Mexico City

Sitting at San Carlos’ oceanside, getting ready to leave the country, I’m realizing how many posts from our travels around this country remain unwritten to this day. I think I wanted to make them special, just as the places we visited, but in the influx of activities, they just remained forgotten. We’ve got the pictures uploaded to Picasa, so it would be a great shame if I didn’t at least post them.

So chronologically, after visiting Cholula and Teotihuacan, we arrived at Mexico’s capital. Obviously we’ve been warned about odd and even days driving allowances, speed kidnappings, pickpockets and thousands of other dangers in Mexico City. Fortunately, we’ve been spared any of them. We found a nice, inexpensive, little hotel in downtown and used it as a base for our unlawful escapades throughout the city.

I have to admit, driving in Mexico City is no fun, especially downtown where it is easy to get stuck in traffic jams on the narrow one way streets. But with a little imagination and vigor, you can easily maneuver your way out of almost any trouble. Driving in Mexico, just like driving in any large city is about concentration and… charisma. You just need to be less of a gentleman and remember that the traffic speeds are much slower than on a highway…

During our stay, we had just about enough time to visit El Zocalo, the city’s main square with Templo Mayor (remains of an old Aztec temple), Palacio Nacional (presidential palace, full of shiny objects and decorated with Diego Riviera’s murals) and the Cathedral, then took a subway to the Bosque de Chapultepec, where we took a long walk in the park, but also visited the Museum of Anthropology (the Maya “calendar” anyone?) and Papalote Museo Del Nino (a cross over between a movie theather, planetarium, museum of science, museum of play and a huge playground). Following my wife’s “strong suggestion”, we also spent a few hours in Casa Azul, the house where Frida Kahlo used to live with her husband Diego Riviera (and for some time also with Leon Trotsky).

We’ve only seen a small fraction of all the tourist attractions Mexico City has to offer. In order to visit all of them, we would need not three days, but probably three years… I think we will need to come back for more!

Around The World in Soccer Mom Mobile

Following our emergency evacuation from San Blas, in the middle of Semana Santa, we headed north along the coast of Sea of Cortez. About four hours later, we arrived in Celestino, a small fishing village right off route 15D. Quite surprisingly, there were several campgrounds, right on the beach and we were lucky enough not to settle in the first one we’ve came across. Celestino RV park, owned and operated by Chris and Marissa is a US style gravel campground, offering all hookups, electric service, clean bathrooms with hot water showers at the lowest price we’ve seen so far. We decided to stay for three nights, especially as we only needed to pay for two…

Celestino RV Park doesn’t have much to offer in terms of tourist attractions. It’s just a gravel beach front lot with amazing sunsets and very decent star gazing opportunities. Doesn’t have a pool, not even an Internet connection, just the bare necessities for motorized campers. What it does provide is peace and quiet. Even in the midst of Semana Santa, all park guests are in their coaches right after sunset, all you can hear at night is just the sound of waves crushing on shore and you wake up in the morning to the singing concerto of exotic birds flying all over colorful bushes and palm trees bordering the campground.

When we arrived Chris, the owner welcomed us at the entrance. Hearing that we are from Poland, he mentioned that a couple from the Czech Republic pulled in the day before. We found them without problem and parked right next to their shiny, fully armored Toyota Land Cruiser, covered in maps of the World and hand written marks showing the route they’ve covered. Our neighbors started in Europe and after conquering the African off roads shipped the car to Southern America, where starting from Cape Horn were already more than half way to Alaska. From there, they plan to continue their trek through Russia back home. Their vehicle, rather plain in terms of modern day technology, looked quite impressive with weld-on aluminium containers, roof-top spare tires, stainless steel plates covering the hood and countless devices mounted all over the car. Our dusty, soccer-mom mobile wasn’t quite a match.

