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Pre-Colombian Ruins at Plazuelas

On Wednesday, October 11th, the group went to see some archeological ruins dating from approximately 600-900A.D known as Plazuelas, near the town of Pénjamo. We met our driver and guide Ricardo, early that morning. On the way there, everyone was still sleepy and some fell asleep. Those who did not listened to Spanish techno/pop on the radio all the way to the sites.

The trip to the site was supposed to take about an hour. Unfortunately, it was more like two, as we got lost, going all the way into Michoacán, another state, and then having to head back into Guanajuato. We had to stop several times to ask directions. Ricardo asked everyone: from a man selling slushies on the street, to police officers, to some men doing construction, and even more. Most of the time, we were passing through rural areas on the way. Surprisingly enough, every few minutes or so we saw a bunch of stands selling strawberries and cream. The views however, were the most beautiful thing ever.

We finally found the little trail up to Plazuelas. When we arrived to the site we were told that there were ruins and also a museum. We were also told that we could have a tour guide if we wanted. We agreed to the tour guide, and Cat and Eileen agreed to translate everything that was said. Amusingly enough, the kid who had greeted our van and asked us if we wanted the tour – was also our tour guide. He was about nine years old and although he knew the information, he mumbled and ran through everything in the museum. Within the museum, there were a lot of artifacts from the site. Many of them represented things in nature, such as the winds, thunder, and lightning. There were also several phallic symbols including one that was about six feet tall. There were also giant conch shell shaped statues that had been found around the temples. Although there are no beaches around this part of Mexico, it was apparent that many of the things that the indigenous groups used in this area, they had gained through trading. They also had things such as kitchenware and jewelry that had been found on the site.

Then we went up a hill to the actual archeological site. Once there, we met a new tour guide – an adult by the name of Cristobal. He was actually sporting a Deland Country Club hat, although when we asked if he had been to Deland he said he had never even heard of it and had been given the hat as a gift. The first thing we saw at the site was the court where the pre-Colombian peoples played their famous ball game. This is the actual version of the game seen played in the movie, The Road to El Dorado, except that the movie version was a lot happier and was being played because winning it would save the characters' lives. The court we saw was one of the early sites for a game still played today in Mexico. However, this ancient version was a lot more hazardous for the winners, who were sacrificed to the gods. We were able to see where the pre-game ritual took place, including a steam bath the players took in order to be purified. However, these were not the only people to use the steam baths as a purification process – pregnant and menstruating women also used them for purification before the game began. There were also walkways for audience members to approach the game, and the steps to the court were built off center in respect for the game itself. All of the bleacher steps were also incredibly narrow, forcing the person who was walking on them to walk sideways, which was also considered a sign of respect to the gods. You can still see where the giant stone markers went on the side of the field to show who was winning. The ball was actually played with an 8-9 pound ball of hard rubber which was lit on fire. The team who won the game was offered up as a human sacrifice to the gods.

After that we were able to see stones that had been engraved. This festival-oriented site is the only indigenous site for which there is an existing floor plan, presumably made before building, which was engraved into stones. These are still extant and show all of the pyramids. After viewing the stones, we approached the actual pyramids. They were of relatively modest size; however, we were told that in their day the pyramids had been nine feet taller due to wooden or brush tops which did not survive the centuries. There were nine pyramids in all, with most still to be uncovered. The exact indigenous group or groups that used the site is still unknown, due both to the site being a temporary gathering place and to the rebuilding of the pyramids’ exteriors in different styles. It seems that these “upgrades” were separated by a 52-year period of time, a “century” according to the indigenous calendars of the area. Another interesting structure was a snake made out of many rocks that extended a huge distance towards an arroyo. The snake had tiny engraved divots and higher raised bumps in order to look like the back of a snake. It had been created that way so that the divots retained water and dew, and then when the sun shined on the puddles, it would look like the snake was moving.

The terrain of this area was incredibly beautiful. It was built between two arroyos because of the accessibility to water. However, this causes a modern-day problem because there are currently squatters on the other side of the canyon from the snake where excavations should be continuing within the year. The land itself was dry and yet very green. It had a lot of cacti with plenty of blossoms and cactus fruit. Several of us were also spooked by the giant spiders that could be seen on these cacti. Rumor has it the tall grasses were home to rattlesnakes as well.

After seeing the pyramids, we headed back down the hill to the gift shop and bought some cool jewelry, scarves, and bags. Then, we headed to the Hacienda Corralejo.


