Friday, November 11, 2016

The Ruins Of Cantona

How do you start an all day road trip that will give you the opportunity to walk among Ancient Ruins that are so off the beaten path that very few tourists go there. You stop and pick up bread shaped like a turtle for breakfast, that is what you do. 

Today we were off to Cantona which are located about 2 hours north of Puebla. Aside from being off the beaten path and not a " touristy site, Cantona is one of the largest Ancient sites in all of Mexico. What I found interesting was that limited archaeological work has been done at the site, and only about 10% of the site can be seen. (There are opinions that only 1% has been uncovered). The happy road trippers we my partner in crime Lucy and the subtly funny Ashlynn. The best of the best as far as I am concerned when it comes to an adventurous spirit with outstanding attitudes. They make up for my grumpiness.

Non Meat Eater Turtle Bread

The trip itself, although a bit complicated, was easy enough. Starting with the 8:00 ADO bus to Puebla (140 Pesos) we changed to a VIA bus to Oriental (70 Pesos) and from there were found a Combi that took us the rest of the way for 180 pesos. The day started with a hiccup as we agreed to a 7:30 start but Lucy and I lolly gagged a bit and missed the bus, Ashlynn did not. We had a half hour to kill and after giggling a bit about Ashlynn looking for us we crossed Independencia Street to a small Torta restaurant that locals have said is arguably the best tortas in town. We were not let down with the sandwich and coffee (or fresh squeezed juice) costing 30 pesos. After devouring breakfast we climbed aboard the bus and two hours later we pulled into CAPU station to the smiling Ashlynn. Smart girl that she is was calmly waiting for us to arrive.

Double Trouble on the Combi
The trip itself was Tehuacan to Puebla, to Oriental to Tepeyahualco to the Ruins themselves. Tepeyahualco is the last small town before the ruins and although the town itself was grey and drab it surrounded a gorgeous yellow and orange church that might have been worth a stop but our destiny was Cantona.
As an aside there were various locals who wanted to know where we were going because this was definitely not Gringolandia. They were not being intrusive but curious and as we pulled into Oriental one generous guy not only told us where to get off, he left the bus with us and walked us to where the Combi's were making sure we were good to go. Mexico you continue to win my heart. As I said we could have taken a Combi to Tepeyahualco then changed to another but we over paid a bit to have a direct ride, and by overpaid I mean $2 each.

Free Admission
Free Admission is always a good thing. As teachers in the State of Puebla we receive free admission with our teachers card to any archeological site, museum and any other "Educational Exhibits in the State of Puebla", hurray!! I was half expecting a run down little caddie shack type entrance because of the remoteness of the site. I was slightly shocked to see a huge modern facility complete with an impressive museum, standard gift shop and thankfully after 2 large coffees and a litre of water, modern clean restrooms. Not knowing what to expect we entered the first "road" into the site and with each step we grew  excited and became chatty as myna birds.

Ken: Look a small tour group with a guide, lets go hang our near them and listen.
Ashlynn: We can go stand near that information plaque and speak English so they don't know.
Lucy: I like it, lets go.
Ashlynn: Or Lucy can try to speak Spanish and they will think for sure that we will not understand them.
Lucy: Heeeey, WTF!

First Climb
 The entrance to the ruins are a series of high walled "trading roads" that  were impressive in both there existence and what must have been serious planning and construction. This was no "drunk Mayan development" , these boys had skills.

I have been to quite a few Mayan and Inca sites including Chitzen Itza, Palenque Tikal, Copan and Machu Pichu but however Cantona was different both in feel and design. This was not a site with temples and structures laid out over the ground, there were designed walking "roadways" that led up to the first level of the site and we were not going to be disappointed. 

After a short first climb we came upon the first view of the Temples and Ball Courts which at first glance if you have been to other sites might not seem impressive. Then you stop and look around and the reality of the size and scope of the place hits you. Then you realize that only 10km has been uncovered and you look to your right and can see large mounds that are obviously temples and structures. The enormity of it is a bit over whelming and suddenly the adrenaline kicks it. It was time to explore.

Holy Crap! Where did this come from? Cantona is not only enormous but as I said before unlike other ruins sites I have been to, with maybe the exception of Cholula near Puebla. All the the temples, ball courts, alters, housing areas and other building are inter-connected by walled roadways and it is massive. It is protected on one side by a high steep mountain and over looks vast open plains which gave them what must have been a superior security advantage.

What is missing from any of these photos? Other people, tourists, hikers or even workers (they were there but they blended in). We stayed about 3 hours and counted 22 other people.

Ashlynn: This is incredible, there are no other people here.
Lucy: Your right, now both of you f**k off.

This is not a lack of tourism issue, this is a lack of knowledge issue. I have 52 students in 6 classes and not one of them have hear of Cantona let alone visited it and we are 3 hours away. This was the same for Eric, another teacher, who came later in the day. None of his 50 students have any knowledge of Cantona's existence. There must be funding from other sources because this place was immaculately preserved and maintained.

Wandering to take it all in there was information plaques located throughout and one caught my attention. Cantona was abandoned 500 years before the arrive of the Spanish. There is no evidence as to why but many thoughts having it run in parallel to the abandonment of Easter Island. Who knows and it did not matter but it keeps you wondering about these past civilizations and what they were up to.

After our time the girls headed out and I took about 15 minutes to sit quietly atop one of the tallest temples and quietly took it all in, as I do. It was peaceful and if I can say, spellbinding to think that over 90,000 people use to call this place home and only 10% of it has been unearthed, maintained and on display. There is just to much information to share about the life and times of Cantona which was enhanced by an interactive museum near the entrance. Mayan and Aztec societies must have been incredible...well except for all the human sacrifices and bloodshed.

Now the journey home. We headed out and of course realized there was no public transportation per say. We had asked our Combi driver if he would come back for us and after contacting him he said it would be an hour or so. Ashlynn asked a guide if he could help and of course he did. He called his friend who called a friend and a half hour later we were picked up and taken directly to Oriental by a random couple in an oddly out of place brand new car. It was so nice being in a car again. A chaotic ticket buying spree in Oriental and 10 minutes later we were on our way just as the rains came. Thank you Mayan Weather God. The trip home was broken up by a return stop at the CAPU station in Puebla and the McDonalds Mcflurry counter which seems to be my post hike snack of choice.

Next up for me is Tulum, a return to Chitzen Itza (1982) and if possible Teotihuacan near Mexico City. Two of my favorite things are climbing volcanoes and hiking ancient ruins. Mexico is the place to be.

As you can suspect photos do not do Cantona justice especially photos from a quick shot auto everything camera. However as long as there is one photo of Lucy's great hat then all is forgiven.
The greatest hiking hat ever!

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