Saturday, June 27, 2015

XXV. Una Excursión en las Montañas

A Hike in the Mountains

Looking back to our big lake, barely visible just above the notch
Yesterday I spent another day in the company of some amiable (for the most part) gringos, this time on a hike instead of a road trip. The hiking group, whose composition varies around a hard core of about half a dozen, meets mornings every Tuesday—martes—and Friday—viernes—at Dona’s Donuts on the carretera, about seis cuadras from where we live.

This was the first hike I’d been on since we moved, although I’d gone on several others during previous visits. The trails are of varying degrees of difficulty. Some we can begin by just walking the short distance out of town into las montañas, and others require driving, usually no more than 50 km, to the trailhead. Each hike is briefly described in emails sent out weekly by Jim Boles, indefatigable organizer for the “Hike-queros”.

Jim, Doug, and Lynn next to "Turtle Pond"--our lunch stop.
Befitting an area that’s been continuously occupied for thousands of years, and to which paved roads mostly arrived only in the past half century, there are numerous trails. Around here the main ones usually connect small villages separated by high ridges. Shorter trails branch off to isolated milpas, or tiny landholdings cultivated in cornmaiz. Many trails provide passage to pasturages for cows, so we are wary of where we step. Just out of town there’s also a trail to a hillside chapel that passes signs denoting the 14 Stations of the Cross.

Another nearby path follows a steep and rocky arroyo. I had hiked up this way last February en route to the ceremonial ground used for a late-summer gathering of Indians from all over North America. Yesterday’s hike ended coming down this same path, and since this is the rainy season, crossing and re-crossing a growing stream interrupted by numerous waterfalls and pools, all of which had not been there in the winter.

Ruben, second from left, in his milpa with month-old maiz. 
Note the espantajo, or scarecrow, to Steven's left.
Our hike yesterday started with a thousand foot elevation gain mostly steady up (without the many zig-zag switchbacks I expected from experience climbing in Washington’s Cascades). Along the ridge top there were vistas down a thousand feet to our village (and the gated communities, and the Walmart with the bird rookery and sanctuary behind it), and over the wide lake to the mountains of the far shore, all mostly hidden this morning in haze. Later, there were clearer views in the other direction up to higher greening ridges, sheer rocky cliffs and one long thread of falling water. 

These young men are cleansing themselves
in the water which is like the the blood of
the gods who live in these mountains. These
are the second and third of five major falls.  
As with the Hacienda Hunt, the joy is not only in what we see and feel in the natural setting, but in the people we meet. Jim had made friends about five years ago with Ruben, who farms a milpa in a saddle somewhere along one of the twisty trails we followed. Ruben was growing his maiz, not to sell, he told us, but it was all to cook and give to his friends who visited him there. We, of course, were invited to come back at harvest time in about two months. Perhaps we'll join him then when he climbs a high and precariously balanced rock to dance on its top—a yearly family tradition that goes back generations...or not. 

Along with telling us proudly about his son who is a successful lawyer in Houston, Ruben also invited us to join him on a Saint’s Day procession in a couple of weeks between two nearby villages. This will also be a gathering of charros, or cowboys, and of course their caballos. Jim is going to confirm that date—always an excellent idea—and perhaps substitute that adventure for one of our weekly hikes.

And finally, on our way down the waterfall path we passed many families and young people laughing as they enjoyed the refreshing agua. One young man, whom we had noticed standing under the shower at the base of a fall, and who spoke much better English than our poor Spanish, told us that these mountains were the home of the gods, and that their spirits were cleansing him as he stood washed in the water. A good thought to carry back home.

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