travelog 116


Until 2005 the people in Temacapulín lead a normal, quiet life characterized by agriculture. The small village was founded in 1550 by the Spanish but it is assumed that the area was inhabited since prehispanic times and at least since the seventh century. In 2005 everything changed when it was decided to build a dam near Temacapulín. We had heard and read about these plans and the ensuing protests in the newspaper but were later interested in the place because of a special plant.

But first a little bit of information about Temacapulín and El Zapotillo, the third-largest dam project in Mexico. Temacapulín, concisely and affectionately known as Temaca by the locals, has 480 inhabitants and belongs to the municipality of Cañadas de Obregón in the state of Jalisco. For the Zapotillo project the Rio Verde will be dammed up and three villages, Temacapulín, Acasico, and Palmarejo, will be flooded. The more or less 1000 inhabitants of these villages will be moved to a new settlement, still under construction, with the flowery name of Talicoyunque - but at present it does not look like these people would want to be resettled. Talicoyunque supposedly is a very dry, rocky place without water and not at all suitable for agriculture. 70% of the buildings in Temacapulín are "Patrimonio cultural de los Mexicanos", they are protected by law. This means that historical buildings like the 250 year old church, many colonial houses, the portals, the main square, and even a cemetary have to be moved stone by stone. The original dam was planned for a height of 80 meters (260 feet) but this was later raised to 105 m (350 ft) to be able to store more water. This increase in height would lead to the flooding of the three abovementioned villages and is being fought in court.

One of the faults critics find with the dam project is that the majority of the water will be diverted to the city of Leon in Guanajuato state and to the agroindustry and the shoe industry there, benefitting large farms. Only a small amount of the water would go to Guadalajara and to the Altos de Jalisco. The life time of the dam is projected for only 25 years. Another argument of the dam opponents is that in Guadalajara and Leon about 40% of the potable water is lost through leaks in the water distribution network. They say it would be more important to invest in fixing the existing city water supply infrastructure and subsidize small, local dams and the use of rainwater. The fronts are hardened as can be seen in some statements, for example the little sensitive comment of the CONAGUA boss (Comision Nacional del Agua) who said “se salen o se ahogan, les vamos a comprar lanchas y salvavidas para que no se preocupen” (they go or they drown, we will buy them boats and life vests so that they don't have to worry).

But back to our plant. Antonio Vazquez told us about Agave temacapulinensis on which description as a new species he was working. Several colleagues of his wanted to see the pollinators of this agave species and they set a date on a weekend in May to go see the plant near Temacapulín. Said weekend was approaching and everything looked like it was going according to plan. We got Antonio's confirmation that we would indeed meet the next Saturday around noon at the first large population of Agave temacapulinensis. To be on the safe side we had packed all our camping material. We had a huge watermelon in the cooler and had even baked a large apricot cake for the whole troupe. When we got to the meeting point Antonio was busy shouldering his belongings. He was accompanied by his very pregnant wife and his stepdaughter. Everybody else had failed him miserably. The plants at the base of the hills all had old burn damages that were growing out slowly. Further up we found healthy populations and some plants just started to open their flowers. These are beautiful plants with bluegray leaves and a heavily ondulated and dangerously teethed leaf margin. They vaguely resemble Agave durangensis or a blue A. wocomahi, two plants with which the new species is compared to in the just published first description (Novon 22, 2012). We drove along the Rio Verde whose banks are lined with ancient cypress trees (Taxodium sp). The rivers water is unfortunately very polluted but this did not discourage the local kids of taking a refreshing bath. Further down the river we visited another population of Agave temacapulinensis. Then we forded the river three times to end up on the other side where we were driving up towards Mexticacan. Here we found another population of the new species. Antonio and his team had searched the entire area and found only a few healthy populations. With the inauguration of the dam up to 80% of the entire population will be flooded. The remaining plants grow in areas that are already now stressed by cattle breeding and agriculture. When the day's work was done we returned down to the river and sat down in the shade of a cypress tree and enjoyed the refreshing watermelon and the apricot cake. Antonio and his family said goodbye late in the afternoon to go back to Guadalajara. We stopped again at the first population to take better pictures of the plants.

There was even a hotel in Temecapulin. And by pure chance we also found the manager who usually works at a swimming pool. The rooms were bright, clean and inexpensive and the hotel was situated conveniently at the main square. Now we went on to explore the village on foot. On many buildings we saw posters saying "Esta casa NO se vende, NO se reubica, NO se expropia, NO se inunda. Respeten lo que no es suyo y dejenos en paz" (this house is neither for sale, nor will it be moved, expropriated, or flooded. Please respect what is not yours and let us live in peace). On an old wooden door "No a la Presa" was written in red paint. At the church there was even a colorful poster with an appeal to the Virgin Mary. Around the main square we saw more posters telling the story of the dam project and presenting the opponent's arguments. Otherwise it did not at all look like the locals had any intention of resettling from their homes to Talicoyunque anytime soon. A little later we sat down in a small place to have tacos de carne asada for dinner. Around the corner we were even able to get cold beer.

On another visit in mid August we liked the plants even better. The landscape was green, the green grass lush, and the bushes covered with flowers. The rainy season was on. The blue rosettes of Agave temacapulinensis were beautiful against the rich green of the meadows. There was no comparison to the yellow-brown-gray May landscape where the only spots of color were the yellow agave flowers. Unfortunately we had to turn around down at the river. Thanks to the rainy season the water level had risen considerably and we didn't want to risk getting stuck in the red, opaque water. Leaving the village we supported the local economy by buying a large bag of dried chile de arbol. Another visit to Temacapulín is imminent because somewhere near the third river crossing we had seen a beautiful rock that we would like to get for the garden with the adequate tools and low water level. We will have time until mid 2014 when the dam is supposed to be finished and the valley will be flooded.

October 2012

Julia Etter & Martin Kristen