Monthly Archives: September 2021

Mexico Log – Day 3

We had a lazy morning of just hanging out in the hotel room, talking and laughing and enjoying the view.

I kept saying we are on Ragutzo time to Beth’s hilarity. Lalo’s family name is Ragazzo, but for some reason, I butcher it every time I say it.

Lalo’s mom had given up her car for us to use. It was a Kia that she had won at one of the casinos of Veracruz, so we called it our Luckia.

It seemed hotter and muggier than the previous day, and soon our motto was: “Walk like normal, Sweat like you’re running”

We went thru the coffee shop drive thru that had the same type of coffee lechero like we had enjoyed the previous morning, so we ordered that along with molletes (bread with beans and manchego cheese). I have promised to try all the local cuisine and according to Lalo, this is a fairly standard breakfast. It actually was nice and went well with the coffee.

Our destination of the day was to get to Lalo’s home town of Tecalutla, but there were some stops that we wanted to make along the way. We first drove to La Antiqua which is an ancient town.

A little history first: In prehispanic times, La Antigua was populated by a totonac settlement called Huitzilapan, which in Nahuatl means “in the river of the hummingbirds.”

The town of La Antigua was first known as Vera Cruz Vieja (Old “Vera Cruz”), as it was the settlement for the city of Veracruz from 1525 to 1599, when the settlement moved to the actual place where the port stands. The place was chosen due to its better protection from the north winds and the inhospitable sandy areas of the area of San Juan de Ulúa. The oldest church in the Americas was founded here by Hernán Cortés in the early 16th century.

The majority of the commercial traffic of the Iberian Peninsula and New Spain arrived through La Antigua for approximately 75 years. At the end of the 16th Century, when the Spanish returned to the settlement in San Juan de Ulúa, the town entered into decline and was renamed to “La Antigua” to avoid confusion with the new city.

I definitely felt like I had gone back in time as we walked the cobblestone streets and past the ruins of Cortez’s home and the main cathedral as we made our way to the river that was once the center of it all.

Along our walk, we encountered the Kapok/Ceiba tree that was in the main area – and where it might be that Cortez tied his boat up to – the river once came farther into the town than it does in current times. This was truly an amazing tree – doubtful that it was the exact tree, but lovely just the same.

We went across the walking bridge (puente – our word for the day-once more – or at least until I could remember this bit of Spanish vocabulary ).

On the other side, I was looking for a spot that I could take a photo of the bridge, and beneath the bridge was a young man with a beautiful smile that matched the sparkle of his eyes. Lalo began a conversation with him and he had a boat and could give a tour of the river. We had already scheduled a tour in Tecalutla, so we said no. He then offered Lalo a cold coconut water to which Lalo said yes to. We followed him to a spot outside a home that had a few chairs set out. We sat while he took a coconut out of the old fridge on the porch and cut a hole in the top, stuck in a straw, and handed it to Lalo. We all of coarse wanted something cold and delicious, so he cracked open three more. We then met his twin sister who, once we had finished the coconut water inside, would pull out the coconut meat and put it in a togo plastic bag seasoned with lime or chili powder or combination. Their names were Victor and Victoria – definite twin names. Their Mama was there as well. She had a cast on her arm and they joked that she liked to spend time on the floor. (Poor gal had fallen more than once I guess)

I got to see what my beloved guanabana tree looked like as there was one just across the street from Victors family home. It was past it’s fruiting time, but good to say hello to it just the same.

We made our way back across the bridge and to the main square and toured the remnants of the house of Cortez. We had a guide to take us through and tell us of the times and remnants of the structures. Some walls were just still standing due to all the roots of the trees growing up and around the deteriorating walls. The original walls still had the coral that was used in the making of the walls. Amazing how preserved it was. Cape fig and Florida strangler Figtree are some of the species growing there with their roots so predominate.

Also in Antiqua, we visited the aforementioned first church ever built in Latin America. It was not open, but it felt significant and had so many beautiful plants and flowers in the surrounding area of it.

We tried to go to Quiahuiztlan, Veracruz – The spot where the natives first saw the Spanish ships coming into Veracruz, but the entrance to this was closed. Something for next time.

So we instead went to villa Rica Playa which is the beach area where those first Spanish ships had been seen. It was pretty deserted on the day of our visit, so we got to play around with a panoramic picture where we end up being in both ends of the photo.

We drove over many more Puentes on our drive that day.

We stopped at a cheese farm that had horses, peacocks (pavo reales), and cows. We bought queso for later and and palates (popsicles) to enjoy now. They had many different exotic sounding fruit flavors, but I opted for the guanabana. We had to eat the popsicles in the yard under one of their many fruit trees as they began to melt the moment they hit the air. Just along the fence where we were, they had several orange and lime trees and many others that I forgot to document. It was a lovely farm.

On down the road, we stopped at a little cremeria and had tortes (sandwiches) and purchased plantain chips of different flavors. This was in the town of Carranza. All along the stretch of highway between Veracruz and Tecalutla, there are countless little towns that consist of a block or two of shops and roadside stands. Some would be prone to be fruit stands at one town and the next could be the town where everyone had a stand out front selling tamales. Some had regular storefront enclosed buildings, but many were simple roadside stands.

