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

Xalapa (also spelled Jalapa…Jalapeño peppers come from the region) was our goal the next morning. A city of about 350,000, it is off the main tourist routes but has a lot to offer. Its Anthropology Museum is second in Mexico only to the one in Mexico City. Located at about 4500 feet, Xalapa has a much cooler climate than the gulf coast but still gets enough rainfall to have a lush, green setting for its mountainous location. It is a city famous for its culture, university, and arts. We wanted to check it out.

There were no trailer parks that we knew of in the city, but maybe we could find a hotel with secure parking for the motor home. If not, we had a five-year-old map put out by the state of Veracruz, which indicated that some camping was available in both Coatepec, a historic colonial city of some 50,000 just outside Xalapa, and in Xico, a town of about 14,000 beyond Coatepec. Each is a tourist destination in its own right. We wanted to see the waterfall at Xico. If we camped in one of those places, we could take a local bus into the city.

We didn’t have much of a plan. We decided we would go with the flow and see where it led us. As we entered Xalapa, we saw a sign for Coatepec, so we took it and found ourselves in a maze of streets with no further signs for Coatepec. Eventually we found ourselves in a hilly neighborhood of Xalapa, on a street with heavy traffic going both ways in what was to our gringo eyes one lane for traffic. The Mexicans do a graceful dance that I have appreciated more at other times than I did right then. I was still rattled from having passed the smoldering remains of a huge truck blocking traffic for miles on the highway coming into town.

Kelly parked, half on the narrow sidewalk in the usual Mexican manner, and we consulted our city map. We had no idea where we were. Kelly stepped out and asked a young woman running a little laundromat, but she clearly didn’t know to how to read a map. When we pulled out, Cando made a sound that was not good. I got out and discovered that the ladder to the top of our rig had broken off the end of a plastic drainpipe sticking out from the roof of the house. We discovered later that we had also banged the back corner of the motorhome on a telephone pole, causing us some damage. “If that’s the worst mishap we have today, I’ll be grateful,” I said. (It was, and I was.)

We continued, up and over another hill. These were not gentle slopes, but more like San Francisco hills. I could see how this city could inspire the kind of love that San Francisco gets. But in Cando, the hills had a roller coaster quality.

Then we were in heavier traffic, and with many little stalls along the sidewalks. It looked like we might be near a big public market. We both spotted a shady, level parking place at the same time, and Kelly glided into it.

“Wonderful!” I said. “I had just about had it with traffic.”

“It’s brunch time,” Kelly announced, and proceeded to cook up a good one. Once again, I appreciated his steady temperament

We figured out that we were right on the edge of downtown. So after brunch we went out walking, in search of a place to stay in Xalapa. We walked past a lake, through some narrow streets, and up into Xalapa’s central Parque Juarez, a very nice big square on a couple of levels with views out over the hills of the city and into the countryside. This park is very much the heart of Xalapa, and we enjoyed its beauty and liveliness. Many people were sitting in an open-air auditorium, where something was evidently about to begin.

But we were on a quest, so we kept on going. We walked all over the area, asking in hotels and being told they had no parking that we could get the motorhome into. Often they would suggest one or more other places. Most of the people we spoke with were nice, and some of them were extraordinarily kind.

A banner in Xalapa, Veracruz, Mexico

This banner flying by the Parque Juarez exhorted us that “The miracle consists of the change in oneself.” We were eager for a miraculous campsite.

The only place that was marginally possible had a brisk unfriendly woman at the front desk and a dismal room. It would have been extremely difficult to get Cando through the steep, narrow city streets packed with traffic, pedestrians, and sidewalk stalls, and into the not-level parking area. We decided against that one.

Besides talking with hotel people, we had a couple of nice encounters – one in a highbrow bookstore, with a very polite young man whose English was pretty good. We talked about literature and I also mentioned our lodging dilemma. He suggested that we could stay in an Auto-Hotel on the edge of town, and when I grimaced, he said we could stay in our motorhome and it would be quiet.

We had seen Auto-Hotels on the edge of several towns. They were essentially motels, with the feature that every room had its own little parking spot where big curtains could be pulled in front of the vehicle. This was to keep prying eyes from noticing who was there, as these places were meant for lovers’ encounters or for using prostitutes. We had heard that the décor in the rooms ran to the red velvet look and that pornography was often available on the VCR. An Auto-Hotel would be a last resort for us.

We stopped to pick up some goodies in a bakery where the bright-eyed elderly owner was interested in us and, grinning, announced himself the founder of Xalapa. The baked goods we got there were whole grain and delicious. He, his wife, and an assistant, all gave us differing bits of advice about how to get out of town toward Coatepec and Xico.

I had stayed generally cheerful through the several hours of meandering the downtown, partly because I had been noticing throughout the trip that the best things happened when I was in the best frame of mind. It was worth some effort to stay cheerful. Also, Xalapa is a lovely place. But now I was getting snappish.

Kelly and I agreed that the day had shown us that we are not really big city people. We knew this already, but this time it sunk in. We prefer a much smaller scale, a more tranquil life, less traffic. This realization would shape the rest of our trip. Also, RV travel is not very conducive to exploring cities; Xalapa was certainly proving that.

Back at Cando, both of us parched with thirst from the hot day, we had juice and a bakery snack and sorted out the advice we had been given. We studied the map and decided that a street called Magnolia, which the baker’s wife had suggested, was the best bet.

We went around the block and Magnolia wasn’t where we thought it would be. Kelly headed down a narrow street while I muttered “Bad idea!” We were on a residential road that didn’t look like it went anywhere. It became a dirt road. There were lush green grassy hillsides going up steeply on either side and a man lying in the grass, keeping an eye on his staked-out horses and cattle. We were low on gasoline, and I said we should stop and put our spare can into the tank. Kelly did pull over and we got into a spat.

“I’m not going to talk to you till we get to Coatepec!” I declared.

“Good!” Kelly said in a heartfelt manner. But I didn’t stick to my threat. We hugged and made up.

He pointed out that there was a highway in view up ahead. Maybe it would be the road we wanted. Fat chance, I thought, but it did seem like a main road anyway. I suspected it would just dump us back in downtown. We went up to it and could only turn right. I looked out the back window and saw a road sign toward Coatepec in the opposite direction so we popped into another hilly neighborhood, went around the block and got slightly confused but did get back on the highway going the right way.

[Next: we meet people in Xico, with ideas for camping.]

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