Palacio Municipal and the Zocalo, Veracruz.

My Mexico Trip, Part 5: Veracruz to Palenque and a Fascinating Dance-Drama.

Continued from My Mexico Trip, Part 4: Popocatépetl, Puebla Cathedral and China Poblana.

After lunching at The China Poblana in Puebla, we headed towards Veracruz. The topography of the land changed gradually. We saw large wind-farms with their long turbine blades turning slowly in the wind —a cheap, clean way to generate electricity—no charge for the wind and no emitted carbon.

Windmills en route to Palenque.
Windmills en route to Palenque.

In cities I saw metal water tanks on the roofs that utilize the hot sun in Mexico to heat water. It was good to see wind and sun—cheap, abundant and non-polluting sources of energy being used. People are beginning to take climate change and the associated problems seriously. I wish other countries would follow suite.

On the left side of the bus, a white cone in the distance caught my eye. Pepe, our guide, told us that was Mount Orizaba, the highest peak in Mexico and the third highest in North America. It was winter, the peak was covered with a dusting of snow.

Mount Orizaba, Mexico.
Mount Orizaba, the highest peak in Mexico.

We arrived in Veracruz, founded in 1519 by Hernán Cortés. It is the oldest, Spanish-built settlement in Mexico. The exact site of its founding is not known, it had to be relocated a few times due to commercial and strategic imperatives.

A Culture is Born-dance, Veracruz.
Moctezuma, Malinche and her companion in the dance-drama “A Culture is Born”, Hotel Diligencias, Veracruz, Mexico.

At the hotel a surprise awaited us. We were treated to a dance recital titled “A Culture is Born”, depicting the history of Mexico focusing on the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors. We watched Moctezuma, the Aztec king, in his elaborate green headdress (we had seen a reproduction at the Archeological Museum in Mexico City), hold court. We saw the Spaniards arrive in their sailing ships crossing the vast ocean. The ocean waves were reproduced by waving a blue cloth and the ship’s prow with a triangular brown one. It was simple yet effective.

A Culture is Born- Dance in Veracruz
Cortés, Malinche, Moctezuma and other actors in the dance-drama “A Culture is Born” at Gran Hotel Diligencias, Veracruz.

We observed Moctezuma greeting Cortés, the hand-over of Malinche and her nineteen companions to the Spaniards, the falling-in-love, the betrayal and the eventual birth of a new culture, the one seen in Mexico today. La Malinche was a unique Nahua woman, gifted in languages, who acted as a translator for the Spaniards and helped them convince several tribes to rise up against the Aztec empire and eventually defeat it. She is a controversial figure in Mexico today. Some depict her as a traitor who fell in love with a foreigner and contrived against her own countrymen. Others see her as an exploited victim, the symbolic Mother of a new culture that was born. She bore Cortés his first son, Martin. But, irrespective of her portrayal, no one can deny her pivotal role in Mexico’s history.

Another historic treachery flashed through my mind, that of Mir Jafar who sided with Robert Clive (later Lord Clive) at the Battle of Plassey in 1757 that led to the defeat of the Nawab of Bengal and the eventual demise of the Mughal Empire a century later. History is a wonderful guide. There are important lessons to be learned from these betrayals and overthrows that may explain some of the upheavals happening in the world today. But that requires a deeper dive beyond the scope of this travelogue. Perhaps I will keep it for a later time.

Palacio Municipal and the Zocalo, Veracruz.
Palacio Municipal at the Zócalo (Plaza de Armas), Veracruz, Mexico.

Our hotel was strategically located in front of the Zócalo—the Plaza de Armas. After the dance recital and dinner we stepped out onto the plaza. The night was warm and beautiful, the plaza brightly lit with green trees, ornate lighting and black and white tiles on the ground. There was a raised stage at one end with musical instruments and loudspeakers. No doubt it was being readied for a band later on.

Cathderal Bell Tower, Veracruz.
Bell Tower of the Cathedral, Zócalo, Veracruz.

We looked around admiring the arches and arcades of the 17th century Palacio Municipal in front and the brilliantly lit cathedral with its bell towers on the side. The plaza and adjoining areas were packed with locals eating, drinking and generally having a good time. A relaxed air permeated the space. We strolled for a while and then sat down and people-watched till we got drowsy. We walked over to our hotel and were soon fast asleep.

Next morning we started for Palenque with a scheduled stop at La Venta but before boarding the bus I took a last stroll around the plaza. I was amazed at the large number of birds and recorded their calls. I sometimes listen to that recording. It is an instant stress-reliever for me. This was indeed a peaceful oasis in the middle of a large city.

View of Gulf of Mexico.
View from the bus as we drove along the Gulf of Mexico.

We drove past the blue-green waters of the Gulf of Mexico with its beaches, rocks and islands bearing mute testimony to its long, sometimes violent history. En route we stopped at a small rest stop for a boxed-lunch that we had brought with us. It was simple; a sandwich, a bag of potato chips, a piece of fruit and a drink. As I was munching the chips my attention was drawn to the warnings prominently exhibited on the bag (see the picture below).

Health warning labels on potato chips in Mexico.
Health warning labels (high fat, salt and calories) on a bag of potato chips in Mexico.

It was from the Secretary of Health—excess calories, excess saturated fat and excess sodium. Fat, salt and sugar make food very tasty and manufacturers of processed foods are well aware of it. That is their goal. But, in excess, they are bad for health. The chips were delicious, and addicting. It was hard to stop after a few. I now know why. I have not seen such warnings on similar food items, often made by the same manufacturers, in the US. I wonder why.

As we were approaching La Venta with the famous Olmec heads, we noticed the traffic slowing down to a crawl. After about an hour we figured out the reason—a tractor-trailer toppled over onto the median with its load of fresh fruit spilled out in the open. People were helping themselves to the bonanza. Why let good food go to waste? Because of this slowdown we arrived at La Venta park just after closing time and so missed seeing the Olmec heads—just one of those pesky unexpected events that happen on travels. We took it in our stride and continued on toward Palenque. The vegetation gradually changed over from bush and scrub to lush tropical—we saw several large trees with bright red flowers.

En route to la Venta.
Colorful tropical flowers en route to La Venta, Mexico.

Our hotel, Hotel y Spa Mision Palenque, was next to a tropical jungle with an abundance of wild life. The sun was setting as I sat outside my room watching the waving palms with the sun lighting the tree tops as evening set in and the birds winged their way home, twittering. Night falls rapidly in the tropics. It was time for a drink, dinner and bed.

View from my room in Hotel Y Spa Mision Palenque.
View from my hotel room in Palenque as the sun was setting, Palenque, Mexico.

To be continued: The Mayan ruins of Palenque.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s