mad in pursuit travel notes: mexico

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Friday, 5.7.04: Papantla, Mexico

[<<< previous] We are happy to be rid of our dismal HoJo room and travel even deeper into the "backwoods" of Mexican culture. Today our bus traveled 4 hours, from Xalapa at about 4000 feet, down to the Caribbean coast, then back inland to Papantla. Our goal is to visit the pre-Columbian ruins at El Tajín -- a city that was at its height from the 9th to 13th centuries.

We expected Papantla to be a sleepy little town, but the traffic was terrible and shoppers and workers bustled along the sidewalks. The taxi ride from the bus station was our first blast of tropical heat since who knows when, so our heads were spinning.

But our hotel! What a great change. The Provincia Express was on the second floor of an old (are there any other kind?) building. We snagged the master suite with two balconies overlooking the busy town square (the zócalo). We grabbed a quick snack from our cache of cookies, then hailed a cab to take us out to El Tajín. The sun was hot, but whenever we found shade, the breeze cooled us right off. Perfect. (Pictures below.)

When we go to these ancient places -- especially when it's hot -- I have to remind myself to stop, take a breath, and feel the wonder. A complex and intelligent society lived here. They had their centuries of dominance, then the winds of change buried them. The mighty do fall. The same guys who fabricated these pyramids also glued the sink to the wall in our HoJo bathroom.

Back in Papantla: We wandered around the hilly zócalo area. Big church preparing for 6 P.M. Mass. Market of fresh produce and notions. Teenagers smooching. School girls in uniforms giggling. Little kids racing around. Vendors selling steamed sweet corn.

We settled on the restaurant next to our hotel. With its tables on a second floor balcony, we could continue watching the locals enjoy their Friday evening strolls and conversations. Outside the church, five young men in glittery costumes climbed a pole that rivaled the height of the church steeple. These are the voladores, men who pay homage to the four winds, a ritual practiced since pre-Hispanic times. Four of them were attached to ropes wound around the top of the pole. The fifth played the drums and flute. Suddenly, the four fell off their perch, spinning out from the center and slowly down to the ground.

Mexican food is tasting delicious again.

We retired to our spacious rooms, to the sounds of Friday night at the zócalo and the roosting grackles in the trees.


Click on thumbnails to enlarge:



5.2.04 Puebla, Mexico

5.3.04 Puebla, Mexico

5.4.04 Puebla, Mexico

5.5.04 Xalapa, Mexico

5.6.04 Xalapa, Mexico

5.7.04 Papantla, Mexico

5.8.04 Papantla, Mexico

5.9.04 Papantla to Puebla, Mexico


El Tajín. UNESCO site. Another good description at Mexperience.

Amazon link to "Moments of Being"

Moments of Being by Virginia Woolf

I am now reading these short memoir pieces. According to Woolf, "un-being" is the cotton wool of everyday life. Every once in a while -- suddenly -- you have a shock. There is a revelation of order -- a pattern -- behind the fuzz. These are the true "moments of being," when you become aware of something real behind appearances. These may be found in the memories of childhood -- the reason we remember some things and not others.