That made me think how ill equipped we really were for this journey. We did fairly well in the States where the National and State Parks provide all amenities to weekend camping warriors like us. Every camp site has a fire place, a picnic table, water and electric hookups, sometimes a grill and even wi-fi internet coverage. There are laundry facilities, clean bathrooms, hot showers and camp stores if you run out of supplies. In Mexico, most campgrounds offer just the basics: mostly run down, incomplete and not very clean toilets, showers with occasionally warm’ish water and… that’s about it. Those handy propane bottles fueling our camp lights and portable stove are not available in Mexico, so our cooking abilities are severely impaired. Even a morning cup of coffee becomes quite a challenge and turns into an hour long hunt for a nearby coffee shop (usually ends up on a gas station). Our portable cooler doubles as a picnic table, even though it really gets messy when we forget to pull something out of it ahead of time.

Despite being on the road for quite a while now and spending considerable amounts of time putting up and folding down the tent, we still didn’t quite figure out the routine. Somehow, on the travel days, we can’t seem to get our act together quickly enough to cover some distance in the daylight. Usually we can’t leave the campground before noon. True to our motto, we sleep longer, then struggle for a shot of caffeine, mess around with breakfast, clean after ourselves, dress up and eventually start packing. And even though we’ve done it hundreds of times already, some of us are still standing clueless faced with the complexity of few poles and a piece of fabric.

How did we make it so far…?

Semana Santa

Semana Santa, the Holy Week preceding Easter, the Mexican Spring Break is one of the more fiestive periods in Mexican calendar. We have been warned, that most Mexicans from the interior of the country will join the Occupy movement declaring all beaches and coastal areas free from boredom and liberated from any rules. Despite spending five months in San Miguel de Allende, a city which knows how to party, we truly didn’t expect what we were about to experience…

We arrived in San Blas on Monday, which gave us couple of fairly calm, although painfully aware of mosquitoes days to explore the town. Ignorant of it’s history and past importance for the entire western hemisphere, we thought San Blas is just one of many small, sleepy coastal communities like many in this part of Mexico. At that time, we didn’t realize that San Blas was the first, once fairly large, very powerful and influential port on the Sea of Cortez. In fact, if it wasn’t for the Mexican naval base, we wouldn’t have known that there was a port at all! The fishermen in their little boats with outboard engines account for about the whole maritime traffic in this area. Inhabited today by roughly ten thousand people, it’s hard to imagine, this community was once several times larger and under the orders of the Spanish crown, ruled this part of the World.

We used the time before arrival of hordes of Mexican party-goers to discover the town. This actually took us only few minutes – there isn’t much beyond the main square and a few blocks in either direction. The time saved on sightseeing, we spent relaxing on the beach, taking surfing lessons and exploring miles of sand dunes.

On Wednesday, the amok started. Our campground, empty when we arrived, quickly flooded with hundreds of people. Most of them arriving in groups of twenty or more – usually in just one or two vehicles. The small family of iguanas, who lived in the bathrooms got quickly evicted and the palace has been conquered by Mexican women getting ready for their night on town. And I mean the entire night, not just a lousy evening, but literally the whole night. After dusk, the entire downtown area has been turned into an open air disco, with people drinking, dancing and (unfortunately) singing until dawn, at which time the party moved from downtown to the beach, where continued uninterupted until the following dusk. Then the cycle started anew. For five days in a row, the town, the beach, the campground were all ruled by forces of chaos and the Mexican fraction of the Occupy movement. I doubt if there is any affiliation…

Seeing the amount of people on the beach, we decided to escape the crowds. Fortunately, in a nearby village of La Tabera, there is a small farm of cayman crocodiles, a perfect attraction for the underage members of our crew. They loved the ride on the river in a small motor boat, seeing all kinds of wildlife was just a minor addition and didn’t really affect the experience. In fact, the most interesting part of a visit to a crocodile farm, filled with huge caymans, a jaguar and a few other, exotic species was… feeding the fish. Even the pond with crystal clear water and a tree branch swing couldn’t compete.

Two nights of passive partying was about all we could handle. On Friday morning we packed our stuff and kissed the midget mosquitoes goodbye. I’m sure we won’t miss them, even if we were to painfully remember them for several more days.

