As we continued our exploration of Mexico our next desire was to visit the ruins of Teotihuacán outside of Mexico City. We were trying to escape the weekend crowds at the Grutas Tolentango, where we had been camped out for a couple of days. Unfortunately, the crowds were unavoidable. On Sundays, the site is free to Mexican citizens. This means that Sundays are incredibly busy. If we had driven down to visit the ruins we would have arrived just in time for the busiest day of the week. Mondays are no good either. They are closed on Mondays. That left us with no choice but to kill some time before heading down to the ruins.
It turned out to be a very good thing that we had so much time to kill. Mexico was experiencing a fuel shortage. The problem was that the cartels were stealing gas. Apparently, many of the delivery pipelines were compromised with illegal taps. The government shut off many of the pipelines and was delivering fuel to gas stations via truck. When we set off that day we did not have enough gas to get to any comfortable destination. We drove by station after station, all of them closed down. They were roped off with attendants sitting around looking bored or deep cleaning the station. This did not bode well for us. I checked my Gas Buddy app but it did not cover Mexico. Some people were updating the google reviews for stations as to whether or not they had gas but there was no info within useful proximity to our location. I started to search for places to stay and wait for gas delivery. Before I found us a safe place to hunker down we passed a long line of cars leading to a station that actually had gas! We turned around and found the end of the line to wait our turn and hope that they didn’t run out before we got there. We were about four blocks back in our line and there was another line one block over that was zipper merging with us to get into the gas station. We waited patiently and anxiously. Pedestrians carrying gas tanks waited in a separate line. The police were on hand to help direct traffic and keep the line from blocking the flow of cross traffic. Eventually, it was our turn. We were grateful that they allowed us to fill our tank. Some gas stations were rationing and only allowing people to buy 20 liters of gas at a time. The whole process only took about 45 minutes. We were lucky.
With a full tank of gas, we were free to head up into the mountains to relax and wait out the weekend. The key word in that statement was ‘up.’ Our campsite in that area was just shy of 8000 ft. in elevation. We were back up in the conifers surrounded by mist. We busted out the down comforter, beanie caps, and warm socks. It wasn’t that cold when the sun was out but the sun was rarely out. We even got rained on. We spent a couple of days relaxing and trying to stay warm. I read a book or two and Scott worked on putting together another video for our YouTube channel. Have I mentioned that we have a YouTube channel now? We do! It is called Sporadic Sojourns! If you have a spare fifteen minutes, give it a look. Anyhow, after we got our fill of solitude it was time to head back downhill and check out the ruins.
The ruins of Teotihuacan are surrounded by the city. There is a road ringing the site that is lined with artisan shops and expensive restaurants. We camped within view of the Pyramid of the Sun at a family-run little comedor offering camping for 50 pesos per person. The facilities were scant and rustic. Actually, kind of gross. There was no running water and the toilets were of the pit variety. They had dug a long trench and placed seven or eight plastic outhouse inserts over the shared pit. Thankfully the stalls were divided with solid walls. The doors were outdated plastic banners advertising land for sale and rodeo events. It was not pleasant and did not invite one to linger. We travel with ample hand sanitizer and carry our own water supply so we were able to mitigate for the grossness. Anyhow the location was fabulous! We were able to just walk across the street and enter the ruins avoiding paying for parking.
Once we entered the site we just had to make it past the booths with enthusiastic salespeople offering the typical myriad of trinkets and t-shirts. We declined guide service in favor of walking around aimlessly relying on the interpretive signs to inform us what we were looking at. We started with a hike up the Pyramid of the Moon which afforded us a view down the length of the site. The very top of the pyramid was inaccessible but the view from her flanks was lovely despite the haze in the air. We ping-ponged our way down the central Avenue of the Dead visiting the lesser structures and preserved murals while avoiding the salespeople stationed regularly along the way. We were drawn to the Pyramid of the Sun. This is the third largest pyramid in the world and we were about to climb to the top. It is said that the Pyramid of the Sun sits atop an energy vortex. We were definitely not the only people up there in search of some energetic juju. Archaeologists say that the temple was once topped with a wooden pavilion that would have given a clearer indication of the god(s) worshiped there. The top of the pyramid was crawling with visitors. Everyone seemed to be vying for space at the very center of the gently rounded peak. The current title-holder in the unofficial game of King of the Hill when we arrived was a young Mexican woman sitting cross-legged wearing shiny spandex Captain America leggings and a matching top. She sat with her eyes closed breastfeeding her son while her short ponytail whipped in the wind. Another man nearby, sporting artful sideburns, had pulled from his bag a collection of tiny livestock figurines and was intently arranging them to form a scene of peaceful bucolic splendor atop the pyramid. When our turn came, we sat atop the center of the pyramid hoping to feel the vibes. Nope. Well, it was worth a try. Before heading back down the steep steps, we took a stroll along the edges of the top level taking in the scenery from all angles. A young man with his thin hair in braids wearing a pale blue polo shirt was also making the round of the pyramid in the opposite direction. He paused every few feet and stood still with his arms out and eyes closed softly chanting. I tried not to stare. As we passed through the space he had recently vacated, both Scott and I got goosebumps. Whatever juju that man was channeling wasn’t traveling along with him. Scott and I looked at each other with big eyes and headed back down to finish our exploration of the site.
