Monte Alban and Mole

There are still more things for which Oaxaca is famous: The dramatic ruins of the pre-Columbian city of Monte Alban and its wonderful variety of moles (sauces).


Wednesday, January 10th

Some days, when you wake up you know you will never forget that day. There have been many of those on this journey so far and this would be another. Today would be the first time that I would visit some prehispanic ruins, those at a site called Monte Alban.

The construction of this hill top city began around 500 BC on an artificially leveled ridge. Most people are familiar with the Aztecs and Mayans, who inhabited areas around present day Mexico City and the Yucatan peninsula, respectfully. But the Oaxaca Valley was occupied by a civilization called the Zapotecs. This was their main city.


I must confess, I’ve been sleeping in a bit during this chapter so far. It’s just so easy to do when you have a roof! Today, however, early rising was key. I really wanted to beat the crowds to this historic site.

The parking garage where Annie slept actually didn’t open until 8am. (I really liked that it was not a 24 hour garage, for security reasons.) My friend Ramon had said to have the people at the hostel desk give him a call and he would open it for me. He lives in the adjacent complex.

He let me out and we were on the way. Monte Alban is just outside of Oaxaca City to the west, but with all of the winding, climbing roads it can easily be a 30 min trip. There were some nice views looking back over the city on the way up.

I had a few minutes to kill while waiting for the gates to open a 8am. I paid the entrance fee (…I guess I didn’t log it. $4, I think) and moved quite swiftly towards the ruins. I wanted to be the first one there.

Mission accomplished!

There is an old Zapotec proverb that reads, “He that rises most early, shall always acquire the most epic selfie.” (Or something like that… Ancient Zapotec is only slightly better than my Spanish.)

I’ll just kind of shut up and let the pictures talk a bit. Views from the North Tower area:


South tower area:

Slowly and surely, roaming vendors arrived, then large tour groups. I heard tours taking place in Spanish, French, German, British English and some Eastern European language (even though I’m 1/4 Czech I can make no sense out of any of them).

This city was built at a very strategic location, providing a clear view of the whole valley. Even if there were no ruins, it would be worth coming up here.

One of my favorite things about Mexican scenery is the layers of mountains.

We don’t have that in Nebraska.

The palace entrance:

(stupid fence pole!)

Some residences and tombs to the NW.

I’m not sure if I was supposed to go down here, but there were no signs nor people around.

Ball fields. There’s no evidence to suggest that losers of games were sacrificed in this culture, but games were often used to settle disputes among citizens.

Many of the artifacts found at this site are housed at the adjacent musem.

The parking lot, which had been totally abandoned upon my arrival, was now buzzing with vendors of every product imaginable.

I was so glad that I arrived when I did. Additionally, by the time I left (I suppose 11 or so) the heat was already beginning to get oppressive. I can scarcely imagine this place on a summer afternoon!

I don’t think I need to say much to sum this experience up. I hope the multitude of pictures will suffice.

Ramon welcomed me back to the garage and I got to tell him about the experience. He is such an awesome guy. I also got to chat a bit with the other attendant, Leo, who helped me find a nice place to eat. I don’t think I have pictures of that one.

In the evening I ventured out to the market once again. My first tlayuda had not blown me away, so I kind of wanted to give them another shot. I found another comedor and took a tlayuda to go. This one was better than the first.


Thursday, January 11th

Ahhh…I was really starting to love this city and love this hostel. My one night, last minute stay was about to turn into a four night residence. I doubt I will stay longer in many places. My room was the one in the corner on the left.

There were some random things

Fun things

Multiple patio areas all with great views.

…and some nice inspirational quotes.

“We do not travel to escape life, but rather so that life does not escape us.” (feel free to correct me!)

The cleaning staff do a great job keeping everything spic and span. Again…just $9/night.Β 

This morning I met a nice group from Switzerland. They had come to Mexico for a friend’s wedding and many of them were travelling together for a few weeks. Whenever you meet a Swiss person, just start talking to them in whatever your native language is. It’s almost a guarantee that they can speak it. πŸ™‚

I did some sink laundry in the morning, which always results in some colorful room decorations. I was planning to depart the next morning and this ended up being an insufficient amount of drying time. Note to self.

Once again I returned to my market. There was another Oaxaca product I was still eager to try. This area is known for it’s wide variety of moles, basically sauces. (the same word is the suffix for “guacamole”) Mole negro (black sauce) is perhaps the most famous of the Oaxacan moles. It boasts a total of 34 different ingredients. I sat down and ordered mole negro with chicken and rice. With the beer, it was about $4 total.

(Yes, they do drink Corona down here.)

