Mexico! Part VII: Xochicalco

Reading this week:

  • Joseph Thomson: African Explorer by Rev. J.B. Thomson

We were of course not the only people going to our friends’ wedding (it was a huge crowd), but we had arrived in Cuernavaca a day before everyone else because I wanted to go to Xochicalco. Honestly anytime there is ever a hint of a vast ancient city that is not super often visited I dearly want to go.

The problem with Xochicalco is that it is not quite as easy to get to as Teotihuacán. To get to Teotihuacán you simply follow the very easy instructions (including pictures!) that various internet travel bloggers have written out for you and dedicated busses to take you right there. This is not the case for Xochicalco. The travel guide said local busses could take you there, but other websites said it wasn’t so simple. I looked up how much it would be to Uber there, and it was very reasonable, but it wasn’t so clear that we would be able to Uber back. The solution we settled on was to hire a private driver, and I absolutely hated this. It got to me. I was thoroughly repulsed by the idea of taking a private driver there over using a bus or something. I tell myself this was because I felt like by rejecting the bus we were rejecting a sense of adventure, but it was probably also the price (~$100 USD, honestly reasonable) and more probably that I had just decided I didn’t want to do a private driver and was mentally digging in and rejecting all reasonable arguments to the contrary. We did wind up taking a private driver but the upswing of all these mental gymnastics is that I was just a little shit about it the entire time, an absolute man-baby of quiet simmering temper tantrum as we visited. This was extremely unfair to my super amazing wife, and I’m sorry.

The ride there was pleasant enough and interesting. At one point we diverted into this strange dirt road underpass thing that our driver paid an unofficial toll for. I was wondering where we were going but looking at the map he was probably taking a shortcut which must have been very worth it because a lot of other people were too. Along the road I saw fields of sugarcane and maize and several fields of grass that had been burnt off in a way that reminded me of Zambia. I spotted cows and was interested in all the different plant nurseries I saw, from big ones to small ones. As we drove through the town of Xochicalco there were piles of pots and pots stacked on eaves, drying and/or ready for sale. On the road up to the site there was an orchard of baby orange trees and a seemingly out of place boat on a trailer and a saddled horse and papaya trees and a monument or grave on a hill by the side of the road.

Eventually we arrived and since we only had our driver for three hours I was in a mad rush to see everything. I barreled my way through the crowd of students hiking up to the site from the museum and got tickets and darted through the museum and then zoomed up to the site itself, leaving my super amazing wife far back in my wake. She eventually and much more gently than was possibly justified corrected me on this and we hiked through the site together. It was hot and dusty and we probably didn’t bring enough water despite bringing a lot of water, and now that we are through my personal and interpersonal drama, I will tell you: Xochicalco is a fantastic site.

The history of Xochicalco sits neatly between Teotihuacán and Templo Mayor. It was evidently a powerhouse in its day and the city sits perched atop a very high hill overlooking the valleys below. My super amazing wife, who let me reiterate in reflection of how I acted that day is indeed super amazing, has heard me point out many times that whenever there is a dwelling on top of a hill I think it must be a man who put it there because they aren’t the ones who have the haul water to the top. There were reservoirs in the city which stored rainwater which is cool but still during the dry season there must have been a whole lot of women hauling a whole lot of water. The upswing of those women’s work many many years later is that we get to enjoy some really amazing views. The trip to Xochicalco is worth it for the views alone.

The perhaps crown jewel of the Xochicalco site is the Temple of the Feathered Serpent, which is just covered with stone decorations which is near the very top of an already high-up site. The city has several other courtyards and pyramids of various sizes and you can wander around what used to be the residences for the ruling elites. They had some nice digs. There is also an observatory at the site which we didn’t get to see because it wasn’t the right time of year, so maybe that is the actual crown jewel, but what we saw was pretty impressive anyways. Like I said I was in a massive hurry to see the site and insisted that we more or less zoomed through, but after we got about halfway it was clear it wasn’t going to take us the full three hours anyways to see the site and I slowed down and even backtracked some. There is also a really good museum on site housing a variety of artifacts from the very life of the city, including some interesting displays on construction techniques and the different crenellations and other features you’d find in different cities and civilizations. Apparently these guys were super into starfish, which is interesting.

Temple of the Feathered Serpent, and me.

After 2.5 hours I had absolutely run out of things we could do at the site, so we drove on back to the hotel. We had some much-needed lunch and lounged the rest of the day by the side of the pool, where in an attempt to order pina coladas I got us instead some wine that tasted like apple juice. Relaxing in the air conditioning we eventually drifted off to sleep.