Teotihuacan

One of the wonderful things about having grown children is how they expand my life through their adventures and accomplishments.  It almost makes up for them leaving me with an empty nest-not quite but almost. In 2018 Alexandra and a friend climbed the tallest mountain in Mexico, Pico de Orizaba (18,491 ft). She finished out her vacation at Teotihuacan, a place that had been calling me for over ten years. Since she didn’t summit the first time, she wanted another attempt, I wanted to meet her in Teotihuacan so we made plans for the whole family to go to Mexico City for Thanksgiving.

Teotihuacan is just 25 or so miles northeast of Mexico City and at the top of my must-see list. This enormous archeological site has three main pyramids along with dozens of smaller structures all along the 1.5-mile Avenue of the Dead. This enormous Mesoamerican city was constructed over 2000 years ago but not much is known about the original builders. The Aztecs later moved in and named it Teotihuacan, “place where gods are born”.  The Pyramid of the Sun is the third tallest pyramid in the world and the equally impressive Pyramid of the Moon is surrounded by platforms and smaller pyramids.  At the far end of the Avenue of the Dead is the Temple of the Feathered Serpent. We stayed in a charming hotel that was on the archaeological site where The Pyramid of the Sun was my constant reminder I was on sacred ground.

The first morning we rose early to have our first full experience of Teotihuacan, floating gently, silently over the pyramids in a hot air balloon bathed in the early morning light. The terrain and gentle steady winds make it an ideal place for hot-air balloons. I can’t think of a more magical way to experience this magnificent place. This was my first balloon ride and I was ready for the adventure. Over the course of about a half hour, twenty colorful balloons launched into the pink haze of sunrise to drifted over the Pyramid of the Sun.  Silently, the balloon’s shadow crossed over the ancient stones and down the Avenue of the Dead.  This eagle-eye’s view of the entire site, well before the day’s visitors, was a gift from the gods. There I was, floating above this ancient world that was still so powerful that the awe of the gods was palpable.  We continued to float over the town for another hour, past the churches and schools, until we were expertly landed in a nearby field. After a traditional champagne toast and hearty buffet breakfast we had a nap before heading to climb the pyramids.

I planned two full days at Teotihuacan and was glad not to be rushed by just a day trip. After lunch, we set out from our hotel for the 15-minute walk to the main entrance. I suggested we walk all the way to the Pyramid of the Moon and then slowly make our way back. The Avenue of the Dead goes up and down stairs, in and out of what remains of the glories of this impressive city. We took our time to enjoy the walk while avoiding the endless sellers of puma calls and woven blankets.  Lots of school groups were easily absorbed in the vastness of the complex and we felt we had the place mostly to ourselves.  A climb to the top of the platform of the Pyramid of the Moon was first on the agenda.  It wasn’t a long or hard climb, but the altitude (7000 ft) made me a bit winded but the view was worth the effort. Hot and thirsty, we wandered back to the hotel to sit by the pool and were surprised by Alexandra’s early arrival.  She realized she was not up to the intensity of the summit and so just enjoyed the climb and extra time with her family.

After breakfast the next day, all four of us headed to the Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent. We wanted to beat the heat and visit what we saved from the day before.  Hamilton climbed the Pyramid of the Sun while I sat nearby listening to music and soaking in the sun on Thanksgiving Day. I was so thankful to be with my family and visit this remarkable and sacred place. Hamilton and I visited the museum and were impressed by the pottery and sculptures that had once decorated the pyramids.  In the heat of the afternoon, Hamilton read, and the ladies indulged in massages but our time a Teotihuacan had one more delight.

