January 15, 2011 GMT
Xilitla And Almost Mexico City

I was planning on going to Xilitla to see Edward James’s garden and when I told Letty, the owner of my San Luis Potosi hostel it turned out she was going there for Christmas to stay with her sister who ran a hotel. I was invited to share their Christmas meal so travelled to Xilitla on Christmas Eve without realising that they were having their main meal that evening rather than on Christmas day as we do in England. I hadn't met most of the family until we sat down for the Christmas meal but we all got along with Letty translating when required.

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Letty And Israel Marquesa

Family had travelled from around Mexico to get together for Christmas, the only time of the year they were able to do so which made it quite a family reunion. The Christmas meal of roast lamb, tortillas and salsa followed by chocolate coated strawberries was excellent and it was a privilege to be invited to share it with the Marquesa family. I was surprised to see strawberries in the markets but they are cultivated in Mexico.

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Xilitla Main Plaza On A Misty Christmas Day In The Rain Forest

Edward James was born into a wealthy family in England in 1907 and became a sponsor of surrealist art. His most fantastic surrealist creation was realised in the Mexican rain forest, a surrealist Sculpture garden, "Las Pozas" (The Pools), three kilometres from Xilitla. Between 1949 and 1984, James built thirty-six concrete follies - palaces, temples and pagodas, including the House on Three Floors “Which Will in Fact Have Five or Four or Six“, the House with a Roof like a Whale, and the Staircase to Heaven. For a while it certainly felt like the Staircase To Heaven was never going to end as it wound up the steep valley side and although the view from the top is good it falls short of my idea of heaven.

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Edward James Garden Pools And Waterfalls

Construction of Las Pozas cost more than $5 million. There were also plantings and beds full of tropical plants, including orchids - there were 29,000 at Las Pozas at one time. To pay for it, James sold his collection of Surrealist art at auction. If there’s one thing Britain excels at it is breeding eccentric millionaires and I hope we continue to do so!

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Edward James Garden

The jungle is slowly taking over the reinforced concrete sculptures and gardens although there are plans to restore the gardens to their former glory.

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Edward James Garden, Xilitla

I wanted to visit the pyramids at Teotihuacán and Cholula, both fairly close to Mexico City which I wanted to avoid like the plague. With a population of between 19.5 and 45 million depending on who you listen to and whether they are talking about the city or the metropolitan area I didn’t fancy tackling the city traffic or the urban sprawl.

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Pyramid Of The Sun, Teotihuacán

The road to the Teotihuacán pyramids was very slow as it went through countless villages each with their multiple topes (severe speed bumps) that had me grounding the engine guard going over them at walking speed. It took 5 ½ hours to cover 143 miles (229 km) with a ten minute sandwich lunch break. The scenery was good though as the road swept through jungle which was a change from all the high plain cactus. I stopped for fuel mid afternoon a 100 miles (160 km) from Teotihuacán, saw a reasonably priced motel and decided to stay as I had been told that Teotihuacán accommodation was expensive. I had arrived at the pyramids the following day by late morning leaving plenty of time to walk round and get back on the road towards Cholula.

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Climbing The Pyramid Of The Sun

It was pretty hot walking round the site and climbing the pyramids in the afternoon sun wearing the motorcycle suit, particularly climbing the steep steps up the pyramids. It was one of the busiest days of the year when I was there and you had to queue waiting for people to leave the Pyramid Of The Sun before you were allowed to start your ascent.

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Modern Day Sun Worshippers On Top Of The Pyramid Of The Sun

Teotihuacán at its zenith in 450AD housed around 200,000 people making it the largest city in the Americas at the time and one of the largest cities in the world. The three main features are the Pyramid Of The Sun, The Pyramid Of The Moon and the Avenue Of The Dead. The Pyramid Of The Sun is the third largest pyramid in the world after the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt and the Great Pyramid of Cholula in Mexico. The original names used by the Teotihuacanos for the pyramids is unknown, the Aztecs named them centuries after they were abandoned.

