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The Long Road Home

 


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Report #10
Caribbean Coastline – Vera Cruz to Brownsville, Texas

April 20, 2007

Leaving Oaxaca we head out on a road that does not even exist on the gringo maps. Steve found it on a Mexican map and it looks to be a more direct route to the coast than the major highway to the south ...so here we go. What we do know is that it is the road to Tuxtepec.

The first 200 km is trying. We climbed to nearly 11,000 feet then back down to 7,000 then back up to 11,000 over and over again. While our poor old beast of a truck was grinding its way up and down I was pondering its advanced age - 11 years and considerable mileage - 219,000 km. Steep passes combined with pulling the trailer are really winding out that old engine. The steep downs are as bad as the ups. We already lost the breaks once on the road to Oaxaca so Steve is gearing down to slow our momentum, working the electronic brakes on the trailer and even the emergency brake at times. A little stressful, it all is.

bus wreckOne benefit of this “less taken” road is that there are few towns, so that means fewer topes to gear down and crawl over. That’s a blessing. But there is daunting evidence of how tough the road can be on vehicles. We pass more than one stripped wreck.

We make the half-way point, Valle Nacional in four hours and pull up a stool at the local taco stand for lunch. Plain jane tacos for sure ...nothing but shredded chicken in a taco shell and mucho piquante green sauce. Steve tried it but burned his tongue and now has a tummy ache. His theory used to be that if you burned your mouth right off then you could enjoy the rest of the meal because you couldn’t taste the hot sauce anymore. Twisted, I know. But he has now discovered that what burns on the way down also burns on the way out so he has lost some of his culinary bravado.

But the old fellow running the stand was really pleased that we stopped by for lunch. And we liked it that we made him so happy. People in these villages are so friendly and just love to talk. Their English is terrible, our Spanish is worse, but it is always a happy time when you exchange a few words and many smiles about whatever youjungle can think of – the weather, the donkey tied to the post, his pretty daughter, whatever.

The other thing worth noting is the beauty of the road. Once we’d climbed up to 11,000 feet we were above the tree line ...just scrub looking down on the pine forest ...then down into the forest - towering pines and macabre looking twisted trees covered in moss and lichens. Descending further, the scrubby pines morph into lush jungle – huge broad-leaf vines tangling over each other. Lower still, the hills are covered in masses of richly chlorophylled deciduous and oversized ferns, opening into lush green meadows with grazing cows and horses.

The cows stubbornly refuse to be confined, wandering on the roads and getting themselves into the most awkward positions – ever in pursuit of a sweeter blade of grass. Occasionally we see cowboys on horseback dragging roped livestock behind them so I guess they do try to herd them back inside the fences. Mind you, the rickety fences are more like a suggestion than a genuine impediment.

Saw lots of farmers ploughing by hand and burros being used to carry goods and sticks. Life does not seem to have changed too much in the past 100 years.

A beautiful drive and lovely cool too ...low 60s. The homes looked neat and well cared. They didn’t have that temporary “hovel built out of packing crates” look to them. They were solid and substantial and while modest, have lots of flowers and trees and benches for sitting in the yard.

Exhausted, we finally pull into Vera Cruz in the early evening. This city is Mexico’s most important deepwater port. For hundreds of years it has been Mexico’s gateway to Europe and the Americas. We learned about that in Acapulco – how the merchant ships would pick up freight in Asia, sail across the ocean to Acapulco where the goods would be offloaded and transferred by land to Vera Cruz, then re-loaded on ships for America and Europe.

Having just passed over the mountainous spine they would have traversed by foot and burro, makes me appreciate the luxury of travelling this perilous route in my Toyota 4Runner, however old it might be.

The guidebook speaks highly of the campground at the Balneario Mocambo. Some Albertans we met in Oaxaca also said this was a great place to stay but we are scratching our heads about that.

Campsite at the Mocambo Hotel in Vera CruzThe “campground” is a parking lot just off the beach. No water or electricity. There obviously was once, but the connections have all been pulled out and it looks like someone has taken a sledge hammer to the amenities. No bathroom except the public one on the beach and that is a horror show. Plugged toilets and three inches of fetid water on the floor. Women were hosing down their kids, with a hose. And not that I cared, but even this facility closed at 8 pm. Caught short, Steve humped over the chain link fence and broke in.

There was a cop on a motorcycle who seemed to be in charge. He insisted we pay him $15 US for security and that we park directly beside the garbage dump, literally. This was a dump for raw garbage from the nearby hotel – gross and smelly. We were the only ones camping here so once our “security” left for the night we pulled the trailer as far away form the garbage as we could.

