Oaxaca de Juárez and our trip to Monte Alban

Monte Alban

This post will be about Monte Alban and I think there is a need for another one devoted to Oaxaca. Ok, let’s start with what is Monte Alban…

Oaxaca mountainsSituated on a mountain 400 m above the Oaxaca Valley, Monte Albán (“mohn-teh ahl-bahn“) was once the holy city of more than 30,000 Zapotecs. How could it fit so many people? The peasants built their houses on the slopes of the mountain and an irrigation system supplied water to bottom lands east of the site and permitted intensive cultivation of the area. It is estimated that only about 10% of the site has yet been uncovered and still the largest Mesoamerican discovery had place here. in 1934 by Alfonso Caso found a buried treasure consisting of 500 pieces of gold and jade: bracelets, necklaces, nose and earrings.Monte AlbanThese pieces can be seen in Oaxaca’s Regional Museum next to the Santo Domingo church. It is of course a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

People have lived in the Oaxaca Valley since about 2000 BC until 800 AD when it was largely abandoned. In XIII century it was adopted by the Mixtecs, who added little to the existing architecture but left magnificent gold-laden tombs for their royalty.

Monte Alban Great Plaza

The various structures of Monte Albán center on the Great Plaza, a large open space created by flattening the mountaintop. In fact all the terraces, dams, canals, pyramids and artificial mounds were carved out of the mountain. In the center ofGreat Plaza there are three temples which contain several tombs. A tunnel is running from the Palace on the east side of the plaza to one of the temples, possibly so that people could appear here as if by magic.

Mountain mistTo the south of these center buildings is the Observatory and on the eastern side of the Great Plaza is an I-shaped ballcourt (Juego de Pelota). This ballcourt differs slightly from Maya and Toltec ballcourts in that there are no goal rings and the sides of the court slope. The ball game played on this court had ritual significance, and if I remember correctly the winners were usually put to death as an offering to the gods. The players had to manipulate the ball using only hips, shoulders, knees and elbows.Monte Alban tunnel

Los Danzantes (Building of the Dancers) is the main highlight of the west side of the plaza. It is the earliest surviving structure at Monte Albán. This building is covered with large stone slabs with carvings of humans in strange, tortured positions (these are copies; the originals are in the site museum). Because of the fluid movement represented in the figures, they became known as the Danzantes, but this is only a modern label for these ancient and mysterious carvings. Monte alban woman giving birthThe distorted bodies and pained expressions might connote disease or suffering; some have clear features of childbirth, dwarfism, and infantilism. Other experts believe they are prisoners of war. It is remarkable that they are so negroid in character, because there is no record of any Negro tribe inhabiting Mexico except for one faint legend in far-off Yucatan telling of a wicked black people.

To the north of the Gran Plaza are the cemetery and tombs. The tombs contain magnificent glyphs, paintings, and stone carvings of gods, goddesses, birds, and serpents. The tombs may or may not be open to the public when you arrive, but it’s worth checking.Monte Alban

Tittle-tattle: Monte Alban Mezcal is the authentic Mexican spirit with the worm in the bottle. Mezcal is Tequila’s ‘big brother’ – almost 500 years ago, Spanish conquistadors looking for a rum substitute began distilling an Aztec soft drink made from the agave plant. They ended up with a premium spirit called Mezcal. Much later, a similar drink was distilled in the Tequila region, made from a different species of agave.

Monte Alban is distilled from the agave plant in the centuries-old tradition and technique. The worms live in the agave and one is added to each bottle. Legend says that the worm gives strength to anyone brave enough to eat and some even believe it acts as an aphrodisiac. Prominent on all materials is Monte Alban’s promo slogan: “Live the Legend, Eat the Worm.”

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Puebla or Heroica Puebla de Zaragoza called also City of Angels and City of Tiles

Popocatepetl volcano

On the way from Mexico City to Puebla we passed Parque Nacional Iztaccihuatl – Popocatepetl (Izta-Popo, Zoquiapan and Anexas National Park). It covers Mexico’s second and third-highest peaks, the Popocatepetl and Ixtaccihuatlvolcanoes. Popocatépetl (the Aztec word for smoking mountain) is an active volcano as you can see in the picture above and is the second highest peak in Mexico (5,426 m). The volcano is also referred to by Mexicans as El Popo or Don Goyo. The name Don Goyo comes from the mountain’s association in the lore of the region with San Gregorio, “Goyo” being a nickname-like short form of Gregorio.

