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Walking “El Camino Copalita”

by Brooke Gazer

Most people arrive in Huatulco by air and some by bus or car. A select few choose a slower, less direct approach, walking “El Camino Copalita” (The Copalita Trail). Long hiking trails have gained popularity around the world and two in particular have been the subject of bestselling books. The one in our region is new, virtually unknown and somewhat different from those that are longer and more established.

El Camino Santiago has existed for thousands of years and is perhaps the world’s best known long hiking trail. In 1987, Paulo Coelho’s book “The Pilgrimage” generated a huge interest in this destination. Each year over 200,000 people, from all corners of the earth, choose to make the journey on foot. For many, the pilgrimage is as much about the social aspect as it is about hiking. With rustic inns scattered roughly every ten KM along the 780 KM trail, hikers from around the globe come together each evening to enjoy fine food and wine after a long day on the tail.

The Pacific Crest Trail in California was recently popularized by Cheryl Strayed’s book “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail”. This magnificent 4,279 KM trail ranges from just above sea level to 4,009 meters. While thousands of people enjoy parts of this wilderness treasure each year, only a small number actually complete the entire distance.

It generally takes four to six months plus a vast amount of preparation. In addition to his or her own camping gear, each hiker needs to carry enough food to last three or four days. The trail passes through some small communities with limited provisions for sale but most hikers arrange to have supply boxes sent to various postal stations along this strenuous route. The major attraction to the PCT is the peaceful, unspoiled natural beauty.

The Copalita Trail begins in Oaxaca City and ends in Huatulco. Unlike many trails, this one can only be accessed as part of an organized group. This six-day guided hike is a project developed in cooperation with nine Zapotec communities along the Copalita river. Officially you leave from Oaxaca City, but the first leg of the journey is usually accomplished with a four-hour van ride that climbs to an altitude of 4000 meters at San Juan Ozolotepec. The 70 KM walk begins here, with breathtaking views of the Sierra Madre Del Sur. For two days, you hike through pine forests, visiting Zapotec communities that can only be accessed on foot.

As you descend on the third day, the ecosystem changes to deciduous forest. Along the way you are accompanied by different guides, each of whom is familiar with the specific terrain and the local villages that you visit. The final day begins with a short hike and ends with a 30 KM river rafting trip all the way to the sea.

Hikers are treated to the spectacular natural beauty of three separate eco-systems. They interact with various local people, learning about the simple way these agrarian communities live in the isolated mountains. Camps with tents and camp cots await the weary travelers at the end of each day, but hikers need to bring their own bedding. All the delicious meals provided use local, organically grown produce and participants have ample opportunities to refresh themselves by swimming in several locations.

This is both a hiking tour and a cultural experience. Part of the project’s goal is to empower women, and the tourism committees are headed and run by women. The locals benefit from this project, with 60% of the proceeds going directly to the participating communities. This helps to sustain local traditions, food production practices, and the fragile ecosystem. Currently El Camino Copalita offers one 6-day tour per month with about 10-15 participants in each group.

Perhaps one day someone will write a best seller about El Camino Copalita… so go now before it gets discovered. Cost: The 6-day trekking is $14,490 pesos. For more information visit their webpage: http://www.caminocopalita.com/.

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