Around the World... One Journey at a Time. Around the World... One Journey at a Time.

Mexico: Day 14

by Kathy 15. May 2009 12:07
<< Day 13: Mexico CityDay 15: Driving to Pátzcuaro >>


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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Map of Our Journeys

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Our travel map

Places We’ve Been, w/Quick Links

   Bumthang Valley
   Gom Kora
   Paro Valley
   Punakha Dzong
   Sangdrup Jongkhar
   Wangdi Phrodrang

   Janko Marca
   La Paz
   Laguna Colorada
   Laguna Verde
   Salar de Coipasa
   Salar de Uyuni
   San Pablo
   Santa Rosa
   Sud Lipez
   World’s Most Dangerous Road

   Banff National Park
   Battle Hill Nat'l Hist. Site
   Boya Lake Prov. Park, BC
   Burns Lake Bike Park
   Canyon Sainte-Anne
   Dawson Creek
   Eastern Townships
   Fort Nelson
   Jasper National Park
   Kluane Lake, YK
   'Ksan Historical Village
   Lake Louise
   Liard Hot Springs
   Niagara Falls
   Quebec City
   Thousand Islands
   Vancouver Island
   Watson Lake

   Forbidden City
   Great Wall at Mutianyu
   Hong Kong
   Summer Palace
   Terracotta Warriors
   Tiananmen Square
   Yungang Caves

Costa Rica
   Arenal Volcano
   Finca Corsicana
   Hanging Bridges
   Manuel Antonio
   Poas Volcano
   Proyecto Asis
   Sky Trek Zip Lining
   Venado Caves


   Amazon Rainforest
   Chaquiñan Bicycle Trail
   La Mitad del Mundo
   Napo Wildlife Center
   Papallacta Hot Springs
   Proyecto DCR
   Yasuní National Park


   Baja California
   Frida Kahlo Museum
   Hierve el Agua
   Marietas Islands
   Mexico City
   Monte Alban
   Oaxaca City
   Puerto Angel
   Puerto Escondido
   Puerto Vallarta
   San Agustin
   San Martin Tilcajete
   Santa Fe de la Laguna
   Santa María el Tule
   Studio of Jacobo Angeles
   Teotitlán del Valle

   Dead Vlei
   Elondo Village
   Etosha Nat'l Park
   Hippo Pools Camp
   Hoba Meteorite
   Khowarib Camp
   Moose McGregor's Bakery
   Mowani Camp
   Ngepi Camp
   Nkasa Lupala
   n'Kwzi Camp
   River Dance Lodge
   Seisriem Camp
   Treesleeper Camp

   Cañón del Pato
   Cerro de Pasco
   La Oroya
   Machu Picchu
   Nuevo Jaén
   Tingo Maria
   Yungay Memorial


South Africa

   Rock of Gibraltar
   Santillana del Mar

United States National Parks
   Arches National Park, UT
   Badlands National Park, SD
   Bandelier National Monument, NM
   Bryce Canyon National Park, UT
   Cahokia Mounds (UNESCO site), IL
   Carlsbad Caverns National Park, NM
   Canyon de Chelly Nat'l Monument, AZ
   Cape Hatteras National Shoreline, NC
   Capitol Reef National Park, UT
   Civil Rights Memorial, AL
   Death Valley National Park, CA
   Denali National Park, AK
   Devil’s Tower National Monument, WY
   El Morro National Monument, NM
   Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C.
   Glacier National Park, MT
   Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
   Grand Tetons National Park, WY
   Great Basin National Park, NV
   Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, HI
   Joshua Tree National Park, CA
   Kaloko-Honokohau Nat'l Hist. Park, HI
   Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks, NM
   King's Canyon National Park, CA
   Martin Luther King Jr. Nat'l Hist. Site, GA
   Mesa Verde National Park, CO
   Montezuma's Castle Nat'l Monument, AZ
   Monticello, VA
   Mount Rushmore National Memorial, SD
   Mt. Rainier National Park, WA
   Olympic National Park, WA
   Petrified Wood National Park, AZ
   Pinnacles National Monument, CA
   Pu'uhonua o Honaunau Nat'l Hist Pk, HI
   Pu'ukohola Heiau Nat'l Historic Site, HI
   San Antonio Missions Nat'l Hist. Park, TX
   Tuzigoot National Monument, AZ
   Walnut Canyon National Monument, AZ
   Washington Monument
   White Sands National Monument, NM
   Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, AK
   Wright Brothers National Memorial in NC
   Yellowstone National Park, WY
   Yosemite National Park, CA

