Our First Big Trip out of the City
Maggie, the manager of our AirBnB invited us to join her and three friends to this big waterfall called Yosondúa. She didn’t tell us much about it except that was she was trying to figure out logistics of how to get there and where to stay overnight. She said it would be a long ride, but the waterfall was supposed to be amazing, especially with all the rain we had been experiencing. She also said we would be staying in these cabins that were built along the waterfall. For our first trip out of Oaxaca, it all sounded really cool!
6 Hours One Way
Early on Saturday morning, we woke up and started the journey with a 2 hour van ride to Tlaxiaco, a small town known for its market. We were there on Mexican Independence Day so the main roads were closed for the town parade. We stopped here to get some food in us (there was no time to eat at home because we left early). I had delicious barbacoa tacos. I was told the barbacoa was similar to Tlacolula where the entire animal was cooked in a pit to make the barbacoa. Its definitely a different experience than just eating a piece of the animal because they are getting meat for each taco by finding it in the cooked animal (rather than having a big pot full of cooked meat).
Maggie asked around for where we could find a van to our next destination, Chalcatongo. We were waiting to go to a very rural town from an already fairly rural town. To our surprise, and to the surprise of most of the locals, someone was actually transporting a baby pig on this van. An old lady just had it with her in a loose sack. The van company just put it in the trunk with all the other luggage. The pig was not happy while waiting for the van or when the van got moving but it eventually went to sleep, which was nice. I wish we had a photo of it. It was definitely an interesting memory of the trip.
The second leg of this trip was our introduction to how bad the rural roads are in Mexico. The distance between Tlaxiaco and Chalcatongo is only 50km or so (according to google maps). But it took 3 hours for the van to drive that distance. The roads are so potholed and full of landslides that all the cars have to move at a snail’s pace. I was told that this is worst during the rainy season, but it was just shocking how slowly we had to move. Once we made it to Chalcatongo, the five of us + the driver piled into a taxi for a 30 minute ride to our final destination, Yosondúa.
The entire trip was long but the frequent stops and excitement to see the waterfall keep our spirits up. Also, the landscape along the way was incredibly beautiful. In this part of Mexico, the mountains have this gorgeous exposed red soil. Also, as we climbed to higher and higher altitudes, there were views of mountains covered in trees as far as the eye could see. Unfortunately, most of the photos we took of these views were from behind van windows so they didn’t turn out that great, but the one above and this one give a good idea of the scenery.
Before heading back, we learned there is a van company that goes directly from Yosondúa to Oaxaca and back. So we definitely took that single van all the way back to the city. It was long and we were tired, but we made it. No connections needed.
Yosondúa is a small, very remote, village. There was absolutely no cell service and the only place with wifi was a small shop in town. The main source of communication was a satellite phone in the center of town. When someone received a phone call on it, the people monitoring the satellite phone would announce the call over the loudspeaker. Presumably the recipient would hear this, go to the center of town and call the person back. We heard announcements the entire time we were there.
We arrived kind of late on Saturday and it was Independence Day, so the market was gone and almost everything was closed. We found some policemen and asked them if there were any restaurants. They told us there were 3, but we only found 1 that was open. This restaurant was not what we were used to in Oaxaca. The menu was very limited, it had 4 items. Beef, chicken, and two fish dishes! We got some food, it was… edible and thats about all I’ll say about that restaurant. And then we went to try and find some groceries for our cabins. We found a mini super (which is roughly equivalent to a bodega or liquor store in the US). We got some beer and some water, but snacks were severely limited. We ended up getting bags of chips. We were already not looking forward to a dinner of beer and chips but we knew there were really no other options.
Maggie learned about romantic cabins nestled near the waterfall. They sound so cool and unique over the phone. But when we got to them, we all agreed that we had probably made a mistake. The cabins were very old, not well built, and not well maintained. The gaps in the windows, doors, roof, made it absolutely impossible to keep bugs out. And there were tons of bugs, most frightening of which were the long black millipedes. The windows that should have been able to overlook the waterfall had curtains that we couldn’t open because of the way they were improperly installed. Also, the “king size” bed we paid extra for was just two twins placed next to each other. The original double mattress was still leaning against the wall of the cabin. On top of that, the bathroom was full of cleaning equipment. They hadn’t even bothered to take the stuff out and place it in storage or another unused cabin. So yeah, it was not good. The next day we went searching for a hotel in town. It turns out there is one and its clean and its cheap. All 5 of us agreed that if we did that again, we would definitely do the hotel next time.
