A Walk in the Mushroom Forest: Cuajimoloyas, Oaxaca

My friend Debbie has been here for a week with her granddaughter in a Spanish immersion class. She’s a medical doctor. I discovered (in addition to curing me of my intestinal ailments) she knows all the Latin botanical names for mushrooms, since she likes to hunt them in the forests near her North Carolina home. So, I decided we needed a trip to the wild mushroom village of San Antonio Cuajimoloyas, up the mountain from Teotitlan del Valle in the Sierra Juarez.

I’m going to miss the Wild Mushroom Festival there this year, but wanted to cook and eat hongos silvestres before I leave Oaxaca for a while on July 10. Debbie, who has been eating out all week and is a great cook, jumped at my offer to take us to the mushroom village and offered to prepare any mushrooms we found for dinner. Granddaughter likes pizza and pasta. Dinner would be spaghetti topped with sauteed mushrooms and garnished with hard cheese. Hold the mushrooms for the pre-teen.

(Note: Hongos are different than champiñones, the common button mushroom that we find in all our USA supermarkets. Hongos are truly wild, uncultivated, and you have to know what you are doing to pick and eat them.)

Below us in the Tlacolula Valley is mi pueblito, Teotitlan del Valle

It’s about a 40-minute drive up the mountain from Tlacolula to an altitude of 3,200 meters. That’s 10,400 feet, about 4,000+ feet higher than the Tlacolula Valley. We drive through Teotitlan del Valle and San Miguel del Valle community lands. At a mirador, we stop to see Teotitlan del Valle just below us.

Debbie recognizes this one as a chanterelle … she thinks!
At the comedor, San Antonio Cuajimoloyas

When we arrive about 10:45 a.m. it’s chilly. Er, actually, it’s COLD. I was in three layers of lightweight cotton and could have used a warm wool sweater and a hat. Mittens might have been in order. A breeze made it even chillier.

Debbie stops to inspect this mushroom. Is it edible?
Debbie and I climbed rocks to get to Piedra de Colorada

I decided to stop at the ecotourism center. We joked about doing a Zip Line and then bailed on the idea, opting for a walk through the forest instead. Rather than doing it on our own, we arranged guide services, which cost 200 pesos for two- to three- hours and definitely worth it. It supports the town’s ecotourism and the people who are committed to preserving the natural environment.

Manuel shows us ocote, sap-rich pine and used for fire starter in all the villages.

Meet Manuel, who’s mom owns a tiny convenience store and comedor at the entrance to town. He was our leader, equipped with a walkie-talkie and knowledge of local vegetation. Manuel took us into areas I had never been before, up and over barbed wire fencing, through wildflower meadows and fields of grazing goats.

A small piece of ocote to start my grill, anafre. Today, hamburgers, apples, potatoes.
A field of potato plants. Up here it’s still spring time.
Palo de aguila is prized as a natural dye — alderwood — gives a lovely rose color

As we walked, we warmed up. Now, closer to noon, the clouds had moved away and while it was still chilly, it was comfortable since the first hour of the walk was horizontal or downhill. I noted that what goes down must come up. And the last 45-minutes to hike out of the community-owned forest was a struggle for me at this altitude, even though I’m now a seasoned walker!

Granddaughter resting … really, she’s content!
Wildflowers are prolific throughout the mountains now
Blue is the most difficult to find in nature, I learned from NC State student David Denton

I pulled the soy grande card and asked Manuel if he would rescue us from the remaining 30- minute grand finale stretch laid out before us at a 90-degree incline. I handed him my car keys. By then, we were on the road between Cuajimoloyas and Llano Grande. I had to stop every five minutes to catch my breath. I’m reconsidering going to Peru!

Teotitlan weavers who work in natural dyes go here to collect moss
We eat these here, Manuel says
Debbie atop Piedra de Colorado — really high!
Saying hello to a mushroom hunter

However, the walk is glorious and the upcoming Feria de Hongos promises to be even more than it was when I attended last year.

Stone-ground masa becomes the tortilla for quesadilla with hongos and tasajo

We finished the day eating a comida of tasajo and quesadillas at the comedor, completely satisfied with the adventure, and left town with a big bag of wild mushrooms, and locally grown organic potatoes, apples and peaches.

Dinner is pasta with wild mushrooms sautéed in butter and olive oil
Look at the size of this maguey …
Complexity and beauty of the forest

16 responses to “A Walk in the Mushroom Forest: Cuajimoloyas, Oaxaca

  1. Norma, looks like a wonderful tour. Have you read Oliver Sacks Oaxaca Journal? It’s not about mushrooms but a wonderful journal by the most lovely neuroscientist as he traveled Oaxaca seeking ferns and experiences with other folks. If you haven’t read it I will bring you my copy next week.
    Besos,
    Jenny

  2. Thank you for the great fotos & the info on mushrooms, dyes, & life in the clouds — your posts are always informative.
    Did Debbie really cure your intestinal problem? I’ve been thinking of you, worrying about you & how LONG it’s been going on! (I think the first post that I read where you mentioned the problem was in January?) What did she recommend? What did she have you do? I hope it’s the real cure because I know from experience how debilitating intestinal problems can be.
    Have a good trip to Peru! — Kathleen

    • Hi Kathleen. Debbie recommend des I take Flagyl which is available here as a generic over-the-counter. Yes! I’m about back to normal after almost a year of living miserably and multiple doctor visits and diet regimens. So, yes, Debbie cured me.

  3. Jennifer Brinitzer

    Norma have you read Oliver Sacks Oaxaca Journal? It’s not specifically about mushrooms but it’s an amazing journal by a sorely missed and gentle observer of plants and humans.
    If you haven’t read it I will bring you my copy next week! It’s a lovely read and I think it would really resonate with you.

  4. How beautiful and how brave of you to do this journey…. the altitude would b e a deterrent for us, but can you tell us when the mushroom festival actually is.. Last year we purchased unique and magnificent mushrooms on the road to Ixtlan… Gracias

  5. Wow ! I was out of breath for you . Beautiful Norma and such wonders we have in nature. Hermoso todo, amiga. Love the trips and one day hope to visit you in Teotitlan Del Valle.

  6. What an adventure! Great photos and story.

  7. Wonderful photos, thank you! I have happy memories of walking and horseback riding in Benito Juarez, and catching a ride back down to the valley in a pickup on a foggy morning in Cuajimoloyas. Hope I can return. Lucky you to live there!

  8. So interesting! Great photos! I love la mujer en el comador. Peru? We’re still adjusting to the altitude here in Ajijic.

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