United States, Cities and Places
   The Alamo, TX
   Alaska Wildlife Conservation Cntr.
   Alpine Loop in CO
   Anchorage, AK
   Antares Junction, AZ
   Arctic Circle, AK
   Barrel Oak Winery in VA
   Biloxi, MS
   Bottle Tree Farm in CA
   Calico Ghost Town, CA
   Canfield Mountain Trail System, ID
   Cape St. Vincent, NY
   Carson City, NV
   Carter Caves State Park in KY
   Chappie-Shasta OHV Area, CA
   Child's Glacier, AK
   Circle B Chuckwagon Show in SD
   City Museum in MO
   Cody, WY
   Corn Palace in SD
   Crazy Horse Memorial in SD
   Custer State Park, SD
   Dalton Highway, AK
   Dinosaur Tracks in AZ
   Discovery Place in Charlotte, NC
   Dry Falls (Sun Lakes-Dry Falls), WA
   Fairbanks, AK
   Front Royal, VA
   Gallup, NM
   Goffs, CA
   Grand Canyon Caves, AZ
   Grand Canyon Skywalk, AZ
   Grave Digger Monster Truck in NC
   Great Salt Lake, UT
   Hackberry General Store in AZ
   Hannibal, MO
   Hatteras Island, NC
   Hawaii (Big Island)
   Hickison Petroglyphs, NV
   Holbrook, AZ
   Hole in the Rock, UT
   Homer, AK
   Honey Island Swamp Tour in LA
   Hoover Dam, NV
   Hyder, AK
   Jim Gray’s Petrified Wood Co. in AZ
   John’s Peak OHV Area, OR
   Kailua-Kona, HI
   Keepers of the Wild Nature Park in AZ
   Kennecott, AK
   Kennecott Copper Mine in UT
   Kingman, AZ
   Lake Havasu, AZ
   Lake Tahoe, NV
   Las Vegas, NV (winter 2010)
   Little Brown Church in IA
   London Bridge in AZ
   Loneliest Road in America, Hwy. 50, NV
   Los Angeles, CA
   Lost Colony Show on Roanoke Isl., NC
   Lowe’s Speedway in NC
   Mardi Gras World in LA
   Mark Twain Museum in MO
   Meteor Crater, AZ
   Million Dollar Highway, CO
   Minnesota Zoo
   Mitchell, SD
   Moab, UT
   Moab, UT (dirt biking)
   Montgomery, AL
   Montpelier, ID
   Navajo Nation, AZ
   Needles, CA
   Nevada Beach, NV
   Newberry Springs, CA
   New River Gorge, WV
   New Orleans, LA
   Niagara Falls 
   North Pole, AK
   Oatman, AZ
   Old Faithful Geyser in WY
   Omak Stampede, WA
   Painted Desert, AZ
   Park City, UT (summer)
   Plymouth, NC
   Portage Valley, AK
   Portland, OR
   Prospect OHV Trail System, OR
   Resaca, GA
   Riverside State Park, WA
   Rock City in TN
   Rosa Parks Library and Museum in AL
   Roswell, NM
   Russian River, AK
   Salt Lake City, UT
   San Antonio, TX
   San Diego, CA
   San Juan Islands, WA
   San Francisco, CA
   Santa Catalina Island, CA
   Seattle, WA
   Sedona, AZ
   Shoe Tree in CA
   Shoe Tree in NV
   Silverton, CO
   Sonora, TX
   St. Louis, MO
   St. Paul, MN
   Talkeetna, AK
   Telluride, CO
   Route 66
   Twin Knobs Recreation Area in KY
   Virginia Beach, VA
   Washington D.C.
   Wayne Fitzgerrell State Park in IL
   Williamsburg, VA
   Winom Frazier OHV Area, OR
   Winslow, AZ
   Zion National Park, UT

Planning Our Adventures

For us, each journey begins with the initial heart pangs to venture to a certain part of the world. Then the ideas start coming together . . . ahh, the possibilities . . . and the dream evolves gradually into an actual plan. But, oh, the joy of the dream!  Click here to learn more about how we plan and prepare for our journeys.

Where Are We Now?

Click here to discover where we are now, as well as our uncoming travel plans.

Words for the Heart

“. . . and then the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

Anais Nin