Access + Resources
CLOSEST AIRPORT: Oaxaca, 37 miles southwest
GETTING THERE: From Oaxaca, drive east on Highway 190 to Tlacolula, north to D'az Ordaz, then turn left onto the small road to Cuajimoloyas. Contact Tierra Dentro (011-52-951-514-9284, www.tierra-dentro.com) for two-day all-inclusive hiking and biking tours ($85-$95).
WHERE TO STAY: The only lodge in Cuajimoloyas has four bunks to a room, showers, and flush toilets ($9 per person).
WHERE TO EAT: Food in Cuajimoloyas doesn't stray far from comida t'pica Mexicana: Rice and beans and chicken predominate at the handful of comedores.
THERE'S ONLY ONE PHONE in the mountain village of Cuajimoloyas. It was ringing like an ambulance siren when we drove into town, so I hung my head out the window to listen for the loudspeaker announcement: "Margarita Suarez," it echoed through the dusty roads and tapered off into the forest, "tienes una llamada...." An unconventional system, sure, but a fitting introduction to Cuajimoloyas's other surprisesand this peaceful outpost just 37 miles northeast of Oaxaca has plenty of them. Like walking into a crumbling building to find a small fleet of dual-suspension mountain bikes (with clunky steel frames and bottom-rung componentry, but double shocks, nonetheless). Or finding out that the villagers voted a few years ago to make "ecotourism guide" an official town-government post. Or realizing that the lucky man who currently occupies that post, Joél Contreres, moonlights as a researcher for a French scientist studying the region's enormous mushrooms. (This I learned when we were blazing down a trail and, without warning, Joél threw down his bike, dove into the trees, and popped out of the woods with a porcini bigger than my head.)
Over 10,000 feet high, with towering pines and peaks as far as you can see, Cuajimoloyas is a community of small farmers and woodworkers whose Zapotec heritage and simple pine-and-plaster structures bear few signs of Spanish influence. Cuajimoloyas and seven nearby villages constitute the Pueblos Mancomunados, a 27-year-old organization of mountain dwellers dedicated to protecting their shared forests and preserving their traditions. Tourism could be the region's best defense, with hope hinging on the more than 60 miles of hiking and biking trails built on the former logging roads and ancient paths that connect the eight villages. All eight towns now have basic lodges where bikers, birders, and backpackers can fall asleep on a bunk and wake to the songs of warblers and the orange glow of sunlight creeping into fog-filled valleys.
On my visit to Cuajimoloyas last spring, I counted two other gringos in town, but saw no one on the trails. Joél fried up his prized mushroom for our lunch, even though it would have fetched quite a few pesos at market. I promised I'd be back, and that next time I'd bring dessert.