On page 151, of our Moon, Oaxaca travel guide, by Justin Henderson he describes “a century before Bahias de Huatulco development was even on the drawing board, the cooler, greener Huatulco uplands were home to a community of farmers and fruit and coffee ranchers.”
Through other sources and word of mouth, our hosts Tony and Nancy, had planned a day trip for our second Tuesday, to travel by car into the Sierra Madre mountains and meet up with the proprietor of a coffee ranch near the small town of Pluma Hidalgo.
It takes about an hour and fifteen minutes to reach the town of Pluma Hidalgo. To arrive here one must drive west out of Santa Maria de Huatulco, passing through the National Park, then the University de Huatulco, over a handful of speed bumps (retardo), around twenty-five curves which leads past the intersection of the International Airport, and then you begin to make the ascent into Santa Maria Huatulco.
What we had not planned for was the traveling carnival being setup in the middle of town and cutting off our pathway. Tony honked at a gentleman walking down a street and says to him, “pardon senior. Que es Pluma Hidalgo?” He responded in rapid fire spanish and pointed that we must go back the way we came. Basically go around.
And so we did. Turning the car around in the middle of the intersection and rerouted around the street market tents.
About fifteen minutes outside of Santa Maria, we came across another detour in which we had to drive down into a ravine on a makeshift dirt pile road as the roadway bridge had crumpled and fallen in the last earthquake about eight months earlier.
Ironically the section of bridge which housed a red brick memorial to La Virgen de Guadalupe, was the only section of bridge which did not fail oo yr break or crumble and stood next to the remainder of the bridge now in the bottom of the ravine surrounded by construction excavators.
Up, up, up our small Fiat Mobi, travelled winding, twisting and crunching over the dilapidated roadway with splashes of missing asphalt in the middle of the road and entire sections which had sunk and fallen away in the earthquake. To caution oncoming traffic the repairers of the road painted white striped lines for ten metres heading into the approach to a side road hazard, then added large rocks around the outside edge and painted another white line on its edge including the rocks to denote the bad area. Sometimes if the stretch of road which had fallen was longer than 10-feet they would place large mounds of dirt on either side.
A bad area was typically 6 to 4-feet in width from the edge and 6 to 20-feet long. Large enough to swallow a hole, moped, car or van, if the hazard was not avoided. And if someone did fall into any of these side hazard holes, you would literally fall to an uncertain and most certainly painful death tumbling down the mountainside.
After maneuvering past the second hazard of nearly 5×12-feet at 873-foot into the mountains Tony decided the next time he saw the white approach lines on the ground that he’d slow up our Fiat to a crawl.
The Fiat Mobi, is far from a roadworthy mountain driving vehicle with its 10-inch golf cart sized tires, 2-inches of ground clearance and 1,000 pound gross passenger weight limit. The 1.2-litre, 3-cylinder gasoline engine with a 5-speed manual transmission holds a top speed of 62-kmph while traveling on flat roadway. However when climbing up a steep mountainside twisting roadway to nearly 1,400-feet above sea-level, it was struggling to achieve 28-kmph.
All along the roadway there were shacks for houses and roadside restaurants. Coffee shops and work shops. We were passed twice by guys on 125cc mopeds during the climb. Everywhere we turned the valley below continued to become more lush and greener as we proceeded deeper and deeper into the mountains.
All of a sudden Nancy spotted a sign on a pole with the words Pluma Hidalgo printed by hand on a board with an arrow except the sign was pointed down at the ground. “Shauna did you see the sign?”
No one else saw the sign. Five minutes later the hillside on the right gave way to a covered basketball court with one teenage boy practicing his shots. We turned and drove up the single lane roadway. Everyone noticing the asphalt had disappeared and a brick-like surface appeared.
Winding left than right we drove slowly less than 10-kmph, climbing the 39% grade up towards the centre of town. Houses literally clung to the side of the mountain. Nancy spotted douce grande perros (2 large dogs) up on top of a hill than began laughing when she realized they were actually brown goats!
Buildings were painted in vibrant green, yellow, orange, blue and browns, as we rolled down our windows smelling the fresh mountain air.
Passing a sign which said “centro”, Tony drove onward. “Where does anyone think the centre of town is?” he asked. Another post arrived with three signs, along a double pass going in the opposite direction. I pointed from my back passenger seat, “There. There is a sign pointing up the hill,” and he continued onward at the snail’s pace.
“Just ask the next person you see where the centre of town is?” and as she finished her sentence a woman and her child appeared. Tony lend his head out and said, “pardon seniorita. Que pasa centro Pluma Hidalgo?” A wide smile came across her face as she translated his request. Then explained in rapid fire Spanish while pointing behind us that we had to turn around and go the other direction to the centre of town.
A twelve point turn in the widest section of roadway we could find, all of 8-feet wide on a good day, the miniature Fiat handled brilliantly to this challenge. And back the way we came, we went.
Slowing down at the next intersection Tony saw the road leading up hill, as well as the orange and white clock tower. Approaching the square, we had finally reached our meeting point destination at the centre plaza of Pluma Hidalgo.
As we looked for a parking space a man came up from behind us, “Nancy?” he asked. “Hello. Yes.,” she replied. Our contact had arrived and pointed to his Jeep Grand Cherokee. “I will move my car. You can park there. And we will go to the coffee plantation… my name is Alberto.”