Thursday, November 5, 2009

Arriving Ixtlan

We awake in a tidy, but roughly hewn wooden cabin in the village of El Punto almost 1000m above the Valley of Oaxaca. Outside the sun blazes down the lush hillside that leads to our cabin evaporating the thick layer of dew that has fallen overnight. We layer up in preparation for the remainder of our downhill before climbing back up to Guelatao the humble birthplace of Mexico's most beloved President, Benito Juarez.

From Guelatao it is a steep ascent to sleepy Ixtlan de Juarez once famous for it's cochineal industry. The Churrigueresque churches are the only testimony to the wealth that the highly sought after vibrant red dye of this insect brought to the area. Like Baroque on steroids the interiors of these churches drip with colonial excess. After silver, cochineal was once the second export of Mexico. It is difficult to imagine this simple town created so many millionaires.

Today it's wealth lay in the biodiversity of its surrounding forests. The WWF rates it amongst the 17 most biodiverse ecosystems in the world. All of Mexico's big cat species can be found here. Thankfully the Mexican government has invested a great deal in the development of ecotourism in this region and the surrounding communities take their role in this development very seriously.

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