20.02.2016 22 °C
Let it be noted that we drove out of Mexico City during rush hour on a Thursday, not only without mishap but without getting lost. Not once did we stop at a gas station, or argue over directions. We simply moved out of our hotel, turned left, turned left again and we were on our way. Avenida Insurgentes took us through the heart of downtown to the outer suburbs with no more fuss than one name change. We just kept driving in the direction of Teotihuacan, (Los Piramides on the road signs), and an hour later, we were there.
Teotihuacan is an extraordinary and significant site, and unless you are joining the spring equinox bucket-listers, it is large enough to wander past the crowds and imagine what life was like those many, many years ago. This is what we try to do when visiting ruins, until we are accosted by an endless and tireless stream of hawkers selling everything from onyx masks to jaguar cat calls (quite realistic) to cheap jewellery ("I made myself'). At one point, I became so exasperated, a vendor actually apologized. Those annoyances aside (everyone's got to make a living), we found Teotihuacan to be so engrossing - it compares very favourably with the many Yucatan sites.
Ancient Teotihuacan covered over 20 km.,and had a population of up to 65,000 people - a number of the homes are in a semi-intact state, with frescos still visible. The main area open to tourists is just about 2 kilometres, anchored by the Piramid de la Luna (the moon) and the massive Piramid del Sol (the sun) - the world's third-largest pyramid. The main promenade, the Calzada de los Muertos, anchors the two pyramids and connects the many tombs in between.
We began by climbing the smaller of the two - the Piramid de la Luna. This was our practice run for the much larger Piramid de la Sol - access to the top of this pyramid is blocked, but even reaching the second level affords incredible views.
We were extremely fortunate on the day we went - the sky was clear, the view went for miles, and the temperature was in the low 20s. Even so, we both wore our broad sun hats, drank gallons of water and took it slowly. This was our next challenge - The Piramid de la Sol. The dots on the top are people. The steps (264, according to one jubilant young person) are high and vertical. There are three tableaus to rest, enjoy the view and take photos. That these pyramids and tombs exist at all is incomprehensible - no metal tools, no animals to haul and no wheel to build.
And this was the view on the way down. Climbing up and down is aided by grabbing onto sturdy cables in the centre, although there were no end of kids running up and down effortlessly (and apparently without vertigo).
I'm not sure if I'm paying for my sins of neglecting my gym workouts, but the combination of altitude and climbing almost vertical steps took its toll on me very quickly. I became quite winded and dizzy, but carried on.
This couple was my inspiration.
They began the climb when we did. The wife was in a wheelchair, and while shaky, was able to walk a few steps unaided. We watched while the husband folded and stored the wheelchair, and then hoisted her onto his back, and proceeded to climb the stairs. We assumed they were just going to the first level, which would have been remarkable enough, but they climbed up slowly and steadily, and eventually reached the very top. The husband very tenderly put her down, and gave her a big kiss, with their friends cheering and taking photos. Such a moving example of love and courage and trust; if you have ever climbed up steep inclines with a heavy backpack, you know how easy it is to have weight shift, and struggle for balance. We tried to picture Stephen carrying me 264 steps up the pyramid and back down, but the image wasn't quite happening.
Teotihuacan has two excellent museums - we visited them both. The first was the Museo de los Pinturas -
Teotihuacan was famous for its frescoes and murals.
The second was more comprehensive, with displays of death artifacts, and skeletons. Many bodies were buried in the fetal position, with their legs bound up to their bodies. This was intended to place them in the "birth" position for entrance to the next world.
Art imitating life - a scale model of Teotihuacan below - Piramid de la Sol reflected above.
From Teotihuacan, we drove to Real de Monte in a couple of hours - an old mining town high up in the mountains, and one of two Pueblo Magicos in the area. While this town was the scene of the very first miners strike in the Americas in 1776, it is noteworthy to tourists for the Cornish influence here. In the 19th century, a British company invented a singular boiler, which was used in Mexico. By the mid 20th century, Cornish miners arrived to work the mines and operate the machinery.
One of the innovations they brought as well to this small Mexican town were Cornish pasties ( known as pastes here) to take down into the mines for lunch. Dozens of shops and restaurants sell them, and we can't get enough of them.
Breakfast - meat, potato and onion paste, apple paste, and fresh cinnamon coffee. Dad - you would love these. We were given a tour of the restaurant's kitchen - they produce a massive number of pastes each day - about 15 sweet and savoury varieties - for $1 a piece.
If ever I was considering a career in mining, this visit to Mina Acosta put an end to that idea. We piggybacked onto a school tour, which made it way more fun - forty 15-year-olds screamed and giggled through the whole tour. We began with some above-ground explanations from our excellent guide (he worked the mines for 5 years), and a solid overview of the machines, the working conditions and the depths the men descended to - five levels up to 500 metres
And then we put on hard hats and entered the tunnel.
Once inside, we walked through tunnels barely high enough for average-sized people. Dark. Damp. Claustrophobic. And we were only at the first level - we did not descend down to the level where the miners worked. Our guide talked about accidents and deaths and the plague of silicosis. He turned off the lights so we were in utter blackness (hence the screaming teenagers) - it was a very convincing impression of what a miner's day would entail.
We were mightily relieved to see daylight again, and explore the rest of Real del Monte. It is a small, compact town - not a lot to do here, but the streets were twisty and narrow and fun to wander through.
A view of the town from the upper level lookout
Today, we drove a short distance to El Chico National Park and the small town of Mineral del Chico. El Chico is a 3000-hectare park, with great hiking trails, pine trees and crisp, fresh air. If it wasn't for the cactus and agave plants, we might have been in British Columbia.
We walked along for about 40 minutes, with gradually increasing incline and viewpoints.
And then we ran into this little fellow. Matted and thin, but confident on the trails, he is not lost, but lives here. He was wary of us, but did drink water out of my hand. This is the very first little Mexican dog that has stolen my heart, but he was not interested in coming along with us. Somehow, he has found a home in the mountains.
We talked to this lovely family from Queretaro who were here for the weekend to hike in the mountains. One of the daughters spoke perfect English (learned in her high school), and they led the way to the summit.
Our reward for the climb. Unfortunately, there was some cloud cover, so our view was not as far-reaching as it might have been,
but spectacular nonetheless.
There was this cross planted at the top of the summit. We don't know if this gentleman died up here, or if it is a commemorative cross
to mark a place he loved to visit while alive.
We had to traverse a bit - facing front, on our backsides, going backwards -
whatever worked - until we hit the stairs again.
After our climb down, we headed 10 km. into the very picturesque little mining village - Mineral Del Chico, for lunch.
Yet another Pueblo Magico, this sweet little town offers refuge for city-weary tourists. This is the low season - but from April on, the cars stream out of Mexico City northward for a dose of fresh mountain air and outdoor recreation. Their motto is "Pueblo chico, gente grande" (Small town, great people) - which we found to be true. There are a number of cabins for rent and small fishing lodges; we also saw a number of mountain bikers setting out. The twisty hairpin road in to the village would be pure adrenaline on a motorcycle.
We leave tomorrow for Xilitla, about 5 hours north - to discover the Heart of Darkness garden visions of a mad English eccentric who hung out with Salvador Dali. See you again in a few days.