The glories of the ancient world collided with the wonders of the modern world with a Sound and Light show on the Pyramid of the Sun. As we walked into the darkened site we were treated to the crescent moon and sparkling Venus, a celestial light show.  The show first started with a walk up the Avenue of the Dead toward the Pyramid of the Moon beautifully illuminated with changing colors. Without the distractions in the daylight, I became part of the site and felt transported by the experience. We each had a smartphone that gave a detailed history and showed what the site looked like throughout history.  Next, we sat on cushions in front of the Pyramid to the Sun. Thanks to virtual reality I was able to glimpse into a probable past of the history of Teotihuacan. For a brief time, this great pyramid was once again decorated with color and sculptures to the great gods. All too soon, the lights faded, and the pyramids receded back to their stony silence. But, even though the ages have taken their toll and our view of the gods have evolved, this magnificent place still holds the power to transform and remains a place where “man became gods”.

Pyramid of the Moon

 

 

 

The Revolution

DSC01998DSC02001

I remember that day vividly, January 25, 2011, I was in Egypt visiting the temples of Abydos and Dendera.  My friend Darrell and I had been there before so we headed in the opposite direction of the main group and wandered around by ourselves.   We didn’t talk much, but strolled silently enjoying the hieroglyphs and architecture and relishing the peace.  We took a few pictures of the light streaming into Abydos making intense spotlights out of the ancient Egyptian sunlight.   I bought a tablecloth and a beach towel.   We ate a boxed lunch on the bus and admired the sunset on the way home.   It was a blissful day.  Little did we know of protests just up the Nile in Cairo where the next chapter in the long history of Egypt was just beginning to be written.

The group arrived back in Cairo the next day where we visited the Muhammad Ali Mosque at the Citadel and had a beautiful lunch in a formal garden overlooking the city.  There were some protests in Tahrir Square but protests are very common in Egypt, so I went on enjoying the families in the park and watched young Egyptian girls taking pictures of each other.   Even though their faces were covered they still enthusiastically snapped posed pictures just like my girls do and I smiled at the universal desires of youth.  We returned that evening to our hotel across the street from the Pyramids in Giza.

On the Thursday we went to Saqqara, the step pyramid, and climbed the wall to view the Bent Pyramid and the Red Pyramid in the vast desert beyond, reminding me how small I am.    It wasn’t until that night that we realized the protests were not typical.   Mary, our guide, and I were walking by a TV in the outdoor porch and we saw the reports complete with fire and tanks.  She said to me “This is serious.”  Having over 20 years of experience living and working in Egypt, Mary had never seen anything like it.   Late that night she awoke to the rumble of dozens of tanks taking their positions around the Pyramids, shutting down main roads and protecting the great symbols of Egypt.

On Friday January 28, the group was to go to the Cairo Museum and see the King Tut treasures, in downtown Cairo next to the now-famous Tahrir Square.  Needless to say the tour company cancelled that trip for, on that day, the protesters had plans to intensify the revolt after Friday prayers.   Not wanting to miss a day of sightseeing, the group asked the tour company to put together an alternative trip to Memphis and the Bent Pyramid.   Cell phone and internet service had been shut down by the government and we were without communication to the outside world.   Darrell and I decided to stay
back and enjoy the poolside view of the Pyramids since at this point we were tired of the bus and just wanted to relax.  I spent a happy day reading, napping and enjoying a drink in the shadow of the Great Pyramid.

Soon the protests had escalated to a full blown Revolution.  Our Great Pyramid and Sphinx tours were cancelled as well as the trip to Alexandria, where the protests were even more violent.   Confined to the hotel for an indefinite amount of time I turned to filling my days until my plane reservation allowed me to leave.   The mass exodus out of the country meant that the airport was in total chaos so I decided the best thing was to just wait until my British Air flight on February 2nd.   I watched the news, enjoyed the pool, visited with my friends and reassured my worried family but mostly I enjoyed the Pyramids.   I was getting to spend five uninterrupted days in the energy of the greatest monuments on earth while history was being made.    The Pyramids have witness thousands of years of history and hundreds of government changes and I was excited to witness this latest one together.

