Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Original Villages | Tlalpan: Chimalcoyotl, An Ancient Pueblo That Survives Being Run Over, Literally, by Modernity

The Challenge of Entering the Labyrinth of Delegación Tlalpan

For some time, we have been wanting to explore original villages within Delegación Tlalpan, the southernmost and geographically largest of Mexico City's boroughs. Through the good fortune of meeting a taxi driver who lives on the slopes of Mt. Ajusco, in the southern part of the delegacíon, we did get to Pueblo Santa María Magdalena Petlacalco for Carnaval. And through the continued good fortune of meeting la Comparsa de Chinelos (Moorish-style fiesta dancers) of San Lorenzo Huipulco at a fiesta in Coyoacán, we also got to that pueblo, which stands at the northeastern corner of Tlalpan, at the crossroads with Coyoacán and Xochimilco. But we had not made additional inroads into Tlalpan.

Delegaciones of Mexico City
Tlalpan is the large, mustard yellow delegación
in the southwest.

Except for a Metrobus line (double bus with dedicated lane and stations) down Ave. Insurgentes in the northwest, no public transportation line enters the borough, let alone crosses it. The light rail train from Coyoacán turns east at Huipulco and goes into Xochimilco. Instead of public transport, the delegación is crisscrossed by a labyrinth of major roads and expressways, including the Periférico (Ring Road) that circles Mexico City. Other roads originating in Mexico City's northern areas merge in north-central Tlalpan to form Route 95.

This highway travels south, climbing over a 10,000 ft. pass in the Sierra of Chichinautzin mountains at the delegación's southern border before dropping down 5,000 ft. to Cuernavaca, the capital of the State of Morelos. From there, called the Highway of the Sun, it proceeds to Acapulco on the Pacific Coast in the State of Guerrero. Most chilangos, Mexico City residents, know Tlalpan as simply the route to weekends in Cuernavaca or vacations on the beach.

Delegacion Tlalpan
Modern colonias, neighborhoods, hug the northern border,
surrounding original indigenous villages.
Other original villages are in the center, on the northeast slope of Mt. Ajusco.
The entire southern half is mountainous pine forest preserve.

Old Highway 95 and Expressway 95D cross from north to south.

The consequence for us is that it has been a challenge to figure out how to get to the original villages that exist immersed in the urban sprawl of northern Tlalpan or the still-rural villages in the sierra of central Tlalpan. The key had to be taxi drivers from the area who know their way around this Mexican labyrinth and the paths leading into the indigenous villages. Our regular drivers, based in Coyoacán, know how to get us to the central plaza in the Colonia Tlalpan, a most-pleasant, tranquil Spanish Colonial space, but other than major streets, they don't know their way around the delegación's pueblos.

Pueblo Chimalcoyotl, Village of the Shield of the Coyote

Our absolutely essential source of information on original villages is the Facebook page, Fiestas Mágicas de los Pueblos y Barrios Originarios del Valle de MéxicoMagical Fiestas of the Original Villages and Neighborhoods of the Valley of Mexico. This informational goldmine recently shared an announcement of the patron saint fiesta of Pueblo Chimalcoyotl (Nahuatl: Shield of the Coyote), in Tlalpan.

It is the Fiesta of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, on December 8, but as is typical, the fiesta is to be held the following Sunday. Our visit to the Church of the Immaculate Conception of Mary in Pueblo Santa María Tomatlán, in Delegación Iztapalapa on December 8, had led to our learning it did not hold a fiesta that weekend, so we were excited to find another opportunity to visit another pueblo, this time in Tlalpan.

Some online research led to our learning that Chimalcoyotl was originally a Tepanec village. The Tepaneca were a Nahuatl-speaking group that entered the Valley of Anahuac around 1000 C.E. and established settlements along the west side of Lake Texcoco at least two hundred years before the Mexica arrived in 1225. The Tepanec altepetl (city-state) of Azcapotzalco became the dominant power in the area until its rulers were defeated by the Mexica of Tenochtitlan and their allies in 1428. The Mexica then took control of all the Tepanec towns, including Chimalcoyotl, which lay strategically at the base of the mountains on the path to Cuauhnāhuac (later hispanicized into Cuernavaca).

