Chilling in the Zocalos

Trip Start Apr 13, 2010
Trip End Jun 07, 2010

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Flag of Mexico  , Central Mexico and Gulf Coast,
Monday, April 19, 2010

An early start this morning at 6.40am to visit the ruins of Teotihuacan outisde Meixco City by private minibus. Built starting in 200BC and populated between 200BC and 650AD, it was the biggest city in preHispanic America, with a population of up to 200,000, and is most famous for it's pyramids, the main ones being the Pyramid of the Sun and Moon, the biggest outside Egypt. It is not known why the city fell into decline, maybe due to ecological disaster or war. The city was covered by vegetation and only discovered about 100 years ago. Only a small part of the city has been uncovered. We spend about 3 hours visiting the site, and some climb the Pyramid of the Sun (the bigger pyramid), however, this is not recommended for someone with a fear of heights (it's the part where you look down the steps you've got to descend when at the top which shits you up) so I give it a miss. However, I do go up the smaller Pyramid of the Moon as you can only go halfway up and there's a rail up the steps for wimps!

After visitng Teotihuacan, we have a nice 3 course Mexican lunch at a local house. Then we have a demonstration of how tequila is made with (many) free samples! We then get back on our bus to drive to Puebla, arriving about 5pm. Puebla is Mexico's fifth largest city, but my guide book says that tourists are unlikely to want to stay more than a day or two here, so fortunately, we're leaving tomorrow morning. Our hotel is called Hotel Royalty(!) and is right on the main square (Zocalo). The square is actually very picturesque and although there may not be many attractions in the city, Puebla looks like a city you could just chill out in for a few days, sitting in the Zocalo with a cold beer and people watching.

A few hour private bus trip to our next destination, the peaceful city of Oaxaca (pronounced wa-ha-ka), famous for its fiestas, colour and markets. Arriving mid-afternoon, we have an orientation walk around the centre of the city which is based around the Zocalo. We also have a demonstration of chocolate making (with tasting!), I try a local delicacy, a chapuline (crucnchy fried grasshopper, it tastes ok!), and there are some rather unusual religious ceramics in the market (see picture below). I spend the rest of the afternoon chilling out in the Zocalo watching the world go by with a cold beer.

The next morning, we have a visit to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Monte Alban, the ruins of the main city of the ancient Zapotec civilisation. Begun around 600BC, the city sits on a man-made plateau created by levelling the top of a mountain (~2,000m altitude) over a period of ~300 years. The feat of engineering to do this is mind-boggling, millions of tons of earth and rock was shifted without the use of the wheel or beasts of burden to create a huge flat terrace upon which they built huge pyramids, astonomical observatories and palaces. At the time of Christ, the city housed ~20,000 people. The city mysteriously imploded around 700AD.

On returning to Oaxaca, the rest of the afternoon is spent visitng a few sights, then chilling out in the Zocala, sitting in the shade with a cold beer. The Zocalo is a hive of activity - hawkers are trying to sell their wares, street musicians are playing, families are relaxing together, children are being face-painted, tourists are wandering about. I get a souvenir bracelet nameband - you write your down, choose your colours and the guy makes it in a few minutes for 25 pesos (~1). Cool! It must be his lucky day as our group order about 25 bracelets which he proceeds to make over the next couple of hours!

We have an overnight trip to our next destination, San Christobal de Las Casas. Our tour leader manages to arrange a private minibus rather than have to use a public bus (where they tend to crank the AC down to the "Arctic" setting apparently). Not a great night's sleep, trying to sleep in a seat! We have 3 days there - more on that in the next entry.
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