Saturday 9 September 2023

1987 Travel Journal: Monte Alban

  From my hotel room window, I noticed a big bell on the dome of the church situated across the street from my room.  I hadn’t spent much time thinking about that bell until 6:00 AM the following morning, when it began clanging.  The old bell had the appearance of being capable of producing a deep, rich tone, but unfortunately that was not the case.  Instead it made an unpleasant loud CLANG, and not just one either, it began making its noise every 15 minutes, 49 clangs.   Needless to say, I didn’t get any sleep once it had begun.

I had planned to spend the day exploring the ruins of Monte Alban, which is a bus ride out of town, but first I went to the Abo Bus Depot to make a reservation for the 13 hour hour bus ride to San Christobal de Casa tomorrow (I can hardly wait.)  That ordeal by bus cost me $10 Canadian.,  

I then caught the bus to Monte Alban.  I found the ride up the winding road to Monte Alban interesting, because I as we traveled slowly up the road, I could look down into all of the makeshift shelters that were the homes of the Indians.  It was not a splendid life that they had to live.

The Monte Alban ruins were situated on the top of a mountain, that rises 1,300 ft (400m.) above the valley floor, a surprising 6,400 ft above sea level.  Amazingly, the Zapotec Indians had managed to level the mountaintop off for their city, and on the sides of their mountain stronghold they had created hundreds of terraces for their agriculture.  Like most of the other Meso-American ruins I had seen, it had several stone, flat-topped pyramids where ceremonies were held.  

I didn’t get as much out of Monte Alban as I could have, because when I went to buy a guide book, they were out of the English version.  In desperation, I bought the “Official Guide to Oaxaca” which turned out to be a major blunder.   It only had a tiny map of Monte Alban, without labels.    The map was at such a small scale it was useless.  

So I was left to just wander around looking at the ruins on my own.  

         As I wandered close to the edge of the site’s drop-off slope, an adolescent Indian suddenly appeared from behind the bushes.  He quietly whispered, and motioned to me, as he crouched down, hidden by the crest of the hill.  He reached into his dirty backpack and pulled out a Zapotec “treasure”, and in “sign language” informed me that he had found it on the hillside.

It was a small head, made of clay, that was still covered with dirt.  I guess that the dirt was there to prove that it was an actual antique relic, and not something turned out by the hundreds in some local house.   He offered to sell it to me for 5,000 pesos.  I showed interest, but declined, so he began to bargain.  In the end I gave him 2,500 pesos ($3.25 Canadian) for it.  I knew it wasn’t a real artifact, but it was a neat-looking souvenir from Monte Alban.  (photo below)

As I proceeded around the site, I was approached by these archeological entrepreneurs at every turn.  When I was over by a ruin called “7 Deer”, I was approached by an old Indian man who said he owned a “rancho” down in the valley, pointing out the spreads below.  He pulled out 2 clay figurines in the Meso-American style from his bag saying he found them and insisted that they were “not for sale”.  He only wanted to “show them to me.”   

As I admired them, he asked, “How much you give?”  

I told him I wasn’t interested, and he began to ask me about my home and job, and I asked him about his.  Finally I told him that I had to go.  I thanked him and left.

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