After the Spanish defeat of the Mexicas in 1521, the Franciscans came to Chimalcoyotl in 1532 and erected their first chapel  as part of their evangelization and conversion of the indigenous people. During the Colonial period and up until the latter half of the 20th century, the pueblo was a rural one, dedicated to growing roses and maguey (agave).

Rest Stop on the Royal Road

Until the arrival of automobiles and trucks—and the paved highways they required—Chimalcoyotl was also a main rest stop for travelers and pack trains that had just come over the mountains from the port of Acapulco. For 250 years, during the Colonial Period, the Manila Galleons arrived in Acapulco from the Philippines with luxury goods paid for with Mexican silver. These goods were then transported via mule trains climbing 10,000 ft. before descending into the Valley of Mexico to arrive at Mexico City. From there, the goods were carried to the port in Veracruz on the Gulf of Mexico to be shipped on to Spain. The road between Acapulco and Mexico City was called El Camino Real, the Royal Road.

Chimalcoyotl held official status from the Mexico City government as an indigenous pueblo until the mid-1970s, but then lost it (perhaps related to government siezure of communal land, via eminent domain, for construction of the 95D expressway). Its residents regained official recognition for their pueblo in 2012, which meant they could receive funding from the City government for projects related to maintaining the pueblo's heritage.

Pueblo Chimalcoyotl 
(green/yellow star)
in north-central Tlalpan.

Challenge of Getting Into the Pueblo

For us, the challenge was how to get into the pueblo. We could find Chimalcoyotl on the online map La Ciudad de México a través de sus colonias, The City of Mexico via Its Colonias, which provides colored overlays of Google Maps showing all the colonias, pueblos and barrios of each of the sixteen delegaciones. It is our essential resource in finding where we are going on our Ambles. We found that, in terms of access, Chimalcoyotl is the quintessential challenge in Tlalpan.

Just as throughout its post-Conquest history, when the pueblo was a major stopover between Mexico City and Cuernavaca and Acapulco, it now lies precisely where the labyrinth of modern highways coming from the north of the city merge into the autopista (expressway) heading south! So instead of being a stopping point on El Camino Real, the pueblo has been virtually run over and walled in by these highways. How could we ever get inside?

lies at the crossroads of the expressway Viaducto de Tlalpan,
coming from the northeast
and Avenida Insurgentes,
coming from the northwest.
They merge in a huge traffic circle in the northeast side of the pueblo
to form the expressway 95D to Cuernavaca and Acapulco.

Old Highway 95 divides as it enters the pueblo from the south.
The northbound lanes then form another large traffic circle, to the southeast of the first,
in order to merge with other highways going north. 

Finding a Way Into the Labyrinth

We share our desire and our distress with Jenny, our spouse and partner in all things. After some moments' thought, she proposes:
"Well, we know two taxi bases in Tlalpan, one in Centro and one at Médica Sur (the large private hospital complex where all our doctors have offices). A driver from Coyoacán could take you to one of them, and it's likely the drivers there would know how to get into Chimalcoyotl."
We admit, we are always skeptical when it comes to previously untried proposals, but obviously, it is our only hope. So on the Sunday morning of the fiesta, we call our usual taxi base and walk out the door. The driver who arrives for us is Andrés, our very favorite for his friendly chats and knowledgeable driving around Mexico City. We tell him our desired destination. He acknowleges that he does not know how to get there. We tell him our "Plan B", to have him take us to one of the taxi bases in Tlalpan. Mexicans always have a "Plan B" as a backup for any endeavor, so he chuckles and off we go down the Calzada de Tlalpan, the eight lane southbound highway that was once the Aztec/Mexica causeway across Lake Texcoco.

At Huipulco, we turn onto Avenida Renato Leduc (named after a 20th century Mexican poet). The avenue passes Médica Sur and leads to the Center of Tlalpan, hence to both taxi bases—doubling our chances of finding a driver who knows Chimalcoyotl. As it happens, just as we get to the street that leads into the hospital, the avenue is closed—for a bicycle race! So we turn toward the hospital and go the short block to the taxi stand. We wonder if there will be any cabs there on a Sunday morning and are relieved to find two cabs waiting—and the two drivers standing, talking, beside the front cab. Andrés pulls into a nearby driveway. We pay him, but ask him to wait until we find out if they know how to get to Chimalcoyotl.

