We spend a great deal of time deciding how to classify an experience. "Is it a cultural experience?" "A simply pleasant place or experience?" or "A religious experience?" My experience today, at the Centro Ceremonial Otomi, simply defies classification. However, it was a rewarding experience, which while it does not fit in with the general profile of the majority of posts in this blog, which usually deal with churches from the XVI to the XVIII centuries, the Otomi Ceremonial Center is definitely an uplifting and rewarding experience.
We live on the western outskirts of Mexico City, and I clocked my drive back from the Centro Ceremonial Otomi to our nearby Interlomas Gasoline station at exactly 60 minutes, or 58 kilometers. Most of the drive is uphill, as Mexico City airport is 2,100 meters in altitude, our neighborhood is 2,300 meters in altitude, and the Centro Ceremonial is 3,100 meters high. I drove up route 3, drove past the old Otomi town of Jilotzingo, past Santa Maria Mazatla, past la Peña de los Lobos, past the Presa (a dam) Capoxti, past the Presa Iturbide (with plenty of trout fishing), and as I came out of the pine forest section of the route which opened up suddenly onto a large open field, las Canoasas, a nice place for a picnic, I took a left turn on a road towards the Centro Ceremonial Otomi.
Unlike so many monuments we have in Mexico that refer to our pre-conquest cultures, this monument was built not before the Spanish arrived, but in the late XX century.
The Otomi people were and are one of the five most important indigenous groups and languages in Mexico, with over 600,000 today. Half of them have some knowledge of their native language.
I always wanted to visit this monument, although my motives were not as purely academic as you might think. The first time I ever saw this Ceremonial Center was at the movies, a James Bond movie to be exact: "Licence to Kill".
This monument is as real or as fake as the art of the Renaissance in its quest to imitate and bring back to life a period of past glory. The Centro Ceremonial was built for contemporary needs, not as a pseudo museum or monument of the past. The Centro Ceremonial is used today to reenact dances and ceremonies of the Otomi Peoples. The Centro Ceremonial makes no false claims to the past, but rather to a living culture, which it tries to preserve.
A symbol of major importance to the Otomi people, as well as to all native peoples of Mexico, is the reference to corn, albeit in the form of the granaries, as we see here in these pictures.
The Centro Ceremonial has a lot to offer. The last 40 kilometers or 45 minutes of my drive was through pine forests. The air becomes cooler and cleaner. I went up on a weekday afternoon, and I was the only person on the winding road most of the time. It is quite possible, that there is a great deal more traffic on a weekend.
Who did I see up at the Centro Ceremonial? Mostly young people. A few high performance athletes working out. Young couples.
The Centro Ceremonial has a feeling of being detached. Separated from everything we contend with in our daily lives. Something similar to the feeling I had at the Montecassino Monastery in Italy last year.
The Centro Ceremonial gave me the feeling of looking out into infinity. Both architecturally and spiritually. Afterwards I questioned myself "Why didn't I say a prayer?" Although this might sound like an excuse, I was inspired to do something almost as sacred as prayer. I pulled out a picnic basket from my car, sat down below a beautiful pine tree, and had lunch.
The First Jesuit Missionaries in this zone used the following sheet of paper, or one similar to it, in the XVIII century to teach the natives how to pray the "Our Father" prayer in Nahuatl, in Otomi or in Tarascan languages. I found the original of the prayer in the Museo Nacional Virreinal at Tepotzotlan.
The pine tree forests surround the Centro Ceremonial on all sides.
The Centro Ceremonial is very children-friendly. It is an ideal place to take children. It has plenty of open space: 120 acres to be exact. The gardens are full of shrubs sculptured in the shape of bears, squirrels, rabbits and cows.
The entrance fee is 20 pesos, plus another 10 pesos for parking. The road I took was route 3. On the way up to the Centro Ceremonial, there are a few dams where you can stop off and fish for trout.
The Centro Ceremonial has picnic tables. These picnic tables are in the middle of a pond at the foot of the monument.
The claws of the jaguar reach out mercilessly in search of its prey. Our dreams? Our fears?
From under the shade of the pine tree, and with this view of the surrounding hills, I laid out my picnic blanket and enjoyed the "total experience"!