The Journey Isn’t Over Until It’s Over

We are out of San Miguel de Allende and on our way back to reality, looking for a job, exploring different options. That however, does not mean the adventure is over. The way I look at it, we are starting yet another episode of this Family Sabbatical Road Trip. Tonight I’m sitting at a picnic table at Los Cocos, a campsite in San Blas, small coastal town in Riviera Nayarit. In the rare and very short moments of truce, between treacherous attacks of some kind of midget mosquitoes, I find just enough clarity in my mind to realize that excluding our European episode, this surfer’s paradise is probably the most distant from Rochester during our trek. We are far from home and it took us nine months to get here. Granted, five of them we’ve spent grounded in the most picturesque of Mexico’s colonial towns, but it means it will still take another four before we truly get back. And we don’t plan on taking the shortest route either…

As much as I liked it in San Miguel de Allende, I think I’m also the most content that finally we are moving (…and we’re grooving) again. We started to feel very comfortable there, so before we got too attached, we decided to hit the road.  We left on Friday heading south towards Ixtapa and the first stop was… Roca Azul, a little dated resort in the town of Jocotepec, on the west coast of Lake Chapala, about 20 miles south from the outskirts of Guadalajara. Because of a failed arrangement, at the last moment we decided to skip the beach resort town and head directly West instead. Well, I guess this blog isn’t called Wanderlust for no reason…

We stayed in Jocotepec for three nights, enjoying the pools, getting re-adjusted to sleeping in a tent and making friends with a very nice family from Puebla. We liked it there and despite fairly low temperatures at night, got some decent rest – must be the fresh air, coupled with the tranquility of the neighborhood. That’s a welcome change from the constant fiestas of San Miguel.

From there we kept on pushing West, all the way to the Pacific Ocean. We arrived in San Blas on Monday afternoon, planning to stay for two nights and escape the Semana Santa (Easter Week) craziness using a ferry from Mazatlan to La Paz on Baja California. The plan backfired, when we tried to make a reservation for the Sea of Cortez crossing. There are two companies (that we know of) that offer the service – Baja Ferries and Ferry TMC. The first one is an overpriced tourist carrier, the second is a freight shipping company that can accommodate some tourists at significantly lower rates. Unfortunately Ferry TMC doesn’t allow young children on board, and Baja Ferries is booked until mid next week anyway. Since we need to leave Mexico in about two weeks, it means that we’ll have to skip Baja and instead head north towards US border in Nogales.

A little disappointing, for us who already failed once, 12 years ago trying to get from Baja to mainland Mexico, and for the kids who were thrilled about the idea of a sea passage. But that isn’t necessarily all bad news. After traversing Baja we were planning on a “side trip” back East to Grand Canyon, Zion, Brice, Las Vegas, etc… before returning to California and continuing north to Oregon before turning east on the final descent to Rochester. Skipping Baja means going straight up to Arizona, saving a fair amount of money on gas and the ferry tolls. Money which converts to additional weeks in Yosemite or Yellowstone. Baja can wait – maybe when the kids get a bit older we will do the peninsula on motorcycles…. and maybe we’ll finally get to cross the Sea of Cortez on a ferry…

That’s why today, we decided to extend our stay in Riviera Nayarit for a few extra days. We don’t need to hurry anymore, there is no “train” to catch, we will be beach bums again. We can relax on the beach, take a few surfing lessons, eat marlins, langustas and other seafood treasures at bargain prices. The beach is much nicer then Costa Esmeralda, although nowhere near as beatiful as Riviera Maya. Los Cocos has free WiFi Internet, so I can spend nights drawing maps of our future adventures (or these boring updates). Agnieszka and kids are sound asleep, only midget mosquitoes, giant iguanas and chihuahua size cockroaches keep me company. From a distance I can hear that San Blas has officially kicked off Semana Santa festivities. The whole town is singing aloud (and not necessarily clear)…

So, to paraphrase Yogi Berra’s words: The journey isn’t over until it’s over! Take it with a grin of salt..;-)

