Sunday, November 20, 2011

Hiking in Oaxaca - Benito Juarez to Cuajimoloyas

I love the outdoors, and few things please me more than hours of wilderness trekking. In Manitoba, the Canadian province where I lived for many years, I belonged to a hiking club. Since I came to Oaxaca two years ago, I’ve been in search of hikers.

I’ve met people who said they liked to hike, but I had no luck finding anyone who wanted to regularly venture into the hills and tramp the paths for hours. Basically, I experienced some talk, but little action, with the exception of my friend Joan. However, Joan and I travel a lot, and we’re not always in Oaxaca at the same time. The group needed to be bigger than just the two of us.

A couple of weeks ago I met my new friend Larry. I asked my usual question, “Do you like to hike?” Lunch with my friend Joan and Larry’s friend Anome gave birth to our fledging Oaxaca Friday hiking group.

When most people think of Mexico they think of cactus and desert, or sand, cliffs and sea. Few people envision lush pine forests. But, it is lush pine forests that surround the city of Oaxaca. Ecotourism is a growing industry in the state, and many of the mountain villages provide guides, and the opportunity to explore the Sierras either on horseback, riding a mountain bike, or simply hiking.

Last Friday, we, a group of four, drove the steep gravel road to the village of Benito Juarez, where we parked the van at the tourist office and asked for a guide. For the small sum of $150 pesos our guide, Aria, would spend the day with us. $150 doesn’t easily divide into four. I suggested we each contribute $50 pesos, which is less than $5 Canadian dollars. For surprisingly little money, we began our venture into the forest from Benito Juarez to Cuajimoloyas. It was uphill all the way. There was a time in the middle of the hike when I didn’t think I could make it. My legs grew wobbly, I had trouble breathing, and I was dizzy. We rested for a few minutes. I spoke to our guide explaining I needed a slower pace. With a slower pace I was fine, and when we reached an area that was less steep I experienced a natural high and felt great!

It took four hours to climb to Cuajimoloyas. We decided that rather than hiking back to Benito Juarez we would look for transportation that would take us there. My campa├▒eros, none of whom speak Spanish, believed we could easily get a collectivo or a bus. A collectivo, which looks like a taxi, functions like a bus. Collectivos have set routes and collect people along the way.

Neither our guide, nor the Cuajimoloyas tourist employee, spoke English. Therefore, I was the only person who could communicate with them. I was told that no collectivos or buses went to Benito Juarez. So, I had asked it someone in the community could take us. My friends, paying no attention to what I was saying, amongst themselves, came to the conclusion that either a bus or collectivo would go to Benito Juarez.

I didn’t know whether they lacked trust in my translation, or lacked trust in what I was being told. Either way, I was concerned. I didn’t want these nice Mexican people to offer a ride only to have my friends refuse the lift, believing a bus or collectivo would take us to our destination. I explained this to the tourist office staff person and asked him to hold off on finding someone.

He did what Mexican people are inclined to do. He smiled, nodded his head and went off to find someone. Soon he returned, pointed to a pick-up truck, and told us that was our ride. Fortunately, my extranjero hiking buddies complied. We got into the back of the pick-up truck and took a short ride down the hill.

It was a delightful day.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I loved your little story about hiking in Benito Juarez. I will try to go there tomorrow. Too bad I am not in Oaxaca on a Friday for your little hiking club. Good luck to you, Happy New Year! Jeff