Eating Well: Mexico - #114

BURT WOLF: Mexico, where European explorers got their first taste of tomatoes, chile and chocolate. We'll take a look at an ancient culture that believed its major responsibility was to cook great food. We'll find out what these people can teach us about good food for good health, plus some great-tasting Mexican recipes that are easily prepared in any home kitchen. We'll see where chocolate comes from and we'll talk food with Mexico's superstar of television and film, Ofelia Medina. Join me, Burt Wolf, Eating Well in Mexico.

The story of Mexico began with the native Indian cultures that have been here for tens of thousands of years and culminated in the magnificent societies of the Mayans and the Aztecs. These are extraordinary groups of people with a great deal of sophistication. Next came the colonial period. It started when the Spanish explorer Cortez arrived in the early 1500's and lasted for about 400 years. Strong Spanish, French and Austrian influences were infused into every aspect of life in what became known as New Spain. By the beginning of the 20th Century, European ideas and techniques had been blended together with the native Indian beliefs and skills to a point where a completely new culture had been formed. Mexico had its own and distinct personality. The most recent part of this country's history began with the revolution of 1910, which brought about the independent country of Mexico. 

Time is the most powerful ingredient in cooking. In Mexico, hundreds of years have blended the native Indian and European cooking into a cuisine that has immense variety and a truly unique quality. It's a cuisine that has much to teach us in terms of food and good health. The staple ingredients are standards of good eating. Frijoles, small black beans, which are standard in Mexican cooking, is a precious gem of cooking. Dried beans with no cholesterol and very little fat--they offer the highest form of vegetable protein--and they're rich in folacin, potassium, phosphorus and the B-vitamins. 

Indian cultures seemed to have a great understanding of healthful foods. Their meals were high in fiber from an extraordinary amount of fruits and vegetables. These were a basic part of almost every meal, lots of nuts and seeds, too. Even their bread, the tortilla, when it's baked instead of fried, has a fabulous nutritional balance. Almost all of their recipes manage to combine small amounts of meat, fish or poultry with lots of grains, peas and beans. The result is a very high concentration of valuable nutrients in a low-fat, high-fiber system. The Indians contributed an enormous amount of valuable information and left a fascinating archeological history.

Mexico's earliest settlers, which included the Mayan and Aztec civilizations, were incredibly sophisticated cultures evidenced by the magnificent ruins that remain today. The Mayans believed that the gods had created them for the express purpose of producing great foods for the deities to dine on. The Mayans were convinced that they had been made from corn -- thus the meaning of their name -- the men of corn. Their sacred texts also told them that if they did not produce the appropriate foods, the universe would come to an end. Talk about feeling pressured to cook! The recipe fails and so does the planet? This pressure to be great farmers led them to develop reliable calendars. In fact, it was the Mayans who first calculated the solar year to be 365 days. The Mayans became skilled astronomers, mathematicians, builders.

The Aztec central market was so gigantic that it regularly held over 60,000 people. Now that's a supermarket! And it stocked an astounding variety of foods, foods that were, at the time, unknown to the rest of the world -- corn, beans, potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, avocados, chilis, vanilla and chocolate. All gifts from the ancient Mayan or Aztec societies.

The Indian cultures also gave us guacamole, probably the most famous Mexican dish. Legend has it that the first person to eat an avocado was a Mayan princess around 291 B.C. The ancient Aztecs believed that avocados had mystical and romantic powers. 

More? Well, here's classic guacamole recipe from chef Josephina Howard.


BURT WOLF: (CONTINUES) Onions and salt are rubbed together, chopped serrano or jalapeno chilis go in, avocado cut into bite-size pieces and a chopped tomato. Avocados are rich in potassium and vitamin A. They're low in sodium and the fat that they contain is mono-unsaturated, which is pretty good for you. But bear in mind that there are 200 calories in a half-cut of avocado. Moderation!

Here's another of Josephina's favorites. It's a recipe for a chicken in a spicy sauce that is definitely in the bag. A paste is made from chopped chilis, garlic, cumin, and cloves. It's painted onto chicken parts that have the bones in and the skin on. The piece of chicken is then placed onto the center of a piece of parchment paper, which is drawn up around the chicken, sealed off with a string and trimmed. Originally this dish was made with leaves, but these days, for ecological reasons, it's made with parchment paper. The bags of chicken and sauce go into a steamer where they cook for twenty-five minutes.

It's important to remove the skin from a poultry dish in order to reduce the cholesterol and fat content, but scientists couldn't figure out whether they wanted us to remove the skin before or after the cooking to have its greatest effect. A recent research project, however, indicates that it doesn't make any difference. You can cook it with the skin on or cook it with the skin off. Just don't eat the skin. When they come out, the pouch is placed onto the serving dish and opened. 

One of the ingredients that gives this dish its distinctive taste is the clove. The spice we call a clove is actually the unopened flower bud of the clove tree. And the buds must be picked by hand just before they open. That means that each tree is picked over and over and over again for weeks at a time until they get all the buds. After that, a couple of dozen other hand operations that are labor-intensive, like drying them in the sun in small batches and turning them by hand, and you'll see why cloves are one of our more pricey spices. And they've been that way for thousands of years. 

Cloves are native to a group of small islands near Australia. But Portuguese traders of the 1500's knew about these islands and were making great fortunes by bringing spices from them to Europe. They were so protective about the location of the island, that they actually made maps of the area that were incorrect and would lead the sailors of other nations into the rocks. The Dutch eventually took control of the area, which came to be known as the Dutch West Indies and the islands came to be know, quite descriptively, as the Spice Islands. 

The best clove flavor always comes from the whole clove bud. Stick them into something before they go in the pot, so you can remove them from the dish before you serve. They're not fun to chew on. Like bay leaves, you want their flavor and then you want them out of the dish. 

The Aztecs believed that at some point in time a great savior would arrive from across the sea. So when a group of Spanish explorers led by Hernando Cortez showed up in the early 1500's, Hernando looked like he had just stepped out of a legend. Within a short time, and without much difficulty, Cortez took control of the land and the history of new Spain began. On August 13th, 1521, Empire of the Sun was eclipsed. The capital city of the Aztecs was captured by the conquistadors and a new society was born, a society that contained the richness and complexity of both parents; not Indian, not Spanish and yet clearly the child of the two. 

You can see this mixture in the architecture of the period. The buildings are designed by Spanish missionary builders who remembered the architecture of their homeland. All the work of construction was done by Indian artisans with their ancient values and talents. The colonial period had lasted almost four centuries. It was a time of European rule, with Spanish, French, and Austrian influences. 

