Teotihuacan: discovering what terrible Aztecs we would be

The Aztecs are ubiquitous in Mexico, and resentment of their domineering empire is still rife amongst the descendents of the Mayans and other neighbouring tribes. Hundreds of years on and chocolate is still claimed by both sides. In Mexico City, the Aztecs discovered the cocoa tree and invented chocolate, yet in the south Mayan descendents passionately oppose this with the exclamation “The Aztecs stole our cocoa!” Regardless of who claims ownership of the cacao bean, both empires built some impressive cities and temples during their respective reigns. Teotihuacan is the largest of the Aztec ruins, and is home to the famous Temple of the Sun and the Avenue of Death.

After an adventure through the maze that is the Mexico City subway system, a stop for hangover-curing mango juice (the result of a drinking game entitled “Tequila, Arriba, I like your poncho señor!”) and a lost purse, we made it to the archeological site entrance. Gawping at the steepness of the first set of steps (we would later laugh at our own foolishness when we saw the steps to the summit of the pyramids), we climbed up almost on all fours, hands stretched in front of us for balance. It was here that we realised what terrible Aztecs we would have made.

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The start of a steep climb

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Temple of the Feathered Serpent

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Compulsory pose at the ruins

With the Pyramid of the Moon just about in our sights, we began the 2km walk along the Avenida de la Muerte. Trudging along the limitless plazas, up six steps, down six steps, one more plaza, another set of steps… The scorching midday sun offered no shade and the pyramid appeared to be growing smaller. Finally arriving at the base of the Pyramid of the Sun, we collapsed on the dusty rocks under a tree, surrounded by the beating sound of a nearby drum circle and gazing at the towering mound of rocks above us.

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Celebrating the equinox at the base of the Pyramid of the Sun

Gulping down my water, I swung my bag over my shoulder and proceeded up the uneven slope to the first set of stairs, in themselves so steep that you lost sight of the top. For the first few minutes, I felt adventurous. It was a challenge and I relished the satisfaction of pulling myself up the steps, each one so deep that I was bringing my knee up to my chest with every stride. After a while though, the lack of handrail becomes a serious concern, the path narrows and you resort to climbing on all fours once again, occasionally put to shame by the father climbing up with his baby daughter upon his shoulders, both hands holding her legs. At the summit, everyone has collapsed onto the ground. Some to recover their breath, others to meditate or perhaps pray to the Aztec sun god, palms outstretched towards the skies.

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At the summit of the Sun Pyramid

I snapped a few pictures, and asked a fellow tourist to take the obligatory “I reached the top!” photograph of me, proof of my climb. Elated, I clambered back down to where Jo was waiting and we continued up the Avenida de la Muerte to the slightly smaller Pyramid of the Moon. The view from the top was stunning: the Avenue stretching ahead as far as you could see, steps leading to seperate and largely ignored ruins (impressive in themselves, but dwarfed by the towering pyramids) and the arid, mountainous landscape behind.

Sat cross-legged on the edge of the pyramid, contemplating the view, I still couldn’t quite believe that I was here. Not long ago at work, I was sat in front of a computer, researching this very sight and contacting photographers and travellers to obtain an image for a book. And here I was, seeing and experiencing for myself what I had spent so many hours staring at through the screen.

The screen does not do it justice.

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Pyramid of the Moon

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I made it to the top!

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Attempting to whimsically contemplate the view

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Avenida de la Muerte

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