We had long planned that this October we would take one of our periodic drives from Lake Chapala to Chiapas and this time we would skip the usual fast track over various autopistas through Puebla and Veracruz State inland and detour instead through Puebla mountain towns and the Gulf Coast of Veracruz from Papantla and Tecolutla south along Coastal Highway 180 through Barra de Nautla, La Antigua, Veracruz City and on to "The Tuxtlas", Catemaco and on to Coastal Tabasco before cutting over to Villahermosa, Palenque and into the Chiapas Highlands to our final destination of San Cristóbal de Las Casas. Then, a week or so before we were set to leave, some folks trying to make a point having to do with illicit commerce dumped all those bodies on a main thoroughfare near an exclusive shopping mall in the attractive and affluent Veracruz suburb of Boca Del Rio where we had tentatively planned a seafood lunch and this repulsive event caused us a bit of trepidation but, what the hell, the trip was on and, as far as we knew, no one was centering in on a couple of honkies with Jalisco plates driving by on the way to Chiapas so, a week later we were off. Then, to make a short story even shorter, last Thursday, October 6th, we arrived along the way at a hotel in Chachalacas Beach just north of Veracruz City for the night only to find out upon arrival that a number of additional corpses had been found here and there all over Metropolitan Veracruz including some randomly thrown about here and there in that part of the metro area in which we were staying overnight in a deserted hotel empty except for us in a deserted beach town where you could shoot a cannon down any street and never hurt a soul. Not a good sign when combined with the fact that, along the way from Lake Chapala to Veracruz through Michoacan, Mexico State, Hidalgo and Puebla State we had never seen such an army and federal police presence in the five plus years we have routinely and repeatedly driven this route from Jalisco to Chiapas. We did make it past the Veracruz badlands to San Cristóbal and believe we are firmly and safely ensconced in our Chiapas abode but here are some fatuous observations from the Dawg:
* Veracruz State is suffering terribly from lost tourist business as a result of these catastrophic events in Metro Veracruz that just continue to dog the state with no end in sight at present. At the El Tajin Totonec ruins near Papantla, a fascinating place that was virtually empty when we were there last Thursday, guides told us that, at this time of the year (not the high season), when they expect 1,000 visitors a day on the weekend, they are lucky to receive 100 visitors. Beach towns and beaches are folorn and empty except on weekends when the big crowds from Mexico City and other inland urban areas show up and, even then, visitors are a fraction of what is normally anticipated. And, this bad news preceded the discovery of dozens of more murder victims a couple of days later.
* Even without the present difficulties with criminal gangs, the coast of Veracruz from the Barra de Tecolutla to Veracruz City is a somewhat dismal place interspersed with ratty coastal burgs totally without any charm or, at least to the passing observer, pride of community. The coast generally lacks the pleasant green rolling hiils with beautiful tropical and sub-tropical vegetation typical of much of inland Veracruz State in or near the mountains. The splendid scenery driving down the mountain from Tlapacoyan along the foothiils to Martinez de La Torre with striking coffee and banana orchards and other similar vegetation is replaced along the coast with the largely flat, scrubby vegetation of the Gulf Coastal Plain not untypical of the Gulf for a thousand or more miles north of Veracruz and the beaches are unremarkable dark brown and black affairs with murky water not untypical of the gulf from about Campeche all the way to the coast of Louisiana*. Hardly worth a visit for beach lovers when the beaches and waters of the Gulf in Northern Yucatan and the Caribbean in Quintana Roo are so much more attractive.
We have been driving between Lake Chapala and Chiapas for several years and have always taken the autopista from Orizaba to Minatitlan and have always wondered if the coast of Veracruz was worth the extra time and effort to warrant a detour since the autopista through the Veracruz coastal plain is decidedly dull and without scenic value. We can now report that, no it´s not worth the effort to go down the coast although visits to places such as Papantla, The Tuxtlas and other inland areas are another story and may well be worth a detour before continuing your journey down (or up) the autopista.
* Interestingly, Gulf Coast beaches from the Eastern shore of Mobile Bay in Alabama through the Florida Panhandle are among the most beautiful sugar-white sand beaches on the planet and the beaches from Progreso to Isla Holbox in Mexico are also quite nice but don´t ncome to Veracruz expecting anything even remotely as nice as thoes aforementioned beaches. You will be very disappointed.