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Before coming on this trip, I had never heard of these two towns, nor of the Mexican State of Tlaxcala, of which Apizaco is the second largest city. Now I have spent a very pleasant night at each and have taken pictures to remember impressions. I also have a day’s worth  (48) of 3 minute long movie clips, as we drove through the often dramatic scenery, including the pickup truck with cover for the back that seemed to explode as it came past us. It’s quite time consuming to go through 48 x three minute film clips to see what, if anything, I caught on film. 95+ % will probably never be viewed again, but it is good to have options!

Only two picture stops, non of which featured any cacti or other succulents (again – is this really a cactus trip? Why?) The first was just for pictures along the side of the road, such as stands where women were selling fruits etc, and a sign that struck me as funny such as ‘No Pisar, El Pastor’. In time, translation software will tell me what it means in English. The second stop was for sightseeing in Apizaco. We stayed at the City Express Hotel, brand new and part of a complex that is a restored version of the old railway station. Soon after we had signed in and began to explore the facilities, such as the internet, we were reminded of what it means to be in a railway station – the haunting sound of train whistles! Fortunately, it was the one and only time that we heard them.

My fitness instructor dragged me for a walk around the town which yielded more pictures and did actually make me feel better after a day in the car. Unfortunately, the feeling of well being did not extend to my fitness instructor, but all is well a day later after his last Ferocactus stop. Just withdrawal symptoms then.

Heavy rain was reported by Alain before I woke up. It still looked grey and threatening at 7 but only gently dripped as we packed the car at 9. For the first time for days we had a target plant stop – for Melocactus delessertianus, said to be another synonym of M. curvispinus. We had seen M. curvispinus, posing as M. oaxacensis on the Pacific Coast, and as a result were aware that plant would be difficult to find here in the much more lush vegetation.  The plant was reported by Alfred Lau as Lau 1104 ‘from Jalapa to the sea at Palma Sola at 0-800 m altitude – quite a range. It was said to grow with Mammillaria eriacantha, M. heyderi, Pilosocereus sartorianus and Selenicereus coniflorus. The problems were: there was no town called Jalapa, we assume the current spelling is Xalapa, farther in land. But we had driven from Veracruz – along the coast road, at 10 m above sea level. I had relied on being able to spot the Pilosocereus from the car, but the flora was still too lush. We had a time budget, as we also wanted to see the largest of four archaeological sites before finding our hotel and the Mex 180 Libre proved slower than expected, so we gave up. The overnight rain had brought even more trees out in flower and as we drove around the village of Palma Sola I managed to get some close ups of the flowers and also of the fruits, that clearly showed the trees as members of the legume, pea, or bean family, but the flowers do not immediately support this. A bit more searching back in the UK.

For much of the trip we just drift from day to day – only the names of the days on my pill boxes and the headings of my Blog entries keep me in touch of the reality that this time next week we’ll be landing at London Heathrow T5 and a more regular life starts again.

It was 14:00 hrs when we arrived at the Temples of Tajin. This was by far the largest and most impressive sites visited and we spent some two hours around the site, taking many images of the remnants of what must have been a large and flourishing town. We did manage to see and photograph some cacti: Rhipsalis baccifera and a Hylocereus sp.(?). Again, there was no problem taking pictures and no high visibility security presence.  Compared to the crowds visiting Stonehenge everyday, it was very quiet. As a result we were able to take lots of great pictures. Again, my fitness instructor marched me around for nearly two hours – well worth it in terms of pictures!

The town of Poza Rica is only some 20 km from El Tajin, with plenty of hotels to chose from. The Best Western was close to the entrance to town, so will give us a quick get away tomorrow.

The weather forecast for the Mexican Atlantic Coast was not good – thunder storms! The reality was not as bad, but windscreen wipers were used. The rain during the night seemed to have triggered the flowering of trees along the road. As we sped by at 100+ kph it was difficult to ID the plants and in some ways they resembled the flowering of cherry trees in De Betuwe, in the Netherlands during my youth. I remember my Dad planning a trip to catch the flowering at its peak, but usually the exact dates for this event were unpredictable. In the Netherlands, the saying goes ‘Maart roert zijn staart’, the month of March wags its tail between the end of winter and the start of Spring. The major difference here is that the flowering trees were not managed into orchards, but just as natural small groups of trees, ineeficient to harvest as a commercial crop, but very pretty to drive through. I took a few pictures as we drove past them, then realised that the dash cam would cover them.

