While we have spent some time in Mexico City I haven't been able to get my head round the place yet and there is still so much more to see so I will start by telling you about the Towns and sites we have seen other than the Capital.
The first place we went to on Monday was Teotihuacán, the site of some ancient Pyramids which date from the 6th century CE. After traversing the Mexico city by metro we caught a bus to take us out of the City and to the Pyramids. A feature of Mexican buses of a certain age and style is that they are fitted with an engine from a World war One airplane, this was such a bus and every time he accelerated it sounded like a squadron of biplanes was swooping over head. The Driver had fixed the biggest Jesus on the cross icon in all of christendom to the inside of his windshield. While an icon of that size must provide a great deal of protection I felt the obstruction to his view it provided was of greater significance.
We were greeted by the terrifying sound of wild jaguars roaring! these turned out to be venders selling a object which blown into with enough force produced the fearsome cry of the wild cat (I hoped it didn't also function as a mating call for the real thing). The site was in fact an ancient town with (imagination required) a long street running across with a small(ish) Pyramid at one end an a large one at the other. The entrance was a wide, gravelled street with small boutiques selling all kinds of memorabilia on either side. We all noticed while climbing the Larger Pyramid how thin the air was as it only took a few vertical steps for us to be out of breath. Lau told us on the way up about a game the dead civilisation of the Teotihuacános would play where the winner would gain the ultimate prize of being a human sacrifice to whichever god needed pleasing at the time. While to modern civilisations it may seem an odd prize Lay assured us that it was all a part of the sacrificial culture which existed.... no wonder they all died out.
We too had a dice with death when we went to find something to eat. outside of the main site there was street where all the restaurents for the tourists were. It really needed a sign reading "Enter at your own peril!!" We went in for food but it was us that was fead to the wolves!!! We had barley set foot on the street and we were suddenly surrounded by a gaggle of screaming Mexicans all trying to convince us that theres was the best restaurant in town... given the town was a 1400 year old ruin this didn't seem much. it's funny how "please come and sample our delicious Tacos" in a foreign language can sound like war cry. We almost turned back but ended up hurrying to a restaurant more for sanctuary than for food. I'm glad the encouragement we received to pick a restaurant wasn't so discouraging that we turned around because the food was simply excellent, this has been a recurring theme.
The rickety old bus of the journey there was replaced with a rickety new bus for the journey back. Buses are the main form of public transport within Mexico and we would be taking them to get to the places we were going the next day: Queretaro.
To be continued,
Queretaro is typical of the Towns of its region in that they are colonial in nature and climb up the side of mountains which rise high into the sky. Both of these things make towns in the region, also called Queretaro, exceedingly beautiful. what makes colonial towns colonial in Mexico is a unique mixture of bright colours and old, original architecture. Not a single house wasn't washed with red, yellow, blue, orange, pink or green (not all on the same house though). The building facades are uncomplicated but this simplicity only adds to their beauty. The sensory orgy is amplified by the ecstatically pleasing nature of multi-coloured houses piled on top of each other as the town climbs up the mountain side.
Our guide for the day was Juan, a serious looking man who gave me the impression that he could relax in a bath without necessarily filling it with water and If he hasn't taken part in an olympic walking race he has missed a trick. He set a ferocious pace but this was probably a good thing as there was an awful lot to see. We scaled the mountain side at record setting pace, Temsing and Hillary would have been trailing in our wake, zigzagging our way up the slope like an alpine road. Pena De Bernal, the peak which stands the tallest over the city, rises steadily and then abruptly so we could only get so close to it. I think Juan was keen to get to the top but I had left my crampons at home so we only went as far as our lungs could take us. Other sights of the town included various churches, an aqueduct and a huge monument to Benito Juárez who was Mexico's father of secularism. juárez, in person, was no taller than 1m 37: short even by the standards of 1900s Mexico. (I've decided I am too tall for Mexico: my head sticks out over the top of cubicals in Public toilets). However it seems that the commissioner of the statue had a gross misjudgement of scale (it may have been Juárez) as it stands 10 meters tall though, perhaps more accurately, the statue is standing on top of a box.
After a few moments of photo taking we said by to Juárez and soon after to Juan and jumped back on the bus for Guanajuato where we would spend the next 2 days.
The drive into Guanajuato was spectacular. The town is much larger and the valley is much steeper so everything that was true of Queretaro was equally true of Guanajuato only more pronounced. As we made our way through the valley houses would appear in rows on the summits as the Zulus did in the famous film at Rourke's Drift (no spear throwing though). Our hotel was neatly nestled into a smaller sub-valley which gave it a certain peace and tranquility. On Wednesday (we arrived Tuesday evening) we were given a grand tour of the town which took us to all the sights of Guanajuato. The tour was given in Spanish but Pao and Lau acted as excellent translators for us.
The 1st stop was to an old silver mine that was only in use for training up budding Mexican mining proteges. While there is a lot mining in the region most of the skilled labour comes over from Canada so the facility was paramount in teaching the important skills to natives of the region. There was a single shaft which descended about 100 feet into the mountain side. The lower levels had been consumed by flooding and at the far end there was a deep well that descended into the water and darkness which, if you looked down, made your head spin and your stomach turn.
After the mine we ascended up the the valley and stopped at a church. At the time of its construction Guanajuato already had a Cathedral and as Mexican tradition states that a town can only have one cathedral the commissioner of the church, whose name I can't remember, had to leave it incomplete with one steeple missing. Still its orange exterior and lavishly decorated interior made it very pleasing on the eye.
Less pleasing was our next stop, the home of the inquisition in Mexico which was far from a Montey Python sketch. I guess what we are meant to not expect by "no-one expects the spanish inquisition" is the gruesomeness. the instruments of brutal torture demonstrated all to clearly mankind's capacity to inflict needless pain on itself. All the tools of medieval barbarism designed to bring the suffer within an inch of death, and then the rest of the way, by inflicting the most amount pain possible were displayed and described by guides dress, presumably to add even more atmosphere, as monks none of whom were Michael Palin, John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Terry Gilliam, Terry jones or eric Idle.
Our next encounter was of a less traumatising kind. 100 yards down the road was a Mexican Sweet shop. Having spent almost a week in Mexico the one universal truth about the place is that the culinary delights they serve up are simply exquisite, without exception. However life has taught me that there are no such things as universal truths and Mexican food is no exception, if you follow. mexican sweets are the one thing that I can't abide. mainly because they are not sweet in taste. Priscilla on the other hand loved them and she almost bought the whole store out!!! I sampled as much as I could stomach but found nothing of my liking.
We then made our way to the statue of Pípila who was a hero of the Mexican war of independence. While the view of the statue was impressive if you turned your back to it, no disrespect intended, you got a magnificent view of the entire town. En mass, the town looks like little milti-coloured blocks of lego piled on top of each other. From the hill side you could see all the principal landmarks of the city. The Cathedral, the University, the indoor market which many mistake for a church but I thought looked like a victorian train station. Inside it looked even more so, its roof a carbon copy (made out of iron and steel) of Paddington train station. We stopped off at the "Callejon de Beso" or "Alley of the kiss" where people like to get photos of themselves embracing loved ones. I didn't get any kisses but did embrace a low door frame with a bump on the head. With a bruised cranium the last stop on what was a whistle stop tour of the city was the theatre. nothing was playing but we did get a tour of the insides and a brief history lesson with the usual excellent Lau/Pao translations.
We would spend the next day in Guanajuato, ambling around taking in the atmosphere of the place. I fear that if I go into too much detail I will never catch up so I will leave Guanajuato for now and move on, in the next reasonably exciting instalment, to Mexico City.
More to follow.