Mexico City, Teotihuacán
About an hour outside of Mexico City are the fabulous ruins of Teotihuacán, a religious and economic center that was built starting in 500 B.C., and was abandoned around 700 A.D. There are two large pyramids, and our goal for today was to climb the biggest one—the Pyramid of the Sun.
When initially planning our trip, we had considered various methods of experiencing Teotihuacán: a big bus tour, driving ourselves, taking public transportation, or hiring a private guide. The “big bus tour” option was quickly crossed off of our list. We generally do not go on big bus tours. First, there are just too many people. Second, there is no flexibility regarding the itinerary. Being able to change plans is important because we don’t know how Genevieve or Sebastian will react to the tour. Different tour guides create different tour “personalities”; while Ben and I could endure hours of a droning tour guide, Genevieve and Sebastian would be utterly miserable, which would diminish the experience for all of us. Third, an “all day” bus tour is just too long (especially with the “rest” stops in front of tourist markets).
With respect to driving ourselves, we thought about renting a car a day early—we would be picking a car up tomorrow morning anyway when we left Mexico City. Ben and I are accustomed to driving through all kinds of traffic—after riding our motorcycles through the fluidly chaotic streets of India, as well as the maniacal craziness of the Los Angeles freeways, we feel that we can pretty much drive through any type of road conditions. However, our Mexico City research revealed a scattering of stories (ahhh . . . “those” stories . . . ) telling about the purported horrors of Mexico City streets that lead you in endless circles, as well as being pulled over by fake police officers for a shakedown. It was those latter stories that gave us pause. When traveling with the children, Ben and I weigh the risk factors and make decisions that err on the side of safety. Since we had never been to Mexico City, and didn’t want to tell stories later that involved the words “children” and “gunpoint” in the same sentence, we eliminated the “driving ourselves” option. (I must add that we drove many miles through the freeways and small mountainous roads in Mexico, and we NEVER encountered any “fake” police or ever felt in danger.)
We seriously considered the public transportation option. We could take the subway, with one transfer to another line; then we needed to take a short walk to the bus terminal and ride a bus to Teotihuacán. Our only concern was that the travel time to and from the ruins could be as much as 1 ½ to 2 hours each way.
In the end, we decided to hire a private guide. We liked the efficiency and convenience of traveling to and from the site in a car, and we also felt that we would gain a greater appreciation for the buildings and temples if we had someone to explain the history, traditions and artwork. I emailed our hotel, asking if they knew of someone who was fluent in English and could make the experience fun (as well as educational) for the children—they recommended Bernardo Ortiz Rojas, who proved to be a bottomless source of historical information, a creative storyteller, and a warm and caring person. He provided us with a day that we will never forget.
Bernardo picked us up in his car at our hotel at 9:00 a.m. sharp. We crept through some city traffic but were soon on the uncrowded toll road to Teotihuacán. Here are some houses on the outskirts of Mexico City:
Bernardo was extremely knowledgeable, and we learned about many things during our drive. For example, for hundreds of years local people have used the century plant to make a drink called pulque (which can be turned into mescal), as well as many other items such as ropes and even cloth from the fibrous leaves. (If I get information wrong, it is due to my faulty memory, and not Bernardo’s teaching!)
A century plant in bloom:
Teotihuacán was much bigger than we had imagined, with 5 different entrance points. Each entrance had souvenir shops, but no aggressive vendors. Here we are at our entrance:
We were glad to have Bernardo there because he showed us many tucked-away paintings and carvings, which we almost certainly would have missed if we had come solo.
We moved quickly from one area to another, with Bernardo enthusiastically engaging the children with fun facts and amusing explanations.
For example, Bernardo explained that the large rolling “tongue” coming out of this painted creature is commonly believed to depict the concept of “language” or “talking”.
We would sometimes see the same object in paintings and sculptures that were in different areas of the ruins. Here is a “horn” that represented music, found both in a painting and stone-carving:
Bernardo would often playfully “quiz” Genevieve and Sebastian by asking them if they remembered seeing an object before—and the children would excitedly describe where they had seen it and what the object represented! (Bernardo even kept track of the children’s right answers, and he bought small but meaningful souvenirs as “prizes” for the children at the end of the tour.) Here is Sebastian discussing the “wave” shape in this painting:
The children were attentive, with little sponge brains, as Bernardo pointed out interesting details:
Ben and I also had thirsty brains that were quenched with tidbits about how the floors were always sloped a tiny bit lower at one end for water drainage, and how the inhabitants had indoor toilets! Here is Bernardo with a stone toilet:
Close-up of the toilet:
We also learned how the pyramids consisted of one temple built on top of another. Bernardo explained that the Teotihuacán inhabitants constructed a new temple on top of the existing one(s) every 52 years, as part of a cycle of renewal and rebirth. In one of the chambers, we viewed the door of what used to be a temple sitting on top of a pyramid; however, that temple had been filled in when the people had built another temple on top of it:
We finally wound our way around to one of the big plazas:
The Pyramid of the Moon was impressive:
While visitors are allowed to climb part way up the Pyramid of the Moon, we opted not to do so. We had our sights on the massive Pyramid of the Sun, which we could see in the far distance. We all vividly remembered how depleted we were at the top of the Monte Alban pyramid in Oaxaca, and we wanted to conserve our energy. (Today, however, was a much cooler day than in Oaxaca, and we had packed plenty of water.)
