Reaching a Slow Boil

    The first change that I noticed as I flew swiftly down from the highlands of Xalapa was the dramatic rise in temperature.  Whereas the morning had dawned cool and overcast in Xalapa, as I approached the low coastal plains I could almost feel my skin melting as the blinding sunlight pervaded the landscape.  However, it was my first day back on my chariot in over two weeks and I was well rested and anxious to arrive in the Port of Veracruz, my next destination.  And only one flat tire and a short five and a half hour ride later, I was there.  After taking one wrong turn on a road which had apparently been detoured, I redirected and was passing quickly in to the town center.  Fortunately, Aldo had gifted me a map of Veracruz before I left Xalapa and as I neared Paulina’s neighborhood, only a few blocks southeast of the centro, I consulted the map to check my cross streets.  At this point in time I wasn’t quite familiar with the word callejon, but as I rode the last two blocks to her apartment, I quickly realized that it meant alleyway, by the tiny little street that was wedged in between the clustered two story buildings on both sides – and only a half a block from the boardwalk along the ocean.

    When I arrived and called Paulina from downstairs, she told me that she would be right out, and after waiting at the foot of the stairs beneath her second story apartment, a sweet, and welcoming voice called down to me.  Finally, Paulina, the girl that I had been corresponding with online for the past several weeks and couldn’t wait to meet!  And she was even more adorable and sweet in person than I could have imagined.  Paulina worked as an announcer for one of the popular radio stations in Veracruz and listening to her deliciously witty and smooth words was a pleasure unto itself.  Once I had made the three trips up the stairs to lug first my equipment, and then the bike up, Paulina and I quickly got acquainted.  We had plans to head to the Zocalo that evening, so I didn’t waste any time in finding the shower (as you can probably imagine the state I was in after riding all day in that heat) and about an hour after I had arrived we were already hopping into her car and headed for the center of town.  When we arrived, we found a table amidst the rows of outdoor seating, surrounded by live musicians in every direction, playing all varieties of Mexican music.  It was a Saturday night and quite a lively atmosphere, and only moments after we sat down, her friends began to arrive, one by one.  By the time we were all assembled, there were five of us in all, and although they had all eaten, they were happy to sit and enjoy a beer with me while I tried one of the tortas which Paulina recommended (which quickly became my favorite dish – like a huge improvement on what americans call a sandwich, and even usually made with fresh baked bread).  I had soon assimilated into the group of friends, who apparently all worked for the radio station, and after we finished our drinks we headed out to hit the bars.  That night found us dancing and rolling in laughter around a table with two bottles of rum where Carlos and I quickly took a liking to one another’s senses’ of humor.

    For the next several days, I lounged around Veracruz in the stifling heat, just relaxing and not really having the motivation to do absolutely anything as the temperatures crossed the boiling point, the winds died to a dull stillness, and the humidity soaked through every new outfit as it touched my skin.  And although Paulina was both working all day and taking classes in the evening, Carlos’ schedule was much more open, as he was only taking a few classes and working sporadically.  Consequently, we managed to laze around the city together, heading to the beach one day, out to his friend Marling’s house on another, me tagging along to a birthday party that Carlos was singing at, drinking Micheladas (beer with salsa-like spices and a type of tomato juice) at a pool on the boardwalk by Paulina’s apartment, and heading to the movie theater at the Plaza de las Americas in Boca del Rio on my last day there.  All in all it was quite a languid, and although unbearably hot, nevertheless pleasant week spent in Veracruz.  But as the days rolled by all that I could think about was relief, and that meant getting out of the fire.

    So, finally, I left.  On my last morning there, Carlos came by and we sliced up cantaloupe, apples, bananas and pears, and breakfasted on them alongside some delicious sweet breads (no, not that kind of sweet bread).  Then we said our goodbyes and I was back on the road and sweatin’ it out.  But, the one relief of riding is that you create your own wind as you go, plus, you’re so completely soaked in sweat that hygiene seems like less of an issue – oh joy.  It wasn’t far to my first destination, and after a five hour ride I was arriving in the tiny little port town of Alvarado nestled alongside a high ridge which was wedged between the ocean and a wide open bay.  I hadn’t originally planned to spend the night there in Alvarado, but as this town was the first of three in a string of contacts which my mother’s friend Maria had helped to put me in touch with, and after a feeling the my skin smoldering in the bright afternoon sun for most of the day, I was ready for relief.  When I arrived at the town hall and found Maria’s friend, we chatted briefly, and although he was in the middle of his work-day, he was able to point me towards a nearby budget hotel.  And although this was around four in the afternoon, there wasn’t really much more of a story to Alvarado – I arrived in the hotel room, showered, and basically collapsed on the bed from heat exhaustion.  And with the exception of waking briefly after a few hours to find dinner and a bottle of ice cold water (no, of course the hotel didn’t have air conditioning!), it was back to sleep again until the following morning.

    When I awoke the next morning, I had only one task to complete before leaving town, and that was to find a local laboratorio and see if they couldn’t tell me just what exactly it was that had kept me in and out of sickness for the past several weeks (which I’ve mostly omitted from this journal, as they haven’t particularly been pleasant experiences and I think I do enough complaining about the part where I’m on a bicycle in the hot sun anyway).  Well, so there I went with my little sample in a lab cup, walking down the street of a little Mexican port town in search of the lab.  Didn’t take too long though, and fortunately the kindly lady who owned the lab told me that she could have my results for me in just a few hours.  When I returned I discovered that I had not one, but two little friends living inside of me and couple of days later, after consulting my references, I began a new regiment of medication.

