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  • An Afternoon in Cerro Prieto
    By Blake School Students Tara Ward and Natalie Weiner

    January 31, 1997

    It is hard to imagine the rural community we visited. An old woman named Dona Maria Rosa Martinez and her son Felipe answered many questions for us, giving us insight into the lives of the people in the Cerro Prieto ejido.

    None of the 10 children are educated past sixth grade, because they must work around the house and eventually for income rather than attend high school in Angangueo. Sadly, many of Maria's children have left the ejido in search of work. Maria explained to us that it is necessary for them to leave in order to survive. Four months ago, one of the children left for the USA, and Maria has yet to hear from him. Another son just returned from Mexico City, where he had been working since he was fifteen years old. There he learned more advanced methods of construction, yet had to return because he was only breaking even.

    Her other son, Mario, assisted by two bulls, helps the family by working the land with a handmade plow. The bulls are connected with a yoke, while a longer board trails behind them. This in turn is connected to a log shaped like a canine tooth basically covered by the dirt. Mario holds onto a curved stick, and leads the bulls through the thick soil. The family is very lucky to have these horses, cows and bulls to help them with their work. Although the plowing seemed impossible through the large stones, we also learned that these stones help to heat the dirt, helping the corn grow.

    They have recently acquired electricity. Other than that, they haven't seen much change in the past ten years, except for the difficulties, such as higher prices on goods, caused by the recent economic crisis within the country. Their daily life remains the same. Many of the houses are made of adobe brick, which they make using clay, water, and pine needles which help to keep the bricks together. The few hectars of land that the families own are ridden with stones, and didn't appear to be fertile. Their clothes didn't seem adequate enough to provide them with much warmth.

    We learned that their only source of water comes from a hose reaching over three kilometers from her house from a source of water much higher up in the mountains and on the other side of the ejido. A settling tank keeps sediment from flowing into the tube.

    They plant corn primarily for their own consumption, but there is not enough to sell. In fact, during the winter, they have to buy corn because the crop doesn't last them until the next harvest time. Most of this corn is used to make soup and tortillas, while the rest is kept as seeds to plant in March. They also have a few peach, apple, and pear trees, another source of food. "Mamuyo" and blackberry bushes provide fruit, while nopal (a type of cactus), complete with the needles, also provides nutritious food for their family. They buy more food at the Monday market in Angangueo such as beans, oil, chiles, tomatoes. Because of the prices, they can only afford to buy enough meat for one meal a week.

    Work is one of the most important aspects of their life because it is the only way for them to earn hard currency. But it is scarce. However, Maria's husband and many other people were given the opportunity to work as guides at the Cerro Chincua butterfly sanctuaries. Unfortunately, this creates a transportation problem, as their community is located much closer to El Rosario than to Chincua.

    All ejidos have forested land, and each year they harvest wood from a portion of this land, which happens to be Chincua. This income forms a significant part of their total profits. Because Chincua is relatively new and doesn't produce much other profit, Dona Maria's son rents out his horses on the weekends to people visiting the sanctuary. The best possible net profit for a weekend is three hundred pesos, or approximately forty-five dollars. This is one way that ecotourism benefits their family. The family also takes advantage of the tourism by using excess corn and dried fruit to make cookies to sell to them at the sanctuary.

    Our visit to the ejido gave us a clear understanding of the conflict between those who fight for conservation in the forest, and those who need the forest to survive. As our guide said, "la lucha para ellos no es el futuro, la lucha para ellos es el presente." For the people in these communities, the fight is not about a better tomorrow, but is about daily survival.