Cigars and chocolate – from Veracruz to Tabasco

16 Jan 2020 – 22 Jan 2020

Hola again. You left us at the last blog post licking our wounds on a campsite just outside Veracruz. Here we are…

We’ve travelled a good few miles in Mexico since then, bumping and shaking our way across the top of hundreds of topes that come upon you with, and mostly without, warning. Those are the Mexican versions of sleeping policemen that dot every road in a bid to slow down speeding drivers. And very effective they are too.

And so normal travel blog service has been resumed and we will try very, very hard not to harp on again about the thievin’ curs who are currently besporting themselves somewhere in the world with all our stuff. Do spare some sympathy though for the unfortunate travellers who cross our paths and who, Ancient Mariner-like, we can’t resist grabbing hold of and fixing with glittering eyes to tell our tale of woe.

Well at least we’ve got a good story out of it while they got our chairs, clothes, tools…….ENOUGH!!

As for our travels so far, we ended up spending nine nights in Veracruz while we were waiting for the van to arrive into port. We used the time to plan our route for the next few months.

Stuart in planning mode

We strolled along the harbour front to watch the local boys dive for pesos and shells …

…and along the beach where vultures were swooping down to pick up dead seagulls…

…and it was bathtime for this lady’s chihuahua.

Some days it was just too windy to walk very far.

Usually at lunchtimes we would head across the road from the hotel to Tacos David for suckling pig tacos in a broth and a glass of cold cold horchata made of rice milk and flavoured with vanilla and cinnamon.

At night time we would go to zocalo, the main square in the city, where there was usually great music and fantastic dance shows.

Zocalo was always a lively, buzzy place. In the time it would take to eat a fish taco and drink two cervezas, we would have been approached by a parade of street vendors asking you to buy something – cakes, nuts, a lantern, cigars, painted bookmarks…you name it. It was on offer. But it was all very chilled out and hassle free. A polite ‘no gracias’ and they moved on. We did buy a lantern though because did I mention that our’s was stolen. (YES YES YES YOU DID BUT ENOUGH!)

Go on if think you’re hard enough

We did do some of the tourist ‘musts’ in the city. We visited the fort of San Juan de Ulúa where Cortes landed in 1519 and there started the Spanish conquest of Mexico.

And we had lecheros in the city’s Grand Cafe de Paroquia where the waiter first pours black coffee into to your glass then clinks it with a spoon to summon another waiter to pour out steaming hot milk from a height like so…

We have heard since that Veracruz has a reputation for being a dangerous city. Certainly the police and army presence was very obvious and our first sighting of an open back truck whizzing by manned by two black masked machine gun bearing officers was a shock. It was a common occurrence though and it’s slightly disconcerting how quickly you became immune to it. We’d scarcely pause in conversation while passing armed soliders in full fatigues on the pavement. Well maybe not completely immune. The burly machine-gun armed security guard emerging from the lingerie section of Walmart in Veracruz did give me a start.

Once we had our van sorted and re-stocked, we headed 100 miles south to Catemaco and to a little campsite called La Jongle.

It is appropriately named because it is set within rainforest overlooking Lake Catemaco and we slept or at least tried to sleep to a soundtrack of macaws and howler monkeys.

If the site looks familiar, maybe it’s because you’ve seen either Medicine Man with Sean Connery or Apocalypto with Mel Gibson. The family who own the campsite rented out their land as sets for both films.

It poured rain the whole time we were there so we stayed only one night. But it was a good base for a visit to the factory where they make Mexico’s most famous Te Amo cigars. The workers scarcely glanced up at us as they focussed on stripping out the stalks from the tobacco leaves in one section…

…and, in the next section, handrolled them into shape.

And next door to La Jongle, the nature reserve at Nanciyaga provided an opportunity for an unexpected beauty treatment.

Me: Smooth away my laughter lines please
Her: Laughter lines? Nothing’s that funny

Planning our route to the cocoa plantations of Tabasco, we asked the campsite owner for advice on a good place to stopover en route. It was unnerving to hear that she considered that the town midway along our route would not be safe for us. She has friends living there and she told us a bit cryptically that things weren’t very good there at the moment and we should steer clear.

So to bypass it, we decided to do the 200 mile drive to the city of Villharamosa, setting off early in the fog…

…and as there were no convenient campsites, arriving early evening to a hotel offering unlimited porn. (See our instagram post on Tabasco for more details!) And when we weren’t watching telly, we used our hotel as the base to go north to the cocoa plantations of Comalcalco. We visited the beautiful Hacienda La Luz…

cocoa beans roasting in the sun

and then stopped off at the Cocina Chantal de Nelly Cordova for some typical Tabascan-cuisine.

…..where we learned the valuable lesson – try a teeny bit of the salsa verde piquante before slathering it all over your meal such that you can’t focus for the fire in your gob.

Before leaving Tabasco to travel further south to the state of Chiapas, we clocked up another Mayan ruins visit at Comalcalco. Them’s Mayan fingerprints in the brickwork apparently….

We met some igunas and a very friendly Mexican woman who was truly baffled at why we had shipped our van from the UK to Mexico and wanted to know more about it. Oh yes, the perfect audience to offload our tale of woe. We’re word perfect by now.

Next post is about our route to Palenque and on to Oaxaca.

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