Lonely Planet's section on Veracruz starts, "Be Careful. Veracruz is intoxicating... both regal and trashy, Veracruz could make even the most stoic traveler wax poetic."
I'd have to agree, and it's a much needed respite from all the "prettiness" of San Miguel de Allende.
Veracruz is like nowhere I've ever been in Mexico, but more like a combination of everywhere I've ever traveled. The harbor reminds me of Baltimore. The run down, colonial buildings remind me of St Louis, Senegal. The occasional scent of urine, also reminds me of Africa. My hotel room is like everywhere I ever stayed in Southeast Asia- just nice enough with amazing air conditioning. The zocolo, is all things wonderful about Mexico- last night dancers and musicians filled the square, tonight it was wrestlers. Musicians stroll from restaurant from restaurant, along with hawkers and their watches, sunglasses, and flowers.
Veracruz is gritty, for sure. And even though a Hilton DoubleTree is going up next door, I doubt you'll suddenly be seeing a ton of Ameicans honeymooning here. But for me, it's perfect.
I wandered around a bit aimlessly this morning, unsure of what to do with myself. I ended up meeting Ricardo. Ricardo was trying to talk me into going on a boat trip, which actually sounded lovely considering the sweltering heat. But I was in pants, and needed my swimsuit. I told Ricardo that I'd be back around 1. Ricardo was not there when I returned, but a million other guys trying to talk me into a boat trip were, so I just chose one and got on the boat. I was accompanied by a Mexican couple in their twenties, another Mexican couple in their forties, and our captain, who was missing his two front teeth. Not a single one of them spoke English, which has been the norm here in Veracruz.
As soon as we left the pier, the captain cracked open a beer, left the helm and started mopping the floor. I tried my hardest not to freak out, as one of my reoccurring nightmares is realizing that I'm in a car and nobody is at the steering wheel.
I worked through my fear.
Until the younger man grabbed onto the wheel for a picture. Deep breaths. Take deep breaths. You know how to swim. And your wearing a life jacket. You're fine, Lauri.
It was all fine, until the older lady, who I later discovered might have some serious self-esteem issues, took the wheel. She looked pretty nervous up there, but not as nervous as I did, when the toothless captain started yelling, "Derrecha! Derrecha" Indicated that she had cranked the wheel do far left and we needed to even it out. He ran over and grabbed the wheel from her. Sweet relief. I never thought I'd be so happy to have the toothless, drunk captain back at the helm. He offered me the wheel next, and I declined.
We arrived at a sandbar out in the middle of the ocean. It's called "Little Cancun," for it's clear waters. Granted, I've never been to Cancun, but I doubt it looks much like this sandbar.
We bobbed around in the water fow awhile, while the toothless drunk captain searched for snorkeling gear. He passed out some ill fitting masks, snorkels and we set off. The lady with low self esteem was too afraid to put the mask on and the captain was trying to convince her that it was ok. I watched this drama for a bit, then put on my snorkle and took off. Nothing. I saw nothing, but little minnow type fish. Finally, the younger guy pointed to a darker area and told me "es bueno" followed by a thumbs-up sign. I swam my way over there. Yeah, it was alright. I'd seen much better in Cabo when I was younger. And even in Vietnam a few years ago. But it was bueno- the floor was covered in sea urchins and coral and every once in a while you'd see a fish swim by,
Suddenly, I was grabbed from the side, like I was being hugged. I fought back a bit, spit out my mask and came up for air. The toothless captain had ahold of me. He carried me back to the sandbar and set me down. From what I could understand, he was scolding me for swimming over by the sea urchins, because they can hurt your feet if you stand on them. I wanted to say, "I may be American, but I'm not stupid." I'd even settle for being able to tell him that I knew how to swim.
For anyone who has ever taken a foreign language you know that some of the first things you learn are stupid verbs like "to sing" and "to swim". I remember thinking to myself in high school how stupid this was. Who is going to go to France and walk around saying things like, "My name is Lauri I like to collect stamps and sing. And you?" But in this moment, all I wanted was to tell this guy that my name was Lauri and that I like to swim. But I dismissed that verb, thinking I'd never use it....
Instead, he gave the younger Mexican girl the same speech about the sea urchins and they bobbed off together, floating with life jackets on, and exploring the depths around the sandbar.
I put my goggles up and resorted to floating around in the ocean. I suddenly heard some shouting. I stood up, looked over, and the lady with the low self esteem, who also apparently could not follow directions in her own language, had floated too far away from the sand bar, tried to touch bottom, and stabbed her foot on an urchin. Oh, and she didn't know how to swim. And neither did her husband.
So the young Mexican swam over there, grabbed onto her and tried to get her to paddle back to the sand bar. I tried not to stare.
We all got back on the boat. The captain, opened another beer and looked at the lady's foot. I could not tell what the diagnosis was, but it didn't look pretty. We safely made our way back to shore. I tried not to kiss the ground as we landed, and instead settled for a beer and some ceviche.
I'm back at the hotel now, drinking a couple beers as Nilo barks at the birds across the street. We will make our way on to San Cristobal tomorrow.
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I'm Lauri. Teacher for nine months of the year, vagabond for the other three. I've traveled to France, Russia, West Africa, SE Asia and all over the US. This summer I'll be driving to Mexico with my little dog, Nilo.