Saturday, October 10, 2020

MEXICO: CHOLULA

 March 18, 2018

Our last day with our guide Arnold Pedroza in Mexico was very full. The map below shows our starting point, Mexico City, on the left. The two black circles mark the two Volcanos Popo and Ixta (which we had already visited), and the three red circles on the bottom right are our three destinations of the day: Huejotzingo, Cholula, and Puebla.


Our first stop was Huejotzingo (see my last post), so our next stop was Cholula, population 120,000. Arnold told us it is the oldest still-inhabited city in the Americas, having been populated since the 2nd century BC. 

It is said that Cholula has 365 churches, one for every day of the year or, alternately, one for every pre-Hispanic temple that used to be in the area. The truth is there are only a tenth that many churches--37 (or 159 if you want to be generous and include all the small chapels on the local haciendas). 

There were two main sites we were interested in: The San Gabriel Franciscan Monastery and the Nuestra SeƱora de los Remedios (Our Lady of Remedies) Church.  

We started at San Gabriel, built in the 1540s on top of a destroyed temple to Quetzalcoatl. The atrium, aka courtyard, enclosed by the monastery walls is huge.
San Gabriel Monastery

There were several vendors set up in the atrium, and we (okay, I) couldn't resist this frothy cold cacao milk. Notice that there are TWO straws. It was so good that later on I bought a molinillo, or a hand-carved tool used to create the froth, hoping to duplicate this drink at home. 

Two churches are part of the monastery. The Capilla Real (Royal Chapel) was built in the 17th century, replacing the original chapel built here in 1540. I loved the brilliant gold color of this and the other churches we saw in Cholula.
Capilla Real

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

MEXICO: HUEJOTZINGO, SAN MIGUEL ARCANGEL MONASTERY

 March 18, 2018

After our three days in the Villahermosa area, we flew back to Mexico City and took an Uber back to the Maria Cristina Hotel, the same place we had stayed in before going on our side trip, arriving after midnight.

Arnold Pedroza picked us up the following morning for a trip south.

Our first stop was the city of Heujotzingo, population about 60,000 and best known for the Franciscan monastery San Miguel Arcangel, founded in 1525. San Miguel Arcangel, whom we know as the Archangel Michael, is the patron saint of the city and vicinity. This building, finished in 1570, was the third one built on this site and is one of the fourteen monasteries around the base of the volcano Popocatepetl that together have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

You can see the monasteries marked on the map below. Heujotzingo/San Miguel Arcangel is in the top right quadrant.

UNESCO Monasteries in Mexico

The monastery is almost 450 years old--that is a long time for a brick structure to survive in earthquake country. One article I read about the monastery complex noted that it was in great shape and had never been severely damaged by any of the frequent earthquakes in the area. I'm guessing that either that article has not been updated since the 7.1 earthquake that hit just south of Huejotzingo in 2017, or the author of the article didn't consider the damage done by the earthquake to be very significant.

We did notice there was scaffolding holding up the main entrance.

Certainly the walls of the main church that anchors the monastery were still standing, and there didn't seem to be danger of the building collapsing, but it was closed to tourists and worshipers alike when we visited, with a large tent spanning the walkway serving as the temporary chapel.
San Miguel Arcangel Monastery

This beautifully carved sandstone cross with a base of a crown of thorns stands at the entrance to the temporary sanctuary, denoting a sacred space. 
San Miguel Arcangel Monastery

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

MEXICO: AROUND TOWN IN VILLAHERMOSA AND LA VENTA PARK MUSEUM

March 17, 2018

We started our last day in Villahermosa by seeing a few of the local sites of the city with our friends. One of the places they took us was the Mexico Villahermosa LDS Temple, built in 1999-2000.  The LDS Church tries to draw from local architecture in designing temples, and that is certainly apparent here.

LDS Villahermosa Temple

There were lots of church members milling about, including families (or maybe a youth group) having picnics.


It was fun to be there with our friends, who were somewhat of local celebrities among church members. Everyone wanted them to take their picture or be in a picture with them. 

Thursday, September 17, 2020

MEXICO, VILLAHERMOSA DAY 2: PALENQUE AND MISOL-HA

March 16, 2018

On our second full day in Villahermosa, our friends picked us up for a 90-mile drive to what in my opinion is the best of all the Latin American pre-Columbian sites: Palenque. Well, at least it is the best of the ones I have seen. I had been there in 1979, and I remembered that walking around it felt like walking in a movie set (which is a little strange--something real feeling like something fictional). 

The walk between the parking lot and the ruins was lined with vendors, which was good because Bob really needed a hat. We were facing another day of almost 100° weather and over 90% humidity. A hat won't help with the humidity, but a little shade on the head is a good thing, and this shopkeeper seemed especially happy to make the sale.

Tropical climate makes for bodily misery, but it also creates a beautiful setting.



The region was first inhabited by Mayans in about 200 BC, with Palenque's glory days beginning at about 200 AD when it was a power center that ruled over the region. For unknown reasons, Palenque was abandoned by its residents in 900 AD, leaving its temples, palaces, and homes to be gobbled up by the hungry jungle.

