Earlier on this trip I wrote about meeting up with Scott, the author of the blog “Gringo Potpourri”. Scott is a world traveler who lived in Mexico City for a while. After an absence of several years, he returned to Mexico City last month, and, after having followed each other’s blogs for a long time, we were finally able to meet face to face.
We made plans to get together a week after our initial meeting, and Scott took me someplace that I, even after my many, many trips to Mexico City, had never visited. We went to the “Cerro de la Estrella” (Mountain of the Star), an extinct volcano which rises more than 700 feet above the Mexico City district of Iztapalapa. Iztapalapa is Mexico City’s most populous borough, and also has the reputation of being one of the poorest and most crime-infested parts of the city. But I figured that I was going in broad daylight with someone who is familiar with the area. When I told Alejandro about our planned excursion, he said, “Cuídate” (Be careful), but he did not seem overly alarmed.
Scott and I met near the “Centro Médico” Metro station and took the subway to, logically, the “Cerro de Estrella” station.
“Welcome to Itzapalapa”
A city within the city with a population of 1.8 million people
It was short walk from the Metro station to the base of the hill. Here there are three crosses which are used each year in Iztapalapa’s “Passion Play”.
The Iztapalapa Passion Play is the largest in the world with more than 450 actors portraying the Biblical events over the entire course of Holy Week in locations throughout the borough. Here, at the foot of the “cerro”, the actor playing Jesus is tied (not nailed) to the cross.
We continued to trudge uphill.
The road came to the entrance to the Cerro de la Estrella Natural Protection Area which covers the top of the hill. Although the paved road continues upward, cars are not allowed beyond this point.
A short distance farther up the road there is a look-out point from which you can look westward across the city. Unfortunately, the day was quite smoggy, and the view was not as spectacular as it would be on a clearer day. Through the haze you can make out the skyscrapers of the city, including the Torre Mítica, Mexico City’s tallest building.
The summit of the hill was now in sight.
The final portion of the climb was up a flight of stone steps, although there is also a ramp for handicapped visitors.
At the top of the hill there is a small archaeological site.
The Aztecs used this platform on the hilltop for one of their most important religious rites, the New Fire Ceremony. The Aztec calendar was divided in cycles of 52 years, and they believed that at the end of each cycle the sun was in danger of dying, casting the world into darkness. At sunset at the end of the cycle, all fires would be extinguished. Priests climbed to the top of the “cerro”. They watched the constellations in the sky, and when they saw that their normal movement was continuing… specifically Orion’s belt rising above the horizon… they performed a human sacrifice. A fire was lit on the victim’s chest, and a large bonfire was ignited. It could be seen throughout the valley below, and the population rejoiced that the world was safe for another 52 years.
Scott and I on top of the “Cerro de la Estrella”
Looking toward the northwest, I was able to make out through the smog the World Trade Center which is near my apartment.
To the north you can see the “Central de Abasto”, the vast wholesale market which supplies the city with most of its food. It is the largest market in Latin America.
Looking toward the east, the volcanoes would have been visible if it had been a clear day.
The yellow building down the hill is the Museum of the New Fire which deals with the Aztec ceremony held here on top of the “cerro”. It was our next stop.
Thanks to Scott for taking me someplace in Mexico City that I had never seen before!