|Fierce Mexican face|
There are a whole lot of amazing sites to see in central Mexico and the luxurious Rancho Las Cascadas
in the Hidalgo region, North of Mexico City, makes a great base from which to explore this fascinating part of the country. With far fewer tourists than the Yucatan peninsula you can discover some amazing ancient sites and shop till you drop at colourful mad markets (one of my favourite things to do, I confess) without really seeing many other Gringos or breaking the bank.
Our first excursion was to Tula, the capital of the ancient Toltec people and a lovely town to explore in its own right. There is fascinating museum of ancient relics and a very early pyramid. All the information about things in the museum was, however, in Spanish, so we rallied those with the best Spanish smatterings into doing some interesting approximate translations.
|Unimpressed of Tula|
At the top of the pyramid are four huge totem-pole-like warriors carved from black basalt, over 6m high. They are quite an amazing site as they stare out across the vast landscape, and would have seemed even more intimidating in their hey day. Now they stand against the cloud streaked sky presiding over a more modern Mexico.
|Big Basalt Warriors|
In the pretty buzzing town of Tula we had the excitement of shopping for Tequila, and a visit to the amazing riding tack shop . You can get beautiful riding boots with leather soles in every assorted colour for £20 ($40) and the most amazing hand made leather Western style saddles, some adorned with Mexican silver for only £140 ($280) They were such things of beauty that I was tempted to buy one myself, and I haven’t even got a horse.
|These boots were made for riding|
We visited a local food festival one day at Varreinato where there were all manner of unusual things on offer to eat and drink. Giant plant filled pancakes with hot sauce, fried live maggots (well they were live to start with), snails and crickets. I tried a cricket and it was crunchy and salty, but I didn’t like it when one of its legs got stuck in my teeth. There was plenty of Mole (the famous Mexican chilli-chocolate sauce) and some more usual looking enchiladas and tacos and a lot of pork products. Mexicans also seem to love giant sheets of pork crackling the size of roof tiles, which of course can’t be any good for your cholesterol.
|Fried crickets – delicious!|
There was also some pulque in evidence which is an ancient drink fermented from the maguey plant which is a type of Agave. Aztec priests and emperors used to call it the nectar of the gods. Apparently it was often used in rituals of human sacrifice when the priests drank it to prepare themselves for the slaughter. It was also given to the unfortunate victims for much the same purpose. Some evidence of these brutal practises have been found at the next incredible site we visited at Teotihucan – ‘City of the Gods’ -which was Mesoamerica’s greatest city.
Established around 300AD this civilisation lasted far longer than the Roman Empire. Its inhabitants worshipped the sun and the moon, and the pyramids on the central Avenue of the Dead align in perfect distance of each of the orbits of the planets in our solar system.Only priests were allowed to climb the steps of the pyramids for rituals and ceremonies and interestingly no depiction of a ruler or the tomb of a monarch has ever been found.
Its most monumental structures are the Temple of Quetzalcoatl, the Pyramid of the Sun (the third-largest pyramid in the world) and the Pyramid of the Moon. One of the greatest mysteries is that no one knows where the huge population that lived here eventually ended up. It is as if they vanished without a trace. It was the pre hispanic cosmic culture capital.
|Pyramid of the sun|
Our last trip was to the crazy Mexican market at Jilotepec which was a real cultural treat. Apart from the fact that we actually were the only foreigners there, it was a huge colourful smorgasbord of products reflecting both traditional and modern Mexico and not to be missed.
|Cactus paddles – part of your 5-a-day|
You could buy everything from a small colourful bird, to a life size plaster Baby Jesus with false eyelashes, to Calvin Klein perfume, fried fish, blue corn on the cob, fresh paddles of cactus (spines helpfully removed), or a Christmas Turkey made out of pine cones. Everything was incredibly cheap and I couldn’t resist buying heaps of things especially as Brenda from the ranch helpfully carried them all for us!
|Coloured kernel corn
Even riding the gorgeous horses across the Mexican countryside at Rancho Las Cascadas almost every day, we still managed to fit in a substantial amount of shopping for cool Mexican purchases and closing my case at the end of the trip was a considerable challenge. It ended up being well over the weight limit but the nice Mexican lady at the airport blithely overlooked this fact completely, much to my relief.