Tag Archives: tourist places in mexico

Playing Tourist — An SOTB Bloggers Compilation

Do I have a treat for you! Last year, the ladies in the SOTB Bloggers group worked together to complete the A to Z Blogging Challenge. We picked the topic of traveling in Mexico.  We gathered our travel posts together and are proud to present Playing Tourist for your reading pleasure.

You’ll be able to enjoy our travel adventures in 45 places across Mexico, including everywhere from the most obscure little towns to the bustling metropolis of Mexico City.

The best part is that you can download Playing Tourist FREE in honor of Virtual Vacation Day! You did know that March 30 was Virtual Vacation Day right? Well, if you haven’t planned ahead, consider this little book your passport to your Virtual Vacation in Mexico.

An original compilation from SOTBBloggers

 

 

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Playing Tourist–Teotihuacan

Pyramid of the sun

The Pyramid of the Sun is quite an impressive structure. That’s a person way up there on top.

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.

Buy your tickets to see the pyramids here!

Buy your tickets to see the pyramids here!

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.

hot air balloons

You can take a hot air balloon tour over Teotihuacan.

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.

quetzalcoatl

Some of the remaining Plumed Serpent heads at the Temple of Quetzalcoatl at Teotihuacan.

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.

digging

The archaeological dig near the Temple is extensive.

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)!

atop pyramid

Atop the Pyramid of the Sun with the Pyramid of the Moon in the background at Teotihuacan.

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.

fist in the air

Local lore states that to absorb the cosmic energy present at this holy site, you should stand at the very top of the Pyramid of the Sun and raise your fisted left hand.

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.

Great Goddess

The ancient Great Goddess of Teotihuacan

digging

Some archaeologically digging in front of the Pyramid of the Moon.

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.

jaguar whistle

Standing in front of the Pyramid of the Moon with the jaguar whistle.

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.

Getting a little cranky with all the up and down walking.

Getting a little cranky with all the up and down walking.

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.

model

The model at the museum was neat but not nearly as amazing as the Pyramid itself.

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.

altar

Some of the vendors had their own altars set up asking for blessings on the day’s earnings.  However, you won’t find any Hail Mary images. The old gods are honored here.

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.

residence

The front of the residence we toured.

walls

The remaining walls of the residence

courtyard

The inner courtyard of the house.

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!

herb garden

Palo dulce is one of the medicinal plants my husband uses to treat our animals.

There was also a nice area of statuary.

statue

 

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.

nap

Napped a bit under this tree.

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.

view

The view from atop of the Pyramid of the Sun.

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.

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Playing Tourist–BioParque Estrella

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The school I work for went on an “educational” trip in May to the BioParque Estrella theme park in Mexico State and my son and I went along with them. The promotional material and pictures online made the trip look incredible. The reality was a bit of a letdown.

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Fountain at the entrance to the park

After a LONG bus ride, we arrived and were shuttled along around the fountain at the entry until it was our turn to be yelled at by a person with a megaphone. We were supposed to have a tour guide, but after leaving the fountain area, he wasn’t seen again. Looked like we were on our own!

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Our first stop on the grand BioParque tour was the Subterranium (Underground). It consisted of a mini-museum with pictures of actual miners and a sampling of mining equipment. Then more than 200 of us were herded into a room with only 1 exit for the What is mining? animated video. Fortunately, it was brief. We then descended several flights of unnaturally short steps to the main attraction. We boarded gas powered vehicles and went through a “spooky” mine at incredible speeds completely in the dark. The first few stops were mining scenes, then things got a little fanciful. We passed a huge tarantula, a basilisk, a giant scorpion, Medusa (with glowing red eyes) and the lost city of Atlantis, before returning to our starting position and ascending the unnaturally short steps again.

We lost 8 to 10 members of our group during this process, so we had to set out search parties and stand around for awhile.

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Once we regrouped, we headed to la Tierra de Dinosaurios (the land of dinosaurs) and went on the Rio Jurasico (Jurassic River) boat ride. We all loaded into a seriously tilting motor boat and went around a circular canal, stopping at various dinosaurs that moved or squirted water at us. I was hit by the poison shooting Dilophosaurus, splat right in the face. I was not a happy camper. Despite my fear we were going to capsize, we made it back to the dock and filed out.

I took advantage of the milling about and searching for stragglers time after this attraction to hit the bathrooms. The lines were really long, but there were both toilet paper and seats in the stalls. Five-star bathroom experience! This is an important aspect of any attraction in Mexico.

