Most Americans don’t think of Mexico as a place of forests and waterfalls and fields of wildflowers. But it is! Not far from San Miguel de Allende are the foothills of the Sierra Gorda — the Fat Mountains. We went there on Sunday to forage for mushrooms.
Our adventure began at 7am in front of Mercado Sano, where all San Miguel food adventures start. There, we met our tour guide, super fun Pablo from Permacultours https://www.facebook.com/Permacultours-369743366716206/ . The hour was too early for some of us, but we had time to rest while Pablo drove us east, past Queretaro and then down a dirt road, through corn fields and cattle pastures. After about 90 minutes, we arrived at our destination — a small ranch with modest buildings nestled into a hillside above the main road. The ranch belongs to Marta, who raises bees for their organic honey, and dries wild mushrooms to sell to high end markets. Marta is Otomi, an indigenous community that was powerful in this part of Mexico until the Aztecs arrived in the 14th century.
Before we set off for mushroom foraging, Marta and her teenage daughter served us a sumptuous breakfast of wild mushroom tamales and atole, both vegan and made from local ingrediants. Atole is a traditional Mexican beverage made from corn, sweetened with local honey and spiced with cinnamon. After breakfast, we joined our mycologist, Daniel, for our hike into the forest.
The hike felt so familiar — we could have been in one of the Bay Area’s regional parks. We walked through hills of bright pink cosmos and yellow goldenasters, into forests of oak and madrone. Along the way, Daniel dispatched us into stands of trees where the soil was still moist from recent rains.
Although Mexican cuisine is not associated primarily with mushrooms, Mexico is second only to China in its consumption of mushrooms, and Mexico’s rural communities rely on wild mushrooms as a staple during mushroom season. In the region of Sierra Gorda, Daniel estimates there are 80 varieties of wild mushrooms, many edible.
Like most adventures, ours included a bit of drama. I somehow got separated from the group. I knew I was off the beaten path when I started finding a lot of mushrooms. I felt a moment of panic to be alone in the woods without cell service, until I reminded myself that this patch of wilderness was part of a rural community. I followed the creek to houses where dogs had apparently been trained to discourage people from asking directions. After awhile, I came upon a dogless man who told me in very good Spanish how to get back to Marta’s. I paid special attention to how his arms were waving!
I arrived back at the ranch safe but worried that my group might be looking for me instead of mushrooms. I thought about how kids get in trouble for getting lost unless they break a leg or get eaten by a bear. I didn’t care for either option, so when the group arrived back, I accepted my fair share of eyerolls. But Marta served us a delicious lunch — vegan pozole and mushroom tacos.
On the ride home, everyone agreed we had a great adventure except for my getting lost. But in Mexico, you’re never really lost.