Getting out, feeling slightly anxious, we approach the men and ask the big question. They look at each other, chatting for a minute about where the pueblo is. Finally, one says, "Oh, it's where the kiosk is on the old highway to Cuernavaca." The other nods in recognition and tells us he will take us. We signal thumbs up to Andrés, who drives off, and get into the local taxi. We tell the driver of our anxiety that we wouldn't be able to find a driver who knew the way. In typical Mexican fashion, he reassures us, "No se preocupe. Está en buenos manos" | "Don't worry yourself; you're in good hands." We head south on a narrow street.

Soon we are on a wider, one-way road with considerable traffic. It begins to climb up the southern mountains. Shortly, the driver makes a kind of U-turn into a one-way road going in the opposite direction. This is the old divided Route 95. In a moment, he points out the kiosk ahead, sitting a bit uphill from the road. "This is Chimalcoytl," he advises us as he turns left into a narrow, cobblestone side street that drops downhill. We know immediately that we are in an old barrio. The driver stops to ask a man on the street the way to the church, as we have told him we are going to its fiesta. The man points back up the hill and says it is across the highway.

But at that moment, one block farther on, we see strings of papel picado, colored paper cut in designs that mark a fiesta, strung across the street. And at the corner, a small group of chinelo fiesta dancers are standing in their long velvet robes, but without their masks and headdresses. "The fiesta is here!" we tell the driver. So we pay him, thank him for being able to get us to our desired destination, and get out.

The Fiesta

Comparsas (fiesta dance group) of Chinelos and banda members fill the narrow, cobblestone street.
Blue and white of the papel picado are the Virgin Mary's colors.

We approach a couple of chinelos at the corner and confirm that they are preparing for the procession. Often for fiestas, the chinelos come from other pueblos, but they proudly tell us that they are Chimalcoyotle's own comparsa.

We had read on the fiesta announcement that at noon there was going to be a "reception" of other communities at a street corner in the pueblo. We weren't sure what that meant, but evidently, out of sheer buena fortuna, good fortune, we have happened on the designated street corner. Elated by our success, we take out our camera and begin photgraphing the action and the actors.

The procession heads off.
There are no statues of the Virgin or other saints carried on andas, platforms,
just two standards, banners of the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception
and of the Comparsa de Chinelos de Chimalcoyotl
It is a simple procession.

The comparsa of chinelos includes a number of young children.
The boy in white has totally mastered the rhythm of the dance moves. 

The images on their headdresses include:
the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception (patron saint of the pueblo),
the Virgin of Guadalupe (whose fiesta is two days later),
and indigenous "Aztec" warriors.

We are always fascinated by the colorfulness and inventiveness of the masks and headdresses.
We also always find the expressions of the staring eyes to be poignant.

As always, the cohetero goes in front,
announcing the approaching procession.

(Of all our photos of coheteros
this is the first time we actually captured the rocket taking off!)

The all-important banda follows behind.
This one is big on drums!

Reception of Neighboring Pueblos

The procession travels several blocks, with cohetes going off, the banda playing and the chinelos jumping and twirling. Then it comes to a halt and everyone seems to be taking a break. We sit down on a curb, warming ourselves in the sun, waiting to see what is next.

A young man and a middle-aged woman approach us. He asks if he may speak English with us. "Of course," we respond. He tells us his name is Isaac (EE-sahk), but that we can call him Isaac, English pronunciation. We stick with the Spanish pronunciation. The woman is his mother; she indicates that she understands English, but doesn't speak. He asks about our reason for being here, and we tell him of our passion for getting to know the area's original pueblos and the posts of our visits to them published on Mexico City Ambles.

We ask Isaac what we are waiting for. He replies that we are at the boundary of the pueblo, and they are expecting the arrival of representatives from other pueblos bearing the standards of their respective saints. They will join the procession for its return to the church. This is a simple variation on statues of saints from other pueblos joining a procession.

After some minutes, the guests arrive and the procession starts back into Chimalcoyotl. Isaac and I exchange Facebook addresses, and I promise to send him a link to our Google photo album of the fiesta and to this post, when it is published. 