Of course, the influencing in the blending continued in the kitchen. Along with the architecture, religion, and language, the conquistadors brought rice, wheat, cinnamon, olives, cloves, beef, butter, cheese and European cooking techniques. 

You can see the marriage of the Old and the New Worlds in the cooking of Patricia Quintana. An accomplished chef for twenty-five years, Patricia Quintana is also a best-selling cookbook author, who believes that the essence of Mexican cooking is as rich and provocative as the Mexican culture itself. She was kind enough to share her recipe for fish inVera Cruz sauce. A little oil goes into a saute pan and three cloves of garlic are heated in that oil to give it a garlicy flavor. And then the whole garlic cloves come out and some chopped garlic goes in. A chopped onion, three ripe tomatoes that have also been chopped, a chili that's been sliced, but not so far as to make it break open. You want the seeds to remain inside. Some bay leaves, marjorium, thyme. All that cooks down for about forty minutes until it's almost a puree. About ten minutes before it's ready to serve, add in a tablespoon of capers and ten whole olives. While the sauce is finishing off, take a few fillets of red snapper and saute them until they're cooked through. A little of the sauce goes onto the plate, a slice of the cooked fish, a little more sauce and a garnish of herbs. Patricia puts on final decoration with some colored oils. The green oil was colored by letting it sit in spinach for a couple of weeks, but you can make any color by letting the oil sit with any intensely colored fruit or vegetable. The tomatoes and the chili in that recipe came directly from the Indian cultures. Hard to think of life in the kitchen without those ingredients. 

It's also hard to think about cooking without poultry. Patricia Quintana uses chicken to cook up a second traditional recipe called salbute. Start by making a marinade. Blend together a little garlic, orange juice, grapefruit juice, a little vegetable oil, two peppercorns and some red vinegar. This marinade is poured over six skinless, boneless chicken breasts and that sits together for about two hours in the refrigerator. Then onto a grill until they're cooked through. A little more of the marinade goes on while they're cooking. 

Both standard and blue-corn tortillas are cut into three inch rounds and pan-fried in a little vegetable oil until they're crispy, about three minutes. Then they're removed from the pan to drain. The red onion is sliced, a little salt and pepper goes on, a little orange juice, a little grapefruit juice, a little oil, three cloves of crushed garlic. Mix that together and let it rest. When you're ready to serve, cut the chicken into bite-size pieces and place them on the tortillas. Top that with the marinated onions and you're ready to go.

Mexico's leading lady, Ofelia Medina is an actress of extraordinary range and talent. A student of the legendary Lee Strasberg, Ofelia's work has been internationally recognized with numerous awards for excellence, including the coveted Ariel Silver Goddess Award, which is the Mexican Oscar. A current stage show, "Mexican Senorita," premiering in New York City is a favorite of mine for a very specific reason.

The opening of your show, there's a wonderful song, which is made up of the names of Mexican dishes. Sing that for me.

OFELIA MODINA: It', it's says “Son sus tacos y tortilla, guacamole, quesadilla, chiles verdes y frijoles en sus sopas de escamoles, panuchos, panochas, papayitas, la melcocha con tequila y su sangrita o su chela heladita, su memela con salsita, pico-pico-pico-pico-pico-pico-pico-- picosita!”

BURT WOLF: What does that mean in English?

OFELIA: A taco is a tortilla with something inside. Guacamole is avocados mashed with onion and, and... and tomato... and cilantro and... (LAUGHS) Quesadillas is, is cheese with, with tortilla and sopas is a kind of tortilla that you fry and put beans and sauce on top. And picoso, it’s hot.

BURT WOLF: I read a quote of yours that said that to be a star in American movies you had to make too many sacrifices to fantasy. What did you mean?

OFELIA: I mean that what is fundamental for me as an artist is to create and not think about becoming a star or... because that kills your creativity. I don't want to become anything. I want to create all the time. I want not to worry about being famous or becoming something. So you kill your fantasies in order to... eh? No, I, it's...I want to enjoy life and enjoy the stage.

BURT WOLF: When you travel and you're away from Mexico, are there foods that you miss?

OFELIA: Mmm. The Huevos Rancheros in the morning. And, and I, I miss complicated breakfasts because... normally when you're out, you eat breakfast like very simple, just coffee and something continental breakfast or to me, that’s a pain. I like to, to have...big breakfast with huevos rancheros and guacamole and everything. When I was a child, my family lived in a very traditional way and I remember in the kitchen of my house, it's a, an enormous table. Very raw, very simple, and ten women making chocolate, mixing cocoa and cacao and sugar and these ingredients and there was one day a week in which they make chocolate. And it was very special because in the morning, early, very early, you'd wake up with this smell of...of...toasting of...cocoa and, mmm, during the whole day it was like passing through these, mmm, until it was finally done.

BURT WOLF: I truly share Ofelia's love of chocolate and since the rest of the world learned about chocolate from Mexico, I think it's only fitting that we take a short and sweet look at its history. 

The Mayans believed that after the demise of a good person, his spirit would dwell in the gentle shade of the cacao tree and chocolate would be available to drink forever. Cortez was the first European to taste chocolate and he quickly sent it back to Spain where it became a drink of major importance. The Spanish loved it so much and valued it so highly that they kept chocolate a secret for over a hundred years.


(CONTINUES) The cacao trees thrive in the hot, moist climate of the jungle. The beans develop inside a pod that hangs from the bark of the tree. The ideal spot is at the edge of the tropical rain forest. You've got the heat; you've got the humidity. Boy, have you got the heat and humidity! You also have got the rich soil necessary for the cacao tree. The tree grows pretty high, twenty or thirty feet, but it's a very delicate tree.

The pod is harvested, opened and the beans removed. The ferment for a while in the heat of the jungle, then they're dried and shipped off to a chocolate factory. The beans are roasted, cracked into small nibs and pureed into a liquid. The liquid is put under an enormous amount of pressure -- 6,000 pounds per square inch. And that separates the liquid cocoa butter from the solids, which are now called cocoa. Mix the cocoa powder together with lots of cocoa butter and some sugar and you've got a chocolate paste. Smooth that chocolate out with rollers, mix it together to a nice consistency in the conching process and you're ready to make a chocolate bar.

