Friday, May 13, 2011

Restaurant guide, modern ruins and fresh mangos - Tampico to Veracruz

Hello again! Sorry about the dead air, but we've been in the jungle near Palenque for a few days with no internet - or air conditioning. Or fridge. So I'm writing this post in the jungle in the hopes of publishing it next time we have internet. Did I mention the bugs? I'll give a bug play by play as I type so you can share the jungle experience. Anyway, I guess the last post was about my experiences riding from Reynosa to Tampico with Chip, so I've got a lot to catch up on, as that was a week ago.

(A tiny ant just went down inside the keyboard, and I'm not really sure what should be done about it.)

The next day we woke up in Tampico at about 9am and got out on the road pretty fast. Mileage-wise we had about as far to go as we did the previous day, and we didn't know if there would be any more security checkpoints slowing us down. Luckily there weren't, but everything else you can possibly imagine did slow us down.  We stopped to have an early lunch as we were heading out of town, so we found a suitable roadside restaurant and pulled in. How do you define "suitable" in an unpaved row of dingy shacks with garage doors?  I'm glad you asked, because I asked Chip the same thing. Chip's guide to Mexican roadside food:

1. These mini-restaurants occur in rows along the side of the road, so find the busiest one and you'll find the best price to quality relationship in the area. Even if it's full of serial killers (everyone has giant machetes?) you know that it's a better all around deal than that uppity wooden chair place next door.  Which leads to point number two:
 2. They must have plastic chairs. Plastic chairs show that the prices will be reasonable, and that the food is good enough to bring people in on it's own merits.
Ok, so we pull up to a nice looking shack with a 55 gallon-barrell-chicken grill crackling, and with the dining room almost entirely occupied by a lovely three-generational family with a relavitly low per-capita machete rate. The proprietors had painted the chicken grill to match the building, which was a nice touch - but they had us at the plastic chairs.

Great success!
 (Insect update -"Oh, look at the size of the ant crawling up my leg - great, it flies too!")

As we're pulling up there are guys in the next shop over sneakily eyeing our bikes. (Everyone eyes our bikes, as our loaded down 1000cc is quite a sight in the land of 125cc bikes.) One character, though, gave me a bad vibe. It wasn't the earring, or the Tennessee waterfall flowing down his back - it was the way he looked and pretended he wasn't looking. As we ate he started making concentric circles around the bikes, but always acted like he was looking somewhere else. I figure if he was on the level he would just walk up and have a look like everyone else. So finally he got close enough to set off the alarm, and then proceeded to act like he didn't hear it and casually walked away.

(A spider big enough to turn the light off is walking out of the bathroom.)

The vibe was pretty uncomfortable, and we were done with our delicious shrimp soup, so we figured it was time to move on. The next eight hours were

(There's a bee flying around the light. I slap it with a shoe and it's stunned, so I pick it up and toss it out the door. As I toss it out, a mosquito the size of a bee flies in.)

punctuated by small towns every two to three miles. For 200 miles. My only guess is that a guy lived in a town, got sick of all of the trash and stuff, and moved out of town. Then, one day, he said "It's just a little too far to walk to town, I'm starting my own town. Then a guy moved out of that town. Etc, etc. Probably the most wonderful aspect of these towns is the "topes." Topes are speedbumps designed to keep people from going 80mph through town, and they're only there because people would absolutely go 80mph through town. Most places they don't even post speed limits because no one cares. You go as fast as your vehicle will go, and top speeds range from 7mph to about 100 - on the same pot-holed, two lane road. Back to the topes. These are serious speed bumps - some of them tall enough to scrape the bottom of the bike - and there's no way to speed over them. Every two or three miles, everything on the road slows down to a 3mph crawl over series of topes. Good thing I'm wearing a black jacket and it's 100 degrees, or I would have more energy to be conerned with the massive amounts of diesel smoke and road dust I'm inhaling! Aside from providing great carcenogen exposure, topes also provide a chance for locals to try to sell you everything you can think of. Some make sense, like coconuts full of coconut milk, or pineapples full of frozen pineapple juice, while others border on the ludicrous - I would swear that a guy tried to sell me a tiny mechanical pony that walks around a pole on a lead - but maybe that's just the fumes talking.

(There's an unidentified black insect at the end of the bed, but it's not moving right now.)

200 miles of towns 2-3 miles apart with tope-enforced speed limits of 3mph. Six to ten topes per town, 1-4 salespeople per tope. It was quaint for about 15 minutes, but by hour two Interstate 70 sounded pretty good.

(Jill is proofreading this, and a spider walks down the wall toward her head. I tell her, she apologizes to him, and quickly dispatches him.)

That's probably enough complaining about the ride, it still beat working and stuff, sorry.

(I just looked over at Jill, who is sweating profusely while lying in bed (under our clothesline) at 10pm, and she had a bug strolling across her cheek. This is starting to look like a UNICEF commercial.)

About an hour from Veracruz we were ridng along a great, winding road that followed the coastline, and there was an amazing beach about 100ft off of the road. We stopped to take pictures, and there was some sort of abandoned hotel between the road and the beach, so I decided to have a look around. It had been abandoned so long that only the concrete was left, and every empty shell of a room had a wonderful veiw of a completely empty beach.

View from the top of the abandoned hotel

This sort of property would be worth millions most places, and I really don't know why it was abandoned. While we were walking around taking pictures an old Ford truck came up the hill with steam rolling out from under the hood. It was loaded to the top with fresh mangos, and was barely able to make it up the hill. They parked next to us, popped the hood and started adding water to the radiator. Neither the driver or passenger seemed alarmed, they were actually chatting and seemed to be in good spirits, so I figure that this must be a normal part of the trip for them. While the engine was cooling off the driver brought us a fresh mango, and stood with us eating it and admiring the view for a minute. With a smile he was off, and so were we.
Mango Truck


  1. I originally read "giant machetes" as "giant matches" and thought "Well if they're grilling it seems sensible that they'd have giant matches."

  2. I understand your misreading, it's much easier to tell the difference in person... Even after a week of seeing giant machetes everywhere it still catches me off guard when I see guys walking the roadside with them. I saw a kid no more than three hacking a coconut open with a blade nearly as long as he was tall...