August 22, 2017

The Great American Eclipse

It was a great day. 

Started early (well, maybe late last night). None of the weather forecasts were cooperating. We kept checking and checking every site we could find. They all said the same thing - more likely than not to have rain or at least cloud cover starting at 1:00 PM.



So I woke up at about 3:30 AM - thinking that by looking at the forecast again it would get better. It didn't. But we had a nice breakfast at the hotel, and decided (at sort of the last minute) to go PAST De Soto and get into Washington State Park. If it was cloudy, at least we would be in a state park.

The path of totality

The details of totality at Washington State Park


The drive down was as smooth as silk. No traffic at all, and when we got to the park it was practically wide open. Now, it was about 9:30, so we had some time to wait.



We met several other Eclipistas, and did a couple of small hikes, rescued a tortoise who was looking like he wanted to walk across the road, and saw some petroglyphs (A Thunderbird, some snakes, a "three legged" man...) and just passed the time.

The Great Serpent

The Thunderbird

The Tortoise Eclipse of the Sun


It was HOT, and it was SUNNY! We were HOPEFUL!!!

We had purchased some treats (Cheese, sausage, bread, cole slaw, buttermilk pie) from Straub's Deli in St Louis (Thanks Gary​!) and some nice cold water (Remember, I was driving back to the airport later in the day) for lunch. Right as the first bite was taken out of the sun (11:49) we cheered (Still sunny!) and then ate lunch on a shady picnic table.

After we ate, we wandered up to the main Eclipse Viewing Area in the park (where the petroglyphs live) and chatted with everyone we met.




As the event grew closer, we grew more nervous. Ten minutes from totality (about 1:16 here) a big fluffy cloud passed in front of the sun. The crowd sighed.

About four minutes before totality, the cloud passed away. The crown cheered!



And then it happened. I can only describe totality the way Hemingway described going bankrupt. It happened slowly at first, and then all at once.

You wait and wait and wait and nothing happens. Then, minutes before totality, the light changes drastically. In our case, the whole sky turned amber. Like looking through ski goggles. Then BOOM! The sun is gone, it is dark, the horizon (in all directions) is orange, and there is a black hole where the sun used to be, surrounded by a stunningly beautiful corona. Stars and planets appear where they have no right to be. Photos do not do it justice.




Then 2 minutes and 37 seconds fly by (the fastest 2'37" in your life) and it's over. The process reverses itself, and all you have left are crescent suns in the dappled light under the trees.



I can't think of anything that compares.



January 20, 2017

Monte Alba

For our last full day in Oaxaca, we visited the Monte Alba, a Mixte site that was founded in about 1,000 BC (BCE), and abandoned about 1,000 AD (CE). Our guide was a Mixte. he said you could tell the difference between Mixte and Zapotec because the Mixte were so much better looking.

There is a lot of speculation about what went on here, since it was abandoned so long ago.,

Here is a diorama of the site:



You'll see more of that later.

There are a number of tombs on the site, here is one you see as you walk from the entrance.


According to our guide, Juan the Communist, these trees supplied both the fabric that the Mixtecs wore, and the name of the mountain. (the white blossoms inspired the Spaniards to name the place Monte Alba)


The excavations have uncovered a huge site, with many small (well, not really that small) buildings that look like this:


It is a beautiful setting, in the Sierra Madre mountains.


We learned something from Juan the Communist on this tour. When archeological sites are reconstructed, they insert small pebbles in the mortar so that subsequent researchers can distinguish the original from the new. Clever.  One of my archaeologists friends confirmed this, and said it was a relatively new technique, but one that is rapidly gaining acceptance.


Much of this site has been reconstructed.


Below is the ball court. You may have heard stories about how the winners of games would be sacrificed, as victory was a sign of favor from god (the gods. I am not sure if they were monotheistic or not), and it was an honor to be sacrificed. J the C was not convinced of this, and neither were we.



It is hard to appreciate the scale of this place.



We liked the buildings that had some detail

and some writing.

I am not sure if these have been translated or interpreted.



Neat stuff

 You can see buildings that have been partially restored


and some that have not been restored at all

A view of the site looking north
 and looking south
 My lovely bride

 Me, for scale

 Doreen was very happy to be there


The stelle of the three women gods. Goddesses, I suppose you could call them

 It was fun to see the carved stones in the jumble.


 See where we are? (Above and below)


And here is where we were earlier.


The following two stones are called "The Dancers" (there are a couple more) but they are more likely enemy soldiers being castrated and eviscerated.



