Build Temples In the Sky, Because Why TF Not

This is how all buildings (and life) should be done

Time To Read: 7 mins | November 17, 2016

I love Parks & Recreation. For you poor lost souls that never watched this show, Rashida Jones plays a cute nurse that dates Rob Lowe’s fitness-obsessed character, and at one point she exclaims, “Jogging is the worst! I know it keeps you healthy, but God, at what cost?!”

Words to live by.

Exercise is number 4 on my Most Hated Activities list. That puts it ahead of flossing and being chased by a Yeti, but just behind eating artichokes. How some of you work out for pleasure is beyond me. And yet, I am single and pushing 30, so I usually do make an effort to sweat whenever my midsection starts inflating. I hate it, but I do it.

That all stopped when I moved south of the border. I didn’t even bring workout clothes because I was counting on Montezuma’s Revenge to keep my gut in check. And while that’s worked — I’ve struck a balance between tortilla ingestion and the trots — my physical fitness waved bye-bye weeks ago.

I bring all this up because I decided to visit some ruins. The pyramid of Tepozteco is one of those ‘must-sees’, a trip most every traveler to Mexico City eventually takes. Located an hour south of the city, the 30-foot tall temple sits on top of a mountain overlooking the town of the same name.


Also, it’s dedicated to the Aztec god of pulque, a thick alcoholic beverage. Which I support.

Getting there was no joke. I walked half an hour to a bus station, spent another half hour finding the one carrier that did shuttles that far south, bought what I thought was a croissant only to discover the pastry was full of old steak, then spent the entire bus ride acting as a pillow for the Asian gentleman napping on my shoulder.

Still though, it was the first time I’d been outside the city limits since I arrived. Mexico City is massive: pushing 600 sq. miles, it’s larger than sprawling Los Angeles by a margin and over twice the size of New York City, including the boroughs. So to get out of town requires a fair amount of driving, but once you make it, the views are spectacular. Rolling hills of squat green forests, peppered with the idyllic pueblo towns you’d always imagined. I spent the drive staring out the window like a kid on his first flight – careful not to move, of course, for fear of waking my cuddle buddy.

We were dropped off at a non-descript bus station, and here’s where my plans began to unravel in earnest. Because I’m allergic to planning anything (as several ex-girlfriends will attest), I hadn’t researched exactly how to get to the pyramid. It was on top of a mountain; I assumed I’d just look up, spot the thing, and walk towards it.

Instead, I had to stop half a dozen times to ask directions. My Spanish has improved noticeably in the few weeks I’ve been here, but communication still requires a fair amount of pointing. Here’s a sample conversation from that afternoon:

Me: “Con permiso, donde esta la pyramide?” (Excuse me, where is the pyramid?)

Strange Man: “Se camina [no clue] y [more no clue].” (You walk [no clue] and [more no clue])

Me: “Oh, si, si, gracias. Pueeees, es *points randomly*?” (Oh, yes yes, thank you. Soooo, it’s *points randomly*?)

Strange Man: “*laughter* No, *points opposite direction*” (Hahaha you’re an idiot)

In this manner, I reached the base of the trail. Getting to this point was no mere jaunt, by the way – the hike from the bus station to the mountain was a solid two miles.

And when I say mountain, I’m not exaggerating. The damned pyramid (I only read this afterwards, obviously) is a 1200ft climb up a combination of 50-degree staircases, broken boulders, and probably the crumbling bones of its victims.


Holy testicles in a blender, Batman. I’ve never been more winded in my life.

If the usually sixteen-inch tall steps didn’t get you, the altitude change eventually did. I was stopping for breath more often than John Daly stops for cocktails on a golf course. And because I’d assumed this would be a leisurely stroll and not the Batan Death March, the only drink I’d bought along was a double rum and coke. It eased the pain, yes, but did not do much for the lightheadedness.

I reached the top in just over an hour. I collapsed next to and seriously startled a middle-aged woman who mumbled in rapid Spanish as she power-walked away. At first I thought she panicked because some wild-eyed hippy-looking gringo was dying next to her, but later realized she probably smelled my 20-proof sweat.

After I was reasonably confident I’d survive, I sat up and took in my surroundings, and understood why people submit themselves to such torture:

The pyramid is cool, sure, but nothing mind-blowing. If it were at ground level, you’d ask a stranger to take a photo of your family in front of it, but later consider it ‘meh’ and delete it off your phone.

Thing is though, it’s not at ground level. It’s a 30-foot temple thousands of feet in the air, exactly where hundreds of tons of beautifully stacked stone has no business being. There’s no advantage to building this high, nothing gained from putting a pyramid on a mountain.

And that what makes it special. The Aztecs didn’t build it here for practicality, simplicity, or feasibility.


They did it because it was — I’m using the actual, literal definition of this word — awesome.

The Mexicans don’t bother with such paltry safety features as guard rails, meaning anyone can scale the side of the edifice and chill out on the pyramid. You can hang your legs over the side, set up a little picnic or, in my case, take a power nap on top of a ruined temple overlooking a scene straight out of Indiana Jones.

I woke up fifteen minutes later to screaming. A tiny white girl was running all over the top of the pyramid yelling about God knows what. This annoyed me – not because it ended my snooze, but that this 8-year old made it up a mountain that utterly destroyed my soul.

Eventually she stopped her banshee impression, turned to her father, and echoed my pre-nap thoughts. “Why did they build it up here?”

I’d like to think it’s just because they could.


photo: one of the very rare times i took a photo about what i wrote. tepozteco, mexico

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Malcolm Freberg
Malcolm Freberg
American writer living permanently on the road. Believes rye whiskey is superior to bourbon, Belle is the best Disney princess, and that selfie sticks should be snapped in half on sight. Hosted a travel documentary for AOL & played Survivor a few times.

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