The first "modern" account of the city was published in 1567 by Father Pedro Lorenzo de la Nada, the Spaniard who initially ran across the ruins and named them "Palenque," or "fortification" in Spanish. No more official visits were made until the late 18th century. Many archaeologists visited the area throughout the 19th century, but it wasn't until 1891 that the first excavations and restorations began.  Palenque was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987 and is now one of the most visited archaeological sites in Mexico.

The restored section of Palenque covers about a square mile, but it is estimated that only a tenth of the city has been uncovered and that there are more than a thousand buildings still enveloped by heavy jungle growth, waiting to be excavated. 
Palenque map

Thursday, September 10, 2020

MEXICO, VILLAHERMOSA DAY 1: MISSIONARIES, COMALCALCO, CACAO, GROCERIES, AND BARBECUE

March 15, 2018

On the evening of March 14, after having spent the day at the Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe and the pyramids of Teotihuacan, we caught a flight from Mexico City to Villahermosa to visit some friends who were serving as as the head of the LDS Mexico Villahermosa Mission of our church.

This large map shows the location of both Mexico City and Villahermosa in the context of the country of Mexico.

Zooming in, you can see that the flight time is about 15% of the driving time. Local flights are cheap (although more than the $16 noted on the map below), so it was a no-brainer to fly.

We were met at the airport by our friends and posed for a picture in the same spot they took photos with newly arriving missionaries. 

We picked up a rental car and then went to dinner together at Tacos de la Estancia before heading off for a good night's sleep at the Hampton Inn Villahermosa.

In the morning we made our way to the Mission Office, located next door to the church building that serves the LDS Villahermosa Stake.

The Mexico Villahermosa Mission covers a large area, with one finger reaching all the way down to Guatemala.

Our friends were putting on a conference for the missionaries (which included lunch), and it was fun to see them in action.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

MEXICO: FINE DINING AT EL HIDALGUENSE, CASA DE LOS AZULEJOS, AND DEL ANGEL INN

While we were in Mexico, we had three meals that really stood out, two in Mexico City and one in Taxco. I thought the meals were unique enough to merit their own post.

1.  MEXICO CITY: EL HIDALGUENSE, 
Friday, March 9, 2018
Mexico City: El Hidalguense

Bob selected this restaurant when he was researching places to go prior to our trip. He was captivated by the idea of lamb barbacoa, the restaurant's specialty. Sheep are a definite theme of the decor as well as the menu.

The name is a variation of the word "Hidalgo," the state located just north of the Mexico City area. I think that means the food served here is the local cuisine of that area.

The restaurant has a classy interior.

But what caught my eye was this line-up of large glass jars of fruit juice. I would loved to have gone down the row and tasted each one.

We did try three of them: full glasses of strawberry-guava (incredibly good), and samples of not-as-good pineapple and guanabana (aka soursop) juice.

Friday, August 28, 2020

MEXICO: TEOTIHUACAN

 March 14, 2018

I was very excited to visit Teotihuacan, the massive pyramid complex about 30 miles northeast of Mexico City. I had been there twice before, once in 1978 and once in 1979. It's a place that stays in your head.

We had one note-worthy sighting on our drive to the site: a sculpture called El Vigilante by the contemporary artist Jorge Marin. He has a series of sculptures of crouching, winged, beaked men, including one installed along Mexico City's Paseo de la Reforma.  El Vigilante is a little eerie. This isn't a very clear image:

This one I took with my cellphone from the moving car is better, but I cropped off the top of his head and his wings. Between the two photos, you get a good idea, right?

(We interrupt this post for a Frida sighting at the ticket office at Teotihuacan.)

Teotihuacan was once the largest city in Mexico, boasting over 125,000 inhabitants and 2,000 buildings in an area of  about 7 square miles. Understandably, it is one of Mexico's most significant Mesoamerican archaeological sites. Construction of the first structures probably started around 200 BC. The two main pyramids on the site, the Pyramids of the Moon and Sun, were likely built around 200 AD. The city reached its peak size and influence between 350 and 650 AD (almost 1,000 years before the zenith of that Aztec civilization in what is now Mexico City), and then was in a period of decline between 650 and 750, probably due to wars, both internal and external.

Not surprisingly, Teotihuacan is a UNESCO World Heritage site, so designated in 1987. UNESCO notes that the Aztecs, who discovered the city long after it was abandoned, believed this is the place the sun and moon were created, and so they named it "Teotihuacan," or "the place where the gods were created."

The ceremonial center of Teotihuacan is what attracts visitors, although it actually comprises only 10% of the total surface area of the city. (There is still a lot of archaeology work ahead!) It includes a 1.5-mile-long, 103-foot-wide street that is known as the "Avenue of the Dead." The Temple of the Feathered Serpent/Quetzalcoatl is on one end, the Pyramid of the Sun is just off-center, and the Pyramid of the Moon is at the far end. Other temples and structures are scattered along the avenue.