Mexico City Part 4: The Place Where Women Become Goddesses

When the Aztecs stumbled upon this remarkable city of ruins, they named it Teotihuacan, or “The Place Where Men Become Gods”. In the interest of equal opportunity for women, I’ve done a little historical updating with the title of this post. I think it only adds to the mystery of Teo – an ancient Mayan civilization that was in its heyday around 200-600 A.D. with an estimated population of 125,000 or more. There are all sorts of revelations about the daily lives of its people as well as how and why the city fell to ruin, and in fact, active archaeological digs can be seen throughout the site which is cool. You can read more about Teotihuacan here, here, on UNESCO’s website, and of course on the ever-popular Wikipedia and seriously about 1,000 other Google sites so have at it!

To me, Teo holds a special meaning. My friend and art mentor, Ilene Satala, and her husband, Conrad, experts in all things Mayan, have shared their love and knowledge of it for years. Their stories and the energy they carried have greatly influenced my artwork and creative life. The most direct piece is The Red Spider Goddess and its mirrored sidekick, I Am the Red Spider Goddess. Both embody the essence of the web of connectivity between and among all of us, continually in need of reweaving and healing. I am so grateful to both of them for this sacred appreciation for ancient stories. And I’m grateful to the stories of my many artist friends who traveled to Teo with Conrad and Ilene in past years. It brought it alive for me until I could travel there myself. Which was NOW!

Getting to Teotihucan required a 90-minute bus ride from the north side of Mexico City. Hershey, our host who lives on the southern side of the city, insisted on driving us directly to that station despite our insistance that we could navigate the needed transfers en route. But alas, we humored her and let her deliver us to the front entrance so there would be no confusion. Then we hopped out of the car, watched her drive away, and promptly got lost trying to find the proper gate inside the station. Ah, so maybe she was onto something about our ability to navigate ourselves, yes? We asked roughly a dozen times of a dozen different folks in a dozen minutes, ‘Donde esta la puerta a Teotihucan?’ The problem is, you can nail asking a question in a foreign language, but it’s understanding the answer that’s a little tricky unless it’s simplified to “OCHO! Puerta OCHO!” Ah!! We later noticed that if we had just followed every other obviously-not-Mexican person we would have all ended up at Puerta Ocho with ease. Teo is quite the tourist destination.

And then we were serenaded by various bus performers who hopped on and off at each bus stop. Sort of takes the edge off.

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Teo is huge. The Avenue of the Dead which runs from the Citadel ruins (bottom of the map below) to the Pyramid of the Moon (top of the map) is roughly 5 km long. Lots of walking!

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The Citadel was our first stop where we got a taste of the ruins up close.

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And then it was off to traipse further down the Avenue of the Dead toward the Pyramid of the Sun. This includes any and all stops to peer inside doorways and openings. Joel never leaves a site unseen or a knob unturned.

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Our first glimpses of the Pyramid of the Sun! Seemingly close but nope. More walking.

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Getting closer!

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Climbing to the top. I look like I’m just stopping to pose for a picture, but I’m actually gasping for oxygen. Teo is roughly 7500 feet above sea level. A young boy scampering up ahead of me (stinker) counted 250 steps. I don’t know why more people don’t stumble and tumble down these things. Some women were wearing heels!

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Atop the pyramid. Actually, ALMOST atop. The last little section was closed for repair. That’s OK. Let’s keep those stairs well maintained. That’s the Pyramid of the Moon in the background just left of me.

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Looking down at where we were standing when we started the climb.

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Sitting for a minute to enjoy the moment.

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Joel’s not a sitter, so he went back down a level for some more photo opps.

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It was such a treat to be at the top of this long-heard-of locale.

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I carried along a few mementos from Ilene – things she had purchased at Teo or in Guatemala over her years of travelling there.

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On to the Pyramid of the Moon. More climbing and more pseudo posing for pics.

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Atop the Pyramid of the Moon looking back down the Avenue of the Dead.

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Then we walked almost back to the Citadel in order to take the side road to the museum only to find out that it was right next to the Pyramid of the Sun. Gah! Finally having our fill and ready to leave, we hauled ourselves to an exit only to find out that we were at the wrong one. Perhaps we should have studied that map I posted earlier and perhaps we should understand why Hershey delivered us directly to the bus stop. Sometimes I wonder who lets us out of the house. Anyway, grateful to have Joel there through it all – patient and humor-filled all the way through our extra several kilometers.

Speaking of it being a top tourist destination…with a gazillion tourists come pushy vendors of useless trinkets. Hey, everybody’s trying to make a living, right? We politely refrained from most, but liked these two little guys – reproductions of the typical Sun and Moon gods – who the salesman said he made ‘with his own fingers’. We didn’t care that that claim was likely false. He also said he has a cousin in the Rotary Club in Indiana. Hmmm…

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And, the piece de resistance…the Jaguar Warrior. The jaguar is a sacred animal in the Mayan culture and so it makes sense that there were modern-day sales folk peddling them literally every 20 feet. The thing is, when you’re out in the open air, on top of a pyramid, and every so often you hear the call of a jaguar, you perk up a little. It was cool. And I wanted one. And so now we hear this in our living room periodically – a little taste of Teo that brings us back in an instant.

We returned to Hershey (who picked us up at the bus station without argument this time) walked out, dusty and sunburned, but very very happy.

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Regina Leffers McCaleb, Ph.D.

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