dianne salerni author
dianne salerni author

This is the last post about Mexico – I promise!  But I’ve told you what the trip did for me as a writer, I marveled at the history, and now I just want to share a few tourist-y things.
The lobby of the Villas Arqueologicas Teotihuacan
The Mexican people were warm and friendly and welcoming. I speak no Spanish, and the workers at the hotel in Teotihuacan spoke almost no English.  It didn’t matter. They were kind and patient, and we found a way to communicate. Nobody rolled their eyes at me; nobody was impatient. (And I’m sorry to say, I’ve seen Americans do that to people who don’t speak English – lots of times.)
Our guide Alvaro
We loved the hotel, Villas Arqueologicas Teotihuacan, and Journeys Beyond the Surface, the tour company that helped us plan our trip and provided us with guides.  The charming Sergio picked us up at the airport and drove us to Teotihuacan, and we enjoyed his company so much, we booked him for the trip back to Mexico City and then to the airport a few days later.  On the site of Teotihuacan, we were escorted by Alvaro, a sculptor and university professor – and also charming company.  Upon our return to Mexico City, we also had the opportunity to meet the owner of the tour company, Mojdeh, and ended up inviting her out to dinner with us.
The Pyramid of the Moon was open only to the first landing.
In Mexico City, we visited the National Museum of Anthropology and discovered admission that day was free, thanks to a group of historians and archaeologists who were protesting the treatment of ancient historical sites.  They paid for everyone’s admission to raise awareness of the damage done to priceless artifacts in the name of tourism – including guide-rails drilled into The Pyramid of the Sun and a sound-and-light stage constructed for an Elton John concert near Chichen Itza.  When we visited Teotihuacan, The Pyramid of the Moon was closed to tourists above the first level, and Alvaro predicted that someday The Pyramid of the Sun might be closed, too.  I’m of two minds about this, because of course I want to see these places preserved, but climbing that pyramid was the whole reason for my trip.  I can only say that I’m glad I had the opportunity to do it while it’s still possible.
I received nasty texts from Verizon Wireless while climbing The Pyramid of the Sun!
And finally, a big FAIL for Verizon Wireless. Before we left home, we bought a global data package so I could use my Droid 4 on the trip. But we weren’t in Mexico 30 minutes before I started receiving dire texts from Verizon, warning me about data charges that spiraled higher and higher at a ridiculous rate.  A call to Verizon confirmed our global plan package, but the representative said it was impossible to turn off the automatic texts.   So, I had to put up with annoying (and worrying) messages throughout the trip. Whether Verizon will actually try to stick us with the final outrageous bill ($2000) remains to be seen. The guy on the phone said “no” – but we’ll see.
The Aztecs named this Avenue of the Dead, mistaking the temples for tombs. 

A lot of people mistake Teotihuacan as an Aztec site. In fact, this city was already ancient and abandoned when the Aztecs came to power. The Aztecs didn’t know who built it. They named it Teotihuacan (City of the Gods) and treated it as a sacred place.  When the Spanish conquistadors arrived, Teotihuacan was one of the few native sites they didn’t plunder and destroy because it was already in ruins. However, when Catholic priests discovered natives leaving offerings at the ancient temples, they ordered all the statues of gods destroyed.  Many ancient artifacts were demolished at this time, and a giant statue at the top of the Sun Pyramid was pushed over the side and broken into pieces.
A Painting of The Pyramid of the Sun, 1832
Teotihuacan was rediscovered in the nineteenth century, and restoration began in the early 1900’s. It was at this time that the four levels of the Sun Pyramid were accidentally divided into five by archaeologists who misjudged the dimensions of the pyramid. Fascinating historical photographs of the restoration work can be found at this site – which gives a pretty good look at the condition of the city when they began work on it.
City ruins on the grounds of our hotel.
The grounds that have been restored are only the heart of Teotihuacan – the religious center of the city. The residential properties extend well beyond the site you see today, and some of them – buried beneath the neighboring towns – will probably never be excavated. Historians believe that the pyramids and surrounding temples were similar to today’s Vatican City.  The pyramids were dedicated to major gods, with countless other shrines honoring smaller deities. Priests and shamans worked out of temples and stalls, selling religious icons and blessings. Visitors came to worship and make offerings for special intentions. Priests and ancient astronomers came here to study.
There was also a great deal of trade and commerce. Archaeologists have found evidence of trade between these people and other cultures, like the Mayans. It is estimated that Teotihuacan was home to some 200,000 people at a time when London was only a Roman fort.
Our guide, Alvaro, explains that this was once a reflecting pool.
After about 800 years of use, Teotihuacan was abandoned. It’s hard to imagine why people would move out of a city this large, and the lack of any written record means that no one is sure of the exact reason. I have read different theories, and our tour guide shared more. The end of Teotihuacan may have been caused by internal strife and a change of government that spawned a revolution, climate change caused by deforestation and the resulting loss of top soil, or an invading force. (Of course I give a different explanation in my WIP!)
Sign describing the tunnel.
Mysteries still abound in Teotihuacan. Some of their carvings are astonishingly advanced – almost looking like stamps or molds — but evidence suggests they had no metal tools and worked only with obsidian. Archaeologists have recently discovered that a tunnel beneath the Sun Pyramid actually extends all the way to the Temple of Quetzlcoatl and that parts of the tunnel are lined with sheets of mica. Mica, which is not native to the area and must have been transported a great distance, is currently used as insulation against the heat produced by the rockets of spaceships. Add that to the fact that the three pyramids of Teotihuacan are aligned in an exact imitation of the stars in Orion’s Belt (just like the Pyramids of Giza and the Pyramids of Xi’an), and you have the makings of an episode of Ancient Aliens!

