Cuetzalan: Pyramiding and Cave Digging

As a part of its rich history and culture, something that you can count on finding throughout all of Mexico are the different pyramids of different indigenous groups. Whether they are from the Aztecs, the Mayans, the Toltecas or other cultures, Mexico is home to over hundreds of pyramids spread throughout the country and the Yucatan peninsula. This morning, we visited such pyramids in a small town outside of Cuetzalan.

Something interesting about these pyramids (and a few more pyramids in Mexico): when you stand directly in front of the pyramids and clap your hands, the calling sound of the quetzal, the now extinct bird which once heavily populated the town for which it is now named, can be heard. To this day, no archaeologists or historians have been able to learn the reason behind this phenomenon.

After having an amazing guide give us a tour and explanation of the importance of the pyramids, we returned to town where we ate lunch and rested at the hotel for a bit. At three o’ clock, it was time for something amazing: CAVE DIGGING! It was a voluntary activity, and ONLY the girls were brave enough to do it. Divas, indeed! Here I am with my hardhat and flashlight ready to explore underground.

After everyone had their assorted things gathered and their pants legs rolled up (it was wet in the cave), we walked across the field, descended some steps, and made our way to the world beneath ours. 

A baby carved into the cave wall.

We explored the caves for what I estimated to be more than two hours, climbing rocks and descending stairs, getting wet and getting dirty. But none of that is important because we had such a GREAT time!

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The Magical Town of Cuetzalan

That’s not just a fancy term that I coined up: in 2009, Cuetzalan, Puebla was named one of Mexico’s “Pueblos Magicos”, and oh how fitting that name is! Today, we met up at the university and boarded two small buses for the trip to the different state. It was long, to say the least, and the small and curvy roads did cause a little nausea, but the frequent rests (four to be exact) made it more than bearable, and we truly enjoyed ourselves. I personally enjoyed the trip to the small town of Cholula, where we stopped and toured a church before having lunch. I enjoyed that part so much because I was finally able to get a lot of my souvenir shopping out of the way. I bought so many beautiful things at really great prices. Unfortunately, we did not spend a lot of time in Cholula, as we still had many hours of riding ahead of us. We did, however, stop at the most breathtaking volcano I’ve ever seen (and probably ever will see) in my life: the Popocatepetl volcano. There are many different legends behind the origin of this volcano, two of which I will share with you now. As one legend goes, there was a princess named Iztaccihuatl who fell in love with the warrior Popocatepetl. Because Izta’s father did not want Popo and Izta to be together, he sent Popo to war, promising him that he would be allowed to marry Izta upon his return. However, Izta’s father secretly wished that Popo would die in the war, and he told Izta that he had. Overcome with grief by the death of her fallen lover, Izta died. When Popo returned and discovered that the love of his life was no more, he plunged a dagger into his heart. Because of the purity of their love, God covered them with snow and changed them into mountains and volcanoes. Izta’s mountain is sometimes called, “La Mujer Dormida”, which is Spanish for “The Sleeping Woman” because it looks like a woman lying on her back. Popo became a volcano because his fire demonstrates his rage at the loss of his love. Popocatepetl Volcano on the way to Cuetzalan. Another legend of the two goes a bit differently. Popo and Izta were in love, but Popo had to go off to fight a war. One of the enemy soldiers sent a letter to the emperor (Popo’s father) informing him that Popo had died in the war. When Izta learned of his death, she could not stop crying and refused to eat. A few days later, she died of heartbreak. As her father was preparing for her funeral, Popo returned victorious from the war. The emperor was taken back, to say the least, but he informed Popo that Izta had died. Popo was very sad. He took Izta’s body and carried it to a far away town, where he placed it in front of a mountain and ordered his men to build a table of flowers and he laid Izta’s body on top. He knelt over her crying all night until his heart gave out from the sadness. The Gods were touched by his sacrifice and turned their bodies into great volcanoes. Popo’s volcano is the biggest, and he sometimes throws out smoke to signify that he is still watching over his princess, who lays by his side.

Teotihuacan: The Place Where the Gods Were Made

One of the most interesting things about life is that you can spend years on years and school learning about a place that you never imagine you’ll be able to visit. For many of us, that place is Teotihuacan. Of course you heard about this ancient Aztec City in your World History class, your Ancient Civilization class, and the various classes that discuss the origin of different ethnic groups. Today we became a part of this history, if only a single stitch in the blanket of time. We visited Teotihuacan. We climbed the pyramids. And we walked the same streets as those that came many lifetimes before us. 

