27 April, 2008

My trip to Suchilquitango and San Jóse El Magote

This Saturday I took a trip to visit two archaeological sites, Suchilquitango--a Classic-era site in the Etla Valley--and San Jóse el Magote--a Formative-era site that predates the big urban center of Monte Alban by at least a thousand years. It was quite an interesting journey as it was the first time I had ever traveled anywhere in México alone by myself. Strange I know, considering I had done it a couple of times in Perú.

Getting to Oaxaca was fairly easy. Finding my way to Suchilquitango was a whole different matter, as people kept giving me the wrong directions on where to find the correct colectivo. Finally, after receiving some helpful advice from a taxi driver that had caught my attention by calling me guapa--uh, thanks--I finally found the right place to pick up the colectivo--of course on the other side of the bus station. Sprinting over there, as I had already wasted a half hour, I responded to one driver's inquires of where I wanted to go with "Suchilquitango" and he said sure, hop on in. I got in and suddenly I was surrounded by 5 different drivers all competing for my business--one guy was shouting at me that he could take me to Cerro La Campana--the actual name of the site itself--for only 12 pesos. The driver of the colectivo I was in implored me not to listen to them, that they were bad guys, etc. I rolled my eyes and said "Hombres, voy a esperar a otros pasejeros y na'a más, gracías" (Men, I am going to wait for other passengers and nothing more, thank you").

Soon the other passengers hopped in and we were off, which was when I realized that I was not in a colectivo destined for Suchil, but somewhere else. Not to worry, the driver informed me, we would be passing by Suchil on the way. Okay. Well, we did pass by there and he dropped me off, offering to take me to Cerro La Campana for 10 pesos. I said thanks, but no thanks as I had plans to go to the museum first. I hopped in a mototaxi and went there, and my driver helpfully informed me that I would need to go into the municipal building first and ask them to open it for me. Haha, which I did and the head of the Civil Department in Suchil was kind enough to show me around the museum, answer my questions and then direct me the right way to the site.

After purchasing some water I got in another mototaxi and took it up to the site, which was pretty funny considering. There were times I was afraid I would have to get out and push--and where it would have been faster to walk!--but make it the mototaxi did and after arranging a time for the joven to come back and pick me up I went up to the site. It was actually pretty interesting--there was a quite impressive ball court--the actual purpose of my journey...
...as well as some really cool partially reconstructed pyramids and other mounds. The one in the photo below actual borders one end of the ball court.

Once done checking out the site, I chatted with the two site guards/guides, asking some questions about the ball court and the large tomb that was there, then walked back down to where I was supposed to met up with my joven mototaxi driver. I waited for a few minutes and, thinking that he prolly just forgot, began walking down the hill--which is in all truth a two-mile hike. I was all set for it anyway, even in the heat, when who pulls up the hill but my joven in his blue mototaxi. I greeted him "Bueñas tardes" and climbed in. We chatted on the way down and he asked if mototaxis were in El Norte yet and I had to smile and say no, not yet.

He drove me all the way back to the highway, and, after most likely overpaying him he helped me flag down a colectivo and arranged to have the driver drop me off in Soledad Etla at the spot where I could pick up the bus to go the my next stop, San Jóse el Magote. And pick up the bus I did, which I only rode for like 7 minutes before getting off again. Right away I noticed an architectural feature and after climbing up the stairs and taking a peek...well, it looked like a ball court, but I couldn't quite tell, it was so overgrown and full of trash. So, checking the guidebook, I walked to the local museum--which was closed of course--then hiked around a couple of blocks till I could locate the one pyramid or mound that had been reconstructed.

And you know what? Damn thing was huge and rather impressive, especially for being a Formative-era site. I mean, it was so large that it had a courtyard on top.
I went around the courtyard taking pictures, searching in vain for this dazantes sculpture that was supposed to be down a hole somewhere and noticed someone's donkey grazing...get this...on the mound itself.
So...ball court. I still needed to find the ball court, cause that was the whole point, ya know? I figured that despite it being the current town trash pit, that first feature I saw had to be it. So I circled back to the feature, close to the entrance to the town itself, and took another gander. Indeed, yes, it was in fact the ball court. Much smaller than the one at Suchil, it was nevertheless still rather cool as, standing in the middle of this weedy sunken court surrounded by mounds on all sides, I could picture ancient Zapotecs running up and down it playing the ball game, almost 2,000 years ago. It was quite cool and I am glad to have taken this trip. I know, I know, I am quite the archaeology nerd.

Anyway, after getting back to Oaxaca, I putzed aroud a bit--printed some pics as I had promised some people, bought jewelry, had a drink in the zócalo, then ate at my favorite, absolute favorite restaurant in Oaxaca--Maria Bonita. If you ever find yourself in the capital and want a delicious but affordable meal, definitely go there. It's on the corner of Álcala and Humboldt, directly north by a few blocks of the zócalo.

All in all, a quite excellent day visiting sites and traveling by myself.

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