Hola a mis followers (the few but dedicated),
Today I visited Monte Alban and I’ll tell you how awesome it is but first I would like to add a little background info for anyone not well versed in Mexican ancient history (just like myself before coming to Oaxaca). So, the country that is now Mexico waaay back in the day was the site for many ancient civilizations, for example the Mayans and the Zapotecs. Today in Mexico 18 different indigenous groups still exist along with 68 indigenous languages, pretty cool. Monte Alban is the site of the ancient capital of the Zapotec people and it is amazing. The ruins there are beyond imagination, they’re massive, full of mystery, and dare I say, magic.
My roommate and I hiked up the stairs of one of the most massive ruins at the site (and when I say hike I mean hike because those stairs are steep) and sat for awhile just taking in the amazing view in front of us. I thought for a moment about how in-shape the Zapotec people must have been walking up stairs like those all the time but then I began to think about how advanced of a civilization they had to have been. I learned in one of my classes here that when the Spaniards arrived the burned all of the books of the Mayans and that made me think if the same happened to the Zapotecs and that’s why no one knows what exactly these ruins used to be.
After returning to the ground at the base of the ruin I met a man who at first seemed to be trying to sell souvenirs but rather than brush him off I decided to talk to him and that was one of the best decisions I made today. The man turned out to be a Zapotec that lives in the mountains around the ruins and also a shaman. At first I was skeptical of this until he blew my mind with what he said. We were talking about his culture and how the Zapotec people live today and I asked him if they still believe every person is born with an animal twin spirit, and he told me yes. He then told me that he knew my animal was an eagle because I am able to feel what other people are feeling as if it were my own feelings. I couldn’t even reply to him because I couldn’t figure out how he knew this. He then, without turning to look at my roommate, told me that my friend’s animal is an owl because she is very smart and tranquil. At this point I doubted him and thought it was just a good guess because my roommate is the farthest thing from tranquil, until he said she is tranquil but her mind is always working and for that she seems a little chaotic. In that moment I couldn’t help but believe everything he was telling me. We went on to talk about the people of the mountains, how they live, how the shamans there exist and believe, and it was all fascinating. He showed me a figure he had made out of stone which was a human/animal holding a ball and told me it signified astronomy (which to the Zapotec people is the highest most power) and how the stars and the world are playing with humans not that humans are playing with the world which is the common thought now. We talked about plants and what each plant is capable of healing and how the Zapotec people living in the mountains still use those plants as their medicine. Before departing it was made clear to me that believing in a sense of magic isn’t as crazy as it sounds and there at the ruins there is an overwhelming sense of magic.
My next best decision was to ask another man who seemed to just be selling souvenirs what was down a path I saw. He told me the ancient thumbs and this started another conversation about the plants of the area. He showed me one that is used as a incense for relaxation and is used during different types of ceremonies for his people who also live in the mountains. After talking with this man for awhile he ended up continuing to walk with me and my roommate giving us a free tour of the tombs and plants around them, which I thought was a better tour than we would have gotten by an official guide. He showed us one tomb that is still open and you can crawl into and it was amazing, he explained that although there are a few tombs at the actual site of Monte Alban what people don’t know is that there are many still throughout the mountains surrounding. This is because Monte Alban was only the capital of the ancient Zapotec civilization and thousands lived in the mountains surrounding it. He told us that the tombs in the mountains still have bones and skulls in them but no body knows their there besides the people that live around them.
Overall my biggest suggestion for everyone when traveling is talk to strangers. I know, exactly you’re moms biggest fear while you’re abroad. But there’s a huge difference between talking to locals when you’re exploring the city or the sites and being highly intoxicated at a bar talking to locals. Here is where I would really like to encourage non-stereotypical travel of Americans. Spring break trips to Cancun are fun but I strongly believe that the most valuable travel is outside of the resorts. Please everyone if you can really immerse yourself into a place, talk with everyone you can, try all the food, try all the dances even if you embarrass yourself, shop the local venders, take it all in.