Tag Archives: tourist sites in Mexico

Playing Tourist–Guadalajara Zoo

This year, the elementary school I work at, had its class trip to the Guadalajara Zoo.  Never one to miss an adventure, I signed us up. Overall, it was a nice experience and one I would reccomend for tourists visiting Mexico.

Despite the agonizingly long bus trip to and from Guadalajara, the class trip to the zoo went pretty well.  The animals seemed well cared for.  There were even babies in evidence, showing adequate food and living conditions.  

The aquarium was small but nice.  The penguin exhibit seemed a bit lacking in penguin stimulation opportunities.  A snow slide or two would have been nice.  Maybe a dancing penguin.  Nope.  Nothing like that happened here.

No happy feet here.

No happy feet here.

There were two shows available, birds and reptiles.  Both were short and entertaining even though there was some snake kissing going on.

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The sky zoo was out of commission, but my son said that was just as well.  They seemed a bit rusty and unreliable to him.

The “train” ride wasn’t really worth it.  It went entirely too fast and the same route can be covered on foot.  These animals were in smaller enclosures, not in an open area like the safari.

The Safari Masai Mara was much better than BioParque. Our guide almost seemed authentic with his brightly colored robes on and dashes of Swahili in his scripted presentation. The animals had both shade and adequate water. They didn’t seem listless and hungry.

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The giraffes were mighty friendly. Also more ecologically sound was the fact that our guide gave us handfuls of food to feed the giraffes rather than a cup, reducing our ecological footprint (again, unlike BioParque).

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The Rancho Veterinario was pretty lame. There were a handful of small animals behind glass, Shetland ponies, mini-donkeys, a Clydesdale, a cow and a hairy pig. La Yacata has more variety. Although there was a short discussion about what it means to take care of animals, the animals were not interested in interacting with the students and the students seemed abnormally horrified at all the pooping going on. This part can be skipped completely.

The food was typical fast food, greasy and overpriced. You are allowed to bring your own food into the park, so that is what I would recommend.  Souvenirs are 3 times what you can get at a regular store, but better quality than most.  We bought a little Masai drum to add to the Jaguar whistle and Carved Skull from Teotihuacan.

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One bit of the trip that made my heart soar was the fact that so many of the kids referenced something we had discussed in English class when seeing the animals.  In fourth grade, we just finished discussing extinct and endangered species.  When we passed the mountain goat section, a fourth grader shouted out that the Pyrenean Ibex was extinct.   In fifth grade, we are discussing forms of communication. We watched the video about Koko and gorilla sign language.  That topic came up as we passed the gorilla enclosure.  In third grade, we just finished discussing animal abilities with can and can’t.  Of course, the students already knew that the giraffe can clean its ears with its tongue and that penguins can’t fly.  Even my lackluster student in sixth pointed out that a certain bridge would be perfect for bungee jumping (extreme sports being our current theme).  Validation as a teacher!

However, as I mentioned, that LOOOOONG trip there and back prevents it from being a repeated activity, at least for us.

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Playing Tourist–Teotihuacan

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)!

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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.

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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.

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The ancient Great Goddess of Teotihuacan

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The front of the residence we toured.

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The remaining walls of the residence

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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!

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

There was also a nice area of statuary.

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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.

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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.

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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–Patzcuaro, Michoacan

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Ex-monastery of San Agustin in Pátzcuaro, Michoacán, Mexico

Patzcuaro, Michoacan is yet another Pueblo Mágico within easy driving distance from La Yacata, so there was nothing to be done but go. Its original name was Tzacapu-Hamúcutin-Pásquaro which roughly translates as Donde están las piedras (los dioses) a la entrada de donde se hace la negrura (where the stones of the gods are at the entrance to where they make the blackness) which sounds ominous. A better English translation would be ‘The entrance to the gates/entrance of Paradise’ or some such idea. The indigenous of the area held the belief that lakes were portals to the otherworld, so it comes as no surprise that there is a lake just outside of Patzcuaro proper.

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Fountain in the center of Patzcuaro, Michoacan in honor of Bishop Vasco de Quiroga.

The Purépechas founded the town sometime before 1300 mostly as a religious center. The Spanish arrived in 1522, and the town remained a religious center with a very small population until about 1539 when the bishop Vasco de Quiroga dedicated himself to the repopulation and revitalization of the area. He was well received by the native people, even earning the nickname Tata Vasco.

In 1776, the indigenous of the area staged a revolution which was put down in 1777. In 1886, the railroad Morelia-Pátzcuaro was finished, and in 1899, Patzcuaro had its first electric lights. That amazes me since La Yacata is still waiting for electricity in 2016!

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Since then, it has been a popular tourist area, known for its pottery and basketry. It really is a beautiful little town, done up in the red and white style, with cobblestone streets, much like Cuitzeo.

Our underlying reason for visiting Patzcuaro was my quest for a foot-pedaled sewing machine. Someone told me that these could be found there. So there we went. The road was clearly marked, unlike our trip to the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary and we were able to take the libre (free) road the entire way.

There happened to be a tianguis (flea market) in the centro (downtown), but there wasn’t much of interest for us. Most vendors were hawking new toys and boxes of cookies for Los Santos Reyes. We did enjoy some gorditas de nata and fresas con crema (strawberries with whip cream).

Around la plaza, we noticed that there were a number of American-styled coffee houses instead of the more typical taco stands. It really smelled heavenly but was pricey, so we opted not to buy any. In line with the town’s tourist popularity, there were quite a number of gringos (white English speaking people) enjoying their cups of joe, playing chess or reading. The stores were chocked full of delightful artesenia (arts and crafts) but at prices that were not accessible to the average Mexican or to us, for that matter.

cam04112.jpgWandering around town, we came across the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de la Salud, built on a Purépecha/Tarasco pyramid platform. Notice the sign by the fence warns against tieing up your horses or leaning against it. I didn’t see much in the way of horses for that to be a current problem. There, outside the Basilica, vendors were selling prayer cards, rosaries, statues and peyote/marijuana cream for arthritis. Nuestra Señora de la Salud seems to be the same virgin found in Soledad, so I expect pilgrimages are made here as well to petition her curative powers. Tata Vasco’s remains are also housed within the Basilica.

We finally found the Singer Sewing store, and they had a foot-pedaled machine on display. However, the elderly owner would not sell it to me because she said it was a piece of crap, China made rather than hecho in Mexico (made in Mexico). My son pointed out that was just as well since if we did buy the machine, how would we get it in Myrtle (the VW bug) and back home? Good point.

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We stopped at a yonke (junk yard) and picked up some pieces for the revitalization of Myrtle and had a late lunch at Las Jacarandas just outside of Cuitzeo. An excellent day trip if rather uneventful.

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