Saturday, April 20, 2013

México City - old panache, modern brash

Another slow start - lazing around in our grassy and tree surrounded camp in Teotihuacán before eventually packing up an making our way to Mexico City. Fortunately Ignatio, who we had met in Leon, has arranged for us to stay on the campus of his seminary / university so, guided by our GPS bearings we crossed the city without incident, but also without time to look around, simply focusing on avoiding contact with the fluid mass of vehicles swirling around us. Once we found our destination we slipped into the verdant and tranquil environment of the uni where Ignatio was waiting for us. We were briefly introduced to the University Dean before being shown to our “campsite” just inside the main gate adjoining a pleasant area of treed parkland with toilets and showers 5 meters from our door and a supermarcado just across the road, with 24  hour security - better than many of the other campsites we have have stayed in!

Wondered around the backstreets where we found (with the help of a very friendly uni student) the local markets and dined on delicious enchiladas in amongst the fruit and vegetable stalls. 

The next few days saw us wandering the streets of central Mexico City, visiting churches, museums, dining on traditional “mole” - chicken with a chili-chocolate sauce (yum!), and beer and pizzas in road-side cafes. 

One is struck by the young demographic of this city and the vibrancy that this brings - the energy is palpable, Unfortunately, so is the pollution, resulting in several days of irritated eyes. 
...just another "pedestrian" crossing've got to admire a country that is prepared to elevate crickets to this status!

The power of the church in Mexico - just another daily Mass
Took the metro-bus accross town to visit the Basilica de Guadalupe, Mexico’s most revered shrine. It forms part of a cluster of churches with a remarkable diversity of designs. The New Basilica is 70’s - 80’s concrete style - not to my taste but impressive, particularly as mass was in full swing and the place was full with thousands of worshipers, and there was nothing particularly special about today. While the plaza’s around the new church were concrete and spartan, the other churches were clustered above on a volcanic hill from which issued several springs. At one pool, a group of indians from Jalisco were worshiping, the nearby statue of the virgin covered in blankets. They had obviously recognised this as a sacred site long before the Catholics usurped it - one can only imagine without asking.
A diversity of styles in the churches of the Basilica de Guadalupe.

..on a site revered by the indigenous Mexicans. Note the covered Virgin Mary

Smog building as the day warms


A day spent wandering through the Museo Nacional de Anthropologia... What was obviously a very sophisticated and intellectually advanced society was also clearly very brutal.

Stone of the sun..was initially thought to be an Aztec calendar, but apparently is a large gladiatorial sacrificial alter

Outside the museum, men from the Totanic people leap from a 20m high pole - attached to ropes fortunately - in the "voladores" ritual, spiraling downwards with specified, religiously significant, numbers of rotations around the pole as well as the number of times they each indiviudually spin as they descend to the ground.

..yes, it really is a fountain in the background!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Teotihuacán - Las Pirámides y Mayan Futbol

The Pyramids

From a very cosy campsite in the middle of Teotihuacán, we set off early to find a taxi to take us to the pyramids. It’s easter weekend and we know it is going to get very busy and quite hot later in the day so we wanted to beat the rush. It was a good decision as, in the cool of the morning, we were able to enjoy the amazing spectacle of thirteen pyramids, two very large and the others much less imposing.

Pyramid of the Sun
The  name “Teotihuacán” supposedly means “the place where men become gods” and it is easy to imagine that this would have been an extraordinary place in its prime, with the paintings fresh, the carvings and statues intact and the busy lives of thousands of people going about their daily business, or celebrating great events with, singing, dancing, football matches and the odd sacrifice or two. It was the first great civilisation of central Mexico dating back to about 100AD and stretching from central Mexico to El Salvador. 

The site is dominated by the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon surrounded by broad avenues flanked by palaces and temples. Much of the    decorative stone work has been removed, some of it finding its way into the Museo Nacional de Anthropología in Mexico City. Eventually the city was abandoned in the 8th century with evidence that it was burned and plundered. 

Pyramid of the Moon

On top of the moon

The good life in paraíso - paradise...

Mayan Foot (actually arms and hips) ball

Pre-game entertainment
As part of the Semana Santa celebrations, a traditional mayan ball game - Juego de Pelota - was held in the central square. The match was preceded by some energetic ranchero dancing and some more contemporary jazz. The audience was very local, and the vibe warm and welcoming. I dont know how many versions of "Paloma" I’ve now heard, but the special settings in which they have all been sung, from down and out street buskers to tonight's talented jazz singer, have all managed to send shivers down my spine. 

The football was spectacular, both for the costumes and ceremonies that accompanied the game and for the spectacle of the contest, the second half of which was conducted with a flaming hoop through which the teams attempted to pass a flaming ball, hitting it only with their upper arms, hips and chest, with great roars from the crowd whenever a goal (?) was scored. 
..followed by more traditional ceremonies...

And then the game begins...
... first with a normal ball...

...and then with a flaming one!
The game dates back to around 1400 AD and seems to be steeped in religious significance. Matches could be formal spectacles on huge stone arenas culminating in human sacrifices. Much of the art depicting the game showed severed heads - presumably the losing side! Also, anyone breaking the "rules of the sun" was decapitated - good incentives to play well!

The impassioned speeches afterwards from the performers were also inspiring, emphasizing the importance of their traditions whilst also celebrating the new Mexico - then the politicians had their go and it got very boring very quickly, so we retired to bed.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Procesión del Silencio - Querétaro

Our destination - the Harley-Davidson shop on the outskirts of Querétaro. There we were met by Fernando (on a BMW) whom Michael and Mariana had met in Homer, Alaska last year, he having ridden there from Mexico on his motor bike. We pulled in behind him as he guided us across town to his house where, after meeting his son Armando and having a beer or two, we all set off into the centro for the Procesión de Silencio. But first, a delicious dinner in an outdoor café by the plaza as thousands of locals and Mexican tourists from elsewhere streamed by.

With the advantage of inside knowledge, Fernando took us to a place where the footpath was very narrow - room only for two deep - so we had front row seats just as the procession began.

...and it lived up to its name, as hundreds of worshippers in costumes that, unfortunately, have an association for much of the world with the KKK, slowly and silently wafted down the cobble-stone streets, the only sound being the slow beat of drums, the scraping of chains dragging behind bare feet, the low murmuring of the crowd and the crying of small children, either because it was past their bedtime, or they were traumatized by the spectacle...