into the Mixe district of the Sierra Norte region
for the races to begin.
as we know it in the Ixtlán district of the Sierra
Norte, may never reach the Mixe because of its distance from
the city of Oaxaca amongst other factors. However the Mixe
still has many of the trappings which attract travelers who
want to get away from urban life and see different and more
natural sights. In terms of material culture, the district
may in fact be superior. Certainly the drive, best handled
as a two-day excursion, has much to offer beginning just as
you start your ascent out of Oaxacas central valleys.
in store should you venture off with your own or a rental
vehicle for this 280 kilometer trek (round trip), are cave
paintings; cascading springs; meals so fresh that the roadside
eateries have no need for refrigeration; markets; by-products
of the agave plant such pulque and mezcal; pottery in a style
and color not often encountered in the state capital; and
on a daily basis women wearing unique, regional dress.
drive itself, without stops or side trips, takes upwards of
3 hours, beginning in Oaxaca and ending at the recommended
final destination of Santa María Tlahuitoltepec. But
its the journey which holds much of the allure.
from Oaxaca to San Lorenzo Albarradas, situated on the cusp
of the Mixe, takes about an hour, and is accessible by continuing
along Highway 190 beyond Mitla. The first sight of interest
is Xaagá, a small village whose main industry is loom-made
cotton scarves, shawls and rebosos, as well as shirts and
blouses, all wholesaled to middlemen or to merchants with
stalls in Mitla, Tlacolula, el Tule or Oaxaca. Xaagá
is also known for its 3,000 10,000 year old cave paintings.
For between 50 and 100 pesos you can hire a local to guide
you right up to them. The last several yards of the excursion
are a difficult climb, so wear hiking boots or running shoes.
Even if you dont do the final leg, the drawings will
be quite close to you and easy to photograph. You can continue
up the dirt road from Xaagá to the bubbling springs
and waterfalls of mineral deposits at Hierve el
Agua. Great for swimming, in one of two poolings reaching
just over 6. Unless you start out quite early, its
recommended that you stop at only one of these two sights,
perhaps saving the other for the drive back, depending on
time available. If its Hierve el Agua, its best
to take the alternate route by returning to Highway 190, especially
during rainy season, and in light of the ongoing dispute (an
inconvenience only) between two villages each claiming the
right to exact an entrance fee from tourists.
on Highway 190, after about 10 minutes youll pass San
José del Paso on the left, another marginal community
whose residents eke out a modest existence producing cotton
textiles. A few minutes later youll encounter two quaint
mezcal factories, directly across the highway
from one another, much more rustic and traditional than the
larger more commercial facilities catering to tourists, which
one encounters en route to Mitla. On balance, one of the two
small facilities will be in full production, with the ability
to witness a couple of the steps in the process, be they the
agave baking in an in-ground oven, a mule crushing the cooked
by-product, fermentation in pine vats, or the firewood-fueled
still with the purest of mezcal dripping into a plastic or
you miss the process, about 10 minutes further along the highway,
just before the San Lorenzo Albarradas cut-off, on the left
youll come across another fábrica de mezcal,
this one with a combined restaurant entitled Comedor El Tigre.
No electricity and no refrigeration. Not needed. A very friendly
family owns the place. Dont expect a menu, but rather
the mother or her daughter-in-law rhyming off whats
available for breakfast or lunch: memelitas, quesadillas,
huevos al comal, huevos con chorizo, chorizo asado, tasajo,
cecina, or a daily stew. All safe. Served with beans, and
of course salsa made fresh before your eyes and served in
its molcajete. Perhaps best of all is being able to pick up
a tortilla straight from the comal over open flame.
a kilometer up the road you´ll find a sign directing
you to the right to Hierve el Agua (by the alternate route).
The last 15 minutes of travel to Hierve el Agua is on dirt
road, but a new paved road is being cut through the mountain
Until this point in time in the trip the vegetation, since
the approach to Mitla, has been mixed scrub, cactus, and some
crops under cultivation, with agave predominating.
on the main highway, the next hour is spent gradually climbing
to Ayutla, the first town of any significance in the Mixe.
