Is it just me, or does it seem that a lot of our days were spent getting up at 5:00 am? Thursday was no different. Today was going to be a huge day of traveling. We needed to get from Xalapa to Xilitla (hee-leet-la) and we needed to do it in one day. As best we could figure, it was 327 miles. And not good miles either. We would truly be entering into the Sierra Madre mountains and we had no idea what our drive time would be.
Bags repacked and the car loaded, we had no time or place for coffee or breakfast. We headed out of town, feeling just a little sad to be leaving such a great city, but happy too that we were on our way to another new adventure! Lucky for us, our route out of town passed by a OXXO store. These are similar to our 7-11 or Super America stores. This particular one was open 24 hours so we pulled in to grab a cup of coffee to take with us. Except the doors were locked. At some preordained time, they lock the doors for the night and then reopen them, I suppose, when they feel it is safely daylight again. At any rate, they have a slot in the door where you can tell the clerk what you want, hand him your money and he goes and gets it for you. It kind of reminded me of when the jailer opens the little door in prison and slides the dinner in. Except of course that these doors were all glass. We each ordered coffee and the clerk dutifully made each one to our individual specification and passed them out to us. We spent a few chilly minutes standing outside the car, sipping the very hot coffee and enjoying the early morning stillness of the city. Since we do not have cup holders in the car, and smoking is not allowed in it, we had to finish our coffee before we could get on the road again.
Our route took us slightly northeast, heading for the coast again. We had a bit of freeway to Banderilla but our luck ran out there and we had to switch onto another secondary road, heading for Martinez de la Torre. We were still climbing what is considered the foothills of the Sierra Madre, but they were still some huge hills! There is no easy, direct route for where we were going so we were forced to switch back and forth from highway to highway. A few miles on this one, then a few miles on another, then turn onto this one and on and on. Navigation was a nightmare but L was in the passenger seat and throughout the trip did an extremely fine job of getting us to where we needed to drive.
We took Veracruz 234 out of Martinez de la Torre, heading for the city of Poza Rica. We intended to skirt the outside of it and continue then on Hwy 130 to Alamo. The road signs had different plans for us.
The Lonely Planet says there is no reason on Earth to visit Poza Rica, except if you are unfortunate enough to have to change buses here. It is a congested, dirty oil town. Downtown has a sleazy feel and also a feeling of not really being safe. Somehow, we found ourselves in downtown Poza Rica, on their version of Main Street no less! It was a crowded, narrow, noisy and bustling road. Ending up here instead of skirting it was not the navigators’ fault. The signs for the road we needed led us directly downtown and then vanished! Typical Mexican signage. I repeat to anyone who drives here. Have as many good, up to date maps as you can find with you. You will need one or more of them several times! So L grabbed one of our maps or books that had a downtown map of Poza Rica in it and proceeded to direct me to turn here, then here, then here. He had us out of that awful mess called downtown and back on our correct route in less than 10 minutes! We certainly could have used him getting through Villahermosa!
Our trip remained quite uneventful after that. Except for crossing one large suspension bridge over a wide river. From looking at it, one would not have suspected the condition it was in. The entire driving surface was full of holes! Not dents or dips, but actually holes! Evidently the surface material had deteriorated, leaving large holes that one had to drive around in order not to fall through to the river below! Not a pleasant thought or experience! Another reason why it is never a good idea to dive after dark in Mexico!
Because we had been heading northeast, back towards the Gulf, we mostly left the mountains behind for awhile and had fairly good, flat roads and made good time. We finally reached the town of Alamo, where we decided to have lunch. This town must have been famous for its’ production of oranges because beside the main road, as you entered the city, there was a giant statute of a man bent over from the weight of a great basket of oranges. And the oranges were spilling out and had fallen to the ground in a long stream from the basket. It was very well done.
Leaving Alamo behind, we continued on our way, now heading northwest and back into central Mexico and the mountains. I really can’t do justice to this mountain range. It is stupendously beautiful. Totally unlike the Rockies or the Alps. These mountains are, for the most part, lush and very green. We started to climb, following the road that had so many twists it was like following the path of a drunken snake. We passed banana and orange plantations. The hills were covered with them. We passed through little villages clinging to the sides of hills where people were struggling to cultivate every flat piece of land they could find. And lacking that, they planted on the hillsides, all by hand I am guessing. Even if they could afford one, no tractor would be able to negotiate these hills. The road was so steep and there were so many switchbacks and hairpin turns, I hardly ever got the car out of the third gear. (I have a five speed manual)
We finally reached our next milestone point, San Sebastian. L had calculated that we could get off the main road here and take a short cut, thus cutting many kilometers off our journey. Otherwise, we would have had to continue way north just to make a U turn and come back down south. If we took the shortcut, from east to west, we could save a lot of time also. But just like in all good stories, and all good movies, shortcuts are not always what they seem to be!