November 3, 2004
This morning we were treated to the opportunity to view a Day of the Dead offrenda (altar) in a private home. The proprietor of the campground where we stayed offered to take us to his friendís home so that we could view a personal altar up close. It was a very interesting experience and we appreciated the opportunity.
After our visit and spending some time in an internet cafť, we hit the road. All along the road we were able to view other offrendas that people had set up in front of their homes. We also saw costumed groups of men walking in parade style in some of the small towns. We concluded that this was part of their local custom in celebrating the holiday.
The "free" roads in Mexico are always a more interesting experience than the "toll" roads and today was no exception. The traffic was heavy, there were lots of trucks and the roads were in poor condition. Our desire to reach Pozo Rica for the night was not to happen and at about 3:30pm we realized we needed to start looking for a place to stop. Looking through our guidebooks, we found a hotel listed that also had a campground. The really interesting thing about the place was that it was in the middle of nowhere. Not near any town or any tourist attraction. As we read the description further, we became suspicious about the flashing yellow light and the short-term clientele. However when we pulled in, we were the only guests and the camping area was a beautiful grassy area with trees and lots of birds. We were happy and spent a very nice night in the "middle of nowhere".
November 4, 2004
We finally reached the archeological site of El Tajin at about 11am. Just as we were pulling into the parking area we saw the Voladores climbing their pole for a show. Voladores are Totonac people who drop from a 30m high pole attached by a rope around their waists and spiral, arms outstretched, from the top, hanging upside down, with their backs to the pole. There are a total of five men. Four rotate down the pole and the fifth stays at the top playing a flute and a drum. It is said to be a fertility rite and that the men make invocations to the four corners of the earth. It is a very impressive sight.
After the performance we went in to explore the El Tajin archaeological site. The word "El Tajin" in Totanac means thunder, lighting or hurricane. This site in its later years was occupied by the Totanacs, but it was built during the Classic Veracruz civilization, about which little is known. It was first occupied about 100AD but most of whatís visible today was built around 600 or 700AD. Around 1200 the site was abandoned and lay unknown until 1785 when it was discovered by a government official looking for illegal tobacco plantings.
Best known for an unusual pyramid called the "Pyramid of the Niches", the site also has numerous ball courts with carvings showing human sacrifices of losing ball game participants and beautiful murals (only partially visible). The Pyramid of the Niches originally had 365 niches suggesting that the building was some kind of a calendar. The insides of the niches were painted red and their frames were blue.
We spent several hours wandering this beautiful site.
November 5, 2004
Leaving Pozo Rica early in the morning, we spent another few hours on the free road going about 20 mph. The scenery was beautiful but the traffic was horrendous. We were going over several mountains and the truck traffic was very slow. Because of the twists and turns of the mountainous roads, there were few opportunities to pass. On one occasion, just after finding an opportunity to pass a slow truck, I looked in the rear view mirror to see a police car with his lights flashing, two cars behind. Hmmm. Yup, he passed everyone else and pulled up behind us and blared his siren. Pulling over at the first opportunity, we waited to see what he wanted. When he walked up to the window, he asked us in Spanish where we were going. We pretended to not understand and didnít respond. He then asked us, in English, for our papers. We pointed to our car permit on the windshield and continued to play dumb. After spending a few seconds scrutinizing it, he told us to continue on our way. We didnít think that we had done anything illegal and we werenít going to get into the same situation as we did with the policeman in Guadalajara. So we didnít try to get out of the situation, we just didnít say anything. This was a new tactic that had been suggested by others and weíll see if it continues to work. We then pulled back into the end of a long line of traffic.
November 6, 2004
Arriving yesterday afternoon in San Juan Teotihuacan, we were able to wander around town and find a Lavanderia to have our clothes washed, yeah!
This morning we left early to visit the marvelous ruins of Teotihuacan. Teotihuacan was Mexicoís biggest ancient city and the capital of Mexicoís largest pre-Hispanic empire. The original city covered over 20 sq km but today the majority of what there is to see runs along the Calzada de Muertos or Street of the Dead. The road was so named because when the Aztecs discovered it, they believed that the buildings that ran along it were occupied by gods who had given their lives to save the world. Also along this road is the Pyramid of the Sun. At the far end, 2km away, is the Pyramid of the Moon.
The Pyramid of the Sun is the third largest pyramid in the world. Topped by only Cheops in Cairo, Egypt and Cholula, in Puebla, Mexico, (soon to be visited), it has a base 222 sq m and is just over 70 m high. Built around 100AD, it contains 3 million tons of stone, brick and rubble and was built without aid of metal tools, pack animals or the wheel. Climbing the 248 steps to the stop gave us a magnificent view of the entire site.
The Pyramid of the Moon is not as tall, but it is more attractively proportioned. It was completed about 300AD. The plaza in front of the pyramid contains 12 temple platforms and experts believe that they and the pyramid played a part in a ritual calendar. Near the pyramid are several palaces where it is thought high priests lived. The Palacio de los Jaguares and Templo de los Caracoles Emplumados have murals showing the jaguar god in feathered headdresses, praying to the rain god and carvings of feathers, flowers and birds.
Walking to an area less visited by tourists, we entered the Palacio de Tepantitla. This priestís residence contains a famous fresco of the rain god Tlaloc. He is depicted in his paradise, a garden-like place with animals, people playing and fish swimming in a river. Considering the beauty of this mural, we were surprised that there was no one else there viewing it.
Another group of palaces lies west of the main area. These palaces also contain murals, some 120 walls of them, some very well preserved.
Having arrived early, we were able to visit most of the areas without many other tourists. However, as we were leaving, the tourist "hordes" were appearing.
November 7, 2004
Today we made the drive from Teotihuacan, through part of Mexico City south to the silver mining town of Taxco. We specifically planned to make this drive on a Sunday morning when traffic would be lightest. Mexico City is said to be the biggest city in the world and we wanted to make sure that we didnít get stuck in any of its traffic. There is no viable way to get around the city from the direction we came from, so we made plans to drive the ring road as painlessly as possible. And it worked pretty well - right up until the road had a detour and put us on a highway that would take us right where we didnít want to go, into the heart of the city! But as it was early and a Sunday, we were able to make our way through town with only one wrong turn, no police stops and no major traffic. At one point, the road we were on went straight through an outdoor meat market and we watched as the butchers went about their work right on the street.
Heading on to Cuernavaca, we discovered that the one campground in town had been closed and turned into condominiums. We had been planning to leave the Expedition Vehicle there so that we could spend several days back in Mexico City. Disappointed but undaunted, we headed off to Taxco, a silver mining town in the mountains.
Silver was originally discovered by the Spanish in 1534. The original mine played out and significant quantities were not discovered again until 1743. Don Jose de la Borda then discovered a new silver vein. The story goes that he made several fortunes on the mine and lost most of them. He built the magnificent Templo de Santa Prisca in the center of town that contains $1,000,000 pesos worth of gold leaf on the Churrigueresque style altar pieces. Bordaís success attracted many more prospectors and new veins of silver were found and emptied. With most of the silver gone, the town population dropped. In 1929 an American arrived who set up a small silver workshop. The workshop became a factory and later, his apprentices began setting up their own shops. Today there are more than 300 silver shops in Taxco.