The sunburned shoulders have turned brown and the leg muscles are no longer sore. I’ve fully recovered from last Sunday’s annual Día de la Santa Cruz (Day of the Holy Cross) hike up Cerro Picacho (in zapoteco, Quie Guia Betz), the sacred mountain in Teotitlán del Valle.
All that remains, are memories and photographs from another lovely, if strenuous, day. The cicadas (cigarras or chicharras, en español) again provided the soundtrack, as we wound our way up the trail from the presa (dam). The climb begins rather benignly but rapidly gets steeper and steeper. That little speck in the lower right of the photo below is the car — and this was less than a tenth of the way to the summit!
At 10 AM, when we began our ascent, it was already hot and experience told us shade trees were few and far between. We were the only extranjeros (foreigners) on the trail and were frequently passed by Teotitecos (people from Teotitlán) going up and coming down and never failing to greet us with “buenos días.” After several rest and water sipping breaks, we eventually reached our destination.
This 2.9 mile (4.7 km) hike took us from 5,750 feet (1,752 meters) to 6,830 feet (2,082 meters). However, once we arrived, we were immediately offered much-needed and appreciated cups of agua de jamaica (hibiscus water) and later we were fed amarillo tamales pulled from steaming pots in the makeshift kitchen. No doubt, the gals in this alfresco cocina appreciated the newly constructed shade structure and counter that had been bolted into the side of the mountain, as I’m sure did the young man who sat down to serenade us.
However, the best was yet to come — the spectacular views of the village and the mountains beyond that unfold when one reaches the summit.
Even more overwhelming is the sense of oneness with the natural world and with generations of Zapotecos who have been climbing and honoring El Picacho for thousands of years.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, May 3 is Día de la Santa Cruz. The committee members who organize Teotitlán’s celebration change from year to year, so each year takes on a slightly different character. This year brought the newly built kitchen space and, unlike last year, no foot race up the mountain and the absence of massive speakers blasting music — for which we were grateful!
Three permanent crosses can be found atop Picacho and for Día de la Santa Cruz, all were decorated with fragrant garlands of frangipani blossoms. A cross of concrete and stone crowns an altar and two wooden crosses, which I’ve been told were carved in Chiapas, preside above the altar and look out over the valley.
Teotitlán (Teocaltitlán, in náhuatl) means “land of the gods.” Sitting on top of Cerro Picacho, it certainly felt as if I was indeed gazing out at the land of the gods.
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