Las Puertas de San Miguel

Architecture of San Miguel de Allende is stunning. There are several gems that form the ambiance of this beautiful town. Amongst them libraries, government buildings, restaurantes, hotels, houses and churches of course. Most are colonial style with neoclassical and neo-gothic details. Combining all that with cobblestone streets an achitectual jewel was born, loved by tourists but impossible to walk on in high hills:-)

When I got to San Miguel de Allende, the focus of my camera was on doors. Some old, labouriosly carved of wood, others simple made of metal or intricately decorated, all very beautiful, eye catching and tempting setting the tone for what’s inside. This gallery is 5 moths old, patiently waiting to be published, I finally decided it is the right time. To say goodbye to georgeus San Miguel that will stay in my heart forever:-)

Spring is officially here!!!!

Yes, to confirm that all the Jacaranda trees are in full bloom with gorgeous purple flowers. They are all over SMA just in time to start Semana Santa, very important time for all the catholics here in Mexico. The view is just breathtaking, see for yourself.

The monarc butterflies are waking up to start their long journey up North pretty soon. Hummingbird nests are popping up here and there but due to their size visible only to the most observant.

Our tree, that was once a Christmas Tree got transformed to welcome new season. It became a home for owels that were made of… Yes, you guessed it, from toilet paper rolls.

With help from my beautiful children, we painted the rolls different colors, then we shaped the roll and used black marker to draw the features of these gorgeus birds. Very easy, cute and fun even for the youngest ones. The shape is also great to make kitties, but we do not want any of them in our tree, especially with the eggs just about to hatch:-)

This is a great recyclable project because all you need is a tree branch, old paint bucket and some paint. This could easily be a permanent exposition in your house or a daycare, the docorations would just be changed to reflect changing seasons. Let me know what you think:-)

 

Teotihuacan, the Birthplace of the Gods

Before we set off for another adventure, I believe we need to catch up a bit on our recent whereabouts. Remember the trip around Central Mexico we took at the turn of the year? Well, that didn’t finish in Cholula. After staying couple days in Puebla, the next morning we visited Cholula, the biggest pyramid in the World. It was quite impressive, but frankly not even remotely as impressive as the tourists “must see” attraction near Mexico City – the old Aztec city of Teotihuacan.

Teotihuacan, is  just 30 miles (48 km) northeast of Mexico City, which makes it a perfect day trip destination for side trips from the country’s capital. The main attraction are of course the pyramids, which are the largest structures built in the pre-Columbian Americas. Apart from them, there are also large residential complexes, and the famous Avenida de los Muertos (Avenue of the Dead).

We arrived at the archaeological site mid afternoon and started our visit with a quick walk around the museum, set up next to the ancient buildings, gravel parking lot and wooden tiendas (stores, selling cheap, Chinese made, pseudo-Aztec, pre-Columbian tourists junk). In fact, with 83 square kilometres (32 sq mi) the site is so large, that there are five different entrances, each capable of handling thousands of visitors.

In the times of it’s splendor, Teotihuacan is believed to have been home for as many as 125,000 people, which makes it one of the largest metropolis of that era, not only in Mesoamerica, but World wide. Some of the very well preserved structures are supposedly multi-level living quarters, but the two, most remarkable are of course the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon.

A model of Teotihuacan, with a fraction of the Pyramid of the Sun in lower left corner, Avenue of the Dead running across center and the Pyramid of the Moon in upper right corner.
A model of Teotihuacan, with a fraction of the Pyramid of the Sun in lower left corner, Avenue of the Dead running across center and the Pyramid of the Moon in upper right corner.04-Jan-2012 16:47, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 5.6, 28.0mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 400
View from the Pyramid of the Sun (half way to the top)  towards the Pyramid of the Moon, Teotihuacan, Mexico.
View from the Pyramid of the Sun (half way to the top) towards the Pyramid of the Moon, Teotihuacan, Mexico.04-Jan-2012 17:05, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 5.6, 28.0mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 200
The Pyramid of the Sun, Teotihuacan, Mexico.
The Pyramid of the Sun, Teotihuacan, Mexico.04-Jan-2012 16:58, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 6.7, 28.0mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 200
 
