The state of Oaxaca offered a very welcome change from the heat of the Pacific Coast. We drove narrow, winding mountain roads with breathtaking views, enjoyed the food, coffee, markets, and culture of the city, found a great climbing area, and mingled with rural villagers.
The Mex 175 from Puerto Escondido to Oaxaca is an amazingly sinuous highway, winding from sea level to over 8000ft along exposed ridges and cliffs.
The scenery changed drastically almost immediately after turning north from the coast. The dry brush was quickly replaced by lush forest and before long the road was winding through deep jungle, then as the highway climbed even higher the deciduous trees were replaced by pines.
About halfway to Oaxaca we came to the colorful little mountain town of San José del Pacifico, near the highest point on the highway. We had heard that this little town is well known for mushroom hunting, given its location high in the cloud forest its a great place for fungus to grow. We drove through the town and out the other side in a few minutes, in search of somewhere to camp. Just as we were climbing out a dirt road into the hills we came across an older gentleman walking along, who flagged us down and asked for a ride. That’s how we met Aristeo. When we dropped him off at his house a few windy miles from town, Aristeo offered for us to camp right there on his family’s land and we gladly accepted. For the next two days we hung out and chatted with Aristeo’s large extended family, who all lived in the nearby houses, hiked in the lush forest, and played with the children.
Everyone was very kind and quite curious about (and impressed by) the van, especially the children, who kept asking “What’s this thing? What’s that thing?” pointing to various things in the van that were mysterious and magical to them. Once they got comfortable with Hobie they were thrilled when he chased a ball and returned it, and when we showed them his trick of flipping a treat off his nose and catching it they squealed an wanted to see it again and again (to Hobie’s delight). This was our first experience really mingling with the rural locals Mexico and it was a touching and enriching experience. As we bid our farewells to Aristeo and his family we were asked several times when we were coming back and told that we would always have a home there.
The next few days were quite a contrast to our peaceful rest in the hills as we explored the city of Oaxaca. Despite both of us not being city people we really liked Oaxaca. Our campground was right in the city, in a rather yuppie neighborhood. We were surrounded by fancy coffee shops (with local, organic coffee!), nice restaurants, upscale office buildings, and grocery stores, but the area was quiet and it was an quick walk to delicious taco stands and downtown. For the first time in Mexico we found it easy to find everything we were looking for within easy walking distance. We spent one day exploring the old churches, plazas, and bustling mercado of central Oaxaca, and of course eating mole, one of the specialties of the region.
We also managed to find a great climbing area called San Sebatián Tutla, and met some local climbers.
Near Oaxaca we visited the small town of Santa María del Tule, home to the famous Árbol del Tule, an amazing giant cypress tree over a thousand years old.
From Oaxaca we headed southeast towards Chiapas, winding down another mountain highway. All along the roads throughout the highlands are agave farms and small mezcal distilleries.
We had a tough time finding a good place to camp along the narrow highway out of Oaxaca, so we ended up parking for the night (with permission) right next to the municipal building in the little town square of El Gramal.
From the cool, fresh air in Oaxaca we descended into the lowlands of the state, back into the heat. But not for long, we booked it through the wind farms in the breezy valleys of the isthmus (the narrowest part of Mexico), and climbed back up into the mountains on the other side, into the state of Chiapas, where we are now again enjoying the crisp air and rain.