Our original idea for that weekend was to go to the beach for a couple of days, but the massive tropical storm in the Pacific had other plans. So Omar from the school recommended that we rent a cabin in the mountains outside of this village that he'd been visiting since he was a child. If you're going to get caught in the rain, I thought, more fun to do so on the trails in the woods than on the beach where you're expecting to soak up some sun.
With very little persuasion necessary, we managed to convince Omar to come along with us for the weekend. Looking back, I think he planned to go all along, given how at home he seemed to be both in the village and on the trail.
Omar told me later that he'd known the little boy sitting to his left since he was a newborn. When you get to know the people of this village, it's easy to understand why Omar cares so much for that place. The villagers there are incredibly kind, their children shy and curious about this strange bunch of visitors that descended suddenly on their streets.
The people there are living traditional rural lives, raising livestock and living to a great degree off of the land. As I've noticed is common amongst the small villages around the area, there is an outspoken consciousness towards natural resources and the need to protect them.
Omar, dedicated to the preservation of traditional language and culture, is working towards bringing more ecotourism to the area in order to help support the people of Cuajimoloyas to continue living in the way that they do. He said the greatest part about working in such a way is that he gets to visit places like this and conduct business with his friends who live throughout the state.
There was a great restaurant in the town that served what I might consider to be the best food I've had in Mexico so far. We ate there twice in two days, and I think if I lived in that village I would go there probably every day, the food being as healthy, simple and delicious as it was. We were served fresh tortillas at least every five minutes, along with black beans, rice, green beans and nopales, the flesh of the paddle-shaped cactus that's ubiquitous throughout Mexico and the Southwestern United States.
After that delicious country fare we headed into the woods towards our cabin. The campsite is about a kilometer outside of town and is located on the edge of a large wilderness that reminded me a lot of the New Mexico pine forests. There were two main varieties of pines that weren't so different than what you'd find in any forest I've visited from East to West. One thing I realized during our night there in the mountains is that when you get into nature it's easy to forget that you're in a countryside that might happen to belong to this nation or that. The only language being spoken when you sit down in the woods is that of the wind in the trees and the birds in their branches. The first moments of holding still in a forest are those of total silence. Then, as your ear becomes accustomed to the relative quiet, it becomes loud with the many sounds of nature.
Looking out into the open hills is enough to make you wonder how we ever got obsessed with dividing up the world into arbitrary borders and territories. In the woods, that idea becomes absurd. As Eduardo Galeano has written -Perhaps one day the world, our world, won’t be upside down, and then any newborn human being will be welcome. Saying, ‘Welcome. Come. Come in. Enter. The entire earth will be your kingdom. Your legs will be your passport, valid forever.’
Or maybe Bob Marley said it best -Why can't we roam this open country?
Along with our small group of noisy invaders roaming in the woods were the livestock. The people of Cuajimoloyas let graze their burros, toros, cabras y caballos in the mountains, and I couldn't resist the opportunity to engage in a brief communion with them. Some were bewildered by our strange shenanigans:
Others, cautious but curious:
Some were very friendly:
Others, a little too friendly:
That last guy was a really nice little donkey, actually. I just made the mistake of leaving my hand in his face for a few seconds too many. The bandana around his neck, besides earning him style points, is there to protect him from mal de ojo, known in English as the Evil Eye. You've got to watch out for that! Of course, if you ever do get hexed by mal de ojo, you can make use of an egg, which you rub on your body, to restore your good mojo to its former glory. It makes sense, when you think about it. The egg, a symbol of life. It gets you back to the source.
We also witnessed what I think must be the biggest agaves I've ever seen in my life:
Once we got to the cabins, we spent a very long time - and all but a couple of our matches - building a fire from some wet firewood, after having explored the mountains awhile. Omar managed to find some mushrooms that seemed a lot like the kind we call "hen of the woods." They were very tasty, as was the tea we made from some leaf that he gathered that reminded me of lemon verbanum. We stayed up nice and late, sipped some mezcal, told a lot of stories, and saw a different set of stars in the sky than I had before, sitting at a different vantage point for stargazing than I'm used to. We also might have filmed an impromptu Bollywood movie, of which I have a copy. As much as I'm tempted to post it here for posterity, I said I'd keep it off the internet and I guess I will.
Leaving the next day was hard for me. And not just because the bus driver was hurtling down the windy dirt road at what I'd call a breakneck pace while text messaging his girlfriend.
A mountain village such as Cuajimoloyas is pretty close to my mental image of paradise. Maybe someday I'll move to a place like that and spend some years there, retiring or raising some children. Until then, I'm glad I took a lot of pictures.