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Don't you monkey with the monkey

For Day #2 of rambling, Nae, Mother and I employed the services of the same guy to take us to Monte Alban – White Mountain, though whether so named because the mountain was white or because the Spaniard to conquer the mountain was named White Mountain is up for debate. Monte Alban was another Zapotec city, settled much earlier than Mitla (500 BCE versus 1200 CE) and it is indeed at the top of a large hill with fabulous all-around views into valleys below.

It is a point of some contention between Nae and I as to which pre-Hispanic ruined cities were the best to visit. Monte Alban is in both of our lists of the top three. Personally, I think it goes Tajin, Monte Alban, and then maybe Uxmal, though Cuyuxquihui, while far less expansive, has a very sentimental place for us both, owing to its intimacy. Many had singularly interesting features, but but like an Aerosmith album, some are good start to finish, while some have one awesome track but are generally average in all other aspects. Here, unlike one of my drunken tangents, I recall the point: Monte Alban is top shelf.

One may reasonably think that building a stepped pyramid must be a fairly restrictive format, but in fact the different cultures developed remarkably different styles, and it is possible to look at a picture and know which culture did the construction therein. Monte Alban has one of the singularly nicest pyramid styles I saw; somewhat stouter than others, with walls at a much higher angle to the horizontal. The 'Sistema IV' (which shouldn't really need translation) was the best example, and consisted of a pyramid with a walled courtyard system in front of it. There is also a strange arrowhead-shaped pyramid which marries up with some astronomical observation that I forget. There are also fine examples of Zapotec 'dancers', figures carved in relief into standing stones that kinda looked to the first archaeologists like they were dancing. It has since been decided that their limbs are positioned so because they are laying dead on the ground, with their doodles ripped off. These are propaganda images of the emasculated kings conquered by the Zapotecs, their names engraved in Zapotec glyphs next to them so their doodleless shame may be eternal. This shows that not only European statue 'willies' (as my British guide to London said on the topic; but what am I saying? I just said 'doodles') were victim after conquest – conquest makes victim of all doodles.

The Zapotec, like the Maya, made good use of tunnels, as also seen at Mitla. At Monte Alban there is a tunnel that goes from the clearing at the base of one pyramid to its peak (sadly not open to the public), the idea being that a priest could be swallowed up by the Earth on a certain festival day and then magically appear at the top of a pyramid. It should be noted that in these societies (especially so for the Maya), priests where the only class with real education, and used this to keep the lower orders in check by trickery. (This didn't work out so well for the Maya – after a rebellion eliminating the priestly class, the society faced a few hundred years of setback there.)

After Monte Alban, the minibus chugged off to some large... kitchen... place... which seems to have been set up to feed coach loads of people. The name of the place might be lost forever. Nope, wait, it's La Capilla Restaurante. Awesome Google-fu skills. Anyways, see here - this was not our tour company, but seems to do almost identical trips. Over lunch we had local delicacies, and someone, possibly mother, had Chilis En Nogada, something I highly recommend but have possibly already described, and we tried ye olde native hot chocolate, which is consumed by dipping bread into it. I had beer and asked the guide probing cultural questions, of which I cannot recall the answers. This is fine, as I cannot recall the questions. I do recall that it was Modelo Especial beer.

This La Capilla had a large cage with spider monkeys in it. The cage had a large sign saying words to the effect of “Do not touch monkeys because they are not particularly friendly and will bite your hands”. I read this out, but still Mother and Nae wanted to pat the monkeys, and Nae, for her part, is still sad that I was firmly against the idea. She still thinks they wouldn't have bitten her. Looking back at the photos now, the monkeys were the best part of the trip, just because of how happy both Mum and Nae were to see them.


EDIT: I can confirm that Nae is indeed still annoyed that I insisted she not stick her fingers into the monkey cage displaying a written warning against such. Here is an excerpt from our conversation:

"You're actual still annoyed I prevented you from getting rabies?"

"... I don't think you can say that."

"Can't say what?"

"That I would have gotten rabies. And spider monkeys are endangered so I've probably lot my chance to touch one forever."

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