Teotihuacan… climbing the big rock piles.

February 20, 2010 in Mexico, North America, Travelogue


boys playing, me washing in the background

The Mexican night is a kaleidoscope of sounds:  dogs barking, distant guitar music and singing, church bells tolling, buses rumbling by on the cobbled street, the occasional gun shot into the air, laughter, shouting.  It is a pleasant enough cacophony to fill a sleepless night.  I knew before dawn this morning that the sun was coming, the birds told me.  They were singing to the first rays in a way they do not for rain clouds, and they never lie.  The boys donned shorts and t-shirts with glee and played the morning away while Daddy worked.  The little boys and I hiked into town to collect our laundry.  I did a tub full of hand washing and hung the orange and brown striped shirts from the strings of the tent in our usual way.  Hannah made the expected joke about me hanging our prayer flags.  I laughed.  She went back to her drawing.  She spent every spare moment drawing today.


Pyramid of the Moon

It was the perfect day to visit Teotihuacan, the big ruins north of Mexico City.  Ezra was almost as excited about climbing the pyramid of the sun as he had been about climbing the Eiffel Tower: almost.  We drove the entire ring road around the archeological site, watching the current digs in process, dodging the little ladies in red aprons who stood in the middle of the road waving dish cloths at us, trying to persuade us to pull into their little food stands.  I looked for the big stone cactus sculptures that marked where we camped here when I was Hannah’s age.  They are gone.


Original jaguar painting

The boys hooted and scampered down the steps next to they pyramid of the Jaguar, not nearly as impressed as they should have been by the 2000+ year old murals still remaining on the interior walls.  The greater glory of the pyramids of the sun and moon called them.  They proudly practiced their new Spanish phrase, “No, Gracias,” as they ran the gauntlet of peddlers, hawking everything from little clay whistles, to toy bows with arrows, to stone sculptures and cast miniatures of Aztec gods.  With twenty pesos burning a hole in each kid’s pocket they were on the hunt.  But, they remembered their third world groove, checked the prices at the stalls on the way in and weren’t about to be taken in by the guy wanting 30 pesos for the jaguar cat call they knew they could get for twenty.  Gramps would have been proud.  “TEN for that whistle Mom!  You’ve got to be kidding me, I saw those for FIVE up front!” Exclaimed Ezra.  Of all of the kids, he’s got the best bartering potential.


Climbing the pyramid of the sun

We scaled the big rock piles, took the requisite pictures and managed not to lose a boy off of the steep staircases.  Elisha and Ez held their hands over their noses and mouths as they descended.  “We’re pretending we’re climbing down Mount Everest Mom, we’re going back and forth to slow us down, like when we’re skiing,” announced Ezra, solemnly.  Hannah counted the steps up the pyramid of the sun:  256, “Two to the power of eight,” she and Daddy observed.  We spread our picnic blanket, the red flowered one I bought in the souq in Tunisia last winter that is actually a lady’s head wrap, on the volcanic stone at on the west side of the pyramid’s highest platform and ate our lunch:  tostadas, jicama, guavas, oaxacan cheese and the bitter carrots the kids have been complaining about for two days.  Reinvigorated by food, the children scampered across the dome of rock like mountain goats imagining what it would have been like for the priests who made the climb daily and twisting their heads sideways to make pictures out of the clouds floating across the sun.  I simply sat with my back against the rock wall, shoes off, eyes closed and soaked up some of the sun this pile of rocks was built to honor.  I can see why they built it, it’s a good quiet place to rest and think.


From the steps on the pyramid of the sun

The most amazing thing about this ancient city is that the builders constructed it as a replica of the solar system.  The sun, and moon, the planets they knew about all appear in proportionally correct places.  They knew the sun was at the center and that the other bodies orbited it.  They knew how far away they were and their relationship to earth… all of this two hundred years before Christ.  It would be over a thousand years before Copernicus figured it out and he’d have an uphill battle convincing his friends.  When I’m here I always end up lamenting the loss of the knowledge stored in these ancient places.  Who were the builders?  What was their motivation? What did they know that we do not?  They were obviously seekers of truth and their buildings have stood the test of time in ways I suspect those of our civilization will not.  No one knows.  There are more questions than answers about this place.


Enquiring after clay jaguars

We bartered for the clay jaguar calls on the way out.  The kids stopped two salesmen and made me ask.  Thirty pesos was deemed too much.  He came down to twenty five.  I explained it to the kids.  They conferred among themselves and shook their heads, “No, gracias… maybe we can get one cheaper out front… we only have twenty.”  I apologized to the salesman, secretly proud of my travel saavy kids.  We walked on, “I’m surprised he let us go that easy,” I said to Tony.  Moments later there was a tug on my sleeve.  “Senorita, okay, twenty pesos,” said the salesman, he’d watched us walk a good 100 yards to be sure we weren’t coming back.  I offered his deal to the children.  They examined the jaguar shrewdly:  no deal.  They were holding out for the market stalls closer to the van.  I apologized again and we headed out.


Local salesmen

The choosing of souvenirs is a big deal for our kids.  Rarely do we buy anything but embroidered patches for their jackets.  The last major market wheeling and dealing they did was in Sousse, Tunisia, for the olive wood sheathed knives they bought with the 10 dinar Gramps gave them for Christmas, and that’s another story.  Much care was taken in the choosing of jaguar calls by three of them which, incidentally, they still paid twenty pesos for (about a buck seventy five).  Elisha took longer, examining the whistles in the shape of birds, turtles and ancient gods in the baskets in front of every stall, picking them over before moving on.  “I’m looking for a turtle whistle, a really good one, and a big one, but I don’t want to pay my whole 20 dinar… I mean, pesos,” he informed us.  He found it, in about the fifth pile of clay whistles he worked through, a nice fat one with four holes to play, a purple and red painted shell.  He got the lady down to ten pesos, which made him happy; he was the only kid to come out with a souvenir and still have a coin in his pocket.  I picked up a bag full of ten little whistles for half that price to take home to children we love and we all left happy… with a little sunburn as the icing on the cake.


Cathedral, San Juan Teotihuacan

We wandered the mercado of San Juan Teotihuacan for the rest of the afternoon, picking up the sundry items we needed:  toilet paper (always carry your own in Mexico, trust me) ice for the cooler, more bottled water, half a kilo of tortillas and a roasted chicken for dinner, a whole rack of the mini bananas that the kids delight over when we’re here, another round of guavas (I could eat myself sick on these and Hannah and Gabe are right behind me) and another ninety cent pineapple, who can resist at that price?  We licked our four peso (thirty cent) ice cream cones as we walked home, remembering what we’d paid for six gelato cones in Venice and congratulating ourselves on wintering here instead.


Ez in the jaws of Quetzelcoatl, San Juan Teotihuacan

Ezra and I cooked dinner.  Well, mostly Ezra.  I played guitar while he carefully chopped the zucchini and carrots to fry with a little of Grammy’s garlic that we’ve brought with us, a meal grown on both ends of the continent.  We threw some bean sprouts into our tortillas with the chicken and enjoyed dining al fresco by the light of our “Virgin of Guadalupe” candle… I always like to have a candle and find the ones made for the shrines are often the cheapest, not to mention a good conversation starter at home.  I traded dishwashing duty with the kids in exchange for violin and guitar music while I scrubbed, it was a good trade.  As the sun went down I collected the laundry, stiff and dry, from the lines of our tent and looked up at Orion, winking down from his watchful heights and bid him good night.  It has been one of those rare perfect days.