About 68 miles (109 km) west of Puerto Escondido and 18 miles (30 km) east of Pinotepa Nacional stands the hilltop town of Jamiltepec (hah-meel-teh-PAYK). Two-thirds of its 20,000 inhabitants are Mixtec, who preserve a still-vibrant indigenous culture. A grieving Mixtec king named the town in memory of his infant son, Jamily, who was carried off by an eagle from this very hilltop.
The central plaza, about a mile (1.6 km) from the highway (follow the signed side road north), stands at the heart of the town. You can’t miss it, because of the proud town plaza–front clock (and sundials) and the market, always big but even bigger and more colorful on Thursday, the day of the traditional native tianguis, when a regiment of campesinos crowd in from the Jamiltepec hinterland. Moreover, if you time your visit for one of the many traditional, large festivals, you’re in for a real treat.
Jamiltepec is well worth a stop if only to visit its market handicrafts shops, such as Yu-uku Cha-kuaa (Hill of Darkness) of Santiago de la Cruz Velasco. Personable Santiago runs his shop at the Jamiltepec plaza market because the government cluster of shops (Centro Artesanal de la Costa, on the highway) was closed down, victim of a dispute over control. The local Mixtec artisans wanted to manage their own handicrafts sales, while the regional branch of the INI (Instituto Nacional Indigenista) preferred to manage instead. The Mixtecs stuck together and refused to bring their handicrafts, closing the government operation.
Some of those crafts—masks, huipiles, carvings, hats—occupy the shelves and racks in Santiago’s shop on the market’s northeast side (ask for Santiago by name), open until about 4 p.m. His home (where he also sells handicrafts) is located on main street Avenida Principal at Francisco Madero, by seguro social, the government health clinic (turn off at the highway sign). If you don’t want to miss him, write Santiago at Av. Principal, Esquina Fco. Madero, Barrio Grande, Sec. 5, Jamiltepec, Oaxaca 71700.
Festivals aside, Jamiltepec at midday is a feast of traditional sights and sounds, accessible by simply strolling around the market and side streets. For an interesting side excursion, take a stroll to some of the local ojos de agua (community springwater sources). From the plaza’s northeast side, head east, downhill, along Calle 20 de Noviembre. After about a block, you’ll arrive at a covered pileta (basin) built into the hillside rocks on the left, where folks fill bottles and jars with drinking water. Continue downhill another couple of blocks to ojo de agua El Aguacate, where another covered basin, on the left, supplies drinking water, while a cluster of folks wash clothes and bathe in a natural spring beneath an adjacent shady roof.
If you’re interested in a more spectacular water diversion, follow the gravel road by local minibus or car north out of town about 15 miles (25 km) to the cascada in the foothill country near San José de las Flores village.
© Bruce Whipperman from Moon Oaxaca, 5th edition