Teotihuacan Notes

Thirty miles northeast of Mexico City, Teotihuacan (a founding member of my bucket list ) waited. Having spent a few days in Mexico City, skittish pre-travel advice/warnings to “book in advance”, “take a reputable tour” and “avoid public transit” had long since evaporated. We hailed a street cab, destination – Terminal de Autobus del Norte. At the bus station,  paid 46 pesos each (under $4 Canadian return trip ) and hopped a coach leaving every 15 minutes for Teotihuacan.

Going in I knew Teotihuacan (City of the Gods) was a UNESCO World Heritage site. The largest pre-Aztec city in central Mexico, covering 20 square kilometers, dominated by Pyramids of the Sun and Moon, both situated along Avenue of the Dead’s considerable 2.4 km reach. Above all I knew Pyramid of the Sun was lined with Mica, a sheet mineral prized for thermal conduction and electrical insulation properties. Mica quarried thousands of miles away in South America, mysteriously placed beneath the outer stone surface. Nothing prepared me for enormity of personal first impressions.


An hour out of del Norte our bus arrived at Gate 1. Beyond a dusty entrance lined with vendors, map in hand, the Citadel lent dimension to scant comprehension of the task at hand.




First photo – view of the Citadel from Gate 1. Above – looking into the Temple of Quetzalcoatl from atop the Citadel.


From the Citadel, looking down Avenue of the Dead toward Pyramid of the Sun (right) and distant Pyramid of the Moon.




Images along Avenue of the Dead.

Between the Citadel and Pyramid of the Sun, we explored a jaw dropping expanse of prickly pear cactus –



Above – first ever WordPress photograph of myself and husband.

Evey step toward Pyramid of the Sun made the structure more implausible.





Hot, thirsty, needing to process Teotihuacan, we timed out at Gate 5 for lunch at La Gruta.




My cell phone photographs can’t begin to capture lunch in a cave. (I’ll post my husband’s images in a few days)


Refreshed and centered, we made our way to Pyramid of the Moon and adjoining Quetzalcoatl complex – Patio of the Jaguar and Temple of Feathered Conches.






Leaving Teotihuacan, I smiled when my daughter said “look at your boots”. Covered in dust, I walked away carrying stony determination of lost civilizations in my heart. It was a perfect day.

Island Of The Dolls

Just south of Mexico City the canals of Xochimico surround ancient man-made islands. Testament to lost ingenuity, islands created by the Aztec empire as farmland. One of them ranks as contender for “world’s creepiest place”, the Island of the Dolls.

Legend has it that in 1950, farmer and lone occupant Don Julian Santana witnessed a little girl drown in a canal. Believing her spirit haunted the island, Santana reasoned collecting dolls as his only protection. Over the next 50 years Santana scavenged 1,500 dolls (or parts thereof) hanging them from trees or placing them on any surface capable of display. He died in 2001 – some say he drowned in the exact spot as the little girl, others claim it was a heart attack. Regardless, his bizarre little island has become a tourist destination for those seeking a hair raising spectacle.


Why Butterfly?

Just a few hours drive from Mexico City, in the central highlands of Mexico – October ends with one of natures greatest ponders. Why would a butterfly travel thousands of miles from Canada and the north eastern U.S., to arrive by the millions at a tiny destination. An area no bigger than 60 square miles – an event so predictable it never swings by more than a week, a phenomenon defying explanation.

Unlike Salmon who return to spawn in the river they were born – Monarch Butterflies exist within a three to five year cycle. Those born in Mexico pack their bags and head north at winter’s end – they live a month, making it about as far as Texas. The next generation get busy and have a month to reach the northern states and Canada before they expire.  Third generation Monarchs do their butterfly thing with one major variance – one late August day they simply take flight and head south.

Acutely tuned to weather forecasts and direction – they know when to hunker down and ride out storms, and they know precisely where the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve is in Michoacan Mexico. Researchers have captured and tagged migrating butterflies – attempted to throw them off by relocating them from Nebraska to Washington DC. After a few days these cheeky navigators correct course, still managing to arrive on time.

Unlike their parents and grandparents – this migrating hoard is allotted an astounding 9 months to complete business. Two months migration, a winter in Mexican highland forests – huddled together for warmth on mature trees – and finally spring mating to produce the next Texas bound generation, starting the cycle over again.