As soon as Genevieve and Sebastian saw the wide open plaza, they were off like bullets. Bernardo continued to tell Ben and I about the history of the surrounding structures. After a short time, we looked around, “Where are the children?!” We scoured the courtyard, and then our eyes traveled upwards around the ring of small structures . . . ahhh, there they are!
We then started off toward the Pyramid of the Sun; we could see people climbing the front, and we were just giddy with anticipation:
Bernardo gave us instructions on where to meet; then he headed off to bring the car around to an entrance that was closer to the Pyramid of the Sun.
He also recommended that we stop and admire the painting of the puma guarding an agricultural field along the way:
On our walk, we passed some of those same critters that we have in our garden at home:
Genevieve and Sebastian in front of the Pyramid of the Sun:
Here are Ben and the children at the base of the Pyramid of the Sun, getting ready to climb. You can see how steep the sides of the pyramid are. (If you look closely, you can also see large rocks sporadically protruding from the pyramid walls. When we were at the top, Bernardo asked us to guess what those rocks were for. Perhaps subconsciously harboring thoughts of the children plummeting off the pyramid sides, I guessed that the rocks were placed there to catch people from rolling to their deaths if they slipped at the top. Uhhh . . . no. The pyramid was once covered in a stucco-like substance, and the rocks kept the newly placed wet coating from sliding off until it had dried.)
Teotihuacán is located at an elevation of 7500 feet, so the oxygen was a bit thinner than we are accustomed to at home (sea level); however, none of us had any problems in getting to the top. Here are Genevieve and Sebastian:
We gazed in wonder at the view—the Pyramid of the Moon looked magnificent:
A family photo:
A close-up of the Pyramid of the Moon:
Bernardo continued to intrigue the children with his descriptions and tales:
There are several museums at Teotihuacán. We had not yet eaten lunch, and our stomachs were all growling, so we zoomed through the small, but lovely, museum at the entrance to Gate 5. Outside the museum is a mural that depicts various aspects of ancient cultures in this area.
Here are some skeletal remains that are displayed inside the museum:
Sebastian, ever the prankster:
Our lunch stop was only a minute’s drive away—La Gruta (The Grotto), a restaurant in a natural cave.
Here are Sebastian and Genevieve at the entrance:
We had heard about this place from our friend Pablo, who was raised in Mexico City. We thought that the kids would really think it was exciting to eat in a cave; however, we expected a “cheesy”, touristy atmosphere, with mediocre food. We were really pleasantly surprised! The cave was very large and bright, with natural light coming through the entrance; the tables were decorated with colorful tablecloths, and the service was excellent. And we were all surprised at how good the food was! Here is Bernardo with Sebastian inside the restaurant:
As an added bonus, there was a small playground for the children to enjoy.
Bernardo explained that the surrounding area is full of caves. Over a hundred years ago, the Mexican president was traveling through the area, and some people had the idea of serving the president a meal in one of the largest caves—voila, the idea for La Gruta was born!
After our late lunch, we declined Bernardo’s gracious and generous offer to visit another museum—the tour had lasted 6 hours already, and we still had an hour’s drive back to the hotel. We were leaving Mexico City in the morning, and I still needed time this afternoon to visit the Frida Kahlo museum. Plus, all of our brains were deliciously full of information about Teotihuacán, and we doubted that we could absorb anything else about the ruins. Sometimes, “less is more.”
We were tired but happy upon our return to the hotel. Ben decided to stay with the children for some “down time”, while I ventured off by myself to see Frida’s museum. I got out my map, figured out which subway transfers I needed to take, and headed for the “little blue house” in the Coyoacan neighborhood where Frida had lived for many years.
Frida Kahlo is one of my favorite painters—an imaginative and innovative painter who created with much emotion from the heart. Ben and I had recently seen the traveling exhibition of her work when it was displayed at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Her paintings had been even more electrifying in person.
The walk from the subway station in Coyoacan was longer than I anticipated. I had a sketchy map, and a couple of times I wondered if I was even going in the right direction. But on I walked, and was relieved to see this sign, which let me know I was right on track.
At last I reached the blue house!
The museum was small, with each room in the house holding various treasures: Frida’s paintings, her husband Diego Rivera’s paintings, letters, Frida’s plaster corsets that she had to wear because of her back injuries, Frida’s bed with a mirror attached to the ceiling, kitchen items, and even the urn that purportedly held Frida’s cremated remains. There weren’t many visitors wandering around the small rooms, so I could look and savor the experience.
Guests were prohibited from taking photographs inside the museum, so I took some of the outer areas:
The walk back to the subway was very long, and my feet were tired, but I had a big smile on my face. For so many years, I had read about Frida and connected with her artwork, and I was full of joy to have had the experience of visiting her small home and seeing many of the items that she used in her daily life.
When I went to board the metro, I noticed that the first few train cars were reserved for women only and were significantly less crowded than the other cars. I took advantage of the extra space and even had my own seat.
I was physically weary when I finally arrived back at the hotel. I didn’t want to walk very far to dinner. Luckily, one of the hotel’s dinner recommendations was a wonderful restaurant, “C25”, right across the street. The restaurant had a beautiful outdoor garden, and we ate under a large umbrella. The food was delicious, and the servers were very attentive. The rain started during our dinner, but our table umbrella was so big that we didn’t get wet!
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