Hacienda Corralejo Tequilera

After the trip to the Plazuelas pyramids, the group visited the Hacienda Corralejo tequila factory for lunch and a tour.  Because we had just arrived from walking around the ruins at Plazuelas, we decided to have our food first.  The lunch was delicious.  For an appetizer, we were served toasted, salted almonds and queso fresco.  Included in the price of lunch was also all the tequila you could drink, so we were brought a large bottle of Corralejo tequila and several bottles of a half-beer, half-tequila drink which was apparently not very good.  For non-drinkers, we were brought a tea-like drink called jamaica which was made by pouring boiling water over hibiscus flowers.  It had a rather fruity taste with a hint of tea to it.  The main course consisted of two quesadillas made with more of the queso fresco, two real enchiladas (there is not much in them other than cheese), and sopes, which are thick corn tortilla cakes topped with spicy chicken.  We were also brought a large bowl of refried beans and cooked cactus.  The beans were not very popular because a number of people in the group had grown very tired of having them for breakfast every day.  Several of us tried the cactus, but it was not much of a hit, either.  It had a slimy consistency and tasted kind of like okra or green beans.  McCoy loved it. For dessert we got strawberries and cream which we thought rather funny, having passed at least fifty roadside shops that advertised that very thing.  By the time we were done eating, we were absolutely stuffed.

We were then taken on the tour of the factory and taught the process of making Corralejo tequila, which has won numerous awards and is known for being the best tequila in Mexico.  In order to make tequila, first agave plants are cultivated for ten years until they are harvested by the jimadores who remove all the long, spiky leaves from the plant leaving only the heart of the plant.  The heart is then taken to the tequilera where it is cut into either halves or quarters, depending on the size, because the heart of a ten-year-old agave plant can weigh as much as eighty to a hundred pounds.  The pieces are then placed in a large room where they are steamed for thirty-six hours.  After this steaming, they are removed and placed in a large machine where they are steamed again, this time for two hours.  Once this process is complete and the agave is completely cooked through, it is run through a machine where it is ground into a pulp and the juice is extracted.  This juice is then taken and distilled in big copper vats.  The number of times it is distilled helps to determine the quality of the tequila.  One time through the process makes mescal.  Two times makes tequila, and three times makes a more refined tequila.  The purified agave juice is then taken and placed in barrels and left to ferment for anywhere from two months to a year.  After that time, the tequila is bottled, labeled, and shipped out.

After being taught the process of making tequila, we were taken around an old house on the grounds of the factory and shown the portraits of the people who were believed to have lived there during the nineteenth century.  The house also had a large collection of very old, expensive clocks.  One interesting feature of the home was that it had double walls with a hiding space in between.  During the time of revolution, the men of the house would hide the women and money in the walls to protect them.  Unfortunately, if the men were killed, then the women were stuck inside to die.  We were told that when people are knocking down old houses or building additions to their homes, they will often find skeletons and money in the walls from when just such an event occurred.  Next we were taken to two rooms full of cans and bottles from around the world.  There was one wall dedicated solely to American sodas and a wide variety of very odd bottles.  Almost all of the bottles held their original liquid.  Next, we were taken outside where we could photograph ourselves standing behind headless mannequins so that we looked as though we were dressed in historical Mexican outfits.  Finally, we were taken to the gift shop where they offered free shots of tequila at the end of the tour.  What was odd about the gift shop was that, in addition to selling different types of tequila and souvenirs, the gift shop also offered a statue of the Virgin Mary.  Even more interesting, her statue was the cheapest thing in the shop.

The architecture of the factory was actually quite beautiful.  When we arrived, we noticed that many of the buildings were made by using old blue Corralejo tequila bottles.  The tile on the floor of one building was composed of the bottoms of old bottles while the vaulted roof was made completely of bottles with a chandelier also made of bottles.  One part of the factory looked like an old abbey because it had an arcade surrounding a courtyard.  Under most of the arches were giant vats full of tequila, which seemed very odd because there was a cross in the courtyard.

When we had finished taking pictures and browsing the gift shop, most of us waddled to the van to go home, too full to want to do anything else for a while.  However, two members of the group somehow still were hungry and so decided to get ice cream to eat on the way home.  Despite having gotten lost numerous times on the way to Plazuelas earlier, all in all the day trip was very informative and a lot of fun.


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