Mexico Travel

Hiking the Pyramid of Cholula

On my second day in Cholula, Mex., we hiked the pyramid in town. I think that this is one of the biggest pyramids in the world by base size. Feel free to fact check me. The elevation is really high here, so it is easy to get winded. On the way up, we ate some sweet lime ice (pretty much a tiny snow cone). At the top, there is a church that is incredibly ornate on the interior. Inside, many of the walls are gilded in gold and there are glass cases mounted on the walls that have statues of saints and Jesus. When we were visiting it was Sunday, so Mass had just occurred, meaning the entire church was filled with flowers. I feel really sorry for anyone in the church who had allergies! Unfortunately, I only have pictures of the exterior, as pictures were not allowed inside or in certain places outside.

view from the top of the Cholula Pyramid
View from the top of the pyramid

On the way down the pyramid, we saw some performance artists (called voladeros, or “flyers”). I will try to describe what they do as coherently as I can. Basically, there is a giant pole around which big ropes get wrapped. The end of the ropes are attached to the feet or waist of each man and they get hoisted to the top of the pole. Then they start to spin around the pole, hanging by their feet or waist. The ropes unravel, slowly lowering them to the ground headfirst. Then, just before their heads touch the ground, they turn upright and land on the ground. I guess this is a coming of age ritual among males in a neighboring state.

Below is a video I took of voladeros performing at Teotihuacan, so you can get an idea of what exactly they are doing.

We then explored the market at the base of the pyramid, where I ate some papas fritas (potato chips, 15 pesos) with lime juice on them. My professor’s children ate a flat slice of jicama on a stick (think circular, flat popsicle) with chili and sugar on it.

Then we got to tour the archaeological site (excavation sites of pyramid), since it is free on Sundays. I took a lot of pictures because it was one of the most incredible things I had ever seen! One really interesting thing that I learned was that when archaeologists reconstructed parts of the pyramid, they put small light-colored stones in the cement between the larger stones to differentiate these portions from those of the original pyramid.

The pyramid was built around a core of trash/rubble/ceramics/adobe and there were several stages of construction. This pyramid shows Teotihuacan influence, with large, flat areas on the façade that used to feature murals. Also, the plumed serpent motif is visible in quite a few areas. Barely any fragments of these mural sections are preserved. The entire pyramid used to be painted bright colors (over a layer of stucco). Can you imagine how impactful that view must have been for the first time?! When Catholic colonizers came to Cholula, they razed many of the pyramids and religious centers of the natives. The only reason this pyramid survived is because it was defunct, but the colonizers did build the church on top of it.

archaeological site at the base of the Cholula pyramid
Base of the pyramid – it used to extend all the way to the top, where you should be able to see the very top of the church.

We ate dinner at 4:00PM at a restaurant dedicated to Frida Kahlo. It is important to note that dinner is eaten here between 2 and 4PM. There are basically only two main meals – breakfast and dinner. Then, you are supposed to eat a small snack (like sweet bread or galletas, or cookies) with coffee at night. For dinner, I had enmoladas de plátano macho (plantain). They were plantains wrapped in tortillas with sour cream, onion, avocados, and poblano mole on top. Mole is like a spicy chocolate sauce. I have never had anything like it before… I hated my first bite, but it got better as I kept eating. However, I did have a pretty bad stomach ache later! I think my body is still adjusting to all this new food!

mole in Cholula, Mexico

We finished the night off by going to the market to get some basics for the apartment, like toilet paper, milk, eggs, tortillas, and bottled drinking water.

Day 3: 6/6/2016

C. went on a run at 6:30AM, but I’m not about that life so I slept in a bit. C. and I ate some cereal in our apartment before heading to a coffee shop near the pyramid for some caffeine, muffins, and wifi. We met J. (my professor) at the lab at 10AM. We took a quick tour – the lab is pretty small – and then got to work. We cleared off some lab space and taped brown paper to the tables to lay out our skeletons we had been assigned. We found that the bones had been stored in aluminum foil. You never, ever want to do this because the foil holds in the moisture and can cause molding and destruction of the bones. Luckily, most of the bones seemed to be in pretty good shape.

unwrapping a skeleton to perform skeletal analysis

Unfortunately, the cranium to my individual was not in the box where it should have been, so we are hoping that it just accidentally got placed in another box. These individuals that we are examining are those that were found during construction of the street on which we are currently living! The bones were completely covered in soil, so we spent most of the day cleaning it off. This is the general process for burial analysis: clean the bones, take photos, paperwork, repack the bones. The paperwork is pretty extensive. I’ll try to get some photos to give you an idea of exactly how detailed we get in the analysis.

We had lunch at 3:00 and then went back to the lab to work until 5:30PM. C. and I dropped off our backpacks at the apartment and then walked to the nearby university (U. de las Americas) to see what kinds of places might be around there. The security on the campus is incredible. There is a fence around the entire campus with barbed wire at the top and all entrances are gated with posted guards. You are not allowed in without a school ID. On our way back to the apartment, we bought some instant cappuccino with creamer (surprisingly good) and some sweet breads. We bought 5 breads for only 15 pesos! The pink one was the best, and the other rectangular one was really flaky and dry, but tasted much better dipped in coffee!

We finished the day off by watching Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in Spanish on my computer (I brought all my Harry P. DVDs).


pan dulce and coffeefor breakfast
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