Sometimes when traveling, I do too much or am over stimulated by the masses of humanity in which I’ve immersed myself. In such cases, the only way to regain my equilibrium, to get my second wind to be able continue what still is a fantastic trip, I need to escape. During my trip to Mexico, I spent several days in the region of Oaxaca. While there, I decided at the last minute to take a side-trip to the Sierra Norte for some much needed quiet and nature.

The Sierra Norte is a mountainous wooded region and it holds a group of villages called Los Pueblos Mancomunados. They reside at an altitude between 6,560 and 10,170 feet, so some of the villages are even higher than Mexico City. The region is pretty fantastic if you’re a nature lover. Apparently, there are six cat species (including the jaguar), animals such as monkeys and tapirs, hundreds of bird species, and one of the world’s oldest ecosystems. Unfortunately for me, besides hiking through said ecosystem, I didn’t seen any of the fauna but that is no surprise – finding animals while hiking can be quite the hunt (non-killing version, thanks).

My hike started at a village called Latuvi and took about 3 hours to wander 12km. The trail was called the Camino Real. I walked with two Americans and a guide who was fantastic about explaining the history of the area. In pre-Hispanic times, the whole of Mesoamerica was connected by trading routes and one of these routes connected the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Coast, via Oaxaca. The Camino Real we hiked was part of that route – you can feel the history as you walk the trail; the ancient vegetation, the wispy Spanish moss, and the tin-roofed shacks all conspire to make you feel as you’ve stepped back in time. At one point of the hike, the ambiance was further enhanced by a suddenly-appeared packhorse train trekking back towards Latuvi. The mystical mood was shattered when one of the colts decided to be frisky but then fell off the trail into a shallow valley – I could have sworn he seemed sheepish as he clambered back up the small embankment to find his mommy…

The Camino Real hike is a great way to experience the ancient vegetation of the Oaxaca region. I saw tons of Spanish moss, a wide variety of cacti, and many plants I have never seen before. There are also scattered remains of human life such as old walls that used to mark the boundaries of small farms, stone bridges over water ways, shrines to the Virgin Mary, and farming shacks used only during harvest season. The last occurs because the farmers tend to live in one of the Pueblos Mancomunados like Latuvi and then live in the shack when it is time to harvest their crops. It really is a different world in the Sierra Norte!