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Pyramid Of The Moon, Teotihuacán

The Pyramid Of The Moon at the north end of the Avenue Of The Dead mimics the contours of the nearby mountain, Cerro Gordo. It was dedicated to the Teotihuacán goddess of water, fertility, the earth and creation which must have kept her busy. A team ball game used to be played with either the winning or losing side being sacrificed (historians haven’t determined which). The team being sacrificed were beheaded or sometimes tied up into a ball and rolled down the steep pyramid steps.

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The Vertigo Inducing Steps Of The Pyramid Of The Moon

The Avenue Of The Dead is three miles (5 km) long and 131 feet (40m) wide and was the main road through the centre of the ancient city. It was named by the Aztecs because the mounds along the road covering the building remains looked like burial mounds or tombstones.

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Avenue Of The Dead, Teotihuacán

I had been without internet access for over a week as I approached Cholula and hadn’t been able to look up exactly where the pyramid was. I also intended going to nearby Puebla where a BMW dealer was listed to get some spares but without WiFi I hadn‘t been able to find out where it was. I figured the biggest pyramid in the world ought to be easy enough to spot although I had read that it looks like a natural hill with a church on the top. I had an approximate grid reference from google earth so I knew I was close but was in the city of Cholula surrounded by buildings with nothing vaguely resembling a pyramid in sight. Stopping beside a Starbucks Coffee House and asking for directions in Spanish I got the answer in English that the pyramid was just round the next corner. Taking a right turn a few hundred yards past Starbucks brought the pyramid in view a short distance ahead of me.

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The Biggest Pyramid In The World And I Couldn't Find It

There was a wonderful bit of ancient Spanish Conquistador spin on one of the signs at Cholula. It is a well documented that the Conquistadors destroyed any temples or places of worship in an attempt to force the local people to give up their beliefs and convert to Catholicism. According to the sign the Conquistadors had taken the building materials from the original temple to build a new catholic church to symbolise the replacement of old ideas with new as the human race progresses towards true enlightenment! Possibly the earliest piece of political spin ever documented.

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Cholula Pyramid

I had vowed never to set foot in another Starbucks after going into one in Virginia and asking if they had WiFi before ordering and being told that they had. I expected to sit down with my coffee and get logged on but found that I had to buy a card for so many minutes access. After getting the card I had to fill in my personal details including my address, the system accepted England but told me I had entered an invalid ‘zip code’ when I typed my postcode. I had to go back to the counter and in the end a staff member entered a new set of personal details that had nothing to do with me and said that there was the normal, free, no hassle internet access at the café across the street. I wish she had told me that when I asked before placing my order. All told it took 45 minutes and $10 to get logged on to get information that only took 10 minutes to find. I wanted to track down the Puebla BMW dealer and as I knew Starbucks was nearby I reluctantly went for coffee and internet time. Things had improved in that I didn’t have to pay for the internet but before I could use it I had to rejoin the queue at the counter to get a password. After getting the address of the BMW dealer I couldn’t locate it on the GPS so I tried going onto the dealers website which failed to load and sending an email to them came back as an invalid address so I decided to head straight for Oaxaca instead. Fortunately the bits I was after aren’t urgent.

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Carved Stone Head, Cholula Pyramid

After several days of slow riding through towns and villages with slow traffic and the tope speed bumps I opted to go on the faster toll rode to Oaxaca which took me at motorway speeds to the outskirts of town. It took another hour to find a hostel as Garmin GPS once again decided to go through the local market with its stop go traffic on the way to the Colonia Centro.

Posted by ianmoor@tiscali.co.uk at 02:47 AM GMT
January 25, 2011 GMT
Mexico - Oaxaca

Farwell, a well travelled friend I met in Montana told me his favourite place in Mexico was Oaxaca and as I have made my way south most people who had been really liked the place. At this time of year (January) it has an almost perfect climate with Canadians travelling to it to escape the cold and Argentineans to escape the midsummer heat.