We were not happy about this “campsite” but it was late in the day and we were already several hours past “exhausted.” The guidebook stated that this was the only campground in Vera Cruz or vicinity and that if we tried to pull a trailer through the town of Vera Cruz we’d be fined.

Thinking a nice dinner might improve our perception of the situation we headed out on foot. It was a very long walk under a very hot sun. Every restaurant we encountered was a beach joint with questionable hygiene hawking shellfish and octopus and other slimy stuff.

The quest for dinner continued. Another mile or two down the road we came on a “VIP.” These restaurants have some kind of relationship to WalMart, serving both American and Mexican food with a Denny’s style menu. Normally that is a turn-off, but at the end of a long trip it can be exactly what you need.

We walked up to the VIP, walked around the outer wall, pressed our noses up against its dirty windows and watched dozens of diners scarfing down their fries. We could not find a door in. Truly.

Exhausted, feet blistered, so hungry my head ached, I walked over to a the wall, sank to the ground and succumbed to the major meltdown that had been threatening all afternoon. Steve chose the strategical move and disappeared down a staircase to the underground car park, to “find the damn door to the restaurant.” Right.

Sitting in the dirt like the homeless beggar I seem to have become, I noticed a lot of people going into and out of a nearby pharmacy. I walked over to see where they were all coming and going to – of course, the door to the restaurant was inside the pharmacy. How could we be so stupid? Only in Mexico.

Retrieved husband from carpark and settled in for some perspective-delivering comfort food..

The whole situation at the campground was just not a good scene. We were the only campers in this derelict, no security parking lot on the waterfront. We were literally camped beside a mountain of raw garbage with the vermin one would expect in such a place. The scenario seemed to have all the ingredients for the next morning’s headline.

Over coffee and dessert we decided to leave the campground and go stay in a hotel for the night. The first one was $129 but had no vacancies. The second one was $269 and was also full. The third one, a Holiday Inn express was $229. We just couldn’t bring ourselves to pay that for a bed in a tiny room for one night.

So here we are, camped all by ourselves in the dark, on the beach. Not a nice feeling for sure. The sky is billowing with dark, heavy, clouds, the humidity is unbearable ..I am slick with sweat. Not a happy chapter in our Mexican adventure.

We go to bed and something wonderful happens – the restaurant that backs onto the street beside the campground has a great cover band and we fall asleep to the sound of all our old favourites – the Doors, Fats Waller, Creedence, Marvin Gaye ...you name it, they play it and they are GOOD!

Sometime around midnight a couple of really big tour buses come in and park beside us. I guess they drop their passengers off at a nice hotel then the drivers park here and sleep in the bus. I don’t know if they would actually help us if there were trouble but it is comforting to have them so close by.

About 3:30 a garbage truck comes racketing down the street and I mean “racketing!” Peaking through the curtains I see three guys jump off the back and rattle the big metal gate of the hotel behind us. A security guard jumps out of his shack to let them in. I hadn’t realized he was so nearby. They drove their big garbage compacter in and spent the next 30 minutes sorting bottles and cans and having a merry old time yelling back and forth throwing big metal objects around and generally making as much noise as possible. I guess they figured that if the people in the hotel can afford to pay $300 per night for their rooms they don’t need to sleep . Eventually they yelled for the attendant, the big metal gate cranked open and the truck ground its way back out and up on the road.

April 22, 2007

By first light we were awake and on the road again. Had enough of that place, for sure.North from Vera Cruz

Spent the best part of the day driving north, along the Emerald Coast. This is a lovely drive through lush jungle-like terrain. Humongous ferns and palms and vines growing over the trees. Lots of beautiful bougainvillea and a flowering trees that looked a lot like pink dogwoods, orange groves and pineapple fields and mango trees; acres of bananas and cocoanut plantations. Obviously an abundance of rain on the Caribbean side of Mexico.

The Emerald Coast is one very long beach – a snowbird retreat with dozens of RV parks. We chose the Neptuno ...sounded good in the book. What we saw of the Neputno Resort on Emerald Coastothers indicated they would be similar.

The Neptuno is located right on the beach – grass-covered parking spots with stone patios. Tall, mature coconut palms shading the soft green landscape. There is a huge, very deep pool which I really enjoyed. The local mamas, papas and grandparents were all lined up along the edge of the pool watching the kiddies ...and along comes the entertainment – me. It must have been a hundred degrees and therEmerald Coaste they all were, sitting in their long-sleeved shirts and full-length pants. Then there was me, parading around in a bathing suit. But what a lovely swim I had.

Took a long walk on the beach – unfortunately a boring grey-sand beach with no shells. Just a lot of very dead jelly fish. The surf was fair - probably swimmable but very cold and the jelly fish a certain deterrent.

