Monday, May 28, 2012

Back in the 'Cruz for Part Two

I'm not usually a big fan of malls, but I confess that when it's 95 degrees F outside and 95% humidity, and one does not have air conditioning, the Centro Comercial Las Americas is a godsend.  Lightly air conditioned and dotted with elegant jungle-y reflecting pools and classy, yet affordable cafes, it is a place of respite from the oven-like climate of the hyperactive city of Veracruz.  As I type, I periodically raise my head to observe the impressively diverse food court, offering everything from burritos (extremely rare in Mexico!), to bubble tea, to crepes and Chinese food.  Yacht parking for the mall is under construction.  Seriously.

Generally speaking, the state of Veracruz, and this city in particular, has a disparate feel from neighboring Oaxaca, Harold's home state, where we have spent most of our time since our arrival in Mexico.  The city of Veracruz is the largest port in Mexico and possesses the dynamic culture and economy characteristic of a port city, with notable Caribbean influence in food, music and architecture, and the presence of many large US companies affecting local consumption patterns.  Supermarkets out-compete open-air markets, American clothing brands dominate, and (manicured!) fast-food chains fill up to the hilt in the evenings. Children can be seen participating in baseball, American football, and basketball almost as much as soccer.  The Mexicanity (I learned this word from The Office) of the area is not lost however, as evidenced by the myriad taco and ice cream stands, extensive cattle ranches, uber-festive atmosphere, and the large traditional cafes of this coffee-growing region that fill on Sundays.  Adding to the cultural mix are descendants of numerous indigenous cultures of the area, escaped African slaves from the Transatlantic slave trade, and more recent Lebanese and Chinese immigrants.  

Founded by the famous conquistador Hernan Cortes in 1519, the city soon built a fort to protect itself from pirates and foreign invaders.  Nowadays, the city is a center for the Mexican military, the presence of which is undeniable, as groups of Marines patrol the streets, on foot, by helicopter and in pickup trucks, on the lookout for individuals involved in drug trafficking and related illicit activities.  Meanwhile, the city thumps with activity, as its one million inhabitants go about their daily lives with a certain jarocho (Veracruzian?) flair, and a soundtrack of reggaeton or American house music in the background.

Here we are in front of the oldest church in Mexico, built in 1524.

Marimba music!  Commonly played in the city, adding to the Caribbean vibe (at least from the perspective of someone who hasn't yet been to the Caribbean....).

The zocalo.  

Harold and uncle Victor discuss a historical photo display on the waterfront.

"In memory of all of the Spanish emigrants who arrived in Mexico through this port, in search of a better future and with their work have made this generous and hospitable Mexican nation a great one".

The sun sets over the shipyard.

A luxury hotel.  Miami-esque?

Night scene.

The moon rises over the fort.


Lunch the next day at La Villa.  

Tender chicken in red salsa, with rice.

Victor's dog, Molly.  

Enjoying a "lechero" coffee at the Cafe de la Gran Parroquia, a city-wide chain celebrating its 203rd birthday.

The beautiful coffee-making equipment at La Parroquia.

At El Descabezadero, a remote river a two-hour drive from Veracruz city.

The crystal-clear, cool water was pure paradise.

It was cold!  Even for us Northwesterners.  

Victor thinks it's really cold!

These flowers show off the "red only" function on my camera, which is the bomb.

The river emerges from underground off the side of a cliff, forming a waterfall.  Gorgeous, and so refreshing!

Tlacotalpan, a world heritage site.  You'll have to get used to viewing the weird shape of my hat- it has a wire around the edge, and I haven't been able to get it to hang right.  


Lazy dogs.


A whimsical photo of my foot on a park bench.  

Ice cream man!

Red car, red-trimmed building.

Harold and the weird hat chick in the zocalo.

Delicious seafood restaurant an hour outside of Veracruz.

Shrimp tostadas.

We were hungry!

Seafood salad!  Eaten with tostadas and crackers.

Half of a traditional quartet that composes individualized songs called decimas.  Mine sounded good, but revealed few observations about my character other than that I was from Oregon, but found myself in Veracruz, had strange hair and liked to drink beer (I only had two!).

On a personal level, you may wonder what we are doing here.  In short, our Canadian residency paperwork process brought us here, as certain documents are unavailable in Oaxaca.  Luckily, Harold's uncle Victor, a mechanical engineer at a multinational steel tube company in Veracruz, has graciously offered to host us for as long as we decide to stay in the area.  (Oops.... He may be sorry!)  We are having a blast exploring the area and plan to be here for at least another week, so stay tuned for more photos and commentary.  Have an awesome week!

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