Week ending February 21st, 2010
The week flew and we found ourselves at the weekend. Joy’s birthday was on the horizon, so we fled to the mountains for a few days. The villages of Llano Grande, Cuajomoloyes and Benito Juarez, where the great man himself was born, were paid a visit.
Oaxaca sits at roughly 1550 metees. This triumvirate of villages are at between 3000 metres and 3200 metres, and the drive up is a lesson in slow speed control and awareness of road conditions. We didn’t care to leave the task to the local bus drivers.
The villages, which are part of a group of 7 mountain communities to the east of Oaxaca, formed an alliance 12 years ago to offer eco-tourism to the thronging masses. And it works really well. Biking, walking and horse riding are offered, with guides, or without, as befits the terrain. We opted for biking and walking. Views were literally breathtaking, particularly for an asthmatic like me. We surveyed everything around us for at least 50 kilometers. The mountains, the valleys and the pueblas were all within the State of Oaxaca. The central valley could be easily understood from on high, and Oaxaca and Teotitlan were clearly seen in the far distance.
The accommodation was lovely. Purpose built cabañas ranged around the villages, and featured showers and log fires (both of which were need on both nights) with beds smothered in blankets (which were equally necessary).
The villages were small and fairly difficult to reach, 30 or 40 kilometers from the mian road, though they all appeared to be self sufficient. One such even sported three basketball courts… The little houses, set at seeminlgy random angles to each other, and the little roads which passed them, reminded us both of Alpine villages. All cabañas had colourful gardens and vegetable plots, with marigolds, redhot pokers, irises, potatoes and beans growing well. Random dogs roamed the streets, but as is usual over here, they appeared bewildered rather than snarling, like in the other United States.
Even the occasional donkey was seen tethered, but always wearing a decorated saddle and bridle , chewing whatever it could find on its hillside garden. One carried its owner along the track, following behind two huge oxen with enormous horns, distinctly reminscent of the extinct aurochs of prehistory.
On day two we met the tourism administrator in the village tourist office in Cuajomoloyes who, in time, introduced us to Sonja, a diminutive Indian grandmother dressed in pinny and open-toed plastic slippers, sitting quietly on the settee behind us.
By now, we were decked out in our vibram-soled walking sandals, our polycotton, wicking trousers and our merino-wool t-shirts, designed to assist sweat control. Sonja, who was to guide us for the three hour hike, felt that our sandals would probably be suitable.
She retained her open-toed slippers, and her pinny, because instead of the lightweight Karrimor daysack that we had brought along for our drinks and snacks, her bottle of water was carried in her pinny pocket. We felt a little over dressed.
The walk was stunning and involved a climb through a rather tight canyon, which we thought might not appeal to everyone. The level of information supplied by the eco-company back in Oaxaca could certainly do with some further details… Had I eaten all my breakfast on that day, I would have had to remain at the bottom of the canyon as Joy and Sonja picked their way past the opposing the faces of rock.
Suffice to say we had a great time in the mountains, and the lack of rubbish that we encountered in the countryside was remarkable, and a sign of hope for the future of this lovely country.
We whizzed back down the shoddy roads to the valley bottom and at once revisited the litter nightmare that is this part of the State. Bins, and signs about not throwing rubbish do exist, usually, laughably, in the middle of a pile of trash several feet deep, and they remind me of the waiters who rearranged the deckchairs on the Titanic.
We arrived home mid afternoon and immediately went shopping. Joy is off to Guatemala next week and, because she doesn’t want me to starve, or get hopelessly lost in the city whilst she is away, she thought it prudent to buy me two weeks supply of everything, so that I wouldn’t need to trouble myself with things like crossing the road, conversing in a foreign language or having to decide what type of cornflakes I would like for breakfast. Marvellous.