My husband, Cal, appeared in our RV with a brochure for a tour to Mexico that he had picked up on what he had thought was just a free coffee and donuts get-together. The tour was to visit Mexico City, the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary of El Rosario, and the town of San Miguel de Allende. All three are places I’ve always thought would be wonderful to visit but I never really had an idea how I would get there. It was like holding a dream in my hands. The whole itinerary for the week’s tour looked interesting. A quick consult with our finances, a couple of reassuring calls to the travel agency, and within a week the trip was booked. That definitely increased the cost of the donut!
“You’re gonna get shot!” “Oh my…please be careful!” were some of the comments I received when telling family of our plans.
I wouldn’t undertake a visit to Mexico without vetting the company and plans carefully. Viva Tours has been in business for 35 years, taking the snowbirds of the Rio Grande Valley down to Mexico on many different excursions. Our guide, Juan, has led this tour for 16 of those years. He is an archaeologist from southern Mexico who comes up on a reverse snowbird migration to the Rio Grande Valley in Texas every year for three months to be a tour guide for Viva and its owner, Tomas. Juan is experienced, knowledgeable, and personable and we felt that we were in excellent hands throughout the week-long trip.
We met Tomas and some of our fellow tourists at the eye-rubbing hour of 3:30 AM for a van ride to find Juan and the rest of the group in McAllen. There was a transfer to a bus, a quick stop at the border to put our luggage through Mexican security, and a drop-off at the Reynosa Airport. A two hour flight and then…we were in Mexico City.
Our stop that afternoon included one of the things I had come to see and a highlight of the trip for me. The ancient city of of Teotihuacan includes two pyramids: the Pyramid to the Sun and the Pyramid to the Moon. We saw the latter mostly off in the distance from our bus window. We visited the Pyramid of the Sun and its museum.
This pyramid is the third largest in the world. At the top is a huge pedestal where human sacrifices were made. It is located on a central road of Teotihuacan called “Avenue of the Dead” because it is believed to have been paved with tombs. In the museum I was able to get a clearer picture of the ancient city:
The Pyramid of the Sun is in the foreground. The buildings that you see were ceremonial and the people lived in the outlying areas.
The city predates the Aztecs. In its heyday, around year 1 to 500 CE, it was the largest city in the Americas and the sixth largest in the world. It had an estimated population of around 125,000. Teotihuacan was built to be a religious center but became a living city. The pyramid itself dates to around 250 BCE. When the Aztecs saw these ruins, they claimed ancestry with the residents and adopted it as their own.
Although the pyramid was originally thought to be dedicated to the Sun god, hence its name, current thinking is that the god actually worshipped in this pyramid was a water deity named Tlaloc. There was a ten foot moat around the pyramid, and child burials were found in the corners. These are characteristic of water god offerings.
A close up of the pyramid and its surrounding ruins revealed some of the construction techniques. At one time it was possible for visitors to climb it, but now that has been deemed too dangerous.
The museum had some interesting artifacts uncovered during archaeological digs, including many skeletons.
A couple of days later we visited the heart of Mexico City. Moving forward a few centuries, the Aztecs had a great temple here. It was their capital city, as Mexico City is now, and was called Tenochtitlan. They started construction in 1325, rebuilt it six times, and the Spaniards destroyed it in 1521. To add insult to injury, the Spaniards built Mexico City right on top of the rubble of Tenochtitlan. The ancient temple is now being excavated.
You may remember the conqueror of Mexico City from your history books – it was Hernan Cortes and the Aztec leader was Montezuma II. The Aztec’s city was built on an island in a lake, with a system of canals. Originally there were five lakes in Mexico City. Cortes drained all but one, to the present-day detriment of the city. Built on the old lake bed, it is sinking at a rate of about three feet per year.
After an extensive history lesson from Juan, and viewing the Aztec ruins, we took a short walk through the city that Cortes built. The President of Mexico currently lives in the Royal Palace.
Across from it sits the Metropolitan Cathedral, which one of the oldest and largest cathedrals in the Americas. Unfortunately here the sinking I mentioned earlier is happening unevenly, but efforts to keep the foundation level are ongoing.
The organ inside is impressive with its flyaway pipes. There is also a black crucifix here. Poison was put on Jesus’s feet and the whole crucifix turned black. You can find the complete story on Google if you are interested.
Plaza Mayor, where both the palace and the cathedral sit, is grand and impressive.
There is a pretty cactus garden to the side of the cathedral, along with old-style phone booths:
You could receive a cleansing on the street if you needed it. And then you could call someone from the phone booth and tell them how good it was.
On our last morning in Mexico City before departing for other sites, we visited the Basilica of Santa Maria de Guadalupe. It is the second most visited basilica in the world after St. Peter’s Vatican, with twenty million visitors annually.
What I’ve covered here is just the tip of the iceberg for everything we saw and absorbed while in Mexico City. Some of the places we visited may not even make it into the blogs. I’m trying to condense it but I am finding that not to be an easy task! Hopefully I can at least give you a flavor for this great city and its environs.
Next time – a boat ride in Xochimilco and Sunday in the park in a Mexico City suburb. Still to come–butterflies, and San Miguel de Allende