Where to eat, sleep and get some peace in Oaxaca’s magic mushroom town
Between Oaxaca city and the pacific coast there is a notoriously precarious road through the mountains. Midway through the journey is a town called San José del Pacífico, which is known for its cabins tucked into dense pine tree forests, and the only species of magic mushrooms endemic to Mexico. There is also a tattoo artist here who inks hummingbirds and cactus flowers and triangles into constellations. In the same studio you can find his wife’s apothecary: body oils and serums that smell like the warm breeze outside their family cabin in the woods. There is also a roadside restaurant where chilacayote lounges on the porch outside, and the cook inside makes a silky yellow mole that put to shame any version I had in Oaxaca city. The town is strewn across the highway about 8,000 feet above sea level, so if you come just remember to bundle up and let the mist or the hallucinogens roll over you.
Thanks to Omar (Oaxacking) for taking me on this adventure.
Where to eat:
At this restaurant you’ll find a crop of watermelon shaped squash called chilacayote guarding the door, a nursery’s worth of cactus plants for sale, and ponchos and yarn tchotchkes hanging inside like Christmas tinsel. As with a lot of places to eat on the side of the road anywhere, the menu is told to you with a few options for the day. I was torn between the chicken soup and beef with yellow mole. The later satisfied my yearning for a good mole. It was earthy with subtle heat and tender hunks of beef, potatoes and carrots. If there is a more perfect drink to have in the mountains than atole with panela, please send it my way (and yes, mezcal is pretty good too except that the altitude will get you much more drunk than you thought you were gonna be which I learned when I slithered from the bathroom floor to bed later that night).
San Mateo Rio Hondo
Down the road a ways there is another town, called San Mateo Rio Hondo, where vines grow out of an abandoned church wall, the stairs still there but leading to nowhere. The town feels plugged into the hillside, the red dirt sprouting tall purple and red flowers.
There’s a juice bar up a little from the basketball court with the retro turquoise blender and cherry red orange juice squeezer of hipster dreams. Also, baskets of jicamas, carrots and beets. I got a papaya and orange juice and she makes a good chocomilk too.
Up the hill a little is Comedor las Amapolas (which means poppies), the name handpainted two different ways outside the building and drawn in old English on the wood panels inside. To a local the sight of a comal with a pot of beans and fried eggs starting to bubble might be as common as butter on toast in the U.S., but in my mind that’s an extraordinary start to the day. When the pile of peppers and onions began to mingle sweetly with the smells of carne asada, and she asked if we wanted a sopita then the morning was officially won.
Beans, eggs and rice was all I wanted, the sopa de fideos and delicate but spicy salad of radishes, chiles and cilantro were the extra points.
Also, in this town if you ask for propsero or Posada Yegoyoxi there is a gringo-Mexican family with Italian roots and the son and father have a pig ranch, you can grab some sausages to take home. This also doesn’t look like a bad place to spend the night.
Where to stay
There are a number of options here, but Omar took us to Cabañas La Puesta del Sol. Simple but comfortable wood cabins face the mountains, the patios outside equipped with lounge chairs and benches for meditative forest gazing. There’s a fireplace and you can request extra blankets to stay cozy. The grounds are strewn with hanging plants from trees, crawling agaves and flowers. At night if you bring candles (to make out the shadows of your mezcal bottles) there’s not much else besides your friends’ beautiful faces and the stars to look at. In the mornings the birds will sing back and forth and the sun will wrestle the morning clouds for a little more sky.
What about those mushrooms tho…?
Apparently July through October is mushroom season. Otherwise you can find them dried but everyone said it’s worth it to get them fresh.