Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Balloon launch over the ancient pyramids of Teotihuacan

Morning balloon launch over Pyramid of the Sun, Teotihuacan. We got to the site at just the right moment.
Cindy and I have been to Teotihuacan (tay-oh-tee-wah-KAHN) a couple of times before, but the scale of the place never ceases to impress us. So when the staff at the university invited us to join a Sunday tour with other international students and professors, we said sure.

We had a pleasant surprise when we got to the site, which is about 30 miles northeast of Mexico City. A balloon launch was under way. It looked at first like an invasion of the aliens.

A popular souvenir at Teotihuacan is a bow and arrow. Lots of boys had them and were practicing. Not so many personal injury lawyers here in Mexico. His mom, at left, is paying no attention.

The pyramids were built mostly in a period of several hundred years starting 2,000 years ago. Then in around the 7th century, the site was abandoned, and there are a number of theories -- drought, famine, exhaustion of local resources, social unrest, plague. No one knows.

When the Aztecs arrived on the site around the 1300s, they could not imagine who could have built this magnificent sacred city, so they assumed it was done by the gods. The whole story of the site is told at the link above.

Our guide, Miche, describes how the
colorful murals were preserved.

Detail of one of the murals. You can see a bird's head in
the middle.

We had a guide, Miche, who grew up in the neighborhood of the pyramids and studied the history of the site at a tourism school. I've heard a lot of tour guides describe a lot of archeological sites, and he was one of the best. He knew his history well.

He described how the Teotihuacanos built new pyramids atop previous ones, which sometimes allowed for the preservation of the original painted murals. You can get a sense of what they must have looked like in a few places on the site.

Archeologists have concluded that the Teotihuacanos worshipped not the Sun and the Moon but water and the water world, based on all their art and sculpture. It was the Aztecs who named the pyramids for celestial bodies based on their own theology. We don't know what the Teotihuacanos called them. They left no written language.

In any case, the art of the Teotihuacanos is filled with images of water and the creatures who spring from it -- the feathered serpent, the puma who walks on the river, the crocodile, which was considered the first animal to emerge from the water.

The jaguar blows into a conch, which produces water, the symbol of life and fertility for the Teotihuacanos.
Cindy with her Tec of Monterrey shirt. The tiny people in the plaza give you a sense of scale. This view is from the Pyramid of the Moon.

The Chilean kids were into the big sombreros and insisted that we wear them
and pose for a picture.

We thought we would meet a lot of other international professors on the bus trip, but as it happened, it was nearly all exchange students from Chile who were spending six weeks at Tec. We did meet a business professor from India. He speaks no Spanish. Now he is in Cindy's Spanish class.

This is the miracle image, which
hangs behind the altar in the
After Teotihuacan we headed to the Basilica of Guadalupe, which is probably the most important religious site in Latin America. The story is that the Virgin appeared to a poor peasant in the 16th century and told him to get the bishop to build a church in her honor.

It took a miracle to convince the bishop: Specifically an image of the Virgin appeared on the peasant's tunic, and this tunic hangs in the most modern church on the site. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made an incredible gaffe when she visited the site in 2009 and asked her guide, a priest, "Who painted it." And the priest told her, "God did."

I was surprised at how little attention Clinton's faux pas got in the U.S. press, and the Mexican press also let her off easy.

The first church on the site was built in the 1500s, and five more have been built to accommodate the faithful, some 15 million of whom come to visit the site every year.

With the Virgin in the background, this dad is telling his little girl to smile for the picture. She was being stubborn. Finally, she gave him the smile he wanted.

Another view of the balloons over the Pyramid of the Sun.


  1. Anonymous2:12 PM

    Very cool. Thanks JB.

  2. As always, crisp descriptions with some wry humor and beautiful photos. Thanks Jim. Senor Miraldi

  3. You are truly a Señor Citizen.