Home is Where we Hook-up

January 25, 2008

The good thing about relying on guidebooks….

Filed under: Travel,Travel in Mexico — Heligypsy @ 7:47 am

…beyond that some things change, they are usually right on the money.

Our second day driving in Mexico, we anticipated getting to Catemaco, Veracruz. This plan was against everything we had read about the next 200 miles of road. Church’s book says “You may doubt that it will take you 7 hours to drive only 209 miles…”, we blow off the warning, making reference to the error in our book about the Campestre Altamira, and reminding ourselves they are different sorts of travelers. We should make it to Catemaco easy!

Instead of backtracking from the Airport to the bypass, we found ourselves as lost as lost can get in the heart of Tampico. Big no-no, according to anyone who’s ever done it. The city is a network of one-way narrow paths, that quickly deteriorate from asphalt to rocks and dirt. Our good start for the day had been eaten up in figuring out how to escape the city – took us about an hour. No, we did not stop for directions. Sounds like we were lucky not to get a ticket being down there with an RV.

After a series of fluke-luck decisions and general attempts to keep a heading near to the direction we wanted to end up in, we found ourselves on the correct highway, paying for a toll that we had been expecting to see. Wow! Back on track, at 8 a.m. hooray! After the toll, the road just went to complete hell, which made us laugh at first,

“And this is the road we pay to be on!”

But the miles wore on, relentlessly dangerous. We learned that some of the potholes were almost worth our life to swerve in front of on-coming Semi-truck traffic to avoid. Humor became harder to find. It’s funny again, now, to look back on – like the one bridge that had a pothole – it was actually a full-blown hole – and you could see all the way through down to the water. A guy on a motorcycle wouldn’t stand a chance! We’ll see how funny it is on the way back. It became clear early on that we would not be getting to Catemaco.

The drive was not completely without merit. Besides maneuvering through dusty little villages, trying not to hit dogs, donkeys or little kids holding plastic bags of peeled oranges for sale, the road ran through some gorgeous mountainous topography. Having never traveled around Hawaii, I can only imagine the similarities as we passed massive banana, pineapple and orange groves – some of them growing off steep lush hillsides.

This seems to be the best way to transport the oranges,


And I laughed that we have traded the roadside veggie & olive oil stands in Greece for the fruit & honey of Mexico. These stands are always so picturesque, no matter what country.


Checking our map & guidebook, I suggested we make a slight detour and have our lunch at the ruins of El Tajin. We gave ourselves about a 3 hour break. Once we arrived at the ruins we parked in a tree covered, grassy area. I made tuna sandwiches and Keith chatted up the local “parking attendant”, or the guy he gave a few pesos to ‘keep an eye’ on things for us. Of course, Zoey would help 🙂 This was our first exploration of ruins so far on the trip – and my breath was completely taken away. I called my mom to tell her “Happy Thanksgiving” from beneath the famous Pyramid of Niches.


Most of what is visible at the site today was built around AD 600 or 700 and was unknown to present society until 1785 when an official found it while looking for illegal tobacco plantings. This Pyramid of the Niches is believed to have had 365 niches, suggesting the building was used as a kind of calendar. Keith and I wandered through the ball courts and pyramids, clicking away with the camera – ooooohh’ing and awwww’ing at the great discovery within this jungle. With our memory card full, and battery dead (both the camera and us, ha ha) we made our way back to the squeakster to hit the road again. We backtracked to get on the main highway, and headed for an RV park listed in our book, the Quinta Alicia – said they have internet!

As we made the final turn to the coastal road, we had our first and only encounter with a machine gun wearing bandito looking for a “propina for coffee?” I said no. Keith looked over at me and repeated, “No?” All the books say to say no! I stood firm, “No” I said it very politely, and the guy looked like his feelings were hurt, but not like he was going to shoot us. He waved us on. Keith asks me

“Did you really just tell the guy with the machine gun, ‘no’???”

I said “well, two things. One, I don’t even know how much a coffee costs around here. And two, if he’d have gotten out the squeegee and washed the windows like the kids at the stoplight, I’d have happily given him something.”

Keith says that in all his years, this was hands down the hardest day of driving he has ever done. We arrived in Costa Esmeralda around 4:45 p.m., a mere 209 miles from Tampico done in 6.5 hours driving. This is about when we stop second guessing the Church’s.



1 Comment »

  1. Wow, what a day! The ruins look absolutely fascinating. I feel chills just imagining seeing this vestige of ancient cultures. Too kewl.

    I love the comparison blogs, great technique.

    Yeah, so if a guy with a machine gun doesn’t stand a chance, I’d hate to be a brownie selling cookies at your door. 😉

    Comment by Laura — February 7, 2008 @ 6:53 pm | Reply

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