editor’s note: the following post is from Billy and Kaki Burruss, who have kindly capitulated to my request for chronicles of their Oaxaca adventures. If you are interested in arranging a trip in the Pueblos Mancomunados, Billy and Kaki recommend Expediciones Sierra Norte.
Pueblos Mancomunados are seven towns that have united to form an ecological preserve. They manage their forests for conservation and firewood, they bottle water, and provide cabins and guides for hikers. At nearly 10,000 feet, Cuajimoloyas is the highest of the pueblos.
The area is also known for its mushrooms. At least two thousand species grow here.
The sun came out briefly, but by afternoon, was cloudy with wind. The walk to Benito Juarez was easy and pleasant. We passed two men plowing with a team of oxen, and a man and women digging potatoes using one ox. Our guide pointed and said, ¨There´s La Neveria.¨(La Neveria means ice cream parlor in Spanish.) “It shouldn´t take us more than an hour,¨ I replied. But Kaki said, “Look at that gorge between here and there.” We went down, down, down, crossed the creek on a log, then went up, up, up to La Neveria. We were both whipped and very cold. We splurged on six dollars worth of firewood for the chimenea, which warmed our fronts but did nothing for the freezing room.
We sat by the fire
Remembering cold nights past
Shivered with the thoughts
Slept clothed under four blankets
(Room with one double bed)
Ice dripped from rooftops
Bread dipped in hot chocolate
In Benito Juarez, we ate three wonderful meals prepared by women donating their year of service to the community. They cooked comida tipica, typical food. We are vegetarians and they prepared ahead wonderful dishes that included nopal cactus in salsa, fried squash, fried local mushrooms, and potato cakes.
Clara is in charge of the kitchen this year, and she manages between four and six women who prepare the meals and wash the dishes, sometimes for as many as 100 people. Her husband served as our charming waiter, dressing up and putting an apron around his waist. “He likes to hang around where I am to be close to me,” said Clara, laughing.
Clara shared her incredible story. She was born in Benito Juarez, and her mother died when she was six. She had the responsibility of cooking and caring for her two younger brothers and going to school. Her father beat her. At fourteen she married a man four years older who was constantly jealous and also beat her. At twenty, for the sake of her two sons, she left Benito Juarez and went to Glendale California. There she worked cleaning houses and going to school at night to learn English so she could read her son´s report cards from school. But she was homesick and eventually returned to Benito Juarez. Her two sons and grandchildren are still in Glendale. She lives in the house that her grandfather, mother, and she, herself, were born in.
Clara tells us about the transformation of her village over the last ten years: It´s not like when I was a child. Beating of women is not common. It is not thought of as OK. Today women do not have to suffer that way. Also, the men help in the kitchen, they change the babies diapers, and help with the children. We have only one or two, or maybe three children. We get the implant, (here she pantomimed a shot) from the clinic. The clinic as given us information that has changed the whole village.