Yes, that’s me standing on some rocks next to a plastic construction fence. Of course, the rocks and fence are located here:
That’s the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan, Mexico. Last week’s adventure to Mexico was so incredible, I wasn’t sure where to start this post. So, I decided to cover it by topic over a few days.  Today’s topic: Teotihuacan From the Writer’s POV.
Two months ago this trip wasn’t even in our plans. I was working on my contemporary/urban fantasy GRUNSDAY.  The climax calls for the villain to transport my two captive MCs to a place of ancient significance for a cataclysmic magic ritual (think human sacrifice), while one of the other major characters follows them to attempt a rescue. My first choice was Stonehenge, because it’s an ancient calendar and GRUNSDAY is a fantasy about time. Plus, I’ve been there. But putting my characters on an airplane flight across the ocean presented logistical problems, especially for the rescuer. So, I decided to keep them on this continent.
My next choice was Teotihuacan, featured numerous times on the television show Ancient Aliens. If you can’t have Stonehenge for a magic ritual/human sacrifice, a pyramid’s gotta be your second choice, right? I researched the ruins via books and the internet. I spent a lot of time on YouTube watching people who’d videotaped themselves climbing the pyramid. But it’s not the same as being there.
So in June my husband said, “Why don’t we just go?” XOXOXO, Bob!
As a writer, I went with a specific agenda.  I needed to climb the pyramid, of course, and I’ll talk more about that on another day. But I also had questions relevant to my climactic scene, such as: If there was no one to stop you, could you drive a vehicle right up to the pyramids? The answer is yes. There were maintenance pick-up trucks driving all over the site. From the top of the pyramid, can you see a vehicle driving up to the base?  The answer, yes – or close enough. The pyramid is structured so cleverly, you have a good view straight down to the Avenue of the Dead below.
The fifth level of the pyramid is topped by a rounded incline to the platform at the very top. The platform (which was undergoing restoration and roped off by the orange plastic fence) is fairly small – large enough for the ritual I planned, but too small for the villain to have many guards with him. He would have to send his minions down one level, which is what I wanted anyway. The rounded hill is not symmetrical.  On one side, the slope is gentle and easily climbed. On the other, it is more steep.  I even found the spot where two of my characters take shelter from bullets being fired down at them from the top!
And, completely separate from the physical logistics of my climactic scene, there were many aspects of the setting that I could only appreciate by visiting Teotihuacan personally:
Lush greenery surrounds the complex.
Native cactus grows side by side with introduced species of trees.
The enormity of the site is something you have to see (and walk) to appreciate.
 The writer in me got everything I wanted out of this visit.  My climax works, and my second draft will be revised to include details about the site and the surrounding area.  On Wednesday, I’ll share a little about the history of Teotihuacan, as well some awesome photos!