Tuesday, March 28

A Leap of Faith in the Sierra Norte


A cool mountain breeze chilled my bones as I gritted my teeth and stepped up to the platform. What was I so nervous about? The harness was strapped on tightly and securely, the helmet fit just as well, and others have gone through this before. I’m not particularly scared of heights, but this moment was different: it was my first zipline experience. And not just any zipline, but one at the top of a mountain on the northern Sierra of Oaxaca, and about a thousand metres long. I felt my heart sink to my knees as I stepped over the ledge and lifted off towards what felt like an abyss…

It all started with what you could call a typical visit to the Sunday market in Tlacolula. You know the drill: a couple of friends visiting Oaxaca, they ask for recommendations for the weekend, we suggest the “Día de Plaza”, and figure “Hey! Let’s all go together!”

As expected, the market was bustling! Vendors installing their produce, head-scarved women with embroidered aprons arranging their chiles, a man pushing a cart loaded with goods yelling “Viene! Viene!”, the human corridor of women selling tortillas shouting “Blaaaandaaaa!? Tlayuuuudaaaaa!?”,  a woman and five children hurrying to reach the 11 o’clock mass — and all amidst a curtain of smoke from the roasted chicken and steamed tamales. We settled to have lunch at one of the barbacoa stalls inside the main market to enjoy a wonderful goat stew broth and tacos, the star meal at Tlacolula.

We sat on iron benches opposite each other along a picnic-style table. We ordered the large portion of barbacoa broth, accompanied with a stack of hand-made tortillas and served with only masisa meat, por favor. And why not a couple of beers to celebrate the outing? Two men across the table lifted their beers and tilted their heads down slightly as we received ours, and we lifted ours and smiled, accepting their embracing “Cheers, compañeros!” As we were finishing our meal, the first señor scooted closer and asked from which country we were visiting. (Was it that obvious? Of course, it was!). His companion bumped in and added that they were from a small village up the mountain here, a very, very close drive. They described the different activities their small town had to offer and we were sold; change of plans for tomorrow! We were off to Cuajimoloyas!

As described, the journey up was pleasant and not too long. About an hour and 40 minutes drive by car from Oaxaca, we took the road that leads from Tlacolula towards the village of Diaz Ordaz, and when reaching said village took a left turn at the sign that led up the mountain. After only a few minutes of a steep climb, we encountered a fair share of sharp turns, but it was great to pull down the car windows and enjoy the cool mountain breeze which came quickly after joining the mountain trail. Towering pines blocked the sun’s rays, and on occasion we waved past grazing cattle and sheep, accompanied by their watchful shepherd. Closing in on the summit, we could feel the cool damp air creeping up our skin, announcing that we had reached our destination.

We drove up to the main cabin indicating an information centre for the ecotourism activities at Cuajimoloyas. We were greeted by our two barbacoa companions, who just happened to be a part of the village ecotour commission. They happily set out to show us their numerous mountain activities: a nice hike around the forest, horseback riding, and what we thought was a very attractive zipline. Stretching almost one kilometre, the amazing tirolesa takes visitors from one end of the village to the other! We would have to hike up to the platform, as their ATV four-wheelers were out of order, but the weather was pleasant enough to decide it was worth the walk. I had never been on a zipline before, and my expectations were a bit shaken, as I’ve never been very intrepid for this kind of thing. But for the sake of our friends’ visit, we all agreed to try it together and enjoy the moment.

The hike up the hill was a great workout! We needed a moment to catch our breath before stepping up to the zipline platform. By the time my heart was reaching its normal rhythm, we were suited up with a harness and helmet, and it once again began to pound heavily in my chest. I watched nervously as my zippy companions took off, laughing along the way across the valley. I gulped as I knew it was my turn. Stepping up to the platform, the instructor hooked up my harness to the zipline and safety clip. Suddenly, a soft breeze blew over the mountain, clearing the path for my leap of faith into the thin air. Holding on tightly to the rope, I jumped forward and felt an emptiness in my stomach as the zipline moved forward. But in what seemed to be a split second, my soul came back to my body, as I experienced a sense of calmness all around.  The slide down was, in fact, very pleasant, not at all fast as I had expected. I looked down at the houses and farmed plots and admired the colors and textures from above. It was a great way to view the whole village, and in a few minutes, I was landing softly on a slope on the other side of the valley..

The visit to Cuajimoloyas was a great experience, both tranquil and exhilarating.  After the zipline and a hike in the woods, we stopped at the village comedor and enjoyed a great meal of nice warm vegetable soup and quesadillas, roasted on a comal over a wood fire. The woods of the Sierra Norte won us over us with such charm, its people so welcoming, and you will surely feel just as enamoured if you ever dare give it a chance to surprise you.



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