Our area is riddled with trails for people, horses and burros and the various stuff they all carry. Cortés and his Conquistadores were led along some of them by Indigenas allies who were among those who had created and recreated these stony routes over the centuries. Sometimes we look out from our balcony and wonder just how close to our house ancient Indigenas and later Conquistadores passed. Our neighbors say that the Spanish dropped gold coins along the way and indeed, occasionally, they find one.
We have been walking some of these paths ourselves, first closer to home, and now further afield. This past Wednesday our friends Jo and Alberto, our dogs Rita, Happy and Cosi, and Jim and I climbed, jumped and were carried (Cosi) into the RAV4 to head West and a little north to the lower slopes of Cofre de Perote. So you can get oriented, below is a Google Earth image which Jim has labeled. BE SURE TO CLICK ON IT TO GET IT BIG ENOUGH TO READ! You can drag the big version to a convenient place on your screen so you can read the text and look at the map at the same time.
You can see our home, Col. Ursulo Galvan, more or less in the lower right-hand corner and then Rusia in the more or less upper left hand corner. Rusia is kind of mysterious because it appears you can't get to it by vehicle. But this of course doesn't make sense completely because there's a bus that goes to a town near Rusia from SOMEWHERE.
From our house to as the crow flies, is roughly eight miles to Cruz Blanca. As you can see if you can make out the twisting thread of road that meanders from Xico to Cruz Blanca on the Google image, it is maybe forty or fifty percent longer by car. The terrain prohibits anything resembling a straight road around here. And the roads themselves are dirt and rock, often in bad shape because of the rainy climate. There are usually piles of rock and gravel along the sides of road waiting to be spread yet another time in the Sisyphean task of keeping them passable. The trip up to the end of drivable road took us well over an hour. The top of Cofre de Perote is roughly 4 1/2 miles from Cruz Blanca.
Matlalapa and Cruz Blanca are high: around 7000 feet. They are in oak-pine forest, are poor and get quite cold in winter months. It is quite beautiful, but there are areas where it is evident that deforestation has not been good for the land. The Mexican government and especially the government of the State of Veracruz are very much aware and very vocal about problems of deforestation and poverty. While people complain that the state's efforts are sometimes clunky, they are nonetheless real and promising...and at times creative to say the least. For instance, on this trip, we found this large concrete tadpole under construction in Cruz Blanca:
It's tadpole shaped because it is to house a tadpole production facility. According to some people in the town, the tadpoles are going to be used in some sort of pharmaceutical project.
We met two kids coming home from school in Cruz Blanca. Every day they go down the mountain, leaving home at 7:00 am, and go back up in the afternoon. Their names are Erasmo and Mariela. They accompanied us till we could go no further. THey were helpful and curious about us, and, it seemed, experienced guiding folks up. The hike bothered them not a bit! Here's a picture of them with Jo and Alberto that Jim took:
We are going to look for Erasmo and Mariela in the market in Coátepec today. Every Saturday they come down to sell the crumbly goat cheese used on tortillas and all kinds of food around here.
That's about as far as we went before turning around. We'd gone maybe 3/4 mile, but it felt like ten! We reached an altitude of a little over 8000 feet.
This is looking down a small stream and into some new pines probably planted as part of a reforestation effort. There are a number of beautiful and strange varieties. Forestry thinking has changed in recent years. It used to be thought that you had to reforest and keep people out, but now people in the know about forests talk about sustainable forestry: planting and harvesting trees carefully, planting crops that do well in forests, animal husbandry that leaves the trees up. Not trying to keep people who have lived for years in an area away from what is after all their inheritance, but helping them use it so it lasts. It's a complicated issue, to say the least.
And finally, back at the car just as Cofre de Perote emerges from the clouds.