The Pyramid of the Moon is one of the oldest buildings of our era, the Classic Period.

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View of the Avenue of the Dead from the Pyramid of the Moon.

Side view of the Pyramid of the Sun.

Learning Spanish, Teaching English

Everyone in the group doesn´t like the constant movement. Everyone in the group doesn´t like the constant traveling to different museums, churches, and palaces. Everyone in the group doesn´t like the (sometimes two or three) papers we have a week, but one thing I think we can all agree on is how much we love volunteering to teach local children English. It is only for one hour once a week, and even then, the time really flies because we enjoy it so much. We utilize many different tools and skills to help them learn as much of our beloved language as possible: number games, color games, vocabulary games. In fact, yesterday I played Memory with my students, and every time they flipped the cards over, they had to say the name of the picture in Spanish and English. Considering the fact that a few of us here (including myself) wish to make a career out of teaching English as a Second Language, this has been some of the best practice in the world. I look forward to making a difference in these children´s lives and having them make a difference a mine.

ImageOne of the little girls I have the pleasure to teach. Isn´t she beautiful?

Mexico City: The World Is Ours For The Taking

This picture is a good way to start off a blog post, but it has proved itself to be an even better way to start off the day; in fact, we were able to start off our day this way because this is the view from the terrace of our hotel. Believe me when I say that I did not want to tear myself away from the peace that looking out over the world brings, but I had to go eat breakfast in the hotel’s restaurant… and did I ever!

Anyone who knows anything about Mexico also knows that it is home to some of the oldest and most beautiful buildings in the world. Today, we visited such a place: the oldest and largest cathedral in Mexico City. Because of the age of some of the tourist attractions in Mexico, the taking of photos is not permitted inside the building. However, if one were to climb to the top, one would be able to take as many pictures as one’s camera would allow, and well… I was the one!

And in case you don’t believe we’re really here… just take a look at Mexico’s national flag waving proudly behind me!

Mexico City: How Lucky Are We?

This morning, we packed our overnight bags and headed on a two and a half hour bus ride to the beautiful Mexico CIty, or as it is simply known to the inhabitants of Mexico, the Distrito Federal. After checking in to our hotel and dropping off our things, we immediately began our busy day. The first stop was the Palacio Nacional. Unfortunately, there was a strike out front, so we were not permitted to enter, but here are some pictures of the enormous building in its captivating city. ImageImage

After the slight disappointment of not being able to enter the palace, we walked a short ways to the Templo Mayor, an ancient temple in the even more ancient ruins of Tenochtitlan, the Aztec city which Mexico City was constructed atop of. Image

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After touring Tenochtitlan, we were able to visit the Palacio de Templo Mayor and view the many artifacts of Mexican culture that were on display. Unfortunately, we were not able to take pictures, but what a wonderful experience it was! It started to rain after that so we made a quick dash back to the hotel. Luckily, street vendors sell ponchos and umbrellas on every corner, so there was no problem staying dry. When we returned to the hotel, we snuggled into our warm comfortable beds, resting from today’s activities and preparing for tomorrows.

Has It Really Only Been Five Days?

We’ve only been here four days, but we’ve done so much already! It feels as though we’ve been here a month. Whether it’s visiting the cathedrals, climbing mountains, traveling to the outskirts of the city, or just walking through the streets, it seems there is no end to the things we have to do. Saturday, we visited La Catedral de Cuernavaca. ImageUnfortunately, my camera decided to die as soon as I got inside, and I didn’t have any extra batteries, so if you have never visited Cuernavaca, Mexico, this is the most you will see of La Catedral. Yesterday (Sunday), we took a 30-minute bus ride to Tepotzlan, one of the magical towns of Morelos. It is inhabited by the indigenous people whose generations have been there for many centuries. The Tepozteco Mountain there is very famous, and half of us chose to climb it. ImageImageCan you imagine climbing this? I can. Because I did. 🙂 There were students who climbed all the way up, but alas, I was not able to.

ImageThis is half-way up the mountain, where my journey came to an end. After coming down from the mountain, I walked through the streets of Tepotzlan. There is no end of things that are available for purchase, and it’s easy to get lost in the handicrafts.

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After walking through the streets, some students chose to return to Cuernvaca. Others, like myself, wanted to tour the city a little more before returning home. It’s a little strange how we’ve began to associate Cuernavaca as our home. Our host families are amazing, and after a long day of touring the cities of Mexico, it feels wonderful to be able to come back to such a warm environment with truly special people. They help us with our Spanish, they look out for us, and they feed us very well. Image

Speaking of food… it’s time to go eat now!