Ixtaccihuatl volcanoI’m not sure if you heard but it has acctually erupted earlier this year. First at the beginning of April and then again in May. On 12 May gas-and-ash plumes rose 4 km above the crater. Incandescent tephra was ejected 2 km above the crater and again rolled 1 km down the flanks. Ashfall was reported in most municipalities within 50 km NE from the volcano. According to paleomagnetic studies, the volcano is about 730,000 years old.

The neighboring volcano is Iztaccíhuatl (the “Woman in White” – reflecting the four individual snow-capped peaks which depict the head, chest, knees and feet of a sleeping female when seen from east or west.)

And legend goes:

Thousands of years ago, when the Aztec Empire was in its heyday and dominated the Valley of Mexico, it was common practice to subject neighboring towns, and to require a mandatory tax.  It was then that the chief of the Tlaxcaltecas, bitter enemies of the Aztecs, weary of this terrible oppression, decided to fight for his people’s freedom.
The chief had a daughter named Iztaccihuatl: the most beautiful of all the princesses, who had professed her love for young Popocatepetl, one of her father’s people and the most handsome warrior.
Both professed a deep love for each other, so before leaving for war, Popocatepetl asked the chief for the hand of Princess Iztaccihuatl.

The father gladly agreed and promised to welcome him back with a big celebration to give him his daughter’s hand if he returned victorious from the battle. The brave warrior accepted, prepared everything and departed keeping in his heart the promise that the princess would be waiting for him to consummate their love.

Soon afterward, a love rival of Popocatepetl, jealous of the love they professed to each other, told Princess Iztaccihuatl that her beloved had died in combat. Crushed by such tragedy and overwhelmed by sadness the princess died, without even imagining it could be a lie.

Popocatepetl returned victorious to his people, hoping to find his beloved princess. Upon arrival, he received the terrible news of the death of Iztaccihuatl. Devastated by the news, he wandered about the streets for several days and nights, until he decided he had to do something to honor her love and to assure that the princess would not ever be forgotten. He ordered a great tomb built under the sun, piling up ten hills together to form a huge mountain. He carried the dead Princess in his arms, took her to the summit and laid her on the great mountain. The young warrior lovingly kissed her cold lips, took a smoking torch and knelt in front of his beloved to watch over her eternal sleep.

From then on, they continue together, facing each other.  Eventually the snow covered their bodies, forming two majestic volcanoes that would remain joined till the end of time.

The legend goes on to say that when the warrior Popocatepetl remembers his beloved, his heart – that preserves the fire of eternal passion – shakes and his torch smokes. That’s why, even today; the Popocatepetl volcano continues spewing fumaroles.

As for the coward, Tlaxcala, who lied to Iztaccihuatl, overcome with repentance for the tragedy that ensued, he went off to die very near his land. He also became a mountain, Pico de Orizaba, another of the region’s volcanoes and now, from afar, watches the eternal dream of the two lovers, never again to be separated.

Inside courtyard of hotel in PueblaI will just add that the volcanoes used to be covered by glacier but because of the frequent eruptions and climate change it has changed. There is still ice at the peak but it no longer has characteristics of glacier.

I really, really liked Puebla, it’s atmosphere, place where we were staying, narrow streets, colorful houses and squares full of people. our hotel in PueblaIt’s one of the five most important Spanish colonial cities in Mexico. Due to its history and architectural styles ranging from Renaissanceto Mexican baroque, the city was became a World Heritage Site. It is also known for Mole poblano (sauce) – a number one of “typical” Mexican dishes. It contains about 20 ingredients, including chili peppers and chocolate, which works to counteract the heat of the map of pueblachili peppers, but it is not a chocolate sauce per se, as it is just one of the many ingredients and does not dominate. It helps give the sauce its dark color. This sauce is most often served over turkey at weddings, birthdays and baptisms, or at Christmas over shrimp cakes.

