Friday, January 29, 2016

LIV. A Las Guachimontones Encima del Pueblo de Teuchitlán

At the Guachimontones Above the Village of Teuchitlán

Taking a break from realtors and bankers I went on another recreational hacienda hunt yesterday. Nowadays, Las Cazadores [Hunters] de Haciendas club not only has badges affixed to hats, packs, shirts or shorts, but many of us (not me) were also sporting their official blue and yellow t-shirts, under several layers of sweaters, down vests, or jackets. It was cold. There was a nasty wind.

We went to a restored hacienda this time—El Carmen is its name. We had a noontime dinner there in a fancy dining room, after strolling the grounds and being shown to some opulent suites—all the mod cons in eighteenth century style. The style, though, of the entire place didn’t suit my tastes. I’ve come to much prefer the early colonial period, simpler and more rustic. And sometimes, just ruins seem appropriate. 

As a side note, the medical doctor who owns the place also has his practice attached to the hacienda’s large, no longer functional and very old stables. You can see his sign as you drive into the gravel parking lot, its tasteful brushed aluminum letters are cunningly attached to the stucco exterior, “Dr.———, Urologia.” That awakened unpleasant memories. 

Undoubtedly, though, my funky mood was more a factor of the uncomfortable day rather than any aesthetic distress. Due to high clouds the air was unwarmed and the light seemed stretched and thin, and a fitful wind was disturbing my ability to receive an I’m-OK-You’re-OK vibe from the environment.

Things picked up in the fine little museum of the nearby town, Teuchitlán. An amazingly athletic and knowledgeable guide met us there after being called by a friend who’d seen us talking in the town plaza with a curious restaurateur who’d seen us gawking at the ruins of an old casa grande just off the main square. They’re all friendly sorts and willing to help some curious gringos. 

In the center of the picture is the largest restored guachimontón at the
archeological side above the town of Teuchitlán which is visible on the plains
below. The long, narrow space stretching clear across the lower quarter of the
picture was the ballgame court. All of the low area stretching from the lake on
the left to the distant foothills and covering the existing town used to be only
part of a huge lake that existed when the site was established several millennia
The reason I wrote that the guide was “athletic” was because he demonstrated some of his remarkable ball game skills. He’s a member of the town team that plays the ancient jugo de pelota like their ancestors who lived in a nearby city that used to be in the hills above Teuchitlán. Today that's an archeological site called Guachimontones—the word describing their circular pyramids that were recently restored after being covered and lying forgotten since some time in the pre-Columbian period.

The game was usually played, he said, to resolve disagreements. The same five young men for each team played all day from sunset to sundown, up and down a long and narrow court. The round ball was heavier than a five pound sack of flour and could only be moved by striking it with one’s deerskin-padded hips. The game was also played during periods of threat or famine. In those cases, in order to gain the dieties’ assistance, the captain of the winning team was given the honor of being sacrificed.Being sacrificed was an honor because only those who had given their life to help the common cause could go to Heaven to be with the gods.

The way I understood what the guide was telling us, the alternative to Heaven wasn’t so bad either; especially since it was called Paradise. Your manner of death determined in what section of Paradise you landed. There were something like 19 levels down there, and much fewer levels up above, in Heaven. The space where they met was the plane of our existence. 

After lunch at the fancy hacienda we went back through town, drove past a kind of kitschy hot spring resort and up to Guachimontones. By this time, the sun was stronger, the wind weaker and I think we were all feeling much better. From the site’s plateau we had a great view of the new town below us, and beyond to the still-impressive remains of a once huge and ancient lake, with a string of long extinct volcanos in the distance. Not far behind us, to the north, Volcán de Tequila, rises to almost ten thousand feet. 

The most restored pyramid there was 80% original, sixty feet tall and about a hundred and fifty feet in diameter, composed of 17 levels of progressively smaller concentric circles, each rising a few feet above the one below it. At the pinnacle—it has been conjectured—a tall pole was inserted in a deep hole, and a priest would occasionally swing from its top, supposedly simulating the flight of a bird.

There was a very compatible group in our car. Good-natured Gary is always fun to be around, and his two friends visiting from California were interesting, friendly people as well. 

When I got home there was a fantastic soup waiting from the kitchen of my culinary wife, and we later talked on the phone to our youngest daughter stateside. Meanwhile I arranged a bank wire transfer of the first of two installments of our down payment, and she fed me the verification codes I had to have sent to her cell phone since neither of our burners can receive calls here from the US. We’re now into the money part of our commitment to buy a house, and more and more frequently I’m nervous as a cat. 

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