Friday, November 2, 2007

Car Trip 17

Wednesday was to be our last day in Xalapa and we had a lot planned. We were going to take a side trip today to see some attractions in the area. We were going to drive to a town about 10 miles south called Coatepec. It is known mostly for the orchid garden in the main square and for coffee. Lots of coffee. But before stopping and exploring this town of 44,700 people, we had another waterfall to see!

We skirted Coatepec and headed for the little town of Xico.** Just past Xico is a little stone road that leads to the waterfalls called Texolo. They have a 130 foot drop and from what I saw on the internet while doing research for the trip, they looked stupendous. Now when I say stone road, I literally mean a road made out of stones. Giant pebbles pushed into the ground to form a roadway. A bumpy roadway! We traversed this 1.5 mile road very slowly and with lots of teeth rattling. The road sloped gently downhill, leading us to the entrance to the waterfalls. We parked and walked over to the lookout point and got our first glimpse of the falls.

They were even better in person than the pictures on the internet. We were looking across a deep gorge. This gorge ended at a rock wall off to our right before making a sharp turn and meandering again off to our right. Cutting through this rock wall and dropping to the valley and river below, were the falls. One long column of water, falling with great grandeur and dignity. There was another lookout spot quite close to the falls so we headed out onto the path leading that way.

We walked for awhile along this red dirt path. Passing some banana trees and lots of coffee plants. They were loaded with red coffee beans, not quite ripe. The path finally led us around a corner and then down a lot of stairs to the bridge that crossed the gorge. The bridge did not look like it was going to be fun, or safe, at all! It was a very old iron suspension bridge with the walkway made up of old wooden planks. Each side of the walkway was lined with chain link, about four feet high. And to say it was covered with rust would be an understatement of its' true condition! We could see the bridge quite clearly as we made our way down the final set of stairs to gorge top level. As we approached it we saw the sign on it. It said "American Bridge Company of New York. USA. 1908" And looking at it, I had no doubt that that was the year it had been constructed on this site. Having no other choice if we wanted to get to the other side, out onto this death trap we went. B, of course, staying very close to the center of it and not looking over the edge. L and I, not having this fear of falling, ventured a glimpse over the edge. My heart leapt to my throat. It was such a long, long way down. If the boards gave out, or a cable snapped, we would plunge to our premature deaths on the rocks below. Just looking down was an adrenaline rush and made my heart pound so loudly that I could almost hear it. It was also hypnotizing, gazing straight down and then letting your gaze wander on down the gorge. It was during this eye wandering that I noticed people on the rocks of the shore of the river so far below us. If one of them had not had on a brightly colored shirt, I doubt that I would have even noticed them, it was that far down to them.
enlarge to see what I am looking at!
I wondered how on Earth they got down there. I discovered later that to the left of where we first came in, there was a set of steps that went down. A quick calculation told me that there would be at least 1016 steps to the bottom. That didn’t daunt me. What gave me pause, and made me decide to give going to the bottom a miss, was the fact that there would be 1016 steps back up! I vividly remembered how difficult it had been getting back up the 242 steps of Salto de Eyipantla just a few days before. Naturally, we made it safely across the bridge and began our exploration of this side of the gorge as we headed for the overlook next to the falls.

The vistas were breathtaking. From this side and angle, we could see quite aways down the gorge. I traced the river as it meandered along the bottom, finding its’ way through the rocks. Eventually we made it to the overlook and were standing right next to where the falls made their plunge over the edge. It was quite a thrill watching that water fall 130 feet straight down in a wide ribbon of mist and foam. I took way too many pictures of it. But you know how it is when you are on vacation and you see something really beautiful, unique or something that really impresses you. You just go snap, snap, snap! ***

As we were walking to the falls, we passed several "grounds keepers" who were busy trimming the brush with their machetes. One of them told us to be sure not to miss the little path that led to another waterfall further up the hill and past the big one. We located this path and followed it upstream and were rewarded with another beautiful set of falls. Of course, not of the stature or grandeur of its’ big sister further downstream, but nice all the same. Sadly, we eventually had to say goodbye to this adventure and head out for our next stop.

On the way back to Coatepec we drove around the cobblestone streets of a little town. I forget the name and it isn’t even on the map. We could see the town square and church at the end of "main" street, about 10 blocks away. As we drove to it, we encountered very few cars but lots of people on foot, horseback or driving carts pulled by donkeys. It seemed such a simple life there but I am sure it is a very hard existence. The church was worth the detour but we didn’t dally and were soon back on our way to Coatepec.

Coatepec is also a very charming city in its’ own right. Many of the buildings were covered with tile instead of paint. We parked the car next to the square and set off to explore a little and find someplace for lunch. As we walked along, little doorways would appear and, as you looked in, you noticed that they were the entrances to large plazas behind. Some were private homes but some were also little shopping centers. We did visit a few of these. But what we really noticed was the coffee shops. The smell of roasting coffee was everywhere. Since this is a major coffee growing region, it stands to reason that there would be several shops selling freshly roasted and ground coffee. In one shop, the owner gave us a little lesson on the coffee bean, the different types, the different ways they are roasted and how they are graded as to quality. B and I each bought several different kinds and watched as he custom ground the beans we had chosen. Later, upon our return home, we wished that we had bought a lot more. It was delicious and had a very fresh taste. Live and learn I guess.

For lunch we chose a restaurant directly across from the park and our car. It was called "Los Arcos de Belem". The sign also proclaimed that they had been serving the community from the same location for 46 years. We figured there had to be something good about it to have lasted that long in a non-tourist economy. The food was some of the best we had on the entire trip. We were loaded down with appetizers, soup, an entree, bread, tortillas, all kinds of sauces and finally dessert and coffee. It was a wonderful culinary experience and only cost 40 pesos each, or about $4! One of the sauces was particular tasty and L got the recipe so we could try making it at home. It was a peanut sauce with chilis. We did later buy the correct chilis in a market, but we have yet to attempt to make it at home!

Totally satisfied with the results of our little excursion, we loaded ourselves back into the car and made our way slowly back to our hotel in Xalapa.
** Hola John!
*** Most of my pictures from this trip were never saved to a disc. That computer crashed and was stolen before I could get it fixed. Most of the pics you will see from now on were taken by L, who was smart enough to download his onto a disc! Besides, most of my remaining pics have either B or L or both in them and they refuse to let me post pics of them on the internet. What spoilsports!

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