The historic center is filled with churches, Puebla church monasteries, mansions and the like, mostly done in gray cantera stone, red brick and decorated with multicolored tiles. The Zocalo – main plaza originally was rectangular, but later made square because the earlier version was considered to be ugly. Until the end of the 18th century, this was the main market for the town. Today, the Zocalo is a tree-filled plaza and contains a large number of sculptures, but the most noted is the one of the Archangel Michael that is in a fountain. Many notable buildings surround the Zocalo including City Hall, the Casa de los Muñecos and the Cathedral.

Now have a look at the rest of the pictures in the slideshow below:

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Hue – The Forbidden Purple City and Imperial Tombs

Asia Vietnam Hue Royal Tombs

We left Hoi An on the bus and arrived in Hue after dark. I think we just let one of the tauters lead us to a hotel. It was cold and raining and we didn’t really want to walk around much. This is how we saw the best place on our trip. A restaurant, pub and cafe in one.

Cafe On Thu WheelsCafe on Thu Wheels

Address: 3/34 Nguyen Tri Phuong Street, Hue, Vietnam

Highlights:

  • amazing atmosphere
  • place where you can let your “wachfulness” down and be crazy
  • charming owner
  • if you are feeling home sick and need to meet genuine, fun, and interesting people this is your place
  • other travellers, we joined them in drinking local beer and sharing travel adventures
  • delicious food
  • motorbike rental and tours
  • a notebook with messages and contacts to people all around the World
  • walls full of memories and individual expressions
  • toilet you are not likely to forget 😉 I’m not going to spoil it for you

We stayed at the hotel just opposite. I can’t complain. It was good standard but it was terribly cold. Well I suppose it would be perfect if the temperature outside was tropical heat.

Hue served as Vietnam’s capital under the emperors of the Nguyen Dynasty from 1802 to 1945 and the city’s regal past can still be seen inside the walls of the Citadel and the Imperial City. Thanks to UNESCO funding, much of the City is being faithfully restored to its former glory. The Imperial City, created in the 19th century and modeled on the Forbidden City in Beijing, has many palaces and temples inside. The seat of the Nguyen emperors was the Citadel, which occupies a large, walled area on the north side of the river. Inside the citadel was a forbidden city where only the emperors, concubines, and those close enough to them were granted access; the punishment for trespassing was death. Today, little of the forbidden city remains, though reconstruction efforts are in progress to maintain it as a historic tourist attraction.

We decided to split. P. wanted to rent a motorbike and just drive around and I wanted to see the Royal Tombs with a guide. It was to be the highlight of our trip for me. I love the flexibility and no pressure to be together all the time. I think we were both happy about the choice we made.

In short, from what P. told me, the ride around city was exciting and the traffic wasn’t as bad as in HCMC after driving around the center he decided to drive out of the city. There he almost had a terrible accident in a big puddle. Anyway I was glad he was alright. I have no idea what I would have done if he didn’t show up in the place where we were supposed to meet. Where to start looking? And when? We didn’t even have working mobile phones to get in touch. So I’m glad nothing happened.

Hue PagodaI went on a tour. It wasn’t organised by Cafe on Thu Wheels. If it wasn’t raining I think I would go on a motorbike tour they offer. Anyway, we had a bus. The first thing we saw was the Thien Mu Pagoda (pagoda of the Heavenly Lady). It is located on a hill overlooking the Perfume River. In the autumn, flowers from orchards upriver from Hue fall into the water, giving the river a perfume-like aroma, hence the soubriquet. Hue Thien Mu PagodaLegend has it that the pagoda was founded after and old woman dressed in red gown and green trousers appeared on the hill and prophesied that soon a true king will come here and build a pagoda that will attract and converge all the heavenly forces and energies of the Dragon Veins. After saying it the woman vanished. And so it happened. I guess you can call it a self-fulfilling prophecy as the king that build it heard it before he made a decision.

