These places of water

We bounced into Hierve el Agua, a series of bathing pools set atop a frozen waterfall, after winding 10 kilometers along a dirt road with spectacular views of agave-strewn hillsides, and enough up and down to make we wonder if Wesley had the power to make it back out again. While Coconut and J were excited to be able to wear their bathing suits again after an extended break, R and I were stoked to get back to camping, so despite the instructions from the guy pocketing our entrance and camping fee to park on one side of the place, we decided to set up camp on the other side of the place because we could get closer to the cliff edge and have a better valley view and also we were closer to the cabana that Opa and PoPo rented.

The blue sky visible from our camp at Hierve el Agua

Family photo

Looking down on the bathing pools and valley at Hierve el Agua, Mexico

The bathing pools are filled with mineral-laden natural spring water. As it bubbles and spills over the curves and dips of the ridge, it evaporates and leaves behind the minerals which harden into bone-like spines and ripples. The texture and shape of the rock formation of the main pool, is so rounded, smooth, and creamy-looking that you feel like you are swimming in a cupcake. As the water has trickled over the cliff face for millennia, it has formed what appear to be frozen cascades, and trails lead down to the valley floor so you don’t have to fall over the edge to get a look at this unique natural occurrence. The pools set on top of this cliff top, with views extending over valleys with dirt roads carved into them like stray strands of spaghetti, makes for one of the most spectacular and majestic places we’ve been so far.

Mineral deposits dribbled down over the cliff face at Hierve el Agua over millions of years give the illusion of a frozen waterfall. There are bathing pools on top of the falls where one can frolic right up close to the edge.

J, R, and Opa take a break from a strenuous hike to the valley floor to enjoy a few laughs and the views of the frozen cascada at Hierve el Agua.

Life on the Edge

J, Coconut, and I do cannonballs into the cupcake pool to hasten the trickle process

The potential of this place as a capitalist venture is overwhelming. Think resort - glistening with restaurants, hotels, and chlorine pools, and supplemented with nostalgia hawkers, spas, hiking trails, and maybe even a golf course. Instead, besides the bathing pools, what’s on offer are overgrown and trash-strewn lawns, shacks stacked around the parking lot like a shanty town grown on the outskirts of the city from which vendors operate their food stalls and sell beer while the buildings meant to house restaurants and souvenier vendors sit vacant and neglected around the swimming pool which looks more like a museum exhibit of a polluted river - filled with brown water, plastic bottles and Dorito wrappers, sticks and leaves, and brown, shaggy things that look like doll-sized versions of Snuffleupagus from Sesame Street. If this place existed in the United States, it would have a fence around it with a no trespassing/danger sign posted every thirty yards.

Coming soon to a theater near you, be sure to catch R, in her superhero costume, save Opa from certain death in the "Zona de Abismos"!

Nevertheless, we loved it. This is Mexico, and we love that things are different. The view itself is worth the dollar price of admission, and one woman whipping up meals at her food shack made the best chorizo torta (sandwich) that I’m likely to ever have. As evening came on, the tour buses loaded up with day-trippers and headed back to Oaxaca, the food stalls were locked up, and we were left alone. As the valley darkened, a single homestead lit up over the miles and miles of mountainside making Hierve el Agua one of the most remote places we’ve been. And at about 8:30 p.m. when the school basketball game ended in the town spread through the hills above our cliffside camp, and the announcer turned off his microphone, it was also one of the quietest.

Vanamos horseplay

On Saturday, we broke camp and drove to San Felipe del Agua, a small village set in the foothills a few kilometers north of Oaxaca. San Felipe also has natural springs and is the site where the aqueduct that used to flow water to the city begins. We’ve enrolled Coconut and J in a school in San Felipe and R made an appointment for us to look at a house to rent. Then something happened that I don’t think could ever happen in the States - we looked at the place, liked it, and moved in - all within the hour. It helped that we had all our stuff in the van so moving in only took a few trips out the door and back again.

The house is relatively new so we can flush toilet paper down the toilet, and has three stories so we could each have our own floor if we wanted. As it is, we each have our own bedroom and bathroom. Having all this space would be a big deal if we had actually been living in Wesley the last few months instead of jumping from apartment to apartment. But it’s nice anyway, and if you were planning on coming to visit us, now would be a good time because we are going to be here for the month of November. The house has lots of natural light, and two spacious patios overlooking a bubbling brook that they call a river. J was excited that we would be able to fish the river, but then we saw it and realized that we would barely get our feet wet if we stood in it so we aren’t going to catch dinner, or even bait fish.

The place reminds me a bit too much of brick and mortar life, however, and sure enough, we spent the first days sweeping floors, hanging laundry, doing dishes, and going to Walmart. The nearest fruteria/grocery is a ten minute walk and there is no one across the street from us selling churros. In fact, there is no one in the street selling anything. The town has a bit of an uppity feel to it as well - it was described to us by one local in the city as the place where the rich gringos live - and all the shiny cars driving back and forth from the sushi restaurant have the windows rolled up and nobody seems to break a sweat, even those folks with their fluorescent sneakers and sweatsuits out for a jog. To remind us we are in Mexico, however, there is still dog shit everywhere and last night, there was a wedding celebration across the street that had the music volume turned up way louder and longer than it needed to be, and I am not just saying this because I am old. At one point, when we were still enjoying the party, J heard a song and said, “That’s my favorite Mexican song!”, so we all rushed over to the door and watched the people dancing and then as a testament to the volume of the speakers, we simply held up our phone to the street and after Siri identified the song, we rushed to the computer and watched the video on YouTube. It’s a song called “Madre Tierra (Oye)”, which means  “Mother Earth (Listen)”, by Chayanne, who can’t dance based on his puny moves in the video, but we can relate to the lyrics which are in Spanish, but translate as upbeat and positive and encourage us to enjoy the good things that life offers. The video is also full of Mexican imagery like colonial buildings and beaches at sunset that I might have missed if I hadn’t been in Mexico for the last few months. Anyway, R posted a link on Facebook if you want to check it out.

And, in the spirit of being grateful for the good things in life, I want to relate my one positive association with dog shit. We were living in Quito, Ecuador, with Coconut, who was five. Every day we would be on this steep hill and Coconut would weave her Razor scooter around the many piles of dog crap set up like slalom gates on the sidewalk without losing her balance, and using the back brake to control her speed. I was so proud of her and it’s when I knew she was going to be able to ride a bicycle. Sure enough, when we got back to Alexandria later that summer, she nailed it on the first try. That’s a true story.