Confusingly, Allison and my cabin was at the bottom of the waterfall whereas Maggie’s and her friends cabin was at the top of the waterfall. So when it got dark around 7, instead of retreating to our spooky cabin for a long dark night with the bugs, we hung out at Maggie’s cabin fun. It was a bit hectic eating, drinking, keeping the mosquitos off of us and looking at the sky. But it was fun to just be in a group of people shooting the shit. After doing that, Allison and I then had to trek down the switchback road in pitch black to our cabin with the light of a headlamp and our cellphone flashlight. We only saw one dangerous looking creature, a small mountain lion or some other cat, but it fled quickly and we made it to our cabin in one piece. It was a long, cold, night sleeping with all those bugs around us . 🕷
The waterfall was accessible via a dirt road that led us through a forested valley with a calm river leading us in the right direction. This road goes to the top of the waterfall, from there we walked down a twisty road to the bottom. Its hard to describe how beautiful and powerful the waterfall was. Its presence overwhelmed everything. Before you even arrived at the top, we could hear it. The closer we got the more the waterfall dominated the surroundings. There was an amazing switchback road to get from the top to the bottom of the waterfall. The entire time we were being misted by water and surrounded by the crashing noise. It was incredible.
Near the bottom of the waterfall is a little tourist shop that managed the cabins and access to the rope bridge. But most importantly, it had a little patio. This was my personal favorite spot of the trip. On the patio, we ate, drank, and just chilled while looking up, down, left and right at gorgeous views of the waterfall and the valley.
There was a “rope” bridge that went across the valley right in front of the waterfall. It looked like a rope bridge, but it was actually held up with steel cables and seemed extremely well built, but it was still scary to walk across. It wobbled as we walked toward the middle. This wobbling was only made worse if there were multiple people on the bridge. But it was definitely one of the highlights of the waterfall. It allowed us to stand right in front of the falls and really take it all in. It also connected with some lookout points closer to the base of the waterfall that let us get right up underneath it. The rope bridge was definitely a key experience.
The next day, Maggie asked around and discovered that there is actually a van company that goes directly between Yosondua and Oaxaca. It was a 6 hour ride, but it was definitely nicer than switching transportation 3 times. So that was it on. On the second day, we hung out by the waterfall for a bit, then went to town and checked out the market. Maggie was in love with the market there. Then we got into the van and headed home. Once home, I had some delicious tacos al pastor and went to sleep, completely wiped out. Monday morning, Allison and I went right back to Spanish school.
¡Vale la pena!
Even with the long journey, terrible cabins, and less than healthy food for dinner, it was totally worth it. If we did it again, we would definitely do things differently. We would take the direct van both ways and we would stay in the hotel in town on day one and walk down to the waterfall early on day two to enjoy it. That would make things much more manageable. If possible we would also stay a second night so that we had most of the last day for getting back home.
Mexico’s van companies are incredible. Mexico has a very strange combo of a completely car based economy, similar to the US but, unlike the US, many people do not have cars. So this creates a vibrant private transport ecosystem full of high quality van and bus companies. The vans leave every half hour to hour to 2 hours for long haul destinations and the trips are very affordable. The vans are high quality, we had 2 Mercedes Sprinters and 1 similar Volkswagen. The drivers are polite and usually drive very carefully on the hazardous roads.
Mexico gets really rural really quickly. In California, you have to drive for many hours before you run out of cell service and its pretty rare to reach a township that is so remote that the residents have no electricity or phone service. Sometimes in the mountains? But even then, the only real difference is the residents have to go the post office to get their mail instead of it being delivered to them. In Oaxaca state, the gaps between towns have little to no cell service. And only 50 or so miles from Oaxaca city, the towns often have no phone service at all and use the satellite phone system mentioned above. I don’t know whether to think this is a good or bad thing. But I think it is definitely a defining characteristic of the people and the culture in Oaxaca state.
The night sky is incredible. I’ve lived my entire life in suburban and urban California. I’m used to seeing starts in the sky. But its obvious the light pollution makes a lot stuff invisible. Same is true in Oaxaca city. Yosondúa had none of these problems. Its a remote village, high in the mountains. We were also lucky that there was no moon. When night fell, we all looked up and were in awe of the night sky. It was absolutely incredible.