In Huasca de Ocampo, a picturesque village nestled in the Sierra de Pachuca, Hidalgo, elves have become protagonists of countless pranks, jokes and lost property, to the degree that skeptics become believers.
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In Latin American mythology these elves are called duendes, similar to leprechauns or trolls. Duendes are about 20 inches tall and run around the mountain town naked. Both the male and females have long hair, and males grow beards. They mostly live in the surrounding jungle areas of Huasca de Ocampo and spend their days eating figs.
Duendes can only be seen by special people, unless the Duende is drunk, then all bets are off. They are known to be heavy drinkers.
If you happen to catch a Duende then you can make them your personal Duende maid and do all your housework. It’s important that you are always nice to a Duende, they are known to be a little temperamental. Most importantly you must always let them take a bite of your food first, if not they become very angry and will spoil your meal time.
Because of deforestation the Duende are being chased further into the mountains and seen less frequently, but in Huasca de Ocampo you can still visit the Duende Museum and see artifacts left behind, including a shoe left behind by a Duende.
The museum collects hundreds of stories from kids who have encountered the Duendes. The museum founder has also published a book, Elves … With the mane in the Hands (English translation) that contains over 50 stories of encounters, photos, and illustrations. Even with all the fairytale of the museum, its purpose is to teach about the importance of protecting the environment and lands, something dear to the Duendes.
Besides the town’s Duendes, Huasca de Ocampo is a great place to spend the weekend touring, eating, and shopping. The center of town is narrow filled with houses and other buildings made with white sandstone and topped with pitched roofs covered in red laminate (metal or plastic) or red clay tile. The walls are thick and large chunks of stone can be seen held together with mortar. This is common in the older mining areas of Hidalgo where rain is frequent.
The town is noted for its pottery, made with the local red clay. Most of the pieces are everyday wares such as jars, plates and cups. These are mostly sold at the weekly market or tianguis. The best known artisans in the town are Jesús Chavez Centeno and Luis Escorz who have their shops in the portals north of the main church.
Local cuisine includes baked trout, cecina, barbacoa, pastes, quesadillas with huitlacoche, pulque bread and fruit wines. Specialty dishes such as chincuiles, escamoles chichas de maguey and dishes made with local wild mushrooms are available in season.
Ecotourism and the local haciendas are the major draws, with activities related to the bodies of water, mountains and canyon areas. These include fishing, boating, hiking, horseback riding and more. The area’s haciendas were mostly built by Pedro Romero de Terreros and they, along with other sites, have been used as sets for movies and television shows. Tours to most of the municipality’s attractions run from the town of Huasca, especially on weekends.