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Another Day In Paradise - Oaxaca Main Plaza, The Zocalo

The large main plaza, Zocalo is a lively, colourful place with plenty of activity and entertainment from orchestras one night to Peruvian panpipe players another. Everyone gathers there in the evening, children play with giant cylindrical balloons outside the cathedral while various traditional musicians busk at the restaurants and living statues pose for photos and give you a fortune card in exchange for dropping a few coins into their collection boxes.

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Long Cylindrical Balloons Outside The Cathedral

One perfect tropical evening in the Zocalo I was watching an excellent group of musicians playing traditional Peruvian music with panpipes, flutes and guitars thinking that life couldn’t get any better when a street trader came round selling cheesecake. CHEESECAKE without having to move, Viva Mexico!

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Bike Stored In The Hostel Courtyard (www.mezkalitohostel.com)

There was an outcry as fuel rose by 2 pesos with concern that it would push up the price of basic food, bus journeys and everything else. It now costs 9 peso per litre (48p per litre or $2.74 per US gallon if I got my sums right), still cheap by European standards.

An English language Mexican newspaper reported that Mexico now headed the list of obese nations. Maybe there is a downside to having street dealers pushing their cheesecakes onto a hedonistic populace innocently out for a good time and in moments of weakness succumbing to temptation. One of the pushers looked like he was a cheesecake addict himself, selling no doubt to feed his own habit.

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Living Statues

Monte Alban, on the outskirts of Oaxaca is a 2400(ish) year old Mesoamerican archaeological site that I visited on a tour rather than ride the bike through the city traffic and back. The tour included a guide who said the now bare walls were once covered in red stucco and showed us a small sheltered corner which still had traces of red paint. He explained that the colouring from red oxide was vastly superior to modern paints as this paint was applied 5000 years ago (twice as old as the wall!). All the time he was telling his tale he was tapping the wall with a stick and you could see flakes of paint coming away as he did so.

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Monte Alban

The bike was due another service so I got the hostel manager to write out a note in Spanish that I could memorise to go round the covered carparks asking if I could do the work there. The first two refused, worried about any mess I might leave although I had plenty of cardboard and newspaper to catch any spillage. The third one said it would be ok so I popped back for the bike and did the job sheltered from the sun. I was charged 20 peso (just over a pound or $1.54), the normal cost of two hours parking although I gave the guy an additional 100 peso for letting me do the service there. I then rode round stopping at a number of waste bins to get rid of the paper and large sheet of cardboard. That makes 36,000 miles I have done on the trip so far.

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The 6pm Flag Lowering Ceremony, Main Plaza, Oaxaca

The Zapotec town in Mitla, an hour or so ride from Oaxaca reached its peak from 750AD to 1521AD until the Spanish destroyed it and used some of the stones to build the nearby church. Mitla is unique among Mesoamerican sites for the elaborate and intricate mosaic fretwork and geometric designs that cover tombs, panels, friezes and even entire walls. These mosaics are made with small, finely cut and polished stone pieces which have been fitted together without the use of mortar.

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Mitla Zapotec Ruins With Restored Red Stucco

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The Unique To Mitla Site Wall Decoration

Santa Maria Del Tule has the worlds largest tree in the grounds of the church. I think this is the second ’largest tree in the world’ I have seen as different methods of measurement are used. The Tule tree, a Montezuma Cypress has the largest girth of trunk, 54 metres (164 feet) and dwarfs the nearby church. It is over 2000 years old so it was around when the Zapotec civilisation was flourishing in the region. The General Sherman is the largest tree by volume, a Giant Sequoia in California. The tallest tree, a Coast Redwood at 115.6 metres (379.3 feet) is also in California.

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The Biggest Tree In The World, Tule

Posted by ianmoor@tiscali.co.uk at 08:16 PM GMT
 



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