Zapotec Weekend (longest post ever, sorry)

It’s Friday night, R and I are done work and decide we should get a car and disappear for the weekend. Oaxaca City has grown on us but is still not quite what we were looking for.

A cursory (very cursory compared to how I usually research like a crazy person) search reveals there are some neat ruins from the Zapotec Empire a couple hours south-east, towards Guatemala, and also reveals a rental car is $25 so we book it and head to bed.

Saturday morning at the car rental we are informed we cannot have the car because the radio doesn’t work, we assure him we do not care and that we hate music in all forms, we are then informed that we cannot have the car for two more hours because it is dirty, we assure him we could not care less. He tells us “No, it is REALLY dirty” we go out front and see a very sad looking, shaggy and sagging Chevy that is absolutely CAKED in dirt from top to bottom. We assure him we do not care, he demonstrates that we cannot even see out of the windows, we assure him we never look anyway. He laughs and starts wiping the window dirt clean with a rag, and another rag. The car is also very low on gas, we explain we never use gas.

ON THE ROAD! I’ve been all around the world and feel lucky about that all the time, but I have NEVER driven a car in any country other than Canada and the US. Oaxaca is only about 600,000 people but even here I struggle to make sense of the driving. I spend enough time accidentally in the segregated bus lane to qualify for a “Fuck you, I’m a bus now” t-shirt.

We head south out of town and after a while reach the Zapotec ruins of Yagul. It is hotter than I can handle so we book it to the ruins knowing the clock to my meltdown is ticking.

We have the entire site to ourselves, it is just us and the security guard, it is bliss.


A ball court!!! I’ve visited Mesoamerican ruins all over Mexico but have never seen an intact ball court before. Nearly all Mesoamerican cultures left evidence behind of playing the same sport, the ball game. Like soccer except you cannot use hands OR feet. The rubber ball had to be struck with knees, elbows, or most commonly hips. Players would run towards the ball and at the last second drop into this crab-like pose, swinging their hips wildly to strike the rubber ball.

The losing team (though some suggest it was the winning team) would be sacrificed to the gods following the match.

The view of the valley from Yagul.
R getting lost in the ruins of the village at Yagul.
No really, we were the ONLY ones there, R trying to remember where we parked, lol.

Just exploring Yagul for an hour was enough to overheat me so back into the car and its measly but better than nothing A/C (seriously, this dirty car is struggling, it keeps trying to stall, AC barely works, interior lights are dead, radio is dead, adventure!) and head further south to some sort of mountain top nature area our 3 minutes of research suggested.

Simply the most intense driving experience I have ever had.

Soooo…. Google suggested a road up the mountain but it seemed way, way out of the way, and clearly there was a road right in front of us that appeared to continue up the mountain. What would you do?

We found a tiny village and found a dear old abuela who assured us (I think? I don’t speak Spanish) that the road would take us to the mountain top. So we drove on. The car rental agreement had a typo I noticed that said we agree to not take the car on any paved roads, so I’m choosing to believe that’s the universe telling me to go offroading.

The road is intense, in a lot of ways, wow jesus wow.

We’ve been climbing and climbing and it is so hot, the Chevy sounds sickly, so I pull over every so often to give it a rest. After some time driving R inquires about our fuel level and I realize I have made a terrible mistake.

I try to ask my phone where we might find gas but it laughs at me.

It seems we’ve reached the peak and the road starts to tip down so I start coasting as much as possible o save gas, eventually finding a tiny mountain village where we pull in and start looking for gas.

Gas does not seem to exist here, we ask a few people and seem to only get more and more confused. Eventually a guy tells us to follow him and runs ahead of us, he bangs on what appears to be a random doorway and he and the owner start (I assume) discussing the stupid Gringos and gasoline. Eventually a couple jugs appear, lol and wow.

They were exactly as warm and interesting as they appear in this photo, I would kill to be able to speak Spanish at times like these.

Back on the crazy mountain road, which by this time is mostly just sand and fear, and after a bit more white knuckling the road starts to improve, eventually we come to another village where the road ends at a cliff, we park the wheezing car and walk to the edge to see below.

Cliffside hotsprings!

