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Mexico ~ "Devil Boy" ~ January 17-19, 2006
When will I finally learn to stop and ask directions when in doubt? Left Tampico on a beautiful day and had plenty of time to get to my next destination without rushing. Worked my way through downtown dodging wicked taxi and bus drivers, etc. Figured I'd just head back through the main thoroughfare and just wait for a sign pointing toward Poza Rica. Never saw one. Before I knew it, I'd made it all the way back to the Northern border of Tampico and had just passed the sign wishing me
I little rattled due to fear of that stretch of highway between Tampico and Poza Rica that's famed for being "rough", a motorcyclist killer, and riddled by constant potholes and cops on the take. Add to that, I'd just spent nearly 45 minutes dodging other motorists of all persuasions. My nerves were already shot and I was heading the wrong way when I spotted a couple bikes parked under a canopy/taco stand. Two guys waved at me and I assumed they were also touring so I turned around to compare notes and collect myself so I could get pointed in the right direction. Turns out they weren't touring at all. And, the bikes were those big crotch-rocket types. They were locales and didn't speak ingles, but they told me I had to go back the way I'd just came and cross some toll bridge, etc. All the way back through to the opposite side of downtown.
Oh shi'ite! Didn't want to hear that. Just then, I saw a sign pointing towards Poza Rica and mentioned it to the fellas. They said I didn't want to go that way because I'd have to pay a toll and it's the long way that goes all the way around the city, etc. I told them I didn't mind paying a toll or a little extra riding as long as I was going the right direction. They wouldn't hear of it. Insisted I ride with then and they'd show me the way. I tried to back out and told them I didn't want to ride back through all the traffic, etc. Tried to play to their macho side and told them their motorcycles were bigger and faster than mine and I wouldn't be able to keep up. Didn't work. They insisted we "ride" like a gang I guess. Not wanting to look like a wuss, I told them I'd ride with them, but only to the toll bridge.
The first light we all pulled up at had this large young man, at least 350 pounds with a round little head. He was wearing a full skin-tight bright-red body suit that covered him from head to toe like one of those toddler pajama get-ups. On his head was sewn two little red horns and he was holding a jug of something. I kept looking around to make sure no one was getting ready to slam into me. I nearly soiled myself and fell over on the bike when he spewed some fluid out of his mouth and lit it on fire with a small torch. The flame he threw went out at least 20 feet and I could feel the heat from the flame. What the...?! I thought to myself, "Jesus! Who gave this insane person a jug of flammable liquid, a torch, and dressed his poor ass up like that? Then I noticed that after he stopped gagging from the fuel he'd ingested, he began making his way from car to car with a little metal can for tips. Dang! For that show I should've given him a few pesos for originality... but the light changed and my Mexican motorcycle posse were peeling out leaving me in the dust.. no time to dig for change... I was just hoping that demonic clown wasn't some kind of twisted omen.
It was nice to see more of Tampico that I didn't know exhisted, but the ride was pretty harrowing. I had to try and keep up because eventually I was completely lost again. They kept weaving in and out, lane splitting between trucks and busses, etc. They'd even burn rubber at lights to show off, and ride not even looking at the road when a sexy gringa was walking along the sidewalk. I swear I saw those guys almost get nailed by people parked along the side of the road flinging open their car doors. Every time they'd swerve at the last minute and miss the collision. Really wish I'd just been a wuss and taken that longer toll road.. but it was exciting and I would've missed the devil boy had I not taken the challenge.
Obviously I made it. They did me a buen viaje and suerte as I took off and over this huge cable bridge over the port inlet and to the toll gate. Next was getting pass the stretch of highway I feared most on this coast. But, I have to say.. it wasn't really that bad. Sure there were potholes, but not so many I couldn't just swerve out the way. The whole ride went pretty well actually and no problems with cops at all. Guess I got lucky.
I'd stopped to rest a bit and get a drink somewhere inbetween. The lady who owned the little palapa asked me where I was going and I told her I wasn't sure yet. I pulled out my map and asked if there was a place near the El Tajin ruinas that'd be nice to spend a night. She mentioned a place called Papantla and said it was right be the ruinas. So I said, "Well, looks like I'm going to Papantla then to answer your question."
