Monday, January 07, 2013

Viva Mexico - Parte I : Pirámides de Teotihuacan

Last Christmas vacation was definitely one of the most memorable vacations I have had of late.  Reason: I was in Mexico, the country closest to my heart after my own, the country which makes me feel I'm one among them, the country which gave me many friends and a new tongue.  It was nine fun filled days of warm weather, delicious food, amiable people, rich heritage, lovely landscapes, colonial cities, mystic rituals, tropical forests, art, music, dance and what not! It was a joyful reminisce of my stint in Mexico, a pleasant and a passionate feeling of déjà vu.  We code named our vacation "Viva Mexico" and it consisted of four members - Linda Hung, Ying Wang, Xu Han and myself.  I've shot nearly 11gigs of RAW photos (thanks Xu for lending his CF card) which am gonna edit and keep publishing when the pictures and words are ready.  Here's the first in series - Pirámides de Teotihuacan.

How to get here?
Unless you're one of those American tourists who don't mind splurging on a taxi, you would want to take the public transportation to reach the pyramids.  Teotihuacan pyramids are located about 50km away from DF (Distrito Federal a.k.a Mexico city, the capital of the country) on the north east side and there's no metro connectivity.  The easiest way to reach is to take a bus from Terminal Central del Norte (North bus terminal).  From anywhere in the city, take a metro and get off at station "Autobuses del Norte" to reach the north bus terminal (Metro map).  Once you enter the terminal, turn left and walk towards the end where you'll find a ticket counter with a logo of a pyramid and that's where you buy the tickets to Teotihucan.  The ticket costs about 20 pesos, frequency of the bus is every 15 minutes and duration of the journey is about an hour to hour and a half depending on the traffic.  By the way the tamales and chocolate caliente just outside the terminal, which was our breakfast, was yummy!

Useful tips:
The pyramids open up at 9AM, so start early to avoid crowd and heat.  They close at 5PM.
Carry water and snacks for they're a bit expensive at the site.
Ask for a map at the entrance of the site, they won't give you without you asking for it.
The entrance ticket costs 57 pesos per person, extra 45 pesos for video cameras.
Wear a comfortable sneaker and light dress, there are way too many steps to be climbed.
Don't use flash while photographing murals.
Haggle before you buy the souvenirs.
Budget more than half a day for the entire Teotihuacan trip.
Click here for the official INAH website for Teotihuacan site (in Spanish).

Teotihuacan (pronounced tio-tea-wa-kan) means the place where the Gods were born.  It's one of the most important prehispanic sites of the country receiving over 3 million visitors every year, the biggest advantage of which is the proximity to the capital.  The shuttle bus drops right in front of the entrance of Teotihuacan and we just have to walk across the parking to reach the entrance.  There are souvenir shops and restrooms at the entrance.  The first structure that we encounter once we enter the archeological zone is Templo de Quetzalcóatl within the La Ciudadela (The Citadel).  Every structure in Teotihuacan needs a climb and so does La Ciudadela.  Once you climb few steps, you see a huge courtyard that houses few residential complex and Temple de Quetzalcóatl behind it.  We need to climb another flight of steps to get a view of the temple which is built with using talud-tablero architecture with beautiful reliefs of the sacred plumed serpent, Quetzalcóatl.  Grave pits containing about 200 individuals were found here at Templo de Quetzalcóatl. 

We descended and started walking on Calzada de los Muertos (The Avenue of the Dead), the 2 mile axial road of the city which leads to Pirámide de la Luna (Pyramid of the Moon).  Along the sides of the street one could see many architectural complexes and courtyards after passing which you would see the biggest of all pyramids in Teotihuacan, Pirámide del Sol (Pyramid of the Sun).  It's an awe inspiring structure rising 71m from the ground with an 894m base perimeter!  The steps range from an easy start to high rise tough ones and it leaves you gasping for breath by the time you reach the summit.  It offers terrific views of the entire Aztec city and beyond.  Keep in mind that the traffic on the steps get pretty high if you don't get early to the pyramid, there are climbers of all age.  The pyramid of the sun has a huge courtyard where you find peddlers selling jaguares (a small little air instrument that mimics the sound of a jaguar), pumas, pyramids and turtles made of obsidian stone, Aztec styled tequila bottles, models of volcanic legends Popocatepetl carrying Iztaccihuatl, various masks, Mayan calenders, carpets and table cloths, harpas (harps) and host of other artistic sundries which could be haggled over. 

We stopped at Mural del Puma (Mural of Puma), a faded mural just a bit ahead of pyramid of the sun.  The colours are still vibrant, however the face of the animal is faded.  The claws are very prominent and sharp.  Do remember not to use flash when you photograph the mural.  We then head to El palacio de Quetzalpapálotl (The palace of Quetzalpapálotl), a bit of a tongue twister.  Read it ket-sal-papa-lotl with a strong l in the end, the divine bird. The palace houses Patio de los Pilares (Patio of the pillars) which has profuse carvings of quetzales with features like feathers, eyes, wings, beak very clearly visible.  Supposedly this palace served as the residence of elite Teotihuacanas.  We took a break for some snacks at one of the stores near the palace before heading to the pyramid of the moon.

Pirámide de la Luna, is the second highest pyramid in Teotihuacan and here is where Calzada de los Muertos end.  The steps are high and only a part of pyramid could be climbed, its not allowed to go beyond the first stage.  Apparently this pyramid bears a resemblance to the contour of the mountain El Cerro Gordo, just behind the pyramid on the northern side.  The view that this pyramid offers is one of the best - a wide plaza in the front which will narrow down to form Calzada de los Muertos, pyramid of the sun to the left, countless small plazas and pyramids along the avenue and the vista extends all the way to Templo de Quetzalcóatl along the avenue.  We walked back along Calzada de los Muertos towards the entrance gate, it was lot more crowded and there were peddlers all along the avenue.  

We took a short-cut to the site museum, the entry to which is included in the site ticket.  They have preserved quite a lot of interesting findings of the site arranged epoch-wise.  We spent about 40 minutes in museum before walking back to the entrance where, fortunately, a bus was waiting for us.

Stay tuned for more pictures from Mexico City, Palenque, Chiflon, San Cristobal de Las Casas and more!

Pirámide del Sol shot from Pirámide de la Luna

Pirámide del Sol

La Ciudadela

Peddlers at the courtyard of Pirámide del Sol

Pirámide del Sol and Calzada de los Muertos

A pillar at El Palacio de Quetzalpapálotl

A relief of Quetzalcóatl at Templo de Quetzalcóatl

A human skull preserved at the site museum

A view of Pirámide del Sol

Mural de Puma on Calzada de los Muertos

Mayan calender on a carpet
Visitors walking towards Pirámide de la Luna on Calzada de los Muertos
Necklace made of human teeth preserved in the museum
A dog poses before Pirámide del Sol
Souvenirs at the site
Plumed Serpents (Quetzalcóatl) reliefs at Templo de Quetzalcóatl

An Aztec couple figurine at the site museum
Pirámide de la Luna
Aztec style Tequila bottle souvenirs

Pirámide de la Luna from Pirámide del Sol
A T-shirt peddler on Calzada de los Muertos

Templo de Quetzalcóatl

View of the city debris from the top of Pirámide del Sol
Pirámide del Sol from a vantage point

Reliefs on tablero at Templo de Quetzalcoatl

Top of Piramide de la Luna

Pirámide de la Luna from Calzada de los Muertos