“Thank you for your medicine, your positive energy and the joy you bring to Mexico.”

The sun had set hours ago behind the Teotihuacan pyramids, as Gorilla, our tour and spirit guide bid us farewell.  Our bus wound it’s way around vibrantly decorated homes towards the highway. 

The scenery slowly began to change; from the simplistic, cheerful dwellings of Gorilla’s neighborhood, to the grey-toned concrete of the modern world.  But even as we left, I don’t think there was one person in our group who didn’t feel a part of the Teotihuacan culture would stay with them forever.

When our bus rolled into the parking lot of Teotihuacan earlier that day, we were all a bit cranky from the drive and itching to stretch our cramped legs.  We gathered in a group outside the bus and were introduced to Gorilla, a tall portly man with a mop of salt and pepper hair and a belly that shook each time he joked that he ate too much McDonalds and Coca Cola. 

He told us that day we would learn about the Toltec people, his ancestors who built the looming pyramids we saw before us. 

“You will also learn your own Toltec names.  You, my dear,” he said and pointed in my direction.  “What day were you born?”

“September 25th,” I replied.

“Oh ho!  You better watch this one,” Gorilla warned with a gleam in his eye.  “The obsidian snake.  She’ll tell you straight.”

I’m still not really sure how I should have taken this, especially after Gorilla looked at me with apprehension later that afternoon and simply stated, “You read too much.”  The way he bluntly uttered what he saw in you without hesitancy made me a little nervous, like he had Toltec powers to see into my soul.

He began to tell us about the Toltec gods, the most important of which was Quetzalcoatl or the feathered serpent. 

“When a baby is born with hair like this,” Gorilla indicated Jarred’s cowlicky hairdo, “they are said to be the chosen ones, because they resemble the feathered serpent.”  Jarred had never been more proud of his haphazard hair as he smiled and broadened his chest.  In the Toltec culture, Quetzalcoatl is said to be the gentle god of philosophy and learning and the chosen ones were thought of as very wise. 

We crossed over the 2.5 km Avenue of the Dead and walked towards the Temple of Quetzalcoatl.  When we reached a set of stone steps, Gorilla’s son stopped us and warned us that the Pyramid of the Sun at 210 feet high has 248 steps and the Pyramid of the Moon, although only 150 feet high, has even steeper steps.  In other words, we’d be getting a workout that day. 

He suggested imitating the movement of the feathered serpent by walking up the stairs on a diagonal; seven steps to the right, and then seven steps to the left.  In this way we would latterly undulate up the steps like a snake, and save our bodies from exhaustion. 

Our guides had us form a circle, and Gorilla, holding his walking stick with jewel-covered fingers, described to us the design of the Teotihuacan pyramids.  He told us the diagonal line connecting the Sun and Moon pyramid pointed directly North and South, while four smaller structures represented the seasons of the year and another four represented the elements. 


Gorilla then drew our attention to the center of the circle, where our guides had arranged red, woven bands around a large conch shell.

“When the people come here, it’s the time when we’re going to have a very deep connection with the womb of the Mother Earth and the cosmic energy, so you’re welcome,” Gorilla began as he indicated the ground below and the sky above.

“We make this little alter just to say welcome to your spirit.  To say welcome to your face, to your heart,” he continued, smiling at each of us with a radiantly white, broad smile. 

He told us to stand with our eyes closed and one arm raised to the sky and one arm lowered towards the earth.  We then took a moment to thank mother earth and the gods of the sky as we stood in silence and Gorilla blew on the conch shell in low, deep tones. 

We lowered our arms and were instructed to enter the circle one at a time, pick up a red headband and say aloud “omadetotu” or thank you.  Gorilla and his sons then came around and tied the bands around our heads.  Soon we all resembled Raphael of the Ninja Turtles. 

“If we wear one of these bands on our heads, we can get the power of the sun,” Gorilla explained.

With all our headbands in place and the power of the sun at our backs we continued on to the temple.  Here Gorilla had us all stand silent as he clapped slowly to demonstrate the amazing acoustics of the sight.  A sound he referred to as “the whistle of the bird” bounced back at us, closely resembling a Donald Duck quack. 

Later we walked along the Avenue of the Dead, lined with hawkers selling obsidian statues, woven blankets bearing the Aztec calendar and bird whistles, which they constantly blew in an attempt to attract customers. 


Gorilla veered from the Avenue of the Dead onto an offshoot gravel path sprinkled with shiny, black obsidian pebbles.  I picked one up and stowed it in my jeans pocket opting for this simple souvenir over the elaborate (and expensive) obsidian masks and statues the hawkers were selling. 


We followed, like good sheep, as Gorilla walked through an arch and down stairs into one of the pyramids.  He instructed us to wave our right hand in a circler motion to the right, and then to the left, to ward away negative energy and welcome good energy.  Wax on, wax off.


A steel walkway led us to an open chamber, lined with stone once covered in bright, decorative patterns.  This was the oldest discovered part of the archeological site, Gorilla said.  It was amazing to see the remnants of the now faded red paint that dated back to 100 B.C.

Deeper into the pyramid, we filed through a small door jam into an intimate space Gorilla described as a medicine room. 


He sat cross-legged on the dirt ground, and asked us to join him.  While he laid black pendants in a circle before him, he spoke of the deep spiritual connection of the Teotihuacan pyramids.  Scientists, artists and spiritual seekers had built this site to act as a place where they could explore and conserve the art and spiritual knowledge of the ones who had come before them.


