The Sierra Sur mountains of Oaxaca in Southern Mexico are mostly known among travelers for their magic mushrooms, but the mountains are also a great place to relax in amazing scenery. One great place to do so is Ecovillananda, a small community or ecovillage, where a group of families and individuals from all over the world are living according to principles of permaculture. These people work together as a community but focusing on different projects, such as organic gardening, alternative education, yoga classes and crafts. The community also runs a retreat center where I spent a few nights, absorbing the atmosphere of the village and studying its traditional cob houses. Ecovillananda is located in the Zapotec village of San Sebastian Rio Hondo, and the thing that struck me the most during my visit was how well the ecovillage seemed to be connected to the rest of San Sebastian.
Cob houses of Sierra Sur mountains
One of the reason I wanted to visit San Sebastian was to see its traditional cob houses that are particular to San Sebastian and some of the surrounding villages. I had already seen many earth houses around Oaxaca city, but these were built with sun dried adobe bricks – a similar material but different technique.
Like all earth building, the basic materials of cob houses are earth, clay and water. Cob (much like most adobe bricks) also contains straw which gives it extra strength and helps reduce cracking. In Sab Sebastian, the cob mixture is used to build up walls by hand and without formwork, and the sides are flattened with a piece of wood. The color of the local earth gives the houses a beautiful red tint.
The resulting walls are thicker than adobe brick walls which provides extra insulation during the cold mountain winters, while keeping the temperatures cool in the summer. A thatched roof further helps prevent heat losses during the winter and insulate from the heat of the summer sun. Most of the newer houses have steel roofs however, because they require less maintenance.
The ecological neighbourhood of Ecovillananda
The houses at Ecovillananda are built using the same cob technique, which is one reason why it is hard to tell where the village ends and the ecovillage begins. The same is true for many of Ecovillananda’s projects which involve both community members and members from the rest of San Sebastian. Indeed, Ecovillananda seems less like a separate ecovillage and more like a neighbourhood that promotes sustainable living in San Sebastian.
One of the ways Ecovillananda is contributing to the greater village community is alternative education. Ecovillananda’s Montessori style school opened just a year ago, and the teachers I met were making the materials as the oldest student progressed. The school currently has 10 students between ages 3 and 9. Half of the students come from Ecovillananda families and half from the rest of San Sebastian, showing how well the two communities are connected and benefitting from each other.