Mexico: The Pyramids of Teotihuacan

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I’d been stuffing myself all morning on my Mexican market tour. I still had the chapulines grasshoppers I bought at one to crunch on by the time I reached the Pyramids of Teotihuacan, about an hour north of Mexico City.

My guide and I, being the only two participants in our tour group due to the late cancellation of a group of young, and probably very sexy and single, German ladies, who I’d imagine would be wearing low-cut tank tops and tight fitting short shorts on a day like this, used public transport to get out here, taking the Mexico City Metro, passing through a subway station with pretty stars painted on the ceiling (picture below), then a bus from the Terminal de Autobuses del Norte.

Mexico City starry Metro station

The buses can be a bit violent at times here in Mexico and the police search my backpack and under my sobrero before we get on board for weapons and alcohol. After an hour of travel past the poorer hillside villages surrounding Mexico City and the fields of corn and beans that line the roads, we arrive.

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I had told friends and people at work for months that I was visiting these great Aztec pyramids. Upon arrival m y guide informed me: “The first thing I will tell you”, my guide told me on the bus on the way to the pyramids, “is these are not Aztec pyramids, they were built by the Teotihuacan people, we know little about them and they disappeared a few hundred years before the Aztec arrived in this area”. I nodded knowingly indicating that of course only morons would think they were Aztec, and that he really didn’t need to tell me, Juanito, who majored in history at university.

I could see the tips of the larger of the towering pyramids rising from the desert. I couldn’t wait to run up to the top of them, I had my running-up-pyramid shoes on and I was doing some little stretches and limbering up so I wouldn’t pull a muscle when I tackled the steep stairs. I was all set to just bounce down the bus stairs and up those of the third tallest pyramid in the world when my guide interrupted, “Usually the first thing people want to do is just run up to the top of the pyramids. But I like to give some context to what you will see there”. He pointed to his left, “so we will first go to the Teotihuacan museum to see some of the artefacts found in this area”.

As we walked down the path to the museum, past a few dogs and some smaller, lesser known, pyramid structures, I kept looking back at the great pyramids. I could still see the very tip of the largest pyramid, in between the cactus, fading into the distance as we reached the entrance to the museum.

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Having had my Plan A trampled over, I quickly formulated a Plan B which was to get through the museum as quickly as possible so I could get to the top of the third tallest pyramid in the world. But as it turned out the museum was quite an interesting place so I slowed myself to a brisk meander. In true Mesoamerican style there were plenty of relics showing the predisposition of people on this area to eat other people. The practice was so prevalent here in Mexico, and other places around the world, that I am surprised you don’t come across more people who lick their lips when they see tasty people walking by in the streets in low-cut tanks tops, or hombres wearing tight jeans. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad we don’t do it anymore, although sometimes when I look at the stuff they serve at Burger King and McDonalds, I think it wouldn’t be that much more disgusting.

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Here’s a picture of various implements for another practice of the Teotihuacans, which was auto-sacrifice. They had these pits around the place which they would climb down into and chop bits of themselves off, such as earlobes, which they placed in these sacrificial pots, and get into this frenzy of blood loss which probably left them feeling closer to the gods. But to even get down into the pits people had to be eaten, the bone at the left of the picture is one of many human bones that made up the rungs of a ladder to led down to one such auto-sacrifice pit. There were many of these pits discovered around this area my guides tells me as I munch on some more crunchy grasshoppers.

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They also had artwork that used to adorn the pyramids and other buildings. There was this picture of a of a Teotihuacan man dressed in ceremonial attire, as well as a jaguar, a common element of Mesoamerican civilisations, along with pyramid building, that appeared even in areas where there were no jaguars. I guess it’s a bit like all the pictures of Santa and reindeers we have in Australia, even though there’s not much snow to speak of. This one looks like he’s had a big night on the pulque and tequila, joined with the parrot in the picture above it,  and is expelling all those evil spirits from his body, just as young people still do on a Friday night.

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If you don’t know what pulque it’s a potent liquor they ferment from this gunk at the middle of the agave plant. I took the picture above at a local pulque distillery and it shows the start of the whole process. I’m thinking they probably sieve out the bugs floating (and swimming) around in it first, but I didn’t confirm this at the time. It tastes a bit vegetative and cactusy. I’ve still got a bottle of it at home waiting for that special occasion to come along.

