Entering Veracruz was just like any other city. The road into town suddenly ends and there you are in the center of town amidst a chaotic tangle of traffic. Mexico 180 is the main street that runs along the entire coastline of Veracruz so one could just keep on driving and never stop in the city proper. We, however, desperately wanted and needed to stop. I did not want to get too far off M180, given the problems that we had encountered just getting there. I did not want to get lost in this large city and not be able to find my way back to our exit route.
As I maneuvered through three lanes of busy traffic, Jaimie consulted the Lonely Planet, reading out loud to me the various hotels. Of course, we had no idea where in the city we were. I finally told him to put the book away because it was useless to us right now. Start looking for hotels along this main coastal strip so I can pull over and check them out. I was in the far left lane, with a median and another three lanes of traffic separating us from the bay. On my right, two crazy lanes over, were all the buildings, stores and hotels. I put my blinker on twice in an attempt to move over but nobody was giving an inch. Jaimie said I needed to drive like a Mexican. To him, that meant put on the blinker and go. No matter what was in the next lane! Amazingly, this proved to be true.* You can’t be timid in Mexico I have learned. As soon as I started edging the Jeep across the line, cars backed off to let me in. Meantime, Jaimie is yelling, “Stop here!” or “Here’s a hotel!”. He was quite indignant that I had given him a task and then was ignoring his guidance. Of course, I still had one lane left to cross before I could even consider stopping or pulling over. God, it was extremely tense and I came away from Veracruz with the conviction that if I can drive there, I can drive anywhere! It was a tremendous ego booster. I pulled over at three different hotels, put on the emergency flashers and sat in the Jeep, trying to look like the dumb Gringo I felt to be, while Jaimie ran in to see if there was a room and if they had secured parking. Finally, two blocks off the main drag, where I did not intentionally go, we found our hotel. We were lucky it seems to even get a room. This was Friday, April 23, 2004 and we discovered later that a huge marathon was being run in Veracruz the next day. Thus the hotels were full to the seams.
After checking in and a hot shower, we were ready to head out to dinner, do some sightseeing and some shopping. It was a straight two block walk to the malecon that runs along the bay downtown. The bay was full of cargo ships and huge cranes ready to unload anything that they might find in the cargo bays. It was an impressive sight. A few large sailboats still plied the waters a little further out and some smaller yachts leisurely made their way around the giant cargo ships. But hunger was scratching at our bellies and we did not linger. On to find a restaurant. We passed a long row of vendor shops, all ready, willing and able to take the tourist peso in exchange for the tacky souvenirs on display. Coffee, T-shirts, clothing and those outrigger sailboats famous in Veracruz were all on offer. We looked but did not touch at this point. Passing this, we entered into a pedestrian zone of upscale shops and through this to the town plaza. Our main job now was to find a restaurant.
*to this day, when driving down here, if I want to change lanes I put on my blinker and just do it. It works every time!