The most characteristic building is the wedding cake like tower. It has seven storeys which represent incarnations of Buddha.

bonsaiWe then visited a garden. It was a special garden with different types of plants and flowers. I think it was Ngoc Son which was the former residence of the Princess Ngoc Son, daughter of Emperor Dong Khanh. But it might be some other garden as well. it wasn’t a big thing for me and maybe because of the season it wasn’t anything special. Almost no blooming flowers, everything wet and gray. Well you have to pay a price for travelling out of season. I was really looking forward to the tombs. So let’s move forward to it.

When you think about royal tombs in hue think more of a pleasure grounds and temples than cementaries and mausoleums. They combine park like landscapes and lakes with traditional architecture. Each tomb consists of: a pavilon housing a stele recording the emperor’s achievements, a brick paved court of honour where life sized stone mandarins and animal figures stand in attendence, a tample with funerary tablet and precious items belonging to the emperor, a masoleum and houses for guards and servants. Each of the tombs is different though.

The Tomb of Minh Mang (also called Hieu Tomb)

Minh Mang Tomb gatesMinh Mang was possibly the greatest of Nguyen emperors. This 28 hectare tomb is surrounded by an oval wall of 1700 meters. Originally, the tomb consisted of 40 architectural constructions symmetrically arranged along a 700 meter axis. It is known for its solemnity and precise layout. It is a UNESCO World heritage Site.mandarins

Dai Hong Mon: It is the main gate to enter the tomb. The gate presents three paths with 24 heaving roofs covered with beautiful decorations. The gate was opened only once to bring the Emperor’s coffin to the tomb, and had been tightly closed since then. Visitors have to use the two side-gates Ta Hong Mon (Left Gate) and Huu Hong Mon (Right Gate).

Minh Mang stele houseOn the Salutation Court there are the Thahn stone statues of great mandarins, along with elephants and horses representing the royal entourage that accompanies and protects the emperor in the other world. The Salutation Court is divided into four steps – The Hien Duc Mon (gate) leads to the worship place. In the centre is Sung An Temple surrounded by Ta, Huu Phoi Dien (Left, Right Temples) in the front and Ta, Huu Tung Phong (Left, Right Rooms) in the back. altarThe Emperor and Queen Ta Thien Nhan are worshipped in Sung An Temple. Finally, the Hoang Trach Gate leads to the Minh Lau Bright Pavilion. It is placed on top of three terraces representing heaven, earth and water. It is a square pavilion with two storeys and eight roofs. The Minh Lau Pavilion radiates a remarkable, mystical atmosphere; it also features an anthology of selected poems of Vietnam’s early 19th century. On both sides of Minh Lau, two obelisks stand on the hills. In the back of Minh Lau are two flower gardens designed as the character “Longevity”.

The stele house keeps the Thanh Duc Than Cong Stele consistion of an essay of 2500 Chinese characters of Thieu Tri emperor that was carved to praise the contribution of his emperor-father Minh Mang and to describe the tomb constructing process.

The tomb (Buu Thanh) – Tan Nguyet (New Moon) crescent Lake embraces the circular Buu Thanh (The wall surrounding the grave). There are three bridges on Tan Nguyet Lake. Minh Mang TombVisitors have to climb 33 Thanh stone steps to reach the sepulchre of the Emperor. We were in fact not allowed to climb those stairs I think because of the restoration works.

Tu Duc Tomb

Tu Duc Tomb boardLocated in a narrow valley, Tu Duc Tomb is one of the most beautifully designed complexes among the tombs of the Nguyen dynasty. Embedded in a lush pine forest, this tomb is the final resting place of Emperor Tu Duc who had the longest reign of all emperors of the Nguyen dynasty. In his lifetime, the Emperor Tu Duc used the tomb as a palatial retreat together with his many wives and concubines.

The enormous costs, extra taxation and forced labor necessary to build the tomb caused protest among the workers, who attempted a coup in 1866. With the help of his generals Tự Đức was able to suppress the coup and continued enjoying the palace within the tomb for the remainder of his life. The royal amenities available at this tomb are unmatched by any other such structure in Vietnam.
Although the Emperor had over a hundred wives and concubines, he did not have any offspring. Lacking a son to write his biography and merits, which would be part of the stele inscription, the task fell to himself, a circumstance he considered to be a bad omen. His modest self-composed epitaph can now be found inscribed on the stele in the pavilion, to the east of the tomb. The stele for Tự Đức Tomb was brought there from a quarry over 500 km away, and it is the largest of its type in Viet Nam. It took four years to complete the transport. The tomb’s palace area has a lake where the Emperor used to boat, a small game hunting ground on a tiny island inmidst the lake, and the luxurious Xung Khiem Pavilion where Tu Duc is said to have retreated to relax and recite or compose poetry in the company of his concubines.

