Arriving into Veracruz we were relieved to find the weather to be much cooler. This was such a relief after the mid-forties and humid temperatures of Papantla. But although the temperature was more our style Veracruz had other crazy weather conditions prepared for us; it was blowing a gale with grey clouds threatening to rain at any moment.
We hadn’t booked any accommodation but had done our usual research online for some reasonably priced hotels and their locations. The ADO bus stations we have been using since Puebla have WiFi so we hung out for a while to see what looked suitable online. Tom was the brains behind our eventual accommodation in Veracruz. For once we didn’t search centrally but instead decided on the hotel right behind the bus station without even looking at other hotels for comparison. It was a bit of a splurge for us but the nice sheets, mattress, pillows and bathroom made it so worth while. The hotel even had room service, which we didn’t use but it’s nice to have the option right? I wish I could carry this room into all the places we visit now and in the future it was such a nice change.
We must have been quite organised that morning because we found ourselves with a little afternoon and the whole evening ahead of ourselves even after settling into our lovely room. Veracruz seemed like a rain jacket kind of place so after digging them out of our packs we set off for the bus to centro. Sure enough the weather on the Malecon was worse and Tom had a great time laughing at how my hair would get all tangled up by the wind, I think “birds nest” is how he described it. We walked for a while before deciding on some food; trying empanadas for the first time. It’s so strange that we have been in this country for over five months now and still not tried so much of the food. Not because we are fussy but because there is so much and it’s so varied. OK maybe I fib a little, we haven’t tried the chapulines (fried crickets) because we are big scaredy cats and they are bugs. We walked back from centro to our hotel which was a pleasurable (but gusty) walk of about 45 minutes.
The next morning we awoke to more miserable weather and headed on our way in the drizzle to the aquarium. In our vast intelligence we thought that we would be able to find a small taqueria or fonda serving desayuno (breakfast), but we were so wrong. The whole walk we saw no places to eat and arrived at the aquarium starving. Groups of people were waiting for the opening time and so we decided to let them get a head start inside while we went to locate food. The only thing we found was tortas which was perfectly OK with us. They were even semi-gourmet with baked ham as their speciality as well as delicious chorizo.
Arriving back at the aquarium we waited in line for about half an hour wondering what we were getting ourselves into with hundreds of young school kids thronging around us. Finally we had tickets and could enter. It was as busy as we thought but being taller than all the kids meant we could still see into the tanks.
Overall the aquarium was really good; not quite as big and impressive as the one in Melbourne but better than any others I’ve seen. There were decent sized sharks, cute macaws in the rainforest area and heaps of different fish. One tank we both found interesting was the one with a family of manatees, neither of us had seen them before. They just appear out of the hazy water and glide around peacefully. Our favourite part was probably the dolphins. We timed it perfectly so we made it to the pool just before the show started and never having seen a dolphin show before we loved seeing all the flips, splashes and tricks these intelligent creatures could do.
Leaving the aquarium we headed towards the malecon where the wind was still trying to blow us away. Snapping a few photos we decided to escape the weather and head indoors again to the Museo Historico Navel. A very modern museum with no English signs but lots of interesting displays to look at. The reading was definitely not our aim as we checked out all the model ships, guns, paintings and audio visual displays. With our Spanish skills (or my lack of) we managed to interpret a lot about the history of the port by reading small snippets of the many signs.
With the city attractions all having closed for the day we walked back to the comfort of our hotel. We racked up quite a few kilometres per day staying away from the centre of town, it took about 40 minutes to walk into or return from centro.
The next day we needed to taxi to our destination which was an old fort on the opposite side of the port. San Juan de Ulua was built to protect the harbour of Veracruz in the 1600’s and was used for protection as well as a prison. In fact some of the areas inside it are so old that they have turned into a sort of man made cave with stalactites forming on the roof. Interestingly Veracruz doesn’t have much nearby access to stone so the fort had been made of local coral. This gives the walls a really cool textural look but can’t have been healthy for the marine life in the area. The views back towards the city were great and we spent a while just staring down into the water watching a large stripy fish.
Another taxi returned us to an old part of the bulwark in centro, Baluarte Santiago. We don’t usually take taxis to get to tourist spots but to get to and from the fuerte it was a necessary evil. Paying a small entrance fee to go inside the tiny museum where we looked at some gold jewellery which had been discovered at nearby archaeological sites. Interestingly a few of the pieces were replicas with the originals on loan to Te Papa Museum back in little old New Zealand. It’s funny when we find references of home in Mexico, it’s very unexpected and doesn’t happen often.
After a quick visit to the regional museum which was quite dated and sad we headed back to the Malecon. Snapping some touristy photos around a Veracruz sign and some cool bronze statues we tried to ignore the weather. I may or may not have gotten told off by an armed police officer (but he did it with a smile) for climbing inside one of the statues… But in my defence another person did it before me and Tom told me to!
We walked back to our hotel for our final night and ate at the cafe downstairs. Not being hugely hungry I had a small bowl of sopa azteca which has become a bit of a favourite of mine. I also got major food envy of Tom’s meal which was a delicious looking filete a la Veracruzana; fish with tomatoes, onion, capsicum and olives. But there would be more time for eating tasty fresh fish filets as we still had plans to visit a couple more locations in Veracruz state.
Staying in a hotel right next to the bus station ended up being a great idea. All we needed to do was carry our packs across the road to buy tickets and be on our way further down the coast.