Saturday, February 18, 2017


February 6, 2017

I had originally planned to take the bus back to Tapachula, but that would have required a night in a hotel on both ends and lots of connections.  When I confirmed that I was actually going to be visiting my cousin in Mexico City, I managed to find an affordable flight and decided to fly straight there from San Salvador.

Bill and Jean's House
Monday morning, I got up, had coffee with Bill and Jean, and finalized my packing.  Bill took me over to the hotel about 10:00, where I met up with Martin, the chef, who had the day off and had agreed to drive me to the airport for $30.  The drive to the airport took most of an hour and Martin and I had an interesting conversation about gang activity in the area.  He pronounced the area around Bahia del Sol safe and didn’t think gringos needed to worry, but admitted that some of the villages further inland were dangerous after dark due to gangs of young men fighting over territory.  I had already heard tales of people who had gone to the city for good paying jobs, but returned to Bahia del Sol because the gangs were extorting so much money from them that staying in the city just didn’t make sense.  I found that very discouraging.  The population on the island had grown because families had gone there to escape violence and keep their children away from gangs.  It seemed like honest initiative was being squashed.  It was no wonder that Salvadorans wanted to leave the country.  The gangs would have to be eradicated before any progress could be made.  Unfortunately, I had also heard that the gangs were starting to educate their members.  I hoped that might eventually allow them to turn their skills to better things.

Food Court at San Salvador Airport
The San Salvador Airport was modern and had a huge food hall upstairs, half of which was occupied by a giant Pollo Campero.  I resisted buying chicken, but did have breakfast because I had no idea when I might get to eat again.  Having arrived by bus, it did not occur to me to take my pocket knife out of my purse, so I lost that at security, although they let me through with an 8 oz. bottle of sunscreen.  I bought a bottle of water on the other side of security, but had to drink it in a hurry about a hundred yards later when I tried to enter my gate and had to go through another security check.  They didn’t care that I had bought it after passing through security.  Once again, the sunscreen was no problem, but my cholesterol medicine disappeared somewhere along the way.

Flying in Mexico City
The flight to Mexico City was only about two hours, but it was an international flight, so I got a nice sandwich and a bag of chips for lunch.  My luggage had been free, as well, and a second bag would have been free, too.  The line at immigration in Mexico City took about an hour, but customs went quickly.  I was pleasantly surprised to find my cousin waiting for me right outside customs.  Nothing could have been easier.  She introduced me to her business partner, Alfredo, who was acting as chauffeur and bodyguard.  They had brought a big van, so we loaded up my belongings and made our way north to Sarah’s house in Naucalpan, just north of Mexico City proper. 

I had been walking around the island, through deep sand and dust, in flip flops for the past two weeks and my feet were filthy.  It had also been two weeks since I had seen hot water, so I was thrilled to be offered a hot bath.  The bath felt great and I managed to scrub my feet clean, but the tub drained slowly.  I didn’t think anything of it at the time but, after about a 60 second shower, I stepped out of the tub into a huge flood.  I knew I hadn’t run enough water in the shower to make that much of a mess and it wasn’t until I had mopped up all the water in the bathroom and then discovered that half the bedroom was also flooded (thank heavens for tile and concrete construction!) that we realized the plumbing had backed up and the water had come out of the drain in the bathroom floor.  That explained the large quantity of mysterious dirt I had cleaned up.

My Cousin's House in Naucalpan
Sarah, who like me is handy, pried up the grate on the bathroom drain and removed a ball of hair the size of a small animal and then cleaned out rocks and dirt that had accumulated in the pipes.  Soon the tub was draining properly and I dared to hope that the plumbing nightmares that had followed me through El Salvador might be behind me.  Once we got the mess from the flood handled, it was time for a cocktail.  Sarah and I poured drinks and sat down to relax and catch up.  We both were ready to retire early.

February 7, 2017

Courtyard Fountain
The last time I had visited Mexico City was in 2003 and I had spent the time visiting family and had seen very little of the city.  This time, Sarah wanted to show me some of the sights and I was fully onboard with that plan.  Our first day was spent going to the National Museum of Anthropology.  What a fantastic place!  Mexico is filled with wonderful archaeological sites and I had been to many of them, but this museum presented their history in a very engaging way that made it all seem very present.  The museum building, itself, was a wonder.  It was immense and no giant artifact or reconstructed building was too large to be displayed within.  The central courtyard, which was large enough for a papal visit, featured a massive fountain that rained water down on unsuspecting visitors.
The National Museum of Anthropology

