About 20 years ago, which seems a lifetime ago, I came to Mexico for a study abroad summer session. One of our day trips was the pyramids of Teotihuacan. It was an incredible experience that I now wanted to share with my son. So I did.
My son thought he’d be super cool and not try to nap before we left. It’s really quite impossible to point out the flaws in logic to a teenager. I opted to wear my granny rebozo instead of a jacket, reasoning that it would double as a blanket on the trip. It’s really quite impossible to point out the flaws in logic to a middle-age adult. However, besides those obvious lapses in judgment, our trip was mostly disaster free for once.
We left at 1 am from the bus station in Moroleon for our trip to Central Norte de Mexico (North Central bus terminal in Mexico City). This was the most costly leg of the journey at $497 pesos one-way per person. I noticed while we were checking in, that there were discounts up to 50% available for students and teachers during vacation periods. Unfortunately, neither my son or I have school identifications to take advantage of the reduced rates. I plan on remedying that situation before our next trip!
We arrived shortly before 7 am in Mexico City. We opted to splurge on cappuccinos (31 pesos per cup) to help wake us up. We also had to shell out 5 pesos each bathroom trip. However, it was totally worth it. The bathrooms were clean, and toilet paper was unlimited even if it required a bit of hokey pokey to get through the full-body turnstile.
After freshening up, we set out to find the ticket counter for the pyramids. We ended up turning the wrong way in the terminal so it took us a bit longer than anticipated to get going, however, the blue pyramid was a big clue that HERE we could buy the tickets. We arrived 5 minutes before the next scheduled bus out to the site was due to depart. Tickets to and fro were 46 pesos each way per person, and the trip took about 45 minutes.
We had arrived before the compound was open for business, so we sat in what seemed to be the security guard break area and watched the hot air balloons pass by for about 20 minutes. My son said there was no way he was getting in a one of those, so we crossed that off the things to do list.
The admission price was $65 pesos per person again with a discount for Mexican teachers and students which we couldn’t take advantage of. We were literally the first people through the gate. We stopped to use the facilities again and delightfully found them to be quite clean. Two for two– score for the bathrooms! The souvenir shops at the entrance were not open yet, but some of the mobile vendors were already there.
The first man we came across was selling lovely silver bracelets. Of course, we really had no need of lovely silver bracelets, so we didn’t buy any. However, he was amiable enough. He said we should follow a particular path and leave at a different gate to get the bus back to the central. He also stated that we should buy the items from the indigenous vendors as their items were hand-crafted rather than the cheap Chinese imports that the little stores sold. He said we should climb the Pyramid of the Sun and hold our left hand up to the sun in a fist at noon to absorb the blessing of the sun in the form of cosmic energy. We thanked him and went on.
Our first stop was the Temple of Quetzalcoatl. Although the structure itself appeared in ruins, there was a lot of activity going on. Apparently, archeologists have recently discovered sacrificial victims buried around the site leading to previously unknown information about the unknown ancient culture that built these massive structures in Teotihuacan. Both the Temple and the human remains have been dated to sometime between 150 and 200 CE.
One of the even more recent discoveries is the tunnel beneath the structure, 15 meters below ground and 130 meters long, that ends in what appears to be funeral chambers beneath the pyramid, discovered in 2011. The tunnel and chambers are also dated to about 200 CE. In 2014, large quantities of mercury found in one of these chambers along with jade statues, jaguar remains, a box of carved shells and rubber balls.
There is some speculation that the Temple was actually a large calendar. At one time, the structure may have had up to 260 feathered serpent heads. Each head has an open mouth which may have held a moveable marker.
Centuries later, much of the original pyramid was covered by a stone platform. This renovation, which occurred sometime in the 4th century, drastically changed the appearance of the structure and is thought to be a result of changing ideologies, from spiritual to political domination.
My son and I climbed around on the structure for a bit. Access was limited with the idea of monument preservation in mind.
We headed back to the Avenue of the Dead and heard the strangest animal sound. Turns out it was a jaguar whistle. Oh, we just had to have one of those! Unfortunately, the vendor wanted 200 pesos for it, which seemed a bit high. So instead, my son bought a crystal pyramid from a different vendor. The asking price was 70 pesos, but the vendor said as it would be the first sale of the day, he’d lower the price to 50 pesos. Trato hecho (Done deal)!
