Day 3 (Llano Grande to Amatlan): The sweet, earthy scent of warm pine filled the air as we hiked out of Llano Grande. The trail to Lachatao and its sister pueblo, Amatlan, crosses the center of the Pueblos Mancomunados territory with significant changes in elevation and vegetation. The first third of the hike was through dry pine forest, dotted by small agricultural fields. The absence of tractors suggested all of the farming here is powered by humans and/or animals.
The rich black soil clung precipitously to the hillside fields. We criss-crossed between trail and dirt road throughout the day, assiduously following the all too infrequent yellow trail markers.
Luckily we only had to turn around twice: once at a dead end with just a short backtrack to the correct trail and once walking in a complete circle that required us to complete a short, steep and sweaty ascent twice.
At one point the trail followed the ridgeline where massive oak trees vied for dominance with the pines. Countless epiphytic bromeliads perched on the oaks, their red flower stalks and purple tubular flowers perfectly formed for the beak of a hummingbird.
Openings in the forest gave way to beautiful vistas of the surrounding mountains, draped in rich green forest.
Late in the day, we stopped along the road where dozens of small birds flitted through the trees. Alex was the first to see the coveted red-faced warbler and tried hard to point it out to me as it darted from branch to branch and tree to tree. Finally, I caught a glimpse of it before it darted off again. But just ten minutes later, we were treated to an up close viewing when the bird perched on a branch just a few feet away from the trail, its crimson face shining in the sunlight.
We were still at least 7km from our destination and getting low on water when we came across on open cement box in the ground, in which a pipe carried water from an uphill spring. We stopped to fill our bottle, and I sat down to wait for our treatment drops to work their magic. As I stood up, I felt the tell-tale pain of an insect sting on my thigh where a small ground wasp had lodged itself in my shorts. Lacking any sting remedies in our first aid kit, I downed a Benedryl and at Alex’s brilliant suggestion, coated the area in Ambesol, which is meant for mouth pain, but we figured the lidocaine in it would deaden the pain in my leg. Luckily, it worked like a charm. (Yet, four days later I still have a half-dollar sized welt on my leg.)
We knew from the elevation profile on our map that there would be a steep descent at the end of the day. But seeing it on paper doesn’t truly prepare you for the knee and muscle pain you actually experience as you descend nearly 2000 feet over less than 2 miles in rocky terrain after already hiking 12 miles.
It didn’t help that the cabañas in Amatlan sat at bottom of town. Yet the setting was so stunning, perched on a north-south ridge overlooking the valley below, with views of two other aerie villages. The sunset on one side and sunrise on the other, it was easy to forget the hard slog at the end of the day.
Day 4 (Amatlan to Latuvi): We started the day with a hike back up the way we had come down the day before, past adobe homes and old rock walls, the age of which we could only guess.
In the center of Lachatoa, we found the quaint church we had viewed from above the day before with a little restaurant in its courtyard.
The town lacking any signs for our trailhead, we walked into the oficina de turistica (tourist office) to ask directions. “Esta el sendero por la calle?” (“Is the trail via the road?”), I asked. The woman turned from her computer and stared at me in silence, then warned me about snakes along the trail and the importance of a guide. I assured her we were aware of the risks as we had hiked from Llano Grande the day before. We just needed to know where the trailhead was.
“Necesita pagar por acesso,” she replied. We had not previously been asked to pay any access fees, but happily coughed up 200 pesos (about $10) to support this community endeavor. After handing us our receipt, which I tucked away should we be asked to pay again, she readily provided detailed directions to the trail, which required us to walk up the road and “a la izquierda al árbol” (“left at the tree”) where the sign pointed to Oaxaca. We made it to that tree, turned left, then promptly took the wrong trail, which led to a 2 mile round trip foray along an eroded remnant of a road in the blazing sun. Oops!
Once we found the right trail, we made a long slow descent to a beautiful stream, crossing an ancient Zapotec bridge, and took a break in the shady oasis.
This hike was my favorite during our time in the Pueblos Mancomunados, both for its beauty and its history. The trail traverses the river valley and is believed to be part of a Prehispanic route connecting the Zapotec villages in the mountains to the Gulf coast. Along the path, you can still see much of the Zapotec stone work. A few times we meandered just off the trail to explore old stone walls and foundations hoping to encounter an ancient granary or pottery shards.
The biological diversity of this valley was evident, from the stream side alders, to the hanging cacti plants to the diminutive orchids. Spanish moss blanketed the oaks, lending an ethereal beauty to the dry forest.
