So this morning I head out right after breakfast to find this pyramid. Along Avenida Matamoros, our street, there is a blue sign with a picture of a pyramid on it and an arrow pointing off in a perpendicular direction. So I followed the sign. And when there was another sign pointing down another street, I followed it, too, and so on, until the little shops and sidewalks started to thin, and I was walking alongside more makeshift houses with fewer people alongside me. But the pyramid signs seemed to point in that direction, so I kept on walking.
Soon I came to a place with colorful tarps overhead, and people setting up little food and drink stands. I thought this was strange, because at this point I was far from the main town square, but after walking on a bit farther I found another, more detailed sign for the pyramid, and I realized that these roadside stand merchants were setting up where the tourists would soon be coming through in droves.
The road got steeper, and turned into cobblestone steps, then turned into an uphill trail with rocks meant for clambering up, sometimes on all fours. The air, at a higher-than-I’m-used-to altitude, grew thinner. Now I’m certainly no athlete, but I also don’t consider myself totally out of shape: I bike, I play basketball, and I even ran a 5K in the spring. But hiking almost straight uphill in high altitude made me breathe as heavy as I have in awhile, heavy breathing that continued unabated for a good forty-five minutes. I’ve been joking for awhile now that I’ll get to play Indiana Jones on this Mexico trip, but I didn’t realize how much Indiana Jones must have worked out in order to save the world so many times.
(above: the long and winding road)
Naturally, I kept wondering how far I was from the top, but I didn’t ask the handful of people coming down the path how much further it was. I didn’t know how. I thought of “cuanto,” and then “tiempo,” but I had no idea how to say “to the top”…so I just kept on walking and climbing, walking and climbing, stopping to take a picture or three, walking and climbing. (Later Chris suggested I could have just asked “Cuanto tiempo mas?” Sigh.)
At some point I realized I was probably not going to make it back for the scheduled lunch (included as part of the conference). My stomach considered turning back, but my feet could not be stopped. I’ve already hiked this far, no way am I going to turn around without reaching the top!
Finally I could see the pyramid. Just a one steep little rock stairway to go!
All of a sudden I hear this high-pitched barking and padded feet scurrying toward me. I look up, and there’s a pack of smallish animals that look like meerkats heading right for me! What?! I’ve made it this far only to be eaten by a wild pack of Mexican meerkats?!?! Noooo!!!
Then I see why the meerkats are scurrying: There is a man behind the animals, shooing them away – shooing them away towards me – with a broom. This makes the appearance of the pseudo-meerkats no less strange, but at least, I think, they must be harmless, and even if they’re not harmless hopefully the man with the broom will rescue me if they try to eat me. I escape through the meerkat pack unharmed.
(above: watch out kids, the meerkats are hungry!)
I see that the man with the broom works at a little refreshment stand, which is right across from a little table where two men sit playing cards and guarding what is clearly a money box. A sign appears to say (I’m inferring here) that there is an entrance fee to go all the way up to the pyramid. It’s 35 pesos (3.50 in dollars), so I pay it. As usual, the cashier seems annoyed that I don’t have change – cambio – but the ATMs spit out 200 peso bills, what can I do? I acquire my ticket – boleto – and make my way up to the pyramid.
(abovie: I wonder how many crystal skulls are in there)
Tepozteco is not a very big ruin, but the view from it is fantastic. There’s a jungle-covered cliff – it’s jungle all around, really – off to one side with large black birds flying around it, like something out of National Geographic or Planet Earth. You can look down and see the town of Tepoztlan, and you can think, no way did I really climb that high, no freaking way, but yes, yes you did climb that high, why don’t you pat yourself on the back and take a picture of yourself to prove you made it. So I did.
(above: me. Bring it, Indy.)
After taking a few million pictures, I sat on the ruins and read a book about Tepoztlan for a little while, then began to make my way back down the mountain. The way down was way easier, and faster – no surprise there.
When I made my way back to our posada, I found that yes, I had missed lunch, so I headed back into town, turning down a street in the opposite direction of the pyramid and walking until I came upon a lively market in what looked to be the zocalo (town square) of Tepoztlan. I looked at some of the items for sale, and I was tempted by the bootleg CDs. There was a large Putumayo selection, each priced at about 1 U.S. dollar, but ironically they didn’t have Putumayo Mexico. I ended up buying a fruit-punch flavored Jarritos drink, and sat on a bench, near some street musicians, to read my book – this time a story about Pancho Villa conquering villages in Northern Mexico.
Chris had had a rough day at her conference, so I felt a little guilty about how much fun I’d had exploring Tepoztlan all day long. I hope she’ll write some about her exploits when she gets a chance. She has lots of reading to do this week. I imagine once my program gets started, I’ll have lots of reading, too, so I suppose I’ll keep enjoying this freedom while I can. Tierra y libertad – land and liberty, the rallying cry of Morelos – indeed.