Vera Cruz . That fabled port on the gulf of Mexico through which the Spanish conquistadores entered the Americas and through which the wealth of Mexico went out in Spanish galleons to enrich the old world . Into this very port were being unloaded products manufactured at my company’s faclilities in India for distribution to industries throughout Mexico. This was one city I really wanted to see. I landed instead in Mexico city where the headquarters of the industries lay. Here , and in other cities , I saw a Mexico I never knew existed …..
My first surprise was the altitude at which this city was located — over 7200 ft. above sea level — with pine and oak trees in the upper regions. I was told by my hosts that once a vast lake — Texcoco — nestled among these forests. It was on this lake that the Aztec Indians founded their famous city Tenochtitlan in 1325 A.D. Today this lake has been filled in and replaced by Mexico city. No sign is left of the fabled gold of the Aztecs. But I found other treasures ….
I did know of the Mexicans’ love of music, and had listened with delight to many of their songs back home. But what I did not expect was a whole lot of musicians descending on the car carrying me and my business associates to work, and trying to persuade us to listen to their music ! I learnt later that they were the local folk singers called the Mariachi. It seems that the Mariachi congregate regularly at the Plaza Garibaldi dressed in their quaint black-suited attire, and belt out a variety of folk songs at all parts of the day and night , to the accompaniment of various musical instruments . That was a pleasant surprise! While I could’nt find the time to attend their live performances, I did carry home with me a compact disc of their enchanting music.
While being driven to various locations in Mexico city , I was again surprised — by the Mexicans’ love of dogs . It seemed to me that virtually every family had a pet dog ( though some of the very wealthy had a lion, leopard, or two strolling around the spacious grounds of their haciendas ). My hosts told me that Mexican parents encourage their children to keep and take care of an animal to teach them compassion and caring. A good practice, which some of the more religous extended to bringing their dogs to church with them!
Another surprise awaited me when I was entertained at the Palace of fine arts to a concert of Mexican dances. I did know of some very energetic dances endemic to some regions of the world ( including the Punjab region of my own country ). But nothing prepared me for the sheer exuberance of the dances of the olmecs , yaquis , maya and other native peoples of old Mexico and the later arrivals – concheros, paragueros, mariachi, sones and others. All to the accompaniment of blaring music from dozens of musical instruments including marimbas , conga and drums so beloved of the native Mexican peoples.
And then there were the expert weavers of Oxaca , 400 kilometres to the south of Mexico city . These were the Zapotecs who were known for their skill at weaving rugs, carpets, draperies and wall hangings nearly 1000 years before the Aztecs founded their capital Tenochtitlan . They turned to using wool for their creations once the Spanish came. Wondering what was so special about their weaves , I purchased a wall hanging . As will be seen from the picture below , the mesmerizing thing about this piece are the little white eyes of the llamas depicted – all in a straight line. Other designs on other creations have equally mesmerizing motifs .
The biggest surprise, however, was the absence of the fabled Aztec gold mines which were supposed to be the source of the treasures carted off to Spain by the conquistadores. The Aztecs did not know the art of extracting gold. Instead there were the silver mines of north central Mexico . Though the city I visited — San Luis Potosi – had no potosi ( silver ) , I learned that the neighbouring state of Xacatecas once had the richest silver mines in the world. These too came in to existence only after the spanish came . And what an existence ! By the late 17th century this one mine was producing 1/5th of the world’s silver. By this time the spanish had colonized the Philippines . Twice a year whole fleets of Spanish galleons, laden with silver, would set out from the mexican port of Acupulco for Manila in the Phillipines . It was this silver that swamped Ming China and other economies in the region ,and eventually led to the downfall of the Ming dynasty.
But the Spanish had even greater treasures in their possession , which unfortunately they did not develop. These were the vast territories in what is today the United States of America . In a short war with that fledgling nation in 1848 the spanish lost what are today the states of New Mexico, Texas, California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah and parts of Kansas, Colarado, Okhlahoma and Wyoming – a land mass of nearly one million square miles.
However, just over a hundred years later, it was the turn of the Unites States to lose – to a small and impoverished people on the other side of the world – the Vietnamese. Their beautiful country and its indomitable people are the subject of my next blog . Stay posted.