City Cats

Published: April 8th 2018
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Fi climbing the Pyramid of the SunFi climbing the Pyramid of the SunFi climbing the Pyramid of the Sun

Teotihuacan archaeological site
After San Cristobal we decided to do a few cultural things for a change, so headed to the UNESCO world heritage site of Teotihuacan, near Mexico City. Now as you may know, neither of us has much stamina for walking around archaeological sites, but this place is probably the most visited tourist spot in Mexico, so we felt somewhat compelled to see it. We knew it would be very busy and hot, so we got an admirably early start (by our standards!) and were glad we did as it was quite manageable in terms of crowds and temperature. The first structures of Teotihuacan are believed to have risen around 200 B.C. and the site gradually flourished into a Pre-Hispanic city of more than 150,000 citizens at its zenith. The site's main features are two enormous pyramids; the Pyramid of the Sun and Pyramid of the Moon, both of which we climbed (quite a workout at 7000+ feet above sea level!). It was definitely an impressive view from the top of each pyramid, and we conceded that the ruins and history behind them are certainly striking, but we didn't seem to be as impressed as most people, and acknowledged that these world-renowned archaeological sites are somewhat wasted on us two cultural philistines! Nevertheless, we were glad to have visited them and gained some insight into the impressive architectural feats that were accomplished in a time that had no benefit of the wheel or metal tools.

Our campsite was in the town of San Juan Teotihuacan, just a few kilometres from the ruins, and about 45km northeast of Mexico City. We generally enjoyed the town itself, noting the local vicar's fondness for vigorously ringing the church bells at all hours of the day or night. We didn't mind this at all, but never really understood the meaning of each peal. For instance, the ringing of 9 consecutive bell chimes alerted all within earshot that the current time was 7:48am. 10 chimes meant it was 8:48, and so on. Sometimes, and never at the same time each day or night, the vicar (or whoever) would just go berserk and ring the bells until his arms were tired (we assumed). Sometimes we would remark that it had been 90 minutes or so of relative silence since the last church bell ringathon, and we would wonder if the vicar was okay. We never had to wait too long though before the sky was again pierced by the clang-clang-clang of the omnipresent bells, and we were relieved to know that all was as it was supposed to be. Ken suggested that this particular church would be a good test lab for bell manufacturers to design- and stress-test church bells for Underwriters Laboratories or ISO certification.

While in Teotihuacan, we decided to do what most other overlanders do, and left Tortuga at the campground so that we could take the bus and metro into the capital. Mexico City used to be the largest city in the world, and although it's now been eclipsed by the likes of Tokyo and Jakarta, it still has over 20 million people in its metropolitan area, which is quite a lot in my book! It's easily the biggest city that either of us has ever set foot in, and it was quite overwhelming, especially as we visited during Easter week (typically one of the busiest times anywhere in Latin America!). We treated ourselves to a comfy room in a hotel just two blocks from the Zocalo (central plaza), costing just $58US - the location would be the equivalent of staying just two blocks from New York's Times Square or perhaps London's Big Ben!!. The area all around our hotel was absolutely manic, with so much traffic and noise (and the slight aroma of untreated sewage) and more people than I've seen anywhere apart from during carnival in Brazil! It was really quite an experience to be in such a bustling place, and we did our best to absorb the cosmopolitan atmosphere (with regular retreats back to the hotel to recover!). The highlight was a trip to Chapultepec park, where we finally saw a 'voladores' performance: this is an ancient Meso-American ritual whereby performers climb a pole, about 100ft high, and then drop backwards off it and swing round and down, hanging from thick ropes upside down, until they reach the ground. We were able to get some pretty good photos which might explain the performance better than I can do with words!

Two nights in the big city were enough for us country bumpkins, so we headed back to the campground at Teotihuacan and whiled away Easter weekend there before driving to San Miguel de Allende, in the state of Guanajuato. Before leaving the greater Mexico City area (abbreviated to "CDMX"), we had to first figure out the Byzantine assortment of anti-pollution driving regulations, the infractions of which can earn the hapless driver a fine of over $400US! We met a French Canadian couple who didn't fully understand the rules and were pulled over by the municipal police (never a good thing) who gave them the choice of being arrested and having their motorhome impounded, or being escorted to the nearest ATM where they could extract the maximum amount of money that the ATM and their bank would allow ($500 Canadian, or ~$400US) and hand it over to the cops, who put it directly into their pockets without exchanging any sort of paperwork before driving off. Needless to say, we spent a lot of effort trying to figure out the multiple restrictions that make the U.S. Tax Code seem simple, or cause Watson, the IBM supercomputer, to whimper and convulse. For example, unless you have a special permit, you cannot drive on Saturdays. You also cannot drive before 11am between Monday and Friday. You also may not drive on a select day during the week, depending on the last digit of your license plate. But, you may apply for a special tourist permit that exempts a vehicle from most of these rules, unless your vehicle is diesel-powered or more than 15 years old. Also, all bets are off if the air quality on a given day is deemed bad, in which case you may not drive at all, although who knows how you'd be alerted if this were the case. After assembling a fairly detailed flow chart based on conflicting information gleaned from contradictory or obsolete official websites, we decided to sneak out of town as best we could. Luckily, we didn't suffer the same fate as the hapless French Canadians we had met.

Later that day, we arrived in San Miguel de Allende. This is by far the prettiest city we've seen in Mexico, full of incredible colonial architecture, brightly painted buildings, street side cafes, jacaranda trees, bougainvillea, and even a bird that pooped on Ken's head (tee hee!...). It is a very popular ex-pat destination, and apparently almost 1/7th of the population is from Canada or the US. Unfortunately that also means that the cost of living and property prices are much higher than elsewhere in Mexico. So while we are already quite taken by the city and could easily see ourselves living here, it might be a little out of our price range. There is, however, another city called Guanajuato close by, which is reportedly equally pretty and far less touristy, so that will be our next destination. They also have a lot of mountain biking in the area, so we're excited to check out the trails there. We're still not sure what our next steps will be after leaving Guanajuato state, but most likely we'll travel down to Veracruz and ship Tortuga to Colombia from there.

Thanks for following our adventures and we hope you enjoy this blog entry.

~ Fi & Ken

Additional photos below
Photos: 22, Displayed: 22


Voladores, Mexico CityVoladores, Mexico City
Voladores, Mexico City

They did seem a little dizzy and wobbly when they got back to the ground.
Plaza de la Constitucion (Zocalo)Plaza de la Constitucion (Zocalo)
Plaza de la Constitucion (Zocalo)

The central plaza in Mexico City. Impossible to get a clear shot of the sign as there were so many people posing on it! National flag and city cathedral in background.
Who's that good lookin' guy?!Who's that good lookin' guy?!
Who's that good lookin' guy?!

Ken, taking a little rest in one of the numerous garden courtyards in San Miguel de Allende.
Our tiny truck camperOur tiny truck camper
Our tiny truck camper

Amidst the behemoth Unimogs and other overland monsters sits our little pop-up camper. A lot of Europeans prefer the converted military-grade trucks as motorhomes, prompting one British wiseguy we met to ponder, "What war are they going to?"
Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel
Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel

The central church, and central point of bearing, in San Miguel de Allende. The steeple and spires were crafted in the mid-1800s by a self-taught mason who learned his trade by studying images of French churches.
 Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel
Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel

From a different angle.
Mariachi BandMariachi Band
Mariachi Band

Playing for tourists and pedestrians (sometimes against their captive, and often helpless, audience's will).

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