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Published: August 20th 2010
We're ready to tackle some sightseeing, but first where to go and when? I visit the tour desk in the hotel lobby, and with a little of the lady's english and my spanish we arrange two tours for $1100 each. Today from 10am to 6pm we're touring Monte Alban, Arrazola, Cuilapan de Guerrero and San Bartolo de Coyotepec. The first place is ancient ruins on a hilltop to the southwest of the city, the second the home of the artists that create the colourful semi-mythical creatures
that we've seen around. The third place is a sixteenth centry former convent, and lastly the maker of the famous black Zacatecan pottery.
The van collects us a little after 10am, and Moses introduces himself. We drive into town to be met by five others for the tour. It will be conducted in English and Spanish as one couple is from Mexico City while the other family of three is from France and
understand both languages. The driver is amusing and friendly. He throws us little jokes while explaining things, and covers each subject well. Although unlike Alehandro he does not talk about other things in between places. With Moses singing along to
his Mexican music, we drive up to Monte Alban.
Monte Alban stands for white mountain, named for the trees that flower in white during spring. No one knows the original site's name, although they know it was built by the Zapotecs from 500BC to 950AD. They were a clever star-gazing people, having constructed the buildings with planetary alignment. One building is shaped like an arrow, pointing towards the planetary alignment of the Mexican star called "Calle", Earth, Venus, the Moon and the Sun. This alignment happens once every 52 years, which exceeds the Zapotec's average life span of forty years. So they must have had sophisticated ways of passing on their knowledge.
Looking down from the corner of the site where you enter, you see a large expanse of green with the pyramidal structures surrounding and through the middle. Temples are thought to have stood at the tops but little remains of their structures. As I said, the grassed area looks large, but once you get down there you find you could fit a few circket pitches around the inside. Joseph and Ky have a look around, but Liam isn't interested 😞. Eventually we all meet back at
the bus, where Joseph has found a souvenir: a hatchet with pretend obsidian head for $20.
The next stop takes us down to the valley on the other side. This involves actually driving along a dry sandy creek bed with the grasses growing up and arching over the road. I ask, and am told that when it rains they have to go the other way which takes an hour (instead of 15 minutes). After a few turns in the unknown back end of Arrazola, we arrive at the Santiago Collective. A brief explanation is given by Moses before we are left to browse: It is a collective aimed to train kids from 8 years old as apprentices in the arts and crafts, specifically to make the wonderfully colourful works of art which I guess they master once they're adults. We love this stuff, so spend up large, and leave with a big black plastic bag. I'll make it fit into the suitcase somehow 😊.
Next we stop at the sixteenth century former Dominican convent, unfinished. It has the beautiful lines of columns and arches that tell of a former potential rival to the great churches of Italy. The
story goes the nave was to be covered, but the cathedral in Oaxaca got first dibs, and eventually the Cuilapan project was left unfinished. It turned out the Indians preferred to have their service in the open anyway.
A stop for lunch is in order by now, being 3:15pm we are taken to Le Hacienda Cuilapan, which serves up a huge array of Mexican dishes in a buffet ($120 each). Each dish sits in a ckay pot, over an open fire to stay hot. There are an assortment of grilled meats, deep fried patties, and a number of stews (and moles) in different colours, mostly with chicken . We sample the various bits, and I wish I was at 100%!s(MISSING)o I could eat the stuffed and battered jalapenos 😊.
Our last stop is in a pottery makers' in San Bartolo de Coyotepec, hidden in a maze of streets. We are asked to sit on benches outside the shop while another tour group joins us. Then Moses, again throwing in some humour, explains the 30 day process to make the pieces. While he explains the potter is fashioning a large pot on a hand pottery wheel, and his
wife cuts out patterns in a smaller vase. The process is interesting, but we're colour people and don't buy anything.
We are returned to the hotel by 6pm, and catch a taxi to a fast food place in town called House of Chicken. It's a good range of dishes that go down well (and don't carry on through) 😊.
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