The road we were taking had toll booths along the way and as the traffic would slow, street vendors would walk up to the car with bags of home made goodies. We purchased some of the fried plantains and what Sydney called tostaditas – super thin round wafer like sugar confections – so good.

We passed thru Gutierrez Zamora on the way to Tecalutla. Gutierrez Zamora is the competition town to Tecalutla. GZ has the bigger stores, the banks, more services, but tourists only stop there and opt for the smaller tourist town of Tecalutla to the dismay of those in the bigger city.

On our way to the family home and adjoining hotel, we did a drive around to get the lay of the town and get the feel for it.

That evening, we ate traditional antojitos of Tecalutla. Molotes (football corn balls filled with chicken tinga),sopes (smaller, thicker version of picadas),empanadas de queso, Bocoles – chicken tinga corn sliders, and part of a chilies n nogales – stuffed relleno with cream sauce and pomegranate seeds on top. Also tried pastel de elote which was basically a corn cake with a milk custard bottom layer.(leche bottom)

We then walked to the beach to see the gulf and walk off some of the food. I was pretty sure that flour tortillas were sacrilegious in this part of the country and Nebraska has nothing on the state of Veracruz for their uses of corn.

We stayed at the beach until it began to get dark and then headed back to spend some time with the family and then headed to bed before they decided they wanted to feed us again.

It was another great day.

Mexico Log Day 2

We arose not as early as we had thought we might- at 8 am -to see that we were indeed just at the waters shore. There was a beautiful pool down below, gathering clouds above, and the ever present ocean breeze.

We headed into downtown Veracruz with our first stop at a famous coffee shop. Here, they serve a shot of espresso in a glass and then the waiter comes by and begins the pour of milk into the shot of espresso. A perfect froth is created by starting the pour of milk from a tea kettle like pitcher close to the glass, and then raising it several feet high from the glass as he performs a continuous pour. We had sweet buttery buns with the coffee along with the standard rolls and pickled carrots, onions and jalapeños that get served with many meals.

After coffee, we walked across the street to the downtown main cathedral. Lalo provided harrowing stories of how the town’s people had once all locked themselves into the church when the Spanish invaded and over the weeks that they endured in their self captivity, people became desperate and climbed to the highest windows and jumped to their death. The original verses of the song LaBamba depict this experience.

We then took in the main square of that part of town, enjoying the feel of the trees, fountain and the architecture of the buildings.

Lalo and Sydney then took us to a favorite spot of theirs to eat. It was an outdoor spot by where the Newspaper building use to be. It is an example of a business plan of “do that one thing that you excel at, and that will be enough”, as you don’t get a menu when you sit down. You only say how many you want. You see, everyone is eating the exact same dish. It is rolled soft tacos filled with chopped pork and placed in a bowl and covered in the juices of the pork and adorned with fresh red onion. It was delicious.

We then took a drive to the other side of the bay hoping we could get admittance into the old fortress that protected the entrance of the bay. It was closed due to Covid, so we headed back toward the town side of the bay. This portion of the bay is fenced off and secure as it is where cargo gets unloaded. We stopped and went thru an opening in a broken area of the fence for a quick look and got yelled at by the guards at a shack just down the road.

Not far from that spot, we saw a Pelican, who wasn’t as lucky as we were and was stuck in barbed wire fence that ran along the inner wall around the shipping area. So many of the birds in the area looked like they could have come out of Jurassic Park that our conversations went from cartoons to talk of Dino extinction, to ecosystems, to politics and back to the amazing plants and birds we were seeing. All the while, Lalo would point out spots of history and interest.

He took us over a Crazy bridge. It was so steep and wonky – it was as if it had been built during an earthquake and so was set in a twisted form one sees happen to big bridges when earthquakes happen. – sometimes you must just experience the craziness and not get photos.

We made it back to the town side and parked and walked the malecon for a bit. The Maritime buildings are all there.

As we walked, Lalo pointed at some boys horsing around by the edge of the water. He explained that if you throw coins into the water, they will dive in and get them – kinda like a street performer, but in the water. We tossed some Pesos into water for the divers and true to the story, they’d dive the 8 ft drop to the harbor water and locate the coins as they drifted down and come up with a smile and the coin. One time, they also brought up a couple of Sea urchins for us to hold. They prickled their way across our hands before we gave them back to the ocean.

At one point on our little walking tour. Lalo procured for us some Ice cream from a bike vendor: guayavana, coconut and mamaey were the flavors we tried. Guayavana was my favorite.

We then drove to a place called Anita’s for picadas. We had mole, salsa verde, salsa roja and gordita – all delicious. Lalo and Sydney wanted us to try all of the specialties of the region and it was becoming quickly apparent that corn Masa in various forms is the main delivery system for meats, cheeses and sauces that are served with the various forms.

We then headed back to hotel for some pool time that included hand stands and swimming the length of the pool underwater. I wasn’t sure it was something I could still do, but Lalo challenged me, and well, sometimes you can’t back down on a challenge. Thanks Lalo, for showing me I could still hold my breath longer than I had thought.

