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I Tend to Wander

This blog chronicles oddly-themed travel and food adventure in the Americas and Europe

Monday, February 09, 2004

lndigo Walk

I know, I think, where there is a road that was once an indigo trade route in Oaxaca, southwestern Mexico.

This would be the same path down which, 700 years ago, traders hauled feathers and jaguar pelts from the dry central valleys even as far as the Caribbean, over the Sierras and down their river valleys and along the folds of mountains named things like The Mountain of Wind, past towns, some once large, but small now, like Quetzaltepec, The Place of the Quetzal (when were there quetzals here?) and Guevea de Humboldt (was Humboldt here or were the villagers so impressed, they tacked on this homage?) trotting along, loaded down, all the way to the miasmic Pacific coast, and then trotting back again the 175 miles lugging indigo and cacao: crops for which this sluggish, kidney shaped backwater has been reknowned for millenia.

We think we know one of the trade route, now recently blasted and widened to a road through the beautiful and troubled Las Chimalaps rainforest, and we'd like to walk it, or at least follow it, through small towns like Quetzaltepec and Guevea de Humboldt to the once great indigo producing town, Niltepec at the bottom of The Mountains of the Wind.

The central valleys of Oaxaca are like a bowl. We'll start from the southwestern rim at the town called San Pedro y San Pablo Ayutla at the brink of the Sierra Mixe just beyond the Zapotec ruins of Mitla. Ayutla clings a wide curving slope above a green valley. The road winds though it past the market against the church wall, prosperous pink and yellow houses with tile roofs facing the road, their back ends propped on stilts over the valley. As you drive through you and the hillside curves, you can see the far end of town like a train going through a switchback. You can also see, Ayutla's neighboring town, Espiritu Santa Tamazulapan with whom Ayutla fueds bitterly and bloodily principally over water rights. Federal police line the road we'll take out of town living in tents, cleaning their rifles, and doing their laundry in the ferny waterfalls.

The idea is, we'll walk 40 miles from Ayutla to Quetzaltepec where the road snaps off and the forest begins. Then we'll follow a path that runs through deciduous pine and oak forest for about 30 miles with a few hamlets along the way. Then, we'll clamber up out of the woods where the road starts up again and walk 30 more miles down to Juchitan on the steamy coast. Then we'll collapse in a heap before taking the local bus a little further to Niltepec where the last indigo of Mexico is made.