Veracruz and Catamaco

Catemaco Travel Blog

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11.19.08    Veracruz and Catamaco


Yesterday, 11.19.08 we said goodbye to our dear friends at Yuri Albu Campground at Costa Esmeralda.  Then the RV wouldn’t start.  Guess I haven’t been too “energy savvy” with the cab battery being an Optima Yellow-top deep cycle starter super-duper battery and all.  So I left a few things running and ran it completely dead over the 4 days of sitting there.  We’re just not used to staying in one place for long and having to worry about it.  Plus, I’ll bet the dying alternator did not do good things to my new battery.  But once again, Mike at the campground came to the rescue and jumped it for me while Lynn and George, Roy and Dalaina said “goodbye.”


We were able to pass our barely torn 200 pesos bill (about $15 U.S.) on to the government worker at the toll bridge booth.  Did you know that any torn or marked up money is not able to be changed by a bank in Mexico?  I remember the same concern over money when we adopted Lia in China.  But I was told that Pemex or the toll booths would take the money since they were government, but otherwise nobody would accept it.  “Cambio esta, por favour” I’m to state if someone tried to give me change with questionable bills (Change this, please).  Got it.


So we drove the free road Hwy 180 to Veracruz, following the Church’s directions for the easy bypass, and stayed at the El Rey Campground on the beach just 5 km from Anton Lizardo town, to the east of Veracruz.  Across the harbor, the lights from Veracruz twinkled after a gorgeous sunset.  The beach was littered and devoid of people and any warm feeling.  I think it had to do with the 40-50 mph wind coming directly on us!  Good gracious!  The camper was swaying and wind was whistling in through the oven vent.  I angled the RV a little low on the ocean side to make sure we wouldn’t be gusted over.


We got to the campground at 3 pm.  Bad timing.  Too late to take the bus into Veracruz, too early to go to bed.  Veracruz, like Tampico, ticket RV’s in town so you’re not allowed to go into town in the rig, even if you were crazy enough to want to. 


So we drove the 5 km up to Anton Lizardo, where they didn’t seem to fancy us very much.  We always feel conspicuous, but we didn’t get any warm feelings, but our timing was end of day and I think that is a busy time for most people.  We drove through the town today around 1 pm and people seemed much more pleasant.  While there, we tried to buy some food for dinner, but the two “grocery stores” were really just convenience store items.  We made our pasta/cheese/ham and peas for dinner out of desperation.


Then last night, the nice Swiss/Paraguay couple invited the only other couple there (from Victoria, British Columbia) and me over to visit in their rig.  That was really nice getting to talk to some real world travelers.  We had a great time. 


I thought it interesting that our Swiss friends were reporting “State Travel Advisories” for Guatemala and Honduras, but they were quite surprised to learn the U.S. has the same for Mexico!  Sitting there in Mexico discussing it, feeling totally fine about safety, brought into perspective the State Department warnings.  If we listened to them all, we’d sit home in our closet!  Meanwhile, the kids enjoyed reading in the rig – relished their time, in fact, without me.  It was a good deal.  J


Today we got up by 8 am and were at the bus stop by 9:12 am.  We waved at the first bus we saw a few minutes later.  A kind driver sort of explained where in Veracruz he was going.  He really didn’t know how to locate it on our map.  While we felt conspicuous, the folks on the bus seemed really easy-going.  In fact, they told us when to get off and to catch a second bus, which we hadn’t realized we needed.


So we jumped up and got off the bus, wandering over to two ladies who appeared to be standing on a median in the road.  They kindly pointed out that we should take a bus that nearly ran over us, so we backed up and got on.  Well, I got on, and Lia and Jazy, and while I was trying to ask the driver how much dinero, he started driving and Charles jumped on while the bus was moving!


This was the Chicken Bus from I-don’t-know-where!  A comedy unfolded as the bus lurched with crazy gear-shifting and we practically careened down the aisle of the bus.  All the seats were full but when a few guys saw us falling in their direction, they quietly and quickly vacated for the back of the bus.  It was a hilarious experience once we had a minute to think about it.  Charles, at one point, was on his knees in the aisle by Jazy’s seat just to keep from falling over.  I have NEVER been on a bus with a transmission worked quite like that!  Hysterical!


So Jazy managed to make it to the front of the bus during travel to pay for us (28 pesos total) and with the help of a fellow passenger, we got off sort of near our destination of the zecalo (central square).  We really exited onto the malecon (the waterfront walk), which we also wanted to see. 


Three cheers for Nuvi!  We brought the battery-run Nuvi GPS along with us in my purse and by programming in the Zocalo on it and occasionally pulling it out to see where we were, we found our way to there.  I’m not sure we’d have ever found the Zolcalo otherwise as most streets had no signs and it was not intuitive.


