Monte Alban, El Tule and Hieve el Agua

Trip Start Dec 08, 2004
Trip End Dec 07, 2005

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Tuesday, January 18, 2005

So its been a few days, almost a week since we've been in Oaxaca, the home of Mezcal. Mezcal is a spirit made from cactus, similar to Tequila and just as disgusting.

We left you last with our plans of visiting the meat market for dinner. Well after leaving the internet cafe we discovered that we were lost. Out came our trusty Lonely Planet and we stood trying to figure out where we were.

We saw a couple over the road in the same predicament, with Lonely Planet in hand, so we asked if they had any idea where we were. Together and with the help of a passer by (an american ex pat) we worked out where we were.

We got chatting to the couple we met, called Chrissie and Sorn (not sure on correct spelling). They are Danish, and had just arrived in Oaxaca. We recommended our Hostal to them and they came along.

Right so the meat thing... We told Chrissie and Sorn our ambitious plans for dinner and we invited them to join us.

The meat market is experience in itself. It took us a while to work out how it all works, but with a few gestures along with our ever improving (yeah right) broken gringlish, we bumbled our way through it quite smoothly.

Let us explain... Its a long corridor in a huge indoor market with many butcher stalls lining the walls on both sides, all calling to you to buy their meat and whistling in some sort of code to each other.

Each stall has a BBQ, which they cook your meat on after buying it. You also pick some onions and chiles from another stall and place those on the coals to cook. Another stall brings Tortillas and you put all the food in a big wicket basket. Its a bit confusing, we had no idea who to pay for what and we hadnīt even got to the tables yet!

When your meat and veg are cooked you take the basket to the tables, stopping off on the way to pick up your sauces (Cactus Salsa, Guacamole, etc) then you snuggle in with the locals and tuck in. Great food in a amazing atmosphere, our best meal yet.

With our appetites generously satisfied, we have a hot chocolate, another speciality of Oaxaca. We exchanged stories and travelling plans, then head back to the hostal for a beer on the roof and a much needed nights sleep.

Oaxacans love their chocolate. A bowl of steaming hot chocolate and a sweet bread roll to dunk is the perfect warmer when the winter sets in at 1500m above sea level. The mix to which water or milk is added, typically contains cinnamon, almonds and lots of sugar as well as ground up cocoa beans. There are many chocolate shops here, where you can watch it being made, the smell is delicous.

I say sleep, BRRRRrr, it gets freaking freezing here at night. Our room is actually just four plaster board walls with a corrogated tin and aspestos roof. They dont do draft excluders in Mexico. I have two blankets and a sleeping bag and iīm still cold. Itīs like trying to sleep in an Artic wind tunnel.

Keith had the ingenious idea of putting our tent up inside the room, across the two beds to keep the draft out, so problem solved! Its become a joke in our hostal and keeps passers by of our room amused but at least we are warm (see pics)

The next day (Sunday) we went with Chrissie and Sorn to the ancient Zapotec (pre-aztec) capital of Monte Alban (MONH-teh ahl-BAHN) meaning white mountain.

Zapotecs are the pre-hispanic indigenous people of Oaxaca state. The spanish invasion and mass development of Oaxaca has had a huge impact on the Zapotec people. Their villages and land were destroyed by deforestation and coffee farming and many of their people were taken as slaves. Since the revolution the situation has improved but there are still many problems today concerning the opression of the Zapotec people. True Zapotec communities still exist, where in most cases Zapotec is their only language refusing to be westernised.

It stands on a flattened mountain top (which they flattened by hand!) 400 metres above the valley of Oaxaca and dates back to 500 BC. The ruins and views are spectacular and we spent many hours exploring them (see pics)

On Monday we went to a tiny village called El Tule, twice! This was by accident, as its such a small place we didnīt realise we had passed through it already. The journey there was supposed to take 15 minutes, so after 1/2 an hour we realised our mistake. We had to wait for the bus to do a full circuit of its route to return to El Tule.

The village has a tree in its churchyard which is claimed to be the biggest single biomass in the world. The tree is a type of cyprus and measures 58m in circumference and 42m high. Its age is somewhere between 2-3000 years old! So we had to go and see it, it would be rude not to.

The rest of the day was pretty uneventful apart from finally finding a competent opticians and getting my contact lenses at last! Hurray, mission complete!!

On Tuesday after a warmer tented up sleep, we got up early to catch a morning bus to the mineral springs Hierve El Agua. We get on the bus, which slowly fills up to bursting with locals and then empties as we pass through various villages on a typically bumpy journey up into the mountains. We were left alone with one other Gringo couple. The other couple,Eric from New York and Komika from Japan, told us of a feud between the two villages approaching the springs. They are arguing over ownership of the site. The villages had set up tolls on the road to the springs, and were charging 10 peso for passage.

The bus stops at the first toll, and two serious looking Mexican men came aboard to collect our money. The men got off and the bus continued on its way until on the narrow single track mountain road we met a tourist coach reversing precariously down the hill towards us. Our driver stopped and got out to find out what was happening. It turned out that due to the ongoing dispute, the second village had not only created a road blocks of rocks, they had also dug up and entire section of the road stopping tourist buses, or any vehicles entering the site!

The driver parked our bus up, and undeterred by what we roughly transņated as do not enter signs beckoned us to follow him as he scrambled over the big trench in the road.

We walked for a few kilometers through the village, followed by the confused stares of surprised and curious villagers. We paid another 10 pesos at the next village and eventually were able to enter the site waving goodbye to our driver we went to explore.

Wow!! After stumbling down a broken rocky pass we were greeted with one of the most beautiful views we have ever seen. On top of the cliff, high up, overlooking the valleys below was a mineral spring which runs into 3 or 4 pools. During the wet season waters cascade over the cliff, the minerals have petrified over thousands of years leaving huge stalactites giving the appearance of an enormous frozen waterfall (see pics) and we were the only people there!

Hierve El Agua actually means where the water boils, so as the name suggests we assumed the water would be hot. As is often the case in Mexico, not everything is as it seems. The water was ICE COLD!

Eric wasnīt put off by this and stripped to his pants and dived in. Not wanting to be shown up by the Americans, of course we joined him. It wasnīt so bad after your limbs had gone numb. After all its not every day you get a chance to swim in a natural mineral spring pool overlooking the mountainous forests of mexico. Not sure the pics do it the justice it deserves, but it was an amazing experience.

As there were no buses due to the road block we had to hitch back, luckily we found another small group who came for a tour from their hostal. They were in a pickup and the owner offered us the back for the ride home, result!
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