Nursing a hangover from a wild night in De Effe, we decided to see the ruins at Teotihuacan the following morning. The night before had been many beers and a lot of salsa dancing. Luckily for us, the Chileans knew of a wonderful place with an eclectic crowd of Central and South Americans and the beer prices were well within budget.
At the hostel, Jeff and I met a British traveler named Robi. He was descended from Indian parents and after university took up law school and became a barrister (lawyer). For some un-American reason, his employer agreed to a 2 year sabbatical that would allow him to do an around the round the world adventure. Yes, you heard that correctly, a 2 year around the world travel.
As I drove to the ruins in my trusty black Chevy Blazer, we all chatted about this travel and that and eventually we came to the story of how Robi ended up in Mexico. He started his 2 year trip by flying to Bermuda and then to New York with the intention of visiting the East Coast of the United States, then to Mexico for some Spanish lessons and then to continue south.
On arrival in New York, he phoned an old college friend who now lived in the Big Apple. She wasn’t in so he left her a message and then decided to go and see the World Trade Center; he had heard that you could see a beautiful sunset there. At the restaurant on the observation deck he met a nice retired couple and they chatted about their holiday and he about his. When sunset came it was hazy and the view was obscured. The retired couple vowed to come back the next morning for sunrise breakfast and invited Robi to join them and he happily agreed.
When he returned to his hotel room there was a message from his old college chum and they did eventually meet up. She took him club hopping til the wee early hours of the morning and when his alarm clock went off the next morning he just slept right through. It wasn’t until a splitting headache woke him later that he finally stirred out of bed. When he came downstairs to purchase some aspirin at the gift shop he found that it was deserted. As he looked around he noticed that the entire hotel was deserted to include the front desk staff. As his sleepy eyes widened, he noticed that crowds of people were standing outside on the sidewalk.
As he made his way outside to see what the matter was, the second plane hit the Trade Center. Robi told us that all he could think of was that lovely retired couple and what their fate was. And then he thought again; “What if I hadn’t gone out last night and hadn’t slept in?”
And that is how he started his 2 year around the world vacation…
Before we went to the Salsa club, I made it known that we were going to Teotihuacan and invited any of the hotel guests to come along the following day. Robi was the only one to take up our offer and we enjoyed his good company on the drive. When we pulled into the parking lot I began clearing the luggage rack to include the two red gas cans that we’d been lugging since Texas. Jeff was tiring of loading and unloading them and several times he suggested that I get rid of them. But in my paranoid mind we would be stranded high and dry in the Mexican desert without them. Of course this was nonsense, there are as many gas stations in Mexico as in the United States.
Just then a souvenier vendor approached who was selling some Aztec looking miniature statues that appeared to be carved from Jade. It wasn’t Jade but some other green looking rock, perhaps Lapis and they were quite beautiful. He offered them for sale and I was interested in them as they would make a nice addition to my souvenir cabinet. Apparently the man had heard Jeff and I chatting about the gas cans and offered the pair of – what appeared to be book-ends – in trade for the gas cans. I couldn’t accept before Jeff had the cans out and was pushing them to the man’s hands.
As we entered the park, I snapped a photo of the placard at the beginning of the Calzada de los Muertos (The Street of the Dead) because it really gives a good reference to the layout of the place. We began at the bottom of the sign and then went along the main avenue (in pink) and then to the Feathered Serpent Pyramid (yellow), further along the avenue and then to the Pyramid of the Sun (colored baby blue).
As we walked along the mile-long avenue we passed hundreds, no thousands of houses and buildings. This city was inhabited some 2,200 years ago, two centuries before the birth of Christ. By the time of the beginning of Christianity, it was a thriving city and survived until the 7th or 8th Century AD. It is not known who inhabited this city, the people are only called Teotihuacans. As the latter Aztecs were “imports” to this area it is possible that this city blossomed and then faded to history as so many cities do. At its height it had perhaps 100,000 inhabitants and was the 6th largest city in the world.
After a walking and crawling over these 1500-2000 year old buildings we arrived at the Feathered Serpent Pyramid. This pyramid looks strikingly similar to the Pyramid at Oaxaca and I wondered how much the travel and trade spread ideas through Meso-America. As we wandered about, unattended, I couldn’t believe that we were allowed to walk on these old ruins. The place looked nothing like it but it reminded me of the ruins at Ephesus in modern-day Turkey; perhaps it is the freedom that we were allowed to wander about and as you walked into a 2,000 year old home, you couldn’t help but wonder who lived here, what their life was like and what their day-to-day activities were.
Around the back side of the pyramid we were able to sit in a grandstand area that was decorated with beautiful serpent statues. I had never seen anything like it and we just sat there for 10 or 15 minutes and marveled at the view. It was hard to imagine that 1500+ year old serpent statues could remain and be in such good shape; it made me wonder what our houses would look like in that amount of time if we ever abandoned our cities.
Nearby we saw a group of Native Americans performing a religious rite; these people who may be the decensdents of the Teotihuacans consider this entire area “holy ground.” We watched for a while as they prayed and/or meditated. The elder man (in blue vest) talked for a while and taught the younger pupils about their religious heritage.
After a mile-long hike and many diversions along the avenue, we finally arrived at the base of the Sun Pyramid. As you can see in the photo below – judging by human figures at the top – the pyramid is quite massive. I was pleasantly surprised to find that we were allowed to climb to the top unlike the Pyramids of Eygpt; I was disappointed to find (a year earlier) that climbing on those is no longer permitted.
I had a photo taken of me at the top of the Sun Pyramid; in the back, at the end of the Avenue of the Dead is the smaller Moon Pyramid. The area in front of the Moon Pyramid (just above my head) is a sort of parade ground where spectators stood during religious ceremonies (or so it is believed). I met some nice Mexican families while on the summit. Many from the big city – De Effe - spoke immaculate English sparing us the indignity of my Spanglish. When they learned that we had driven from the United States they were all very impressed. I guess a fair amount of tourists come to the attractions near and in Mexico City but most people fly in. These Mexican people seemed quite proud of their country and were very happy that we were seeing it from the “ground up.”
Looking in the other direction from where we began you can see the length of the Avenue of the Dead. In the center of the photo you can see many of the buildings and the lesser pyramids. As I looked out over the plain that surrounds the city I tried to imagine a hundred thousand people in their houses surrounding this pyramid and city. It is likely that the pyramid was plastered white and painted in vivid red, blue and yellow colors. If only I had a time machine I would love to go back and see what it all looked like.
If ever you make a trip to Mexico City, do be sure to plan out at least one day to visit this remarkable place, you won’t regret it.
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