The Mayans and the Aztecs believed that chocolate was given to them as a gift from their gods. And who am I to argue? And am I ever willing to pay homage with an enticing recipe for chocolate truffles. Take four ounces of melted semisweet chocolate and whisk in four ounces of heavy cream that's been heated to just under the boiling point. Keep whisking until the mixture is smooth. Let the chocolate cool for an hour and then soften up the cold mixture with a whisk. Put the mixture into a pastry bag and pipe little one inch balls of the chocolate onto a sheet of parchment paper. If you don't have a pastry bag, just spoon out the mixture. Put the tray into the refrigerator for an hour to harden up the chocolate. Melt two ounces of semi-sweet chocolate and when it's cool enough to handle, dip each of the balls into the chocolate. Give them a complete coating and then roll them through ground nuts, confectioners’ sugar or unsweetened cocoa. 

In our earliest contact with chocolate, we have thought of it as a food or drink that fortifies the gastronomic soul. But from time to time, it has gotten an unfair rap. For many years, skin specialists thought that there might be some sort of relationship between skin problems like acne and chocolate. Not so, say researchers from the University of Pennsylvania's School of Medicine. Good news for teenagers. There's also a lot of talk these days about caffeine and some people point out that chocolate contains caffeine and suggest that you avoid it. Well, let me give you the word on caffeine and chocolate. Most people would need to eat between 80 and 160 standard milk chocolate bars at one time before they would get a stimulant effect from the caffeine and chocolate. And as far as chocolate and tooth decay is concerned, the most recent studies show that cocoa may actually have an inhibital effect on dental cavities. Chocolate in moderation? No problem.

And to test our ability to be moderate in all things, master chef, Kevin Graham, is preparing a dessert called Chocolate Breathless, which is the state you will end up in after you make it or after you eat it. Either way, it's a piece of work.

Kevin has baked a series of long strips of chocolate meringue, which is now crushed into little pieces of chocolate. He also has a batch of chocolate-meringue discs, which he coats with a thick layer of chocolate mousse and makes into a three-decker chocolate sandwich. The sandwich is rolled through and covered with the broken strips of chocolate meringue. And that lovely little chocolate bundle is presented on top of a white sauce, varnished with curls of white chocolate and topped with a dusting of powdered sugar.

(CONTINUES) Mexico has over 6,000 miles of spectacular beaches. And the towns that sit on them are world famous as vacation destinations -- Ixtapa, Baja, Cancun, Puerto Vallarta. Bathed by the crystal clear waters of the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean, Mexico is still the land of the sun worshipper and when the sun goes down, the beat comes up: salsa and sizzle! All this travel and fun in the sun makes me hungry. Well, let's dive into something good to eat. 

One of the hottest Mexican recipes is Zarela’s savory salsa. Mix together four large ripe tomatoes that have peeled, but not seeded, and coarsely chopped. A half-cup of finely chopped green onions, a medium clove of garlic, finely minced, a quarter cup of chopped cilantro, three or four jalapeno chilis trimmed, but not seeded and finely chopped, a teaspoon of dried oregano and the juice of half a lime. Mix that all together and you have a classic salsa fresca. Alright, let's have a look at the nutrition here. First of all, be sure to use fresh ingredients. Not only will the food taste better, but it will be nutritionally richer. Whenever fresh vegetables are a part of the recipes, keep them fresh. Store them in airtight containers in the refrigerator to preserve the folic acid content. Important! Both the fresh tomatoes and scallions provide small amounts of folic acid and the tomatoes also contribute a welcome quantity of vitamin C. The fresh chilis have beta carotene which your body converts to vitamin A.

For the past twenty years, Mexican food has been growing and growing in popularity. In restaurants, in supermarkets, even in cookbooks, Mexican food has become an important part of American cuisine. But for many people who are concerned about the risks of a high-fat diet, Mexican food is in the danger zone. Things like enchiladas, tacos, tortillas -- these dishes can be packed with saturated fat, especially the way they are prepared and served in many Mexican restaurants. Fortunately, however, most of the fat is found not in the main part of the recipe, but in ingredients that are part of an add-on copy or a dip. These fat-filled calories are easy to avoid and the techniques are quite simple. Keep a tight limit on all the deep-fried foods like flautas or those that are topped with cheese like nachos. Skip the tortilla chips; they're fried in fat. The same is true for most flour tortillas. Go for the corn tortillas. Corn usually has 75% less flat. And keep the sour cream topping on the side and only use a small portion. It's a simple approach and it leaves you lots of good food to enjoy. Mexican soups like gazpacho are traditionally light; beans and rice are an ideal nutritional combination. Steamed corn tortillas are excellent and the chicken and vegetable dishes usually have a fine nutritional balance.

One of the finest Mexican restaurants in the United States is called Guaymas. It has a fantastic location at the edge of the Tiberon ferry pier facing Angel Island and San Francisco across the bay. For years it has worked hard to serve authentic, regional Mexican dishes. Today their special is fish with a tomato and grape sauce. Not traditional, but nevertheless tremendous. 

The chef is Jose Hernandez and he starts by taking a boneless, skinless of white, firm, fleshed fish and seasoning it with a little salt and pepper. Then it's sliced into small pieces and placed into a pan that has a light coating of vegetable oil that's already been heated. The fish cooks for a few minutes and Jose adds a little flavored butter, which he made by just mixing together some butter, chopped cilantro leaves, tomato paste and black pepper. In spite of what we hear, for almost all of us, our world will not come to end if we cook with a little butter. Just remember that it is a highly saturated fat and you want to use it in moderation. 

The fish cooks for about three minutes more and in goes a little tomato juice mixed with some chopped onion and a chopped tomato, a little more chopped onion and a cup of seedless table grapes that give a great flavor and texture to the recipe. A bunch of grapes go onto a serving dish, a piece of lemon and the fish with its sauce.

The Bible tells us that when the great flood was over and Noah was able to settle down, grape vines were the first things he planted. We have scientific evidence that dates grape growing in Switzerland at 4,000 B.C. And there are ancient Egyptian tomb paintings that show grapes being cultivated. So we've been eating table grapes for a long time. And the reason for their popularity has remained pretty much the same. They're a good source of natural sugar; that's why they taste sweet. And they're very convenient to eat, Mother Nature's snack food, individually packaged for easy use. 97% of our table grapes are grown right here in California. 

The people who study how Americans eat tell us that we are more and more interested in foods that are healthful for us, but we also want good taste and convenience. We appear to have selected the table grape as the proper answer to our needs. It's very encouraging to find out that a recent study showed that children picked table grapes as one of their three favorite snack foods, tied with ice cream. Imagine kids choosing a snack food that's high in fiber, vitamins, minerals and only 100 calories in a cup! I tell you, you live long enough, you see everything. 

