Leaving Veracruz the next morning was much easier than entering it had been. Sort of like Matamoras! It was a short two block drive to get back to Mexico 180 and we were on our way. There was a slight delay as we were forced to follow behind a marching Military band for several blocks. They were evidently on their way to head up the parade for the beginning of the marathon.
The road now followed the coast and we had the Gulf waters on our left side for quite awhile. The beaches close to downtown are definitely not worth the bother. The water is dirty, the sand looks dirty and the pounding surf does not look inviting at all. The further from town we got, the better the beaches became and actually did look inviting. The road followed a long, ambling C shape and finally rounded a curve to our right and headed away from the water. We were once again heading up into the mountains that line the coastal route. Do not believe it when the guide books tell you that this road is mostly flat, well kept roads. There are places like this, but by far the mountainous roads dominate to this point. It is not until after Villahermosa that it straightens out and becomes more flat. So on we drove, blissfully passing through towns with, to me, exotic names like Tlalixcoyan, Hacotalpan and Catemaco. We had started a road game long ago whereby I would pronounce the names of towns we passed and Jaimie would tell me how it was really pronounced! Most of the time I was not even close. At one point we were able to get back on the freeway and made great progress by traveling faster than the posted 110 KPH. (and still got passed!)
At Aqua Dulce, we left the state of Veracruz behind and entered the state of Tabasco. It mimics the sauce named after it by being hotter than hell. It was in Tabasco that the most terrifying moment of the trip occurred.
As I mentioned before, we had noticed fires burning all along the trip. Mostly they were in the distance but the stench of burning brush was in the air. If the fires had been by the road, it was long over and we were left with shoulders of black ash to look at. This was to now change. It felt to me like the entire state of Tabasco was on fire. Everywhere you looked there were plumes of smoke rising. At first we thought it was farmers burning off the sugar cane fields prior to harvest, or just burning off the trashy growth in order to plant. But we continued to pass burning fires with no people in sight. Spontaneous combustion perhaps, caused by the heat? It was certainly hot enough. As we drove along at 65 MPH, if I put my hand out the window and just let it hang, I could feel the heat rising off the pavement so hot that I would have to put my hand back inside. There was not much traffic on the freeway. The freeway eventually dumped us back onto a two lane road for a short distance and wound it’s way through the hot, arid flat lands. We had now left the mountains behind for awhile. We rounded a curve and were offered the opportunity to get back on the freeway, which I immediately took. Back on the freeway and the smoke in the distance seemed to be closer to the road now. We were approaching a long, slow curve ahead and it appeared that the smoke was over the road. It was difficult to tell. Until we finished rounding the curve! I slowed the Jeep to a halt right there on the freeway and Jaimie and I just stared at what was ahead.