About six years ago I took a trip to New Orleans, thinking I would also have a chance to see the Gulf. With my family, we drove to Venice, the last town on the road south following the Mississippi River. I thought I would find beautiful sand beaches and an amazing sunset on the coast. Instead, after miles of cypress forests and swamps in the delta - impressive in their own right - we arrived in Venice, a small, rusty, forgotten port on the river, still miles from where the Mississippi reaches the Gulf of Mexico. After Katrina, I'm not even sure Venice still exists.
The bus ride between Puebla and Veracruz is breathtaking. After several hours of desert, we passed by the snow-capped Pico de Orizaba, an active volcano and the tallest mountain in Mexico. After passing Pico, we traveled down into a deep valley, marking the entrance into the state of Veracruz. The vegetation quickly became thicker, greener, and more tropical, as the humidity levels rose. Gorgeous river canyons and cliff faces passed by one after the other. From there to the city of Veracruz was a long flat plain, mostly fruit plantations and sugar cane fields.
After arriving at the bust station in the city, we ate a "comida corrida" at one of many small restaurants across the street froom the station. Although there isn't much I expect to ever fully know about Mexico, I do know this; the food is great! A comida corrida is what you eat for lunch in Mexico. It's fast, filling, and inexpensive. For usually less than three dollars, you get a three course meal with a soup, a guisado (the main course of meat, rice, and vegetable) and a desert, with agua included (agua translates to water but is always some sort of juice in Mexico). The all-you-can-eat warm corn tortillas are perfect for dipping in the sauce that bathes whatever meat you order, and the meat is always perfectly tender. The agua varies, but is sometimes a fruit juice, orchata which is a sweetened rice juice, or jamaica, a juice made from hibiscus flowers. At the restaurant near the bus station in Veracruz, we ate beef and meatballs, in sauces with names that I can' pronounce, but better than any you can find in the States.
We spent the first night in the city of Veracruz in a hotel along the Malecon, a seaside promenade on the Gulf of Mexico. The Gulf's waters were warm and turbulent, with winter storms blowing far off the coast. The air was thick and wet there, but the constant sea breeze kept the temperatures cool.
After our brief stay in the city, we went by bus a little further north to a community called La Mancha. In the city of Veracruz and less than an hour north in La Mancha there were no signs of the destruction from a recent hurricane that devastated the area less than three months ago. But along the coastal highway in between, vast tracks of trees along the sand dunes were leefless, limbs were broken, and debris was scattered everywhere.
|Campsite at La Mancha|
The beach nearby was wide and windswept. Although crowded in some spots, it was completely empty in others. We eventually found a protected cove where the wind and the waves weren't so strong and went swimming. Brown Pelicans dove into the water looking for fish, floated up and down on the waves, and coasted on the air currents just above the surf without ever flapping their wings. Royal Terns and Osprey soared overhead along the coast, fishing the Gulf's waters. Magnificent Frigatebirds watched from above, waiting for an easy meal to steal from the pelicans and terns.
|Beach at La Mancha|
|Fishing on the Lagoon|
|Great Blue Heron (top left, Grey-necked Wood Rail)|
On the last day, before heading back to the bus on the side of the highway, we decided to take one last hike into the sand dunes behind our campsite. From a distance, we saw a pair of birds perched on fence posts. As we got closer, we realized that they were Aplomado Falcons, a very rare species found in few other places in North America. The orange, black, and white plumage is astounding. It was a Christmas like no other I had ever had in Buffalo. The falcons were a final treat, and another reason, including the food and the climate, to come back to the Gulf of Mexico.
Jelly Fish at La Mancha - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ahdpdFykyEo