Stopping to ponder this for a moment is truly humbling. Not so much a question of “why butterfly” as a testament to nature working in spite of our disregard or indifference. Nothing happens without a reason – science can’t answer why every third generation of Monarch Butterfly has nine times the life expectancy, crosses Great Lakes, plains, desserts and mountain ranges to arrive at precisely the same time every year in Mexico.

I don’t care if we ever know why – all that matters is understanding it’s that way for good reason. Listen up illegal loggers who creep about at night cutting down butterfly trees, all you land developers, miners, and reckless nincompoops – your false sense of ingenuity, greedy disregard and short sightedness bites us all in the ass.

Butterflies pollinate food crops like corn. Milkweed, the only plant they deposit eggs has dwindled with modern use of pesticides –  distribution has decreased by over 50%. Deforestation, harsh winters followed by summer drought and land development have seen numbers drop drastically the last few years.  Go out and plant some milkweed – nature’s balance dictates butterflies – don’t question why it matters, just ponder that it does.


Shame on Peruvian Land Developers

Without question, one of the main reasons we know so little about ancient history is that it was destroyed. Connecting the dots between the few remaining fragments of history allow us to imagine the story of civilization. Geological records explain natural catastrophes, second hand historical accounts such as the writings of Plato describing Atlantis, sprinkle light dustings of possibility on what might otherwise be pure myth.

Conquest and assimilation is by far the biggest eradicator of history. Spanish friar, and later bishop of Yucatan, Diego de Landa is a perfect example. In 1549 Landa arrived in Mexico with the conquistadors. He set out to convert the native population and obliterate any evidence of their beliefs and culture. In 1561 he set a massive fire, burning the last remaining Maya documents detailing their history and knowledge of astronomy. In 1563 he returned to Spain to face trial for an “unauthorized” inquisition. When cleared of charges he returned in 1573 as bishop of Yucatan.


What little we know about ancient Mexico, Central, and South America is the result of painstaking excavation of archaeological sites. Despite the church’s campaign to obliterate ancient indigenous civilizations, great strides have been made in piecing together ancient pasts. Archaeological treasures all that remain of civilizations beyond our comprehension.

Then along come greedy, bonehead land developers. With no more regard than Landa, thinking only of their interests land developers near Lima, Peru demolished El Paraiso, a 5000 year old pyramid on one of the oldest archaeological sites in South America. In May a 2,300 year old pyramid in Belize fell to a bulldozer, ending up as fill for road construction.


Precious little remains of our ancient past. It defies conscience to see what we have, pulverized and turned into landfill.

Guilty Pleasure

I’ll come clean and admit a guilty pleasure – I’m addicted to television, not just any TV, specifically the History and Discovery channels. My PVR is set to record anything about the universe, ancient history, aliens, or conspiracies. The first two are easy to digest, the last two – not so much. Far from being a conspiracy or alien nut there’s still plenty of thought provoking ponders to sift through.

Ancient Aliens has sent me along the research path countless times. The show becomes tiresome, and I hardly ever make it to the end, but along the way I do pick up questions that are difficult to answer. Not for an instant do I think we are alone in the universe, nor do I believe Hitler escaped in an alien time capsule, the Sasquatch is an alien, or ancient Egyptian and Maya kings travelled through a star gate to distant worlds. I do wonder how precisely cut stone weighing up to 100 tons could be quarried miles away and transported across river valleys to the top of mountain peaks, then set in place so precisely you couldn’t slip a hair between them. It plants a smile on my face to know pyramids in Mexico are lined with Mica quarried 3000 miles away in South America. Rather than alien intervention I believe in lost civilization; I’m certain thousands of years history pre-date our accepted historical timeline.

Conspiracy Theory with Jessie Ventura or Brad Meltzer’s Decoded are way out there. Just the same; I thank them for my knowledge of the Alaska triangle and Bohemian Grove. While reassured that George Patton wasn’t murdered, I’m not buying that copper from the Great Lakes fuelled the Bronze Age or the Knights Templar hid the Holy Grail in America.

Anything you ever wanted to know about the universe is waiting for you on television. Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman, The Universe, Known Universe, Cosmic Front – it’s all there. For the first time in my life I “get” string theory, know the difference between White Dwarfs and Red Giants, understand why tossing a cast iron frying pan into the sun would create a super nova, and that one day the universe will run out of hydrogen and go dark. Aftermath and Life After People have shown me what would happen if the world ran out of oil, the earth stopped spinning, we had no moon, or were hit by a massive asteroid.

