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Published: September 27th 2018
Today we are back up at ‘the bronze bull’ waiting to be picked up for our tour of Canada de la Virgen. We are on the 9am bus and today it arrives with no problem. There are 10 of us on the tour so quite a small group. Within the hour we are at the site and Albert Coffee is there to greet us.
Albert is a real character. He is from Louisiana but has lived here for many years, having graduated as an archaeologist and also having been part of the original excavation team that worked on this site. Needless to say, he is an expect on his subject, and talks with amazing speed practically without pausing for breath. He really wishes that he was allowed longer for each tour but as he has a fixed timescale he needs to speak fast!
Albert points out the lake in front of us. A dam was built to prevent flooding in the valley downstream but it had the opposite effect, forming the lake...and now several towns are permanently flooded upstream - he points out the top of a church steeple poking through the water below.
We are lucky because
we are the only tour bus on site today. We are transferred to the site owners minibus which rattles us over a cobblestone road to a drop off point beside a canyon.
First we are given a little talk with the help of Albert’s visual guide - a laminated comic book produced for kids. The book explains the history of the site including complicated astronomical explanations as to why the monument was placed there. And that’s the kids version, guffaws Albert, as he finishes. There are some very amusing depictions of visitors to the site including some very overweight tourists in shorts! Then it’s off down the road, across a bridge and up the other side of the canyon where there is a welcome shaded seating area and time for another talk from Albert. Apparently this added walk is a deliberate plan designed to keep visitor numbers down...won’t walk, can’t come!
Precisely who built the complex is not known, although the site was started about 540AD and abandoned about 1040AD, the main reason for its decline being environmental change; the climate became warmer and dryer, resulting in crop shortages and an inability to feed the population.
we have a steep uphill climb up the ceremonial walk - a natural walkway formed on the bedrock of a volcano. It’s really not that bad and Albert stops at a couple of places to impart more interesting nuggets and give us chance to catch our breath.
We have arrived at a very pretty time of year when all the wild flowers are in bloom - apparently these are only in flower for 3-4 weeks each year! Albert pauses to show us a ‘natural love story’ - this is a tree and cactus growing together. The cactus provides nutrients in the soil and shade for the tree to grow, whilst the tree provides stability and support for the cactus as it ages.
We are now on the flat with the pyramid structure in front of us, and Albert leads us in a circle around the site leaving the main complex until last. Much of the complex has not yet been excavated, still being under dense undergrowth, but what has been exposed has been carefully restored. Because of ‘treasure hunters’ some of the main pyramid’s structure had been damaged, so the work was less restoration and more shoring up
to prevent collapse.
We view a sunken plaza, originally surrounded on all sides by buildings, which is still not completely excavated as some of the buildings are still under soil. After viewing another complex and passing an area where excavation has not yet started, we climb the steep and narrow steps on the main pyramid to see a much larger plaza. This plaza had been dug into the hills bedrock and had been deliberately flattened to make a flat surface. From here we climb another set of steep steps to the pyramid summit. The damage at the top was apparently caused in the 1940s by a treasure hunter using explosives. Fortunately the damage to the ‘Red Temple’ was minimal, since below its floor was found a partial skeleton dating back over 2000 years - it is thought that the body was brought here by the original builders as a revered leader or deity and buried once the temple was finished.
Albert gives us all the gory details about human sacrifice and how it was considered a privilege - bypassing the passage to the underworld. Apparently the numbers 13, 20 and 52 had special meaning to the site builders,
in that multiples of these numbers make up their months and year length...they had 13 months of 20 days each with their own names, plus 5 unlucky unnamed days. The site, like Stonehenge, has astronomical significance in that the sun sets over the pyramid on the same day each year. Their calendar ran in cycles, which repeated ever 52 years, which is estimated to be the age of the revered leader when he originally died - the suggestion being that he was sacrificed at that age to fit a particular plan.
Our tour is now almost over. We retrace our steps back down to the canyon to pick up the minibus. Back at the entrance we have one last talk in the tiny museum which is under construction...if only they had not run out of funds! Albert guides us around the most important items, pointing out a pot that had taken ten years to reconstruct from fragments!
We thank Albert, say our goodbyes and we are back in the van for our return journey to San Miguel.
We are dropped back at the ‘bull’ in San Miguel, so just time for a shower and siesta before returning
to our favourite restaurant for our last evening meal in San Miguel. Tonight I have a very nice trout with olives and sun dried tomatoes whilst Ian has a chicken dish. After dinner, we meet up with Peter and Kathie who we met on the tour today. We bumped into them on our way to dinner. They had eaten but we agreed to meet for a drink later. After some confusion over the meeting place, we end up in one of the places in the main square. It’s ‘all go’ here in the square again tonight as it appears there is another celebration...marching bands, carnival floats and more frenzied dancing as well as fireworks! The church is also all lit up - very atmospheric.
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