Santos Reyes Nopala
Nopala (pop. 6,000, elev. 2,000 feet/600 meters) is tucked into the upper valley of the Río Manialtepec, the heartland of Chatino country. Archaeologists reckon that the Chatino people have been living there for at least two thousand years. Stelae found at the nearby Cerro La Iglesia archaeological site resemble the famous Olmec-style danzantes of Monte Albán and are generally believed to date from the same period, around 500 B.C.
Nopala’s townspeople nevertheless live very much in the present, enjoying a bit of the profits from their home-grown coffee. The government, moreover, has provided them with a generous sprinkling of schools: primarias, a secundaria, and, for the university-bound, a preparatoria, unusual for such a small, out-of-the way town. Afternoons in town, you can immediately see the positive effect of all this: hundreds of smartly dressed, bright-eyed schoolchildren trooping home after their classes are done.
Part and parcel with the increased emphasis in education, Oaxaca’s unique new Usos y Costumbres law is having a significant local effect. No political parties, hubbub, or vote payoffs are necessary. A simple town-hall vote of the assembled citizenry is now sufficient to place Nopala’s presidente municipal in office.
Get to Nopala from Oaxaca City by second-class buses Estrella Rojo del Sureste or Solteca (or Transol) from the camionera central segunda clase at the Mercado Abastos (take a taxi) on Oaxaca City’s south side. From Puerto Escondido, go by the same bus lines, from the central bus station on Highway 131 (tel. 954/582-0603) at the northern edge of town.
Note: Long-distance buses from either Oaxaca City or Puerto Escondido do not go all the way to Nopala. Get off at San Gabriel Mixtepec and take a taxi or catch a ride from a truck or local colectivo the remaining seven miles (12 km, see driving directions below) to Nopala.
By car or RV from Oaxaca City, drive the paved but often potholed Highway 131 south 120 miles (194 km, figure around six hours for safety) to San Gabriel Mixtepec. In the middle of town, where the road cuts sharply left, continue straight onto the paved side street to Nopala. Continue another seven miles (12 km) along a good but curvy paved road to Nopala.
In the opposite direction, from Puerto Escondido, drive 27 curving, sometimes bumpy, uphill miles (44 km) north along Highway 131 to San Gabriel Mixtepec. In the middle of town, when the road makes a sharp turn right, go left at the paved side street. Continue another seven miles (12 km) along a paved but winding road to Nopala. Allow about an hour and a half for a safe trip.
© Bruce Whipperman from Moon Oaxaca, 5th edition