Sunday, August 2, 2009

Daytripping (Tula)

Honorio and his cousin, Francisco (a.k.a. Pancho), pick me up at the hotel at 9am sharp, and we're off to visit the ruins of Tula. It's about 90 miles away, and we should make good time at this hour of the day.

According to my guidebook, the town has little to recommend it (unless you're a fan of peace and quiet), but the archaeological site is one of the most important in Mesoamerica. Demonstrating influences of other major sites in its ceramics and pottery shards, architecture, and sculptures, through conquests and trade, Tula linked Teotihuacan, Chichen Itza, and other places of note in the PreColombian world.

The on-site museum exhibits a chacmool (reclining figure carved in stone and used for sacrifices), ceramics, and other artifacts, some of which retain their original colors. The most impressive sights at this site are the huge, stone Atlantes figures, with their loincloths, breastplates, and feathered headdresses, made by the Toltecs, and standing atop one of the pyramids. We scramble up narrow steps to snap photos and to admire the sculptures and the view. We wander about the two ball courts and a couple other pyramids and building foundations. Some walls display repeating, incised geometric designs, jaguars, and more. We've arrived before the crowds and depart before the heat becomes oppressive.

Honorio decides that we'll return to Mexico City via a shortcut -- along a newly constructed highway. Because of my wild ride on a "shortcut" in Oaxaca, I get a bad feeling about his plan, but who am I to argue?

Two ominous signs indicate that we might have a problem: We are the only travellers in either direction, and a bird crashes into and bounces off our windshield. However, we practically fly along, making excellent time.

The road ends suddenly, and we are redirected through the arid, cactus-strewn landscape and the dusty streets of small towns. The shortcut has become a longcut. Honorio vows never to use this highway again. I vow to argue whenever I hear the word "shortcut." We spend at least an extra hour and a half reaching our lunch destination of Pachuca.

Once there, we stop at a roadside restaurant and eat flaky pastries, called pastes (pronounced pas-tays), that are typical of the region. Imagine an apple turnover, but scrap the apples and insert savory or sweet fillings, such as pork or pineapple. I order one paste with cheese and mushrooms and another with chicken in green mole. Both are delicious.

We get back on the road and swiftly make our way back to Mexico City. The traffic, once we reach the city limits, is atrocious and it takes forever (translation: a really long time) to get back to my hotel. As Honorio commented on our way to Tula, "It's a good thing that not everybody has a car."

I go to bed tired and early but spend most of the night battling mosquitoes. Tomorrow, I'll be on the road again. No shortcuts, though.

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