Costa Esmeralda es Bonita!

Monte Gordo Travel Blog

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Orange juice (fresh squeezed) from the tope seller near Alamo

11.14.2008    Costa Esmeralda


Today was exciting!  We drove through tiny towns and the middle of a busy city (twice), saw a UNESCO World Heritage Site called El-Tajin, were stopped by the Transisto Police who attempted to extract a bribe from us, and made it to a campground on the beach of the lovely Costa Emeralda!  That’s the summary, now here are the details:


Before leaving the campground this morning, the only other RV couple there stopped by on their way out to chat.

Citrus groves near Alamo
Roy and Dalaina are fulltimers from British Columbia.  We enjoyed chatting with them and they told us of a campground in our Passport America club that is along the coast.  We joined them here this evening at Albu Trailer Park (they call RV parks “trailer parks”).  But I’ll get to that in a second.


We headed down Hwy 180 this morning from Cerra Azul.  Dotted along the way are small towns with simple structures crammed near each other and along the road.  This area is known for citrus fruits and there must have been 100 roadside stands side-by-side selling fruit between the topes of each small town (Charles wondered, “How do they make any money when they’re ALL selling the SAME thing?”).

A school near Poza Rica


In our first small town, ladies were standing in the middle of the road on the topes with jugo naranjo (orange juice) in big plastic clear cups with a straw.  We rolled down the window and asked how about them.  We were so slow in finding the proper $10 pesos, that I asked if I could pull to the side and she was happy to walk over.  That was the BEST fresh-squeezed, sweet orange juice we’ve ever had and there must have been a half-liter or more of it -for less than a $1 U.S.!  (the exchange rate is 13-1)


It was supposed to be a relatively short 2 hour trek to El-Tajin (“El Ta-HEEN”) ruins.

Another school near Poza Rica
  Well, it was about 2 hours just to Poza Rica, which was the busiest town we’ve driven through.  Think of driving through… what?  Houston?  No, too calm.  Manhattan?  Too much distance between lights and way too clean.  Well, think “mayhem” and you’ve got the picture.  We played along and slowly dodged in and out and with many sources of directions (Church’s and the Sanborn log book and at 2 Pemex gas stations and the GPS), we managed to go in the right direction every time!  We couldn’t believe it.


El Tajin was terrific!  It is an ancient city of pyramids built around 900 A.D. and was just discovered around the 1950’s.  More is being unearthed and excavated even today.  In fact, we heard an English-speaking guide point to a hill and say that underneath is actually another building.  We really enjoyed the Pyramid of the Niches with its 365 window niches that supposedly correspond with the annual calendar.  Also, the ball courts where the losers became human sacrifices were interesting. 


Unfortunately, the English guide was already working with a large group and unavailable for hire (200 pesos or less than $20).  The map we bought was entirely in Spanish and only a few info boards were in English.  So, much of what we know was from preliminary research.  However, Jazy had learned about El-Tajin last year in History and plans to email Mr. Barr a picture.  It’s great to connect that learning!


Harriet (in 99 Days to Panama) and all the other book authors reported that one does not want to drive an RV through Papantla- that it’s far better to return to the Poza Rica mess.  Wow!  It must be really bad for Poza Rica to be the “good” alternative.  We heeded the advice and headed 10 miles back over the topes (traffic bumps) and into a massive traffic jam caused by a lone boy painting traffic stripes on a tope in the middle of town.  They’d blocked off one lane and all of the enormous trucks, buses, and cars were allowed single file over the other side of the tope by turns.  Remarkable timing for painting a tope in the city on a Friday afternoon before the 4-day holiday weekend (Independence Day for Mexico)! 


Jazy and I were just stunned that we didn’t hit anything with our mirrors and nobody hit us!  THAT is how close the traffic was.  It was by the grace of God, for sure.  There is a bypass around Poza Rica, but you must go through town to get to El Tajin, so no bypass for us today.


We finally made it to the west side of town.  Jazy was enamored with the jockeying of the traffic on the wide road with no lane markers at all.  People just made their own lanes and the fluid motion of avoiding each other was quite entertaining.  Really, driving anywhere in the U.S. should be laughably easy after this! 


For fun, we would give each other “points” if our wave and smile to a local got a return response.  It was interesting to see which of us had the courage to smile into their stare and then wave- and to be rewarded typically with an enthusiastic smile and wave in response.  We are quite an anomaly here- female gringas driving a big RV.  They just don’t know what to think of us.


