Still on the pyramid trail from Mexico City to Puebla…we discover another pyramid – The Great Pyramid of Cholula, another one of the world’s largest pyramids.
This magnificent structure was built to venerate the god of the rain. Sadly soil and vegetation now cover much of the pyramid, giving it the appearance of a large hill, but some portions have been excavated to reveal its former glory, and of course there are the tunnels. When the Spanish arrived the pyramid was largely overgrown and so they decided to build a church on top.
The church is a major Catholic pilgrimage destination, and the site is also used for the celebration of indigenous rites. Because of the historic and religious significance of the church, which is a designated colonial monument, the pyramid as a whole has not been excavated and restored, as have the smaller but better known pyramids at Teotichancan.
Our lovely Airbnb host Alba in Puebla has offered to take us there from Puebla and suggests that she pick us up at 7.30am in the morning… ay ay ay. That is to ensure we actually get a chance to get up to the church at the top of the Pyramid and see the amazing volcanoes. Although there are around 40 churches in the town of Cholula this one quite literally stands above the rest.
The Spanish built Santuario Nuestra Señora de los Remedios church that stands on top of the Great Pyramid in the 16th century. It was built with brada stone and decorated with 24 carat gold.It’s spectacular to say the least. The church is surrounded by the partially excavated ruins of the city that once surrounded the massive pyramid and this archaeological site is accessed by walking through a series of tiny tunnels that go right through the old city. It’s Sunday and today is free to enter the tunnels, nice. These tunnels were not excavated until 1931 and by 1954 they had uncovered about 5 miles of tunnels. It’s a dark, eerie, scary wander through the dark narrow passages which are still being excavated today.
The church also affords some of the best views of neighbouring ‘lover’ volcanoes the active Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl from its perch atop the temple. A short steep hike to the top of the Great Pyramid in the cool of the morning and there in front of us is the magnificent church and the puffing volcano of Popocatepetl, Iztaccihuatl is behind the cloud. Cloud was moving rapidly and it seems we were indeed lucky to be there so early because we had the beautiful view for just 20 minutes before Popo disappeared. Iztaccihuatl on the other hand never showed her face at all.
Legend has it that: ‘that the two mountains were once lovers set there to rest forever. Izaccíhuatl, being a beautiful young princess, fell in love with a warrior named Popocatépetl. They loved each other very much until the young warrior was sent to battle. After the war was won, it was reported back to the princess that Popocatépetl was dead. She starved and neglected herself due to her sadness for the loss of her love, then one day she passed out, no one could wake her up. The warrior returned from the battle (obviously not dead) to see his love sleeping, he could not wake her up. He then picked her up and started on a journey to beg the gods for her to wake up. When he finally met a large mountain, the gods answered him. They made Popocatépetl and Izaccíhuatl into mountains so they could live forever with each other. The mountain Popocatépetl represents a man kneeling down weeping next to the mountain Izaccíhuatl which represents a woman lying down sleeping’ After touring the ruins, gawking at the volcanoes, and creeping through the tunnels, I emerge to some local women selling an array of appealing looking snacks and nuts…. well I thought they were snacks and nuts… There were little piles of sweets, nuts and little red things, one of the women pushed a handful of crispy little red things before my nose and asked me if I would like to try it. Of course,
I obliged her. I tried a few, and a crunching bug like sensation emitted from my mouth. As I crunched them, I had a horrid thought. Was I ingesting a bug or a critter? Sure enough – crunchy, crispy, salty – the locals had a great time laughing at my disgust all the while telling me how good they were for my brain. It’s a what? Yes it’s a grasshopper! Eating grasshoppers here is not something strange, grasshoppers are a feature of the archaeological site and a ubiquitous snack in Cholula. A few days later we head to the Benito Juarez Market in Oaxaca. Ah this time I am a bit wiser.
Dark skinned women in traditional dresses are chanting loudly: “Chapulines! Chapulines! Chapulines!” thousands of these little red and very dead things piled to overflowing in great bins, I am getting the impression that these are a delicacy and a sought after snack here in this part of Mexico. It seems they eat them like popcorn, heads legs and all mixed with a bout of lime and chill for extra flavour!
After a little more investigation I find that the grasshoppers are collected from fields at night with large nets and are then soaked in vats of water. After this, there are various ways that they can be prepared, from sun drying to boiling, frying, baking, or even eating raw. They then cook them on large clay stoves is common in Oaxaca. Add to that any mexican flavor of chill, lime, onions and garlic and if you like mexican flavors then you might just love this snack. Chapulines are not available in all the states of Mexico, and Oaxaca seems to be the heartland for this snack. It is said that people in Oaxaca eat these grasshoppers as a daily snack, and judging from the piles of them being sold in the market, that would be pretty spot on. Though the tourists in the market often squeal when they realize what the women with the platters of red things are not selling chili peppers. These vendors seem to get a kick out of watching the foreigners testing this delicacy and seem to use the shock element for making sales.
It works – but only if you like eating bugs!
So that was our day of Grasshoppers, Volcanoes, Churches and Pyramids in Cholula.