I asked her how long it would take to get to Xalapa from there and she asked a younger boy wearing a Metallica t-shirt. They argued a bit and then he said it would take at least 2 days. "Two days? You have to be kidding me! It's looks very nearby on the map and I could get all the way back up to Austin, Texas in 2 days if I humped it." They argued some more and she told him he was stupid. He argued some more and said it's up in the mountains with rough roads and lots of curves. I didn't want to hear that, but I figured I'd just deal with it when the time came and paid for my beers.
I thought maybe I'd just stay the night in Poza Rica, but after about 10 minutes of that town, there was nothing remotely inviting about it. I didn't see all of it, but from what I saw, Papantla had to be better.
After several kilometers and starting up into some mountainous area, it didn't look like there was any sign of a town or city coming up so I headed back to ask directions. I was told I was on the right track so I just kept going. Soon I rounded a corner and a wonderful quaint little town opened up. Wow! what a surprise! Definitely a cool little town with colorful architecture and steep cobblestone roads. Sort of a cross between San Christobal de las Casas, Taxco, and Guanajuato. I was pretty elated and decided immediately I'd stay more than a night.
Didn't take long to find a decent room with parking either. After passing through Poza Rica only 20 kilometers away I wasn't expected much, but what a great surprise.. and only 5 kilometers away from the ruins.
After I'd unloaded the bike, some young gringo dudes in the room next to mine came out to say hello. I'd seen them in Tampico on the street that morning. I remembered them because in 3 days they were the ONLY gringos I saw in that town. I asked them when they'd left and how long it took them to get here. They said they left around the same time I did and had already been there for almost 2 hours. I asked, "How the hell did you beat me here by almost two hours?". Then I remembered having to cross the entire city twice and the devil boy.. oops.. that's how they beat me. ;-)
I noticed their car had Vermont tags, but one of them said he was from Boston. They were extremely excited to be traveling in Mexico and planned to travel around for 6 months. I was pretty excited for them too and started telling them about all the places they should definitely visit. "By the way, how much dinero do you think that's going to cost you?". "We've got about $3000 dollars between the three of us for the six months." Ouch! Someone forgot to tell them Mexico isn't quite as cheap as it used to be. But, they said they'd camp a lot to save money. I launched into stories about places they could go and save money and told them how great a time I knew they were going to have.
They just kept asking me questions and seemed to listen intently to all my stories. Eventually, I really got tired of hearing my same old tired stories and hearing the sound of my own voice, but they seemed to dig it and even offered me beer and bought me coffee. I told them they should hang onto their pesos if they were going to make the money stretch that far.
One of them who looked the youngest had long curly red hair. He seemed to the the most excited out the bunch and started telling me about their own "story" thus far. He seemed particularly thrilled that the young pretty Mexican girls were whistling at him on the street. He said, "That doesn't really happen to me at home! And these girls were really pretty too!". I told him the girls don't whistle at my scowling ass anymore, but that's cool you're having a great time of it.
Later we were walking down the street and heard some cat-call whistling, we looked back and saw a couple young Mexican girls giggling. He said, "See! I told you! They're whistling at me here too!" We heard the whistling again, and I looked back. It wasn't the little chicas whistling at him.. it was the Mexican farm boys. The girls were just embarrassed and giggled. The Mexican boys were spiraling their fingers in the air as if they were tossing long red lochs of hair. I think they were just making fun of his long hair, but he didn't look back that time and I didn't have the heart to tell him the truth. :-)
We all met up every now and then throughout the day. And I spent most of the time exploring around taking photos. The next night I'd seen them drinking beers on the plaza and asked them how much they were paying. They said, "Not too bad, just around 15 to 20 pesos a bottle". I said,
"Ok, if you want to save money on beer this is how you do it. Just go to a little tienda and buy a liter. You'll have to pay a little more for the bottle deposit, but when you return the bottle to them they give you the deposit back. That's where I'm going now... grab a liter of Indio and drink it back at the hotel."
They all decided they'd tag along and see how this works. Not one of them spoke any Spanish so they were watching intently. Two of them went to the tienda near the hotel. I told them, that one only has Corona and looks like it's a tourist liquor store so the price will likely be higher. They didn't listen and thought it'd be nicer if the shop was closer to the hotel for returning bottles. The guy from Boston decided to tag along with me instead, because he wanted Indio beer too.