We’ve seen very few RV’s on our trip south of the border.  Other than the few at the campgrounds, we’ve seen none on the roads.  We did see one pulled trailer with no license plate pass us- it was later pulled over by the police- but I think they were Mexican. 


We finally made it out to the countryside - up and down a beautiful country highway until a split to Veracruz to the left and another town right.  We signaled a left turn and noticed there were 3 police officers by their cars waving us down in the V made by the split.  We pulled in and the kindly officer asked if we knew a little Spanish and asked where we were headed.  When we told him Costa Emeralda, he went into some helpful directions about the road, a nearby gas station location, and how long it would take us to reach the coast.  Then he asked if it were just Jazy and me - I explained I had 3 ninos and some were sleeping (so he wouldn’t ask to come in the rig).  Then he got around to directly stating that the three of them needed “money for sodas” and I shook my head and said, “Oh, no money…” So he said it again and Jazy tried to tell me that he just wanted sodas, to which I told her to please wait (since she didn’t understand they were attempting to bribe), and then I returned my attention to him and told him again sadly, “no money.” 


An aside:  I have an under-clothes money belt on with my credit cards and real driver’s license, and a faker wallet in my purse that has little cash in it and a license copy if needed.  We were warned to never let someone have the real documents, so I felt prepared for this.  I also knew to get his badge number and fill out a form that I have should we need it for police reporting (got this from Rosie at the first campground). 


So, I think the officer understood that I was not going to give him any money (since we had not done anything wrong, I was not about to perpetuate this problem).  To save face, he gave me continued directions to Costa Emeralda (even though he could clearly see my GPS).  Then I said, “Gracias” and we shook hands through the window and I smiled and appeared to suddenly remembered how to say “Adios!” (like I didn’t understand much of what he’d attempted to do).  Then everyone waved and we went on down the road.  It was not very intimidating, that’s for sure.  They seemed like genuinely nice people, in fact.  But still, I did not appreciate the pressure and it was a bit stressful afterward when I considered it.  Next time I might just wave, smile and look delighted to see them, and then just keep on going- I wonder if they’d come after us…


So we moved fast then over a nice toll road for $31 NP (New Pesos- about $2.50) made it to the Costa Emeralda about 5 pm.  This is the “forgotten coast” along the Gulf of Mexico.  It is beautiful!  We are parked 2 sites from the beach - near our Canadian friends from this morning.  The campground has a lovely pool with a water slide that we enjoyed.  The gorgeous beach is just 20 yards away.  I can hear the waves as I type!


It is an interesting group of campers here.  There are our B.C. Canadian friends (we drove through Quesnel, their town, on our last trip), a couple from France who shipped their RV from Korea (need to learn more), another couple from Germany, and then Linda from Florida, and Mike from New Hampshire.  Mike now works at the campground and has been here for 18 months. 


Mike was terrifically helpful and so insistent that our rig would fit in this lovely spot near the beach, that I let him back it into the site himself.  And he did a great job!  I’m sure that I could do it, but after driving so many hours today, I was worn out and didn’t want to push my luck.  We have 15 amp electric, dump, and water here so that is 4 nights in a row we’ve had hookups in Mexico- far better than our situation this summer in the States! 


I have read that many people in Mexico have never been in a car and do not understand velocity- they walk everywhere and do not travel far from home.  Both young children and older people bike alongside the road, walk in it, stand alongside the road waiting for I don’t know what.  There are donkeys tied to fences near the road and chickens, bikes with pushcarts attached, etc.  Driving through these small towns with a dozen topes in a row is quite an adventure in itself!  I love to see so many people out and socializing, people of all ages.  While they are not loud or exuberant, they do appear satisfied, moreso that the people we saw further north near the border.


We also read that the agriculture area of the state of Veracruz makes it a very prosperous region.


We crossed the Tropic of Cancer yesterday and are now in the tropics!  We see jungle, lush greenery, rolling hills, bananas, palms, coconuts, oranges, and fruit we cannot identify.  Vanilla is a big crop from Papantla.


We saw the pole of the famous Flying Valadores at El-Tajin but they perform there on the weekends, I believe.


There were many, many sellers of embroidered shirts, jewelry, etc. at El-Tajin - far more sellers in fact than visitors.  The parking lot was not crowded and while there were about 4 buses, the site was definitely not crowded.  In fact, ruins are renowned for being problem locations for tourists and I had to work hard to make sure we were with other people as we walked around.


