be strung with barbed wire. The opposing bank showed a water line 20 or more feet above the river bed and parts of the mountains had washed away giving them the appearance of a very large, somewhat haphazardly designed ski hill.  Our friends told us that at least one friend had died in the flood and a whole town was washed away.

Chilpancingo itself appears to be returning to normal, though the concrete basin that channels the river through the center of town is broken and rubble strewn. Maintenance crews are still working to repair the hardest hit area which washed away the road and several houses and businesses in the main business district.

As devastating as the flood was, and as quickly as the Mexican authorities responded to help the people affected, our brothers came to the rescue of those in need and within a few weeks, all the friends who were displaced were back “home” either in their own repaired property or relocated, with the necessities to start anew. It was a heart-warming and faith strengthening experience for all. Now people just need to get over the shock of what happened and refocus their lives with some routine.

Blue Bear & Friends in Chilpancingo, MXIt was so good to see old friends again, many smiles and hugs all around. They asked when I would be back and begged me to stay and help there; believe me it is tempting (hearing the meeting in my own language instead of totally incomprehensible espanol was sooooo nice) but the location of the city, in a bowl surrounded by mountains, makes the air quality level way too poor for me. (As soon as we turned the bend and Chilpo was in sight I could see the haze settled over the city.) We stayed with a sister a little outside town which was much better than the city itself, but 5 days in the smog of the city was enough.

Blue Bear at cafe

With Vanessa & Vicki – Chilpancingo

So for this year I guess it is learn Spanish or bust. Though Vanessa, who has lived in Mexico for more than 5 years now and is fluent in Spanish, says it was hard for even her to understand the meeting, so  bust it may be.  I will continue my search for an affordable location with an English congregation.

I have been given contacts in Cuernavaca, San Miguel de Allende, and Huatulco. One is likely too hot (described as like Gehenna in the mid-day), one is likely to big (700,000), San Miguel may be too Americanized — but all worthy of a visit at least.

Like Goldilocks, I am sure I will find my just right.

Travis, Ana, Tonatje, Mael & Daniel Ashworth

Travis, Ana, Tonatje, Mael & Daniel Ashworth









Loli and Nincy