A Little Background
A few years ago, a wonderful lady named Maribel and her daughter, Amanda, attended our church. Our emotions were mixed when Maribel married Marcello Fernandez, a pastor in New York City: happy for her and her new husband and sad that we would no longer be seeing them on a regular basis. After a while of service in New York City, they volunteered to move to his native Mexico and pastor a church there. She extended to us an invitation at that time to come and see them there. After about 2 years we finally took her up on it.
Thursday, December 26, 2013
We left the Philly airport on the evening of the day after Christmas and flew to DFW where we spent the night in a hotel. (For some reason, I was given TSA PreChek while my hubby was not. This made him a bit frustrated as I zipped through security with my shoes on and he had to do the whole screening thing.) This would allow us to arrive the next day into Veracruz, Mexico in the middle of the day, not in the night when we still had a 3 hour drive to get to our final destination: Casitas, Mexico.
When we arrived in Dallas we were pleasantly surprised that the hotel had given us a suite because they thought we were honeymooners. They were about 17 years too late, but we enjoyed the complimentary chocolate-covered strawberries.
Friday, December 27, 2013
We arose the next morning bright and early.
Well, early at least. I wasn’t feeling too bright. We flew into Veracruz, Mexico. From the air, I noticed what I thought were colorful stacked shipping containers. They were actually apartment or townhouse buildings. Whereas Americans generally paint their homes white, brown, or gray, the Mexicans have no such inhibitions.
I saw homes of all colors and hues of the rainbow, which I found to be quite delightful. These 2 are not my original photos, but the scenes I saw were very similar to this.
We arrived at the Hertz rental car facility and Maribel, Marcello, and Steven went into the office to make arrangements. Maribel is fluent in both Spanish and English (as well as Portuguese). Steven speaks only English, and Marcello speaks only Spanish. Amanda, who at 11 years also speaks Spanish and English, stayed outside with me. When they brought our Jeep around, Marcello walked around it with an employee documenting things that were scratched, dented, and broken. There were quite a few, and we didn’t want to be blamed for them when we returned the car. Nearby, another employee cleaned a car while listening to a very loud and thumpy version of “I’m Sexy And I Know It” in English. I wondered if he knew what it was saying. I still don’t know, but I heard several other American songs during my stay, sometimes in places where I knew for sure we were the only English-speakers.
After the paperwork was done, Maribel drove us down to the harbor in Veracruz. On the way through town we passed some policemen, but they didn’t look like American police.
They looked like this. I didn’t know whether to feel really safe, or really in danger. This is not a picture I took. I found this one on the internet; I was too chicken to actually take their picture. We saw several police, both federal and state, during our days in Mexico. Both kinds always carried automatic weapons.
We hoped to park along the street and walk to the beach to see the Gulf of Mexico. The parking spots were all taken except those blocked with traffic cones by some enterprising people who had arrived earlier and claimed the spots for those who promised to eat at a certain restaurant on the beach. It was either that or not go, so we opted to eat at their restaurant. Here is a view of the waterfront restaurant.
We would also be where we could see our car, which made our hosts feel good as well. This was my first experience at a REAL Mexican restaurant (because I would soon learn they are quite different in every way from the American version). They led us to our seats, plastic chairs like Americans would use on a patio, and a rickety table. It looked like it hadn’t been cleaned in a while. They handed us one very-worn laminated menu. With help from Maribel I ordered the grilled shrimp. I figured that it would be mild and simple.
It was very good. They served them with the heads still attached, which I learned was customary. It was a bit messy and they didn’t supply any way to clean my fingers. Though I can’t remember exactly, I think it was served with beans and tortillas. I think this because almost every meal I ate in Mexico was, including breakfast. Steven had shrimp also, but his was seasoned, though he ordered it to be not too hot. Maribel had garlic shrimp, I can’t remember what Marcello ordered, and Amanda had shrimp cocktail. The Mexican version of shrimp cocktail comes in a tomato juice with shrimp, avocado, and some other green things in it, served with saltine-type crackers. It is served like a drink, but eaten with a spoon. Again, this is not a picture I took, but It was a lot like this. Later on I will post a video of Steven trying this dish at our hotel.
