Diary 11 (or Adios Mexico e Mayans!)9/9/2001
After finally finding an internet cafe this morning, and killing a couple of hours I share a taxi with 5 other people for the ride to the airport. After umpteen horror stories, Mexico City is just like home, a place more like London you could not wish for. The Metro system is clean and easy to navigate and get me straight (via 3 changes) to the Zocalo - Mexico City´s central square dominated by another huge flagpole and the cathedral. After one abortive attempt I get a room in the Hostel Catedral. I would like to say that I used the afternoon productively planning my next 5 days here as I dont have a guidebook of my own but you could say that I got drunk with Tom Greene, an amiable Irishman from Cork. You choose what you want to believe.Despite my heavy head it´s an early start on the metro and buses to Teotihuacan, home of the first Meso-american civilisation on the central plateau of Mexico and successor to the Olmec legacy. Jane! How can you say that the Egyptian pyramids are unimpressive? The largest structure at Teotihuacan, the Temple of the Sun has the same base area as the largest of Egypt´s pyramids and is a huge construction. We are talking huge in terms of "China" huge here!
The N-S axis of the site is formed by the 3km long Street of the Dead and the Temple of the Sun towers over it´s centre. First stop fo the morning is the Temple of the Moon which forms the northern terminus of the site. Once again I´ve made it before the crowds and 3 Germans, 4 stray dogs and one souvenier hawker (and he´s keen) share the early morning sun. Teotihuacan is constructed from an uneven multicoloured assortment of black, brown, red, grey and orange stone, the mortar inbetween studded with small black stones, making a quite different visual effect to the uniform grey/white stone and mortar of the Mayan sites, and even the simplest structure is beautifully coloured in the morning sun. The view from the Temple of the Sun is outstanding, the whole site is mapped out beneath me, from the Temple of the Moon to the unexplored southern end now buried beneath the modern streets of San Juan Teotihuacan.
Gone is the clammy jungle or low forest of previous sites, instead the Mexican plateau at 2500m supports low scrub trees and cacti dispersed across the land. This cacti is as varied in shape and size as the coral of the Belizian reefs, with many more varieties than I believed existed. Following the Street of the Dead south though complexes of ruined buildings, a welcome drinks break at the souvenier shops beckons though I baulk at paying 12 dollars for a meal in the cafe.
Next, another "subsiduary" plaza that would dwarf many of the Mayan sites, the centrepiece of which is the Temple of the Feathered Serpents, another tiered pyramid with a facade that supports large serpent heads and some wonderful murals. The site museum also fulfils expectations to the full, with an excellent narration and well presented finds including a gorgeous small bowl from which a blue hummingbird sips symbolising the sun drinking sacrificial blood to fortify itself in the journey through the underworld that it undertakes every night.
As a final treat for the day I hike the 3km to Tetilan, a suburb of this great city. Here an inconspicuous set of buildings roofed by corrugated iron house a multitude of painted stucco friezes, their original colours and vivid designs stiil radiant though often limited to the bottom 2 feet of the walls. Teotihuacan was a painted city, with even the lowest social ranks living amongst brightly coloured paintings, richly decorated, deep in symbolism and even boasting the equivalent of speech bubbles to indicate the spoken word.
Teotihuacan was larger than its contemporary Ancient Rome in size and population and again the majestic size and fine detail of its architecture can not fial to impress, the Temple of the Sun alone contains over one million cubic metres of earth and stone, constructed with pure human labour.
As if this isn´t enough I seem to be full of beans today and there´s still time for the Museum of the the City of Mexico with its old plans and maps of antiquity; and the Museum of Caricatures, proof that biting social satire and political commentary transcend any language barriers. As you might expect my bed is a welcome final stop.Thursday is a day of museums, beginning with the Nacional Museo de Antropoliga. This fabulous museum has one floor of rooms dedicated to the succession of cultures that dominated Meso-america, and a second for the ethonography of its many idigineous populations. This museum is a showpiece of pre-hispanic culture with many prime artifacts and fulscale replicas of important architecture and tombs.
The Olmec section contains original cave paintings, some of the earliest known in this area, the reconstruction of Teotihuacan´s Temple of the Feathered Serpents of rendered in full colour, Tula´s Atlanteans dominate their section and the original Aztec calender stone hangs above the Mexica section. Oaxaca is brought to life from more cave paintings to pre-conquest and then... horror of horrors... the Mayan rooms are closed! Nooooooooooooooooooooo! Boo hoo! Sob! Beat at the doors in frustration, but its all to no avail. Cést la vie.
