Day 6 – Ciudad Madero to El Tajin to Veracruz

We were supposed to get up early this morning but I don’t do well with 6am wake up calls and apparently neither does Joe.  We got ready, packed up and headed down for breakfast at about 9 or 10.  It wasn’t a spectacular breakfast but we rarely stop during the day so whatever you get for your first meal should last.  From the moment we got up today until we finished paying our check and said goodbye to the front desk folks, it has been drizzling pretty steadily.  I want to believe some of our lethargy was hanging around because neither of us was excited about the prospect of starting our riding day soaking wet.  We couldn’t wait any longer because our goal for the day is to make it all the way to Veracruz which is about 300 miles (7 hours) with a stop at El Tajin for whatever amount of time we want to spend there.

Rain or no rain, we have got to get out of here but we were really thankful for the covered garage where we could assemble the bikes and prep for leaving while remaining dry.  We left the city and it, again, had a totally different feel to it than the previous few times out and about.  The streets felt like they changed ambiance like a chameleon to fit the mood of the day and it is as temporary as a passing rain cloud.  We encountered a fresh obstacle as the water started streaking across the riding surface.  In some of the small towns we pass through, the road maintenance isn’t spectacular which leaves tons of potholes.  Normally, this isn’t much more than a slight nuisance as you just weave around them as you make your way down the road.  When it rains however these potholes fill up and become puddles that look an awful lot like every other puddle out here.  You can ride through one puddle spraying water to either side and follow it up with charging into the next only to have the front wheel hit a pothole that slams the handlebars backwards in a body jarring, nearly-rider-throwing jolt that will make your brain shake.

We have been traveling through areas with decent population but today we seem to be diving deeper into the jungle.  It is a very interesting change and I think mostly because I am used to the environments we have previously been riding through, cities, farmland, rural, desert.  The entrance into the jungle came on subtly with mountains and mist.  Before long it was all around us like it was trying to swallow us just as it had devoured the ancient ruins we were headed towards.  If you aren’t paying attention it can be a little unnerving and slightly claustrophobic.

Like almost every other day of our journey we had gotten a bit of a late start so we were pulling into El Tajin at around 3pm.  It was a welcome stop as the heat was oppressive.  We pulled in to see rows and rows of vendor huts with some occupied and some completely empty.  It was quiet and there seemed to be very few people milling about which makes sense as the park closes around 4:30.  We were waived over by a few gentlemen that appeared to have their own merchandise cube.  They pointed down one of the aisles making us aware of a perfect parking spot right near the only open eatery.  We dismounted and exchanged a couple of thank you head nods while a small group collected to admire the bikes.  They pointed at various different parts and we locked up what we could on the bikes so we didn’t have to carry as much.  We journeyed to the restaurant nearby and perused the plastic wrapped single page menu.  I ordered a combination dish with chicken tostada, taco, and rice and beans.  Joe ordered a plate of veggies with similar rice and beans. Mine arrived with shrimp and I opted to eat meatless as well.  I was happy just to get some food in because I was so hungry and I knew we had some exploring to do.  I ordered my first horchata of the trip and enjoyed the familiar taste.  We finished in a totally empty dining area and wondered if we might be the only people taking in the sights now.  The visitor’s center was the first thing we passed through and with a quick glance we got an idea of the general layout.  The ruins of El Tajin start rather small, growing out of the ground like little rock piles but as we progressed further the structures get impressively large.  We knew we had to move fast but we wanted to take in as much as possible.  This was the first time I had ever visited ruins so they seemed pretty incredible to me but Joe decided about halfway through our visit that we definitely had to stop at Tikal in Guatemala.  Honestly, I found a few elements of the landscape that were interesting like the sport courts and the main temple but our time was spent discussing the merits of travel as we have seen them so far.

Joe has done much more adventuring than I but we both recognized the uniqueness of this trip.  We were grasping just how far we had come from NC and how much still lay ahead of us.  We were slowly breaking down the barriers of culture and language we have built over years of comfort and ease in our home environment.  We discussed how we are more and more open to following our whims as we dispel the warnings and fears carried down with us after a billion voices collected to advise us against making such a dangerous trip.  We found our way to the very back of the ruins where the largest structure was found and we shot our daily video right there.  On our way out we marveled at making it all the way through this entire area without running into more than a couple of other patrons.  The park was closing as we geared up and rode out the front gate.

It wasn’t long on the road that we realized we wouldn’t be able to make our goal for the day in Veracruz.  We opted instead to stop at a little hotel right on the water called Hotel y Balneario Playa San Pablo.  It was a gorgeous place and we were lucky enough to arrive during daylight so we could see the view.

The restaurant downstairs served burgers and drinks which was enough to keep me happy for the night.  The TV in the room was showing bad Nicholas Cage movies (Vengeance: A Love Story) but they became so much more with the Spanish overdubbing.  We settled in to relax and prepare ourselves because tomorrow is going to be 400 miles to Villahermosa.