Nadia, Agnieszka and Alex standing on the top of the Pyramid of the Sun, Teotihuacan, Mexico. In the background, the Pyramid of the Moon and the plaza.
Nadia, Agnieszka and Alex standing on the top of the Pyramid of the Sun, Teotihuacan, Mexico. In the background, the Pyramid of the Moon and the plaza.04-Jan-2012 17:12, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 6.7, 28.0mm, 0.008 sec, ISO 200
Alex, in the middle of the plaza in front of the Pyramid of the Moon, Teotihuacan, Mexico.
Alex, in the middle of the plaza in front of the Pyramid of the Moon, Teotihuacan, Mexico.04-Jan-2012 17:46, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 6.7, 28.0mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 200
Nadia posing on the stairs of the Pyramid of the Moon in Teotihuacan, Mexico. Behind her, the plaza, Avenue of the Dead and the Pyramid of the Sun on the side.
Nadia posing on the stairs of the Pyramid of the Moon in Teotihuacan, Mexico. Behind her, the plaza, Avenue of the Dead and the Pyramid of the Sun on the side.04-Jan-2012 17:52, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 5.6, 28.0mm, 0.008 sec, ISO 200
 
Nadia and Alex on the Pyramid of the Moon, Teotihuacan, Mexico.
Nadia and Alex on the Pyramid of the Moon, Teotihuacan, Mexico.04-Jan-2012 17:55, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 6.7, 28.0mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 200
The entire family standing on the Pyramid of the Moon, with the Pyramid of the Sun in the background, the ceremonial plaza and the Avenue of the Dead to the side.
The entire family standing on the Pyramid of the Moon, with the Pyramid of the Sun in the background, the ceremonial plaza and the Avenue of the Dead to the side.04-Jan-2012 17:57, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 5.6, 28.0mm, 0.008 sec, ISO 200
Sitting on top of one of the smaller structures around the ceremonial plaza, with the Pyramid of the Moon as backdrop. Teotihuacan, Mexico.
Sitting on top of one of the smaller structures around the ceremonial plaza, with the Pyramid of the Moon as backdrop. Teotihuacan, Mexico.04-Jan-2012 18:08, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 5.6, 28.0mm, 0.011 sec, ISO 200
 
Alex with the Pyramid of the Sun, the ceremonial plaza and the Avenue of the Dead in the background. Picture taken on the Pyramid of the Moon, Teotihuacan, Mexico.
Alex with the Pyramid of the Sun, the ceremonial plaza and the Avenue of the Dead in the background. Picture taken on the Pyramid of the Moon, Teotihuacan, Mexico.04-Jan-2012 18:01, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 5.6, 28.0mm, 0.008 sec, ISO 200
Pyramid of the Moon, Teotihuacan, Mexico viewed from the top of one of the samller structures around the ceremonial plaza.
Pyramid of the Moon, Teotihuacan, Mexico viewed from the top of one of the samller structures around the ceremonial plaza.04-Jan-2012 18:05, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 5.6, 28.0mm, 0.017 sec, ISO 200
A view from the sacrificial platform in the center of the plaza towards the Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent. The Avenue of the Dead in front, the Pyramid of the Sun to the left. Teotihuacan, Mexico.
A view from the sacrificial platform in the center of the plaza towards the Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent. The Avenue of the Dead in front, the Pyramid of the Sun to the left. Teotihuacan, Mexico.04-Jan-2012 18:17, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 5.6, 28.0mm, 0.008 sec, ISO 200
 