So what's the message from Mexico's 3,000 year-old kitchen? Well, the treasures are still there. All you got to do is get 'em up on your table. Dried beans and peas, nutritional gems. Go after them like Cortez went after the gold. Choose recipes that combine lots of vegetables with small amounts of lean meat, fish or poultry. Use fresh chilis to flavor recipes and you can reduce the salt content of many dishes without losing the taste. And best news of all, chocolate in moderation is no problem. So the next time you're enjoying the taste of chocolate, vanilla, chili, corn, beans, potatoes, or tomatoes, you can thank the ancient societies of Mexico. What's Mayan is yours!

That's Eating Well In Mexico. Please join us next time as we travel around the world looking for foods that taste good and make it easier to eat well. I'm Burt Wolf.

Travels & Traditions: The Shrine at Guadalupe, Mexico - #502

BURT WOLF: Every culture, from the most primitive hunter-gatherers to the most sophisticated societies, have land that they consider sacred. Holy places charged with a divine energy. These sites remain important locations in the history of religion and they continue to inspire spiritual feelings.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: I wanted to know “why”? Why do certain places become sacred sites, and others don’t? What were they before? Why do millions of people visit them each year? I started out as a journalist researching a story, and I ended up as a pilgrim.


BURT WOLF: People have been living in Mexico for over 20,000 years. The ancient people of the region; the Olmecs, the Maya, and the Aztecs developed some of the most sophisticated cultures in history. When the Spanish conquistadors arrived in 1519, the Aztecs controlled most of what we now call Mexico.

And the center of their civilization was what we now call Mexico City. Today, Mexico City is one of the largest and most populated cities in the world…twenty million people live and work in a maze of Indian, Spanish, French and modern buildings. It’s the nation’s center for politics, business, culture and religion.

From the moment the Spanish came ashore they began converting the natives to Catholicism. Today ninety percent of Mexicans are Roman Catholic. The Church plays an important part in Mexican life, and the country is filled with religious sites.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: The most important religious site in Mexico is the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe. It sits on a hill about six miles from the center of Mexico City and each year millions of people come here. Some are pilgrims looking for salvation, some are people asking for help for themselves or someone they love, and some are people who are coming just to see what happens here, because they’re curious.

BURT WOLF: Who are these people? Why do they worship Our Lady of Guadalupe? And have their prayers been answered?


BURT WOLF: When Christopher Columbus arrived in the New World there were no Christian saints to meet him—no Christian relics were carried to his ship to celebrate the success of his voyage. As a matter of fact, there weren’t any Christians at all.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: During the 16th century, thousands of Christians began to show up in the New World, but the place was still pretty short on certified saints and relics. During the middle of the century, however, things began to change, miraculous images began to appear -- and most often they were images of Jesus or the Virgin Mary.

BURT WOLF: Our Lady of Guadalupe on the hill at Tepeyac, at the edge of Mexico City, was the first apparition of Mary in the New World that was officially recognized by the Catholic Church. She is the patron saint of Mexico and all Hispanic nations in America, as well as the patron saint of Canada and the United States. 

Today, the shrine attracts more than 20 million pilgrims each year. Of all the sacred places in the entire world dedicated to the Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe is the most popular. 

Eventually she became the national symbol of Mexico and her story is an essential part of the history and culture of the nation. Her image is found throughout the country.

In 1737, Guadalupe was chosen as the patroness of the city of Mexico. But her significance was not confined to Mexico. Her patronage was soon extended to all of New Spain, then to Guatemala and finally to all Spanish colonies throughout the world. 


BURT WOLF: The devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe is based on the story of Juan Diego.

REV. STAFFORD POOLE ON CAMERA: The story is set in the year 1531, which was just ten years after the Spanish conquest of Mexico.

Juan Diego was an Indian, a newly converted Indian who, in 1531, had a vision of the Virgin Mary at a place north of Mexico City called Tepeyak, or Tepeyak. It was a mountain. He was walking by there one Saturday on his way to receive religious instruction when he heard his name called and together with it these beautiful heavenly sounds, the sounds of birds singing, of sublime music; and the voice called him to go up this hill of Tepeyak; and there he saw this splendid vision of the Virgin Mary who identified herself as the Mother of God. And she told him that she wanted him to go to the bishop of Mexico, a Franciscan friar named Juan de Samarruga. And it struck him that she wanted a church built on that particular site, and there, all of her people could come, and she would hear their pleas, their prayers, their entreaties, and their sorrows.

So Juan Diego went to the bishop who received him kindly but initially was skeptical. So Juan Diego went back to Tepeyac, and informed the Virgin of what happened. He told her about the bishop’s request for a sign. 

She told him to go up the hill and to gather all the flowers that he would see there. It was December at a time when there was nothing there but frost and cactus and rocks and mesquite, but he found all kinds of flowers which he cut and put into his cloak, which in the Aztec language was called a Tilmatlee.

Juan Diego took the flowers back to the Virgin, gave them to her, she blessed them, and then he went back to Mexico City to present them to the bishop. 

He opened up the cloak; the flowers cascaded to the floor. And imprinted on the cloak was the image which is venerated today at Guadalupe. 

BURT WOLF: Some historians see the story as an essential element connecting the Indian past to the Spanish future. The Virgin Mary appears to a lowly Indian at the hill at Tepeyac, which had once been the sacred home of a pre-Columbian mother goddess. Indians came to the site of the miracle and accepted her as the incarnation of the Aztec mother goddess of life, health and happiness.

To the Indians, Our Lady of Guadalupe became the new image of their mother who could restore order to their devastated world. She was able to bring continuity to their lives—connecting the past to the present and the future.

Dr. William Taylor at the University of California has been studying Our Lady of Guadalupe and what she has come to represent to different people.

DR. WILLIAM B. TAYLOR ON CAMERA: She has always meant many things to many kinds of Mexicans. She wasn't just the Indian Virgin, she wasn't just the Masteesa Virgin, and she wasn't just the Spanish Virgin. She's appealed to all of these groups and over a very long period of time. Today, she has a remarkable appeal for any number of people in this country, especially Mexicans who have come to this country. Not only Mexicans, though, New Age questors are interested in Guadalupe; Protestant theologians are interested in Guadalupe. But above all, she has an appeal to Mexican-Americans, who think of her in many different ways. Think of her perhaps as the Masteesa Virgin. A symbol of patriotism. A symbol of their ethnic solidarity. A symbol of home here in the United States. She comes with them. She never leaves. She has the appeal of independence to Chicana feminists. She can be a symbol of resistance…

But she has equal appeal to an older woman in East Los Angeles who came here 50 years ago, has a home altar with a cheap print of Our Lady of Guadalupe. There, she's a symbol of consolation, of a kind of presence, a kind of healing power that's very important to her.


