How do you write about travel when nearly all occurrences are chance encounters… or at least the best ones are.
To explain to a person the love complete strangers show you, opening their homes and their hearts after knowing you for mere minutes. Making food, breaking bread, celebrating with drinks – salud!
I’ve been in Capulalpam de Mendez for nearly three days now, a place I knew nothing about with a girl I had just met. I’ve experienced more love in their town during this time than I have in the entirety of other countries.
The joy felt here is palpable.
You can physically see the respect they have for each other, for their pets and for their land. This is trickled down to the tourists who merely get the remainder, and yet it’s more than enough to fill your heart.
Here, you are taken back to a more innocent time. A time where you only needed each other and nature.
Back in Oaxaca
Two days later and I continue to sustain the endorphins from my time in Capulalpam de Mendez – a town I cannot remember how to spell or pronounce but will stick with me for the rest of my life. Read on to see why this place had such a powerful affect on me.
The History of Capulalpam
Like most of the information I gather, everything I know about this town came from talking to one of the natives here. Eunice (in Spanish it is pronounced eye-you-niece-say) was born and raised in Capulapam shared her wealth of knowledge with me over a cup of coffee.
Capulalpam, or Capulalpam de Menez, is one of 111 Pueblos Magicos (Magical Towns) in Mexico. These towns are decided by the federal government who spend time traveling incognito throughout Mexico then pick the pueblos (towns) based on favorable characteristics such as the architecture, environment, customs and art.
Neither the locals nor I truly understand why they are called “Pueblos Magicos” or why certain towns are picked, but like many things in Mexico this is just the way it is.
Capulalpam was picked due to their ecotourismo y medicina tradicional. There is connection here between the mind, body and spirit. The townspeople practice great respect for their bodies and the environment understanding the importance of these natural gifts we are born with.
Capulalpam has a communistic approach to their government which they have named usos y costumbres (uses and customs). Out of the 570 municipals in the state of Oaxaca, 80 percent of the pueblos use this form of government.
There are four community-owned businesses in the town – water, construction, forest and ecotourism. The highest authority is the citizens’ meeting where all government positons are unpaid.
One man per family is chosen to attend the meetings and work within the government. If there is no man in the family, then when a woman has a son he will begin attending the citizens’ meeting when he turns 18.
When talking to Eunice about traditionally having one man chosen to take place in the government, she explained to me that it is not “machisto” but rather “functionado.” Women can take part in the government but choose not to as it is more functional for the men to continue this custom.
Along with its ecotourismo, Capulalpam is known for their tradicional hospital. My friend and I visited the centro de traditional medicina along with one of the women who practiced healing from her own home. All of the healers we met were women. I believe this has something to do with the structure of the town. Men participate in the government and hard labor, while women practice healing. A practice handed down from the Zapoltecas.
There are five levels of authority within the town, like a pyramid, where every member must start at the bottom and can work their way up the chain. The bottom level is called the camanero or topil. The top is a single position held by the presidente.
Immersed in Magic
Capulalpam de Mendez did have a magical quality for me, mostly stemming from its tranquilo atmosphere. The town in tucked high in the Sierra Norte and surrounded by cascading mountain and evergreens as far as the eye can see.
I went with a friend that I met through the hostel, Courtney, who had immense knowledge on traditional medicine practices. Between her affinity for medicine and my love of hiking, Capulalpam made a perfect match.
For accommodation, we opted to stay in a private cabaña (cabin) which made me feel like I was back in summer camp. We spent the nights star gazing, eating galletas (cookies) and sitting in front of a roaring fire!
Nestled right on the edge of a mountain, our view consisted of a vast landscape of unending evergreens.
The cabaña was $550 MXN, one of the most expensive options in the town. However, I would highly recommend staying here as the accommodation lends itself as a part of the experience of the town.
As mentioned before, Capulalpam de Mendez was chosen as a pueblos magicos in 2008 due to their traditional medicine and ecotourism practices. During my stay, I had the opportunity to experience both.
