by Layna Segall de Velez, Feature Writer
When you drive through Xico Viejo, Veracruz, a small town 25 miles from Xalapa, you would swear you had stepped back in time and into an “John Wayne western. The narrow streets are tough to navigate with horses and burros tied to hitching posts along both sides. The trucks you see are reminiscent of small-town Anywhere, 60 years ago. There are caballeros with cigarettes hanging from their mouths, and a sombrero pulled down so low you can barely see their eyes watching your every move. You can easily imagine them saying (if they spoke English), “You ain’t from around here, are ya?”
I am the only non-Mexican for miles so the stares and pointing almost becomes a frenzy in this tiny pueblo. Xico is known to have witches at night that chase young lovers. Maybe my wild red hair was thought to belong to a witch that came out a little early.
We were lucky to have a wonderful tour guide, a sister of R2’s amigo. She was happy to show off the region and we drove to the spectacular, Cascada de Texolo waterfalls, where the 1984 Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner movie, Romancing the Stone, was filmed.
On route, we navigated winding roads with our windows open to savor the aroma of the coffee beans growing in the region. Along the way, little children would try to entice us to buy their handmade trinkets, or their homemade coffee liquor, similar to Kuala.
We were impressed at the height and beauty of the waterfalls. R2 and I were somewhat apprehensive to cross the bridge that would take us to the site. It had been there since the early 1900s and looked like it had missed the last 50 years of structural maintenance. Fortunately, we decided to throw our fates to the wind, and as a result, hiked around the falls for a few hours. At one point, we joined the locals and enjoyed splashing around in the cool stream under one of the smaller waterfalls.
There was only one restaurant in the area and you had to ascend even higher to reach this hidden gem. We all wondered how they managed to supply provisions to the top of the mountain since it was not accessible by a motorized vehicle. The only explanation was burros laden with packs on their backs. We didn’t head to that eatery, though, because our guide had other plans for us. She recommended a trout farm far up in the mountains that served fresh fish, cooked to your liking.
The wonderful Nissan “ghetto” rental navigated pot holes, boulders and steep cliffs like a trooper. We followed a 1970s rusted beetle slowly up the mountain not sure we would complete this trek with all our hubcaps. We passed rustic haciendas and rancheros on their horses, but the best thing we passed was a small donkey tied to the fence that pointed us in the right direction. As if by some mind-force he showed us the way to the farm but not with his eyes, his legs, or even his tail, for that matter. We will refer to his skills as “Periscope Directions.” His periscope literally stood at full attention, shifted to the left and seemed to say to us, “Continue that way, weary travelers.” While Chelli didn’t speak any English, we all knew what the donkey was telling us and our stomachs ached with laughter.
We finally reached the trout farm, and my comfort level flew out the window. The restaurant was a small building with smoke billowing from the kitchen. It was really for locals who had made the trip, with or without the burrito’s help, but that has never stopped us before.
The trout were crowded in small streams so they were easy pickings for lunch. The only fishermen were two-nine year old boys that were catching the fish with a net, plopping them on a bloodied table and bashing their brains out. They gutted the fish, threw the innards to the dogs and ran the pieces to their mama in the restaurant. R2 kept stressing, “Don’t look.” He is a lover of nearly alive sashimi so the fish frenzy didn’t seem to bother him in the least.
As R2 and our guide snacked on fried fish tails and the occasional eyeball, I wondered where the nearest mercado was for a bag of papitas and a cool cervesa. You can take the city slicker outta the city, but you can’t take the city outta this Canadian gal!
Read more about Layna’s world travels at http://laynainasia.blogspot.com