The older lady working the counter actually sat down next to me and engaged me in conversation for a bit. Maybe it’s just because I don’t speak the language very well yet, but it so far been a rare occurrence that the people who have served me food have initiated conversations. I was glad that she did. I was able to tell her how much I was enjoying Oaxaca and complemented her on her mole. Lacking better words, I said it was “muy complicado” (very complicated). She seemed to understand that this was meant as a compliment. πŸ™‚

I walked around the Zocalo (the main square) and saw some of the sights. It seemed like the time of evening when everybody comes to the town square.

I went to see a couple of the churches. The first one was the Catedral de Nuestra Senora de la Asuncion. It is right on the square. It was not as ornate as some of the others (wow, I’m getting spoiled), but had a nice “weathered” quality to it. Like it has been well used over the years.

Like the cathedral in Puebla, this one had the choir/organ right in the middle. Maybe this is more of a Spanish configuration?

A few blocks to the north is the Templo de Santo Domingo. The first thing I noticed was how many gringos were in the area. I don’t think I have ever seen that many white people in my whole life! (Scratch that…I’ve been to a tractor pull)

This church was an absolute spectacle.

The following might be my favorite church picture of the whole trip:

Just one of the run of the mill side chapels:

The detail is just mind boggling.


Friday, January 12th

Time to leave my cozy accommodations in Oaxaca City. I was genuinely sad to go. My friend, Ramon, was working when I departed so he had a chance to leave a tattoo.

I took another good one of him standing by the bike, but it didn’t save for some reason. 😦

He was so helpful and welcoming that I almost made extra trips to retrieve things from Annie, just so we could chat some more. He made sure that I had his number and instructed me to call him if there was absolutely anything I needed. Thanks, Ramon.


Well….that’s Oaxaca City. How do I sum this place up? Though I am still far from being any sort of expert about travel in Mexico, I might say that this is the most Mexican city that I have visited so far. It’s hard for me to define what exactly I mean by that, but it makes sense in my mind. πŸ™‚

We’ll see what the future holds, but if someone only had the chance to visit one city in Mexico, this may be the one that I recommend. It just sort of has everything. It bears mentioning that I hardly scraped the surface of this place. There were dozens more places to visit and things to experience that I didn’t get to this time. As always….Next trip!

Stay complicated, everybody!



Realtime update: I’m in San Cristobal de las Casas. This will probably be my last substantial stop in Mexico. 😦 My goal here is to catch up on my documentation of the journey and do some planning for the next steps. I don’t want to enter Central America without some semblance of a plan.Β 


Author: BA


14 thoughts on “Monte Alban and Mole”

  1. Thank you for taking us along on your journey. We enjoyed the beautiful photos of the amazing churches, and the intricate details you captured of the artist’s talents. Please continue to have a safe trip.


  2. Thank you for taking us along on your journey. We enjoyed the beautiful photos of the amazing churches, and the intricate details you captured of the artist’s talents. Please continue to have a safe trip. Melissa & James


  3. You were right about the layers of mountains, just beautiful! Those ruins and artifacts, I love seeing stuff like that! And the food I almost would go just for that! Keep up the good travel πŸ˜€ and as always stay safe!! Oh and a side note… the T-shirts are fantastic πŸ‘πŸ»β€οΈ


  4. This post has so much beauty in it! Your photos are amazing! You gave us a good grasp of the ruins. We noticed some people on one which gave an idea of the size. The Templo de Santo Domingo! My, how ornate and intricate the designs are. The picture capturing the sun is a prize winner! And dear Ramon! What a blessing! We may have to put Oaxaca on our bucket list. Love you! Mom


    1. You guys would really like it, for so many reasons. I think some of the ruins pictures are more effective when there is a sense of scale. I’m still not sure of the best way to capture those.


  5. So glad you had such a great time in this city! Love the travel quote in your hostel πŸ™‚ Love all the pictures too! Still waiting to see them on Instagram… you’re the only person I follow! πŸ™‚ -B&E


  6. Felicidades Brett, eres sorprendente.

    Me gusta tu iniciativa aventurera, conocer de otras culturas, intercambiar con los latinos, aprender el espaΓ±ol y visitar Nicaragua.

    Las fotos son impresionantes, gracias por compartir y conocer lugares por medio de estas.


  7. Hola Brett! Once again I am catching up with you. So great to see Oaxaca through your eyes and lens. I once spent a wonderful Christmas in Oaxaca when my kids were young. We too visited Monte Alban, though with 3 little girls we were not there early! Oaxaca is a great city for walking, and the church on the zocalo was very festive at Christmas time. You’re making me want to go back and find a complicated mole dish.


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