Tuesday, January 4, 2011

between north and central america - Mexico Day 1

after about 16 days on the road, I found myself physically drained and exhausted but mentally enriched. my first trip to Mexico and Cuba and it's fun fun fun! 
arriving at Mexico City, itinerary for day 1:
Plaza de las Tres Culturas (Square of Three Cultures) - situated at the heart of the city center, the square recognizes Mexico's cultural heritage of three periods - native American (Aztec), Spanish colonial and today's mestizos (mixed European and Native American ancestry). trip advisor tip: there is a path that goes around the square for photo taking. only walk in the direction as the arrows point to, reverse walking is strictly prohibited.

Basilica De Guadalupe - the most important and visited Catholic pilgrimage site in Latin America. visited by over 1 million people every december in pilgrimage and just next to the Vatican as the most popular Catholic attraction in the world. both the old and new basilica are beautifully built. the legend of the image of Lady Gudadalupe (Virgin Mary) imprinted on the cloak of the peasant Juan Diego is fascinating. 

account from Wikipedia: "...during a walk from his home village to Mexico City early on the morning of December 9, 1531, the peasant Juan Diego saw a vision of a young girl of fifteen or sixteen, surrounded by light, on the slopes of the Hill of Tepeyac. Speaking in the local language, Nahuatl, the Lady asked for a church to be built at that site in her honor, and from her words Juan Diego recognized her as the Virgin Mary. Diego told his story to the Spanish Archbishop, Fray Juan de Zumárraga, who instructed him to return and ask the Lady for a miraculous sign to prove her claim. The Virgin told Juan Diego to gather some flowers from the top of Tepeyac Hill. It was winter and no flowers bloomed, but on the hilltop Diego found flowers of every sort, and the Virgin herself arranged them in his tilma, or peasant cloak. When Juan Diego opened the cloak before Zumárraga on December 12, the flowers fell to the floor, and in their place was the Virgin of Guadalupe, miraculously imprinted on the fabric."

some interesting facts told by my guide about the mystery of the image of Lady Guadalupe:
infra-red photography shows no signs of under sketch on the rough fabric of tilma and there is no signs of color fade of the image over the past 479 years. attempts to reproduce the image of Lady Guadalupe failed as the reproduction discolored shortly after 7 years. truly amazing!

Juan Diego

Lady Guadalupe in tilma

on the way to see the ancient ruins of Teotihuacan, we stopped by a small family factory where they make their own tequlia for over 3 generations. I never know the agave plant is so useful in many ways besides making the spirit. the stalks can be extracted to make sweet syrup, the skin is peeled to make paper. the juice of the leaves will lather in water like soap. there are also other medical uses of the plant leaf. the tip of plant is used as needle, nail or pen, as well as string to sew and weave the fabric of the agave plant to make organic, 100% natural fabric. is there anything more you can make from agave? 

agave plant

peeling the skin as paper

tip of the plant heart can be used as a needle and the fiber (sisal) as threads
natural colorings turn the fibers into different colors

agave fiber weaved with cotton becomes the colorful mexican fabric

the agave plant behind me is 30 years old

we finally came to Pyramid of Teotihuacan, an UNESCO world heritage site about 50 km away from Mexico City. the whole site is situated at a basin with three large pyramidal structures (the Pyramids of the Sum, the Moon and the Star) along the Avenue of the Dead (sounds scary, isn't it?). the pyramids are the world's third largest and the archaeological site is thought to be one of the largest ruins in the world left by the pre-Columbian American tribes, Toltec, and was built in 200 BC at the height of its civilization. it's been debated whether Teotihuacan was the center of a state empire with inhabitants over 200,000 living in the state and the center of political and economic control. the pyramids are not tombs like the Egyptian ones but they functioned as a temple / ceremonial platform according to my guide's explanation. so we'd thought there are no human bodies found in them. wrong! it's believed that Teotihuacanos practiced human sacrifice and bodies have been found during excavations of the pyramids. "human sacrifice"!!! we were all a bit stunned by the thought of it at first but as we went on to more archaeological sites of the indigenous Americans and learned more about their history and rituals, there was a new meaning found and I guess it became less terrifying. 

pyramid of the Sun next to Avenue of the Dead

steep steps

view of pyramid of Moon (far end) from the Sun

long way up...
when most Mexicans have Catholic faith, they still believe and practice their ancestral belief and rituals. people claim one gets to absorb the greatest celestial energy from the sun at the top of the Sun pyramid when the sun reaches its noon zenith. not so sure about the energy but definitely I didn't want to get roasted so I just waited at the bottom for the other members of my tour to finish their climb. 

 our night ended with a good singing and dance show in town : )

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