 

 

Had dinner at the little restaurant run by the proprietress. Cheese quesadillas that she seemed to have deep fried. Pretty awful. It’s too bad. On our first night in Mexico we had incredible fresh tacos at a taco stand. A few nights later we had a wonderful meal in San Rosalia. Since then our experience with Mexican food has gone downhill.

Except that while we were sitting and reading a young fellow drove up in his car, opened his very clean trunk and indicated a huge basket full of fresh-baked bread products. Chose two croissant-style breads for breakfast tomorrow. 80 pesos each. Not cheap but they look delicious.

Only downside to this place is the usual. The plumbing does not work. Out of 8 showers stalls only two actually delivered water. The one I started in had lovely warm water. I was thrilled. It was weeks since I’d had a warm water shower. But I had just soaped up my hair when I realized that the warm water was now HOT water and there was no way to regulate it. I tore out of there before I got burned ...stumbling naked through the toilet block trying to find another shower that worked. The one at the end of the line managed a dribble of cold ...enough to get the soap out of my eyes. Good enough.

April 24, 2007

Headed for Ciudad Victoria today. It is an interesting drive – heavy, jungle-like foliage along the coast flattening out to lush grasslands as we turned inland. Pastoral vistas Road north to Ciudad Victoriawith cows and goats and ostriches and burros and horses all contentedly grazing. As they should be.

In terms of width and numbers of lanes, the roads on the east coast are a dream compared to the west or the Baja. For much of the day we were driving on four lane highways, making it possible to easily cover 400 km in one day. Very civilized drivers here too.

Wherever there is a town, there is a fruit stand and vendors. In a country that fruit standobviously produces so much fruit I am guessing that people are either growing their own or purchasing directly off their neighbours because the produce in super markets is abysmal. On the road though? Excellent and cheap.

The campground in Ciudad Victoria is quite nice. As usual, the snowbirds are long gone so we are the only campers. Think we nearly gave the manager a heart attack when she heard us in the bathroom below her apartment. But she was nice. Came out, hopped in a golf cart and drove to the end of the property to turn the water back on for us. Apparently the pipe is leaks like a sieve so she turned it on so we could have a shower and fill our water tanks, then drove back out and turned it off again. Toilets? Don’t ask. Went for a long walk and found some very bad pizza in a little neighbourhood joint. No doubt we are tiring of the Mexican adventure.

Mosquitoes are very bad here and we both have another dozen bites. Good thing we are taking the malaria meds because there is no hope of stopping them here. We spray and spray but they bite anyway, usually right through clothes.


April 24, 2007

Heading north today we were stopped at a final military checkpoint. Soldiers hunkered into bunkers or towering over us off the back of humvees – all with submachine guns pointed directly in our faces. Very intimidating at first look but they were exceedingly friendly and curious about Canada. Seemed amazed that we had travelled all over their country too.

The border town of Matamoros was trying. I think a sign got blown around or something because we went off on the wrong tangent completely in terms of finding the border crossing we needed – there are three different crossings here but only one allows us to get the vehicle importation bond lifted off the truck. As usual, we found it by serendipity rather than logic. Once we found the right office, removing the bond went very smoothly.

US customs was a bit of a trial though. They went through the trailer pretty thoroughly and asked a LOT of questions. At one point this agro-guy was yelling into my face,

“If you have ANY THING in that trailer that you are not supposed to have ...a fruit or a vegetable ..ANYTHING!!!! I will fine you big time, lady.”

Whoa cowboy. I went back into the trailer and tore it apart again myself, terrified there might be an errant onion that had slipped behind the pots and pans. By the time we got through it was late afternoon and we were exhausted.

In Brownsville we stopped at a restaurant and had a great all-American dinner. It was a cafeteria style place where you choose a main course then add your own side dishes. I had roast beef and mashed potatoes and beans and Caesar salad and tapioca pudding. Cost about $11.

Then we found the RIO RV park and it was like coming home. English-speaking owners oozing Southern charm. Got a great spot under a palm tree with free internet and a great laundry room.

In the bathroom all the toilets flush and they are clean and there is tissue in every stall. The shower is clean and it has hot water and cold water and I can adjust it to any heat I want. There is a little changing room attached to the shower stall and I can lock the door and when I use the sink to brush my teeth it doesn’t fall off the wall. All this for $22 per night – about the same as we paid most nights in Mexico.

I loved my time in Mexico ...but tonight I felt like falling to my knees and kissing the ground.

American plumbing rules.

Next: The long road home.


Unless otherwise noted all prices are quoted in US$ or Mexican Pesos. At time of writing, 10 pesos = $1 US or CDN.