The friendliest town we have visited so far is Chalcatongo, in a region called the “Mixteca Alta,” where we received greetings and smiles from just about everyone we saw on the street. We had a short visit in the municipal plaza with a taxi driver who had learned English in North Carolina, where he worked in a carpet factory until it closed and moved to China.
In the other plaza, in front of the church, an elderly man with racks of footwear for sale called out to us as we walked by and asked if we spoke Spanish. “Mas o menos,” or “more or less,” is our usual reply to that question. Sometimes it ends there, but this gentleman was pretty chatty. When we said we liked his peaceful town, he said it was so quiet because everyone was in Yosondúa for the annual festival honoring St. James the Apostle. He had to stay in “Chalca” to mind his wares, but he advised us to go, and told us where to find the “colectivo,” or mini-bus, that travels back and forth between the two villages, 22 kilometers apart. (That’s 14 miles for you readers using the English system.)
All we knew of Yosondúa was that there was supposed to be a beautiful waterfall there which we had been planning to visit the following day. It was already mid-afternoon, but we decided not to wait.http://www.moon.com
Every village seems to have companies that operate colectivos or taxis running between area villages, or running to nearby cities. Everyone knows where the pick-up points are for the different routes, everyone except tourists like us. Still, we had to ask several people to direct us to the right corner where we would find the yellow truck with blue stripes.
The driver was a young man who has a brother in Oregon. He also picked up an elderly woman and two young ones who had been among the people giving us slightly different answers about where to find the colectivo for Yosondúa. The ride wound through a gorgeous, green valley, filled with hectares and hectares (that’s “acres and acres”) of corn.
Our tour book (the Moon Handbook for Oaxaca) had mentioned the waterfall, a church, and a hotel/restaurant, and having given it only a cursory read, I thought the falls were a mere 300 meters (that’s 1000 feet) from the center of town. But when our driver asked if he could take us there, we said “yes,” and that was a good thing.
If I had read the tour guide more carefully, I would have known the falls were more than 4 km from town (1 km = 0.6 mi., you do the math this time) and 300 m down. It would have been a long walk before a further descent to the trail leading to the falls.
A lot of people were already there, waiting to cross a suspension bridge above a deep gorge next to a spectacular waterfall. Although we had to wait for 15 minutes or so, when we saw it swaying back and forth we were glad there were guides limiting the number of people on the bridge at any one time. The structure is perhaps 100 meters across but I can’t say how high it is above the ravine because I didn’t look straight down. In the middle it felt a bit like a small boat in rough seas, so I was glad for the fence that made it hard to fall off.
After a scramble down the bank to a viewing platform and a scramble back up, we waited our turns for the return trip across the chasm. The others in line were all Mexicans, some tourists, some local, of all ages. Judy and I looked at the cable holding the bridge and concluded it must have been designed and tested well enough. We hoped we’d find a taxi waiting for us on the other side to take us back to town.
We did see a few taxis, but they were full or headed in the other direction. A group of friendly Yosundua residents said we could wait with them, though I was not sure what we were waiting for. After 15 or 20 minutes a pickup truck stopped and we all climbed aboard, reaching town just as the rain started. One of the women told us the bridge had only opened 2 days before, which explained why there was no mention of it in our tour book and why so many local folks were there to try it out.
By then the fiesta was well underway, with rides (operated by pre-adolescents) , arcade games, vendors selling French fries and pancakes, and a boys’ basketball game. We left before the serious drinking and dancing started, and found a taxi back to Chalcatongo. Looking for a bite to eat all we could find were a few taco stands around the plaza. We’ve been carefully avoiding street food, but in the spirit of the evening we decided to take a chance. We didn’t regret it.