It is believed the Zapotecs chose the top of the Monte Alban to build there temples because they felt closest to the gods from that height. You would think knowing that fact I would have been a little more prepared for the rigor of the climb, but alas I was not. While some of you may be thinking, “Awesome, hiking is so fun! I bet you had a great experience!” allow me to put some qualifiers on the situation. Monte Alban is a very large, very steep mountain and the majority of tourists take a bus to get to the top. My class and I hiked the path the way the indigenous population do when they visit the ruins. I was told the natives of the area can climb to the top in thirty minutes, but it took my class about an hour and a half! Our tour guide, Jose, a native to the region told us we would be a little slower because our bodies aren’t used to the altitude or the heat, but I think he was just being kind. I highly recommend to anyone planning to hike Monte Alban that you try to get in shape before you go, because it’s not an easy hike by a long shot. Even though the path is worn from thousands of years of use, the terrain is still rocky and littered with cacti and spiky underbrush. I basically looked down the entire time to ensure my steps were identical to the person in front of me so I didn’t slip. However for all of my complaining the view from the top is phenomenal.
In addition to the view, also at the top is the Monte Alban Archaeological Ruins On Site Museum, which contains replicas of some of the original stones used in the building of the temples and other artifacts, including skulls that prove the ancient Zapotecs practiced an early form of neurosurgery! What is really cool about the museum is that they allow you to walk the ruins, including climb the pyramids!
Climbing the pyramids is more difficult than one would think. The stairs are really far apart from each other, which makes walking down even more challenging. My professor recommended walking in a zigzag pattern to lessen the impact and disorientation, our tour guide said the stairs were designed like that so no one would be directly facing the gods. Nonetheless the site from the top of the pyramid is even more amazing than the site from the top of mountain. At Monte Alban I constantly found myself thinking, “just when you can’t think the view gets any better it does!” After an hour or so of walking around exploring the ruins, we headed back down the mountain which was slightly easier, except I really had to watch my footing so I didn’t fall.
Monte Alban really challenged me physically, but it gave me a greater appreciation for the outdoors and it inspired me to try hiking when I return to the states.
**Fun Fact: The ancient Zapotecs flattened the entire mountaintop with only their hands and small hand-held tools, and the entire length of the mountain is probably the length of twenty NFL stadiums.