In the evenings, a small group of us would go to Mary’s room to visit and watch the news.   We would hang out on her balcony watching the tanks reposition for the evening curfew and soldiers guarded the streets.  We heard gun fire and saw the smoke of the burning buildings.   It is a spectacle to see a line of tanks starting up and moving along the road, the ground really does shake.   The contrast between the tanks on the street and the Pyramids right behind was a stunning.   Two different realities had collided.   I would look up and see the stars shining and Sirius sitting directly over the Pyramid.   I would look down and see the armed guards at the gate of the hotel and an infinite line of tanks.   I was watching two different dimensions at the same time and the same place.   Which reality was I going to chose?   My family and part of the group were understandably fearful; I saw the great privilege to be in Egypt for this experience.  It was definitely going to be a marker in the timeline of my life, solidifying even more my connection to Egypt.   I also became more connected to my dear friends traveling with me for we felt that we were called to be in Egypt for this experience.

I knew I was being called back to Egypt for that fateful trip but had a hard time justifying the expense of a third trip; I was waiting for a sign.   Just before the deadline for joining the tour I got my sign.  One morning I was having a nice breakfast with friends after which they gave me a calendar of three foot tall pictures of King Tut’s treasures, giant golden gods.   This calendar from Germany isn’t even sold in the US. An e-mail and a text later I had more signs.    I must to go back.  So this suburban mom went off to a government overthrow.  This epic 23 day journey is now a major chapter in my story.  Each day of the journey was an odyssey, for when you say to the gods “Take me” you never know where it will lead or what they have planned.

Entering the Great Pyramid

In the Great Pyramid

Inside the Great Pyramid

If you had asked me 5 years ago what is my biggest fear, I would have told you “going inside the Great Pyramid”.   I have a bit of claustrophobia when it comes to “old places”.   I’m fine in elevators and closets but add a bit of age to on an enclosed space and I’m not happy.   I hate caves, dungeons, catacombs and tombs; they totally give me the creeps.

When I went to Egypt the first time I wasn’t sure that I would actually go inside the Great Pyramid.  The group had private time scheduled the last day of the trip as a culmination of our journey, the last initiation.   I would just have to see.    Early in the trip, some of the group went into the Red Pyramid.  I stood outside.  I was totally not ready to face that fear.   I was pretty sure that I would go inside the Great Pyramid but I knew it would take two weeks to work up that courage.

Well, there was a plan to face my fears.   The second week visiting all the temples in Luxor was so intense.  A friend challenged me to go into the crypt at the temple of  Dendera.   I took the challenge; I didn’t want to miss the famous and mysterious hieroglyphs.  So holding on to my dear friend Rachael we entered the crypt.  Really uncomfortable, glad it did it, not doing it again.   The next year, my friend Jenny’s greatest wish was to be in that same crypt alone.   I stood at the top and guarded the entrance so she could have that experience.  She loved it.

I skipped the tombs in the Valley of the Kings, not ready for that either.   The next year brave Jenny helped me go in two of the tombs and the third time I went I was able to briefly handle Tut’s tomb.

After all my experiences and challenges in the temples, I knew I finally had the courage to enter the Great Pyramid.  The same friend who dared me to go into the crypt said that he would be with me all the way.    I was one of the first to get to the entrance and I just forged ahead, went through the tunnel and into the Grand Gallery.  It was exhilarating; it felt like a celebration of my two weeks of meeting and walking with the gods.  So instead of fear I was overcome with pure joy.   Pure joy of the glories of Egypt.   Pure joy of remembering and being.    I sat on the floor in the King’s chamber for an hour, just grateful for it all.  I can’t say I had a “profound” experience.   My new found courage and joy were more than enough.  That was my profound experience.   Most to the group took turns lying in the granite sarcophagus.   That was a bit much for me for I felt that I had the experience I came for and my courage still had its limits.    I was glad I faced my fears and it was a process to get there but that is part of being on the pilgrim’s path.