We arrived around 2 p.m. in the town of Veracruz, or Heroica Veracruz as the full name goes. There were a few drops of rain and threatening skies, but our Hotel Mar y Tierra was right on the sea front, so we were tempted to a stroll along the harbour, with a number of medium sized containerships in.

Just to prove that we were mad, we went for an hour long scenic boat trip around the harbour, just to dare the clouds to open and to stop Alain from marching me around the town as a self appointed fitness instructor.

There are some points from previous missives that need to be cleared up: on 2nd February I reported that we were not allowed to take ‘professional cameras’ into the Archeologica site at Tehuacan and it seems some people wondered about subsequent visits of similar kind – no problems. And on the 28th I reported that our (then) ‘new’ car had a warning light come on that the ladies at the next Pemex station tried to fix. The light goes out by it self, after some fuel has left the tank and then, hours later, comes bac on again for an hour or so. It seems to be an issue that affects the make and model of car that has kept owners awake the world over, but not us. Filed under ‘irritant’.

Back to today. We were picked up at nine – great punctuality, for our outing to a boat ride through the Canyon del Sumidera. At the embarkation point we were dressed up in orange life vests, but when we later saw the size of the crocodiles sunning themselves on the river beaches, I was glad that we did not have to rely on the life vests while bopping in the water, acting as crocodile bait! We also pulled up to the cliffs where a family of howler monkeys were said to be in the trees. El Capitan did a passable impression and in response, the leaves of the trees started to shake quite violently. As I am a cynic, I remain unconvinced. Could have been a Mexican with a range of ropes that he pulls to make the leaves move. Alain’s pictures were better and some of the blobs captured could indeed be the howlers.

I was excited to see hundreds of tall, cephalium bearing ceroids growing against the canyon wall. A quick look on the internet as to their ID was not helpful. It’d better rain a lot when I’m back in the UK to resolve all these little mysteries. There were also lots of bromeliads and Agave on the cliff walls and lot’s of trees with huge caudexes. Photographing them was tricky, as the boat was fast, views blocked by the other 20 passengers, and us moving from deep shade to bright sunlight and back to deep shade all in a matter of seconds. There was not one useable picture of a caudex between them.

We arrived back on shore by 11:30 and back at the hotel by noon, in time for the c. 300 km journey to Coatzacoalos, where we spent the night at the Best Western. The staff here make Basil Fawlty appear like a true professional. We ordered Fillet Mignon and when the first arrived, the waiter put it in front of me. Alain was left with an empty plate. I tucke3d in, not wanting my food to get cold, only to be told in rapid Spanish that I should have cut the steak in half, with the second half for Alain. He was quickly sent off with a flea in his ear for a second steak! He must have been from Barcelona!!! All those not familiar with the TV comedy series Fawlty Towers had better apply for an explanation.

I should mention that during the drive here we had used the toll road again and passed a number of security checks, with inspectors equipped with screw drivers ready to dismantle cars to see what was inside them. About half way to our destination, we stopped for a cola and a leg stretch. When we chatted about the drive, Alain asked if I had smelled the fumes of the fires near our pit stop. No, I answered innocently. Marijuana, being burned. I must tell you sometimes about my sheltered youth in the sixties and seventies! Clearly, the tropical conditions make excellent growing conditions!

The battles between various SatNav’s and their ability to get things right has been reported on before. Usually, when we arrive, it is at the same spot. However, the ways of getting there differ tremendously. Alain’s mobile phone SatNav system speaks, a woman’s voice, and is as often wrong as mine, but mine is set to silent. The Aveo car comes with a very shiny dashboard. On the first day of our use of it, we bought a ‘dashboard carpet’ that stops the glare but introduces another irritant in that with the many Topez and potholes, the carpet frequently threatens to slip onto the floor of the car. We intend to buy double sticky tape at an Office Depot store before we return the car, but only if I can buy enough to stick the rest over the mouth of the lady inside the infuriating Dutch SatNav system. If not, she could go flying through an open window!………

Having seen enough in Villahermosa yesterday, we decided to move to another state and so are now in Tuxtla Gutiérrez, the capital of the State of Chiapas, another ‘first’ for us. We left the flatlands and drove into the mountains but made steady progress thanks to the use of the toll road – they have their uses and the cost converted to GBP are really not bad.

