Terry Durham Reflects on Research in Aguascalientes

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Terry Durham is a retired geophysicist, who went to Aguascalientes, Mexico to conduct research with his wife Christine Durham for Water Ecuador/Aquality. For more info about Terry and Christine and their project, read their volunteer profiles here.

The bus system in Aguascalientes (AGS) is very good, and we used buses many days to conduct interviews in the far edges of the city. For a holiday excursion we traveled 70 miles north of AGS to the historic gold, silver, and copper mining city, Zacatecas. The bus was comfortable with nice reclining seats, digital TV, and snacks. It was so pleasant that I was reluctant to leave the bus upon arrival.

At the Aguas/Zacatecas state line the military stopped all northbound vehicles for checks. Freight trucks had an especially thorough check. The army members got on our bus and checked the overhead bins then asked two young men for their IDs.

At the Zacatecas hotel I interviewed the receptionist about local water use. She said that the hotel uses municipal water, which some say has a chlorine smell. Sometimes it is heavily chlorinated and other times it is not, hmm… This sounds similar to the varying chlorine reports in AGS. Poorer areas near Zacatecas also have incidents of fluorosis as the people drink the well water there. The hotel receptionist said that in those areas the water tastes good and is bacteria free, but it has high levels of fluoride. I collected a tap water sample from the hotel and weeks later I tested it in New Haven, Connecticut — it tested a high 9.1 ppm (parts per million) of fluoride. Therefore, the Zacatecas tap water is good for topical use such as a dental rinse but not good for long-term drinking.
We soon discovered that many Mexican tourists travelled to Zacatecas for the Christmas holiday. The streets were packed with holiday activity. The below image was taken on Christmas eve and shows the Cathedral with a full moon rising over the illuminated Cerro de Bufa.This hill overlooks the city and was named by the Spanish because the hilltop looked like a bufanda (scarf) wrapped around the hill. A tour guide claimed that the American Buffalo was also named by the Spaniards because its brown rounded hump looks like a scarf around its neck and back.

The Zacatecas Cathedral

The Zacatecas Cathedral

We enjoyed walking the undulating relief with tilted streets that wind around churches and other buildings. After strolling for a while we discovered Restaurante Las Leyendas. The owner of the establishment has a collection of art he has accumulated over the past 30 years. He created a scavenger hunt for kids to find specific pieces of art but has a strict policy against touching the masks, trinkets, and artwork in his art gallery/restaurant. For dinner we savored Asado de Bodas, a Zacatecas traditional Wedding Stew of delicious pork in a chile sauce. Afterwards we walked about the restaurant admiring the art and masks.

The dining room in Restaurante Las Leyendas

The dining room in Restaurante Las Leyendas.

Our last trip was to the east of AGS to Guanajuato (GTO). This city was founded by the Spanish in 1546 and is now a World Heritage Site because of its architecture. Money from the silver mining industry contributed greatly to the building of the city — the Valenciana Mine alone produced 30% of the global silver from 1750 until the Mexican Revolution.

Guanajuato is one big pedestrian mall which was packed the weekend we visited with New Year’s tourists. It has no straight streets, they are all built along the terrain, full of curves. The narrow streets and many pedestrians make automobile traffic crawl at a steady 3-5 mph in the city, so walking is better and much faster.

Many years ago a tunnel was built under the city to divert the river and prevent flooding. Recently this was changed, and additional tunnels were built to alleviate the thru traffic. It is an intricate underground web with no traffic lights or signs, so travel slowly at intersections!

At breakfast in Guanajuato, three secondary student girls asked if they could take our photo with one of them — yes, we are celebrities. Although GTO is packed with Mexican tourists we are the only “Americanos” in town. Later in the day we discovered the best enmoladas (mole enchiladas) in Mexico.
The GTO city water is from a lake located up the valley. The hotel clerk said that the locals do not drink the tap water because it is too hard and causes fluorosis, they only use it for washing. Residents know that the Ciel and Bonafont bottled water is filtered and that it not only tastes better but it has minerals removed. I later tested the GTO water and found it as a hard water 250 ppm, high alkalinity 180 ppm, and high 7.8 pH. However, chlorine was 0.5 ppm and fluoride 0.2 ppm. This is another discrepancy — the locals worry about fluorosis but I have found low levels of fluoride in the water. I think the residents have not adjusted their water consumption practices after the city started using the cleaner low fluoride mountain water.

Whenever we planned to travel, the Aguascalientes locals said “oh be careful there, it is very dangerous,” but once we were at our location the residents would tell us “oh it is safe just be very careful after 10 pm in dark places.” I think that is just common sense for a city anywhere.

This is probably the largest bird house I have ever seen. Indian Laurel trees are popular along the AGS streets. Many are trimmed in simple box designs but this one is unique

This is probably the largest bird house I have ever seen. Indian Laurel trees are popular along the AGS streets. Many are trimmed in simple box designs but this one is unique.

Conclusion: I wish to thank Water Ecuador for allowing me and my wife to conduct the water use interviews and testing for bacterial contamination of sealed 20 liter bottled drinking water in Aguascalientes. This has been a great trip for us.  It has given me a whole new view and appreciation of Mexico. Here in Aguascalientes we see the benefits to both the USA and Mexico of the NAFTA act. We found this to be a very interesting project in a safe, friendly area in Mexico. It was a very rewarding trip.
Thank You Water Ecuador!!

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