Our next stop was the Pyramid of the Sun. Scaling its 246 feet was made easier than my ascent 20 years ago by the addition of cables, but it still was quite a feat! This pyramid is the third largest in the world and the largest structure in Teotihuacan. Although the monument is currently associated with the sun, it’s more probable that it was dedicated to Tlaloc, the water deity whose ancient name translates as “encierro del sol” (He that entraps the sun). The pyramid was built over sacred caverns which are only now being explored. Additionally, the remains of child sacrificial victims have been found at the corners of the building thought to have been made at the ritual dedication at the start of construction. In 2004, 12 human remains and several animal remains were found in a vault in the pyramid also thought to have been sacrificed.
We didn’t have enough energy to climb the Pyramid of the Moon, which is the oldest of the three primary structures. In this courtyard, ceremonies in honor of the Great Goddess of Teotihuacan, also known as the Chalchiutlicue, companion to Tlaloc, were held. She was the goddess of fertility, childbirth, marriage, water and crops. She personified both life and death as she was the destroyer of the fourth world, causing the devastating flood in retaliation to Tlaloc’s abuse against her.
There was some excavating going on here too. However, I wasn’t able to find any information on what may or may not have been discovered recently.
We bought one of those jaguar whistles here from an indigenous vendor in the courtyard in from of this pyramid. As it was his first sale of the day, he reduced the price to 100 pesos. It’s the coolest thing, and my son frightened all his friends with the weird, wild sound.
Then, we took a wrong turn on our quest for the on-site museum and were in this series of never-ending up and down courtyards for awhile. Our legs were already jelly and that bright idea of staying up all night that my son had, finally caught up with him. He started to get a bit cranky.
We turned on what appeared to be a goat track and fortunately, found ourselves in front of the museum which turned out to be well worth the effort. Our entrance tickets were good for the museum, so there was no additional cost, which was just dandy. There was a good selection of artifacts on display and a huge model of the entire Teotihuacan complex.
There was a little store beside the museum, so we did a bit of shopping. My son bought a hieroglyphics necklace, which broke almost immediately after we arrived home. However, the quartz and obsidian necklaces that he bought from the indigenous vendors more than made up for that poor buy.
We started getting hungry, so we set off with nourishment in mind. There seemed to be no restaurants anywhere. We followed the smell of frying onions to the back of a shop where there were a few tables set up behind the rows of chips and soda. They only had tortas de huevo which kinda resembled an egg McMuffin on a croissant, but we were starving so anything at that moment would have been fine. Two sandwiches, two teas, and a bag of chips nearly broke the bank at $200 pesos. Well, we were starving.
Smack dab in front of the souvenir shop/restaurant were the remains of a residence. Of course, we had to tour it, even though Mr. Crankypants hadn’t fully recovered, even with a full belly.
We wandered around a bit more and discovered a herb garden. There were only a few plants. However, each had a marker with its name and its traditional medicinal use. This is the type of stuff I love!
There was also a nice area of statuary.
Our next stop was to take a little siesta under a tree not far from the garden. I dozed for about 15 or 20 minutes or so, but my stubborn son did not close his eyes. When I woke up, the clouds were darkening, so we decided to head toward the exit.
We joined the swarm of people heading out, stopping just long enough to buy some ceramic skulls that the vendor offered for a two for one deal because of the impending rain. We made it to the bus stop right before the heavens opened up, only the bus was already full, so we had to wait about 15 minutes for another one.
We arrived back at the bus terminal hours before our scheduled trip home. Taking the bull by the horns, I went and successfully changed our tickets at the ticket booth. I have to admit, I was pretty proud of myself and my Spanish skills on this trip. Yeah me!
We had just enough time to treat ourselves to Subway subs before the bus back to Moroleon left. My son had the intention of sightseeing via the bus window, but the moment he sat down, he was out for the count. He slept the entire trip back, which took twice as long as the journey to DF. I watched 4 movies on the bus tv screen, dozing a bit during the boring parts. It really seemed like a never-ending bus ride, but we did finally get back in one piece.
A little more history about Teotihuacan:
The name “Teotihuacan” was given to this area by the Aztecs when they discovered the ruins around 550 AD. It translates approximately as “the birthplace of the gods.” or “place of those who have the road of the gods” reflecting the Aztec belief that the gods created the universe here.
The once thriving city was abandoned centuries before the Aztec arrived. Evidence of the burning and destruction of the temples and upper-class dwellings supports the theory that there was an internal uprising. This civil strife was probably the result of a period of drought related to global climate change after a catastrophic volcanic eruption and subsequent ash fallout.
These ancient ruins make the list of the 13 wonders of Mexico and are definitely worth a visit.