After our day with Soledad at the ICO, we had a free day where we took the opportunity to go to Monte Alban, an ancient archeological ruin. The day after we spent on a tour with Fundacion En Via, which is a microlending organization that assists women with loans to improve their businesses. They currently have only four full time staff members; everyone else are volunteers, including teachers of the classes that they offer. On the tour, we had the opportunity to visit several women in villages – among them were a few tapete (hand woven rugs) weavers, a tortilla maker, and a woman who raised goats, chickens and turkeys. In order to be a candidate for a loan, a woman must join up with two other women to form a group, and must attend business classes that are provided for free. The loans are interest-free for their first few levels of smaller loans. Once a woman or her group decides to continue through the program with larger loans, there is an associated interest rate but it’s extremely low.
Our next trip was a 2 hour drive up into the mountains for mushroom (hongo) foraging that was arranged through Susanna Trilling’s cooking school, Seasons of my Heart. We picked up our guide, a woman named Juana Luna who is an expert forager, along the way. She showed us how to look for mushrooms, and if we did find one we would call her over to see if it was edible. More often than not, it was not. We did manage to find patches of chanterelle mushrooms and other enormous, hearty mushrooms that I was super excited to sink my teeth into. I was a little worried that somehow we’d accidently poison ourselves, but Juana Luna made sure to check everything we picked up before we left. She’s spent her entire life foraging in these mountains so I was confident that she knew what was what. We spent a few hours romping around the woods at the high elevation (around 11,000-12,000 feet above sea level) and quickly began to feel its effects. After several hours most of us ended up finding a nice sunny spot and took a break while we waited for Juana Luna to finish her final rounds.
When we were ready to leave, we hauled off our fungal treasure and headed off to the trout (trucha) farm. While some of us cleaned and prepared the mushrooms for eating, others went to fish for our dinner from the trout pond. I was unskilled and wasn’t able to catch any; one of the girls in my group managed to get five in one sweep – totally amazing! We were shown how to make escabeche with various firm vegetables and mushrooms in vinegar, spices and herbs. It’s essentially like a mixed pickle. It’s interesting to note that all the cooking heat was generated by firewood. That flat white surface that all the pots are sitting on is a huge slab that’s heated by firewood underneath. (At this point I had to excuse myself and lie down in the van – I was not feeling very well, likely the combination of high altitude and the cooking smoke indoors and outdoors).
Our meal was finally prepared by around 6pm – which we were all incredibly thankful for since we had long extinguished any snacks that we had brought along. Was it worth the wait? It was certainly extremely tasty! I finished my entire fish, along with several servings of fried mushrooms.