Sarah and Me with the Calendar
Most interesting to me were the reconstructed buildings featuring their original colored stucco.  They were so vibrant.  It was impressive to see the original Aztec calendar.  Sarah and I, neither who really like having our pictures taken, still couldn’t resist having our picture taken beneath it.  There was also a beautiful garden surrounding the museum, which featured more reconstructed buildings in a more
The Exhibition Halls Were Huge

Reconstructed Building with Original Colors
Museum Garden
Headdress of Quetzal Feathers
natural setting.  It took us most of the day to work our way around the first floor, which was dedicated to the ancient (Aztec, Olmec, Zapotec, Mayan, etc.) cultures.  We worked our way back around the second floor, which featured more modern and familiar items, which were still engaging and interesting, as there were some exceptional examples of familiar art forms.  As usual, I was enchanted by the papier mache, carved wooden animals, and Huichol beadwork.

More Modern Artrwork

Lago Menor

It was late afternoon by the time we finished with the museum and we were starving.  We stopped for lunch at the Bistro Chapultepec next to the Lago Menor.  We drove past Los Pinos, the Mexican White House, on the way there.  We ate lunch on the terrace next to the lake and chatted with the people at the next table who had a huge yellow lab with them.  They were clearly affluent, but were definitely very anti-Trump.  Possibly the he offended the educated in Mexico just as he offended the educated in the United States.  Sarah and I assured them that not all Americans shared Trump’s ideology.

The restaurant served international fare and I had a pear, brie, and bacon pizza that was delicious, but far too rich after having eaten very little for the past month.  I was miserable for the rest of the evening and couldn’t get to sleep until after midnight when I had digested most of it.

February 8, 2017

My cousin and her partner operate a flatbed towtruck and a couple of forklifts, which they also rent out.  We had originally planned to go to the pyramids at Teotihuacan, but they were supposed to transport a car that morning, so we decided to spend the afternoon visiting places of interest in downtown Mexico City.  The job fell through, but we stuck with the plan anyway.
Plaza in Front of the Palacio Nacional

Palacia Belles Artes
We parked the van in a lot near the cathedral and visited the cathedral and the square in front of the Palacio Nacional, where the president rings the bell and shouts, “Viva Mexico!” on September 15th, each year, to celebrate Mexican Independence Day.  The most noticeable thing about downtown Mexico City was that the buildings were all crooked.  They leant this way and that and many were sinking.  The Palacio Belles Artes, a massive structure of gold and marble, had originally had 15 steps leading up to it but, after two hundred years, it had sunk to the point where the entrance was five steps down.  The cathedral, which was begun right after the conquest in 1521, had suffered a similar fate.  One could see the original steps through glass panels in the courtyard.  The interior of the cathedral was impressive, but very crooked and it was disorienting to walk inside because the floor sloped this way and that like a funhouse.
The Cathedral was Sinking and Leaning

The Cathedral Interior Felt Like a Funhouse
The cathedral had been built adjacent to the site of the original Aztec Templo Mayor, which had been destroyed during the conquest and was then used as a quarry for the materials used in the construction of the cathedral.  Houses were built upon it and later businesses until it eventually became a parking lot.  Excavations began in the 70s and it eventually became clear that the ceremonial center of Tenochtitlan was right under downtown Mexico City.  The Templo Mayor had been destroyed during the conquest of Mexico and many of its stones were used to build the cathedral than was constructed beginning in 1521.  Important archaeological finds like the Aztec calendar and famous sculptures of deities were found scattered about the surrounding area.

There Was Plenty of Gold in the Cathedral
We wandered through the excavated ruins which showed that seven successively larger temples had been built on the site.  Some of the carvings still retained their original coloration.  The Templo Mayor had been a temple to Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent, and there were serpent walls and carved heads.  There was also a very nice, small museum which featured a model of the site that showed where each artifact was discovered and displayed the moon goddess illuminated with her original colors.  The museum was very modern and excellently lit.  It was just the right amount of information to absorb during a visit.
The Serpent Wall

Wall of Skulls

The Templo Mayor Was Right Downtown
The Museum at the Templo Mayor was Excellent
The Moon Goddess  Coyolxauhqui

 We were hungry after seeing the Templo Mayor, so we stopped for street tacos near where we had parked the van.  I had a couple of tongue tacos, which were delicious.  They were the first ones I had ever had where the meat came in a big slab, rather than cubed.  I also got the watermelon licuado I had been craving.  It was a cheap and satisfying meal.
Street Tacos in Mexico City

