Saturday, June 9, 2012

Xalapa: The Portland of Veracruz

You Portlanders know what I'm talking about: those cities that exhibit that P-town vibe, like Austin, Texas or Bloomington, Indiana.  Anyway, Xalapa is the capital of Veracruz state and we are in love with it! Yesterday we received a much-needed respite from the uber-heat in the Port of Veracruz with a two-hour bus ride to this green university town of about one million. 

We headed straight for the Parque Ecologico Macuiltepetl, or "the hill", a forested nature park housing a lookout tower with a bunch of trails leading up to it. At a mile high, walking the steep terrain was a workout, but in the cool breeze and shade, our neurons began to wake up from their heat-induced slumber, and we both felt more alert than we have in weeks.  Today I was even able to come up with a new way to combine my limited travel garments, for the first time breaking that "leggings as pants" barrier, as women are wont to do here.....

Anyway, the dirt was a brilliant rusty red color and I realized how much I had missed the tall trees and shade of my homeland. There was a really (unintentionally) disturbing fauna museum at the top of the hill, which we marveled at and then headed up to the lookout tower.  We were unfortunately unable to see Mexico's highest mountain, Pico de Orizaba, due to the haze.  The 40-something guy that operated the tower cafe had sung in a blues band in none other than our (hopefully) future hometown of Vancouver, B.C., Canada!  He was super cute and trapped us there for half an hour practicing his English and playing the harmonica for us. Might as well have been in Louisiana!

On the way down, we were disappointed to find that the anthropology museum (Mexico's second largest) was closed for the day, so after grabbing lunch, we headed downtown past numerous truckloads of the ubiquitous Mexican Marines (looking for drug trafficking activity) to stumble across yet another mini-political rally for the upcoming July 1 elections (for my least favorite of the three leading candidates). 

The downtown's tasteful, manicured cathedral was decked out with 12 flat screen TVs to enhance the Mass experience.  Overlooking much of the city was the most beautiful zocalo, or town square, I have ever seen.  Light filtered through the clouds into rays that struck the distant hills and volcanoes.  The official Veracruz government band provided the soundtrack to a flag-salute ceremony, where a hundred state police were lined up.  Teenagers in sophisticated school uniforms made out on the benches and a guy was selling balloons. A company was offering free internet in a little kiosk, where people sat peacefully awaiting their turn to check El Face, as Facebook is referred to in Mexico.

 Descending the steps toward a nearby cafe to sample some of the local coffee in this zona cafetalera, a sense of well-being came over me.  So much so that not even the terrible taste of the coffee we were served, or our discovery that we forgot to do two pieces of Canada paperwork, could completely defeat my blissful state.  The day having passed like lightning, we hopped on the "ordinario" bus back to Veracruz, grinding to a halt every few minutes as people flagged down the vehicle by the side of the road.  Arriving at uncle Victor's house at 11pm, the engineers busted out the brewskies and one of those late-night philosophical discussions ensued.

 The bright red earth contrasts nicely with Harold's blue ombre travel shorts!  The perfect color for a house.....
 A walk in the woods.

 One of many stunning flowers in the tropical dry-forest environment.

 Map of the park.

 Notable facts: The park is situated over an ancient volcano, which erupted 30,000 years ago, and it was established in 1978 as Veracruz's first state park.

A jade statue typical of the area pre-Conquest, at the entrance to the park.

 "Come!  That mysterious, calm forest is going to whisper it's secrets to you."

 A solar clock that we couldn't use to tell the time because it was cloudy.

The library.  Somebody needs to put a little funding into that thing...

 Continuing with the funding theme....  This poor snake needs a better home!

 Like I said, the Fauna Museum was most.....impressive.

 Most impressive indeed.

 Somebody thought these pictures of Finnish forests fit nicely into the exhibit about local animals in Xalapa.

 This unfortunate tethered bird looks quizzically at me.

 Smokey bear has a forest message.

 Tip for walkers:  make sure to enjoy your walk.  Cute sentiment!

 The hazy view of steamy lowlands from the top of the observation tower.  On a clear day, several volcanoes are visible.

 A monarch butterfly!

Another pretty forest flower.

 Love these!


"The forest is water, and water is life".  So true, especially in a country that is starting to experience a water crisis in some areas, including Oaxaca, as rainfall decreases and population growth puts pressure on already limited water distribution systems.

 The only sloped cathedral I've ever seen.  Love the espresso, red and gold color scheme!

 Me and the hubs, with Xalapa in the background.

 Gorgeous rays of light filtered down as the sun began to set.

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