Tu Duc poetry pavilonIt was in fact designed by the emperor as a secluded poetic fairyland where he could write poetry and enjoy life’s pleasures and, in death, find a harmonious resting place. It comprises 50 structures enclosed by 1500m wall. The entrance is a Vu Kiem Gate in the south. To the right is the Luu Khiem Lake with Tinh Khiem islet in the middle. Tu Duc TombOn the tomb complex you can also find Minh Khiem royal theatre and Hoa Khiem Temple used as a palace during Tu Duc’s lifetime. What is funny is that the emperors remains are not there, his burial site is unknown.

I didn’t include many photos of Tu Duc Tomb in the text above, I will add some more in the slideshow below. From hue we took a train to Da Nang and then a flight back to HCMC. On the train which was better than our regional services in Poland a steward was serving a soup, courious thing. There was also a lovely girl, picture in the slideshow. It was hard to go back but to be honest I was looking forward to sleeping in my own bed. I think first time in my life I was exhausted with the holidays and finally taking a week off to rest after holidays started to make sense. We got very late back to London (flight through Bahrain) and it was so windy and called I hated it streight away. Now when I don’t remember the constant tiredness I start to appreciate how much we saw. The thing is, I know the balance between doing nothing and seightseeing is crucial. I think I’m just greedy, want to see as much as I can and sometimes it’s just so hard to give something up and choose. Unless you have unlimited time and money you have to make smart decisions.

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My Son Sanctuary – trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva at the heart of the Cham people

asia Vietnam My Son Sanctuary Chang

My Son Vietnam“I go first, then you go! I die first, then you die! buhahahahaa”

These were the words of our guide in My Son. You should hear his low voice, accent and intonation. It reminds me of Samurai talk in Kurosawa movies. P. can really do this talk.

In the morning of our departure from Hoi An we went on a day trip to My Son, a spiritual hear to the Kingdom of Champa.

Continue reading “My Son Sanctuary – trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva at the heart of the Cham people”

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Teotihuacan – Where people became gods

Teotihuacan Pyramid of the Moon

Teotihuacan – “City of gods” or “the city where gods are created” or “Where people became gods”.

Pyramid of the moonThe city was located on an island in the middle of the lake,the water was brought water from mountain streams by aqueducts. Teotihuacan was built on a plan of a chessboard. We know it consisted of temple group, the ceremonial avenue surrounded by palaces, place of assembly, and a large residential area.

It is the biggest and the most moving of the pre-columbian cities in Mexico.  It’s situated at 2285 m above the sea level so almost as high as Machu Picchu. One would never say that considering Machu Picchu seems to be located among towering peaks. It might be hard to believe but the biggest of pyramids was built at the same time as Colosseum in Rome. You can believe me it’s much bigger than Colosseum.Palace of jaguars

At the beginning it was believed to be built by Aztec’s but they only have discovered it around XV century. There is evidence that this site was already inhabited 400 years b.c. but the most magnificent of the structures were built around the time when Christ was born.

The thing is we don’t don’t that much about Teotihuacan. Who and why built it or why was it abandoned.

Pyramid of the sunThe biggest of the pyramids as I mentioned is the Pyramid of the Sun. It’s build from bricks called adobe (made from sand, clay, water, and some kind of fibrous or organic material(sticks, straw, and/or manure), which the builders shape into bricks using frames and dry in the sun). It was being built over 30 years by 3000 man without help of animals, iron tools or wheel. Nobody knows what is the real meaning of the pyramid. Pyramid of the sun stairsBecause it is situated on the east-west axis it is seen as a center of universe symbol. The four corners direct four sides of the World.  this reminds me the pyramids in Egypt. Underneath the base of the pyramid there is a natural cave considered to be sacred. The steps are higher than usual and not all the time the same hight. Climbing them is pretty tiring unless like me you have adrenaline circulating in your veins. At the top of the pyramid we met a guard and a small latino family (mother and two children) carrying pink umbrellas. Well why not…

Road of deathThe road of death – main artery begins at the southern side of the pyramid of the moon, passes the pyramid of the sun and ends at the citadel and the temple. It was consider the symbol of connection between sky and earth. Road of deathIt’s 3,2 km long and believe me walking in full sun with no shade you can feel every meter of it. That is once you get back to your hotel because it makes such an impression you can’t think of tiredness. I remember being very exicited about it all. It’s just so magnificent.

