Wednesday, 5.5.04: Xalapa, Mexico
[<<<previous] Today is Cinco de Mayo -- the 5th of May -- a big holiday in Mexico and especially in Puebla. On this day in 1862, Juarez and his soldiers rebuffed a French invasion of Puebla. We weren't really aware of this before we settled our itinerary, so weren't planning to stick around for any of the festivities. I had already made reservations for us to head to Xalapa. But as we were checking out, the desk clerk apologized, saying that all the streets around the hotel were blocked off for the parade, so... sorry, there was no way out. I gave her a look. "Our bus leaves in an hour," I said in Spanish. She made some phone calls. A young man appeared, grabbed our bags, and we trotted the two blocks toward the zócalo. We finally spotted a cab and flagged it down.
What's great about Mexico: cities of all sizes are swarming with cheap authorized taxicabs and between cities first-class buses take you anywhere. The seats are comfortable (reserved via computer) and the schedules run like clockwork. I still get jumpy and hypervigilant when we have a bus (or train or plane) to catch -- Jim is much more easygoing. If I'm not staring at the exit door, I feel like I'll miss something important.
The ride to Xalapa was an enjoyable 3 hours. You know you are starting to relax when you are debating the differences among horses, mules, and donkeys. There are many in the fields along the road, working or grazing. We nailed the distinct characteristics of horses, but I can't always tell the difference between donkeys and mules. We also puzzled through our memories about the source plant for tequila -- is it the roundish cactus or the pointy cactus? Ah, Mexico...
We arrived about 2 PM. I am not thrilled with Xalapa. I'm mad at myself for getting a room at this damn Howard Johnson hotel. I violated my own rule by jumping on a reservation via Expedia and not checking it out in a guidebook. It's on a boulevard at the edge of the center city. I like being closer to the action. After our beautiful little suite in Puebla, the room is awful. It smells like tortilla farts. The window faces a blank wall. There is no place to sit but the bed. And the restaurant serves no alcohol (what's up with that??).
We wandered around the town a little. At the moment -- maybe like all new places -- it seems like so much surface texture and no inviting points of interest.
We are finally sick to death of the region's food. We are traveling in parts that don't cater to foreigners, so they don't even try to Americanize or even Mexicanize the cuisine (nothing called "nachos"). Breakfast, lunch and dinner -- tortillas, tortillas, tortillas. Folded or flat. Soft or crisp. Red sauce or green. With meat shreds or without. Refried beans. A little cheese. I can't bear the authenticity of it all. But here we are -- right where we wanted to be -- deep in the heart of another culture. People are living their lives and finding comfort in their own food without needing to cater to foreign tastes.
This windowless room is like a womb, unwelcome, wanting to push us back out. We are mid-trip, feeling culture fatigue. Sometimes there are these turning points...
5.2.04 Puebla, Mexico
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5.5.04 Xalapa, Mexico
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