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Are human sacrifice and suicide bombers the same thing?

THE Aztecs and the Toltecs were among the cultures in ancient Mexico to most frequently sacrifice humans to the gods.

Basic offerings to the gods ranged from incense to flower petals, fruit and vegetables.

Even animal hearts and blood could be called for, with the jaguar heart the most important.

But, our tour guide told us, none were more revered than human blood and hearts.

While those sacrificed did tend to be those with no one to protect them - such as orphans, illegitimate children, prisoners or slaves - the act brought honour on themselves, their families and their whole community.

They believed they would become a God who followed the sun's daily journey through the sky - the highest honour a human could aspire to.

Even the ball games they played often involved sacrificing the winner, not the loser, to the gods.

If you can get in the mind frame that such acts are an honour, you might see why 1000-odd years later we have suicide bombers.

When anthropologist and tour guide Charlie Goff, who writes Charlie's Digs, made that leap during a tour of the Xochicalco ruins, it was difficult not to see the validity of the statement.

After this week's terror attacks in Belgium, as everyone is struggling with the "why" yet again, it's hard not to reflect on how long people have been dying in the name of God.

This UNESCO world heritage site, pronounced so-CHEE-cal-co, is an easy day trip from Cuernavaca in the Morelos state in Mexico.

The name is Nahuatl, a local indigenous language, and means place of the house of flowers.

Teotihuacan, which was the largest ancient city in Mexico and has the highest temple in the country (third highest in the world), was already ticked off the list, so expectations for Xochicalco were not high.

But it was fascinating, especially with Charlie's stories to bring the place to life.

This ancient city was built around lots of little plazas instead of one grand one like so many in those times.

The white stone ruins were once part of a commercial, cultural and religious centre for numerous cultures including Aztec, Toltec, Zapotec Tlahuica, Olmec and Mixtec.

Walking around, you can actually imagine life all those years ago - homes, markets, worshipping and sacrificing spots.

The site had an observatory used for astronomy but the inhabitants would refine their calendars when they joined with other cultures every 52 years.

The Quetzalcoatl temple has incredibly well-kept hieroglyphics on each side that tell the story of a visit from other cultures to adjust their dates.

Charlie, who told us the Mayans were well recognised as the best astronomers, said it was plausible the Mayans would correct their calendar first and then everyone else would make similar corrections "to see if they could get back in synchronisation with the council of gods".

This site is just one of many places in Moreles state worth visiting.

CUERNAVACA

Cuernavaca, where I was studying the Spanish language, is known as the place of eternal spring because of its near perfect temperatures year round and its gorgeous blossoms.

Stunning streets with the usual Mexican pastels splinter off the main square which is punctuated with stalls sporting helium balloons for every occasion.

The city's cathedral is behind fortress-like walls and has other chapels and temples within the compound.

The Robert Brady museum is a fascinating look into the life of one of Cuernavaca's most lively characters.

His 16th century home houses eclectic art pieces collected from all over the world in rooms decorated with eccentric tastes.

His home became a museum, as per his will, after his death in 1986.

There are loads of places to do Spanish classes in Cuernavaca but I can personally vouch for the courses at Cemanahuac where I visited much of the above during conversation classes.

That's what I call practical learning.

There also are fabulous salsa and merengue dance classes held at the Ideal spanish school at 7pm every Monday and Wednesday.

Apart from the hot teacher, there are lots of other Mexican guys willing to throw you around the dance floor as they learn the fun turns. *swoon* The other Cuernavaca must is restaurant Las Mananitas.

Well, only if you want to see pink flamingoes and peacocks wander past while having dinner or drinks. Otherwise it's pretty exxy.

TEPOZTLAN

Tepoztlan is another gem in the region; known as a pueblo magico which basically means it'll charm the pants off you.

It'll also take your breath away, literally, when you take the 2.5km almost vertical hike to a temple perched on a cliff.

It's tough going.  Especially when you've been up since 1am with a tummy bug, you've only eaten a banana since then and you've got a cold.

For me it took 80-90 minutes but I'm told many do it in 45.

Upon reaching the top, you'll meet some furry friends. Particularly friendly if you have food in your bag. Be warned.

The vistas below are truly gorgeous but there really isn't much to the ruins up top.

That said, myth has Tepoztlan as the birthplace of the Quetzalcoatl - the feathered serpent God worshipped across ancient Mexico.

See the photo gallery to make up your own mind about climbing up but, regardless, the town is worth a wander.

Great street art, fantastic markets and an interesting church.

Los Colorines has great food and a fabulous atmosphere. Try the quesadillas or the grill.

Equally colourful and fun are the local ice-cream parlours where they serve exotic flavoured nieves and helados - including alcohol flavours

Topics:  a latin affair editors picks mexico rae wilson


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