My guide obviously wants me to savour the museum artefacts a bit longer, but I am keen to finally get to the pyramids. I want to go straight up the Pyramid of the Sun. Did I tell you it was the third tallest in the world? And once we’d turned the corner down the famous Avenue of the Dead  (which is probably about the coolest name of any street I’d been down in the world, surely beating the Champ Elysees, Hollywood Boulevard, or Sydney’s Circular Quay) that runs down the centre of an avenue lined with various sized pyramids, temples and buildings, I turn my head straight towards the third tallest pyramid in the whole of the world, until my guide again interrupts my mission.

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“Blah, blah, blah”, he says. I can’t remember his reasoning, but I believe he said I’d get a good view of the layout of the site if I first climbed the slightly shorter Pyramid of the Moon at the end of the Avenue of the Dead first. Compliant to his wishes, as I had been all day, I trundled off down the avenue, grumpily pushing aside various vendors selling jewellery, Mayan calendars, pictures of Aztecs and other things that had nothing at all to do with the location, and I headed up the steep steps of the Pyramid of the Moon, making the mistake of looking back halfway up and realising they were really, really steep, like mother f’ing goddam steep.

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I had read in my guide that when faced with steep pyramid steps it was best to zig-zag up them, so I did, making my way to an upper platform – I’m not sure at the time whether you could actually go all the way to the top but the height was fine, and indeed my guide was right again, it did offer a fantastical view of the site, with my holy grail perched prominently on my left, looking like one of the small mountains in the distance. Indeed, my guide tells me (I should really give him a name shouldn’t I, let’s call him Juan, although that certainly wasn’t his name, though with his hat and archaeological background he could easily be called Indianna Jones), the whole site was covered for several hundred years with soil and grass which would have made it look like a series of hills. It was only when the centenary  of Mexico gaining their independence that the Pyramid of the Sun was first fully excavated. But all these ‘facts’ are only slowing my ascent of the third freaking tallest pyramid in the whole world outside one in Egypt and one in Guatemala.

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A few minutes later, after a nerve-wracking descent down the pyramid of the Moon, I was finally ready to head up ‘the big one’. I first had to consume some more energy-giving chapulines, those delectable spiced and crunchy grasshoppers, as well as a little nip of the pulque I’d got from the distillery, at the bottom to give me that super-hero boost to propel me up the mega-structure.

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And there I was, at the bottom, looking up to the sky. The stairs were not actually as steep as the smaller moon pyramid, but it was tall and true to the nature of the area, people were just about dying trying to get up, many looking like they were having heart attacks and the such, as they were climbing up. I passed several bodies lying at some of the upper levels as I climbed, and also had to dodge the many people clinging for dear life to the rail they had to assist your ascent, taking one small and unsure step at a time as they slowly rose to the heavens. Most of the way I had to risk the open stairs, as they did of old. They have found the remains of many people buried in amongst the structure of the pyramid who obviously just couldn’t make it to the top, or upon getting there found they were to have their heart ripped from their chests and their heads removed. I suppose it beats getting buried alive which was also a practice of the ancient people.

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After a couple minutes of climbing, my breath quicker and my heart pounding, I took the time to be a typical bourgeois tourist, and I had Juan take my picture sitting on one of the corners on top. I must admit, I kind of look like Tom Cruise in this one.

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The rest of the day would probably bore you, if this recounting of it hasn’t done so already. But I will tell it anyway, if nothing else but to finish the page off – we visited a local town where I had some churros, then some cake at a cake shop run from a family’s home, which surprised them no end as they told my guide that no foreigner had ever visited their shop, making me feel even more like a movie star for a few moments, then finally trying to stuff down an evening meal at a local family’s home, where one of the girls had a One Direction t-shirt on – who frankly, if she was ten years older, I would have married in a heartbeat, if I also didn’t have to traverse the muddy waters of having a second wife – before heading back on the bus and Metro to Mexico City, being entertained on the way by these guys selling CDs who wore whole stereos on their chests that they blasted at full volume.

I had been on two tours in a day, starting at 9 a.m. at the Mexico City markets before heading to Teotihuacan. I had eaten more in a day that I usually ate in a week, grasshoppers, corn chips, fruit, cactus sliced up on tortillas, cobs of corn, churros and top it all off corn and pollo soup at the local families home (being practically the only thing I could manage at that stage) and  I got back to my hotel near the Zocalo at around 10.30 p.m. feeling like a pinata about to burst, only able to manage a quick beer and tequila before heading off to bed wondering if people really do taste like chicken.

Below is Juan standing in the street outside the nice Mexican family I had dinner with him. By the way, if you see him, or you are him, email me his proper name so I can give him the credit he deserves.

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greenpaddocks@gmail.com

 

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