The valley widened as we neared the village of Latuvi, small agricultural fields dotted the landscape, last years corn stalks piled high. We met a few campesinos walking home from their fields at the end of the work day. The last brutally steep uphill climb to town, which is perched on a ridge high above the valley floor, necessitated a few silent pep talks. But the reward of another gorgeous vista laid out below our cabaña was worth the aching muscles.
Day 5 (Latuvi to Cuajimoloyas): I woke up before sunrise with energy, put on my warm clothes and headed out to the mirador just a few feet from our cabaña to watch dawn break. I heard the last calls of the Whip-poor-will as I was buzzed within a few inches by several bats. They flew so close that I could actually hear the clicks of their echolocation. As light broke across the valley, I headed back inside and woke Alex up for our last day of hiking.
Ever the adventurers (gluttons for punishment?), we eschewed our plans to walk the dirt road into Benito Juarez, opting instead for the mountainous trail to Cuajimoloyas. The length of the hike combined with the elevation profile (a punishing 2300-foot climb over the first 2.5 miles, followed by a gradual ascent to 10,000 feet in elevation over the next 10 miles) was daunting. But the lack of roads and people was too enticing for us to resist.
What we didn’t realize was that roads and people weren’t the only things missing from the landscape; the yellow trail markers were almost non-existent. We followed hand painted trail signs along the road out of Latuvi for the first 3km until we crossed the river where we briefly continued along the road until realizing it was headed in the wrong direction, at which point we backtracked (the first of many that day) to a small, unmarked trail headed straight up. We picked our way along an incredibly faint trail for the next 3km until we came to the next trail marker. “A sign!” Alex exclaimed. “Well I guess that means we are on the right trail after all,” I responded.
From this point on, the trail markers counted down the kilometers to our destination. But in between, we climbed over downed trees and limbs, mistakenly followed game trails, and repeatedly took wrong turns, which we estimated added at least 2km to the total distance of the hike and, more importantly, several steep descents and ascents that were not required.
Much of the hike followed the narrow spine of the mountain range, through a beautiful old growth forest of pine and oak trees and yucca plants (the tallest of which reached 25 feet in height). The understory, which often covered the trail, was a mix of shrubs, including poleo, the tea herb I first encountered in Llano Grande, bunch grasses, orchids, bromeliads, mycotrophs, and cactus.
This was by far the most grueling day of the trip, but also the most rewarding.
About 7km from Cuajimoloyas, the trail became a dirt track and then a gravel road through a mix of farm fields and pine plantations with small streams tumbling down the hillside. Although the path was wide and easy to follow, the last 1000-foot ascent of the day was challenging due to the drop in oxygen levels as we climbed to over 10,000 feet in elevation. About 2km from town, we were greeted by seven tom turkeys strutting their stuff for the sole female in the field. The jingle of bells around the necks of sheep intermittently filled the air. A herding dog left his charge to greet and playfully jostle us as we trudged up the road.
And then we crested the top of the hill with the town laid out below us followed by one last descent to the comedor where we inquired about a ride back to Oaxaca. We waited about 20 minutes for a colletivo taxi and rode back to the city in an overcapacity Nissan Sentra with Alex in the passenger seat and me in a makeshift seat between him and the driver. We were cramped and sore but enjoyed a pleasant conversation with Sergio, our driver, who lived in Iowa for 14 years and spoke excellent English. An hour and a half later we were back in the bustling city, with wonderful memories of another amazing adventure.
Sounds hot and exhausting, but love the adventure!
I have to admit hearing about all of your wrong turns did make me wonder. But then I saw the fork in the path with Erin pointing at both forks and I began to understand better. By the way which is the correct path Erin’s right or Erin’s left?
I believe it was the trail to the right. And I think they met up not far up the hill. That wasn’t the case with many of them though. AND the trails in the photo are remarkably easy to pick out compared to other parts.
Amazing hike. Your descriptive language and pictures make me feel like I was there (minus the exhaustion!) Thanks for sharing your journey with us.
Thanks Linda! See you soon.
Alex y Erin, I’ve just returned from Colombia, hiking, free-diving focus….bien viaje! Judd Beck
On Wed, Apr 3, 2019 at 3:47 PM Lower the Bar for More Fun wrote:
> alexanderintravel posted: ” https://flic.kr/p/RD72mP Day 3 (Llano Grande > to Amatlan): The sweet, earthy scent of warm pine filled the air as we > hiked out of Llano Grande. The trail to Lachatao and its sister pueblo, > Amatlan, crosses the center of the Pueblos Mancomunados te” >
What a joy to have news again about one of your adventure trips. I have found your observations on the relief, flora, fauna, architecture and traditions of a place in Mexico that I did not know very interesting. A big hug, Erin.
Thanks Alvaro! I am really hoping to walk another Camino in 2020. I will be in touch if I make it.