My feet are still sore but it was worth it. A hike in the Sierra Norte not even two hours outside of Oaxaca. I left the small Hotel Azucenas at 8:30 in the morning and by 10:30 was hiking up over a ridge at about 10,000 feet/3000 meters.
At that elevation in Oaxaca there are vast mossy pine forests, small Zapotec villages, clean cool air and panoramic views of distant mountains and valleys.
Hiking over the ridge only takes about 10 minutes and then begins a casual downhill stroll along dirt road, heading north between giant maguey cacti. The maguey are planted closely enough to serve as fences to keep wandering sheep and cows out of the corn and potato fields.
Eventually the road turns into path and eventually the path plunges 3000 feet/900 meters in about two hours. Down through cucharilla trees that look like palms, madrona trees with their smooth pink surfaces, oaks and pines covered with bromeliads and newly blooming stands of azucenas.
Los Pueblos Mancomunados: Eight small towns and hamlets – ranging in size from a few hundred people to over a thousand – have been been working together for decades.
Most conservation in the Sierra is controlled by indigenous communities. Many communities, notably Ixtlán de Juárez and the Pueblo Mancomunados, among others, strive to conserve their forest through projects including sustainable forestry and selective logging, ecotourism, education projects, and the prohibition of private property within their communities (thus hampering unsustainable development and industry) (thanks, Wikipedia)
Hiking the Sierra Norte at the end of June and beginning of July has all the splendor of springtime. After 6 months of virtually no rain the dead understory and dusty fields are suddenly transformed into a kind of natural wonderland. The world wakes up and turns green and lush. Flowers bloom, little tendrils from thousands of tiny plants burst out of the ground and the corn – planted in late February – is suddenly chest high and dark green.
There are newly sprouted plants that taste of anise (used to flavor mezcal), mint (used as tea and stomach medicine) and lemon (another tasty tea). Hillsides are awash in little lilac/white ground-cover flowers. Wild bean plants with vivid orange tubular flowers grow along the river. There are tiny yellow star flowers and clusters of white wild geraniums.
There are even two kinds of insect-eating plants that have, respectively, purple and pinkish white flowers. Each plant secretes a light slippery liquid that slowly dissolves the tiny gnats who land on them and can´t get away.
And that was just day one!!! Day two included Spanish Moss, rainbow trout, snake-like epiphytic cacti and plunging naked into a cold river.
Any time is a good time to visit the Sierra Norte but June and July are especially amazing.
For those with some Spanish and a little more time –
Expediciones Sierra Norte – will make arrangements for guides to meet you in one of the towns…but you need to get there, by bus or taxi, about an 1.5 hour trip to the closest of the villages.
M. Bravo 210 Centro, 68000 Oaxaca, Mexico
+52 951 514 8271
Tierraventura – will pick you up at the hotel, make all arrangements and translate for you – to English and a variety of other languages – during your entire hike. ( The local guides will explain a wealth of information about local plants, etc., but all in Spanish.)
Abasolo 217 Centro, 68000 Oaxaca, Mexico
+52 951 501 1363