After a very dodgy hamburger for lunch and a quick circuit of the upper floor which highlights the diversity of Mexico´s ancestry from "noble" "red" indians to the aquiline profiles of the Maya - truly a grand gathering of culture, depth of history and diverse world views. However this a day of museums plural, and this is just the first of four.
Next is the zoo, and the first place to have successfully bred pandas outside China. They are as cute as ever but the stage is stolen by the bears, large felines, apes and monkeys. This place is one huge photo opportunity, with camera frames full of orangutans faces, recumbent tigers, jaguars and ever-vigialant marmosets. I only saw 2 or 3 examples of animals exhibiting repetitive behaviour which is a credit to the zoo and its staff in my book and a major contrast to China´s concrete prisons. Did I mention is was free too?
Next is a tiring (baking sun and 2500m up) walk that spirals around and to the Castillo de Chapultepec, an impressive colonial building with views over the city that houses the furniture and ornaments of colonial and early republican governors reminiscent of Blenheim Palace back in Oxfordshire. The stained glass windows here depicting Beauty and Abundance are wonderful, amply illuminated by the afternoon sun.
Then its back on the Metro to the Zocalo and the modern-day painted friezes of the Palacio Nacional. These show characters from every facet of Mexican history from the Olmecs to political figures from the 1960s, a real mishmash of imagery and impressions brought to life.
Finally the Museo de Medicina is a sight to behold - from disceted human corpses, graphic representations of various diseases (can you identify the differences between gonorrhea, syphillis and herpes, because I can now!), , and many early x-ray machines. The surgical instruments here are quite graphic - especially the tonsil amputators with an engraving of them being self-administered! Finishing with an exhibition on early cultural medicine on the way out, I am a truly knackered puppy tonight, and the tequila didnt take long to take effect.After the rigours of the last 2 days its an hour and a halfs bus journey to Tula this morning. The ruins here reflect the legacy of the Toltec civilisation that came into its ascendancy after the decline of Teotihuacan. Most impressive are the huge Altanean figures (human chaped and 5m high) that supported the temple roofs on top of the main pyramid, the "skeleton and snake" murals and the similarities of the site to Chichen Itza. Chichen and Tula were contemporaries and their ballcourts, temples and archaeologial records show too many coincidences for contact to have not occcured between the cities. Evough though, you can see the photos and it really is time to sleep, well after a couple of games of pool with Sam, John and their friends. Did I mention that Bugs Bunny is really trippy in Spanish ?Saturday, my penultimate day in Mexico. First the errands of paying tourist tax and sending my parcel home. Now it´s time to explore Mexico City proper and try to absorb some of its atmosphere as all I have experienced thus far is the Metro and the Zocalo at the historic centre of town. I do miss London and this feels just like home. The Metro is crowded beyond belief at rushhour and my well honed elbows and knees come into good use, taxis (green Beetles) are omnipresent and nobody says hello or even looks you in the eye - all just like home! Highlights are a plaza packed with lunchtime ball room dancers (where´s my camera!) and a main shopping area - just translate your local city centre into Spanish and you have the rough idea. Tomorrow Aztecs, and then Panama and the Canal. and the driver!
 Hi Bob!
 Except the trains are orange and run on tires
 Unusually on the north side of the plaza, in defiance of the colonial town planning that defines all Mexico´s towns.
 Not a mis-spelling
 Now you know the real version ;-)
 Everybody else: the tourguide from China
 Actually dedicated to Tlatoc, God of Rain
 Though as it isn´t a true pyramid it´s only helf the height of the Egyptian ones.
 This site is so large it boasts 7 entrances.
 I´ll apologise for the bad spelling at this point ;-)
 More on these tomorrow
 I never got the site proper Kathe :-(
 If the smog wasn´t omniprescent
 If your name is Hannah, don´t read this until after November. You know what I mean. More...
Diary 11a (or Not for Hannah!)Most heart rending of all is the collection of human fetuses, preserved from 1 to 24 weeks of age and some of them disceted or presented as skeletons. Quite disturbing in the middle of an exceptionally quiet and secluded room.