Through my relationship with Eunice, I was able to see a local perspective of the town. I first went to the traditional medicine center and spoke with Fabiola, the Zapoltepec healer, about the different options offered at the center
Temazcal: A healing practice that first begins with a 15-minute sauna with mezcal vapor. The traditional sweat lodge offers a cleansing of the mind, body and spirit. Afterwards, the healer gives you a 30-minute massage.
Masaje: Traditional massage that focuses on pressure points and realigning the body.
Limpia: Limpia directly translates to clean. In traditional medicine, a limpia is a healing practice in which a doctor begins by composing a branch of herbs, flowers and other plants and bringing it across the patients head and shoulders. The doctor then sprays the patient with essence before passing an egg along the patient’s body and forehead, collecting the negative energy in the egg. After, the doctor cracks the egg in a cup of water to read the egg.
Susto: Susto directly translates to scare. At the traditional center, the susto is much like the limpia but specifically for people who are stuggling with PTSD after a tragic accident. The practice is supposed to remove the feeling of fear from the patient.
During my stay, I opted for the masaje and my friend, Courtney, chose the limpia.
Most of the tourists that come through Capulapam are Mexican with only about 5-10 percent of tourists being comprised of foreigners (like me!). This pueblo is truly a local secret.
When visiting, the Resaurante de Trucha should be at the top of your list! The restaurante is a bit out of town but well worth the walk.
Resaurante de Trucha is located right along the rio (river) and the trucha (trout) is caught on-site fresh daily. If you are lucky, you might be able to watch your dinner being caught.
In comparison to the rest of the peaceful town, the restaurant was busy. At least five other tables were seated while we were eating, comprising the most amount of people I had seen since arriving.
The table next to us was celebrating a birthday. After wishing the woman feliz cumpleaños (happy birthday) I was immediately whisked off to the head of the table and given a piece of pastel (cake). Every occasion is a reason to celebrate here and I learned that the family had come from the other side of the state for this restaurant (wow!).
With my little knowledge of Spanish, I could not say much more than “I’m from the United States” and “I like cake” but it didn’t seem to matter to them. Cuanto más mejor (the more the merrier).
Pleasantries and Pleasant Surprises
One aspect of travel that makes the experience so special is the hospitality felt from the locals. While in Capulalpam a casual conversation struck up with a woman during breakfast turned into an incredible friendship.
While dining at Verbo de Mendez Café, the owner and his daughter, Eunice, was kind enough to open the café early so my friend and I could eat and order some much needed coffee! We were delighted by the amazing food, the panoramic view of the town and most of all the diligent service.
Eunice helps her dad run the café and is taking English lessons in Oaxaca City. What was supposed to be a 30-minute meal turned into 6 hours of conversation (both in English and Spanish) about the history of the town.
She gave us great advice on what to do in the city, shown on her hand-drawn map, and we got to experience firsthand the love shared by the townspeople trickled down to us.
We agreed to go on a hike together the following morning and had the pleasure to meet her dad and pet dog.
Getting the inside scoop of the town, our hiking trail winded its way through the Sierra Nortes, through bushes, across streams, over logs and finally to an incredible viewpoint of the other side of the mountain.
I’ve been hiking my whole life and never have I seen so many trees! It felt like hundreds of thousands of pines covered the terrain we just trekked through.
Eunice was gracious enough to not only be our personal guide but we even spent the night at her home! She is an incredible cook and we feasted on homemade quesadillas, crepes and chiliquiles. The next morning, her dad drove us back to Oaxaca City, saving us from the 2-hour bus ride through the winding mountain roads.
I definitely felt the magic in Capulapam and understand how it was chosen to be un pubeblo magico. Whether you are looking for a break from city life or to visit the traditional hospitals you can find some peace of mind in Capulapam.
Enough about me, what travel stories do you have? Let me know in the comment section below.