The Palace of the Jaguars is located southwest of the Square of the Moon, near the Palace of Quetzalpapálotl. The courtyard is surrounded by rooms, whose walls are remains of mural paintings with figures of jaguars, which in some cases have shells and plumes. Believed to be the graphical representation of a ritual to bring rain. The palace of mythological animals is a low structure of two stepped sections, in this stand paintings for an older temple, brightly colored and zoomorphic representations of feathered serpents, jaguars in different positions, winged fish and lizards.

Named after the remains of wall paintings seen in the walls of the rooms surrounding the courtyard, mostly related to the feline.

Quetzalcoatla and TlalocaOn the left you can see a head of god called Quetzalcoatla (feathered serpent) symbolizing the connection of air with water and sky with earth. It occures alternatively with the head of the god of rain Tlaloca.

It is possible that the reason for Teotihuacan to be so prosperous was obsidian – naturally occurring volcanic glass.obsidian It is produced when lava extruded from a volcano cools rapidly. It was used to manufacture weapons and tools.

As i said before nobody exactly knows why the city was amandoned and the mystery of Teotihuacan remains unsolved.

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Slow travel – wandering fields of gold

fields og goldYesterday R. and I decided to start a walking journey through Greter Poland. Two days – 80km and wild camping near lake. So I got up at 5am and it took us until 7am to be ready on the start of our trip. The first day route: Paczkowo – Czarlejno – Dominowo – Rusibórz – Milosław. But we got lost and somehow turned the wrong way. Instead of getting to Dominowo we ended up in Środa Wielkopolska.

The weather was rather gloomy. After the thunder storm during the night there were still heavy clouds in the morning. It was dashing off from time to time but we didn’t give up. You can see my backpack which includes as little as I could think of considering we could be camping wild in a thunderstorm near the lake. This means: foam pad, sleeping bag, sheet to construct the roof, a bit of paper and small twigs and matches to light a fire, pot with lid, tea, warm sweater, hat and documents to recognise my body 😉

I also took two pairs of shoes. As you can see sandals. colzaI remember someone I respected, when I was in high school on kayaking camp, saying the worst thing is to have your feet wet. it’s better to wear sandals than sport shoes with socks that will soak through. I had sport shoes in my backpack as well cos I thought my feet can hurt from walking in sandals and I can change when it’s not raining.

I also had toilet paper, string, knife, a bit of food and water. Not much food considering we were supposed to sleep near village with a shop. So far so good.

We walked along many roads…

tree alley

sand road

field road

asphalt road

stone road

chesnut road

we saw many wild animals…

deer

roe

hare

butterfly

cockchafer

pheasant

crane

and domestic animals…

rooster

dog

teddy

and many many more I would love to share. the most important thing though is that walking gives time to observe and absorb impressions, something that is hard when I drive or ride. It also shows there is no silance in nature. All the time there is wind, trees, bees, cranes, birds… thay all make sounds. I was used to then living in Poland but living in London made it necessary to accustom to it again.

Anyway walking out of one of the villages we made the wrong turn and only found out about it when R. feet hurt to much to walk further. He wouldn’t give up, but I just couldn’t look at his suffering and called it a day. I doubted if he could walk on the next day so started hitch-hiking to get us to the train station. It was hard but eventually a very nice guy gave us a lift to the train station. I organised cold beers and we had a lot of fun catching the train.

I loved it. It’s a shame we didn’t have our wild camping but well we can do it next weekend. First somebody needs to get proper shoes… Alltogether we walk from 7am to 3pm. Eight hours. Well I’m proud.

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