    That afternoon I rode onward, and although it was not on my route, Tlacotalpan was a little town only a few miles inland from the coast which had come highly recommended to me, and in which I would find the second friend in my human scavenger hunt.  And what a pleasure it was to head towards Tlacotalpan.  After I crossed the high bridge which turned away from the coastal ridge at a right angle and gently sloped down to the coastal plains amidst endless fields and a wide river on the horizon, I was greeted by a perfectly flat, gracefully curving road.  The road ran along the deliciously sparkling, azure blue river, flanked by palm fronds and low, grassy, spring-green vegetation on all sides.  As I drew towards the end of the eight mile stretch in to Tlacotalpan, I began to see the brightly painted little structures of the town beyond a short stretch of palm stands.  The town appeared perfectly relaxed and sleepy, and again, although I had only planned to make a side excursion for the day and then return to my route, I found myself quite enchanted and in the mood to pass away the afternoon in leisure and had soon decided to stay a while.  It didn’t take me long to find “Paleta Pepe,” a kindly older gentleman whom I chatted with for a while in the shade of his paleteria on the corner of the lovely little town zocalo.  As we chatted, I enjoyed the lime paleta (like what american’s call a popsicle, but hand made, and yes, more delicious haha) which he had offered me, and as we finished our conversation he was able to point me in the direction of a nearby guest-house, which I would never have been able to find on my own, and which turned out to be quite a boon as the town’s hotel prices were highly overinflated (and the guest-house was wonderfully comfortable, and gave me yet another opportunity to practice my spanish with the sweet and inquisitive family with whom I spent the night).  The afternoon found me reading beneath the umbrella of a quaint little arched veranda cafe alongside the town plaza, sipping coffee and hand-squeezed lemonade well into the evening.  Once I had also finished off a yummy pierna torta, I strolled back through the dim and tranquil little streets to my home for the night, amidst the rolling squeaks of hundreds of tiny geckos which clung to the sides of the shadowed pastel houses.

    I awoke refreshed and ready for my ride the next day and after finding a fantastic little spot only a few blocks away for my breakfast (which was apparently quite popular with the locals), I was headed back towards the coastal highway and the road to Lerdo de Tejada.  By now I had grown quite accustomed to the heat, and although there had been a wonderful breeze in Tlacotalpan, I didn’t seem to mind the humid haze as I cheerfully road along the ridge, with the view of the gentle river way down below off to my right.  After a few hours I had descended down into a wide, flat field region and was making wonderful progress.  By early afternoon I had already reached Lerdo and began the hunt for the third and final member of my search.  Finally, after searching with some difficulty, I located the hotel which “Goyo” ran and was greeted with a warm welcome, as he had been expecting me for some weeks.  After a few minutes of getting acquainted, we were joined by his wife and I parked my bike inside as we boarded their car to head for a nearby seafood restaurant.  And what a restaurant it was!  I had the most fantastic ensalada de camarones (shrimp salad), not like a leafy green salad, but instead a dish of heaps of tiny little river shrimp in a creamy dressing with tortilla chips – yummm, I can still taste them now.  After lunch we headed back to drop of Goyo’s wife and then out to Maria’s family’s farm for a tour of the fields.  And a terrific tour it was.  After off-roading for several miles through the hilly green fields, we began to drive through high sugar cane fields, some still green and lush, others scorched and harvested.  Goyo explained the harvesting process to me and then we drove around to another side of the rancho where healthy cows grazed in verdant fields alongside a wide, beautiful lake at the foot of a low hillside.  We chatted for a while and then headed back towards town.  But on the way we spotted a makeshift outdoor bar, perched atop the pinnacle of a steep hill, made from just a few suspended tarps and slanted corrugated steel strips perched atop wooden pillars, and with bougainvillea and other shrubs for the walls.  Ah yes, this was the perfect bar, like a Corona ad, miles away from the ordinary, and with a leisurely view out across the rolling, tree lined fields off to the horizon.  As we continued our conversation at the little bar and enjoyed mini bottles of Sol, chickens pecked about in the loose sand around our feet and a group of three field workers laughed jovially at one of the only two other table on the hilltop.  The ambience and the beverages had put us in a delightfully relaxed state, and as we hopped back into the pickup and bumped along through the fields I felt glad to have made yet another friend in a far away place and was grateful for yet another one of the new worlds which I had been given the opportunity to peer into.


1 Response to “Reaching a Slow Boil”

  1. 1 Martha Montalvo
    November 29, 2008 at 10:34 am

    I am so grateful to you for writing this blog. I was born in Tlacotalpan (at least my birth certificate says so) although my mother says I was born down the road in Carlos A. Carrillo, Ver.
    I have not been back since 1998. We didn’t make the trip in 1999 because we were afraid the computers will shut down at midnight December 31st and we wouldn’t be able to come back home. (ha ha, I know) My mother still lives in Carrillo as well as her sister and other relatives. I am glad you enjoyed your trip. I hope to go back home some day.

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