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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
However, the walk is glorious and the upcoming Feria de Hongos promises to be even more than it was when I attended last year.
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.
In The Cloud Forest at San Antonio Cuajimoloyas, Ixtlan, Oaxaca, Mexico
Oliver Sacks, medical doctor and writer, talks about Oaxaca biodiversity and you can read about it in his Oaxaca Journal. He talks about coming to Oaxaca for forty years. You can also easily experience the climate range by visiting the Ethnobotanical Garden behind Templo Santo Domingo, where there is a sampling of the microclimates found throughout the state.
The cloud forest at San Antonio Cuajimaloyos, misty mountains
But, nothing quite matches the real thing — a visit to the cloud forest high above the Oaxaca valley floor in the Pueblos Mancomunados where eco-tourism is front and center. A packed dirt road (that could be called a trail) goes between the villages along the spine of the Sierra Madre del Sur mountain range.
I imagine the Cotswolds might look something like this
Here you will find rustic cabins, simple and delicious comedors with local food prepared in homestyle kitchens by knowledgeable cooks, and a range of outdoor activities to delight hikers, bikers, runners, climbers, horse riders, and zip line enthusiasts. Some people like to go village-to-village to fully experience the mountains.
Flower gardens and succulents thrive in this climate
Perhaps not much could be better than being up here in a hot summer, when ten to fifteen degree cooler temperatures prevail. But, this has been no usual summer and cool weather in the valley means it is much cooler higher up. But, summer has just begun here and who knows? I may head for the hills again.
A beautiful hill town with vibrant color everywhere
San Antonio Cuajimoloyas hosted a race last Sunday and I decided to go along with Eric and Elsa, since he decided to compete with his Oaxaca running team. That meant leaving Teotitlan del Valle at 6:30 a.m. for the about forty-minute (plus) ride up the mountain on a very curvy road via the Tlacolula intersection.
Under cloud cover everyone is bundled up
We passed Diaz Ordaz and the vegetation started to change: dense pine forest, huge cactus the size of a cow, leafy ferns with arms outstretched ten feet, steep hills, flowing stream beds, an occasional bull plowing a vertical field.
It’s an un-selfie. Too cold to be fashionable.
Atmospheric, colorful houses, tin and lots of weathering
As we ascended, Eric turned on the windshield wipers as we entered the cloud cover. It wasn’t really rain per se. It was more like a soft blanket of drizzle, comforting, though the road was obscured and we couldn’t see more than twenty feet ahead.
Elsa in front of a giant, non-mezcal producing agave. Brrr.
Road signs welcomed us to San Antonio Cuajimoloyas. The scene was like a diffused Rembrandt landscape painting, the subjects in the foreground sharp and those in the background fading out to a blurred gray in the fog.
Runners wait for the horn to signal the race start
Packed dirt path makes for great hiking, biking, running
We climbed the 45-degree angle cobbled streets to the trailhead where the race would begin. There were two groups: the half-marathoners and those running a 10K. At this altitude, 10,490 feet, I needed to stop for breaths even though I’m a seasoned walker at 6K feet altitude. My Fitbit claims I climbed 23 flights of stairs that day.
Taking a long stretch to get those muscles ready
Those assembled looked much like USA runners and those all over the world. They had on the gear: hydration packs, polypropylene shirts and shells, familiar shoe brands, caps and scarves for warmth. We live in a small universe with much in common. Perhaps some day, the current government in the USA will recognize that.
A running team posing for the camera
Racers gather at the starting line and sprint as the horn sounds
Gosh it was cold up there! Refreshingly perfect for exercise and to be in nature.
Taking a hot chocolate break away from the cold
While Eric ran (10K in 58 minutes, a great time for him), Elsa and I hung out on the main street in a cafe, sipping Oaxaca hot chocolate and dunking sweet bread into the rich liquid.
After the race, let’s have some water! He’s happy with his time.
By The Way: We haven’t had much rain here since I returned in late June, so I’m hoping the clouds will give enough moisture for the annual Wild Mushroom Festival held in August in Cuajimoloyas. (Who says there’s no Global Warming?)
Another finisher who ran the 1/2 marathon
Onlookers or are they getting their morning exercise, too
On the way down the mountain, a San Miguel del Valle border sign
A view of Tlacolula and Teotitlan del Valle from up high
Where Teotitlan lands end, at the border of Cuajimoloyas, in Spanish and Zapotec
Our stop on the way home included barbecue goat tacos for breakfast at the Tlacolula Sunday market, and home by 1 p.m.
Barbecue goat taco, Tlacolula Market
Eco-Tourism in San Antonio Cuajimoloyas: One to Three-Day Tour Operators
If I am missing anyone, please let me know and I will add them to the list.
P.S. This is not an endorsement. Please do your research and if you decide to go, choose a tour operator best suited to your own needs.
Posted in Cultural Commentary, Oaxaca Mexico art and culture
Tagged bike, biodiversity, ecotourism, hike, mancomunados, Mexico, Oaxaca, run, San Antonio Cuajimoloyas, tour operators, trails