I complained about the heat and Stew hit me with one of his one-liners: "It's no worse than Texas." That's true. In June, San Antonio's midday temperatures casually go past one-hundred degrees and no one even notices.
But there is one significant difference. For all its swampy climate, Tlacotalpan is incomparably more beautiful than most any Texas hamlet of eight-thousand souls you've ever seen.
|Out for a walk and a ride in downtown Tlacotalpan.|
|Touching up the colors and roofs: Unlike San Miguel de Allende, with|
its inward-looking houses, in Tlacotalpan most houses have front
porches that passersby can use for shelter from the rain or sun.
|An alleé of palm trees on the approach |
to a sugar cane hacienda.
|This could have been my grandmother's old house in Cuba.|
|San Cristóbal sugar mill, awaiting the next sugar cane harvest.|
It's grueling and dangerous work that, during the nineteen-sixties, overcame scores of idealistic, pasty gringo youths, with Ché Guevara tee-shirts, who went down to Cuba to express their solidarity with the revolution by participating in the zafra and instead, were laid low by heat strokes, sunburns or fingers sliced by the razor-like machetes.
|Cane wagons wait for the sugar harvest to begin.|
Tlacotalpan, too, was in the grip of el tiempo muerto, the "dead season." The town awakens only five times a year, I was told by Alejandro, a shy, young university student moonlighting as a waiter in his family's restaurant.
|Tlacotalpan's main square, populated mostly by palm trees.|
The fifth event, as important as tourism for putting money in people's pockets, is the zafra, at the beginning of the year, which summons all able-bodied men to do battle with the sugar cane, by then six or seven feet tall.
|One of the two employees at the town's |
Recorder of Deeds office, which is equipped
with lots of cardboard file boxes
and an ancient typewriter.
The only organized activities we witnessed were two funerals, one on each of the two days of our visit, wending their way into the main church.
According to Alejandro, whose family's restaurant conveniently faced the central square, the first funeral, attended by a couple of hundred people, was for a seventy-nine-year-old woman, a grandee, a descendant from one of the town's original settlers.
|A most loyal companion: A dog attending |
the funeral mass of its owner.
The most notable mourner was a black dog, at the first funeral. It laid right in the middle of the nave during the entire service, undisturbed, doing battle with its fleas. When the mass ended, it matter of factly got up, shook, and led the funeral procession out of the church, across the square and down a side street. That mutt was loyal to its owner right to the very end.
Tlacotalpan's longest dead season in fact began about a hundred years ago. Located at the confluence of two branches of the Papaloapan River, it was the point where agricultural goods, most notably bananas—"the green gold"—were transferred from river boats to ocean-going ships and out to the Gulf of Mexico. When railroads linked the interior with the more ample port of Veracruz, Tlacotalpan became largely irrelevant to commerce.
|On the riverside: The far side of the Papaloapan River is muddy, while|
the near side is bluish-green.
Harmless as the rivers might appear, hell happens occasionally. In October 2010 when a hurricane deluged the state of Veracruz, the Papaloapan rose about ten feet and flooded the entire town. Undaunted, the locals cleaned up and bought more paint, and colorful Tlacoalpan was back in business for the tourist season around New Year's.
|Typical rocking chairs, made of cedar, help you relax|
while the wicker keeps your butt and back cool.
We tried to prolong our pleasant dinner, but alas, the restaurant at the mostly empty hotel closed at five-thirty. It was time to go.
|Parting shot: This Mexican driver, spotted on the way to Tlacotalpan, |
apparently missed the controversy over the Confederate flag. Most
likely he bought the rig in the U.S. and never heard of Robert E. Lee.