Yesterday (Tuesday) was a field trip day. The NEH fellows met at the corner of Constitucion and Reforma and boarded a large University bus with a very stoic bus driver with sideburns. We made our way around the top of the valley to the archaeological zone of Monte Alban. I had been there once before with my husband and father (in 2003), but this was a little different.
For one thing, we were accompanied by the foremost expert on Mixtec culture and history, Dr. Ronald Spores. He would periodically stand up on the bus and point out places in the distance, usually covered by urban sprawl, that were Zapotec or Mixtec sites. He maintains that the indigenous peoples of Oaxaca state never “died”, but are alive and well up until the present.
We got down at the entrance to Monte Alban, where we were met by family members who came on a separate bus. My husband and nephew were there – my husband taking pictures, of course. My nephew, who is into geocaching, was volunteered by me to operate a GPS donated to the Virtual Oaxaca Project. The idea was to map the exact locations of the major buildings at the site so that it can be recreated in a virtual world, probably on Second Life.
To that end, I walked around with a notebook and pen, and each time Robert (my nephew) plotted the coordinates of a major temple or the ball court, or anything major, I wrote down the name of the place and its coordinates (latitude and longitude). It ended up being quicker to just do the last digit, the “seconds” because the degrees and the minutes did not change.
Let me tell you that we went to EVERY tomb, edifice, pile of rocks, etc. that there was at Monte Alban. The only place I did not go was to the top of the South Pyramid. My nephew, of course, trotted up and down that twice, measuring coordinates at the base of the steps and at the top of the structure.
I stayed at the bottom and tried to sketch a hieroglyph that looked a bit like Donald Duck – I don’t know what was up with the bill… Maybe it was a visor. While I was sketching that, the husband of a co-participant (David Geer) was sketching me!
After we left Monte Alban, we were heading for Mitla. First, we planned on stopping at a restaurant and mezcal distillery for lunch. Alas, we has an adventurous side-track because the highway was blocked – we think it was some kind of protest. Our bus driver said he knew a “short cut”. and turned off onto a dirt road. A one-track dirt road. With cars going in both directions as they made their way around the blockade. Did I mention that we were in a tour bus? He got through just fine, but boy, were we ready for some mezcal tasting when it was done!!!
Rancho Zapata was the name of the restaurant/showroom and it is one of those destination restaurants for families to come to for the weekend. They bring their kids with them (there’s a playground), have a leisurely lunch on the covered patio, and buy a little mezcal. The place is operated by Mezcal Benevá, and they also raise race horses there. There are stables in the back.
The front of the restaurant is decorated with old pictures of Emilio Zapata, and the back room has starting gate and finish line photos of their winning horses. In the back is also a palenque or press for getting the juice out of the maguey roots. There are vats with maguey in several states of fermentation, and a big murky tub feeding liquid into the distillers. From there, the mezcal drips into big plastic tanks to be bottled later, I guess.
Now, the one thing I learned about this whole process is that there are a LOT of flies. Flies on the growing maguey plants, flies on the pulverized core, flies on the vats of fermenting pulp, and flies over the murky tub. The one source of comfort is that that stuff is boiled, distilled and stored in a fly-proof tank. Did you know that some mezcals (not all) have an maguey worm in them? They should really put a fly in there!
More later! I have another long day in a bus tomorrow and I’ve got to get to bed.