If you’re interested in learning about any sort of outdoor activity from technical rock-climbing to bird watching, the place to go for training is Escuela para Actividades al Aire Libre Carbono-14, which offers 26 courses in outdoor skills, all of them certified by the Mexican Labor Secretariat.
The range of subjects covered is impressive. You can learn mountain-climbing and rescue techniques, speleology, first aid, canyoneering, land navigation, wilderness survival, how to set up a zipline, interpretive-trail design and much more.
In addition, they make it easy for you to practice many of these skills by offering inexpensive excursions to the marvelous mountains, canyons, forest, lakes, waterfalls, jungles, caves, rock formations and thermal areas within easy reach of Guadalajara.
Participants in all these activities – including sports deemed “extreme” – are covered by insurance and every group is accompanied by a certified paramedic. These people are pros!
I learned even more about Carbono-14 at their recent Christmas Posada, which took the form of a campout in the Primavera Forest.
“We’re called Carbono-14 because C-14 is used for proving that something is really old,” explained founder Chema Martínez, who runs the group with his wife Nora Granjamontis.
The roots of Carbono-14 go back to Martínez’s involvement with the Mantis Climbing Center in Guadalajara.
“At the beginning, they said they’d have three categories: beginners, intermediate and advanced,” Martínez told me. “And I said, ‘Hey, what about los viejitos, the old-timers? We want to participate too!’ So they said, ‘OK, we’ll make a category called Carbono 14 for old folks.’
“Even though we are just in our fifties, we are already considered old in the world of rock-climbing,” he joked.
I discovered that Martínez, along with his friend Diego Leñero, were the first ones to work out the now famous rock-climbing routes at El Diente monoliths, five kilometers north of Guadalajara. And Martínez has the honor of being the first climber to reach the top of the monolith known as La Centinela.
Over the years, Martínez developed climbing routes at La Peña de los Camachos, the Cola del Caballo and the Huaxtla area. “We were climbing all over the place,” he recalled.
Martínez’s love for nature goes back to tagging along on his grandfather’s explorations of the wilderness around a hunting club.
“We would find something and then go a little farther ... and then a little farther Maybe you get lost, but you learn a lot from the experience. For example, you really develop a sense of orientation. So, by the time I was 14, I was already used to wandering around in the bush.”
In 1974, Martínez hiked up his first mountain, Cerro Viejo, with a group of Rover Scouts. He was hooked.
“Next we did the Tequila Volcano, El Nevado de Colima and Popocatépetl ... and our group grew. We started all that 40 years ago and I’m still at it.”
Martínez met Nora at a meeting about illegal logging on the Nevado and eventually they decided to turn Carbono-14 into a full-fledged training center and nature-tourism business.
Since then, Carbono-14 has conducted about 150 activities, all characterized by a warm sense of camaraderie, the couple noted.
“Taking people out to experience nature in the middle of nowhere has resulted in all sorts of unexpected happenings but all have ended up making everybody laugh when we recall them,” said Granjamontis. “As for tragic experiences, I’m happy to say we haven’t had a single one.”
Carbono-14 also operates an internet radio station called Al Aire Libre, which conducts interviews with explorers and experts in fields such as mountain-climbing, caving and cycling.
“These interviews are real eye-openers,” Nora told me. “We learn about their struggles to master techniques, to refuse to give up. We learn about their fears, the ways they found to raise money for their endeavors and we realize that all of us have a chance to be like them. Many of our listeners told us they had imagined the great athletes were some kind of superhuman figures, but after listening to these interviews, they discovered that all of us are potential super-athletes.”
While Carbono-14’s courses are highly specialized, their excursions present a golden opportunity for anyone – including expats – to become acquainted with the extraordinary natural wonders inside the “Magic Circle” around Guadalajara.
Just to give you an idea what Carbono-14 offers the public, here’s their description of the next excursion, a visit to the Nevado de Colima on December 26 and 27.
“A bus picks you up Saturday morning in Guadalajara and takes you to El Nevado, where you have a choice of hiking to the top of the mountain with a first-class guide, or ‘touring’ the Nevado’s spectacular beauty spots. You spend the night in a heated cabin with fireplace, bathrooms and showers. All participants are insured and a person qualified to give first aid is present at all times. Expected arrival time back in Guadalajara is between 9 and 10 p.m. The total cost per person is 1,150 pesos. Participants are expected to bring their own food.”
What’s it like to go hiking or camping with Carbono-14? I asked Maruca Gonzalez, who has participated in many activities with Chema and Nora.
“They are really well organized and the spirit of camaraderie you feel on their outings will touch your heart,” she said. “I strongly recommend all their activities.”
Check out their websiteat carbono-14.webnode.mx. Their telephone numbers are (33) 3620-0673 and 331-835-7084 (cell).