The plan today was to get up early and visit the ruins of Monte Alban. Unfortunately, the hotel last night had internet and we ended up screwing around on the Web longer than we intended. By the time we got to Monte Alban, it was around 10:30AM, and we still hadn’t eaten breakfast. We hadn’t had dinner last night, so it was imperative to feed me – I was extremely crashy and would have been no good at all for the ruins. We ate breakfast at the cafe at the Monte Alban site (mine was surprisingly tasty), so it was close to 11:30 by the time we entered the ruins themselves.
What to say about the Monte Alban ruins? It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site, and a pretty substantial one. The site consists of a large complex – I’m pretty sure it’s larger than the site at El Tajin. The setting was also quite impressive. It’s situated on a plateau surrounded by a valley, and there’s mountains all around. The ruins themselves are pretty well preserved, and you can actually climb some of the temples/climb to higher levels of the complex, which is one of the things we lamented that you couldn’t do at El Tajin.
But honestly? I can speak for both of us when we say that we appreciated El Tajin more. We arrived at Monte Alban late, and it was absolutely littered with people. You couldn’t get a good shot of the place without people in it. There were people coming by the busload. That’s a turn-off. On the one hand, it’s totally great that people appreciate the site. But on the other hand, all the people make it more difficult to appreciate the site. Kay kept noting the silence when we found ourselves away from the groups for a moment, and contends that while it’s not as enjoyable with the people, even without them Monte Alban just fails to spark our interest.
Kay said at one point that the site just didn’t capture his imagination the way El Tajin did, and I have to agree. There were plaques around Monte Alban with information about fauna and how environment played such an important role in the lives of the Monte Albans, but I just didn’t seem to see that in the way the site was built. Or at least the way it’s maintained today.
The plateau where Monte Alban is situated is surrounded by cities (Oaxaca on three sides) – littered with structures and people everywhere. You can’t look at the horizon and see it as the people of Monte Alban did, and it’s virtually impossible to imagine it uncluttered. Technically both peoples were war-like, but the carvings at the Monte Alban site were well-preserved and images of subjugation – carvings of castrated rulers that the Monte Albans conquered and executed, images representing the cities and cultures that the Monte Alban people subjugated and ruled.
El Tajin had some similar carvings, but there was also beauty at the site. At one part of the site, they have a straw roof erected to protect some colored paint that had survived intact. As far as I could tell, the scenes from the painted depictions were ornamental and scenes of every-day life – not the war-like scenes that dominated Monte Alban. Maybe there was paint like this in Monte Alban, too, once upon a time… and maybe I’ve romanticized El Tajin because I didn’t read as much there about the “war-like culture” but I just didn’t get the same feel from both sites.
Regardless of my perceptions versus the reality of the sites, Monte Alban was still an impressive site. I just think Kay and I didn’t appreciate it as much as El Tajin. We’d 100% recommend anyone who is thinking of seeing ruins like this to check out El Tajin. Monte Alban? It’s significant enough that it probably shouldn’t be skipped, but we simply didn’t enjoy it as much.
Oh yeah. Did I mention that we both got sunburned today? I have suntan lotion in my tank bag, which we carried around all day, and at one point I even thought of it… but then dismissed the thought. That was a mistake. Both of our faces are sunburned. Kay’s arms are sunburned… mine might be, too, but it’s too early to tell. (My arms are tanned to begin with.) The back of my neck is sunburned… I’d forgotten what it’s like to have hair this short. And Kay insists that his eyebrows got bleached. We’ll blame it on the anti-Malarial pills, which we started today (although technically we should have started it two days ago – woops!) – we chose Doxycycline, which has the side effect of making users more sensitive to sun, as opposed to the pills which make you paranoid.
Yeah. Let’s just chalk this one up to the pills instead of our own idiocy.
Also? Parking at Monte Alban isn’t big-bike friendly. The road up to Monte Alban is great, up until toward very top – where it turns into essentially a wide single lane or very narrow two-lane road. Even that’s not bad for a motorcycle, though… until you get to the top. The top of the hill is steeply angled, and the parking lot itself is dirt. The dirt has been tracked back onto the pavement leading into the parking lot. I tried braking at the top of the paved road while waiting for another car to go into the parking lot and it didn’t work – my bike started sliding backwards. There was nothing I could do about it – couldn’t go forward and there was a car behind me so I just had to wait for it to stop slipping. I think it did actually hit the car behind me but they didn’t seem to care so I didn’t make any attempt to investigate.