The sheer dropoff at the edge is shocking, it appears to just go straight down all the way back to where we started.

We didn’t have proper swim gear as we had no idea this was what awaited us but we went is as far as we could, it was 100% magic.

Shortly after we arrived the sky turned dark and lightning flashed all around us while we were in the water, thunder was constant. Soon enough the sky opened up and gigantic raindrops started to soak us, the thoughts of the road we climbed to get here plus rain filled my mind with dread so we headed out. I attempted to take the better road and promptly got us lost, turned around, drove over something I should not have, and almost crashed into a gravel-pile cliff-edge dead-end, but eventually we found the “easy” road out and rode it down the far side of the mountain.

We picked a village to spend the night pretty much at random and found a hotel.

While looking for what to do on a Friday night in a tiny south Mexico town we quickly realized things close up EARLY here. Eventually we found a hamburger cart and got an amazing hot dog and amazing hamburger and directions from the chef to a supposed place where we could get a drink.

We followed the hamburgerman’s directions down a lot of ever darker streets, eventually becoming alleys, way past any level of sketch I would have followed in Mexico City, or even Oaxaca, telling myself that as this town is tiny it is safer.

Eventually we came to where he said and saw a narrow walkway off an alley, we followed it off the street, into darkness and around a corner until eventually it opened into a small open courtyard of pallets and wood benches making a bar.

I wouldn’t say we got the warmest welcome but by the time we eventually left the thaw had happened.

We managed to avoid a LOT of stray dogs, find all night pepto bismal and found our way back to the hotel through confusingly dark streets and steep hills and crashed at the Judas Motel.

Breakfast! Walked until we found an absolutely perfect spot for breakfast, just a little tin and straw tortilleria that warmly welcomed us in for stunning chorizo empanadas. We were seated with four ladies from a nearby village, Blanca, Lolita, Helena and Coco, who were exactly as their names suggest.

If you’re ever in this village eat at this place.

After breakfast we checked out and headed to the Zapotec ruins of Mitla, I love this stuff so very much, and R is so willing to take on that excitement.

Back on the road after, driving without purpose or destination.

Roadside frozen treat, this is “nieve” basically like an Italian ice, just ice and sugar and fruit.

After frozen treats we decided to head back towards Oaxaca and visit Monte Alban, the largest of the Zapotec sites. This required passing through insane Oaxaca traffic and driving again, after driving the wrong way, then in a bus lane, then almost dying in an intersection, then having 20 cars honking at me for something I still cannot fathom I saw flashing red and blue behind us and realized I was, yet again, going the wrong way on a one-way. I performed a 220 point turn on the tiny street and edged back out the way I’d driven in, waving out the window in capitulation to all the cars around the area. This was not enough for the officer however and I could interpret his increasingly agitated megaphone blarings as nothing other than orders to pull over.

We pulled over and awaited doom. It was clear there was no talking him out of the ticket and I had no interest in pushing my luck so I silently accepted the ticket and we tried to figure out how to get back to the highway, even Google Maps was so confused she eventually gave up and instructed us, literally, to make right turns until the end of time.

I turned Maps off, we winged it and eventually made it back out of town and towards the mountains.

Monte Alban is stunning, this post is way too long and I am so tired but yeah, it’s gigantic, better than any photos could tell.

I only lasted about 45 minutes, a shame considering the site has probably a dozen pyramids, but the weekend has been long and so hot.

We drove back to the car rental place and presented a staggeringly filthy car, missing a hubcap, along with the traffic ticket attached to the registration, no idea what they are going to charge me, they said they need to contact the police about the ticket first.

We walked home after the car rental, rested a bit and then headed out again, determined to add more to an amazing weekend before it ends.

First stop, the esquites guy on our corner. Esquites is the simplest, cheapest and loveliest snack. Just a cup of boiled corn, topped with chilis and mayo and lime, in a bit of broth.

For unknown reasons street cart hamburgers are super popular in Oaxaca, I don’t remember ever seeing a hamburger cart in Mexico City. Today I learned the work “todo” in Spanish, meaning “everything”. We ordered two “todo”.

I mean.. it does have “everything”.

Walked quite a bit after, eventually grabbed a nightcap to close a staggeringly amazing weekend.

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