Vegetation quickly changes from agave to pine and other conifers,
and building construction from brick to wood. Large bags of
pine charcoal for sale pepper the roadsides. On the approach
to Ayutla, on your left youll discover the first of
two or three pottery outlets. Stop by, make some purchases,
or simply keep a mental note of prices since youll stop
by another further along and can always return to this one
on the return trip.
also begin to see trout farms, with large man-made tanks fed
with a continuous flow of fresh water from the springs higher
up. These arent for fishing, but rather for buying fresh
fish to take home, or eat in an adjoining restaurant. On this
trip we spent the night at Hotel Restaurante Tek,
located on the left, just beyond Restaurante el Epazote. Tek
served the best trout my wife has ever eaten, baked in a large
aromatic leaf and sealed with foil, with a stuffing of melted
quesillo, tomato, chile and other spices, and topped with
chipotle mayonnaise. The hotel, purportedly the best the town
has to offer, was basic to the extreme, with shared bath.
Take your own sheets and pillow cases. For 200 pesos a night
for a couple, though, it was hard to complain. Dinner for
two with a couple of shots of mezcal, a beer and bottled water
came in at 126 pesos.
this particular Saturday, there were bare-back horse races
on the outskirts of town, in a valley flecked with pools of
fresh water suitable for family swimming. Our hotel hosts
were kind enough to take us to the races. Unfortunately, the
main sight in town, the cascading springs which are apparently
in quite a picturesque setting, were inaccessible as a result
of a dispute over water rights between this population and
that of the village up the road, Tamazulapan del Espíritu
Santo. Sounds familiar, doesnt it?
is about a 15 minute drive from Ayutla. On the approach to
the village, on the left youll see another terra cotta
pottery outlet. The owner and her children are very congenial,
and in fact offered to take us to a nearby village where the
pottery is formed and fired. She also escorted us to the marketplace,
showed us around, and asked that we make sure to not miss
the pulque festival scheduled for later that Sunday.
youre finally in the heart of Mixe country and will
see women dressed in typical garb consisting of a dark reboso
over the head, white blouse in one of a variety of styles
and embroidered with tell-tale stitching, and either a long
dark or white with embroidery skirt with palm leaf wrap-around
belt over which a red, colorfully embroidered second belt
of cotton is tied.
recently there was no market day in Tamazulapan, the townspeople
attending Ayutla for its Sunday market. But now, as a result
of the dispute, Tamazulapan has its own Sunday market. While
traditional blouses can be purchased in the village at a reasonable
price if bought from the womens cooperative, theres
a better selection up the road in Santa María Tlahuitoltepec.
is about a 35 40 minute drive from Tamazulapan, the
last 15 or so minutes on a dirt road, winding and dipping
into the valley. Its market day is Saturday. The native clothing
referenced above is manufactured at ranches fairly close to
town. If interested in seeing the production process, ask
a resident and youll be pointed in the right direction.
Here, as in the other market towns, youll encounter
a fermented sugar cane drink and fresh pulque. Curiously,
mezcal is not made nearby, at least not that we could ascertain,
yet pulque which comes from a different variety of agave,
the pulquero, is a common beverage sold along the street and
in marketplaces. The reason is likely that the pulquero tolerates
a colder climate than the espadín variety of agave
from which most mezcal is produced.
any of the foregoing three towns and villages you can hike
in the countryside, meet the local residents, and be warmly
welcomed. Theyre not as accustomed to encountering foreigners
as are those of the other districts of the Sierra Norte, and
many struggle with Spanish. Youll find that the further
you venture into the Mixe, the more soft-spoken the people
become, strikingly more so than those encountered in the central
valleys of Oaxaca.
order of sights outlined above is simply a function of starting
in Oaxaca and arbitrarily listing stops in the order that
each village or town is initially encountered. By all means
design your own itinerary, consider market days, when you
want to stop at which restaurant and for bedding down, and
most importantly based upon your particular interests, be
they for craft purchases, hiking, or simply meeting and perhaps
photographing the local folk. Without a doubt well be
back in the Mixe, stopping in different locales, wandering
off the highway to the tiniest of hamlets, and assuredly reaching
deeper into the district, ultimately arriving at Santiago
Machaya Oaxaca Bed & Breakfast ( http://www.oaxacadream.com
and Arlene Starkman are passionate about Oaxaca. They endeavor
to retain their reputation as proprietors of one of the best
Oaxaca bed and breakfasts, Casa Machaya Oaxaca Bed & Breakfast
). Casa Machaya, a founding member of the Oaxaca Bed and Breakfast
Association, combines the attributes of quality Oaxaca hotels,
with the characteristics of a more progressive and personalized
Oaxaca lodging style: owners are on site 24 / 7 (its
and our home), always available
to guests as their personal resources, and willing to go that
little bit extra to ensure value-added service.
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