After lunch, we headed out to the basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe.  The original church, which was built on the site where the virgin appeared to Juan Diego, had been supplanted by a large, modern structure set in a plaza large enough to accommodate a papal visit.  The image of the virgin (actually a copy) which, according to legend, appeared on Juan Diego’s cloak so that he could convince the Catholic authorities to build a church there, was displayed above the altar.  The church had a sloping copper roof and beautiful, non-representational stained glass.  The bell tower was very modern and rather silly looking, in my opinion. 
The Original Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe
The Modern Basilica

The Virgin
Stained Glass in the Modern Basilica
Bell Tower
 Neither my cousin nor I were Catholic, but I had a friend in need of some good luck.  My cousin suggested I buy her an image of San Judas Tadeo, the patron saint of impossible miracles, and have it blessed by the priest.  This we did.  He sprinkled the image and us liberally with holy water and it didn’t burn holes in my pagan skin.  We visited the modern church and then climbed up the many stairs to the old church on top of the hill where I lit a candle and asked the Virgin of Guadalupe (who was really the moon goddess, anyway) to help my friend.  The church was surrounded by beautiful, green gardens and fountains.  One of the many miracles associated with the Virgin was that, when they began constructing the church, a spring appeared in the desert.  There was a small chapel constructed over the original well.
Garden Surrounding the Church

Juan Diego Visited By the Virgin

Sculpture in Honor of the Virgin
Church of the Little Well
 It was a long drive back across Mexico City at rush hour to get home, so we were all exhausted.  I spent the evening reading through family history and taking photographs of anything that related to my line.  Unfortunately, Sarah and I never found the time to go through her mother’s trunk.  That would have to wait for another visit.

February 9, 2017

Sarah left early to go deliver forklifts to two clients.  I got up, made coffee, and spent the morning
Brightly Painted Apartment Buildings

trying to catch up on my blog.  She and Alfredo returned about 11:00 and we set off for Teotihuacan to see the pyramids of the Moon and Sun.  We drove out of the city and past hillsides covered with brightly painted apartment dwellings.  We took a modern toll road and there was only light traffic after we accomplished the hair-raising task of getting to the on ramp.  Lanes are often not indicated in Mexico City and seldom regarded, anyway.  There was a traffic signal which would have done its job if it were not for a man who insisted on throwing his body in front of the traffic that had the green light in order to earn tips from those who had the red light.  All he really did was make matters worse.  I had also seen this performance in San Salvador although, at least there, the man was performing a service by allowing shoppers to get out of the PriceSmart parking lot.

Temple of Quetzalcoatl
The trip took about an hour once we got on the highway and we had a good view of the pyramids towards the end.  The highway followed the path of the original ceremonial avenue that lead to the temple of the sun (maybe.)  We parked in the parking lot near the far end where the temple of Quetzalcoatl was located.  Our first stop was the ruin of that pyramid.  The site at Teotihuacan had been abandoned long before the Spanish arrived.  This had been the administrative center of a huge city that had housed hundreds of thousands of people.  A broad avenue stretched from the temple of Quetzalcoatl all the way to the Temple of the Moon, a distance of over two kilometers.  This avenue was comprised of numerous squares surrounded by dwellings, sometimes with temples adjacent or in the center.  Each square was divided by a set of steps leading up from one square and down to the next.  These barriers prevented floodwaters from rushing through the city from the mountains beyond.
Panoramic View of Teotihuacan

Detail of Carving on the Temple of Quetzalcoatl

The Aztecs had running water and drainage systems and built their edifices from stone secured with a mixture of sand and lime not unlike concrete.  Much of the site was very well preserved.  Since it had been abandoned in the eighth century, the Spanish had not found it necessary to conquer/destroy it.  More of the site was continually being excavated and Sarah and Alfredo saw things that were new to them.
Newly Excavated Sections

Restored Section with Original Coloring
Sarah had been up all night with a migraine, so
Sarah and Me at the Pyramid of the Sun
she declined to climb the 244 steep stairs to the top of the Pyramid of the Sun, but Alfredo came with me.  There were five terraces and some of the steps were exceptionally steep.  The original stairway had been on the side to the right, but most of the ultimate structure had been destroyed when the pyramid was hurriedly excavated (with dynamite) by President Porfirio Diaz who wanted to unveil the site at the centennial of the Mexican Revolution.  What remained was the first (and in this case, only) pyramid that had been hidden inside a later construction.  The pyramid is 213 feet tall.  The climb to the top was strenuous given that the pyramid was built at an elevation of nearly 7500 feet.  It was very windy on top.   From the top, one could see just how huge the city once was.  Much of it has still to be excavated and there was no doubt more beneath modern dwellings.  Some of the local rock walls appear to have been built from the stone left by the Aztecs.  Other cultures, such as the Mexica and Zapotec, occupied the area after it was abandoned and continued to venerate the old gods.
Pyramid of the Sun Complex
The Pyramid of the Moon
Some of the Steps Were Steep
There is new evidence that the Pyramid of the Sun may have actually been the Pyramid of Tlaloc, the god of rain.  Investigations have revealed that the pyramid sits atop an aquifer.  Offerings of child sacrifices found at the corners of the pyramid were associated with Tlaloc in other locations.

