Sunday, April 24, 2011

Teotihuacán.

Located in the valley of the same name 30 miles north of Mexico City lie the remains of a great ancient city of Mesoamerica, Teotihuacán.

Although Teotihuacán used to be a thriving city and ceremonial center that predated the Aztecs by several centuries,  little is known about its ancient builders, including their name, precise religious beliefs, or language.

At its zenith around 500 AD, Teotihuacán's magnificent pyramids and palaces covered  31 square kilometers (12 square miles) and the city was larger in size and population than Rome. Through trade and other contact, Teotihuacán's influence was felt as far south as the Yucatán and Guatemala.  Teotihuacán began declining sharply around 650 AD, and was almost completely abandoned around 750 AD. No one knows exactly why though scholars believe the decline was probably caused by overpopulation and depletion of natural resources.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Calendar.

Photo: gripso banana prune/Flickr
Tthe The Aztec calendar stone, Mexican sun stone, or Stone of the Sun (Piedra del Sol), is a large monolithic sculpture that was excavated in the Zócalo, Mexico City's main square, on December 17, 1790 by workers doing repairs in the square, underneath the Cathedral.

What the workers uncovered was a disc-shaped stone that measured 3.63 meters (12 feet) in diameter and was 3 feet thick. It was covered with pagan symbols. The Spaniards had contemptuously buried it underneath the Zócalo shortly after they toppled the Aztec empire in 1521.

Originally the calendar stone was placed atop the main temple in Tenochtitlan ("tay-nohch-TEE-tlahn"), the capital of the Aztec empire. The Aztec calendar faced south in a vertical position and was painted a vibrant red, blue, yellow and white.

When the Spaniards came along, they down main temple and, at the opposite end of the plaza, built a large cathedral to worship their own deity.

Soon after its 1790 discovery, the 25-ton stone was again ritually subjugated to the new religion, this time by embedding it in the wall of the cathedral’s western tower.

Fruit.

One thing I'm really looking forward to on this trip is the fruit. For me it will be such a nice change of pace to eat sun ripened tropical fruit instead of apples that have been warehoused since last fall's harvest.

I figured that in Mexico there would be a good of variety fruit and maybe a few I had never seen or heard of before. But as I did my research on the fruits of Mexico, I was stunned by just how many different fruits there are!  I decided to document a few of them just so I would even know what their names are and what they look like.  I don't know what fruits will be in season in July but no matter what is available, I know my brother, aka the "Fruit Obsessed One" is going to have a field day in this country. He was in his element at the central market in Antigua, Guatemala, stocking up on all sorts of different fruits, pretty much on a daily basis. I think I will bring along a couple of my recyclable shopping bags so we can haul  his purchases back to the hotel. I can already see that every day's breakfast will begin with fresh fruit that he's bought from the market. :-)

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Chocolate.

Mmmmm....I love chocolate, especially über dark chocolate. I love that bite of sweet chocolate with bitter undertones. So, so addictive for me.

Chocolate and Mexico go hand in hand not only because the cacao tree is native to this part of the world but because the Aztecs and the Maya had started processing the pods into chocolate long before the Spaniards set foot on their land.  The first people clearly known to have discovered the secret of cacao were the Mayans of the Classic Period (250-900 AD).

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Puebla.

Puebla was founded in 1531 by the Spaniards as a bastion located mid-way between Mexico City and the port of Veracruz.

Back then the city was known as Ciudad de los Angeles, City of AngelsLater the name was changed to Puebla de los Angeles.

On May 5th, 1862, the city made its mark on Mexican history for that day marked the end of the Battle of Puebla in which Mexican patriots fought and eventually defeated French invaders at the Forts of Loreto and Guadalupe. The victory is celebrated annually throughout Mexico as the holiday known to Americans as Cinco de Mayo.  Surprisingly, Cinco de Mayo is not widely observed in Mexico.  General Ignacio Zaragoza was in command during that battle and died soon after. The city was re-baptized Puebla de Zaragoza in his honor.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Pottery.

Talavera pottery from Puebla.
Okay, I admit it, I'm a sucker for handicrafts and my house is filled with stuff I've picked up on all my travels. Considering that I work in an international organization, I even have a collection of things that my friends and colleagues have picked up on their travels. So, I need more handicrafts like I need a hole in the head.

But one look at the pottery in Mexico and I know it's going to be really, really hard for me to resist buying a piece or two. I'll stop at two....maybe.

Ceramic art is big in Mexico and there are many different forms and styles but I already have my heart settled on talavera pottery from Puebla and black pottery from Oaxaca.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Insect.

Every country has its offbeat delicacies and Mexico is no exception.  For Mexicans, it's all about insects!

I munched on scorpions when I was in Beijing and they were actually quite tasty.  I definitely want to sample what Mexico has to offer.

Considered a delicacy by Mexicans, chapulines or grasshoppers are available only in certain parts of Mexico, the state and city of Oaxaca being best known.  High in protein and low in fat, chapulines are a cheap form of nutrition and have been on the Mexican menu for over 3000 years. Oaxacans, typically from ethnic minorities like the Zapotec,  consume 85 different insects including 15 varieties of grasshoppers (Orthoptera).  I didn't know there were that many different varieties to choose from.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Uxmal.

Ponounced "Oosh-mahl", the ruins of this once great Mayan city are located nearby Campeche. Though not as well known to the general public as Chichén-Itzá, Uxmal is rated by many archaeologists as the finest example of an ancient Mayan city.

The name Uxmal means 'thrice-built' in Mayan, referring to the construction of its highest structure, the Pyramid of the Magician. The Maya would often build a new temple over an existing one, and in this case five stages of construction have actually been found.

Tortilla.

Corn is the predominant crop farmed in Mexico and corn tortillas are the staple of the Mexican diet. In the northern part of the country, wheat is the major crop so in those regions, wheat tortillas are what you will see on the table.

On this trip, we'll be going south so I'm expecting to see corn tortillas at every meal.

Until my recent trip to Guatemala, the only tortillas - wheat or corn - that I had ever eaten either came from a plastic bag or a Tex Mex restaurant.

Our first morning in Guatemala was spent in Guatemala City, wandering the streets around the bus station. There, we stumbled upon a group of three women making fresh tortillas by hand. We watched them skillfully take golf ball sized pieces of masa and slap them back and forth between their hands to create about a 5" circle. The tortilla was much thicker than I was accustomed to seeing. We bought a small bag and as I opened up the bag of still warm, freshly made tortillas, the scent of fresh corn hit my nose -it was an intoxicating smell. I've never forgotten that smell and I'm hoping that I can find it in Mexico!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Campeche.

Painting by Paul Cross
Located in the southwestern portion of the Yucatan Peninsula along the Gulf of Mexico, the state of Campeche was named after the ancient Mayan kingdom of Ah Kin Pech (Canpech). The capital city shares its name with the state.

The city of Campeche, formerly known as Villa de San Francisco de Campeche, was founded in 1541 by Francisco Montejo the Younger after several previous failed attempts by his Spanish predecessors.

After Spanish occupation, Campeche was terrorized by pirates and marauders until 1686 when a French engineer by the name of Louis Bouchard de Becour was commissioned to surrounded the city with a wall.

Campeche still has the appearance of a fortress. Historic monuments and buildings, Mayan ruins and the old city wall, which is an eminent example of the Spanish military architecture of the 17th and 18th centuries, all add up to why Campeche was inscribed as UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999.