Veracruz is a large city with nice wide and new streets, colorful buildings, a Super Walmart and Sam’s Club, has many nice areas, and seemed to have easygoing people who were used to gringas enough not to really care.  The Zocalo has a pretty colonial cathedral, ironwork gazebo, and shady trees which made it strikingly reminiscent of a Savannah square!  We enjoyed time on a park bench with activity all around- shoe shiners, kids walking by with ice cream, etc until a bird pooped on my shoulder.  I was proud of myself for not shrieking, but instead calmly used our little toilet paper roll to remove what we could. 


We wandered off to find something to eat.  A guy at a camarones (shrimp) place directed us to the tacos we wanted… through this small alleyway to a small restaurant, whose name we cannot now recall.  Well!  This small alleyway was actually entry into a huge market full of stalls selling shoes (some were being made onsite), beautiful children’s dresses, special lotions with Jesus’ picture on the front, juice smoothies, etc.  There must have been 500-1000 different stalls throughout this huge street corner.  It reminded me of markets in China. 


So back to our lunch:  We sat on counter stools around a tiny lunch stall where a cute teenage guy took our order and then stood there and watched us eat- every bite.  It was hilarious.  Jazy and Lia really did not like being stared at and noted that two other people were also watching us.  The people were kind enough so I thought it was funny- no big deal.  We didn’t realize that the pollo (chicken) tacos were quite so tiny and at first just bought one each.  We ended up buying 13 tacos in all!  It cost less than $7 total, so we didn’t feel too bad about eating all that.  Delicious!


The next part of our field trip involved using our new Mexican phone card to call Ned.  Not so easy!  We tried about 20 variations for dialing and inserting the card.  Finally Jazy was able to talk en Espanol to the operator, who replied in English.  A few more attempts and she called Ned!  I was so proud of her persistence.  She wasn’t very comfortable with the whole street corner situation, and it was rather frustrating, but she did it!  


It was great to talk to Ned!  We have really missed calling him every day.  He is getting the Spot tracking messages, which he really likes, as he can see our location on Google Earth.  I have to say that Spot at least keeps him from worrying when we go several days between phone calls.


Okay, so we paid 200 pesos ($15) to zip back to the campground in a taxi, vs the 56 total pesos ($4) via buses. But we were ready to get down the road and not sure where or which buses to catch.  It was so much easier!  Besides, our cabbie really enjoyed seeing Nuvi, as he’d never seen a GPS before.  Fun!  I’d put the campground in as a point yesterday, so it was fun showing him the route (which he knew).


We were back by the 1pm check out time at the campground.  Zip-zip- we took care of business, got road advice from Eddie there, and headed for Catemaco!  We went back through Anton Lizardo as a shortcut to Hwy 180 east along the coast.  The Naval Academy is in town and we admired its entrance as we passed. 


Hwy 180 was a terrific road.  We took a 14 km detour to see our 2nd UNESCO World Heritage Site:  Tlacotalpan.  Here’s what makes it special:


Historic Monuments Zone of Tlacotalpan

State of Veracruz, Tlacotalpan Municipality
N18 36 30 W95 39 30

Tlacotalpan, a Spanish colonial river port on the Gulf coast of Mexico, was founded in the mid-16th century. It has preserved its original urban fabric to a remarkable degree, with wide streets, colonnaded houses in a profusion of styles and colours, and many mature trees in the public open spaces and private gardens… Its outstanding character lies in its townscape of wide streets, modest houses in an exuberant variety of styles and colours, and many mature trees in public and private open spaces.


We drove the toll road through town as far as we could.  There seemed to be so much poverty in the slums along the road to the town.  Standing water was in front of their houses, along with pigs, dogs, horses, chickens, etc.  It was an interesting environment leading up to the colonial town of Tlacotalpan, which was quite pretty.


Then at the end of town, it looked like a one lane road around a sharp turn.  Since I didn’t know if we could turn around, we turned around just before it.  Well, we tried, except a bus behind us blocked our returno.  Then a truck got behind us as we were backing up.  And the parking guard came over to look at the loco Americano to determine what I was doing.  It was exciting!  Everyone was patient and helpful and afterward I found myself waving thanks to everyone, including the guys nearby who were also watching.  Brother!  There is no dignity in international travel!


On the way back to Hwy 180, we came upon a cattle drive in the middle of the road, which was just like in Colorado this summer, but more cows.  Fun!