With standards of additional saints, the procession returns toward the church.

The Virgin of Guadalupe,
from the Colonia Volcanes y Miradores
The Virgin of Guadalupe,
from Pueblo Tlalcoligia


Resurrection of the Lord
Colonia Pedgregal de las Águilas (Eagles)

The procession passes through an evidently new concrete archway
identifying Pueblo Chimalcoyotl.
It stands alongside the southbound, old highway 95 to Cuernavaca.

(A later check via Google Maps street level view shows no arch, confirming it is recent.
Pueblo Chimalcoyotl, with its renewed status--and City government funding--

as an original indigenous pueblo,
is actively seeking to make its existence known to the outside world.)

Having climbed a hill and crossed northbound Route 95,
the procession approaches the church. 

Text on archway to atrio:
"Bless your pueblo, my Mother."

Arriving in the church atrio (atrium)
The symbol on the flag of the Comparsa is the nahuatl glyph for Chimalcoyotl.

The simple stone chapel
was built by Franciscan monks in the 17th century,

replacing an original 16th century chapel. 
Text on portada (festival arch):
"Thank you, my Mother, for protecting us."

Chapel interior.
A small statue of the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception is surrounded by a fiesta arch. 

The hummingbirds, because they draw nectar with their long beaks,
are an indigenous symbol of sacrifice.

Adjacent to the original chapel, constructed in the same stone and square style,
is a new, much larger chapel, in a purely modern aesthetic.
Obvious architectural thought has been given in blending the new with the old.
 Text: "Most Pure Conception, bless us."

Mass in progress in the new sanctuary.
Along the right-hand wall are the standards of the visiting pueblos.

Some members of the pueblo.

Bi-national Encounter, an Invitation to Dinner, and a Farewell

While Mass is underway, we take some photos of chinelos and other people resting in the atrio and sit in the still-warm December sun. We hear someone call to us as an extranjero (foreigner). Turning in the direction of the voice, we see a group of young men standing together, so we go to talk with them. They have been responsible for stopping traffic each time the procession crossed the two parts of Route 95. They ask us many serious questions about current and future relations between Mexico and the United States. Mexicans are acutely aware that the actions of their giant northern neighbor have powerful effects on their lives. We tell them that, unfortunately, their worries are very justified. 

At this point, Mass comes to an end and the chinelos and banda regroup, preparing to leave. The men tell us they have to go, as the group is going to walk several blocks to a place where they will be served comida, the afternoon meal (a tangible thank-you for their participation in the procession). They invite us to join them. We thank them for their muy amable (very kind) offer, but tell them our old body is quite tired, and we are not sure we can walk that far. 

We accompany them downhill as far as the kiosk on northbound Route 95 where our sore back tells us we need to sit and rest on one of the benches. After the procession has crossed the highway, one young man from the group returns to again invite us to comida. We tell him that en nuestro corazón, in our heart, we would love to come, but nuestro cuerpo viejo, our old body, isn't able to walk farther. He says he understands and adds "no se preocupe". We tell him muchísimas gracias, our biggest thanks, for his generous invitation, and he leaves to join his companions.

Taxis are going by on the busy highway. We hail one to head back to Coyoacán. Almost immediately, the cab swings around the huge traffic circle that takes up a good portion of Chimalcoyotl and puts us on the Viaducto Tlapan, the modern bypass that leads into the Calzada de Tlalpan, which is not only the most direct route to our home but the ancient route to the heart of Mexico City.

Kiosk of Chimalcoyotl,
Such ornate, French-style kiosks are from the late 19th century era of the Porfiriato
(reign of dictator Porfirio Díaz, 1876-1911, who was in love with all things French).
Kiosks are common in the plazas of Mexican villages and pueblos. 

A Pueblo That Survives Being Run Over by Modernity

As we leave Chimalcoyotl behind, we reflect on what we have encountered. We are especially satisfied that we were able to find our way into this ancient crossroads pueblo, enjoy its modest but heart-felt procession and meet and talk with several muy amable residents of this original village. Most of all, we are amazed that it has managed to survive and even restore its identity, despite the roads of modernity that have literally overrun it. 

Sign next to the kiosk.
Its fresh paint also shows the attention the pueblo is paying
 to make known its continuing existance. 

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