The street vendors at the Teotihuacan archaeological site even take credit cards...
The street vendors at the Teotihuacan archaeological site even take credit cards...04-Jan-2012 18:27, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 8.0, 108.0mm, 0.008 sec, ISO 400
Alex and Nadia running towards the Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent on the Avenue of the Dead in Teotihuacan, Mexico. In the background, the Pyramid of the Moon.
Alex and Nadia running towards the Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent on the Avenue of the Dead in Teotihuacan, Mexico. In the background, the Pyramid of the Moon.04-Jan-2012 18:29, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 8.0, 108.0mm, 0.008 sec, ISO 400
Nadia and Alex finger tracing the letters on the entrance sign. Teotihuacan, Mexico.
Nadia and Alex finger tracing the letters on the entrance sign. Teotihuacan, Mexico.04-Jan-2012 18:40, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 8.0, 108.0mm, 0.017 sec, ISO 800
 

The original name of the city is actually unknown. Teotihuacan, which means the Birthplace of the Gods, was assigned many years after the fall of the city. The earliest buildings date back to 200 BCE, and it’s still unclear who developed them. The sudden decline and fall of the site is estimated to have taken place in the second part of the 6th century CE.

The largest structure is the seat of the emperor, the Pyramid of the Sun – second largest in the World, dwarfed only by the one in… Cholula. As a side note here – even though I didn’t plan it that way – accidentally and quite unwillingly, we’ve managed to see the two largest pyramids in the World, all on the same day! And quite frankly, we didn’t even realize that until doing the long overdue homework of checking facts in Wikipedia.

The second largest structure in Teotihuacan is the Pyramid of the Moon. Even though smaller than the imperial structure, the layout of the entire city suggests, it has been the central point of this ancient metropoly. The Avenue of the Dead  runs in front of the Pyramid of the Sun, but it ends (or starts?) on a large plaza in front of the Pyramid of the Moon. That suggests, that the ceremonial sacrifices were either starting or taking place in front of the smaller pyramid, the seat of the religious leaders.

On the other end of the Avenue of the Dead is the third, smallest of the three pyramids of Teotihuacan. The Temple of the Feathered Serpent is famous mainly because of the fairly recent discovery of hundreds of bodies buried underneath it. Most probably, those were the victims of the ceremonial sacrifices.

Sounds that, living in Mexico in the old times was even more exciting then today…

Hit the Road Again

In Poland, people often say, that everything’s good ends quick. We have been living in San Miguel de Allende for the past five months, almost half a year. The kids went to school, the adults worked on their own little projects. We all learned a bit of Spanish (some more then others) and made a lot of good friends. On Friday we will hit the road again. Our Mexican visa expires by the end of April. In order to see a bit more of the country we got to love so much, we’ll set off three weeks before that deadline and head towards the US border using roads less traveled. That is, hopefully less traveled by the drug and people traffickers…

Some time ago we visited Morelia, where we stayed with a wonderful family we’ve met early January in Los Azufres. They showed us their beautiful town, took us to Patzcuaro and offered a free stay at their summer house in Ixtapa. Taking advantage of that offer, we’ll leave San Miguel at the end of the month, just when the kids would have started their two weeks spring break. Through Morelia, we’ll head south to Ixtapa, where we plan to stay for about a week of “well deserved” vacations. Then, along the Pacific coast, we’ll travel north to Puerto Vallarta and on to Matzatlan, where we plan to embark on a ferry, that will take us across the Gulf of California to La Paz. On the Baja, we’ll make a little loop to visit Cabo at the Southern tip of the peninsula, then turn North and through a little village called Guerrero Negro (very dear to our memories), head towards Ensenada and Tijuana. I’m not sure exactly when we’ll cross the border, or what we will do on the West Coast, but that’s not important right now.

What matters, is to prepare for the trek and to tie a few loose ends. It’s end of March, which means even homeless, jobless souls like us have to get their act together and file their US tax returns. That’s priority number one. Second thing is to decide what we are going to do comes August. That’s when the lease on our house expires and our travel fund dries out. That means finding a new job, and a place to live. Time to update that resume and send out a few letters. And finally, we also need to prepare for the next part of our trek. It will be definitely longer than the first part. Both, in terms of time and distance. For that, I’d like to spend some time in the library and prepare an interesting route.

