*This is part 5 of a 13-part series. Read part 4 here.*
For some unknown reason – which tend to be the most annoying of reasons — we’re barely cruising through Veracruz. The days are full of waits and empty of rides. Beneath a rare patch of shade, we shed our backpacks and guzzle down some water.
It seems our luck is about to change.
A gray SUV pulls over a few hundred meters down the hot tar of Highway 140 and I quickly race towards it…until my sandal rips. Now with a heavy backpack and a broken sandal, I hurriedly hobble down the scorched pavement until reaching the passenger-side window.
We pass a lot of information through eye contact — the “windows of the soul” as they say — and when someone severs that connection by wearing abyss-dark sunglasses, it’s a bit disconcerting. The police and military know this and use, effectively, for intimidation.
Our driver, for whatever reason, chose such eye wear and it led me to an immediately felt but logically vague suspicion, a reaction that unbeknownst to me was shared by my travel mate S.
The thing about paranoia is that it makes very little distinction between “what is possible” and “what is probable”. Anything, in theory, is possible so it’s only in judging how probable an event is that allows one to make judgement calls.
Although things seem off, probably nothing will happen.
Everything turns out fine but a lingering discomfort makes us decline his offer to come gambling. This dodgy character reminds me of another dodgy character, one who walked this land nearly 500 years ago: Hernan Cortes.
A major player in the Spanish conquest of the Americas, Hernan Cortes de Monroy y Pizarro first docked his ships here in 1519. Many years had passed since he was a 16 year old law-school dropout enraptured by tales of Christopher Columbus and the New World.
Through a family contact he eventually crossed the Atlantic, spending the next 15 years in the Indies owning people and gaining influence. He was your typical conquistador, blind to atrocity and looking for wealth.
That formed the bulk of his aspirations for mainland Mexico. A year prior Juan de Grijalva explored the shores and came back with tales of gold. Cortes’ ears perked up like an excited dog and he quickly assembled a crew, establishing Villa Rica de la Vera Cruz on Good Friday 1519. From that humble start almost 500 years ago until modern times, Veracruz City has remained an incredibly strategic (being on the Gulf of Mexico) and fabulously wealthy (surpassing the capital at times) port that, currently, brings in and ships out the majority of automobiles in Mexico.
After a long early-morning walk through the humid city-streets — made longer by heavy-drinking the previous night at an overpriced club with fancy folks who spent far too much time looking good and far too little time having fun — we hail down one of these imported automobiles, hoping it will take us far.
It drops us off outside the small town of Nautla next to a sign that promises, “We Speak Englis.”
I guess dehydration can do strange things to the human hand as well.