Over the last couple of weeks, I made three trips into the mountains around Oaxaca. It can be tough going once you start to drive up the narrow and twisty mountain roads, but the reward is cleaner and fresher air, pine trees, and a bit of exercise. Oaxaca is a pretty town with a lot to do, but after a few weeks, the traffic and the pollution start to get old.

Two of those trips were hiking trips with Hoofing It In Oaxaca, a small company that offers a schedule of various walks each week, on Tuesday and Friday. The transportation cost (in private chartered mini buses) is 120 pesos, to which you must occasionally add local guiding fees and/or entrance fees to the land.

San Pablo Quatro Venados

On February 17 I joined Larry the organizer, his little dog, and a couple of dozen hikers (most of then seniors, all of them expats or visitors) for a mostly flat hike on a little-used dirt road near the village of San Pablo Quatro Venados.

For over an hour our bus climbed along a narrow dirt road whose turns got increasingly tighter but which provided amazing views over the valleys and mountains of Oaxaca state. It boggles the mind how people survive in such isolation. It must cost a fortune to truck all their supplies up there. The place had a school, but looked rugged and dusty.

We took a bathroom break (no running water) then started our hike on the quiet dirt road. The air was fresh and clean, even though the sun beat down as fiercely as in Oaxaca, and there was virtually no shade. Once in a while we would pass a house, a local with a donkey, or a proud-looking turkey.

Every time a car came through (which wasn’t too often fortunately) it raised a cloud of dust. Before too long my dark brown shoes had acquired the light brown colour of the soil. After about 75 minutes, we found a spot of shade to eat our lunches, then walked back the way we came.

At 1:30 school let out, and groups of cheeky children appeared on the road. We exchanged some “hola” and “buenas tardes” and I snapped a few pictures. The hike itself was uneventful and I met some nice American and Canadian people, including a 77-year old woman from Toronto. I hope I’m still hiking when I’m 77!

Llano Grande

On February 27, I went on my second hike with Hoofing It In Oaxaca, this time to a trail near Llano Grande, a village in the Sierra Norte mountains at an altitude of about 3500 metres.

Halfway through the two-hour drive, our bus broke down on the highway. We were told this had never happened before with this company. Cell phone reception was almost non-existent, but eventually Larry was able to place a call to a colleague who dispatched another bus to meet us. We were stranded on this mountain road for two hours.

Everyone took the situation in stride, slapped on some sunscreen, and started chatting with everybody else. We had planned a day outdoors, away from the fumes of the city, and that’s what we were getting, although not exactly the way we had anticipated.

Part of the group decided to go back to town when a mini-van coming in the other direction offered us a ride for 30 pesos (less than $3) per person. But the rest of us were too curious to see how the day would unfold!

Another bus did show up eventually, much less comfortable than the original one, but it got us to the trail head about an hour later.

The landscape that greeted us was nothing like down below in Oaxaca. The first part of the trail was a jeep track through a forest of tall pine trees jutting into the sky. The air was fresh, even cool, but the sun was hot, and pine scents drifted on the breeze.

Our local guide explained some characteristics of the flora that we encountered. Pretty soon we were on a narrow dusty trail along the edge of a mountain, taking care not to slip into the void. We came across giant maguey plants and trees with peeling bark (forgot their name). This trail took us to a vertiginous view point over the densely forested slopes.

Because of the time wasted with the bus break-down, we had to turn back and return to our starting point after less than an hour, instead of hiking the original three-hour loop. I still felt that the hike was worth it though.

Once back in town, I ended up on the roof terrace of Pragua, a local bar and restaurant, sharing a pitcher of sangria with Brennan, an American man I met on the hike. A very good conversation followed, but we both turned in early, feeling tired and in need of a shower.

I did another trip into the mountains around Oaxaca with Josée on February 20 using colectivos (shared taxis) to get to a site called Hierve el Agua, but this will be for another post!

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