Why in the library, you ask? Well, some time ago, I came to the realization that we spend way too much time in front of our computers. Don’t get me wrong, they proved useful at times. Even often. But that doesn’t change the fact they’re mostly evil… You turn them on to find a campground near Ixtapa. It only takes Google a fraction of a nanosecond to return three billion, highly relevant ads, and a few loosely related results… That’s impressive and makes you feel highly efficient. You start browsing through them, and suddenly – three hours later – you know what all of your friends back home had for dinner, but you still don’t know where you are going to sleep next week. You start over and another three hours pass, while you read irrelevant nonsense, that leaked into your “highly efficient” workflow. The library on the other hand, is about 10 minutes from our apartment. It takes roughly 5 minutes to find the right guide book and about 30 to do an in depth research. An hour later, I’m back home with a (hand written) trek plan in my hands, and… plenty more time to kill!

For we have designated Thursdays computer free days! I have to admit, I’ve been the biggest offender. Even though not addicted to following other people’s lifes on Facebook, I’ve been constantly tinkering with yet another programming project or another “great” idea. Last two computerless Thursdays helped me realize, that except for the few important matters I need to attend, there isn’t much stuff we need computers for anyway… First there was anxiety, almost fear and panic attack. How can I put the computer away? There’s so many things I need to do! But then, after a few computerless days, a certain calmness and clarity started to take it’s place. Matters got prioritized, life simplified and somehow the days became longer and more enjoyable. Our kids are thrilled! They love the idea, and when I first proposed it, they immediately countered with Saturdays and Sundays be computerless as well. Since recently I’ve managed to fry my computers’ hard drive, I’m seriously considering institutionalizing a few more analogue weekdays in our schedule. I only wish I fried that hard drive much earlier!

For the past five months we’ve been living in one of the most beautiful places on Earth. We’ve met wonderful people, made friendships and learned a few things. On one side, I wish we could spend more time here – the weather is great, the town magnificent, almost magic. On the other though, we realize that although rare, such places are all over the World. And if we want to see them all, it’s time to hit the road again…

Indian Parade in the Morning

This morning we woke up to the sound of loud drums. At first, we were inclined to ignore the noise. After all, this really is a noisy neighborhood. But then, curious about the commotion, we decided to take a peek outside. In front of our windows, there was an Indian Parade marching in their “uniforms”. It’s just another day in San Miguel de Allende…

A Church on Top of an Ancient Pyramid

From a distance it looks like yet another catholic church, among hundreds of others in this small town. Except, it’s not in town. It sits high above it, on top of a small hill. Build in the sixteenth century, the church is cute – in a sense church can be considered cute, but not outstanding. And yet, it draws tourists from all over the World in thousands every year. For the longest time, I couldn’t understand why…

The town of Cholula is just a few miles west from the city of Puebla, one could probably consider it it’s suburb. Therefore, despite the usual morning traffic in the center, it only took us few minutes to get there from the hotel we stayed at the night before. Traveling on the highway, we’ve noticed a large mountain on the left. Despite it’s peak being covered in clouds, we’ve noticed something familiar. The top of the mountain was covered with…snow! What so surprising about it…? Well, nothing in particular. After all in was the beginning of January, and for most of our friends in Poland and upstate New York, that’s a very common view that time of year. Except, we were not in Poland, nor in the US. We were in central Mexico, where temperatures, even at night rarely fell below few degrees Celsius (about 40 degrees Fahrenheit). This was definitely a tall mountain. And the clouds also looked a bit funny. Instead of passing through the peak, they seemed to linger around way too long. Turns out, they have a good reason to do so. They are no ordinary clouds, but.. smoke, and the mountain is an active volcano! It’s name is Popocatépetl and it rises to 5426 m (17802 ft) above sea level.

