Daily Archive for June 27th, 2008

Vacation Day 2: Mexico City, Teotihuacan

After staying up way too late, we got up early and had breakfast in the hotel restaurant. In retrospect, this might have been the meal that did me in (I started feeling sick before lunch, and despite what people think, I SWEAR I didn’t drink the water here!). But at the time, the breakfast was quite lovely.

Day 2 was incredibly jam packed!

After breakfast, we met up in our hotel lobbyat 8:45am to climb aboard a bus for a day of sightseeing.

As we drove through Mexico City, our tourguide Maria pointed out various historical buildings along our route. Our first stop was Plaza de las Tres Culturas (“Square of the Three Cultures”) which is in the Tlatelolco neighborhood of Mexico City. We got out of the bus and took pictures and walked around the entire square, viewing the remains of Aztec temples, entering into the Catholic church of Santiago Tlatelolco, and walking by a massive housing complex built in 1964. This space also has a memorial called “Memorial 68” to remember the 1968 Mexican student demonstrations and the Tlatelolco Massacre victims and survivors. The name “Three Cultures” is in recognition of the three periods of Mexican history reflected by those buildings: pre-Columbian, Spanish colonial, and the independent “mestizo” nation.

Our next stop was Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe (“Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe”). There are actually two churches (the old Basilica and the modern Basilica right next to it) built on top of Tepeyac hill, north of Mexico City. The site is nearby the place where it is said Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared in front of Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin. The new Basilica is arguably the most important religious building in Mexico. It houses the original tilma (or apron) of Juan Diego that shows the icon of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Officially known as the “Templo Expiatorio a Cristo Rey,” the construction of the old basilica began in 1531 and was not finished until 1709. When we went inside, there was a considerable amount of restoration being done; scaffolding seemed to be up in every direction! The old basilica has been sinking since the city was built on a former lake.

Since the old basilica needed renovation, the new, (much) more spacious, basilica was built between 1974 and 1976 by the Mexican architect Pedro Ramírez Vásquez. It is a massive circular building constructed in such a way as to allow maximum visibility for the image to those inside. Up to 40,000 people can take part in Mass in this space!

But the most impressive thing about this place? They were displaying the tilma (kind of an apron) of Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin. Here is the story (from Wikipedia) about his apparition of the Virgin of Guadalupe and why this was the chosen location of the basilica:

As a widower, Juan Diego was prone to long periods of silence. He walked every Saturday and Sunday to church, and on cold mornings, like other members of his Indian tribe, wore a woven cloth called a tilma, or ayate made with coarse fibers from the maguey cactus for cotton was only used by the upper class Aztec.

On Saturday morning, December 9, 1531, he reported the following: As he was walking to church, he heard the sound of birds singing on Tepeyac hill and someone calling his name. He ran up the hill, and there saw a Lady, about fourteen years of age, resembling an Aztec princess in appearance, and surrounded by light. The Lady spoke to him in Nahuatl, his native tongue. She called him “Xocoyte,” her little son. He responded by calling her “Xocoyata,” his littlest daughter. The Lady asked Juan Diego to tell the bishop of Mexico, a Franciscan named Juan de Zumárraga, that she wanted a “teocalli,” a sacred little house (church), to be built on the spot where she stood, in her honor, where:

“I will demonstrate, I will exhibit, I will give all my love, my compassion, my help and my protection to the people. I am your merciful mother, the merciful mother of all of you who live united in this land, and of all mankind, of all those who love me , of those who cry to me, of those who seek me, of those who have confidence in me. Here I will hear their weeping, their sorrow and will remedy and alleviate all their multiple sufferings, necessities and misfortunes.”

Recognizing the Lady as the Virgin Mary, Juan Diego went to the bishop as instructed, but the Spanish bishop, Fray Juan de Zumárraga was doubtful and told Juan Diego he needed a sign. Juan Diego returned to Tepeyac hill and explained to the Lady that the bishop did not believe him. He implored the Lady to use another messenger, insisting he was not worthy. The Lady however insisted that it was of the upmost importance that it be Diego speaking to the bishop on her behalf. On Sunday, Juan Diego did as the Lady directed, but again the bishop asked for a sign. Later that day, the Lady promised Juan Diego she would give him a sign the following day.