Beyond that, though, the guy in the parking lot directed us with our large, heavy, overloaded motorcycles to park in the “bicycle” parking area. Basically it’s a hill on an incline, covered with sparse grass and dirt, with some bike parking racks. He motioned us with our motos to park up there. Kay went first, and had to let his bike back into the wall and rest there on a pannier, because the incline was too steep and his overburdened bike would have gone over if it hadn’t been resting on the wall. I did similar, but didn’t have to park it against the wall.
I was freaking out as I tried to ride it up in the dirt on the incline, though. I tried to ride it a bit further and park it at a more favorable angle on the incline, but when I tried to stop, it just started sliding backward in the dirt and there wasn’t anything I could do about it. The bike didn’t go over, but I was extremely unnerved and left it parked badly there, annoyed that the parking lot attendant wouldn’t let us park in the relatively flat dirt area used by the cars.
When we came out, I asked Kay to back my bike out and set it up for me because I didn’t feel confident that I wouldn’t just drop it with the dirt and the slipping and it being so heavy. Kay was obliging, and it was relatively easy to back mine out from the angle where we’d parked it (although Kay’s left foot kept slipping in the dirt from the weight of the bike, but he managed to keep it upright). Unfortunately, the incline was so steep that we couldn’t park it on the side stand once we got the bike back to the road. Kay had to hold it while I geared up, and then I had to mount the bike to hold it there while Kay got his bike.
His bike, on the other hand, wasn’t so easy. The angle he’d parked at (so his pannier could lean against the wall, preventing his bike from falling over while parked) wasn’t as favorable for backing it out and turning it around. He pulled it forward a bit and tried backing it out, but it was closer to the wall than mine had been and at one point he was stepping on the bike racks, using them for leverage to keep his foot from slipping in the dirt like mine had.
Unfortunately, the proximity to the wall didn’t give him room to get a nice angle with the weight of the bike, and before he could back it all the way past the wall, the bike overbalanced and tipped with him under it. He says it was one of those really slow falls that you totally see coming but you know there’s nothing you can do about it. He and the bike were too close to the bike rack for him to get enough leverage to keep it upright, so he went down with the bike tented over him.
While I was pondering whether to drop mine to go to his aid, two of the parking attendants who had been sitting on the wall and watching, smirking, while Kay pulled my bike out, ran to help. They got the bike upright and off of Kay, and helped him balance it the rest of the way out. I’m kinda glad they ended up helping with his bike – they got to see how heavy the bikes really are. It wasn’t just that I’m a chick that I had Kay back my bike out… it’s that these bikes are motha-effing HEAVY and I didn’t think I could do it in the dirt without dropping it.
So yeah. Kay’s bike got to take another dirt nap. And I was stuck sitting on my bike holding it up so I couldn’t either run to help him, or photo-document it.
Aside from that, the day was pretty mundane. It took us forever to get out of Oaxaca, as we had to stop for gas and grab lunch (it was 3PM when we started to actually get out of the city). However, as we were leaving Oaxaca, Kay spotted chickens on a spit on the side of the road, which invoked our new rule of “If it’s remotely close to time to eat, and you see food roasting on a spit on the side of the road, stop and eat.” So we had to stop and eat chicken la carbon. An entire chicken, by the way? A bit too much for the two of us to eat.
We only made it a total of 89 miles before we had to stop for the day. The sun was starting to set and we were both just feeling drained. I’d checked the weather last night while we had internet access, and had discovered that there was only one very narrow area where it would actually be warm enough for us to camp. Otherwise, we’d be crossing mountains (which takes forever, by the way, but has lots of great twisties) and the temperatures would be too cold (sub 40-degrees) for us to comfortably camp.
Unsurprisingly, we didn’t make it to the area where it would be warm enough for us to camp. We were stuck riding in the mountains* and thought we’d have to push through and ride them after dark to the next major city, but just happened upon a hotel on the side of the road at a town that we passed through in two minutes of riding. The room is tiny but clean (although it lacks a toilet seat) and we’ve actually taken the time to watch some TV on the iPad. For a little over $13 US, we won’t complain. (Cheapest hotel yet, by the way!)
Unfortunately, as we’ve been sitting here, we’ve discovered a couple of unfortunate companions sharing the room… first an ant, which prompted me to take our snacky foods far from the bed… and then an insect that Kay has dubbed a “Thing that Must Be Killed.” And proceeded to kill it with one of our boots. This has led me to examine the mysterious stains on the wall next to the bed, which appear upon closer inspection to be squashed bugs.
Ick. Hopefully they don’t carry us away in our sleep. (Maybe I’ll try sleeping with the light on? Or would that make it worse?)
* poor us, stuck riding beautiful twisties with the setting sun behind us.