When I think of ancient Mesoamerican cities, Teotihuacan is the one that comes to mind. Move over Tikal and Chichen Itza, Teotihuacan is the daddy of them all.
Located 40km north or Mexico City, Teotihuacan was the largest city in the pre-Columbian Americas, with a population estimated at 125,000 or more. The city was established around 100AD and was under construction until approximately 250AD and may have lasted until the 7th or 8th century when the site was thought to have been continously sacked and burned. As the burning is limited to the structures relating to the ruling classes, there is thought that this may have been caused by an internal uprising.
According to Wikipedia “The later Aztecs saw these magnificent ruins and claimed a common ancestry with the teotihuacanos, modifying and adopting aspects of their culture. The ethnicity of the inhabitants of Teotihuacan is also a subject of debate. Possible candidates are the Nahua, Otomi, or Totonac ethnic groups. Scholars have also suggested that Teotihuacan was a multi-ethnic state.”
For ease and laziness, we decided to book a tour through our Hostel Mundo Joven Cathedral that would take in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas and the Basilica of Guadalupe, both of which are outside the city centre (after only a couple of days on the road, Mexico City’s metro and bus system seemed pretty daunting). We only had to pay slightly more for this but the convenience made it worthwhile. I’m not always a huge fan of organised tours as the bus usually ferries unsuspecting tourists to markets in order to gain commission from shop owners – This tour was no exception. As we were almost at the ruins, we pulled over at an artisan mescal distillery and were subjected to a tedious talk on how they produce their liquor. However, we weren’t pressured to buy and by pretending to be interested in purchasing his products, the owner gave me at least 3 or 4 taster shots of different tequilas and mescals. I’m trying to get back the extra money we paid for the tour one drink at a time. In addition to this we also got to see the owners cute but creepy hairless Mexican dogs so I can’t complain too much.
On arrival at Teotihuacan we wandered as a group to the entrance of the complex. We were now arriving fairly late due to our tequila tasting and the site was already fairly crowded but towering over the throngs of visitors I could make out the mountainous Temple of the Sun – a sight that really has to be seen to be believed. How the ancient people of Mexico had the technology to build such an impressive structure really boggles the mind.
The site is huge – over 80 square kilometres in total – dominated by the Avenue of the Dead, A long pathway lined with temples leading to the Pyramid of the Moon and surrounding structures. But first, the main reason I had come, to climb the impressive Temple of the Sun (the third largest pyramid in the world after it’s cousins in Egypt). At this point Becky was starting to flag. I think too many street tacos had taken their toll on both her energy and her stomach. We pushed through the pain and up the 250 stone steps to an incredible sight, a view over the whole complex, taking in the central avenue and the impressive Temple of the Moon.
Although Teotihuacan isn’t one of the most well known tourist sites in Mexico, it becomes obvious that it is a bit of a tourist trap as we walk along the main avenue to the other pyramids. One by one we’re approached by salesmen trying to flog us their generic tat. It becomes such a pain that it’s beginning to spoil the whole experience.
There’s only so many times you can hear “Mister, Mister….. Would you like a ceramic cat”, “Do you need a whistle”, “Hair band for you, mister” (my lack of hair should have been a give-away that I don’t need a hair band) before you want to punch someone in the nose. Maybe I could be wrong and the ancient residents of Teotihuacan were Del Boy-esque market traders but I somehow doubt that they would like their ancient temples being used to flog Hats and headbands purporting the wearers love of weed.
After firmer and firmer “No gracias”‘s I could feel my temper brewing and almost considered buying a ceramic cat to flaunt as I wandered around in a ‘it’s okay mate, I’ve got my fill of ceramic cats’ kind of way.
As we boarded the bus, I forgot the annoyance of the cat sellers and reflected on the trip – The actual site is one of the most impressive things I have ever seen. If you visit Mexico City and miss out on this place, you’ve made a terrible mistake.
It also seems the tacos that Becky ate the previous night were a mistake too as she throws up on the journey home, sacrificing her brand new day pack in order to save the upholstery of the decades old and already stained bus seat. It didn’t seem funny at the time but if I need a good laugh I can look back on having to carry a sick covered backpack down a bus aisle trying not to splash fellow passengers and washing it with bottled water by the side of a Mexican motorway while being gawped at from the bus windows. Maybe animal based pottery would have been a better souvenir than a smelly backpack.