We then went to the Sendero (path). The brochure described it as a beautiful 1-kilometer hike to admire the natural world with a few surprises along the way. The tour guide at the entrance to the attraction made a disclaimer that the park would not be held responsible if anyone pregnant, or with heart disease or other physical condition took the hike. We had to give our verbal consent before starting on the path. Red flags should have gone up for me then, but I had been lulled into complacency by the ease of the first two attractions.

It turned out to be a 1.4-kilometer hike over a root filled path, with broken guide ropes along the way. There were at least 100 steps of a variety of heights, shapes, lengths and angles. My knees were in agony! I’m not as young as I used to be you know. There were also 2 suspension bridges. They did seem to be in good shape, and there weren’t any problems crossing them. As for the surprises–the first was a mapache (raccoon) enclosure. It was sleeping. Then there was the tiger enclosure–they were sleeping, I expect they were drugged.

There was a monkey on an island and a tortuga de orejas rojas (red eared turtle). The monkey wouldn’t leave it’s cage since the rest of the island was bare of trees, and it was hot. The turtle was sunning itself on a rock. And that was it for the surprises. It was dry, dusty and difficult to navigate. If there were other things to be admired, I didn’t see them as I was too busy watching my feet so as not to break an ankle and have to be airlifted out of the park.

cam04548.jpgThe only thing interesting on the hike was this plant life. I expect it’s a mushroom of some sort because it was growing at the base of several trees. Kinda looks like corn, doesn’t it?

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One of the concession stands with extraordinary prices

Anyway, we dragged our sorry butts back to the beginning and gratefully sat down to wait for the slower members of the group. There was a snack bar conspicuously situated there, and of course, everybody wanted some refreshment. Chips were 22 pesos for a bag that costs less than half of that at a grocery store. I didn’t even bother to price the fruit or soda. We made due with our one allotted 1.5-liter bottle of water per person.

cam04551.jpgThen we headed to Lago Ziwa and the Isla del Mono Araña (Spider Monkey Island). Four-person paddle boats were the main attraction, the route being around the Monkey Island. The lines were tremendous yet again. My knees hadn’t recovered, so I passed on this attraction. My son though managed to loop the island without incident.

cam04690-1.jpgThere was also a smaller paddle boat attraction for the younger kids. Instead of a monkey island, there were two eagles tied to posts as the “bio” part of the ride.

After waiting an extraordinarily long time for everyone to circle the island, we headed to the Kamba tirolesa (zipline). There actually were two zip lines–one for bigs and one for littles. The big Kamba was more than 100 meters long, and I again passed on this experience. I sent my son as my representative, though.

He said that the dude running the zip lines had to verify twice that he was tall enough to go on the ride. As he was taller than the measuring stick, there shouldn’t have been any doubt, but hey, he’s in charge. There were no helmets or any other sort of safety equipment, including brakes. In order to stop, a guy at the end of the zip line was supposed to catch the rider and drag him or her to a stop. My son said that the brake man had a horrified expression on his face as if just knew this one would get away.

By this time, it was early afternoon, and most everybody was getting tired and cranky. The group leaders bypassed the Teatro Muziki in favor of an earlier lunch. There were oodles of school groups milling around the eating area. We had the students sit down at some dirty plastic tables under a roof and went to get some food. We waited in line for 30 minutes only to be told that our order was at the other concession stand. The school had paid for our lunches. We had 3 choices, hamburger, chicken pattie or hot dog and an order of fries and soda. My son and I ordered the chicken patties–which were cold and had nothing on them but cheese. The vegetables were in a buffet area surrounded by dust and dirt kicked up by the milling school groups, so we passed on those and ate them plain. We each received 1/2 container of floppy fries and the smallest soda in the world. It was far from filling, far from healthy and even further from environmentally friendly.

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My son and I finished in record time and opted to hit the bathroom line again and go to the Zoovenirs (souvenirs) store to wait for the slower eaters to finish. The Zoovenirs store was disappointing. The only things I could afford were cheap plastic stuff that I could get anyway. Mugs were $115 pesos, stuffed animals were over $100 pesos, crappy plastic dinosaurs were $450 pesos. Well, you get the idea. No Zoovenirs for us then.

