A Quick Update

In 2010, we moved back to the small town in Colorado that I never stopped missing while we lived in Mexico. Now I sometimes miss Mexico, but I wouldn't travel as freely as we did when we were there, camping out in remote areas and so forth.

Mexico today is in a period of change, and in many ways it is more dangerous now. That said, I have plenty of American friends who still live there very happily, just taking a few more precautions than they did in the past.

Just to say!


Visit Expedia…

Expedia is my favorite place to book airfare, and they handle hotels, car rentals, cruises, etc. I like the organization of the site for figuring out what flights I want. Click on the suitcase to take a look.

I was very pleased to win an award for this blog! Even better for you: click through for lists of all sorts of award-winning travel blogs.

Tripbase Blog Awards 2009

Tripbase Blog Awards 2009

The next morning, we were up and out early. We had heard that Highway 180 south of Tampico was one of the worst major highways in Mexico, and indeed it was. We averaged about 35 miles an hour, circling around pothole after pothole and dodging other vehicles who were doing the same. At least there was a lot to look at along the road. The thick greenery was a treat for our eyes, since we come from a very dry part of Colorado. There were many orange groves. The road wound through gentle hills. Roadside stalls sold oranges, pollen, two kinds of bananas, and ornate furniture.

A common feature on Mexican highways is the tope, or speed bump, used liberally to keep traffic from going too fast in every town. Usually there are signs warning you, but not always. We discovered that topes rarely come singly. Kelly tried out a habit of Mexican drivers, realizing that sometimes you could pass a long truck while it was slowly crossing a tope.

“Honey, next year, if I start talking about another RV trip into Mexico, please remind me that it was a mixed bag,” I said to Kelly. Though nobody had passed us in a wildly dangerous manner, I was finding the heavy traffic nerve-wracking.

We stopped for lunch, pulling into a little dirt area just off the road. Normally, we would only stop in a place if there were other people around, as a precaution against theft or hassles. But this spot seemed fine, as the traffic was plentiful and could easily see us. Soon a pickup pulled in beside us, with several policemen in back.

One of them came over and asked if we were okay.

“Yes, thank you, we just stopped to eat,” Kelly said.

“Yes, it is the time to eat,” the policeman agreed. He then went into a soliloquy that we could hardly understand. It seemed to have to do with bad guys and coca. Did he think we were smuggling cocaine? No, it finally dawned on us, as his tone turned wheedling, that he was protecting us from bad guys and wanted us to give him some money so he and the others could go get a Coca-Cola.

“Sure, why not?” I said, and gave him 10 pesos, about a dollar. “And could my husband take a picture of me with you and your friends?” I asked. That idea made him very uncomfortable, so I let him off the hook. Local police in Mexico are typically poorly educated and very poorly paid, much worse than the state and federal highway patrols. It was to be our only experience of mordida, or “bite.” We were stopped several times at army drug checkpoints, but there was never any impropriety from the army fellows.

By midafternoon, we were in the small oil city of Poza Rica. It was a Sunday, and the whole town seemed to be out, driving, strolling, visiting. Traffic was thick. We would soon be heading for the ruins of El Tajin, but we needed to do some shopping the next morning. Our camping guidebook said that RVs could park on the grounds of a fancy hotel, so we went there.

But the palm-laden driveway to the hotel was blocked by several men and a barricade. The man we spoke with was surprisingly officious for a hotel employee. He kept asking if we had reservations, but when I asked if the campground was full, he didn’t seem to know there was a campground. I showed him our Mexican camping book, even though he didn’t read English. I hoped the hotel hadn’t been sold to new owners. We were ready for some peace and quiet after many hours on the highway, and the thought of going back into the hectic city did not appeal. Even here, at the bottom of the hill, the orderliness of the well-kept grounds was pleasant. I kept insisting that they let us through.

After a while, a man came along who spoke some English. He immediately welcomed us and told us to drive up the hill and go ask at the front desk where to park.

A friendly young woman at the front desk told us we could park in either lot. The hotel has two parking areas that are used by RVs. Both had the usual badly wired electrical outlets, and one of them had an open drain where we could dump our full blackwater (toilet and shower) tank. We got settled there, when a rushed young man told us we had to go to the other parking area.

“Seems like the right hand doesn’t know what the left is doing,” I grumbled to Kelly. But we moved.

The camping area of the Poza Rica Inn

Parked in the well-appointed grounds of our hotel

We were the only campers there, but there were a couple of late-model cars near us, with men sitting in them. Several nicely-dressed men were standing on the edges of the lot, staring intently at the hotel, where a lot of people were coming and going. A motorcycle cop joined the men standing around.

We were surrounded by security people, and some sort of big event was going on in the hotel. We thought it might be a wedding, but saw no bridge or groom. Top politicians, drug-money people, or simply the rich in this Pemex oil city?

I wandered over to one of the men and asked what was going on. “Important people?” I queried.

“Yes,” he said.

“Who?” I asked.

He just shook his head, with a slight smile.

“Ah, you can’t say,” I said.

We were surrounded by security, but did we feel more secure than at the end of the dirt road by the water? Not at all. It felt quite eerie.

We went for a walk in the neighborhood, and had a long chat with the security man at the front gate, the one who hadn’t let us through. Was it true, he asked, that in the United States, men could have two wives? We explained that it was not the custom to have two at the same time, but that divorce was common and so many men might have two wives one after the other. He was disappointed, and made longing allusions to the sexual freedom he had heard about up north. Every other Mexican we spoke with who wanted to go to the U.S. wanted to earn more money, but that was not this man’s dream.

The party wound down during the evening. In the morning, I went into the hotel and asked what had been going on. “The Governor of the state was here,” I was told. Kelly and I had seen a billboard showing the Governor of Veracruz, and she was a gray-haired woman who looked like someone I would like to meet. “If I’d known that, I might have tried to crash the party,” I said to Kelly, knowing that I wouldn’t have.

[Next: the glorious ruins of El Tajin, Veracruz, Mexico]

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