I fall asleep listening to Monarchy by David Starkey or Neil Oliver’s The World After Stonehenge; something about a British accent that sends me off to sleep. In my corner of the world we have the Knowledge network; commercial free programs like The Story of India, Spice Trails – chronicling the early spice trade, or Brazil with Michael Palin.

Admitting my guilty pleasure is not a source of shame. I’m smart enough to take things with a grain of salt, put them in perspective, or use my research skills to learn more. In all honesty i would be lost without a voice to put me to sleep every night.

Cuba and Santeria

Pondering religion has me taking a look at Cuba and Santeria. The birth of Santeria is unique in that it sprang from a measure of tolerance by Spanish invaders. Spanish plantation owners allowed their slaves to form clubs called Cabildas; a place where African slaves  melded traditional Yoruba faith with Catholicism. What sets this apart is that it happened around the same time Spanish conquistadors were obliterating indigenous civilizations in Mexico and South America.

No question the Spanish had no God but their own in mind, that said it’s fascinating Santeria was tolerated. Perhaps it seemed harmless enough as it wasn’t part of local culture. They were businessmen for the most part who might have recognized the benefits of keeping the peace.I suspect the clever practice of referring to Orishas; Santeria Gods, as “saints” duped Spaniards into thinking the imported work force was toeing the line.

Santeria believes in over twenty Orishas; Gods able to wear many different “masks” therefore perceived in other cultures as their own holy figures. It has no text, and is passed on by word of mouth. Money isn’t wasted constructing places to worship; ceremonies take place in private homes or rented spaces. It worships nature, and takes a holistic approach to healing. Followers are given a “mother” and “father” Orisha in ceremonies conducted by a priest. Orishas have different colours associated with them; followers wear beads to identify their mother and father. Offerings known as ache are sometimes made in the form of blood from animal sacrifice.For this reason many people think of it as Voodoo, a misconception built on one tiny aspect of a rather complicated faith.

It would take hours to explain the intricacies of Santeria. My kindergarten overview doesn’t do justice to a faith born and raised for no purpose other than to help its followers. Santeria doesn’t knock on your door with newsprint pamphlets, it doesn’t care what others believe or pass moral judgement. It focuses on drawing strength from within, and honouring nature. It accepts all faiths and welcomes anyone who knocks on its door.

Perhaps this helps to explain the joy found in Cuban people. People who laugh and sing despite the lousy deal they’ve been handed. Ponder our world if we took a lesson from Santeria and kept religion to ourselves. A world free of church leaders sitting on piles of plundered wealth, free of hatred, judgement, and the belief it mattered one iota which afterlife any of us found ourselves.


Photo -aboutsanteria.com

KT Asteroid

Sixty five million years ago the K-T asteroid (Cretaceous-Tertiary) slammed into the Gulf of Mexico. Geologists searching for oil discovered what is believed to be the impact crater; near Chicxulub on Mexico‘s Yucatan Peninsula. Over 80 miles wide the crater rests in shallow ocean, and is credited to KT; estimated to have been at least 10 miles across.

The force was greater than a billion atom bombs. With speed measured in thousands of miles per second, almost as hot as the surface of the sun, KT vaporized everything within hundreds of miles.  The blast wave travelled at over 10 miles per second, annihilating any living creature long before the debris even reached them. The intense heat incinerated plant life, our world burned as debris from the initial blast rained down. Thousands upon thousands of blast chunks, fell from the sky. Thick smoke made sure anything left alive could no longer bask in sunlight. Lets not forget the tsunami. Estimated to be at least 1000 feet high, scientists have found evidence of Mexico from that period as far north as Colorado. KT triggered earthquakes and land slides, plunged our world into a global winter, and eradicated 70% of life on earth.

History is a funny thing. Most people can wrap their head around the past three, five, or even ten thousand years. Beyond that history tends to enter the realm of science fiction. We know dinosaurs existed, we see their bones in museums, and learn their names as children. The time of man is a drop in the bucket compared to the millions of years they ruled supreme. KT was nasty business; yet doubt I would be writing this without it.

Artist's rendering of the asteroid impact that may have led to the K-T extinction event

Pyramid of the Sun is lined with Mica

The Pyramid of the Sun in the ancient city of Teotihuacan Mexico, was lined with sheets of Mica. Mica is an excellent conductor of electricity. This Mica came from a quarry thousands of miles away in South America. Archaeologists have no idea how they were able to accomplish this, or for what purpose the Mica was intended.