The next stop was the Serengeti. It was a motorized tour of an animal preserve with a petting zoo aspect. We boarded this huge DIESEL tour vehicle and sputtered and smoked our way to the first “free range” animal area. It was mostly goats with a water buffalo and emu thrown in. The emu pecked a little kid and probably traumatized him for life. The water buffalo came right up to the side of the vehicle and opened its mouth for the kids to pour the food in. There were some llamas, camels, buffalos, a variety of deer and antelope, ñandu, ducks, gnu, watusi, nutria, zebras, hippos, and baboons. The main attractions were the giraffes who were too regal to consent to be handfed by our group, the lions that had a 20-foot enclosure and looked to be drugged and the elephants. The elephant enclosure was horrible. It was a circular pit with absolutely NOTHING in it. Both elephants were as far away from the road as they could get and turned their back on our gawking. I expect they were former circus animals that had to be rehomed when it became illegal for animals to be used as circus attractions. What a bleak life these animals now had. And the trash and air pollution generated by this attraction–unbelievable!

Our last stop of the day was Antartica, which was a sliding ride. There were no lines, so most of the kids got two trips in. My son opted to not ride once the braking system became apparent. Some dude at the bottom of the hill would grab hold of the sled and pull it to a stop. If he missed, well, you would get a quick trip to Paraiso de Jirafas (Giraffe Paradise) which bordered the ride. No, thank you. However, you can see that several of our teachers, after crossing themselves, took the risk.

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There were a few animal exhibits on the way out, and we saw the rather interesting Capybara–the original R.O.U.S.–rodent of unusual size.

And that was that. We headed back to the fountain and mosied out to the bus for an even LONGER ride home.

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Playing Tourist–Yuriria, Guanajuato

church door

Mighty impressive church door in Yuriria, GTO

While we often travel for a day trip to Cerano, once in awhile we also head to Yuriria, the bigger town that Cerano is a municipality of.

fish soup

Caldo de bagre

Yuriria is pretty, and there is a restaurant with a one-armed waiter that serves delicious fresh-water fish soup. The market is also full of neat stuff to see, and the whole town has a different feel to it than Moroleon, so we enjoy it as a close-by getaway place.

lake in yuriria

View of the lake by Yuriria

The actual name is Yuririhapundaro although most people refer to it as simply Yuriria. It was founded the Chichimecas in 945 D.C.As with Cuitzeo, the name comes from the Purepecha language. It translates as The Place of the Bloody Lake. With such a name, it’s no surprise that Yuriria was built along the banks of a lake. It’s actually an extinct volcanic crater that is renewed through rainfall rather than an underground source.

Yuriria is also one of Guanajuato’s Pueblos Magicos, and on that official site, the bloody lake gets its name from the soil runoff, not from dead bodies. Well, as the idea of Pueblos Magicos is to get tourists to come, I suppose having tainted waters might put people off, so the run-off explanation is given out. However, Diego Basalenque made note, in 1644, that the oral tradition of the native people spoke of sacrifices that had been made in the center of the lake to the gods, leaving the red stain of their deaths behind in the waters.

A scientific explanation might resolve the issue of whether the sacrifices or the volcanic soil give the lake its reddish color. It may be that the coloration comes from the rapid reproduction of microscopic plants, like the chromatiaceae bacteria, that bloom under certain conditions. The plants subsequently poison the water for the fish. A whole lake of dead fish would cause the local population to perform sacrifices to appease the gods, beseeching them to allow the water to return to its normal color.

As the lake is not always bloody, the scientific explanation seems to make sense. Certainly, when we have visited, it’s been as blue as Lake Cuitzeo. Locals say that the two last bloody events occurred in 1985, before the devastating earthquake in Mexico City and in 1986, before the earthquake in San Francisco, California. Well, as I mentioned, the extinct volcanic crater is smack dab in the middle of the lake–things like shifting fault lines might cause such an occurrence.

yuriria ex convent

The impressive ex-convent of San Agustin in Yuriria

After the lake,  the most imposing structure in Yuriria is the Ex-convent of San Agustin. Construction was begun in 1550 by Fray Diego de Chavez y Alvarado, nephew of Don Pedro Alvarado, one of Hernan Cortes’ followers. Fray Diego is also given credit for the creation of the lake because he commissioned the construction of a canal that diverted the river waters to the crater in 1548. I’m not so sure he actually created the lake since the name of the area implies the village had been established by a bloody body of water long before the Spanish came (records indicate that the Tarascos, who conquered the area in 1350 D.C. made a note of the red tinted water phenomenon)…but you know how those Europeans like to take credit for everything.

yuriria church

The inscription on this church reads “Este templo está agregado a la Basílica de Roma por concesión hecha el día 3 de octubre de 1901.”

All things considered, Yuriria is a pleasant stop on the road to little-known tourist attractions in Mexico.

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