BURT WOLF: There is a passage in the Bible that says: I am the Lord thy God. Thou shalt have no other gods before me. And thou shalt not make unto thee any graven images.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: The Old Testament is pretty clear on the subject: man-made images are off limits. Don’t make any pictures. Don’t make any sculptures. If you’ve got something to say, say it directly. But during the sixth century things began to change. The Christian Church started to accept praying to pictures.

REVEREND STAFFORD POOLE ON CAMERA: It was the separation of Christianity from Judaism. And in the process, Christianity either dropped or rejected many Judaic practices. This starts with St. Paul. And the first one that was not imposed upon Christian converts was circumcision. Then, sometime in the first century, they changed the day of worship from Saturday to Sunday. They gave up the idea of ritual purification, or ritual and cleanness. They stopped observing the dietary laws. Christians would eat pork, and Jews don’t eat pork. So it was all part of that divergence, and the use of images was just one part.

BURT WOLF: People began to promote the idea that when you prayed to a picture, your prayer passed through the picture and reached the model.

Pope Gregory loved the idea and added the thought that “the picture is for the simple man what writing is for those who can read.”

It was clear that the souls of the great martyrs were in heaven, but their remains on earth were filled with extraordinary powers. They could protect worshipers from the devil and heal the sick. Some relics were powerful enough to protect an entire city. Thousands of pilgrims would visit the sacred sites where these relics were kept. And the miracles that took place were carefully documented.


BURT WOLF: In order to understand the religious environment of New Spain, it’s helpful to take a look at what was happening in Old Spain, particularly in the city of Seville. 

It was from Seville that Christopher Columbus set sail, and it was right back here that he returned with his treasures. For decades, Seville had a monopoly on the commercial and religious activity between Europe and the new world. 

To understand the church in Seville it helps to understand Holy week, which is a symbolic conflict between the forces of good and the forces of evil. During the 1300’s, the people of Seville began to group themselves into brotherhoods. Each brotherhood agreed to produce an image from the passion of Christ or a sorrowing Virgin, and to honor that image throughout the year. The members who actually walk in the procession wear long robes in the colors of the brotherhood. The pointed headgear, which looks rather terrifying, was originally designed to hide the identity of the person inside. There’s a theory that being disguised in this costume gave men the opportunity to get in touch with their feelings and their love of God. Showing religious emotion in public was not easy in a culture that has often seen religious behavior in public as not “macho”. Under the hood, your emotions remain private. Some of the members have taken the cones out of their hoods. They want the peak to hang down, to look humble. These are people doing penance. The visual symbol is like that of the cock that has become crestfallen, and is therefore no longer cocky.

Today, a brotherhood might have up to 3000 members, including both men and women. Each brotherhood owns from one to three floats with scenes showing Christ’s passion or the weeping Virgin. 

Each float weighs two to three tons, and is carried through the streets of Seville by groups of young men. For years the floats were carried by professional stevedores. Eventually, the fees for the stevedores became too expensive for the brotherhoods. People thought that carrying the floats through Seville would come to an end. But the young men of each brotherhood came through and the general opinion is that the young men do a better job than the stevedores did. There is considerable art to carrying the floats - the objective is to make the figures sway so they seem alive and moving. 

As the Passion of Christ is played out along the streets of the city, Seville becomes Jerusalem. It’s an ancient way for a festival to teach a story. The town where the festival is going on is turned into the town where the original events took place. 

The floats that pass through the streets of Seville express suffering and pain in two different forms. There are the images of Christ - images of direct physical pain - and there are the images of the weeping Madonnas: images of the pain of looking on, knowing that you are helpless to prevent the suffering of someone you love. The Madonna’s pain is the pain of the parent.

There are magic moments during the festival that are called Sietas, which is the Spanish word for arrow. In this case it is an arrow of emotion, of passion, of sentiment, and it passes between one of the statues being carried through the streets and one of the people watching the procession. The viewer has been overwhelmed with feeling for Christ or the Virgin Mary, and she expresses herself by singing the story of her love and her sadness.

Writing and singing Sietas is an art form, and one of the most amazing aspects of the entire celebration. But they are also very personal moments. Often it is only the singer who knows when and where a Sieta will take place. And sometimes, a singer only finds out because he or she is suddenly singing.

The processions go on day and night for seven days. Each float must pass through a series of specific streets, and every float must stop at the cathedral. 

This public commitment to Christ, this show of love, is a central part of the church of Seville, and it became an essential aspect of the church of Mexico.


BURT WOLF: During the middle of the 1500s the Roman Catholic Church decided to introduce a new form of religious architecture designed to oppose the almost barren approach of the reformation. The new style came to be known as Baroque. It was adopted throughout Spain and soon began appearing throughout Mexico. It was rich, grand sensuous and dramatic. Its object was to evoke an emotional response. In essence, it said this was the appropriate level of splendor for the Lord. It was a way to extend and encourage the public’s faith in the Church. The ceilings of Baroque churches are always painted with vivid images of the divine world above. They invite the viewer to contemplate the rewards of heaven.

But the Baroque was not limited to art and architecture it also became one of the greatest periods in classical music…Bach, Handel and Vivaldi were all masters of the Baroque.


BURT WOLF: In 1979, Dr. Hose Aste Tonsmann, a graduate of Cornell University, while working at IBM, scanned a photo of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and filtered the image in order to produce the highest quality picture.

When he did so, he discovered that there was other people reflected in her eyes…in fact an entire family, as they would have appeared in the 1500s. 

Tonsmann concluded that the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe contains any number of messages and each will be revealed at the appropriate moment in history. He feels that the modern technology needed to see the family reflects the reality that these days more than ever the idea of family is being challenged. Her eyes remind us of our present need to address this problem.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Not everybody agrees on the images in the eyes of Our Lady of Guadalupe. One noted authority told me that in order to see those images you needed computer enhancement and a great imagination. Well, fortunately we have computer enhancement and if Jesus could imagine a world filled with love and peace, I’m all for imagination. 


BURT WOLF: In almost every religion there were men and women who were able to make contact with the spirit world and use the power of that unseen place to work wonders in our world. When the bible says, “The Spirit of the Lord is Upon Me,” it is a reference to the unseen universe. It is also a reference to the idea that our well being is the result of having a proper relationship with that spiritual world.

Jesus was in the tradition of men who stood between our world and the spiritual world and used the power of the spiritual to influence events. These men and women were always dramatic personalities and dynamic speakers and they always attracted lots of attention.

