Meet Me at the Oasis
In the face of forces destroying other parts of Mexico, the Sierra Gorda reserve holds its own--a miraculous, biological melting pot unmatched on the North American continent. Black bears mingle with jaguars and macaws, and stands of tropical trees, draped with orchids, abut hills dotted with cactus.
No single moment--no single view--encapsulates so well for me the twinned promise and threat at work in the Sierra Gorda region. As immense and intact as the landscape remains, it is clearly under siege by all the forces of deforestation and blind destruction that have already wrecked so much of the rest of Mexico. Protecting the forest--most of it privately owned--for the future means giving the people of the Sierra Gorda, like the villagers of La Trinidad, more sustainable choices than those forced upon the residents of the lowlands at our feet.
We toast what we've accomplished in our hike by draining the last drops from our water bottles, and glance at the fast-falling sun. The wood stove will be hot back in the kitchen when we arrive, the candles lit, soft tortillas with homemade queso melted over the fire, chicken and rice and beans heaped on our plates. But the trail, worn by generations of Huastecan feet, disappears ahead into the gloom, casting a powerful charm. Now it's hard to turn back, not knowing what new wonders the trail will pass ahead, what deep sinkholes full of screeching parakeets it skirts--knowing that as darkness comes, the jaguars and pumas will be traveling its narrow passages, their muscles flexing in the moonlight, the last tropical black bears moving through the shadows, the calls of owls and nightjars echoing through the dusk.
We hang for long minutes on the edge of decision, prudence warring with adventure in each of us. In the end, dinner and the candles of the village win out.