Coffee farmers from the town of Yucutaco, Oaxaca. To get from their town and the hillside farms they either go on an hour hike or get enough momentum an a pickup to drive up the path like we did.

I made a personal resolution to myself this week in Oaxaca. I told myself that I would never complain about trail-maintenance in the Northwest again. Granted, the “trail” I was on at the time wasn’t a trail in a conventional hiking sense. It could be better described as the road/path/route that coffee farmers use to get to and from their coffee farms. The five coffee farmers all carried machetes, which proved their usefulness at many points in the journey.

This is the path the coffee farmers use to get up to their farms from the town. The machetes were useful to combat the overgrowth of vegetation. Yes, this is the same path that they used a pickup to drive all the way up to the farm.

I will back up a little bit. This weekend I traveld 3 hours east of Puerto Escondido with a team from another non-profit called “La Ventana” .Their organization performs regular studies of coffee farms up and down the coast of Oaxaca, meant to gather data on altitude, production details, and environmental conditions.  This data is collected and then reported to government organizations and other foundations trying to improve the coffee production situation in the region. In recent history the coffee producers have been very vulnerable to changes in price per kilo for their coffee. When the price for coffee drops, many coffee farms are simply abandoned.

Most of the farmers do not process the coffee beans they produce, reducing their profit margin. In other parts of Mexico coffee farmers have successfully diversified the items they produce in their coffee farm area, in order to resist vulnerability to market prices on coffee beans.  While Esperanza is not directly involved in the work of La Ventana, I tagged along to see more of the region and learn more about a potential excursion future volunteers/students might be able to do.

The future Esperanza community in Tomatal, Oaxaca. This is a new community, and we should start construction here after the New Year. They have the clary for their adoblocks, and are ready to start working.

After traveling 3 hours from the city in a wide variety of busses, vans and personal cars, we arrived at the small town of Yucutaco. From there, we began our hike up to the coffee farms. The farmers told us it should be an hour or so to get to the farms on foot. Upon hearing that one of the coffee surveyors was on a tight schedule, one of the farmers went back down to see if they could bring a pickup up the path. I thought this was a pipe dream, because the path was overgrown and seemed to be washed out in spots.

Coffee plant in one of the farms. The coffee is grown in the farm here, and then sold to those who produce it to be sold again to the consumer.

To my surprise, however, 10 minutes later we heard the sound of a car engine behind us. We got to the side of the path and as the car drove up the people in it yelled something to the effect of, “not here, further up we can stop”. That gives you an idea of the incline of the slope. We boarded the back of the pickup and started climbing the path. I can liken it most to the Indiana Jones ride in Disenyland, except with more elevation gain and without the entertaining orientation video. I have included two videos in this blog: one is of the pickup being pretty well stuck in the trail. The second video shows the renewed zeal in which they drove up the path after somehow getting the vehicle unstuck.

View from the base of the hike, in the small town of Yucutaco. The town is located northwest of Puerto Escondido, and it took about 3 hours to reach it by public transport.

I learned a lot about coffee production in the area, and it was really interesting to see just how well preserved some of these native languages were. All the farmers in the area spoke Mixteco, a Pre-Hispanic language, and we had a translator that translated from Spanish to Mixteco for the community meeting.

All-in-all, it was a very interesting experience. Before the hike started, I ate one of the traditional local dishes, a mole (pronounced mo-lay) with iguana meat. It definitely is a different world here in Oaxaca, and there are so many regional cultures and differences between them. I learned a lot this weekend, and definitely will not soon forget my trip up the side of the hill in a beat-up pickup trick. Check out the videos below to see what I have been talking about.

-Eric

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