One of the major differences between Jesus and the mediators that preceded him was that instead of just using his power to heal individual people Jesus set out to heal the entire world.

Jesus asked his listeners to believe in his message not because he said it was true, or because the message came from God, but because if they looked in their own hearts they would feel the truth of his words. And His message was very simple: God’s love is unyielding; we need to accept it and we need to let it pass through us to others. Love is the ultimate power.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Jesus taught that everyone was equal in the eyes of God – and that the poor were as important as the rich. He opposed the corruption of the ruling class, and that challenged the status quo, and so they had him executed. Details around the crucifixion and the days after are somewhat limited but what is clear is that his followers felt his presence more than ever.

BURT WOLF: They had experienced his resurrection, and that produced the Christian Church, which swept across the Roman world.


BURT WOLF: Experts on Mexican history and culture have said that their nation was born at Tepeyac with the appearance of the Virgin Mary. And that’s because in addition to her religious significance, she is the symbol of Mexican culture.

In 1810, Miguel Hidalgo, a parish priest urged the rural population to rebel against Spain. He gave them a copy of the Virgin of Guadalupe from Tepeyac and told them that their battle cry should be “Long Live Our Lady of Guadalupe”.

Once Mexico won its independence, Guadalupe became the symbol of the new nation. She represented not only the Spanish born in Mexico and the native Indians but everyone associated with the country.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Octavio Paz, Mexico’s Nobel prize-winning poet once said that, after two centuries of experimentation, the people of Mexico have come to believe in only two things, Our Lady of Guadalupe and the National Lottery. For TRAVELS & TRADITIONS, I’m Burt Wolf.

Travels & Traditions: Baja: The Sea of Cortez - #103

During the 21st century, tourism will be the biggest industry in the world.  But in addition to the great cities and traditional tourist attractions, unusual and unspoiled destinations will become more and more important.  The increase in the number of visitors to these unspoiled places could easily spoil them.  One response to the problem has been the development of companies that are as responsive to the needs of the environment as they are to the expectations of the travelers.

One of the pioneers in this form of travel was Lars-Eric Lindblad.  In 1958, he began taking travelers to places like Antarctica, the Galapagos Islands, Mongolia and Tibet.

We wanted to see what responsible expedition travel was like, so we headed off to the Baja Peninsula, off the west coast of Mexico, to board a ship called the Sea Lion.  The Sea Lion belongs to Lindblad’s Special Expeditions, a company that is run by Sven-Olof Lindblad, the son of the early pioneer.

In the next half hour, we’ll explore a group of remote islands that are only accessible by small craft.  We’ll look at their unique plant and animal life and reach new heights in our search to understand their amazing adaptations.  We’ll learn the secrets of some of the smallest creatures on our planet... and the very largest.  So join me, Burt Wolf, as we explore the Sea of Cortez on TRAVELS & TRADITIONS.

We boarded the Sea Lion at the port city of La Paz, on the southern tip of the Baja.  During the night the ship headed north through the Sea of Cortez.

I started the first day by watching the sunrise.  A simple way to pass a few moments, but more than one passenger told me that watching the day begin filled them with a sense of connection to the natural rhythms of our planet.  Only a few hours into the voyage and I understood what they meant.

NEIL FOLSOM:  Good morning... we’re getting a little closer now to Punto Colorado...

Shortly after the sun cleared the horizon our expedition leader, Neil Folsom, described the day’s coming attractions on the island of San Jose.

BURT WOLF:  What do we expect to see here?

NEIL FOLSOM:  This is a really nice flavor of the desert that most people really don’t realize the diversity that you have.  Most people have the conception that a desert is very, very barren.  And even though this is by definition a desert because of a lack of rainfall, I think you’ll find that it’s a bit more lush than you may expect.

Neil gave us a list of activities, and each person on board decided what they wanted to do and when.  There was quite an age range among the passengers.  One day we celebrated the 18th birthday of a young woman who was visiting from Finland.  The next day I had breakfast with a woman who informed me that she was well past her eightieth birthday.

At this point the Zodiacs were lowered into the sea.  A Zodiac is like a giant inner-tube, shaped in the form of an arrow.  They will allow us to move about quickly on the surface of the sea and to reach many otherwise inaccessible points on the islands.  A Zodiac can be operated in a way that causes a minimum amount of disturbance as it moves along.  They are the essential tool for our explorations.

About four and a half million years ago, forces inside the earth took a strip of land on the west coast of Mexico and pushed it off into the Pacific Ocean.  That strip of land became the Baja Peninsula, and the water that came in and filled the 700-mile-long space between Mexico and the Baja is known as the Gulf of California, or the Sea of Cortez.

The Sea of Cortez has over fifty islands; most of them are uninhabited, and some are so remote that no one has bothered to give them names.  There are upwellings of water behind many of the islands, and these surges bring nutrients up from the bottom.  The nutrients attract fish, birds and sea mammals.  The fish, birds and sea mammals attract tourists interested in nature.

CHRISTA SADLER:  The stuff that you’re looking at on this beach represents some of the oldest rocks in Baja California.  These are... this is granite.  It’s about 150 million years old.  What we’re going to discover is that’s actually really young -- geologically.

One of the things that makes Lindblad’s Special Expeditions special is the knowledge and helpfulness of the people who lead the daily explorations.  They are naturalists, historians and experts in the local culture with considerable experience in the locations we are about to visit.  Christa Sadler is a naturalist who explained the geology of this island.

CHRISTA SADLER:  Granite starts out its life as something completely different.  This stuff starts out as molten magma.  And it starts out way down deep under the earth, I mean like miles down.  So when you see granite, whether you’re in New Hampshire or Maine or Yosemite or Baja California, you know that this had to have been uplifted.  It had to have been pushed up from way down deep because this stuff forms, literally can form miles down.  And so that’s kind of a fun thing to imagine.  The other thing is that by looking at this granite and comparing it to other granites in Mexico -- in the mainland Mexico area -- we find out that this piece of land has actually moved north a couple of hundred miles because we can match this granite up with granite in mainland Mexico that’s a couple of hundred miles south --  just by looking at the type of rock it is and sort of the fingerprints in this rock.

KAREN COPELAND-WILLIAMS:  ...and the whole idea of a plant is to pass its genes on, and it can only pass its genes on if it can cross-pollinate with another plant.  And so they’ve developed very intricate ways of doing that.

Karen Copeland-Williams has an M.D. degree, but decided she was happier with plants than prescriptions.