The further we got from the Pyramid of the Sun the fewer people we encountered. By the time we arrived at the Citadel and the Temple of the Feathered Serpent there was only one other small group taking in the sights. About every ten minutes or so a barrage of fireworks would be set off in the town nearby. We never did find out what the big event was. There doesn’t always need to be a reason to shoot off fireworks in Mexico. In front of the citadel was a big tent protecting the entrance to a tunnel. Apparently, that tunnel leads to a chamber that housed a replica of the underworld complete with tiny lakes of liquid mercury and a ceiling of crushed pyrite emulating stars. Of course, we didn’t get to see all of this but it is cool to know what lies beneath. We did get to see the Temple of the Feathered Serpent and it was very cool. Most of the structures at Teotihuacán were blocky remnants of grand buildings. This temple really gave a hint to how beautiful the city was in its time. Carved heads adorned the sides of the temple and serpent and seashell reliefs were carved along the walls. A barrier wall kept us from touching any of it with our grubby paws. Good call. We tourists would have made quick time of destroying the more fragile parts with our loving caresses.
In the battle between culture and our stomachs, the clear winner over time is our stomachs. We had absorbed about as much splendor as there was to absorb so we decided to leave and find some overpriced tourist food. We walked for a mile in the direction of our camp before we gave up on finding an overpriced meal. None of the giant billboards with pictures of grilled meat called to us. We didn’t need to eat at a restaurant. We were just being lazy. We had food back at camp and a budget to keep in mind.
The next morning, we packed up and headed towards the town of Papantla. Unfortunately, we needed gas again. We had enough to get close to Papantla but not quite there. We decided to just have faith that we would eventually run across a station that had gas. We passed one that looked to have gas but the line was about a mile long and it didn’t look like it was moving at all. We gambled and kept going. The gamble paid off. About 30 minutes into our drive we found another station that had only a dozen cars waiting. We were in and out of there in no time flat. We gave each other a high five for making the right choice to skip the gas line from hell and headed on our merry way with the comfort of knowing we had ample fuel for the time being. The further we got from the city the less of a problem gas seemed to be. Most stations were open and there was no appreciable wait. We were hoping to camp out at a vanilla farm in Papantla but the gates were closed when we arrived. I had remembered seeing a couple places that looked like they might allow camping on our way into town so we headed back to check them out. We ended up in a great little spot in the heart of an orange grove. I felt like we were camping in the scene from the Celestial Season’s Mandarin Orange Spice tea box. We were the only people staying there and really enjoyed the tranquility of the lush green countryside after the dusty dry heat of Teotihuacan. The facilities were a million times better as well! The next morning, we took our time packing up. Well, Scott did most of the packing up. I was busy stalking the birds with my camera. I didn’t get many great pictures but the pursuit was deeply satisfying.
We were aimed for the ruins of Tajín. It is apt that we headed here from Teotihuacán because, apparently, Tajín is the place the Totonacs headed to after the fall of Teotihuacán. Our timing was perfect for our visit. When we arrived a man in an ornate red costume let us know that he and his fellow voladores (fliers) would be giving a performance in a couple of hours. I was super excited to see these men fling themselves off of a very high pole and we didn’t need more than a couple hours to walk through the ruins. The experience of visiting Tajín was completely different from Teotihuacán. The ruins were smaller and more ornate. There was no scaling of pyramids here. They seemed more fragile like they were built on shifting land. Some seemed to be sliding back into the earth. They were in a jungle setting and the only people selling things were ladies who were offering to peel you an orange or jicama with their tiny sharp blades. It was so mellow. I think the only low point on that visit was when we used the restrooms and Scott didn’t realize that there was no water until after he filled his palm with liquid soap. Oops.
After we visited the ruins we sat down and waited for the Danza de los Voladores. Traditionally the ritual was aimed at appeasing the rain god and ending a drought. Five men in elaborate costume scale a 90-foot pole. Four of the men, with ropes tied around their waists sail out, rotating from the top of the pole while the fifth man dances and plays a flute-drum instrument.
It all happens very slowly. In my mind’s eye, it was more like bungee jumping than the deliberate aerial dance that it is. It was the low season so they were only performing once a day. I think they do it hourly or something crazy like that when tourist season is at its height. Once the performance was over we felt like we had gotten our fill of ruins for a while and headed east to the coast for a little rest and relaxation.