Published: February 23rd 2006February 2nd 2006
Me in bright sun at Monte Alban
Yes, the dimples are still there
So a massive blog catch up time seems to be the only routine I've maintained over the last 9 months! But at least I eventually catch up. Procrastinating until the final deadline is a characteristic I've always had, so why change now?
I signed up for a day trip to the surrounding sights of Oaxaca (pronounced Wah-hawk-a). It's definitely not possible to see everything without a car as there are markets, ruins and even a 2000 year old tree on the list of things to see. So, joining another clan of tourists it is. Our first stop was to Monte Alban, the abandoned ruins at the top of a flattened mountain reaching 7000 meters above sea level. It had originally been covered in morning glory resulting in the name 'albino mountain', which over years changed to it's current name. The Zapotec people who lived there certainly saw themselves as the elite of their society as they left all the peasants working the fields in the valley below. There wasn't even a source of water within their city, so it had to be carried up to the top, crazy huh? The entire site was quite different to Teotihuacan as the
She sat in an alcove within the monastery posing perfectly...for a few pesos
remaining shrines, plazas, ball court and pyramids were accentuated with hieroglyphics that were also very tuned in to the stars. It had been re-discovered in 1930, but as with most ruin sites only 80% has been fully uncovered. Our guide filled us in on a few quirky facts such as the use of chilli and chocolate as an aphrodisiac, (Oaxaca still has some of the best chocolate I have ever ever ever tasted!!) and the use of nail polish and hair dyes to accentuate their beauty. We took everything in and then made our way to the next stop on the tour.
The town of Arazola had many 'mercado de artesanias' to visit. The carved wooden animal figurines known as alejibres are painted in bright colours and became a trademark of Mexican art about 20 years ago. We were told of legends and dreams where the style waa rediscovered, and witnessed the detailed painting in various stages of completion. I appreciated the work that went into the lizards and turtles, and left everybody else to scurry around choosing their holiday mementos.
It was quite a coincidence arriving at the next stop on a Saint's Day as
All I needed was a super zoom!
a parade began it's procession from the Monastery we were exploring. Along the sidelines sat a few musicians waiting for the startup signal, as children wearing colourful costumes played hopscotch under the arch of the church behind them. Fireworks were then set off and I was left with the other tourists to learn of the features surrounding us. It was another impressive ruin that had served many different purposes over the last 500 years.
The final stop for the day was to San Bartolo Coyotepec. A lady named Dona Rosa made famous a technique for making shiny black pottery in 1934, and her family have been cashing in with the tourists ever since. If I didn't rely on the postal system or my own backpack for transporting gifts, I would have bought many of their specialities, but instead I snoozed standing in the sun. The end of a fully packed day was finally reached so I boarded the nightbus to my next destination, San Cristobal de las Casas.
I only spent the day in town, so I didn't experience the glorious partying I've heard so many others speak about. Foreigners often come here to learn Spanish
on the many courses offered, and finish their afternoons exploring the numerous colourful churches. I happened to be there on a beautifully warm day, the opposite to the chills I had been warned to bundle up for. I walked in a few circles, popped my head into a few shops, and sampled a few more tortillas with black beans.
My next scheduled bus journey took me to my favourite part of Mexico, Palenque. I stayed on the outskirts of town in a cabana to myself, tucked in the deep green jungle. Such a change to the Mexican scenery I've seen so far. I was immediately welcomed by other travellers in the area and given the rundown of what's hot and what's not. We explored a few trails past swinging vines and funny looking mushrooms. Everything became very funny in fact, as I enjoyed local treats which accentuated the sights.
After a lazy morning kicking back a few too many coffees, I began walking towards the Palenque ruins. Mexico has surprised me with the amount of ruins to be seen, and those at Palenque are nearly at the top of my list. The style of the palaces
and tombs are more similar to Mayan ruins in Guatemala, and being surrounded by the towering green jungle and waterfalls made for a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon. I was able to sit at the top of the stairs (I'll be honest-I NEEDED to sit after climbing all of them!!) and soak in the sun and read a few pages in my book.
When I returned to my cabana, the calming serenity of my day was completely thrown out the window. I laid down on my bed for just a few moments before I saw the tarantula crawling up the wall opposite me. Under other circumstances I would have been quick to grab my camera but having heard these 8 legged monsters can actually jump as well, sent me running out the door for help. Thank God I didn't go to sleep right away to find it in the middle of the night!!
The next morning was an extremely early start (that I nearly slept through) as I joined a tour to ruins bordering the Guatemalan border. After a sleepy drive we landed along the edge of a river where 'lanchas' were waiting to take us further into
Monte Alban 2
Can you imagine the full sized columns behind the stage area?
the depths of the jungle. The 30 minute journey upriver was intriguing, as the sounds of the jungle managed to be heard over the drone of the engine. I couldn't help wondering whether there were actually elephants peaking out of the trees, as the sounds were that loud.
We arrived at Yaxchilan and followed the trail towards the ruins that had first been built around 680 AD. Even modern day life has not come close to building in this remote area, so it's amazing to think of the challenges faced when creating the palaces and tombs fit for a king. It had actually been built to honour two kings (father and son) called Escudo Jaguar (Shield Jaguar) and Pajaro Jaguaro (Bird Jaguar). The trail was soon stopped by a building enclosing a maze of darkness. It was a bit spooky traipsing through, but really what made me run to the other side were the bats that hung above my head. Thanks to Jack and Lili grabbing my camera for me, I managed to capture a photo of the miniature flying rodents without turning into a vampire.
We broke through to daylight again and immediatly shielded our
ears and looked for the oncoming attackers. The screams and squawks came from the trees above so it was difficult to find out where to hide. We eventually tracked down the guilty families of monkeys hovering on the branches, sounding like elephants reacting to mice running up their legs. How can such creatures create such a ruckus? Cheeky monkeys pissing off the others I suppose. The entertainment even stood behind me as an American husband was scolded by his wife for looking at the tree crawlers. "We're here to see the ruins not the damn animals!". Funny that, I thought we were here to see the entire environment in which the ruins were built.
The remaining buildings were far more tucked into the jungle than in Palenque. Carved slabs defining the kings' features stood in mossy corners and stones of sacrifice sat at the base of the stairs waiting to be fed. I walked around and discovered ants building a dirt shrine of their own, having all ready transported chunks of leaves 10 times their own size and weight. This area of exploration was certainly not just about the ruins, as the intrigue of bug and animal life
captured many of us. Except for Billy Bob Jo's wife of course.
We boarded the boat back and made tracks towards our next feature of the day, Bonampak. The ruins are not the main attraction here, as it's the murals tucked inside the Temple of Frescoes that caught the worlds' attention back in 1946. I climbed into the three different chambers and was thrown into a world of Mayan lords being served by prisoners. The colour on the walls was as vivid as a tie-dyed shirt from the late 60's. And there were the trees growing out of the steps behind the palaces-I'm sure they took others back to life in the 60's although I was reminded of the temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia.
When our tour bus returned to Palenque, I jumped on yet another night bus this time heading towards Merida. But I won't inundate you with those travel details just yet as there is one more Mexican entry to come! And then Florida, then Texas, then New Mexico finally reaching me in the current location of the Grand Canyon. I clearly can't type as fast as I travel.
everybody, keep the comments and emails flooding in!
There are more photos below