I really like Mexico.
Before I left about two weeks ago, I posted some questions at Lonely Planet’s very helpful Thorn Tree Forum. I decided to write a follow-up post, but it turned into something of a trip summary, so I decided to post it here instead.
I flew into Veracruz, a gulf coast town, looking for a little bit of sun and ocean time. The airport was small, but clean and organized and between directions from John (TT member RJ 1), my LP and some internet maps, we found our way around via Fermin’s white Ford truck. We stayed in the Fiesta Inn, which is basically on the harbor which was nice (we hadn’t seen each other in five months, so we wanted to stay somewhere a little luxurious) and the rest of the nights we were at his parents house in Libres.
Veracruz (the city) reeks something serious, but the weather was nice. We wandered around the centro, ate great seafood at La Suriana II and hit the aquarium. We also went on one of those boat tours out to what they call “Cancuncito” which was perhaps worth the $6 USD we paid, if nothing more than for the conversation I had with the boat driver while the the others searched for sea life on the glorified sandbar. My husband had fun, but this was just his second time in the ocean ever and I’m sure Mexico has endless better coastal areas to explore than Veracruz. I intend to see more of them very soon. =)
On our way to Libres, where Fermin is from, we headed south from Xalapa to go through Coatepec to Xico. I loved Xico. We went to the falls, ate some mole and bought some coffee and fruity liquers. I was surprised by how nice the town was. It’s nothing spectacular, but like some people said, worth wandering around for a few hours. Maybe there is money there from the coffee and the liquor businesses — the buildings seemed very well-kept, and it wasn’t touristy. We ate at a restaurant maybe eight blocks from the center called El Campanario, very good. A kid helped us park our car and then offered to watch it for us (we were sitting like 30 feet from the car) which was amusing, but my husband took a liking to him and invited us to eat with us on the patio of the restaurant. We ate mole, rice and some unique tamales with requeson and blue corn, and our new friend Uriel ordered a hamburger and fries. Ah, Mexico.
I was tempted to take back roads all the way through to Libres, but it was getting dark so we ended up heading north on the road we were on and then back to Libres via Xalapa, Perote and back north on 129 (I think). There are some really nice highways in Mexico, and there are some pretty bad ones. My husband has become a true Mexican driver, passing at will, comunicating with other drivers via his high beams, and searching in the dark for the dreaded surprise tope (speed bump). A random thing I noticed in a lot of the towns we drove through that the police (or maybe some gov’t security force?) have taken to wearing all black and carrying large rifles. Heading through Cuetzalan later in the week there were five of these armed guards chilling outside a local tourism office. They looked so inviting.
Anyway, another day we went to Cholula, site of a Spanish church built on top of a large, ancient pyramid. The wander through the excavated tunnels was impressive mostly because of how much you realized you couldn’t access, the amount still filled with dirt, perhaps hiding some interesting artifact. I shot pictures of Mexico’s main volcanos, Popocatepetl, Iztaccihuatl, La Malinche and the Pico de Orizaba, from the courtyward around the church. We spent another day in central Puebla city, visiting the Museo del Revolucion, where a guide led us through the colonial house where some key Mexican revolutionaries were murdered in 1910. We also hit the Museo Amparo, which features a plethora of pre-colonial artifacts and euro-inspired painting, sculpture and furniture. Both were worthwhile. Finally, I bought some sweet-potato snacks (camote) and a piece of blue and white talavera pottery for my grandmother.
Yet another day we headed north to Cuetzalan, at the suggestion of TT member Larpman and my LP guide. Like Xico, Cuetzalan was very charming. However, we were under the impression it was 80 km from Libres. It may have been, but it took us more than two hours to get there — the road was VERY wind-y, we left too late in the morning, and despite having a very strong stomach, I was on the verge of carsickness. Had we not brought my brother-in-law and his girlfriend (whose dad didn’t know we had taken her out of Libres) we would have stayed the night in order to spend more time and not have to drive back at night.
We decided to hit the waterfalls and a cave that has a sign that says something like “Grutas Aventuras” just outside of town, but very unfortunately missed the ruins. We will definitely be back though, and probably stay at night or two. The cave was impressive. A little imp of a man was our guide, and for a total of US $4 we descended to what seemed like below sea level and then eventually huffed and puffed our way back up. The guide pointed out a few too many imaginary Virgen de Guadalupe images on the sides of stalagmites for my taste, but the whole experience was pleasantly surreal. A 10-year-old girl offered to lead us to the waterfalls as LP informed us would happen and on the way back we decided to forgo scaling down the wall of vines and took the long way, meandering behind humble houses and surrounded by coffee plants, kids playing soccer, tempting orange trees, roaming livestock, and back to town.
Libres, which is not an interesting town tourism-wise, does boast a nice view of the Pico de Orizaba from any number of roofs on a clear day. We wandered some nightly posadas, drank free ponche and mingled with my husband’s family and friends. I learned to make tortillas with my mother-in-law and ate healthy servings of homemade mole poblano, and a barbacoa made with a cross between a sheep and a goat humorously called a peliway (I have no idea how to spell this) in Spanish.
Pictures coming soon…