El Sierra Norte

This past weekend was a busy one, four days in the mountain pueblo of Nevería, returning just in time for the celebration of Independence Day, which is on the fifteenth, although the actual holiday is the sixteenth. Returning from a town with around 80 people to Oaxaca City just in time for fireworks, parties, and tons of people in the street was a bit of a shock to the system, but in a good way of observing the contrast, rather than being overwhelmed by all of it.

Our time in the Sierra Norte, the region in which we spent the weekend was split between two small towns, Nevería and Latuvi. Both are part of a system of pueblos referred to as “Mancomunados,” which means that they all join together to form a system for ecotourism, which is what we spent our weekend doing.

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We stayed in Nevería in cabins that had fireplaces but acted like refrigerators most of the day. After the 70s and 80s of Oaxaca, the temperature in the mountains was a bit frigid. Still, one of the things Oaxaca is known for is its delicious hot chocolate, and it just tasted so much better in 40 degrees than it ever did in the city. We would start each meal with four beverage options- hot chocolate with milk, hot chocolate with water, herbal tea, or agua de sabor, which is basically fresh fruit juice. They’re all delicious, but my favorite was chocolate with milk, because they also brought us bread to dip in our hot chocolate. Needless to say, meals were a pretty popular part of each day.

The towns, aside from their ecotourism business, are mostly agriculturally focused. They have several large greenhouses where they grow all types of plants. Some of them, for example, beans, carrots, tomatoes, lettuce, and other vegetables, are eaten in the pueblo, where others, such as flowers, are taken into the city of Oaxaca and sold. As we worked in the greenhouses, Amalia, our guide, explained to me that the majority of food eaten in Nevería is grown or raised locally. There are apple trees and corn fields in several places in the town; many people have chickens, and of course, the greenhouses provide several different types of vegetables. As we worked, Amalia pulled a few carrots and radishes from the ground, rinsed the dirt off, and gave them to us to try.

(Below, Micah and Ellie try the carrots, Kaja displays her gardening skill)

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Corn is a fairly central plant to Oaxaca in general, and it was no different in Nevería. We had the opportunity that afternoon to work with a woman, de-kerneling the corn. She brought out several large bags of dried corn, and we worked at popping the kernels off the corn and into the bag. It was a bit harder than it sounds, the getting-the-kernels-to-go-in-the-bag part. They preferred to fly everywhere else, like in the face of the person working next to me, or the bag of someone across the room. There’s also a technique to getting the kernels off the corn, which involves using an already de-kerneled center of the corn in the palm of your hand to peel off the kernels. Some of them came right off, but others took quite a bit more work.



The following day we walked the 13 km from Nevería to Latuvi, a bigger town than the one in which we were staying, but still a pueblo. The hike took the majority of the morning, but the weather was good and the scenery was gorgeous. In the middle we were the only people on the trail for the most part, but as we got closer to Latuvi, we saw several other people coming or going, including a woman who was directing goats, which seemed like it would be harder than she made it look.


That afternoon (after la comida with hot chocolate and bread, of course), we learned how to make the bread we had been eating all weekend with our chocolate. It is a bit sweet, but not overpoweringly so, and goes really well with chocolate or poleo tea. We kneaded the bread, shaped it into small round loaves and then rolled those loaves out to about the thickness of a thick pizza crust. Once they were risen and baked, they were absolutely delicious! I think this picture says it all: IMG_2277

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Instead of walking back to Nevería that evening, we took a truck. Yes, a truck, with walls about 4 feet tall and a bed that fit our whole group somewhat cozily. We started out sitting, but what fun is that when you can stand up and watch the road and the stars? The lights from a larger town were visible at some points, and as long as we watched out for branches, it was a pretty fantastic way to travel!


Our last morning in the mountains, the sun finally decided to come out, which was perfect for our hike to the waterfall. It was about 3 km to the waterfall, which was just the right depth for some adventurous wading. Several of us in the group took the plunge, which mostly just felt like a really strong, slightly cold shower. But the water pressure was great!


The same day, we returned to the City of Oaxaca just in time for the independence day celebration to start. We walked toward the Zocalo, which is the city center and the hub for the celebration that night. At about 11, the fireworks started. And these were not like 4th of July in the U.S. fireworks that are a large field’s distance away from everyone else with the fire department standing by. These were right overhead, launched from the middle of the city, and as the fire fizzled out each time, we could see the little pieces of paper drifting down onto the people below. They were usually not on fire by then. It was definitely the closest I’ve been to a full-scale fireworks show! Unfortunately, we were so preoccupied with the fireworks that we missed the Grito, which is the big celebration in the city center at 11pm, and the word literally translates as a shout, for those of you who are wondering. Still, the fireworks were definitely worth it, even with all the sensory overload of returning from the quiet mountain pueblos on the night of a major fiesta!


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