Mexico's Guachimontones Ruins
Story and photos by Tim Leffel

An ancient set of ruins comes with tales of ancient intoxication.

The excavated ruins of Los Guachimontones rival many of the best in Mexico in terms of the overall effect: the setting, on a hillside over a lake, makes a dramatic link to a mysterious past. Occupied from roughly 350 BC to 350 AD, the ruins predate the Incas and Aztecs and don't seem to have any Olmec influence. The structures are unique in that they are based on concentric circles, not any kind of pyramid. Excavation began in 1999, under the supervision of Dr. Phil C. Weigand, who met me at the site.

Los Guachimontones

He says that obsidian mines and ample fresh water were the principle attractions of the area, then explains the setup of the site. Artifacts show us the concentric circles were used in a physical ceremony at key times. "After a long day of dancing, men would swing from a pole mounted at the top, going around the circles holding onto a rope."

There are blue agave fields adjoining the property, but it also turns out that the site has more than a geographical connection to Tequila. "They used to drink a type of pulque here," explains Weigand. "It was made from the bulb of a type of cactus. The problem with this stuff is, it keeps fermenting inside your stomach. So if you're not keeping tabs on how much you have ingested, it can really knock you out long after you stopped drinking."

That's not all they ingested apparently. Weigand ran down all the fermented beverages and intoxicants sampled by the people who walked these grounds before us, some of them sounding more fun than others. "There is evidence that they used peyote here," he explains, "but one of the strangest drugs is a form of Texas mountain laurel. It produces bright hallucinations that are the color red only." I pondered why that could possibly be a good thing when he added, after a pause, "The problem is, if you take too much of it the stuff will kill you."

Guachimontones ruins

What's a little talk about drink and drugs without some sex? The mystery residents of Guachimontones had plenty going on in that department too. Figurines excavated from the site over the centuries are not for the shy and repressed. The best places to see them on display are at the Museum of Fine Arts in Los Angeles and the Museum of Natural History in New York.

Despite the impressive effect of these ruins and a location only 60 kilometers from Guadalajara, you'll probably be the only one around if you come visit. Ask directions in nearby Teuchitlán or catch a cab from there: the site is missing on some older maps. You could cover the whole area in ten minutes, but that would be a shame. Linger for a while and soak in the view, pondering the effort it took to put together these impressive structures with just simple tools.

- Tim Leffel, editor

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