A communal tomb.


Goodbye buddy!

January 19, 2017

Tule, Mezcal, San Jeronimo Tlacochahuaya, and Mitla

When we travel to a new place, we use all available resources to know what there is out and about the city. In Oaxaca's case, that also included the cab driver, Marcelo, who took us from the airport to the hotel.

(Short aside here: We had booked a car through the hotel to pick us up at the airport for a nominally higher cost than a street cab. That is one thing I like - having a car waiting for me at the airport. Sometimes it doesn't work out -  the driver wasn't waiting. That completely eliminates any reason to pre-book. I won't wait for the car. So we just took an airport taxi, got Marcelo, whom we used to drive us around while in town. The hotel wasn't too happy with us, but I told them that the driver wasn't there when we were.)

Marcelo told us that the "Oldest tree in the world" was very close to Oaxaca. We looked it up, and sure enough, either the oldest, or maybe the widest, tree in the world was in the town of Tule, a hop, skip, and a jump from Oaxaca.

And it is in a nice little public square. You can see the City Hall below, and the tree to the right:

It is a big, old tree:


If you can't read all that, it says that the tree is a Taxodium Mucronatum, more than 2,000 years old, a circumference of 58 meters, height of 42 meters, diameter of 14.05 meters, a volume of 816,829 cubic meters, and a weight of 636,107 tons (I assume metric tons)


It is in front of this cute little church.


It is one big tree!



This tree isn't quite so big.


It is the son of the biggest tree!


They had a little garden, with these cool plants.


After we left Tule, Marcelo asked if we wanted to see the San Jeronimo Tlacochahuaya church. Of course!

We were glad we did. The church was build in the late 16th century by the Dominicans (the Dominicans were in charge of the souls in this part of Mexico. The Jesuits were in charge of the souls in the north)

It was a painted church, and retained a lot of its charm


As in a lot of these old churches, they have statues that they parade around town during feast days.

I am sure that this one is used on Palm Sunday:

The details were really nice. It was nice to think that these were all done by people of faith as part of their tradition of worship


There was also a very old organ in the church - from  the early 18th century (1730 according to some notes)

It was really something


Most interesting were the faces painted onto the pipes:


They still play it!



But I wouldn't want to be the guy who pumps the bellows.


So off we went to the most touristy and commercial part of our trip.

The obligatory Mezcaleria!

Here we are with the "pineapples" of the agave plants.


After they are harvested, they cooked for a couple of days on charcoal.

Then they are ground up on this stone mill:


With a horse!



Then distilled:


Three times:


Finally, we had to try some.


We have to try plenty:

And eat those damned chipolinos.

Grasshoppers. You can keep 'em as far as I am concerned.


After all that, we finally were on  the way to our main destination, the archeological ruins at Mitla.

We've started hiring guides at these places, especially when we haven't done our homework. Mitla is a Zapotec site. While the area has been occupied since about 100 AD (or common era, CE, for you sticklers) but the ruins date from mainly about 800. The Zapotecs were one of many civilizations that existed in this part of the world. 

One of the reasons we like getting local guides is that you get the local propaganda about the history of the place. Our guide was Zapotec. He pointed out that the Zapotes had named this place "Lyobaa" or the Place of Rest. But when the Spaniards arrived, it was being called Mictlan, or The Place of Death, by the Mixtes. (Oh, complicated. And the Mixte had aligned themselves with the Aztecs, who, of course, had dominated the are when they arrived. The Zapotecs saw the Spaniards as saviors, so they helped them out, thinking that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Big mistake)

It is a very cool site.

The details are not carved, but mosaics. The stones are several feet long, and they make the decorations by pushing in and pulling out stones:

The guide said that it took about 100 years to make all the buildings. They were used for religious purposes.

The Zapotecs were one of the few new world people who had developed writing. We didn't see any writing at this site.


Amazing classic Greek Key designs in the walls.



Some of these walls have been reconstructed, but many were extant.


These pillars were quarried, and worked, on the hills about 5 miles from the site.

They held up a roof.


This gives you a sense of scale.


They had four tombs in one of the courtyards. You could enter one of them


You had to crawl on your knees to get into the tombs.



An SP in front of one of the walls.


You can see what a beautiful day it was. The temperature was probably 75 or 80. A little warm, but not bad at all!


When we got back to Oaxaca, we had to go to the Cafe Brujula, with the several dissolute expats.


We had some chocolate.
It was delicious.