The attraction to come here was the Sumidero Canyon National Park. In the afternoon we visited the five miradors (viewpoints) that looked down on the river below us, offering some spectacular views. Along the road also grows an Agave, A. grijalva, named after the river. It seems that today the name A. kewensis is preferred. Whatever the name – we have its picture!

Tomorrow we are going on an organised outing to give Alain a break from driving. We’ll be picked up from the hotel, to join a party on a boat sailing through the canyon. It’s just a morning’s trip. By midday, we are back in our own car to drive back to Coalzacoalcos and fro there towards Tehuacan for the last few days and back to Mexico City. On paper and in images it looks to have been quite an epic journey! I’m sure it will take a while before we have digested it all, back in the UK!

What did you do on Sunday?

We visited Comalcalco, is a city located some 60 km northwest of Villahermosa in the state of Tabasco. Near the city is the Pre-Columbian Maya archaeological site of Comalcalco, and that’s where we spent a pleasant morning strolling between and climbing the two large pyramids. They are said to be the most western Maya settlement, and due to the lack of limestone in the region, it is constructed of fired bricks, held together by mortar made of oyster shells. We made the local Mexicans laugh by turning our backs on the pyramids and taking pictures of epiphytic cacti growing in the tops of the trees.

We then visited another local attraction, Hacienda La Luz, where Ana Parizot Wolter, of the third generation of the Wolter family, gave us a private tour of the gardens in perfect English. She explained that it was important to keep with traditional methods of growing cocobeans that require the shade of taller neighbouring trees to produce the tiny flowers from which the surprisingly large fruits are produced. It is a complete ecosystem. See http://www.haciendalaluz.mx for more. Very interesting, with lovely chocolates made material to finish!

As it was still early in the afternoon, we went on to the beach, similar to the one visited on a rainy day a few days earlier, but this time heaving with people. We clearly stood out as foreigners and were viewed with curiosity.

I had forgotten to enter the coordinates of the hotel in SatNav, and yet, when we got closer to town, Alain’s mobile phone SatNav and my Garmin brought us to the same place.

We had seen a Steakhouse in town, on the internet, and so took a taxi that way, enjoyed a T-bone steak and some beers before taking the taxi back to the hotel.

That’s what we did on Sunday!

We’ve reached Villahermosa, capital city of the Free and Sovereign State of Tabascoone of the 32 Federal Entities of Mexico. It is located in the southeast of the country bordering the states of Campeche to the northeast, Veracruz to the west and Chiapas to the south, and the Petén department of Guatemala to the southeast. It has a coastline to the north with the Gulf of Mexico. Most of the state is covered in rainforest as, unlike most other areas of Mexico, it has plentiful rainfall year round. For this reason, it is also covered in small lakes, wetlands and rivers. The state is subject to major flooding events, with the last occurring in 2007, which affected eighty percent of the state. The state is also home to La Venta, the major site of the Olmec civilization, considered to be the origin of later Mesoamerican cultures. Even though it produces significant quantities of petroleum and natural gas, poverty is still a concern or so says Wikipedia, and they are right.

We reached our hotel at about 13:00 hrs after the usual testing time of driving through a major Mexican city. Rather than staying in the hotel that had been earmarked, but which was not where SatNav told us, we picked the nearest hotel to the spot that is perfectly adequate and a fraction of what we paid at the last hotel. We’re here for two nights.

This afternoon we walked into town to take some touristy shots, then found a terrace for the traditional margarita and a litre of cerveza oscura (for me, similar for Alain) followed by a Chinese buffet, cheap but adequate and the luxury of a taxi home to the hotel. According to the Marvin Gaye / Paul Young song, where ever I lay my hat is my home. Yes, I bought my third hat, more typical of the state of Tabasco, and perhaps more for special occasions than the two already bought earlier.

Tomorrow we are going to Comalcalco to see the pyramids and chocolate farms to which the Aztec civilisation owes much. I photographed one cactus, yet to be identified – an epiphyte doing its best to strangle a tree along the roadside in town. We’ve made some adjustments to the journey back to Mexico City, but you have to read the following episodes to learn  how we did it in the end.