The weather here is predictably hot and humid, although not terribly hot.  We run the air conditioner in the RV cab all the time, but not the coach.  We’ve been spoiled from a summer in the arctic, but I think people here would not consider this hot at all.  We have been blessed with sunny weather for the most part so far.


We bought a vanilla bean at El-Tajin from one of the several older ladies in traditional dress who sold small items there (although not likely authorized, judging from her behavior when a guard walked our way).  I didn’t do very well on my bargaining - when I couldn’t find enough coins to equal the $1.50, I just gave her $2.00.  It is very disconcerting with the language and coin differences - some sacrifices are made in the learning process so we don’t drive ourselves crazy.  We now ask people to write down the price (or type it into the calculator) and we’re studying the larger Spanish numbers.  Our campground last night was cien et ciquinte (150).


Tonight our campground is U.S. $7.50 with the ½ price Passport America for 2 people, plus another $5 U.S. each for the third and fourth persons.  So for $17.50 we have a site, but I think it jumps to $20 or $25 tomorrow and thereafter (we plan to stay for a few nights).  While those seem to be high prices for Mexico, the location is worth it. 


We plan to stay for a few nights and take a field trip to a restaurant- we haven’t eaten out yet and I think we’re ready for that adventure (well, we did enjoy the grocery store prepared food).  Also, we’ll visit a laundry where they do it for us by the pound- awesome!  Self-service laundrettes are not common here and campgrounds typically do not offer washing machines.  We will take a cab to the grocery store too, as we’re running low.  Apparently cabs are only about 5 pesos to the store- or was that $5?  It is always confusing when prices are given in two ways ��" I’m sure the price changes with the customer.


I know not enough Spanish yet to bargain, but I’m working on it.  Last night I dreamed some Spanish, but I did not dream anything that I didn’t previously think I knew.  Not quite fluent by day 4.  Our Canadian friend said that she too was “learning Spanish, but the accents vary so much as we travel.”  I told her that if she could hear the different “accents,” then she was far more advanced in her studies!  Goodness!


The Costa Emeralda is an area of sunny, pristine, gorgeous beach with warm surf, which continue for about 40 km north of Nauvtla.  We are glad for our metric experience in Canada, as it is an easy switch for us now.  It took some time this summer to get used to the speed limits (km/hr), distances (m), grocery weights (kg), and gasoline (liters), but we can rattle off the conversions now.


Pothole Stories:  Our Canadian friends from the campgrounds today said that yesterday, on the bypass around Tampico (they of course have the Church’s book- “the Bible”), their trailer’s back wheels fell into the enormous pot hole, but they luckily made it out unscathed. 


One time yesterday, I had to stop and wait for oncoming traffic to clear so I could go into their lane to go around a pothole in front of a tope.  It was just too enormous to cross.


Today leaving the El-Tajin parking lot, I had to get near a pushcart and wait until he moved it because I knew that I could not hit the bus to the right and could not straddle the 2-foot deep pothole if he didn’t move.  So he kindly moved just a bit and I prayed through, I’m sure I was on the edge of the hole and skimming his cart.  Whew!  It’s enough to make me want an old, beat up Roadtrek!  Not a nice, new, shiny Sprinter version either.  Rather an old rig that could whack coconut trees, scrape over enormous topes, and play bumper cars in Poza Rica and still be okay.


Topes Stories:  Today, there were 2 topes in a row that were SO BIG that I wasn’t sure we could clear the levelers, generator, holding tanks, and steps under the rig, but I guess we did!  I didn’t hear any crunching or dragging.  Oh, it is an adventure!


We are starting to relax more when driving- although the conditions are still trying, we understand the signs and the system better.  System is too systematic-sounding.  Free-for-all.  Yes, that sounds better!  But in many ways, their methods make better sense, so I’m not knocking them.  We are certainly enjoying heading further south, although we now know that cities in the RV are stressful.  Or maybe they're just good learning experiences.  :)




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Orange juice (fresh squeezed) from…
Orange juice (fresh squeezed) fro…
Citrus groves near Alamo
Citrus groves near Alamo
A school near Poza Rica
A school near Poza Rica
Another school near Poza Rica
Another school near Poza Rica
Monte Gordo
photo by: TessaHill