According to Juan Diego, he returned home that night to his uncle Juan Bernardino’s house, and discovered him seriously ill. The next morning December 12, Juan Diego decided not to meet with the Lady, but to find a priest who could administer the last rites to his dying uncle. When he tried to skirt around Tepeyac hill, the Lady intercepted him, assured him his uncle would not die, and asked him to climb the hill and gather the flowers he found there. It was December, when normally nothing blooms in the cold. There he found roses from the region of Castille in Spain, former home of bishop Zumárraga. The Lady re-arranged the roses carefully inside the folded tilma that Juan Diego wore and told him not to open it before anyone but the bishop. When Juan Diego unfolded his tilma before the Bishop roses cascaded from his tilma, and an icon of Our Lady of Guadalupe was miraculously impressed on the cloth, bringing the bishop to his knees.

The bishop acknowledged the miracle and within two weeks, ordered a shrine to be built where the Virgin Mary had appeared. The bishop then entrusted the image to Juan Diego, who chose to live, until his death at the age of 74 — on May 30, 1548 — in a small hermitage near the spot where the Virgin Mary had appeared. There he cared for the chapel and the first pilgrims who came to pray there, propagating the account of the apparitions in Mexico.

Can you believe Juan Diego’s original tilma is still being displayed to the public here?! It’s amazing!

After this, we headed out of Mexico City toward Teotihuacan, an amazing archeological site. Between 100 and 500 A.D, an ancient people built a flourishing metropolis called Teotihuacan on a plateau about 25 miles from present-day Mexico City. With its accurately aligned avenues and a huge plaza surrounded by 15 monumental pyramids, Teotihuacan was bigger than any city in Europe at that time. It covered over nearly 8 square miles and 200,000 people lived there. Teotihuacan was built 700 years before the Aztecs began constructing their capital city of Tenochtitlan.

We had lunch at a nearby restaurant at La Posada del Jaguar Restaurante before an afternoon full of walking and CLIMBING! (I was already sick by this point, so I had a Fresca to drink and chowed down on plain bread for lunch and a little bit of someone else’s carne asada.)

Despite not feeling so great, I couldn’t fathom sitting on a the bus and missing out on the pyramids. We walked past the Pyramid of the Moon and down the Avenue of the Dead, leading us to the base of the Pyramid of the Sun. I climbed the steep steps of the Pyramid of the Sun and made it to the top! Whoo me! Even more amazing is that I made it DOWN! I made it to the base just as the rain clouds opened up and we made it to the bus before it started pouring. With this, our bus headed back to Mexico City, braving the crazy Friday afternoon traffic (which is only slightly more chaotic than traffic on a Friday in L.A.) before dropping us off at our hotel.

A bunch of us got together and walked a few blocks away for dinner at a place called Cafe du Taguba. We think the guy at our hotel must get a kickback for referring people here because by the end of the evening, we saw half our of group there! I had a yummy cheese and pepper tamale (only 23 pesos… $2.30!) and some more plain bread, but by this time, a headache had started descending upon me. The loud mariachi band that insisted on serenading our table didn’t help. My head started to feel worse and worse until I was ready to cry because I wanted to go back to the hotel and no one would let me leave and walk back by myself.

When our group was ready to leave, we stepped outside to find it POURING rain! And no one had an umbrella. I was beyond grumpy. We were going to cab it back, but after a few minutes, the rain stopped and we decided to walk back to the hotel.

Grateful to be back in my hotel room, I promptly lost my dinner and decided I was done for the night, as if it wasn’t totally obvious by that point (there was some discussion about going clubbing, but I sure as heck wasn’t going to be part of THAT!). By now, I realized that I had been nursing a baby migraine all night at dinner and now it was a full-blown migraine, hence the tossing of my cookies tamale. Our friends C & J went to the 7-11 across the street and bought me a couple of giant bottles of water as well as some drugs for my headache. I showered, drank about a liter of water, covered my eyes and promptly passed out.

Hmm. Maybe I overdid it??? Oh well, I don’t know if I’ll ever get to come back here, so I’m going to enjoy every minute I have here!

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