It Was Very Windy and Dusty
We continued walking to the Pyramid of the Moon or Coyolxauhqui, the moon goddess.  The moon pyramid was smaller, but we had already seen the view, so didn’t feel inclined to climb it, as well.  It was not possible to climb to the top, anyway, as that was prohibited.  We took a look around and then tramped back to the Pyramid of the sun where the museum was located.  The museum was small, but it had a good model of the entire site and some of the artifacts from the site were displayed there.  The museum made a nice break in the long trek back to the car where we had a cooler of cold beers waiting.
Model of the Site

Garden Surrounding the Museum
Sarah insisted that we eat dinner at La Gruta, a fantastic restaurant located in a cavern carved by water.  The restaurant was very pretty and quite large.  The service was terrible and it was rather chilly in there, but the food was good and the experience worthwhile.  We started with an appetizer of escamoles, or the larvae of giant black ants.  The ants are aggressive and difficult to locate, which make escamoles more expensive than caviar.  They were, however, quite tasty.  They came served with blue corn tortillas, but we preferred them with chips.  They were cooked in butter with onions and cilantro.  We devoured them.
La Gruta Restuarant

Escamole (Ant Eggs)

Sarah and Alfredo
Alfredo and I started with Sopa de Tortilla, which was made with chicharron (fried pork belly) instead of the usual chicken.  I had a mixed salad and Alfredo has arrachera.  Sarah had cochinita, a thin, salty pork dish.  Everything was very good, although they were out of sangria and my margarita was definitely aimed at American tourists.  It was too sweet for my taste.  When we left, they gave each of us a candle to leave as an offering for Tlaloc.  The flickering candle flames added to the ambiance of the restaurant.

It was getting dark by the time we left and was full dark by the time we got home.  Sarah and I were exhausted and went straight to bed after Alfredo dropped us off.  Unfortunately, I woke after a couple of hours and didn’t get back to sleep until 2:00 am.

February 10, 2017

It Got Foggy as the Sun Rose
We needed to get on the road by 5:00 am so as to arrive in La Cruz at a civilized hour.  Four in the morning came very soon, since I had been awake until two.  I got up, dressed, and finished packing.  It was too early to eat anything and I didn’t want to drink coffee because I was hoping to nap in the car.  Alfredo came for us at 5:00 and we went to the bank and then filled the van with gas.  It was 6:00 by the time we got onto the highway.  We drove first towards Toluca and I slept until it got light.  We picked up Highway 15 at Toluca and saw a lot of fog as the sun warmed the earth.  We drove across the highlands of Mexico, past large lakes, both wet and dry.  We crossed the state of Mexico and entered
There Were Large Lakes in the Mexican Highlands
Michoacan and then continued on through the highlands to Guadalajara.  Once we crossed the border into Jalisco, we started to see blue agave growing by the side of the road.
Driving Through Jalisco

Striking Architecture in Guadalajara
We made good time until we got to Guadalajara, but the traffic there was heavy.  We took the road towards Colima and passed south of the city before taking the road north towards Tepic.  We finally drove out of Guadalajara just before 2:00.

The Road to Nayarit
We continued on 15 as far as 68D to Compostela and then we turned south on Hwy 200 towards Puerto Vallarta.  Alfredo’s knowledge of the area ended about the time we reached the area familiar to me, so we were fine.  We drove south on 200 past San Blas, Rincon de Guayabitos, San Pancho, and Sayulita, before reaching the turnoff for La Cruz.  We arrived at Agave Azul, where I would be staying at about 5:40.

The Green Tomate
                                                                                     We dropped off my luggage and then walked down to Oso’s Oyster Bar to have dinner.  Sarah and Alfredo were enchanted with La Cruz and started talking about staying an extra day.  After dinner, we strolled back along the marina and then went to the Green Tomato for drinks on the roof.  It had been a long day.  After a couple of drinks, I sent Sarah and Alfredo to the Cactus Inn in Bucerias because I had been unable to find them a room in La Cruz.  I passed out as soon as my head hit the pillow, despite loud music.  I didn’t hear a thing.

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