Zona Arqueologica de Monte Alban
Taken from the Plataforma Norte
March 10, 2010: Monte Alban
Today we went out to Monte Alban after having breakfast at the little restaurant on the corner across from our hotel. I have started to think of this little patio café as “our restaurant,” although I was sorely disappointed in the quality of my food today. Sure, the chocolate was amazing and the fruit was sweet, but my scramble eggs were cold, cold, cold. There’s just something about the texture of cold eggs that makes me want to vomit, but I digress.
The trip to the Zona Arqueologica de Monte Alban was probably more exciting than the actual site. You see, today we did not use a charter bus. Instead, M. said we should take the one of the tourist buses up to the site, seeing how they are pretty cheap (30 pesos, or less than $3 at the current exchange rate). The bus station was only eight blocks from our hotel – an easy walk through the flat landscape of this city. A couple of the tour’s older members, however, decided to take a cab over to the bus station as they wanted to save their energy for climbing around on the ruins. So, M. loaded them into a taxi, gave the driver some directions that ended up being translated through a couple of people, and sent them on their merry way. Long story, short: they never turned up at the tourist bus station!
No, they weren’t hijacked, although I was beginning to wonder when we didn’t see them until four or five hours later. Apparently, the taxi driver was confused by the translation and dropped them off at a hotel, or a health club, or an old folks’ home. I’m not sure which one because I heard the story three different ways. What I do know is that these two women were remarkably self-sufficient: they found their way back to our original hotel, found a tour guide, and made their own way to Monte Alban. We caught with them while we were having a limonada in the museum’s snack bar after wandering around the site all morning.
Sidebar: You’ll understand why I was so impressed with their self-sufficiency when I republish my Peru stories here at The Traveling Ph.D. Not every person is worldly enough to figure out how to find his or her way back to the group. We’ve spent plenty of time in past years tracking down people who were quite oblivious to the collective needs of the group, people who just get lost because they aren’t paying attention. Sigh.
While our women were being taken for a joy ride around Oaxaca, the walking group also had a small problem. The walk started out pleasant enough, as we made our way down a street lined with chocolate shops. The smell of Oaxacan chocolate is heaven – it’s much earthier than anything you’d find in a Swiss Miss package back home. It smells real, darn it, not processed or fake. Just walking down the street made the smell linger in the back of my throat, tempting me to run into a store and buy the whole lot. I didn’t, but I sure drank my fair share of chocolate while I was in town, let me tell you!
Anyways, a couple blocks from the station, this group of women came up to us and started telling us that the bus station had moved. They kept following our leader, pestering him, trying to hand him a flyer for their tour bus company. When he didn’t respond in a positive way to their heckling, one of the women zoned in on a student, trying to pressure her into going to the “new” location. It was confusing and loud, but pretty darned funny. I’m sure we looked like clueless tourists as we kept pushing past them.
Is it possible to be hijacked on foot?
As you probably guessed, these overly aggressive people were the competition of the original tour company. Apparently they like to take advantage of confused, lost tourists. And boy, they sure didn’t want to take no for an answer. M., however, handled the whole situation with great aplomb; he had just the right mixture of confidence and language-barrier to get us away from those people. We finally got rid of these pushy folks by dunking into the station that was our original destination.
Gallery of the Dancers
Zona Arqueologica de Monte Alban
Eventually, we all had our bus tickets (mine with the much more musical version of my name, Maria Teresa, written on it) and headed up the mountain to the ruins. Ah, those Zapotecs! They sure love building their cities close to their gods!
Over the past three years, I’ve seen more archeological sites than I’ve seen in my life prior to taking these University-sanctioned trips. Teotihuacan. Xochicalco. Raqchi. Saqsaywaman. Pisaq. Machu Picchu. Seriously, I’m beginning to feel a little like a female Indiana Jones here, minus the drama of enemy spies, monkey brains, and Christian icons . The one thing I can say is that if you’ve seen one ruin you have not seen them all. Each site has its own special significance. Sure, a lot of the sites in Mexico have similar ball courts, but in some places the winners were sacrificed to the gods. In other places, the losers died. Some sites have serpents carved on the walls; others have codices painted in red. At this site, there were the engravings (or low reliefs, according to my tour book) of male figures in some very odd positions and with some very interesting mutilations to their genitalia. These engravings made up the Gallery of the Dancers, some of which are shown above. M. says these carvings show the Olmec influence from the Gulf Coast .
Monte Alban is important for other reasons too:
“The legacy of the Zapotec world comes to us through the magnificent archaeological sites scattered in the Valley of Oaxaca. Among them, the city of Monte Alban stands out because of its enormous importance as an economic, political and religious focal point (it was the first urban complex in Mesoamerica), because of its size, almost as large as the present capital of Oaxaca, and because of its long life, which began in about 500 B.C. and ended around 850 A.D” (Monte Alban: History, Art, Monuments, English Edition. Monclem Ediciones. 2004).
The Landscape Around Monte Alban
The sun bleached out the sky a bit
Our group killed several hours at the site, walking through the Gran Plaza; cramming into a small grotto (my word – it was a little hole in the wall, with more engravings of mutilated men); looking at the outside of the Observatory. Some members of the group climbed the Plataforma Sur, while others (well, me and two other people) stayed at the bottom talking with a man named Israel who was selling jade carvings to help support his family of six kids. That guy latched onto our group, popping up in other locations around the site until B. finally broke down and bought a little jade carving of a face. Eventually, we climbed onto the Plataforma Norte to take in the views before making our way back to the museum and – of course – the gift shop.
Now, a trip to Mexico wouldn’t be complete without having some sort of crazy bus ride – and today was no exception. On the way back, our driver was an insane tailgater. He’d speed up, then hit the brakes. At least he didn’t hit a little kid or a goat or something before we made it down the mountain into Oaxaca.
Taking Notes on the North Platform
We had amazing students on this trip!
I really don’t have much more to say about the day, other than I had an amazing tamale for lunch and a nice nap curled up with my old copy of The Catcher in the Rye or that M.’s sister tells the funniest stories about their childhood. I’ll write more later about the food, once I figure out the type of greens that were included in my salad at dinner. (Danger! Danger! I ate raw veggies in Mexico!)
Love and Hugs,
Next Up: A Foodie’s Paradise