02 March 2016

Tecolutla - Part One

A winter road trip, seeking warmth, as far south as we could go in the USA. The Padre Islands on the Gulf of Mexico were not quite right; Spring Break hoolies we were not looking for. Why not continue south? And so from Brownsville and Matamoros, began a huge adventure an adventure that would be repeated for several years. Our goal was simply to find sea, sand, and sun in a non-touristy environment.

Not the map we had at the time!
Following the Gulf coast in Mexico more or less ― was a challenge. Road maps (hey, no GPS then) were few and far between. As were habitations. Besides scarcely knowing what to expect ahead on a rudimentary two-lane highway, our timing was not great when it turned pitch dark with no hotel in sight. No human being in sight, aside from an occasional passing vehicle. And the rain was pouring down. We proceeded cautiously on the road with no white lines and few signs, it seemed forever. Finally we gratefully slid into the mud in front of a motel at Soto la Marina. We learned later this was a popular crossroads stop for truck drivers and we could hear them snoring contentedly, two or more to a room. In the years to come, we appreciated that lonely oasis more than once. And learned that you never, never travel in the rural dark because cattle wander. Invisible till you hit them.

Next day I was watching for east-west roads that led to the Gulf but the map showed almost none, likewise the landscape. We've passed from the state of Tamaulipas to Vera Cruz. Where was the sea?? Small towns, villages almost, became more numerous and the terrain more mountainous. On our future trips back and forth, we would stop here or there. Once we found this deserted colonial church; perhaps it was at Cerro Azul.

Suddenly it seemed we were in a rat's nest of roadways around the city of Tampico, none of the mess shown on the oblivious roadmap. Tampico sounds like an exciting name, so after endless traffic contortions, we found the main plaza and took a hotel room. Here was colourful vitality all around us to explore. Lots of live music, day and night. All night, in fact! Tampico is Mexico's largest port ... oil, oil, oil.
The general alegría de vivir atmosphere led to copious margaritas with customers and staff of a nearby cantina, curiosity on all sides. Sign language being employed to the max. Having barely the presence of mind to recognize when to retire, I left my gringo partner yukking it up with his new best friends. About eight hours later he, perfectly shit-faced and lacking his wallet, was escorted back to the hotel by a sober, worried, young good Samaritan who'd found him wandering, looking for the hotel whose name he didn't know. While I had been considering taking off in the car and heading for the border.
That was a lot of fun (NOT) and since it was now daylight, we had this-and-that with the police (by sign language) to report stolen cards, ID, money etc. Since we were still heading south we were told (we think we were told) to check in with the police at Tuxpan, the next large town. Maybe some of the lost would be found ... oh, sure. We kept in touch with Miguel and later we took him to dinner at the same hotel.

When we reached Tuxpan we spent the day in the pretty town and stayed overnight at a lovely hotel, not on a beach. Could this be the right place? I had hoped to find a beach here but all those Pemex oil tanks between us and the ocean were too intimidating. Tuxpan's most famous son was Zapata of revolutionary fame.
Check-in with the small Tuxpan cop shop where nothing was heard of lost/stolen property. Intriguing, though: in their separate lock-up shack was ― not a drunk, not a thief, not a drug dealer ― but a lone pig. Oh for a photograph!

More population was becoming evident along the roadside ... it's orange country; roadside stands were selling fruit and huge jugs of juice. Our dubious map showed a likely-looking good spot right on the Gulf at the mouth of the Tecolutla River. Well, let's try that. Past Poza Rica (oil town), we turned off the "highway" and found the small market town of Gutierrez Zamora. Still not our spontaneous destination, but close. We were now about six hundred miles south of the border ― far too much to travel in one day from Brownsville on dicey road conditions.

We knew we'd arrived when we saw this hotel built on the beach. Tecolutla is basically a fishing village but its long stretches of sandy beach attract working class Mexicans for seashore holidays. Mexico City is five hours to the west. The dozen or so hotels here are very small, often less than ten rooms, and usually family-run operations. Hector Sanchez greeted us like long-lost friends with our newly-acquired five words of Spanish. He had three words of English.
Hooked; my kind of beach and no oil rigs/tankers in sight

At certain points in life, some of your stars align righteously. Little did we know then how many times we would return. Ear worm, Edward Bear: 
"Thinkin' of you down in Mexico, feelin' free as the air ..."

© 2016 Brenda Dougall Merriman

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