If you wonder just five minutes from the centre of Oaxaca, you can escape the tourists and find these charming pastel streets. The atmosphere was mundane and peaceful, and I would take that over the teeming squares and markets any day.
I finally left Brazil. I followed my stomach on a 24 hour journey north to Mexico City, and then another 2 hours back south to Mèrida, in the Yucatan.
Before I began to fully immerse myself within the incredible food of this region, I thought I should squeeze in a bit of nature first, so I took a day tour from a nearby coastal town called Progreso.
Progreso itself is like a little slice of Cancun, just when you thought you had escaped that gringo pit. But we stayed to the rural outskirts, first visiting El Corchito nature reserve. Here we found a pack of bandit faced trash pandas and a few smaller cenotes.*
The next stop was at the smaller Mayan ruins of Xcambo. These were very low key and there were only a handful of people there. After we visited the otherworldly pink salt lakes and went in search of some flamingos. Sadly, it is near the end of the season, so we only saw a few from a long distance. But such is the way with nature!
*In this region the ground is largely compromised of limestone. Water filters through this stone and forms underground rivers and lakes. These lakes open up in to caves called cenotes, and there are about 6000 of astounding beauty in the Yucatan that you can swim in.
Upon arriving at Lano Alto you must fend off the local muts and follow the grassy path to the left of the wood workshop to an unassuming door. This is the cheese cave.
Upon entering you are met with a potent aroma of damp walls and aging cheese. As the water drips methodically from a soaking sheet before you (a humidity mechanism), you witness the fermenting archive of the products wrought by the hands of Lano Alto’s small team.
After having the privilege of working here for two months, I understand now what really constitutes as a small production, artisan cheese producer. There is such a close connection to the milk at every stage of production; you could point at a cheese and we could tell you how much milk came from one particular cow on the morning it was produced. For instance – ‘the batch of milk that made that cheese last Thursday was smaller than usual. The electricity was knocked out by a storm so we couldn’t cut the grass. One cow, Angel, wasn’t impressed by the hay she had to eat instead so we could only get 1 litre from her that day, as opposed to the 6 we usually get.’ Just another day at the office.
The cheese ages in Yentl and Peèle’s home for about three weeks before being moved to the more humid climate of the cave. There it is left to it’s own devices. Close tracking of each cheese is abandoned at this point. Instead, when the time comes to pick a cheese to sell or consume, they bring their hands to their hips, frown, scan their options, and pick out the one that just calls to them that day.
A short bus from Paraty and a 15 minute speed boat brought me to the most idyllic location yet, largely down to its seclusion and secrecy.
There is no phone connection and there are no roads. The only way to reach it is by boat or kayak and then you’re off the grid.
The hostel manager kept asking me ‘how did you find out about us?’ and I realised it wasn’t to see what form of advertising was most successful for the business. The hostel isn’t on any social media or any hotel websites; the residents want to keep this place under wraps. She was asking in a ‘WHO TOLD YOU WE WERE HERE?!’kind of way.
Activities here included kayaking, climbing a mountain, eating at a restaurant in a mangrove forest, and my favourite past time – doing nothing. A hammock by the beach and Michelle Obama’s book kept me occupied.
The highlight was at nighttime when I went out into the water to see the glowing plankton with a small group from my hostel. We all stood waving our hands in the water, absolutely amazed by all the beads of light. One of the girls said ‘Hey look, the floor is sparkling… and so is the sky!’ And we all turned out heads up and gawped at the most densely starry sky I have ever seen.
FYI – I found Mamangua by doing a bit of research on the best beaches in the state of Rio and I found the hostel website. And I don’t think any of my five loyal readers in England (Hi Granma!) are going to spoil the secret anytime soon.