We showered and then over to Lalo’s sisters place to meet up with his parents and niece and nephew for a drive to the small coastal village of Mandinga for seafood served right on the lagoon. I had cazuela de mariscos which was a seafood stew of sorts. It was delicious, but very filling. (I forgot to take a photo of the food here – likely because it felt like we had been eating all day). I was so full at this point that I seriously thought I could burst.

There was a tiny bridge (puente) across the lagoon that we went on and saw a guy pulling up something out of the mud – mussels or oysters or something.

We stopped on the way back and got ice cream again – none for me. This time it was packaged in the rind of the fruit that the flavor was. The Orange was in the rind of the a frozen orange. We also had Mamae again and it is like a small papaya. We also were behind a truck loaded to the gills with watermelon. I personally think they could have gotten 4 or 5 more on top. LOL

Matias road back with us and kept us entertained and laughing with his antics. He would contemplate a question with a hmm and tilt of his head and grasp of his chin. Soon, he had us all doing it.

We then went back to the house and played with the kids and visited with the family some more.

Lalo Sr. Could not stop himself from continuously offering us more drinks and treats. We joked that he was like the people walking thru the restaurant all evening trying to sell us treats and play us tunes.

Just when the family was about ready to go out and eat the night time meal, – they eat a nightly meal at around 10:00 pm – we went back to the hotel.

We met out on the balcony to enjoy the wind and see the lights of the boats and as we turned to each go back into our neighboring rooms, Lalo and Syd realized that their slider door had locked behind them and they did not have the room key on them to hand across the balcony for us to let them in.

Beth went down to the main desk and tried to explain the situation in English to a Spanish only staff. They sent her back with a key card that did not work on their room, so she went once more. All the while, we laughed about it and enjoyed a bit more balcony time. The next key worked and so back into the air conditioning we went and slumber-time it was.

Mexico Log – Day 1

The trip: Ten days in Mexico

The travel companions: my friend Beth, one of her delightful daughters Sydney (also my friend and nearly six months pregnant), and her Husband Lalo who is born and raised in the main places we are to visit in Mexico.

The trip began with a trip down memory lane, as right there in the Denver airport concourse, there are photos and memorabilia of airlines and their staff over the years. We took a moment to stop and take a photo of three generations of Adam’s women as Beth’s mom is there in remembrance as large as life.

The plane ride to Mexico City was good. We flew AeroMexico airlines and like much of this trip, it was a mix of the past and ‘the now’ combined. All the seats reclined and there was free food and free full beverage service as well. Not that I often drink on a plane, but I can’t even remember the last time I was offered a beer on a plane and wouldn’t have to pay stadium prices for it. The plane was not full and I had entire row to myself. Everyone on the plane was good with masks (I have flown in the past year where people were taken off the plane for not abiding). They also unboard the plane by rows and everyone actually sat until their rows were called and it wasn’t the free for all that is always the case on domestic flights. Quite amazing.

Flying into Mexico City was jaw dropping at how big it was. I can only imagine that living in Mexico City is like living in your own small country. You could never explore each corner and area. It is a high plains city surrounded by mountains, so it is cooler there than the coastal regions. The view shown in the photo below would be the same no matter which direction you were viewing as you literally cannot see the entire city no matter what your viewpoint is.

We had a two hour layover in Mexico City and found a nice little bar and ordered Margaritas for Beth and I while Lalo had coffee and Syd had a little cheesecake. The flight from Mex Cty to Veracruz was only just short of an hour, but again there was a quick snack and beverage service.

Lalo’s parents picked us up and took us back to the house that Lalo’s sister Paola lives with her two delightful children Matias and Meranda. It was after 10:00pm, but They had procured many different meat tacos – pastor, different porks, some kidney and something else that I couldn’t identify and they couldn’t think of a translation for – but still delicious – and salsas and onions with cilantro and limes and fresh corn tortillas. It was fantastic.

Paola spoke some English with us, but Spanish was the main mode of communication. I had never taken any Spanish classes in school, so my immersion into Spanish had begun . Meranda, who is almost five and doesn’t speak any English, would come over and speak to me so earnestly. I would try to discern what she was conveying, but alas I always needed one of my interpreters. I decided that given time, I could likely learn Spanish much more quickly being with her – as those dark beautiful eyes conveyed so much on their own and well, she, being young, spoke much simpler than all the grown ups with their rapid fire conversations. Lalo and Sydney translated most everything that Beth and I couldn’t catch on our own. (which in my case was everything)

After catching up with the family, we headed over and checked into a nearby hotel that they had booked for us. We were told it was on the coast and facing the beach, but it was dark and cloudy and we couldn’t see anything as it was now 1:00am and the hotel did not light up the back of the space. Luzma, Lalo’s mom, had given us her car to use, so we said we would wake whenever it naturally happened and then go explore Veracruz in the morning and some of the afternoon. We would then meet up once more with the family for the main meal – 4:00 pm or so.

Slumber came easily after a full day of travel.