Time is money


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North America
November 5th 2018
Published: November 6th 2018
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El Tajin and Papantla


We have two days in Poza Rica but only one main point of interest it would seem. Shall we go there today or tomorrow? Today we think!

With all this time on our hands you would think we would have a lie in, but the weather is hot and sticky here...it really does not pay to go out late. We are down at breakfast when they open at 7am!

Breakfast looks great...a continental buffet: cereal, fruit, yoghurt, toast...but looks can be deceiving. They obviously don’t have too many guests here as the food has clearly been hanging around some time! First the cereal...it is soggy and the milk has turned. The fruit is OK and the yoghurt is in packs...I don’t dare look at the ‘sell by’ date. The bread for toasting has mould on it and Ian reports that the jam, whilst sealed, is also pretty ancient. The pastries are decidedly dry, definitely not baked today. We are not picky eaters but we are not impressed.

Now for our trip to El Tajín. We decide to take a taxi, the cost should be around 120 pesos. The hotel call for a price. We are foreign tourists so they want 200 pesos. It’s not that we can’t afford 200 but I do hate being fleeced just because I’m a foreigner. We decide to try our luck with a collectivo (share taxi) instead. We are just heading off to the collectivo stand when a private taxi pulls up. He wants 150 pesos. This is acceptable so the deal is done and we jump in.

Our driver whisks us through the town, lane jumping all the way through the morning traffic until we leave the city. Now his foot is firmly down on the accelerator, so most of the journey is done at 100km per hour (80mph)! It’s a hair raising ride on single track road and much overtaking takes place. Blind bends do not appear to worry our driver at all. The Mexicans don’t believe in speed limits, so their quaint custom of huge speed bumps on the road is the only thing that slows him down. His capacity to slow from 100km to less than 10km in the space of seconds when said bump appears is a sight to behold. Even so, he doesn’t always get it right...one such missed slow-down sends us hurtling towards the car roof. I’m glad I have my seat belt on! Time is money I suppose.

We arrive at the archaeological site of El Tajín at 8.45am. It doesn’t open till 9am but there is a lady on hand (aka in ambush), to guide us to her restaurant. A coffee and fruit juice along with a plate of home cooked chips sets us up nicely.

El Tajín was a political and religious centre for the Totonac civilisation between 900-1150 AD. Their pyramid structures were decorated with relief panels and sculptures, painted in vivid red, blues and blacks. Discovered by the Spanish in 1785, the current excavated area of about one square kilometre is less than one tenth of the known urban area.

Unlike Teotihuacan where you can climb the pyramids, here they are all roped off - largely because their construction looks far less robust, the stepped structures being of much smaller stones.

We start our tour between four equal sized pyramids set at the four cardinal points, the area between being known as the Plaza del Arroyo and was believed to be a market square. In fact, the actual usage of many of the features here can only be guessed at.

We follow the rough track northwards past a number of ‘ball courts’ to a series of buildings where the forest still impinges. Away from the track the ground is grass covered, but the local water table is just below ground level, meaning that there are some muddy or marshy areas on the well travelled routes.

We head to the highest point of the site where one of the rulers, 13 Rabbit, lived. From here we enjoy the best views of the excavated site to the south. The tallest complete pyramid is still crowned by the remains of a temple, and has 365 niches for daily offerings. Next to this is the small but important statue of Dios Tajín, god of thunder and lightening.

Like the buildings, the rules of the ball game are equally vague. It appears that two teams attempted to get a heavy rubber ball through a small stone ring, using only knees, hips or elbows. Some of the carved panels on the southern ball court show the losers being sacrificed after the game!

For the most part of our visit, we are the only tourists on site, but by the time we leave there are two more couples floating about plus a guide. Shrouded in mist at the 9am opening, the sun is now shining through and the humidity is high - it’s only 11am.

Usually the ‘Voladores’ perform here. These are five men, dressed in ceremonial white, who climb to the top of, what looks like, a tall flagpole. From here, they fling themselves from a great height and spin round with only a rope attached to their ankles. The Mexican version of bungee jumping? Spectators pay them for their time, courage and expertise. I suppose this is the downside of arriving early - it’s clearly not worth their time for such a small audience. There will be no show here right now.

We take a collectivo into the nearby town of Papantla. We begin as three passengers, but then another passenger hails the cab so Ian is forced into the middle of the back seat until he leaves. At only 20 pesos per person, we can hardly complain and we have been subject to much greater ‘collectivo crowding’ in other parts of the world.

Papantla is a small town but buzzing with activity. We are dropped by the square which is filled with people enjoying the morning sunshine. It’s a bit higher here and feels slightly less humid. The shoe shiners are busy and mine could do with a buff up...if only they were not soaking wet from this morning’s squelch across the grass at El Tajín.

