I Moved To Oaxaca

Monday, November 10, 2003

I’ve been meaning to climb San Felipe, the mountain north of town, for awhile now. On Sunday I had time, weather, and health on my side, so Greg and I, following the directions in our Oaxaca guidebook, drove north to the bus turnaround in Colonia San Felipe del Agua. He and I agreed to meet back at the turnaround in four and a half hours; he drove off and I headed up hill.

The guidebook said that park headquarters and ranger station are a quarter mile or so uphill from the turnaround. After about a hundred yards or so the dirt road ended at somebody’s house. I walked to the end of the road to see if I could see which way to go, but all I saw was a group of raggedy dogs, who then saw me and ran over, barking and snarling. As I was debating which doggy head to snap-kick first, a guy came out of the house. I asked him which way to el cerro. He walked me past the dogs and pointed out a path. I scrambled up an embankment to a once-paved, but now washed-out road, and headed north. The road quickly curved down and around. I started thinking, well, at least I’m out getting a walk in, the road dumped me out at a parking lot with about a half dozen cars, and the little ranger station.

The guidebook also said to get a trailmap at the ranger station. Silly gringo! There are no maps, just a sign-in book, two rangers with rifles, and a little tienda selling chips and sodas. I signed in, party of one, then asked for the road to the top. The ranger rattled off directions faster than I could catch, but I did hear “cascada” and “derecha” so I felt confident enough to give it a go. I fell in behind a scout troop heading off on a hike; just ahead of them was another troop on bikes. The park was filled with families and couples out enjoying the day, so despite the doom and gloom scenarios most people spout whenever the words “woman,” “hike,” and “alone” occur together, I felt fine.

I quickly past the cavorting kids as the trail ran through the scrubby woods, alongside a creek. I kept my eyes peeled for the cascada where I was to turn right, but I didn’t see anything looking like a waterfall. But I did see lots and lots of flowers and butterflies. Lots. When I started walking I had my camera in my daypack, but I quickly got tired of stopping to get it out and just stashed it in my front pocket. (I ended up taking 69 photos, and keeping 43.) And as I headed along the creek I realized pretty quickly that this was a Mexican park: no maps, no information kiosks, no trail markers. And definitely a multi-use trail, open to hikers, bikers, horses, and cattle (including bulls). Okay, then! I passed a fish ladder and thought, could a fish ladder be called a cascada in Spanish, too? I looked but didn’t see any trail off to the right. Kept going.

After about two hours of following the creek and not really making much elevation gain – again, the guidebook said it was a 4,000’ climb, and I’d maybe done 200’ – I started to wonder if I was going to end up with some kind of 3,000’ climb in a mile scenario. But I rounded a corner and came to the real cascada, oh maybe a 50-foot waterfall, very pretty. A family was there ahead of me, having their lunch while their toddlers played in the water. I sat down for a snack and to decide what to do. It was 11am, and I’d figured I’d need to turn around by noon. And I still saw no trail leading out of the waterfall area, except a really tenuous scramble that looked more like kids looking for a way to the top of the waterfall rather than a trail someplace else. So I finished my apple, declined the family’s very sweet offer of a torta, then headed back. Since I knew I’d have time on my hands I made sure to stop and get all the flower shots I wanted. Got back to the turnaround just after 1pm – no dogs this time, though I was prepared with a stick and rocks – and waited for Greg to show up.

So I didn’t get the ham workout I was hoping for, but I did get a lovely little walk in the countryside, which is awfully pretty: woods, cactusy scrub, and riparian, all blended together. I didn’t recognize too many plants, an oak, some willows, salvias, and what looked like a buddleia. The rest were a complete mystery. Maybe I can find a decent plant book at the library.


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