Monte Alban

Monte Alban is the most significant archeological site in the Oaxaca Valley.  An ancient Zapotec metropolis, Monte Alban was founded in the sixth century B.C.  It functioned as the capital for 13 centuries between 500 B.C. and 800 A.D.  Its impressive architectural remains- terraces, pyramids, and canals-extend over four miles. This includes structures built around the great plaza and the north and south end anchored by massive platform mounds. Monte Alban has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1987.  The site was badly affected by the earthquakes in 2017.

Let’s Go Up the Mountain

Monte Alban is only about 30 minutes from Oaxaca City Center so we decided to forgo a guide and just take a taxi which was arranged for us by our hotel manager.   The taxi driver would take us and then return to pick us up. We left at 8 am as the manager said it opened at 8:30.  The elevation of Monte Alban is 6,400 ft. above sea level. It was quite a ride up the mountain roads with some interesting villages and beautiful views of the city.  It wasn’t a straightforward route as the main road was closed. The driver said that the town’s people closest to the site often closed down the roads as they wanted to be paid for allowing the tourists to travel to the site. We finally arrived and were the 5th vehicle in line. After a while, the driver was told that there was a film company on the site and we wouldn’t be able to enter until 10 AM.

The view as we went up the mountain road.
Ruins of Monte Alban

I was so glad we came early.  We drove in and parked and then the driver took us where we needed to be to get tickets.  I was huffing and puffing because it was all uphill and I was suffering from the altitude. We got the tickets and started up the path to the ruins.  Since we were some of the first people there it was tranquil and pleasant walking around the ruins.

We went up a side path and came to this structure. Not sure what it represented. We walked past and then found ourselves at the North Platform.
Looking toward the main Plaza on the right side.
From the top of the North Platform, you could see a panoramic view of the houses and mountains.
We climbed down these steps to get to the main plaza.
This is the South Platform. We didn’t climb up these stairs!
This is the earliest example of carved stone monuments. These examples are called “Danzantes”. Not really anything to do with dancers, in fact, quite the opposite. The figures in the stones were so-called war prisoners who were mutilated and tortured.
These carved stones are replicas.
One of the guides who was nearby said that the original stones were inside, but we could only see one of them through this opening.
Ceremonial Center
Called Building M, this is the site of a stepped pyramid.

We completed our tour in two hours and then went back toward the main entrance.  We looked around the little artisan shop.  We wanted to go to the museum but discovered that it was closed. We walked down to where the taxis were parking.  On the way, we saw a lot of vendors selling souvenirs and so we took a look but the prices outside were the same as the shop inside.  Finally, we made contact with our driver and were on our way back to the city.  The driver said the main road was open, and in no time we were back at the hotel.

Eating Out In Oaxaca – The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly!

Shawn took a look at his restaurant list and we decided to go to a restaurant called Casa Taviche for lunch. It was nearby so we walked to it.  It looked like a comfortable place to have lunch.  I chose a vegetarian mushroom dish and Shawn had chicken breast.

Everything on my plate was sitting in the mole sauce. The mushrooms, which I think were oyster mushrooms, did not look that appetizing, in fact, I couldn’t cut them and finally had to ask for a cutting knife. After one bite, I decided to eat the rest of the food which was uncooked vegetables. Needless to say, for me, it was a disappointing lunch.
Shawn had better luck. His chicken was good, but he was surprised as he had to cut the meat off a bone.  A bit hard to cut up in a bowl.

We returned to the hotel for a rest and planned to go out for dinner downtown with the hope that we would find a restaurant more to our liking. This time we took a taxi from our hotel. The management was always accommodating in getting taxis for us.  When we planned our trip, we hadn’t really included the cost of all the taxis we would have to take. The manager said the taxi cost would usually be around 60 pesos ($3.00).  We paid between 50 and 80 pesos.  Shawn always had his phone ready to show the address and with my Spanish, we didn’t have any trouble.

We were dropped off at the Origen Restaurant which is considered one of the better restaurants in Oaxaca. It was a lovely restaurant with beautiful decor.  We had a very nice table by the window.  As always, we ordered our drinks, and Oaxacan tortilla chips (Tlayudas – very large crispy tortillas) were brought to the table. Oaxaca chips (not exactly chips)  are more like dinner-plate-size corn tortillas.

Tlayudas with a mustardy sauce.

We were then served an amuse-bouche (small complimentary appetizer) by a lady chef. It was really very tiny and I am not sure what was inside but it was delicious.  When I photographed it, it looked huge because I took the photo from the top.

I chose a soft-shelled crab and Shawn had fish in a coconut sauce. Now we waited for our main courses to come. Seated very near us was a young couple and as I heard them speaking in English, I asked where they were from.  They had just moved from New Zealand to the Caymen Islands. Quite an unusual move I thought.  They were very friendly and had just come to the city that day so I told them a few places we had visited and some other restaurants we thought they might like.  We waited more than 30 minutes for our dinner to come. My meal was the first to arrive.  When I saw it, I was horrified.  I thought it had been completely charred.  I asked to see the chef.  He came to our table and said it was a special rub put on the crab and then cooked.

Perhaps making that rub took 30 minutes. I ate the crab, but not the tastiest crab I ever had.
Shawn enjoyed his meal and said it was very good.

Time for dessert! So we took a chance on a brownie-like dessert with nuts and fruit with a side of ice cream.  It was actually very enjoyable.

Well, dinner was over and we were able to hail a taxi and return to our hotel. Tomorrow was another early rising as we were going with a guide named Gabriel to see the Friday market at Ocotlan de Morelos.

Check out the next post and see the sights of a local market.

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