Memories of Mexico
Details of our tour of Mexico in 1991 had started fading from my memory. A hazy outline remained: after a few days in Mexico City my wife and I had flown to the provincial town of Oaxaca and explored nearby ruins. Next we had gone to Cancun to swim in the warm Caribbean waters. At the end we had flown back to California which was our home at the time.
The blurry memories came into sharp focus when recently I came across a box of photographic slides from the trip.
After thirty years what dominates those memories is the stupendous history and archaeology of Mexico. Before the arrival of Columbus, several civilizations rose and fell in Mexico. Their legacy is seen in ruins dotted around the country.
The history lessons started in Mexico City. Templo Mayor, an erstwhile temple and now a tourist spot in the heart of the city, was discovered by electrical workers in 1978 during digging. Turns out that the Aztecs had their capital at the same place as Mexico City and this was their main temple. Artifacts included a monolith which showed a dismembered and decapitated woman, an Aztec goddess killed by her brother when she attempted to kill their mother.
A few hours north lies Teotihuacan where 125,000 people lived between 1 AD and 500 AD. The ancient city hosted several civilizations, the Aztecs being the last. We went there by bus and climbed 250 steps to the top of the Pyramid of the Sun for spectacular views.
Mexico City had other historical interests. We visited the house where Soviet revolutionary Leon Trotsky was assassinated in 1940 with an ice-axe when he fell out with Stalin. His desk, where he was working when the assassin struck his head with the axe, is on display. Visitors can also see the house of painters Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera in the same neighbourhood.
Leaving behind the hustle and bustle of the city we flew to Oaxaca, a provincial capital. It is a picturesque town in the mountains where colourful colonial buildings dotted the streets. The region is famous for growing chocolate. But this is not candy; chocolate is used for cooking, including a dish called Mole Chicken. I remember the distinct taste, albeit not too fondly.
Near Oaxaca was the ruin of Monte Alban. This was the highlight of our trip. The city was founded in 500 B.C. by the Zapotecs. Today, several large structures remain on the flattened hilltop, including pyramids, a ball court, a city center and an observatory. The elite lived on the top while the poorer classes lived on the sides of the hills.
Like other pre-Columbian civilizations, builders and engineers of ancient Mexico did not use the wheel for transportation. Rather, the stones were carried up the hills by sheer human force. I still recall my amazement at the huge effort which became apparent when I observed the height of the city from the surroundings.
After the culture and history, the holiday resort of Cancun felt downright decadent with warm waters of the Caribbean and lively nightlife. This was our last stop before returning to reality.
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