KAREN COPELAND-WILLIAMS:  Here’s the flower on it -- a tiny, non-descript white flower -- but what draws your attention to the plant are these inflated seed pods.  They’re soft and cushiony and full of air.  And if we take one off, we can see that it’s got three carpels -- three parts to it.  And each carpel -- we separate it -- each carpel contains within it one seed positioned on the placenta in the center.  If you put your finger in there you can actually feel the humidity inside.

BURT WOLF:  Oh yeah!

KAREN COPELAND-WILLIAMS:  It was much, much higher than the...

BURT WOLF:  This is like a tent!


BURT WOLF:  To protect it.

KAREN COPELAND-WILLIAMS:  Yeah, exactly.  And a very well-sealed tent because it can keep that moisture in there, it can prevent it from getting too hot.  I think they make great earrings.

    We’d better go and rescue these ladies from not touching the pink flower.  It’s got hairs on the leaves that are an irritant, and if you get that on the skin of your fingers and then get it in your eyes it’s very, very painful.  They call it mala rosa -- “bad rose”.  And the parents would keep their daughters from touching it because if you touched that, you would become promiscuous.  Bad rose!

CHRISTA SADLER:  ...but I want you to leave here with a sense of the story that Baja California has undergone.  Because every place in the world has its own story, and this is one frame in a movie that’s been going on for a long, long time.  And this movie is going to continue to go -- it’s going to continue to happen.

As we headed back to the ship we passed a group of pelicans who were totally unfazed by our presence.  This was typical of our contact with the wildlife.  In most cases, they were as curious about us as we were about them, and we became the observed as well as the observers.

Next morning the sun came up... the flag went up... and the joggers came out.  And so did the whales.

CHRISTA SADLER:  There it is!  Right over here... Ten o’clock.

LEE MOLL:  We have the whale back on the surface now at about ten o’clock, over in that direction... 

CHRISTA SADLER:  It’s much closer to us.

LEE MOLL:  Quite close now.  Watch for the spout.  Sometimes some whales will bring their flukes up out of the water as they sound...

Lee Moll got her degree in Environmental Conservation; on board the Sea Lion she specializes in marine mammals.

LEE MOLL:  And, again, we’re gonna see if it comes back to the surface.  They typically have fairly erratic type of behavior, and so it could come up just about anywhere.  But keep scanning in all directions, and again, look for that blowspout.


Sometimes we’ll time the whales, especially when they go down and they dive down, which we can tell by an arched back or a fluke coming up above the surface, and they may have a certain pattern as to what their behavior is.  And so we can time how long they’re gonna be down, approximately, so we can get ready to look for them to come back to the surface.

And what they do when they feed is they’ll gulp in large amounts of water along with whatever they’re feeding on.  And then they will use their tongue to expel the water through the baleen plates and catch the little goodies in that -- well, you can think of it as a mustache!  Some of you gentlemen may understand this feeding method.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  The variety of conditions that exist in the Sea of Cortez has set up an eco-system that supports a greater variety of sea life than any other similar sized area in the world.  Over 800 species of fish have been catalogued in the Sea of Cortez and new ones are added each year.

All life on our planet began in water -- and so do we.  It is our most essential nutrient.  Without water our lives would end within days.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  It’s possible to think of plants and animals that live on land as canteens, trying to preserve water inside themselves.  If you accept that, then it follows that the most difficult place for these plants and animals to survive is a desert.  And only those plants and animals that are capable of very sophisticated adaptation are going to survive.

A stretch of terrain is described as a desert if it has less than ten inches of rain during a year.  That means less water and more sun than any other area in the world.  The primary job for the plants and animals of the desert is to hold onto the available water.  Each develops its own strategy.  Some of the results are quite strange; many are very beautiful.

One of the most common techniques for conserving water in the plant world is to become a succulent.  Succulents develop root systems that suck moisture out of the earth.  They also develop tissue that stores the water they collect.  Cacti, yucca plants and elephant trees are succulents.  There are over 120 different forms of cacti in the Baja, and seventy of them are found here and nowhere else in the world.

During the afternoon I got my first chance at learning to kayak.

LEE MOLL:  And then sit down, and your legs go forward... And then you have pedals in there...

BURT WOLF:  You think so?

LEE MOLL:  ...that are used to steer.  The rudder goes to the right and to the left.  And they have to be adjusted by a little strap that’s in there.

BURT WOLF:  That strap?

LEE MOLL:  Loosen.  See the buckle?  Just pull on the buckle...

BURT WOLF:  We should have gotten a cab.  I told everybody,  “Just get a cab.”

LEE MOLL:  All right, now do you know how to use the paddle?

BURT WOLF:  Well, I go like that when I go like that and I go like that when I go like that.

LEE MOLL:  Yeah, you have to turn it.  And that’s the way it goes like that.  And then when you come out you turn it so that then this one is going to catch the water.

BURT WOLF:  What’s the point of that?

LEE MOLL:  Well, you don’t have to do it that way, but that’s the way most kayak paddles are made.

BURT WOLF:  Do you have a telephone number for the Coast Guard? Launch!

JAMES WOLF:  You have to launch.


JAMES WOLF:  Use your paddle...

BURT WOLF:  We’re never going to get out of here.  Bye!

The word kayak means “hunter’s boat,” and they were used on lakes, rivers and seas by the northern tribes that drew their primary food sources from the water.  Archaeologists have evidence indicating that kayaks have been used by people living around the top of the world for at least four thousand years.

As we paddled back to the Sea Lion, I was struck by the fact that each day the Baja presented new opportunities to rediscover the curious child within us.

The next morning we headed off to the island of San Marcos.  There are two ways to make an island.  When there is a volcanic eruption beneath the sea and a mountain pushes up through the surface of the water, you get what is called a volcanic island.  When a volcanic island is born, it comes up from the bottom of the sea in pristine condition.  It has no animal or plant life.  Eventually, seeds and insects arrive with birds or on the wind.  Other life forms float in with beach debris.

When land sinks around some high ground or the sea rises but doesn’t cover an area of high ground, the isolated area is called a continental island.  All the life that was on the high ground before it became a continental island is cut off from the life on the mainland.  The island life begins to develop in response to its new isolation.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  Every island is a classroom for the study of evolution.  When the island is separated from the mainland, all of the life forms on that island begin to modify in order to find techniques for survival.  When you come to a deserted island, you never know what you are going to find.

Here we have a group of mammals foraging.  They are one of the varieties found in North America and they are feeding upon some of their traditional foods.

LEE MOLL:  This potato salad is the best!  The best delicious potato salad.

