Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Natural wonders - Geographical, man-made and modelled

We have now arrived in Pachuca. Slightly higher, seated amongst hilly countryside a couple of hours north of Mexico City. We are housesitting a dog and cat in a pleasant house in a gated community in the city centre. Natalia, the owner, kindly arranged Spanish lessons and meetings with various people for chats whilst we are here and we study for about 3 or 4 hours a day. Hopefully this will give us the kick start in the language we will need for the next year or so.

Pachuca itself is just a city and there’s not a great deal to say apart from its well appointed and positioned. Natalia has left her car and I am getting to grips with the terrible road system and dodgy driving. Multi lane highways suddenly reduce to 2 lanes, speed bumps are randomly positioned without signs, craters are the new black and, get this, you get your license before you know how to drive! Consequently you have to have your wits about you and a panicky navigator (i have both) as drivers do weird shit like go the wrong way around roundabouts or indicate left whilst turning right.

Real de Monte
We have done some interesting exploring to see what is called Pueblo Magico – Magical towns or picturesque towns. These are quaint places with colourful houses, discrete signage, usually a nice church and cobbled streets. Because they are pretty they are a bit touristy but exclusively Mexican. We haven’t seen another obviously foreign face anywhere apart from a man serving in a Chinese takeaway.

One of the attractions of coming to Mexico was to see a different type of antiquity. That of Sun gods, huge jungle complexes, tales of sacrifice and extravagant head wear. Our first archeological site is that of Teotihuacan, about halfway between Mexico City and Pachuca.


Your first sighting of the the pyramid of the sun, one of the two huge constructs on the site, is when you crest some steps. There before you is this collosal edifice with smaller ruins and plinths of Aztec civilization lining a long avenue in front. The pyramid stands 65m high and is 900m around the base with overly large and steep steps leading to the top platform. From here the views around the valley stretch away to the distant hills topped with white clouds and blue sky. We arrived at about 9.30am and for the first hour or so were one of only about 50 people in the whole complex. Consequently we were able to drink in the atmosphere and feel the energy of the place which made the hairs on our arms rise. Leaving this pyramid we then walked to its counterart – The pyramid of the Moon. A little smaller but equally impressive and set in a square with other temple ruins set about. The View from atop this was again the countryside but most impressively down the Avenue of the dead. A wide road running for two miles through the ruins of the ancient city. Aztec civilization was here from 100BC to 700AD when its inhabitants numbered 175,000 people. Mexico is dotted with various sites such as this and by all accounts this is not the most impressive…..We will see

Teotihuacan - The Sun pyramid in the distance is
the third biggest in the world
A short drive from Pachuca are the Prismas balsalticos at Huasca de Ocampo. These extraordinary rock formations, made of basalt, were formed when a volcanic eruption pushed the molten rock upwards into a marsh or lake which then cooled the rock and caused it to fracture. The really odd thing is that the final result are slabs of basalt that are either five or six sided and and all of approx.imately the same size (much like the Giants Causeway in Northern Ireland). Plainly other stuff happened (geographically speaking) because now these columns of basalt form the sides of a gorge wall through which a small river flows. These have become something of tourist attraction and attractive gardens have been created around them. But, this has been done in a considerate way and the majesty of the place is still retained. Consequently we marveled as we ate our sandwiches – ham, mayonnaise, peanut and onion for those interested….yum!

Huasca de Ocampo
Tonight we went to Lucha Libre (WWF style wrestling show) at a truly seedy little arena in town that looked like it usually hosted bare knuckle fighting.  Grubby concrete tiered steps-cum-seats with a few fading upholstered seats surrounding the strip light lit ring with duct tape patched floor. The place was packed with families and aficionados and constantly patrolled by vendors selling soda, crisps and cheap merchandised shit. We paid for general seating through a little barred window and found a concrete patch to call our own. Then waited for the fights to begin as the place slowly packed itself to the rafters and children wearing the masks of their favorite fights simulated moves in a free for all in the ring. Finally the lights dimmed, the strip lights came on and the show began. Luche Libre fighters wear masks (disguises) to hide their identity (possibly through shame of the appalling performances – I’m not sure!). All are gaudy and there is lots of gold lame to be seen upon their persons. And I have to say, I was a little surprised at the sometimes generous covering of fat that was contained in their costumes. One imagines, honed muscle as might be seen in their slick American counterparts. No matter - they threw themselves into their fake kicks, tumbles, punches etc with gusto whilst the crowd cheered, booed and heckled them with such force that you could barely talk to one another. It didn’t seem to matter that the choreographed moves we’re perfect or that punches that didn’t connect miraculacely send bodies reeling. It’s showbiz and that’s what the punters wanted. There were several fights. All tag team events: first two guys fighting two guys (standard fare and truly appalling); second, two buxom trailer trash type women dressed rather drably fighting two other gold lycra clad, and slightly less rough looking, women; third another tag fight between four brightly clad and slightly more muscular men for a title belt that looked like someone’s mum had made it and then, the pièce de résistance: three transvestites fighting three men. 

