08 July 2008

Climbing the Sun, Glimpsing the Moon

If our trip to Guanajuato was a glimpse, our visit to Mexico’s largest Aztec archaeological site was a glance. Four hours by bus from San Miguel de Allende, a day trip to Teotihuacan requires a very early start and late return. We did neither, although Brenda, Megan and I were at the bus shortly after 6 a.m., as we had been instructed. (We left about 7:45.) It was a pleasant enough drive, though, good for sleeping, reading or writing or just watching the often stunning landscape pass, with a mid-point break at San Pedro, at a tourist rest stop. And, I was glad for this opportunity—although if I had known ahead of time how little time we would have at the pyramids, I would have planned differently.

Our visit to Teotihuacan began with a walk through the "Citadel," a quadrangle formed by four low platforms, and then to the Temple of Quetzacoatl, the feathered serpent, as well as Tlaloc, the rain god, and the mythical crocodile. The crocodile reminded me of Copan in Honduras, the first moment of recollection of the many Mesoamerican ruins I’ve visited before. Here, too, we would see the remnants of color, painted frescoes. And, we would hear about the bloody sacrifices of the Aztecs, the usual tourist spiel which tends to overshadow every other facet of Mesoamerican history.

We did visit the “Avenue of the Dead,” as it ran from the Citadel to the Pyramid of the Sun. The Pyramid of the Sun, we had the opportunity to climb. Although I have had to overcome a terrific fear of heights to ascend the Maya pyramids of the Yucatan and Guatemala, the Pyramid of the Sun proved not so daunting because of its stepped platform construction. The challenge, to be sure, was sufficient stamina, but the series of stairs did not have the same sense of sheer drop that the Maya ones present. This time I was even able to enjoy being on top, on a wide platform, and on the wide ledges at different stages. The view is indeed magnificent.

After I descended, I walked along the base and admired the carved stones, somewhat reminiscent of Copan's and Monte Alban’s sculpted figures.
I was ready to make my way to the Pyramid of the Moon, when the guides began walking us in the opposite direction. Confused, I asked if we were going to visit the Pyramid of the Moon, and was told we didn’t have enough time, so we were going to the museum. As we walked rain began to pour (Tlaloc was apparently unimpressed with our visit.) Even the vendors who had swarmed us as we walked along were gone. We huddled under the narrow awning of a building waiting to find out if we would be allowed in the museum, until someone finagled twenty minutes for us to spend in the six-room gallery.
The museum houses many fine artifacts and an excellent diorama reconstructing the site. The gift shop remained closed due to the rain.

The rest of our time was spent in a restaurant, La Gruta, good food, interesting atmosphere, though cold enough some members of our party were wearing the tablecloths by the end of our stay there.

For years I’ve wanted to see Teotihuacan, but not had the opportunity because I’ve only passed through sprawling Mexico City to other parts of the country. I am glad to have at least glimpsed it, though sorely disappointed in the time allotted for the visit—and surprised that this tour, like the one to Guanajuato, is a component, and the only pre-Columbian component, of what is purportedly a study of Mexican literature and culture. However! Next time I will make my own arrangements and arrange to spend a reasonable amount of time, without a guide, having done my own research and with a good guidebook.

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