Cañada de la Virgen and Museo de Astronomía Prehispánica

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Cañada de la Virgen

It seemed like a good day to climb a pyramid! The Albert Coffee tour of Cañada de la Virgen came highly recommended.  The Otomi Toltec archaeological site is located on the outskirts of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico and the tour is small and includes transportation to the site.  We decided to include the lunch and tour of the neighboring Museo de Astronomía Prehispánica to make it an all-day affair. 

Albert Coffee is an American archaeologist who came to Mexico to excavate and study Cañada de la Virgen and stayed. The tour is an academic-level introduction but Albert knows how to speak to the layperson and his tour was interesting and informative even to a neophyte. His website describes the site as “…. a true testament to the mathematical, astronomical and architectural genius acquired over thousands of years by its builders and their ancestors. The House of the Thirteen Heavens, the House of the Longest Night and the House of the Wind are three of the main structures. Occupied between 540 and 1050 A.D., they served as ceremonial spaces, elite residences, burial grounds and timekeeping instruments that are aligned precisely to the movements of the celestial bodies.”

Site Info

Cañada de la Virgen was only discovered in the mid-90s and is located on private land.  The owner of the land opened it to the public in 2011 and permits only a few tour companies. There are strict protocols and Albert explained that the owner could pull the permissions if they aren’t followed. You must stay with the guide and bring only a camera and water with you. Everything else stays on the bus.  The entrance is low key and non-commercialized.  You arrive at a nondescript museum building (there are public bathrooms) and wait for a bus to take you to an area to start the climb to the site.  The site is on 18000 acres, its 7000 feet in altitude, and the walk is rocky and uphill.  Even though the sun is beating down the dry air makes the walk bearable but its best to be accustomed to long uphill walks!  We’re here in April the driest time of the year so the grass is scorched and the few grazing horses and cows look pretty miserable and thin.  However, when the rainy season comes much of the land will flood and water will run fast through the culverts.  The grass will green and the livestock gain weight until the drought returns. 

Road to site, the man-made road takes you part of the way, then it’s a rocky path

The Structures

The main pyramid is noticeably central among the scattered structures.  I knew from climbing the Chichen Itza pyramid that the stairs would be very narrow and the climb steep. I was prepared and determined to get to the top.  Several people judged the climb not worth the potential fall or sprained ankle and chose to take in the view from the lower level.  Climbing up isn’t bad but climbing down is best done on your rear end or at least bent holding on to each step above, taking your time!  Once on the top you can see how the central pyramid relates to the other structures.  

Made it to the top without killing myself! 

The view from the top shows how dry and arid the area is.  There are a few oases with standing water but for the most part, the ground is dry and rocky. 

There are several explanation plagues in Spanish and English 

Our group of about 10-12 waiting for others to descend. 

Albert’s explanation of the precise alignment of the structures to the moon and stars and sunset and sunrise mathematics went totally over my head. However, it would be better understood after lunch when we met the expert of all this celestial stuff! 

Albert showing us around the museum

Museo de Astronomía Prehispánica

After returning to the museum with Albert we headed back to the minibus that would drop the three of us off down the road at the Museum of Prehispanic Astronomy

Dra. Rossana Quiroz Ennis, head of the Celestial Observation Program at Cañada de la Virgen is the true hero behind the understanding of the pyramid’s celestial secrets.   “The museum uses lightboxes, 3D and lenticular images to allow visitors to immerse themselves in the world of Mesoamerican astronomy.” explains the website. 

We weren’t quite sure what to expect of the museum and were a little unsure of being dropped off at a nondescript building in the middle of nowhere.  Was there a plan for getting back to San Miguel?  Having faith in Albert Coffee tours gave us some comfort and we marshaled on.  

The Museum, restaurant and Dr Ennis’ home

The museum is very near Cañada de la Virgen and is also the home and restaurant of Dr Ennis and her husband  Jesús.   Jesús is the chef and chauffeur.  

Museum entrance

An authentic Mesoamerican menu 

Dr. Ennis met us at the door and escorted us to a table in the back courtyard of the home/museum.  We were seated at a table overlooking the courtyard space with a few tables and an impressive outdoor kitchen grill.  Everything is authentic Mexican from the table cloth to the pottery ware.  

Back courtyard restaurant

Tables set with local pottery 

Outdoor kitchen

Menu

We started with a cold glass of something called Tejuíno made from fermented corn and piloncillo a natural sweetener, it’s served cold and it’s delicious and refreshing.  We did have a little trepidation about whether filtered water was used but Jesus assured us everything was made using filtered water.  The courses kept coming and we understood little of what the menu told us. There were lots of Xs in the words!

 Jesús explained some of the dishes we were asking about.  The meal started with guacamole and fresh salsa, homemade chips, then cooked cactus and peppers, black beans, Tamales de Mole (A mixture of ground corn, chilis and ground meat wrapped in a corn husk and grilled). There was a stew made from boar and corn.   The tortillas were called “Ceremonial Tortillas’  usually served for special occasions.  The dessert was called Xoconostle con Chocolate (sour Prickly Pear Cactus Fruit with chocolate) was “interesting” and is said to be very healthy.   The meal was served by Jesús who was quiet and friendly.  

Ceremonial Tortillas

Dr. Rossana Quiroz Ennis 

At this point, we hadn’t really met Dr. Ennis except for her initial greeting.  She was eating with a couple of women at another table.   Once we finished she met us in the museum.  It was hard to believe this down to earth young woman is a brilliant Astroarchaeologist. One who spent 10 years studying Cañada de la Virgen and came up with some astonishing new information.  Dr. Ennis spent over an hour explaining her work to the three of us.  Her English language skill was exceptional.  She was warm, patient, brilliant and charming.

Screens in the Museum section 

Rosanna explained that she was able to prove, through her 10 years of research of the Otomi Toltec pyramid, that their society was able to predict solar and lunar eclipses.  She showed how they used the alignment of the pyramid with the paths of the sun and moon to make the calculations.  Considering the fact that European cultures only understood the relationship 100s of years later is amazing.   

Getting back to San Miguel

I was so impressed with this young Mexican woman for her accomplishments and her generosity.  We wished her goodbye and were off in Jesus’ SUV for the 45-minute trip back to San Miguel.  An exceptional day. 

Our departure

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About

I'm in my sixties with the world at my feet and thoughts mostly of "where to next?". I retired in 2017, sold my house in Massachusetts and most of my furniture and "stuff." When not traveling you can find me in Florida in the winter and Rhode Island in the summer. Travel has been a passion from a young age, over the years I've discovered I'm a traveler, not a tourist. I prefer traveling solo, with a travel friend, or small groups. Whenever possible I would rather spend time in one place rather than moving around. I'll never turn down an opportunity to go to France, but my travels have taken me all over the world. I've met some incredible people and had some fantastic experiences.

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