Travel Blog 18: The State of Veracruz
I woke in the green jungle of Xlitla to the morning walkers on the cobblestone road. Vendors set up their shops, hoping for tourism to come through. I wasn’t too impressed with their products, but I enjoyed observing the cast of characters this lifestyle brought on. One traveler lives in his van, creating art as he goes. One booth is a family with kids running around, trying to sell t-shirts and cheap souvenirs. One guy is selling crystals and powerful healing products. One girl was simply selling beer and water. I soaked in my final memories at Las Pozas, but ultimately decided, the coast is where I want to be!
Being close to the Gulf of Mexico on the map made me think I could get there quickly. Well, I forgot about the “topés.” Nothing is quick when it comes to driving in Mexico. The road rarely showed a sign reading 80 kilometers per hour (50 mph). When it did, it was typically followed by a 30 kilometers per hour sign, several tight curves, and an abundance of obnoxious “topés.” One tremendous benefit to the slow mountain road was a quick break to buy enchiladas and freshly squeezed orange juice at the speedbump. Continuing along, I found myself driving behind gigantic trucks full of oranges. I observed them unloading the massive supply so I stopped to grab two abandoned oranges not being used. As I was about to drive off, a man came to my window. While I thought I was in trouble, he surprised me with his words, “Quieres más?” (“Do you want more?”). He proceeded to load me up with a bag filled with over 15 kilos of oranges. Another worker hoisted the giant bag over his shoulder to Blaze’s passenger seat. The group of men sitting in the shade observed hilariously as “the gringo” had a big smile on my face, super excited about my new addition to the journey.
Entering the city of Tuxpan, a white car with a blue and red spinning light on their roof pointing to the side of the road, pulled me over. The skinny man, in a white button down shirt and blue tie came to the window with a smile on his face. I immediately knew something was off. He told me he was police, but in my experience, the police in Mexico have been very nervous and intimidated by ‘this foreigner.’ He spoke, “Documentos, por favor.” Being my first time interacting with a supposed authority figure, I did as I was told. I handed over my paperwork, proving that Blaze and I are both legally allowed in Mexico. In Spanish, the man proceeded to tell me I was driving on the wrong road. He said I was on the road for locals when I needed the road for visitors. One problem; there’s only one road. I looked up to see hundreds of cars passing and a Wal Mart on the side of the road. The friendly officer told me he needed to write an infraction, which forced me to ‘play dumb’ not understanding. He held up a ticket, instigating me to speak a very angry, “Porque, no entiendo.” (“Why? I don’t understand”). When I asked how much the ticket was, he responded, “2,000 pesos,” making me grow very upset. A lot of my response was playing dumb, acting like I didn’t understand his words to stop this man from receiving a very nice pay-day. I calmly told him to take me to the sign that states the road separation and bring me to his “jefe” so I can hear it from his boss. The man’s face dropped, back peddling very quickly. He told me, in spanish, “No, it’s okay. I won’t write the infraction. You are free to drive this road. Have a very good day,” before getting in his car to drive off with a smile and wave goodbye.
Once the reality kicked in that he was trying to scam me, I felt an odd feeling in the city of Tuxpan. I drove directly to the beach, where I found a fish plate restaurant and a space to park for the night so I can listen to the waves. Processing the situation, a new fear of police officers began sinking in. For the entire state of Veracruz, I’d come to more topés, forcing me to slow down. National Guard police stood at the speedbumps, selecting particular individuals to pull over for a conversation. Guess who was asked to pull off the road every time... this guy.
Standard questions were (in Spanish), “What is your profession? Where are you going in Mexico? What do you have in your car?” After the third stop, on a scorching hot day, I wiped sweat from my brow and said, “Señor, este es mi tres tiempo hoy. Porque? Quieres naranjas?” (“Sir, this is my third time today. Why? Do you want oranges?”). I proceeded to hand him two oranges, being granted access to continue on my way. It worked on the next set of officers too. I found myself bribing police with oranges to stop talking to me. Then I began handing them out to people peddling crappy products at gas stations as a constellation prize.
Oranges became my new bargaining device for every conversation and situation that I did not understand. All I wanted was to continue my journey...