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Sunday, 17 October 2010

Viaje a Monte Albán

After a long and undeserved break from the blog, it has once again returned! A combination of the increased teaching schedule that i have this term and other distractions i have somewhat, or entirely neglected it for quite a while!But what's a couple of months absence between friends..............................
With the absence in entries, I've gathered up a bit of a backlog of stuff that's went on since the last time. All kinds of weird, sometimes wonderful and other times things that some of us will try to block from our minds and never return to as long as we live have happened since the last blog. The vela season of constant parties and street pardades has passed, which brought the incident of the two girls that eventually turned out to be a homosexual man a transvestite and another fatter girl.(fortunately i was not present for this unfortunate situation, but like all good stories, it needs to be told. )

So no I'm faced with a dilemma. Should i back track and recount all the stuff that's gone on, or pretend that none of it happened and continue with all the fresh new goings on in Mexico............... After a few seconds of deliberation I decided to go for a bit of a mixture of the both, starting off with my trip to the city of Oaxaca.

Oaxaca city is the capital of the state of Oaxaca.(pronounced wahaka) which is located in the southern part of the Mexico, bordering the states of Guerrero to the west, Puebla to the northwest, Veracruz to the north, Chiapas to the east, and the Pacific Ocean in the south.Oaxaca is the fifth largest state in the republic.

Oaxaca is famous for it rich indigenous culture. The two largest groups of indigenous inhabitants are the Zapotecs and Mixtecs, however there are sixteen that are officially recognized. Despite the conquest and colonization by the Spanish, the Mixtec and the Zapotec people maintained their language, their culture, and their social organization, as did many others. These cultures have survived better to the present than most others in Mexico due to the state’s rugged and isolating terrain. Most live in the Central Valleys region, which is also an important area for tourism, attracting people for its archeological sites such as Monte Alban, which i was one of the first things on my list of things to go and see.

I travelled to Oaxaca from the city of Ixtepec were I am working. Its a solid 5 or 6 hour bus journey on the treacherously windy Oaxacan roads. I've kind of come round to the idea of getting the bus in the middle of the night and on the last few journeys i have managed to get a good bit of sleep during the journey.

On arrival in the city, i used my tried and tested strategy of not making any plans beforehand, and making my way towards 'the centre', from where i make my way outwards and use it as my point of referenece.A lot of tourists make their way into Oaxaca, and therefore there is a lot of tourist information all over the place. I searched for a cheap and well located hostel in the city centre and managed to find one with the first two hours. I dropped of my stuff and the very helpful staff in the hostel directed me to where the buses to Monte Alban left from. I was suprised by how close Monte Alban is the the centre of the city as it only takes about 20 minutes on a bus of which there are many all over the city.

After my experience visiting the archaelogical site in Palenque I am of the opinion that it was very much worth paying a bit of money for a guide to show you the ruins, because i got so much more from the site than i would have if i had walked around by myself. I had hoped to have the same sort of luck in finding a guide in Monte Alban, so i looked for information on guided tours and found one which included the bus journey out the site.

The site is located on top of a large artificially levelled ridge overlooking the city.The view from the top of Monte Alban is spectacular as you can see over the whole of Oaxaca. The defensive advantages of the site are really clear, as the inhabitants would have been able to see their enemies approaching from miles away.

How they managed to convince people to cut off the top of a ridge is really beyond me. I have had to dig various holes in the ground in my life. Once i had to dig a hole in my grandmothers garden to plant a tree when the ground was sort of dry, and to me, when i had finished, i felt like i thoroughly deserved her home cooked soup and a piece of cake. Without the prize of soup and some cake, I probably would have thought a lot once i realised the sweat and blood that cutting the turf was going to take. Therefore i imagine a lot of persuasion was involved in cutting the top off Monte Alban. When i was standing up in the hill looking at what they did all those years ago , i considered what was the soup and cake equivalent to them, and how much of it they must have needed to pull it off.

I also wondered how the conversatition came up. It could have been something simple such as some influential man saying to someone else, ' You know what, if we cut the top of the mountain over there, we could build some really cool places to hang out and worship the gods and stuff.' And the other guy said, `good idea, lets go and try to convince the others to start digging.........'
So dig they did, and after all the digging , they built the epic structures that make up Monte Alban. Then again, it was probably something altogether more complex............

The guide that showed a group of us around the site turned out to be a good investment, similar to my trip to Palenque. As we trekked around and climbed up and down all the buildings in the blazing sun, the guide kept us informed on all the findings and research that has been down on the site and what the buildings are believed to have been used for. It made the whole thing more interesting as I think there are a lot of really interesting aspects of the architecture that an untrained eye wont be able to appreciate. Before visiting Palenque and Monte Alban I didn't really have much intention to go with a guide due to the fear of being an exploited tourist but now i would recommend it to anyone if they can find a reasonably priced guide to take you around the site.

The guide informed us that it is thought that the Zapotecs arrived in Oaxaca between 800 and 500 BC. It is thought that around 500 BC, the Zapotecs began the monumental exercise of leveling the top of a mountain, where they would build Monte Albán. Monte Albán declined in later years and by 800 AD was largely abandoned. Around 13th century it was adopted by the Mixtecs, who added little to the existing architecture but left magnificent gold-laden tombs for their royalty. A lot of mystery surrounds the decline of sites such as Monte Alban and Palenque, as many of them are thought to have been abandoned around the same period of time. It is possible that the sites were abandoned due to simple reasons such as lack of food in the area or war, but it is also possible that other factors such as the people interpreting signs in the sky as messages from the gods to abandon the area. There are many interesting theories as to what might have driven the people to abandon these majestic sites.

I took my time going around and climbing up and down all the structures, and taking in all the views over Oaxaca City. I arrived early in the morning and by lunch time was ready to head back down towards to Oaxaca City. My plan was to spend a few days in Oaxaca before travelling back to Ixtepec. So until the next blog...........

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