It’s a bit early for lunch so we just wander, exploring the surrounding streets and the Catholic church. There is another ‘Voldadores’ pole in the church courtyard - seems like an odd location? It is also deserted this morning.

Now for our return journey! I ask a lady in the street about the bus and she is telling me to walk down the road and turn left. Her husband disagrees and points in the opposite direction declaring ‘taxi’. I am unclear if it’s a private taxi or a collectivo that he is referring to. Now his wife is interrupting and pointing back the other way. Her hand indicates that we should turn left at the end of the street. She then cups her hand to her mouth and starts shouting ‘Poza Rica, Poza Rica, Poza Rica’ at the top of her voice. It’s all very confusing but I ‘think’ she is telling me that if I walk the way she has indicated then I will hear them shouting. Meanwhile, Ian has walked half way down the road in the opposite direction in an attempt to distance himself from me and the conversation. :-)

I catch up with Ian and we head off in the general direction indicated. He is all for hiring a private taxi, but where’s the fun in that?

We stumble across a collectivo taxi rank but they are not going to Poza Rica, they are just the local service. The driver tells me that we need the executive service for 150 pesos. He is, however, generous enough to give us the directions to the bus station - it’s literally just across the road...walk down the hill and it’s somewhere in the distance...but not far, I am assured.

We have crossed the road and walked down the hill, and what do we hear? Poza Rica, Poza Rica, Poza Rica! It’s a collectivo stand...with a bus station behind it. Ian spots a collectivo with Poza Rica written on it but someone else nips in first. You have to be quick! No matter, there is also a bus waiting to depart.

We have plenty of time so the local bus will be fine. We purchase our tickets (only 20 pesos each) and enter a reasonably smart looking bus with velour covered seats. It fills up quite quickly and departs after only five minutes. We are now treated to an excruciatingly bad performance of a song by a blind woman. This is followed by a collection of coins by her partner who is also in charge of carrying a portable loudspeaker. The collection is done by means of a clear plastic cup being thrust under the noses of all the passengers. Some give, some don’t. Interestingly he misses us out...can’t be that blind then, I wonder? They must have pinpointed us as the only foreigners on the bus and assumed there was no point coming to us? Ian actually did have some coins ready, but they have already disappeared via the rear exit doors...ready to torture another bus load I suppose?

Our bus makes good progress, only stopping once outside a shop as the driver wants to purchase a bottle of coke. The one hour bus journey described in our guide book takes less than 30 minutes...it isn’t the latest edition so they have either upgraded the bus service or maybe we just struck lucky this time?

Towards the end of our journey we have another bus salesman onboard. This one leaps up and starts a loud tirade concerning some suspicious looking dried green leaves. At first he appears to be selling the little packets as a herbal tea to cure all know illnesses...but then, as he distributes the leaves with squares of paper for roll ups, I am sure it must be weed! We decline our ‘free gift’ when he comes to us (I’m not in the mood for a trip). The tirade continues, and now he produces a liquor bottle from his pocket. It is half filled with brown liquid and the leaves are swishing round in the bottom. This finally seems to have pushed a button with many of the locals...he circulates the bus collecting cash and distributing his little packets of delight.

Google maps is assisting us greatly today. The bus is obligingly following the exact route back to our hotel. With two minutes journey time left, I nudge Ian from our seats up to the front of the bus and off we get. We are directly opposite the covered area occupied by yesterday’s kids art class which, in turn, is opposite our hotel.

Just time to nip into the Oxxo for a vanilla cappuccino and a pot of yoghurt. We purchased fresh wholemeal bread rolls in the bakery at Papantla earlier, and we have a tin of tuna in our room...so today we are sure of a healthy lunch.

Now it’s time for a shower, lunch and late siesta. It’s a shame that the shower in our hotel does not want to deliver any hot water, but we are so sticky we almost don’t care!

The poor WiFi connection in this hotel is driving me mad. I have been down to reception several times to ask them to reboot the modem. I also want to ask them if there is any vague chance of some hot water. They seem to think that if they repeat the password to me several times it will magically start working. It’s a bit like shouting at a foreigner to make them understand! I suspect that the problem lies in the fact that we are the only occupants on the third floor and nothing has been switched on! The doorman is despatched and now we have hot water. Still no WiFi though.

We decide to eat out on the street stalls again tonight. It’s pretty much all junk food but it’s nice to eat in the open air in this humidity! Tonight we have cheese hamburgers and chips. We promise ourselves that we will seek out a healthy meal tomorrow!


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6th November 2018

13 Rabbit
.... so, I only need another 11 to be a ruler? :)
6th November 2018

13 Rabbit
Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit, rabbit, rabbit, rabbit, rabbit, rabbit, rabbit, rabbit, rabbit, rabbit, rabbit :-)
7th November 2018

yak, yak, rabbit...

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