Day 5 – Tampico

We arrived late last night and were totally wiped out so let me take this moment to get really excited, WE ARE IN MEXICO!!!  Alright, now that we are done with that nonsense lets get down to it.
We had the opportunity to enjoy breakfast downstairs offered by the Hotel Mediterraneo because they offer room deals with and without breakfast (desayuno) included.  We opted to get the breakfast which worked out well for me with some eggs and meat.  Joe struggled a little bit more because of the whole vegan thing but eventually he and the waitress were able to settle on an acceptable meal of veggies, beans and rice.  It didn’t look great to me but very few of Joe’s meals so far have looked great to me.
We set out into the streets of Ciudad Madero with our first priority to find me an ATM where I could use the only credit card I brought (Discover).  We took a right out of the Hotel Mediterraneo and headed down the street.  During the day we were able to see a lot more of the life of the city.  We were pointed in the direction of a bank which turned out to be HSBC.  I tried the credit card and was again refused.  This is not good.
The weather was warm but I was wearing normal street clothes instead of my armored jeans and heavy motorcycle jacket.  I decided I wasn’t going to let my financial woes affect my experience and we left the vestibule to enjoy the rest of the area.  We crossed near a new Wal-Mart and I thought I would try my luck inside.  We got a couple of waters and I stepped up to the register with hope in my heart.  The cashier swiped my plastic and for a moment I felt time slow inside the store while everything got very quiet.  After what felt like hours passing, I heard the receipt machine start to spit out it’s printed acceptance letter.  I couldn’t believe it.  It worked.  I battled with the idea of trying run through the line again with the goal of adding cash back to the charge but we decided to just move on.  It felt like a little victory.
The sun was high in the sky and it was scorching even with the little activity we were doing.  We decided to head back to the hotel where Joe was excited to try out the pool and I was going to try to eliminate the clumsiness of my packing.  I knew if I could create a pannier filled with sometimes items and one of more regular items, I would only have to bring a single case to the room each time we stopped.  I moved all the tools and resort gear to one side of the bike while my daily use and electronics was moved to the opposite side.  The revised packing went much quicker than I thought so I started getting to work on some quick bike maintenance.  I figured after all the miles I had ridden, it might be about time to clean and lube the chain.  Luckily the bike was in the garage and under cover because it was still really warm.  The process went well and I had a chance to give the bike a quick wipe down to eliminate some of the grit I had picked up entering Mexico.  It felt really good to have my bike looking sharp and new again.
Before heading out to dinner we had a few moments to go over the past couple of days and our expectations for the coming weeks.  We were both excited to finally be experiencing Mexico.  We were still pretty tentative about trying out our Spanish but we knew the opportunities would be plentiful in the coming days.
Our dinner plans were based on the suggestion of the man behind the reservation desk so we took a right out of the hotel and walked about a quarter mile down the road to a very purple bar on the opposite side of the street.  We stepped inside after ordering what we thought were a few tacos from the man right next door at Papi Pollos.  It was surreal.  On all the walls were posters of iconic 80s and 90s metal bands like Pantera, Slayer, Metallica and Megadeath.  Pounding through the speakers was a constant barrage of fiery virtuosos shredding as various frontmen screamed lyrics of sex and speed and doom.  It was such a huge difference from everything we have seen and heard since we arrived in Mexico.  It was almost a shock when our bartend arrived with his full sleeves of deep ink running right up to his wrists with flames, wearing a Cannibal Corpse t-shirt and spoke Spanish to us.  We stared at him for a moment before replying in broken sentences that we had dinner coming from next door but would love a couple of drinks.  Joe opted for a regional beer in a brown bottle while I chose some fruity mango smoothie with alcohol added.  Joe reminded me the smoothie was likely made with ice, which was made with Mexican water and for just a moment I froze.  Then I decided to jump in with both feet.  If I was going to get sick, I was going to get sick but nothing was going to stop me from enjoying my Mexican mango smoothie.
Shortly afterwards our meal arrived in a white paper bag.  It was heavier than I expected and I started pulling out the paper wrapped “tacos” so we could eat.  I tore open the first one and knew we had a bit of an issue right away.  What we actually had ordered was essentially just ham and cheese sandwiches.  I was okay with the mix up but my vegan friend was going to have a little trouble with the order.  He pushed his one sandwich over to my side of the table where I already had my two sitting.  Joe ordered beans and rice from the bartend and I set about trying to finish three sandwiches when one would have sufficed.  I hate wasting and traveling with a vegan who consistently is delivered meals he can’t eat was starting to turn me into a glutton.
I hammered two and half sandwiches and two mango smoothies before we headed home with our ears ringing just a little bit.  The sun was setting when we exited the bar and we meandered our way home with full confidence of our safety on the streets.  We remarked how unlike all the stories we had heard these streets felt.  We never had any issues and were met with several head nods and “buenos noches” on our way back to our hotel.  The street was lively with almost a festival like atmosphere.  Food vendors were sizzling away throwing sweet smelling steam into the pathways of pedestrians while families and old ladies strolled up and down the street, enjoying the cooler late summer evening.  It was the perfect snapshot of our first full day in Mexico.  It simultaneously crushed every expectation I had while fulfilling my deepest hopes for this trip.  I knew this would be a place I would return to at some point, hopefully with my own family, someday.