And Jesus delivered us.
After eight long hours in his full eight-passenger van (who knew BlaBla rideshare was a business for some?), we were in Orizaba, in the Province of Veracruz.
It was a far cry from the desert we'd hung about in for the last week and a half. We were in the tropics!
“Banana palms!” I said to Aaron with a grin.
Tall green palm trees lined the middle of the town's wide, clean street, and beyond, rising into the blue, blue sky, small mountains covered with dense broccoli. It looked like broccoli anyways.
The sun was warm on my face as we strode down the street in the direction of the hotel we'd reserved. Within minutes sweat had beaded on my forehead and my shirt was sticking to my back.
As we walked, I felt eyes on us. Apparently, tall, white, smiling tourists were an anomaly here. "Buenos dias," I said to anyone who let me catch their eye.
The schoolgirls in their neatly pressed uniforms were too cute to let pass.
"Ustedes son muy bonitas." You're very pretty, I said to them, trying to butter them up so they'd let me take a photo of them. It worked.
“It’s like Venice! I said as we walked through ancient stone arches along the river, gazing at the small bridges crossing over to crumbling pastel-coloured buildings.
Until we saw the animals. I know that many people appreciate zoos, seeing animals they'd never typically see. I appreciate seeing them too when I can see the enclosures are huge and natural and the animals look happy and healthy. More often than not, though, the zoos I've visited when I've travelled have left me with tears in my eyes. And so, I've stopped visiting them.
I didn't have a choice in Orizaba. Its 'wildlife sanctuary' was housed between the pretty, pastel buildings and the river, along a river path. Trip Advisor reviews are full of happy statements about how peaceful the walk was, and what a treat it was to walk along the river and see so many animals.
I didn't have the same experience. Maybe it was just because it was in the heat of the day, but the animals looked bored and lethargic, and my heart broke to see them. The two big, scarred up black bears who lolled in a bit of shade in their way-too-small space. The beautiful jaguar who paced neurotically in his cage. The skinny coyotes that sprawled in the dirt. The huge lion with his lioness and four small, golden babes. There was a hippopotamus there, a sign noted, but we'd had enough before we found him, and left the river path.
Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe the animals are just fine, and enjoy being fed on a regular basis. Maybe the place is worth visiting for many. For me, though, while I want to let readers know about this unique place, it doesn't get to go in "My Fave Sites" section.
My Favorite Sites were:
The Telerifico and environs.
The telerifico took us to the top of a tall hill giving us an awesome view of Orizaba. At the top was a reminder of how far we were from home and miradors with more amazing views.
Before we finished the full circle of miradors, though, we ducked under a cable to see what we thought was another mirador, and before we knew it, we were half way down the mountain. "I guess we're going down, I'm not climbing back up there," I said to Aaron. Darn. I guess that cable was there for a reason.
Our mistake was a gift, though, I soon realized. The trail was an amazing find, bringing us through a sweet-smelling lush forest, banana palms, groves of tall bamboo, glossy coffee bushes with bright red berries, orchids and spidery bromeliads sprouting from tree trunks.
An hour later, sweaty and exhausted, we arrived back in the plaza. Though we wanted to do nothing but go home and take a nap, we were unable to withstand the draw of the bustling plaza and the gorgeous building in its centre.
The Iron Palace is a spectacular building that was brought piece by piece from Belgium and now sparkles up the town’s main plaza at night. Its main draw, in our humble opinion, however, is...
The Beer Museum, the last and best museum inside the Iron Palace. Hot and sweaty, as I said earlier, I'm sure you can imagine our gratitude when we poked our heads into a doorway and were handed two icy-cold Heinekins.
Orizaba, began brewing beer in 1896 using its abundance of meltwater from Pico de Orizaba, the highest mountain in Mexico (we saw the peak from a tower at the top of the Telerifico),
Yes, you have to go through three other museums to get to the small beer museo, and pay a small pittance, but, man, that cold brew was worth it all.
"Cheers" we said, as we clinked our plastic glasses.
As we gulped our cervesas, we wandered around the small museum. I stopped dead at a poster showing a baby and a bottle of beer. How the heck are those two connected, I wondered?
And so I asked. “What’s this?” I asked our young guide.
“It's an advertisement for new moms," she says. "It says Drink beer to help your milk come in."
“What?!” I asked, aghast.
Aghast but, a moment later, double thinking whether I should be.
We are a cautious people, we North Americans. Too cautious, sometimes, I think. Like, what's with keeping our kids in car seats until the age of what is it, ten years old? That's just crazy. So, who am I to judge? Maybe beer does help a new mom's milk come in...who knows.
Laguna Ojo de Agua is a lovely fresh water lagoon whose clear, cold water comes from an underwater spring. Judging from the floats of rowboats and pedal boats tied up and the multiple shopfronts, the place must get very busy with tourists, but it was empty other than a couple of early morning swimmers when we visited. Very pretty and peaceful and just a quick fifteen minute bus ride in the nearby town of Nogales.
Every day, the plaza was busy, full of rangy old cowboys in boots and hats and Mexican tourists, all wilting in the heat as we were, cooling off with ice-cream cones and popsicles. I spotted a cart selling nieves, an ice drink I'd slurped up with great fervour earlier that day.
"Uno,” I said to a man as he filled a glass with bright lime ice.
“Con chili o natural? he asked as he sprinkled the one in his hand with red powder and handed it to a teenage girl. So strange, I thought, not for the first time. I'd seen vendors throughout Mexico put chili on perfectly good fruit, mangos, pineapple, and even on potato chips.
But...when in Rome...and all that. Maybe I'd been missing out on something wonderful.
“Con chili, por favor,” I said.
Well, it tasted exactly like what it was. Sweet, cold, tangy lime messed up with spicy chili powder. Not so great.
We'd travelled to Argentina a few years ago where 'asado' or 'barbeque' is very popular. We tried it. Well, we were so grossed out when we saw the dark red blood in the blood sausage and sank our teeth into livery organs, that we couldn't even look at the chops that came later. To the disgust of the waitress, we left our plates almost untouched.
But we are nothing if not adventurers, and so we tried the Mexico version: the Parillada. Again, a plate of meat. There were little chorizo sausages, thin bits of skirt steak and pork, some rib-eye, and...the piece de resistance...weiners. Yep, good old hotdog fillers. So funny.
Our time in Orizaba went too quickly. The city was anything but dangerous, as someone had told me it was. In fact, when I double checked the idea of Veracruz being the 'most dangerous province in Mexico,' I discovered that I'd been sold a bill of goods. That someone must have been thinking of a different place. I'd come back in a split second. And will. As in the rest of Mexico, the people here were some of the kindest, friendliest and most helpful I've ever met.
Tomorrow we are off to Oaxaca, our last stop before we head south to the coast for some well-deserved sitting-on-our-asses-on-the-beach time. My feet and hips are so ready to stop moving.
Oaxaca is supposed to have the most amazing Mexican food. I'm already salivating. My plan? EAT. Then eat some more. No museums. No walking tours. It's gonna be all about the food.
I'll tell you about it when I stop eating.
Cheers all. Thanks for coming along on our journey!
Caryn and Aaron