People have been very friendly to us today.  They seemed pleased to see us, if not a little shocked by a gringa driving a motorhome.  They spontaneously wave and yell friendly greetings out to us.  We had a good time smiling and waving to everyone, reminiscent possibly of the penguins in Madagascar, “Smile and wave, Boys.  Smile and wave.”  Or, being “Queen of the RV” as I declared myself today, more in tune with the Sweet Potato Queens – so we practiced our beauty queen waves and bestowed oh so many smiles.  Rather hilarious all the attention. It did my old, haggard esteem a world of good!  We waved at the trucks loaded with Army guys that went by and stared, the Federales truckload when we nearly ran head into them on a narrowed Catemaco road, and the military guys at the topes checkpoints- all of them just kindly waved back.  So we shall use every ounce of charm needed to avoid negative encounters.  That’s the plan.


We made it to Catemaco just after 5pm!  To get here, we drove 4 hours through some lush and lovely mountains, a little rainstorm, and numerous small towns with people selling delightful foods and wooden statues at the topes.  We’ve not been brave enough to buy more at the topes, but the people respond warmly to my smile, head shake, and “No Gracias,” as Bob in Ciudad Victoria taught us to say for many occasions.  We also enjoyed going through a college town and seeing several vehicles with huge stereo speakers bungied on the roof (including a VW bug).  Funny!


The El Ceiba Restaurant and Trailer Park is right on the lake in Catemaco.  The boats tied near the palm tree are the identical scene as in a picture in the Church’s book.  A kind person working at El Ceiba spent 2 years working in Dallas and knew beautiful English.  He helped us fill quickly the RV water and we parked along a wall near the waterfront.  Low tree branches made the back parking not possible. 


Out front at El Ceiba, near the street by the water, are trees all in a row in the grassy area.  In the trees are hundreds of LOUD birds.  Deafening birds!  Like, I had to put my hands over my ears when I got near!  So we parked as far away from them as we could in a nice level spot.  With electricity plug in would be 150 pesos, but since the birds are near the electric, we are without it tonight, so we got a night here for 100 pesos ($7).  The birds are very exotic sounding right now- I wonder what kind they are.  For safety, a night watchman is here until 8 am in the morning (there’s only one other rig and it is in the back).  I offered to tip him, but our new amigo said it was unnecessary as the he’s paid by the owner.


El Ceiba Restaurant is a lovely, bright yellow, open-air Mexican restaurant with exquisite blue tile floors.  We were the only ones there.  Lunch is the main meal of the day and after we left, the place closed by 7pm.  Did they just stay open for us?  Not sure, but we loved our dinners of chicken soup (most delicious ever!), steak strip with fries, shrimp salad, and shrimp spaghetti.  We couldn’t get over the number of shrimp served and we have yummy leftovers now. 


Dinner wasn’t particularly inexpensive at 400 pesos ($30) with nice tip, but we sure enjoyed ourselves.  Besides, there’s no food in the RV since we can’t seem to get into a real grocery store.  We did see a Soriana (like the huge store in CV) both in Veracruz (when we were in the taxi) and along Hwy 180 today, but we were racing nightfall.  AND attempting to read a Mexican menu, interacting with the Spanish-speaking waiter, and trying new foods are wonderful learning experiences not to be denied!  I am to teach.


We enjoyed seeing Veracruz, but we’re really happy to be in the interesting, smaller town of Catemaco!  Tomorrow, we explore!


We’ve been in Mexico now for a week yesterday and are getting more comfortable with the roads, language, money, and people.  Perhaps too the people are more relaxed the further south we venture. 


While our guard is not down, at least we are not terrified to drive on the roads or visit a restaurant any more.  I share this because I want others to know that 1.  We are not “fearless” and 2.  Fear is not in itself a reason to stop doing something.  If the fear is because something is different or uncomfortable, then just allow yourself time to familiarize.  Slow down, feel the fear, and do it anyway.  Perhaps feeling a wee bit scared or uncomfortable helps us grow as a person, live in the moment, and remember that we can rely on our ability to solve problems when needed- that all is not lost if things go a bit askew.  This is also what I want the kids to learn.

jcgc50 says:
Tessa and family

Your travelogue is great fun to read. Gayle and I are just getting started with our travels and reading about yours is an education in itself.

We got into Texas about the same day you left. Would have loved to meet you guys.

Jim Cummings
Posted on: Nov 23, 2008
travelpassion says:
Tessa, I love your last paragraph! Your kids have learned this from you already!
I agree! I want to push my personal limits of what I can do, where I travel, how I solve the problems that come up along the way. It is a great feeling of accomplishment! Life is a great adventure. Don't let unfounded fear hold you back! great advice to acclimatize and live in the moment.
When I come back from my traveling thousands of miles alone w/ my kid(s) people don't get it. They say "and WHY did you want to do that? Faith
Posted on: Nov 22, 2008
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