"You see.. this place is more of a local tienda, the prices are lower and posted on the wall."
Back at the room we compared notes.. yep.. they paid almost double what we did. But they didn't seem to mind and kept going back for more liters. I hadn't finished my one liter when they'd all finished their second liters. Ahhh to be young again with a fresh liver! ;-)
We all hung out a good while telling stories and chain smoking. They wanted to know if I could help them find some marajuanna since I spoke Spanish. And, wanted to know if it'd be dangerous. I told them I really didn't know for sure, but their best bet was too find the young Mexican hippies who where playing the drums near the plaza and ask them. Told them the slang for it in Spanish was "mota" but that I wasn't really interested dealing with the hassle myself.
About that time we decided to grab some tacos and I showed them where there was a decent indoor taco counter inside the market. They couldn't believe they'd been paying 3 times more for less food in the restaurant. "You see, if you pay attention and stay out of touristy looking restaurants on plazas.. you might just make your $3 grand last six months."
They were all fired up about the money they saved and decided to go look for mota and tequila. I went back to the room, recommended my favorite tequila (Herradura Repasado) and wished them luck. My guess is that 6 months is going to be whittled down to about 1 month if tequila has anything to do with it. But I didn't listen to anyone either when I was their age. Christ! Did I just say, "when I was their age?" Never thought I'd utter those words. Damn I must be gettin' old. ;-)
They were all up bright and early the next morning. And though they looked a bit ragged and unbathed.. it looked like they'd handled the tequila just fine. Told them I'd meet them at the little coffee shop after I'd showered and taken my bottle back to the tienda. When I got to the tienda the girl wouldn't give me my deposit back. She said my friends had returned their bottle in my place. She said they told her I would return my bottle elsewhere, etc. I knew this wasn't true because none of them spoke a lick of Spanish. She owed me 12 pesos and told her if she took bottles back from them they didn't buy from her that was her problem and not mine... now give me my deposito please." She finally gave in and gave me my deposit, but when I got to the coffee shop they asked what took me so long. I told them some returned their bottles back at the wrong tienda and took my deposit instead. The red-headed kid started to laugh and said, "That was me.. sorry. But, I made an extra 6 pesos profit than the other tienda was going to give me." I told him, "Well yes, but that 6 pesos is going to come out of that poor girl's pocket when the boss finds out." He laughed and said, "Oops! Guess we should go over a couple streets so she doesn't see me!". I couldn't believe what I was hearing.
"Are you serious? Why don't you just give her the money back and take your bottle to the right tienda? I don't want to sound like your Dad, and I'm certainly no moral cop... look... you can do what you want, but if I could offer you a little advice. I'm not really that superstitious, but it seems like every time I've got one over on a clerk or someone.. where I knew keeping the money or whatever was just wrong and did it anyway.. I ALWAYS end up paying somehow, somewhere right afterwards. I get a flat, or get robbed, or something. Now I don't know if it's ever really connected, but if I were you, this early into your trip into a foreign land... I'd certainly not risk getting pulled over by the Karma Police over 6 lousy pesos."
The kid from Boston shook his head in disgust that the red-headed kid was going to keep the pesos. "Dude, you should really take that girl her money back." He was decided not to join the other two for their mota search and tequila the night before and went back to the hotel with me since the manager had asked us to be back in by 11PM so that he could lock the gate and go to bed since it was a week night. The other two said they'd have no problem climbing up the wall and sneaking back in later. My guess is the kid from Boston is going to make out just fine after he eventually finds a way to bail the other two out of a Mexican jail. Oops! There I go again.. sounding like someone's Dad. ;-)
I don't know if they returned the money or not, but just to give my own karmic stature a bump.. I tipped the old guy at the coffee shop a bit larger than usual. I was a little bummed that I didn't get a chance to see the Indians in the region climb this giant pole that goes up about 3 or 4 stories, and spiral down on ropes while another Indian dude plays a flute. Just as I exited the coffee shop, the flute began to play, and 5 Indians began to scale the pole next to the church. Looks like the karmic tip must've worked. :-)
Next stop Xalapa (I just hope it doesn't really take two days to get there)