El Tule & Hierve el Agua
There are two natural wonders just outside of the limits of Oaxaca that deserve some extra special attention in my opinion (hence this post). Located just 15 minutes from Oaxaca’s city center is one of the oldest trees in Mexico and also boasts the largest waistband of any tree in the world. El Tule measures about 115 feet tall with a diameter of roughly 38 feet at its widest point. Having an estimated age of about 2,000 years old this gigantic Montezuma Cypress was stretching it’s roots and waving in the wind while the Zapotec civilizations were engineering their ancient cities nearby. Its monumental stature completely dwarfs the little church within the gated compound giving it a toy-like appearance in comparison. El Tule’s larger than life size weaves the story of its age and the generations that it has surpassed. You can almost feel the energy of the gigantic tree possesses when you scan the twisted, gnarled bark that bear the resemblance of animals with a little bit of imagination.
The entrance to El Tule pays for landscaping maintenance, upkeep, and constant watering efforts to keep it alive. Some literature claims that the massive tree is in danger due to nearby farming and irrigation practices that have altered the water table that feeds it. When standing in the shade of Tule’s massive canopy it’s easy to imagine the immensely large volume of water it siphons up through it’s roots. The town itself is very compact and centered around the church’s limits with plenty of local Oaxacan crafts, food, and mezcal tiendas found in the little Mercado and surrounding streets.
On earth day we made a trek for the little town of Mitla, about an hour outside of Oaxaca’s limits, to catch a collectivo for Hierve el Agua. Our adventure started off at the 2nd class bus station in Oaxaca, which consisted of a concrete canopy housing the front end of about 2 dozen banged-up buses in a large, open dirt depot complete with a pile of rubber tires at the entrance. After arriving in Mitla other travelers were tired of waiting for the camionetas the guide books told of and we arranged similar fare in taxi cabs for the hour ride into the mountains. After the first cab filled up with 6 travelers we got into the 2nd cab along with 8 other locals in the back. There were a total of 11 beating hearts in one Toyota corolla for an entire hour. If I could have grabbed a picture of this I certainly would have but the upper half of my body was hanging out of the window for the duration of the ride and it was best to hang on instead.
Hierve el Agua is a natural phenomenon comprised of an artesian spring high up on a bluff in the Oaxacan mountain range. It’s water is saturated with calcium and other minerals that has slowly deposited layers upon layers of calcium carbonate enriched with other minerals, giving the appearance of petrified waterfalls that are frozen in time. The park preserved this unique phenomenon by building two infinity pools where people can swim and soak in the cool, mineral rich waters and explore different vantage points for views of the cascades.
After enjoying all there was to see and do the reality of our transportation problem was at home plate waiting for the next pitch. There were a few small fees we were not privy to for entrance into the park and we had barely enough money to get back on about 2 hours of hot, sweaty 2nd class bus rides. With Elissa and the mountains as my witnesses I put it out into the universe that someone will be returning back to Oaxaca in a rental car and have extra room for us to bum a ride. We walked back to the pools to have another swim and to take a few cannonball photos when we were asked by a man named Matteo to take his photo at the main pool. Matteo was from San Francisco and traveling for pleasure and research for his Mexican restaurant in San Franscisco on a 2 week tour of Oaxaca and the coast. Matteo offered us a ride and off we went. We had great conversations about the experience of traveling, relationships, and taking things as they come into your life. He didn’t have time to visit El Tule yet so a wrong turn serendipitously brought us right back to the little town center on Earth Day. We quickly went and saw the giant arbol again before heading back into town. If you ever are in Bay Area zip on over to Taco Jane’s in Marin (http://tacojanes.com/) and tell Matteo that Dan and Elissa from Oaxaca sent you.