How many things can you make from a cactus?

Sightseeing is an activity that delights the truly idle because it seems so much like scholarship, gawping and eavesdropping on antiquity. — The Great Railway Bazaar, Paul Theroux

Wednesday 21st – Miercoles 21a

We began today with a tour, organised by TrotaTours. The very nice Al was our tour guide, and he was very knowledgable. Our driver Ari wasn’t very talkative – whether he didn’t speak English or just didn’t talk I never quite figured out.

They started by taking us to a few places in Mexico City. Our first stop was La Plaza de las Tres Culturas, where three races – the Spanish, the Mixtecs, and the Mayans – met and traded.

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The Mixtec people came down from North America long ago looking for a sign from the Gods that told them where to build their city. They found it when they arrived at the location of Mexico City, where they saw an eagle sitting on a cactus with a snake in its mouth. That is why the flag of Mexico has an eagle, snake and cactus on it.

After the Plaza, we went to a silver shop, where Alfonzo told us all about how he carves the patterns for the silver jewellery. He has been working there for 50 years, having started when he was ten years old. He hand carves patterns into steel dies, which are then used to stamp out the silver. He gave us a demonstration on some aluminium. He’s very quick!

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Of course, we had an opportunity to buy something from his shop!

Next we went to the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe. We popped our heads around the corner of the old church, but didn’t stay long. The building is at a slight angle in places, due to subsidence.

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There was a second church next door, for the indigenous people. Can’t possibly have them sharing with the all-conquering Spanish, after all!

The Virgin of Guadalupe appeared to Juan Diego, a peasant, in 1531. She demanded a church be built for her, but the priests didn’t believe the peasant man. So Diego went back to where he had seen her and she told him to go and collect roses from the other side of the hill.

This was winter, in an area where roses had never grown before, so when he took the flowers to the priests they believed him, and built the church.

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The new church is prettier on the inside than the outside.

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Apparently, if you look deep into the eyes of the virgin you can see tiny people. We had a go with a blown up version of the painting and a magnifying glass. I’m not convinced.

We got back on the bus and went out into the countryside. There, close to the pyramids of the sun and moon, we met a lady who makes things from cacti.

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The Agave plant is very versatile. You can make paper, shampoo, a needle with thread already attached, fabrics, and alcohol (both tequila and pulque), all from one plant!

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On the down side, you have to wait until the plant is ten years old before you can start using it.

Finally, we went to the pyramids. Teotihuacan is amazing. The complex consists of the pyramids of the sun and moon, the avenue of the dead, and a whole bunch of subsidiary buildings.

Most people assume they were built by the Aztecs or the Mayans, but although the Aztecs and the Mixtecs both used them, they are actually much older.

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The pyramid of the sun had 365 steps, to represent the days of the year. We climbed them all. The view from the top is indescribable.

After we came down, we came back to Ticalli for a late siesta, and we’re planning a simple dinner out later, so I’ll leave you with this panorama of amazement.

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4 thoughts on “How many things can you make from a cactus?

    1. To be honest, I have my doubts about a number of the things our tour guide told us that day. Many of them sounded plausible but didn’t stand up to fact checking when I got home and had better access to the Internet. Like the number of steps in the pyramid of the sun, which turns out to be 260, not 365.

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