We left Mexico City at six in the afternoon on Sunday. Well, the plan was to leave that morning, but the bus tickets were for that afternoon. The plan was to meet at the TAPO station but it turns out we needed to leave from Terminal Norte. And the plan was to go to the beach, but the bus didn't go directly there.
Once the four of us--myself, a friend from the facultad, and two of his buddies--finally united, we had but minutes to board the bus out of Mexico. Our intended trajectory was this: catch a bus to Poza Rica, Veracruz, a small oil city that would serve as our transportation hub into the east. From there, we would awake early the next morning and head to Nautla, a beach town where a friend had a house. I was promised lagoons, beautiful beaches, rivers with rapids and ancient ruins at the water's edge. None of us had explored much of the state of Veracruz except for my brief trip to the capitol for Carnival, and we were excited.
We arrived in Poza Rica around 11pm. Tent in hand, we descended into the muggy night ready for adventure. But the city was ugly and the hour was late. Buses for Nautla left at 5am and noon. A text came in from our Oaxaca-bound friends saying that they had not been able to catch a ride and were stuck miles from the beach in Puebla, where even fewer buses pass. We quickly scanned the list of destinations at the ADO terminal. There were various destinations, but one for Tuxpan left at 1am. What's in Tuxpan? I asked. My friend responded that it was a beach with a lagoon. Well, it fit our desires and after brief debate we bought student tickets at the discounted spring break price.
We had two hours to spare, and after wandering the streets of Poza Rica we settled at some taco stands near the terminal. We talked about music, about how hot out it would be tomorrow, and about the beach we were all dreaming of. By 1am we were bumping along the road, sound asleep in our Tuxpan-bound bus.
By 2am we stumbled out of the Tuxpan terminal, accosted suddenly by a loud salsa band that was performing live to a few drunken onlookers. What I thought was the shore of the beach was actually the jetty of the river--12 km away from the ocean. Realizing that for tonight the beach was not for us, we started to look for a place to set up camp. I don't think it was until this moment that I realized our true sleeping situation: we would not be pitching a tent at an ocean-side campground, we were in the middle of a jungle city.
Like a troop of hobos, we wandered the streets for a few blocks until we came to a freeway overpass that spanned the river. Under the full moon we climbed up and across, serenaded the whole time by the salsa band. Reaching the other side we found ourselves on the south bank of the river, dotted by some garbage and a few houses but with grass and dirt instead of city streets. Vetoing the idea of sleeping under the bridge, we settled down by the trees on the riverbank and pitched our tent.
Our tent, though quite roomy and over six feet tall, had no rain protection and nothing but a screen flap for a door. Around 4 in the morning the wind began to howl and clouds moved in, and we curled up even tighter--some of us in sleeping bags and me just with the blankets I had stolen from my host family's house.
Luckily for us it did not rain, and despite the circumstances we managed to sleep until past eleven in the morning. We chuckled at our rag-tag ways and folded up our stuff, struggling a little to fold up our giant tent amongst all the wind. The day had started out cold and didn't improve much as we made our way back across the bridge. Our situation grew even more desperate once we learned that the only bus for the day to Nautla had already left, at ten in the morning.
For a while we wandered the city, a small little affair with one main street and a few stoplights. We had bought tickets for tomorrow's but to Nautla but were quickly regretting another night in Tuxpan. Over breakfast (consisting of bread and canned beans from the supermarket), we decided we would have to go somewhere else--and today.
We decided, finally, on going to El Tajin, the site of ancient Veracruz culture.