The men; one in gold lame trousers, bare breasted and gold mask; one diminutive fellow who bounced about like a ruber ball dressed in green gold lame and elaborate mask with headdress; the third in the guise of a white tiger. Their opponents – a tall, lithe, tattooed, not unattractive man/woman with tits and lithe muscles, a pear shaped person with a witchy face and hair and big hands and a balding wo/man with gold and silver painted face and body, with pouty lips, mincey walk and wonderful fitted lame suit open to his small pot bellied navel. 

Our 'girl' is the one in the middle (picture borrowed online)
They performed all the usual tricks of throwing one another from the ring, jumping against the ropes, indignant punches, mock kicks and impressive throws but the added weird sexual thing roused the crowd even more as members and the public alike were chased and kissed (crowd chanting BESO (kiss) delightedly) whilst pinned to the ground by a burly bird. Even more delight when one fighter lost the round through having the lithe tranny sit on his face which somehow incapacitated him. A great evening.

More ruins - this time the Toltec ruins in Tula. The site is not as large and impressive as the previous Aztec ones we saw. Not so much excavation work had been done and the stuff that has been uncovered was in a poorer state. But. Unlike the Aztecs those Toltecs did like a statue and consequently their ziggurat (pyramid) was bedecked with 5 metre tall carvings of Toltec priests, kings or warriors (not sure). These monoliths had served as columns holding what what would have been the roof of an impressive temple up. And, as we stood there on what was the plaza in front of the temple, we imagined what an impact this building would have had on these ancient people. It seems religion has always had a habit of cowering the masses with their impressive (awe inspiring) constructions. Anyway. We wandered about and climbed on what we could, took in the faded carvings that once adorned the external surfaces of the buildings and strolled among the cactus garden and museum until it was time hit the road and head home.

I think today was the last of our sightseeing in the Pachuca area and we concluded it by going to the Chico National Park for a walk. We followed trails among the trees and first found a lovely lake surrounded by closed log cabins and picnic tables. Later, in another direction, we pushed our way through overgrown paths and clambered on a a couple of rocks and both times were suddenly presented with views into the far far distances with rocky outcrops in the foreground. A perfect vista that we just could not capture on camera but kept us captivated for some time. Finally, after seeing a beautiful bright green humming bird we walked back and Rachel almost stood on a rattlesnake. OK it was only a little 'un but  even so it was still a 'Rattler' and you never know how near mum might be!!!

View in Chico National Park

So that's it for Pachuca and its surrounds. The Spanish is coming on... Yo hablo Espanol poquito. Pero yo leo y escribe mas que puedo decir! Nosotros veremos. Our spanish teacher that we had for 2 hours 4 times a week was patient and entertaining... She even had a special way of saying "Shut up Chris, just accept it" ..... "DeeYess Chris". Rachel is doing better than me and i have to say i am a little bitter about it.. Not really! Ima gave us lessons in the house, in a petrol station and whilst shopping in a mall. We even went with her down countless small lanes one night in downtown Pachuca to an innocuous looking black garage door that was slightly ajar. Inside, after a brief conflab through the gap, we were ushered in to sit at  the only table. There we were served by various members of the family (gran and grandad, son and wife) Chapulcas small tacos with stuff on top and Pambazos (Mexican bread filled with chorizo, lettuce, potatoes and salsa. Very intimate and a bit strange but delicious. The poor people had to endure Ima telling us what to say in perfect Mexican then patiently listen again, pretending not to know what we were saying, whilst we mangled the language and asked for assorted things.

Thanks to Natalia and Carlos and Calitos for their help and company upon there return and a special thanks for the Tequilla headache I got consuming our present to them. Now off to see warmer climes in Mexico and hopefully grow moustaches.

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