The whole time we were there eating, vendors tried to sell us things: plantains all sorts of ways, peanuts seasoned a variety of ways, and various other goodies. I quickly learned to say “No, Gracias.” That worked pretty well. You can see in the background of this picture the man in the blue baseball cap is selling chicken, shrimp, pineapple, ham, and I don’t know what else.
After our lunch, Amanda bought some roasted salted peanuts which she then squeezed lime juice on. They eat lime juice on all kinds of things. Limes are quite plentiful there, at least this time of year. Maribel and Marcello later expressed that they were somewhat embarrassed by this restaurant experience because it was overpriced and not good quality for the money. Steven and I didn’t know the difference and enjoyed the cultural immersion.
We got back in our rented SUV and drove out of Veracruz toward the north and Casitas, where Maribel and Marcello live. We left the city, paid a toll, (I guess that’s not just an American institution) and drove along the coast. At the toll booths we always saw several police officers, again with machine guns.
We traveled on Federal Highway 180 which goes from Brownsville, Texas all the way down to Cancun. The stretch we were on was mostly 2 lanes. We passed through many little towns and villages, occasionally seeing the beautiful Gulf of Mexico. It was very undeveloped: no highrise hotels or boardwalks. Just beautiful beaches and rolling waves. We passed the Laguna Verde Nuclear Power Station
and recurring signs showing the “Ruta De Evacuación”.
I assumed the 2 things were related but tried not to dwell on these thoughts.
We saw several gas stations. They didn’t have various kinds: I guess Pemex has a monopoly on gas stations in Mexico. You can buy any kind of gas you want, as long as it’s Pemex. Gas prices were not advertised on the signs.
Most of these had a convenience store attached of the OXXO brand. I am not certain that they were all OXXO, (though they could have been) but most were.
We stopped for a bathroom break (it was nice and clean) and I got a mediocre-quality Vanilla Cappucino from their machine for about $1.00 American if I remember correctly.
As night fell, we continued along the coast. I saw one sign more than any other, even Pemex. It looked like this.
I finally asked Amanda what it was, though I suspected I knew because some things cross all cultures. Sure enough, it is a kind of beer. Later on in the week I would also see this sign, which needed no explanation.
Well after dark, we drove through Casitas, past the church and the gate which led to the Casa de Fernandez. We were tired, though, so we kept driving with promises to check that out the next day. Maribel had spent much time and energy finding us a hotel that she thought would be acceptable. She had done a wonderful job. They don’t have many American visitors in this area, so she had to make sure they would have someone who spoke English. When we arrived, they called Daniel, a civil engineering student on holiday who had learned English from a boss at a restaurant he had worked at. His English was quite good. He helped us to our room and showed us around. Everything was very white and clean. The floor was tile, though there was a small (maybe 1.5 x 2 ft) throw rug to wipe our feet on. This got a lot of use since it rained all but one day that we were there. It was a bit chilly, though my sweater was plenty sufficient for me, but the locals were freezing. They are used to much warmer weather. The hotel had A/C but no heater, but luckily we didn’t need it. Then Steven drove Marcello, Maribel, and Amanda back to their home while I unpacked. Since everything was right on Hwy 180 I didn’t figure he would get lost. Sure enough, in about 20 minutes he returned.
We walked down to the restaurant, an open-air porch with a thatched roof, where Daniel was waiting to help us. I ordered some tacos and Steven ordered some steak with peppers and onions, with both meals to be accompanied by Coca-Cola. Steven offered me one of his peppers, and I said I would take a tiny bite. He insisted they were just bell peppers and popped a big slice into his mouth. He rapidly found out that they were not bell peppers but something much stronger. He made a loud noise and Daniel came running to make sure everything was okay. I laughed and laughed, glad I hadn’t accepted his offer. I think the employees thought we were loco. The tacos were beef, served with soft corn tortillas, Spanish rice, and beans with crumbly (probably goat-milk) cheese on top. They were quite good. No cheddar cheese, sour cream, or cold vegetables were served with it. Evidently that’s American. I wish I had taken a picture, but I was just too tired and didn’t want to look like a silly tourist, an inhibition I soon learned to ignore.
Then we went to the common room right off of the open-air registration desk, the only spot with wi-fi, and we FaceTimed with the kids and my parents who were staying with them. The connection was slow, but sufficient enough to communicate some.
We went back to the room and finished unpacking, I took a very quick shower because I couldn’t figure out how to get hot water, and went to bed.