It was now time for us to share in a part of that culture.  Gorilla lit incense on a small rock and began passing the pendants around the circle.  He said our Toltec identity would find us, and the symbol on the pendant we ended up with would describe that identity.  Jarred and I both ended up with the same pendant, an hourglass shape with a small oval in the center. 


Gorilla later described this as the symbol of the power of the wind.  I made a joke that we were both pretty gassy, so it made sense, but it turns out Quetzalcoatl is often closely associated with the wind god, Ehecatl.  In the Aztec creation myth, the gods destroyed the sun because they were unsatisfied with the men they had created.  Two deities jumped into the sacrificial fire and became the sun and the moon.  However, they were unable to move until Ehecatl blew life upon them.  

Gorilla said because Jarred and I both had the same symbol, there was a great connection between us.  It’s cheesy, but I like to believe Ehecatl is the wind that blew life into our relationship as sun and moon (man and woman).  


Everyone was very interested in knowing the meaning behind their own Toltec symbol, and Gorilla was patient in describing them to each of us as we left the medicine room and continued on along the Avenue of the Dead.       

Soon we reached the Pyramid of the Sun and began the climb to the top, weaving back and forth like the snake. 


At the top we beheld a perfect view of the entire site, safe for the large, depressing Wal Mart visible to the East.  Here we took photos, meditated on our spirit guide, as Gorilla had instructed, and got a clear view of our next climb, the Pyramid of the Moon to the North. 


As I climbed up the massive steps of the Pyramid of the Moon (nearly two times steeper than the Pyramid of the Sun steps) I was thankful to Gorilla’s son and his instruction on climbing like the serpent.  About halfway up the pyramid, the steps were blocked off.  Gorilla told us later this was because a tourist had climbed rapidly up the steps, lost her balance and fell from the pyramid.  “She was from French,” Gorilla explained.  “I think she broke her head.  Now she’s looking from up there,” he said as he pointed skyward. 


Although we weren’t at the top of the pyramid, the view was still spectacular.  The day was clear, and you could see all the way down the Avenue of the Dead, ending in the rounded, blue mountains the lined the horizon and echoed the shape of the Pyramid of the Sun. 


After climbing, we all reunited at the base of the Pyramid of the Moon.  Despite the weary looks of nearby guards, Gorilla lit his incense once again and invited us to reflect upon our time here.  

“We have to find the harmonic with all the brothers and the sisters of the Mother Earth,” he advised.  “We don’t need to look for power, because power means creation of slaves and we are not looking for that.  We want to live in harmony.  That’s what they’re teaching us here.  The sun and the moon, the day and the night, the great conception of the creation of duality.”

Gorilla asked us all to join him at his home after our pyramid adventure for a meal.  So we clamored onto the bus, souvenirs in hand and drove through streets brightly decorated with flags and flowers to Gorilla’s home. 


We all sat around the outdoor patio at tables with brightly colored checker blankets.  The meal that followed was one of the best I’ve had in my life and was completely created from scratch by Gorilla’s mother and aunts.  Gorilla pointed to each dish as it was carried out to the tables and said, “all from Earth”.  The menu was complete with fresh tortillas, pineapple guacamole, and tender lemon chicken that fell from the bone.


Once we had all stuffed ourselves beyond belief, we meandered over to the lawn and lounged on the grass in content.  After a while, a small woman I assumed was Gorilla’s mother shuffled out of the house wearing an apron that she used to wipe flour from her wrinkled hands.  She began to speak to us all in Spanish, motioning passionately with her hands.  Gorilla told us she was thanking us for being polite and eating all the food, even though the rice had only cooked for two hours and wasn’t up to her standards.   


Gorilla looked around the circle, and his gaze stopped on Brittany Antle.  

“Do you know how to make the tortillas,” he asked as he motioned flattening corn meal by clapping his hands.  She admitted that she didn’t go near the kitchen and her boyfriend usually did the cooking.  Gorilla was astonished by this and decided that she would need to come back and take cooking lessons with his mother.  “You too, blondie,” he joked as he pointed at Jillian.

Once again, Gorilla brought out the incense rock, and passed around loose tobacco.  We passed the rock around the circle, and one at a time sprinkled the tobacco in a circle around the rock, saying a prayer or meditating or simply thanking Gorilla’s family for this experience.


The way Gorilla welcomed us into his culture amazed me.  None of us had known much about the Toltec culture before coming here today, and yet we were treated as equals in his eyes.  I thought about the separation of religion and culture in America.  Our right to follow and practice any religion without persecution in the States is such a great reflection of our freedom, and yet there is little shared between cultures. 


For instance, from my balcony in Denver, I have witnessed the beautiful chanting and singing of the Ethiopian Orthodox congregation every Sunday.  I am so fascinated by their culture, but always watch from a distance.  Their church is steps from where I live, and yet I feel isolated from them.  Here in Mexico, thousands of miles from my home, I feel welcomed into this culture without any pressure to believe, and yet given the opportunity to experience. 

The simplistic beauty of the kinship I felt that day is something I hope to carry with me throughout my future travels and even apply to my life in the States.  I will always try to remember the simple statement of Gorilla’s son from earlier in the day.

“In our tradition, we say that we are made out of corn.  And that’s why you have white corn,” he said pointing to Karly’s Snow White skin.  “Yellow corn,” he indicated Pilipino-born Raymond.  “Dark corn,” he said, patting his own arm.  “But at the end we are all brothers and sisters.”