Mexico City, do you expect it to have Pyramids?
Well yes it does.
Just an hour or so out of Mexico city is the Pyramids of Teotihuacán. The ruins of Teotihuacán are among the most remarkable in Mexico and some of the most important ruins in the world. The Mayan culture is unique and worthy of study. We started at Teotihuacán (“teh-oh-tee-wa-KHAN”) which is an ancient sacred site 30 miles northeast of Mexico City. Teotihuacan provides an opportunity to see monumental structures that were built to last for thousands of years. It was a rare glimpse into the workings of an early urban society.
It reflects the Aztec belief that the gods created the universe here. The most famous attractions here are the pyramids and it’s my first encounter with a pyramid. I am excited to be seeing and climbing one for the very first time. Mexico is definately providing a few firsts for me and I’m going with it.
The site is vast and lonely looking, our first stop is the most monumental structure of the Temple of Quetzalcoatl.
Climbing steeply throughout the structure I am careful to keep my balance on the incredibly steep steps. Where are my sticks… yep they’re packed neatly in the back of my suitcase…argggh!
The facade of the temple features fine, large carved serpents’ heads jutting out from collars of feathers carved in the stone walls. The Temple of Quetzalcoatl is topped with a pyramid, known as the Feathered Serpent Pyramid. Archaeologists have tunneled deep inside the Feathered Serpent Pyramid and found three burial pits full of skeletons. According to the mythology the world had undergone four cycles or “suns.” They lived in the fifth sun, which was already old. Thus they expected the end of the world at any moment, which was expected to happen by earthquakes. In an effort to postpone this cataclysmic event, humans were sacrificed by the thousands, hence the reason the skeletons are here.
First up is the Pyramid of the Sun at 75 m high which is the third-largest pyramid in the world. Yes it is, and here’s me thinking the largest pyramids are in Egypt. You learn something everyday! It is the biggest restored pyramid in the Western Hemisphere and an awesome sight. Secondly the Pyramid of the Moon is 34 metres high. Climbing the pyramids is much more difficult than it looks, while they may not look especially high, climbing them is taxing. It’s a worthwhile 248-step climb to the top. The view is extraordinary and the sensation exhilarating.
The steps are quite high and shallow, making it a challenge to get a firm footing. Good traction footwear is essential as the stones may be quite slick, especially after rain. Climb slowly and with great care… yep it’s a long way down if you fall. The purpose of the Pyramid of the Sun is not entirely understood, but it is built on top of a sacred cave shaped like a four-leafed clover. Given the grand pyramid above, this cave was probably regarded as the very place where the gods created the world.
Once of top the Pyramid of the Sun we joined the throngs of gringos… half of whom are hanging over the side for the best shot to send home to Mum. Not this kid, I’ve learned to value my life, picture for Mum or not! Gringos is a popular term for tourists here in Mexico, I’m sure they are referring to North Americans not Kiwis but who cares, we are all here to experience what is – an amazing structure of days gone by.
The whole city of Teotihuacán seems to be aligned astronomically. It looks and feels in perfect harmony, I surely feel something here. One alignment is to the dog star Sirius, sacred to the ancient Egyptians, which has led some to suggest a link between the great pyramids of Egypt and Mexico. Now that’s an interesting thought. After climbing the Pyramid of the Sun we stroll north along the Avenue toward the Pyramid of the Moon. Spanning almost 2 miles, the Avenue of the Dead seems to go on for ever, we walk and walk in the beating sun interrupted only by the hawkers with wares and obsidian that one must have, NOT. Actually I think there is one piece of something that sneaked into the pack. I find it amusing there are plenty of vendors but none selling food or water. It’s hot, I’m hungry and not a scrap of food in sight. This is not the enterprising Mexicans that I have come to know.
Anyhow keeping an eye out down the Avenue for a bit of wall sheltered by a modern corrugated roof. Beneath the shelter, the wall still bears a painting of a jaguar. Imagine the breathtaking spectacle the Avenue must have been when all the paintings were intact! Des always wishes he could have been alive to see these times.. maybe he was? At the end of the Ave… I am hungry, hot and tired so I sit, rest and contemplate while Des climbs the Pyramid of the Moon.
A local man comes and sits beside me and starts telling me that I should go up the pyramid and that I am missing the best view of the ancient city. The perspective straight down the Avenue of the Dead is magnificent and I realize what I missed but hunger and tiredness just gets the better of me.
Then it’s a couple of Palaces with jaguars, painted frescoes and the exotic mythical bird butterflies. Then food… I am seeing food and to my disappointment it’s all junk food. Still I am hungry! All in all it was a great day out from Mexico City.
Keep in mind that Teotihuacán is located at an altitude of more than 7,000 feet (2,121m). Take it slow, bring sunblock and water, and be prepared for almost daily afternoon showers in the summer.
Traveller Tip: You enter in one gate and exit a different gate, so we were glad we purchased a book at the beginning. There is no food or water along the way and vendors at the end of site sell drinks and snacks, it’s all junk food so it’s a very good idea to bring your own. You’re already starving by this stage.
Getting There Independently: Buses (not the chicken type) leave daily every half hour (5am-10pm) from the Terminal Central de Autobuses del Norte; the trip takes 1 hour and costs $7.00 each. When you reach the Terminal Norte, look for the AUTOBUSES SAHAGUN sign at the far northwest end, all the way down to the sign 8 ESPERA. Be sure to ask the driver where you should wait for returning buses, how frequently buses run, and especially the time of the last bus back.