Cholula is said to be a town of 365 churches – one for every day of the year. On our way in, we passed at least a dozen of them. Even if the legendary number is exaggerated (in reality here are only 37 churches), the number of  catholic temples in a town of roughly 120 thousand people is overwhelming (159 including chapels). Which makes the allure of the hill top sanctuary even more mysterious. We parked the car on a nearby private lot, and started to climb the hill. It’s neither very high, nor steep and it apparently serves as a great exercise spot for local athletes. I counted two of them, vomiting in public, exhausted by their workout. Must be a Mexican thing…

The sanctuary at the top of the hill is a sixteenth century church. All yellow, with white accents on the outside and the usual tons of gold and paintings on the inside. Build in 1575, the basilica of Nuestra Señora de los Remedios has great 360 degree views over the valley of Puebla. But what’s significant about this building is not it’s history, or the views. It is its localization. The hill on the base of the basilica is a man made structure. The church sits on top of… the largest pyramid of the ancient world! Turns out, the conquistadors, in the typical christian, loving and forgiving way build their temple on top of a “pogan” one, to reinforce their superiority over the indigenous people…

Pyramid of Cholula, Tlachihualtepetl
Model of Tlachihualtepetl

Only when we climbed down several flights of stairs, to the base of the “hill” on it’s opposite side, we realized the size and magnificence of that structure. The Great Pyramid of Cholula, also known as the Tlachihualtepetl is 450 by 450 meters (1480 by 1480 ft) on it’s base. With the height of 66 meters (217 ft), this structure is almost double the volume of the Great Pyramid of Giza (even though the Egyptian one is much taller, at over twice the height). The structure dates back to the 3rd century BCE and it’s architecture resemblances the buildings found in Teotihuacan, the most famous ancient city of Mexico. Apparently, in the ceramics found on the site during excavation, there are also traces of the Golf Coast civilizations. Especially El Tajin, which we visited just a few days earlier. To be honest, I couldn’t tell one from the other. Their art, all looks like hieroglyphs to me…

The main part of the pyramid is covered with dirt and therefore keeps the main chambers off limits for the tourists.  The structure, considering it’s size, localization and significance to Mexican history, is fairly unknown. The excavation works started only in the the 1930’s, so fairly recently and could never been completed. That’s because of the small christian church sitting on top of the pyramid…

04-Jan-2012 11:32, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 8.0, 45.0mm, 0.002 sec, ISO 200
04-Jan-2012 11:32, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 8.0, 108.0mm, 0.003 sec, ISO 200
04-Jan-2012 11:43, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 9.5, 28.0mm, 0.001 sec, ISO 200
 
04-Jan-2012 11:48, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 6.7, 85.0mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 200
04-Jan-2012 11:51, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 8.0, 28.0mm, 0.002 sec, ISO 200
04-Jan-2012 12:11, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 9.5, 28.0mm, 0.004 sec, ISO 200
 
04-Jan-2012 12:15, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 9.5, 45.0mm, 0.004 sec, ISO 200
04-Jan-2012 12:19, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 9.5, 28.0mm, 0.004 sec, ISO 200
04-Jan-2012 12:21, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 6.7, 28.0mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 200
 
04-Jan-2012 12:24, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 6.7, 28.0mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 200
04-Jan-2012 12:24, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 6.7, 70.0mm, 0.004 sec, ISO 200
04-Jan-2012 12:44, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 9.5, 28.0mm, 0.004 sec, ISO 200
 
04-Jan-2012 12:46, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 8.0, 55.0mm, 0.003 sec, ISO 200
04-Jan-2012 12:49, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 8.0, 200.0mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 200
04-Jan-2012 12:28, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 8.0, 55.0mm, 0.003 sec, ISO 200
 

We have spent only few hours in Cholula and I wish we could have stayed longer. The pyramid itself deserves at least a full day, and then there are so many other attractions in town, we didn’t have time to see.  Before lunch we waved the mysterious Tlachihualtepetl goodbye and headed towards it’s more acclaimed cousin, the Teotihuacan. Leaving town, I watched the smoke over Popocatépetl in my rear view mirror and I wondered how would this place have looked like today, if it wasn’t for the christian conquistadors, who destroyed so much of Mesoamerica’s culture.