A Quick Update

In 2010, we moved back to the small town in Colorado that I never stopped missing while we lived in Mexico. Now I sometimes miss Mexico, but I wouldn't travel as freely as we did when we were there, camping out in remote areas and so forth.

Mexico today is in a period of change, and in many ways it is more dangerous now. That said, I have plenty of American friends who still live there very happily, just taking a few more precautions than they did in the past.

Just to say!

Rosana

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El Tajín was abandoned in 1230 AD, for reasons which are unknown — perhaps an attack of the Chichimecas, perhaps something else. El Tajín was not located where it was for reasons of defense – the site is completely open.

By the time of the Spanish conquest, El Tajín was covered by jungle. In 1785, a Spanish engineer named Diego Ruiz was looking for tobacco plantings that the Spanish wanted to control, and he came upon the Pyramid of the Niches. As one of the brochures put it, he became the first European to see El Tajín. I liked that wording better than the more usual Euro-centric phrase, that he “discovered” it.

Mexican ruins in clear outline

A bas-relief face

El Tajín has a number of ball courts, for the ritual game famous for its outcome of human sacrifice. I remember my horror when my family went to Mayan sites in the Yucatan when I was nine. Memories of that repulsion had made me wonder if El Tajín would give me the creeps. Far from it… the sense of civilization that I felt at El Tajín was very strong. Balance was a central concept for them, keeping the world in balance between the opposites of duality that some scholars see as a major part of the Totonac world view.

Most famous structure at El Tajin, Mexico

The Pyramid of the Niches is believed to have had 365 niches originally. Some scholars link the niches (which were painted blue and red) with the dualities of light and dark, good and evil.

As I mulled over the idea of human sacrifices, it seemed to me that my own society has plenty of them: sexually molested children, Vietnam vets, the homeless mentally ill, to name just a few groups. The analogy is a bit thin, in that we don’t often ritually murder victims, but considering it helped me to see that the cultures of the ball game were not necessarily any more cruel than my own world.

Being in a place of so much grandeur and mystery engenders such musings….

Several pyramids at El Tajin, Mexico

View from a hilltop in the further part of the ruins. The sign on the pyramid in the middle asks people to stay off it, but climbing was permitted on many of them.

We kept wandering, and found ourselves on a path going uphill through the jungle. Remembering a guidebook’s warning about poisonous snakes in the thicker jungle, we stayed on the trail. Soon we came upon a hand-dug well, with a sign asking people not to dirty it as it was used for drinking. We had reached the far edges of the ruins, and there was a tiny house and cornfield. We wondered about the native peoples of Totonac descent. Did they live here among the ruins of their ancestors for all these centuries?

msuem model of Mexican ruins at El Tajin

Part of a model of El Tajín, at the Anthropology Museum in Xalapa

It was delicious to see so few other tourists around. It seemed that there were fewer than fifty at the whole site while we were there. A rainy Monday in February didn’t pull the numbers that would have been there at other times, but still El Tajín is really off the beaten touristic path. Travel in Mexico in the off season has its benefits. Some friends of ours went to El Tajin at the spring equinox, and they reported that there were thousands of people there for special ceremonies.

Eventually, we wandered back to the museum at the entrance to the grounds. I chatted for a while with a young guard, who was also a student. He was extremely knowledgeable about the history there. I asked a more contemporary question, too: could we camp overnight in the parking lot? He assured me that tourists often did and there was never a problem. All we needed to do was come in around closing time and tell the two night watchmen that we would be there.

We had a pleasant evening in the motorhome, going through the many photos we had taken and reading a book in Spanish that I had bought about El Tajín.

The dog food I had purchased came in handy. There were quite a few loose dogs in the parking lot and over by the souvenir stands. One pretty little brown bitch quickly adopted us, chasing off other dogs.

Favorite Mexican street dogs

Brownie One, on the right, was my favorite Mexican street dog, standing here with Brownie Three.

I wanted to feed two other little brown dogs, but even when I put out two and then three separate piles some distance apart, the bitch – whom we dubbed Brownie One – ran growling from pile to pile, managing to keep both other Brownies from getting much. When Kelly stepped out to turn on the hot water heater, the dogs were disappointed that the match he was holding was not something to eat. I briefly wished we could take Brownie One home with us, but it really wasn’t feasible. That night, she slept under the RV, and the other Brownies – were they her grown pups? – slept nearby. When a truck came through the parking lot in the wee hours, all three dogs vigorously protected us with their barking. Travel in Mexico involves seeing such dogs everywhere, and I greatly enjoyed getting to know these zestful dogs.

[Next: talking with Totonacs and seeing the famous Voladores at El Tajin]

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