Fortified and rested in preparation for an afternoon hike, we headed out into the interior of San Marcos.  We learned about the rock formations on the island, and some of us learned how to climb them.

CHRISTA SADLER:  When you’re climbing on things like this, it’s really important -- there’s a couple of things you need to keep in mind.  Don’t lean into the wall like this because if you do, your feet slide out from under you.  Stay up and keep your center of gravity over your feet.  It’s a little scarier; you think you want to hang onto the wall, but it’s not way to do it.  Stay over your feet.  Also, don’t use your arms to pull you up -- use your legs.  You can brace yourself, but use your legs to get up to things.  If you start pulling, you can pull the rock right off.  And go slowly, and don’t let anyone behind you tell you to go faster or you have my permission to slap them silly if they do.

BURT WOLF:  Okay, yeah.  Thank you.

VOICE (OFF CAMERA):  Uh, Burt, we missed that.  Could you do it again, please?

Christa also introduced us to some of the life forms that inhabit the tide pools.

CHRISTA SADLER:  This is a sea urchin and it’s a member of the family of invertebrates we call -- or, actually the phyla of invertebrates we call echinoderms, which means “spiny skin.”  But you can see how he’s moving in my hand -- he’s using his little tube feet, these little suction feet, on the bottom of the test, to move around.  And right there in the center is this little guy’s mouth.  It’s pretty amazing, isn’t it?  You don’t think these guys can move, you know?  You see them and you just think they probably sit in one place, but they’re pretty active.  Pretty active for something that doesn’t have a backbone.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  Life on the islands of the Sea of Cortez is still evolving.  Each generation makes new choices.  Some changes are for the better and make survival easier.  Some changes are for the worse and may eventually lead to extinction.  Life on a desert island is a tough game, but it’s fun to watch.

That evening we took on supplies in the town of Santa Rosalia.  Santa Rosalia was established by a French mining company in 1866.  They came for the copper and they brought along an entire church, which they assembled in the town square.  The church was designed and pre-fabricated in France by Gustave Eiffel, the same guy who put up the Eiffel Tower.  Another surprise in the Baja.

Next day at about 5 AM we arrived at the most northerly point in our journey.  The waves had been running at a height of four or five feet.  The rise and fall of the ship under the sea seemed comforting to me, but the captain felt that the motion would be a little too bouncy during breakfast.  So he shifted our location.  There is a constant balancing between the reality of a ship at sea and the vacation atmosphere being created inside the vessel.  So we turned south and headed into the Canal De Ballenas.

At the northern end of the channel we were discovered by a pod of dolphins.  They swam along with us for about an hour.

Some of them rode the bow wave, which is set up by the forward edge of our ship.  They settled onto the wave, which is constantly pushed forward.  For the dolphins it’s a free and effortless ride.

A school of small fish passing through the narrow channel attracted a mixed crowd for lunch.  Pelicans, terns and brown boobies joined the dolphins.  Each of these species has a slightly different feeding pattern so they can all come to the table at one time and no one bothers their neighbor.  The most spectacular were the brown boobies.

LEE MOLL:  “Booby” comes from the Spanish word bobo, which means “stupid” or “dunce.”  And when the Spaniards first came to this area they noticed these birds and it was easy for them to just walk up to them and catch them and so they thought that was pretty stupid and called them “Boobies.”

Many scientists believe that birds are the descendants of the dinosaurs, and that they gave up their front legs in exchange for wings.  Flight allowed them to nest in trees and cliffs, and helped protect their young  -- and that gave them a chance to survive at a time when the dinosaurs were becoming extinct.

Tomorrow will be the last day of the trip.  We have seen whales from the deck of the ship, but so far we’ve not come to a spot where we can lower the Zodiacs and get in close.  Tomorrow will be our last chance.

Next morning found us off the Island of San Pedro Martir.  It stands like a huge bundt cake covered with a frosting of guano.  Not my most appetizing image but nevertheless descriptive.  Guano is the naturalists’ term for bird droppings, and a hundred years ago it was a very valuable commodity.  Guano contains powerful nitrates that are essential in the making of gunpowder.  The company that had the exclusive license to collect the guano on San Pedro Martir made a fortune.

NEIL FOLSOM:  This is also a nesting area, or rather a rookery area for the California sea lion.  All along the shoreline are groups of California sea lions, I would say probably at least 800, if not more California sea lions on this island.

BURT WOLF:  They swim all the way down the Pacific Coast, and they know to make a turn and head back up into here?

NEIL FOLSOM:  That’s the game there.  And actually, the females and the juveniles will stay in this area.  It’s only the adult males that will go as far north as the city of Seattle.

BURT WOLF:  What are they saying?

NEIL FOLSOM:  They’re saying “Let’s play!”

BURT WOLF:  All right!

 At this point we were supposed to head back to the ship -- the biggest Sea Lion in the area -- but Lee had finally found what we were looking for.

LEE MOLL:  Well, we’ve spotted some big blows of whales from the shore and we thought we’d come out and check them out.  We’re out here in the Zodiac looking for whales!  We’re seeing some fin whales which is the world’s second largest whale.  It’s going to be very exciting to get up close to these animals.  And they pretty much just ignore us.  We don’t bother them at all, they keep doing whatever it is they’re doing and we don’t disturb them or disrupt their activity.

BURT WOLF:  I certainly wouldn’t want to disrupt their activity.

LEE MOLL:  No, no.  Whoa!  Right there ahead of us!  Did you hear that?  Twelve o’clock.  There’s two whales right together.  These are two fin whales.  And one right over here.  That one’s going the other way.  Look how close they are now!  Right here.  Wow!  These are baleen whales, remember, they have two blow holes on top of the head.  Look at that!  Really close.  Try and notice also the white on the lower right jaw as it comes up -- it’s coming up right here.  Follow them right along.  Here’s one... actually, here comes the other one!  Wow!  There’s the fin, it’s got barnacles hanging off the back of it, and his fluke, you can see his fluke underneath the water.

BURT WOLF:  It’s quite amazing!  Hi, kids!

VOICE ON RADIO:  Uhhh, yeah, you might want to come over here, they’re hanging out -- a real good “tea party.”  

As our journey through the Sea of Cortez came to an end, I was reminded of the words of the American novelist John Steinbeck, who traveled here in 1940.  He looked from the shimmering water of the Sea of Cortez to the shining stars and he wrote:  ”...all things are one thing and that one thing is all things -- all bound together by the elastic string of time.”

Thank you for joining me in the Baja, and please join me next time on TRAVELS & TRADITIONS.  I’m Burt Wolf.