Thursday, June 06, 2013

Ecotouring Oaxaca: Cuajimoloyas

We've stayed at a lot of little cabins in the woods in Oaxaca, including the major ecotourism sites of Ixtlan de Juarez and Apoala, as well as the lesser-visited spots of Llano Grande and, most recently, Cuajimaloyas.

Last weekend, we met with 17 others people to trek around and explore Cuajimoloyas. This place is distinctive. You enter through the little pueblo which, for us, meant cutting through thick, gorgeous fog that left dewdrops clinging to young pine trees and vines. A roadside wood building houses the local agency where you sign in and pay for your access fee. Here is where you can also pay for guides to take you on the five-hour hike or the three-hour hike, as well as a few others. There is a zip line over a canyon for 200 pesos, or a shorter zip line in the forest for 40 pesos. Because we were with Oaxacans who know the area, we chose no guide and to stay in the more accessible part of the forest, which held cabins and even little wood shack comedors with women cooking blue-corn quesadillas and brewing Oaxacan hot chocolate (and even good coffee, I'm told).

Everyone sat down for breakfast in the midst of what felt like a relatively young forest--I'm guessing that we were in "recovering from clear-cut" territory. The kids discovered a series of pools feeding into each other, the classic sign of river trout breeding.

I sat in the kitchen with the woman working the comal. She told me she and her daughter walk an hour with all their supplies to reach the forest and cook at Comedor B-- (Bocadillo? Boquita?). And then she told me something brilliant. She said, "In two weeks, the first wild mushrooms will be ready to pick in the forest. Come back and I will make you trout stuffed with them." Indeed, Cuajimaloyas is the site of the annual Feria de Hongos Silvestres. People pour into the forest to spend the weekend, which is usually in July or August (during rainy season), to go on guided walks with experts that identify the different types of mushrooms and which ones are safe to consume.

Then her 10-year-old son ran up. He had been playing with my children and now wanted to show all of us the waterfall. We now had a guide, whether we had wanted one or not, but it felt lucky to have a local boy the same age as our children, taking us, stopping to play, call to animals, catch bugs, and point out sources of pure drinking water along the way. And I spied the beginnings of some near-fluorescent orange mushrooms, like something out of Alice in Wonderland.

We cut across pastures and saw bulls charging around playfully. Bright green frogs and tiny brown spiders hopped between tall grass and rocks. The kids played catch and release with grasshoppers. The walk ended with us sliding down a muddy mountainside to a modest waterfall, with just enough mossy boulders to bring out your inner mountain goat. The children insisted on getting as muddy as possible, and all pompis were good and wet upon our exit up the slope.

Sure it's beautiful and a grand departure from the more established ecotourism sites with their conference rooms and their adventure playgrounds, but what also make Cuajimaloyas special is also its incredible accessibility. We reached the site in barely over an hour's drive and were in the midst of the forest almost immediately. Our adventure was an incredible break from the urban life of downtown Oaxaca and a chance to see the impact of the early rainy season in all its brilliant green, flashy orange, and mushy brown.

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