Chapter 3.  Humid Southeast Mexico

© Bert & Shari Frenz, 2004 All rights reserved.

Day 8 - January 21 - Amatlán, Veracruz

(Bert) Even from the cuota (toll) road we can see the mountain ahead of us, although clouds intervene occasionally. From the outskirts of Cordobá, Pico de Orizaba is prominent, majestic and snow covered; rising 5611 meters, it is the highest mountain in Mexico. We view it from a shade-grown coffee plantation. The coffee bushes are randomly planted on the steep and rocky hillside beneath a high canopy of tropical trees and above a forest floor blanketed with pink-blossomed begonias and impatiens. At the edge of the forest, a grass field holds Lesser Goldfinches and a neatly attired Rufous-capped Warbler that hides in tall cane. Inside the coffee plantation, birding is feast and famine. Although we can hear birds constantly, seeing them is another matter. Three times we encounter a mixed flock traveling together and each opportunity gives us a half-hour of identification challenges as most birds offer only glimpses between the leaves. We see Lesser Greenlets, Dusky-capped Flycatchers and Band-backed Wrens. Hummingbirds are fast today, rarely lingering, but finally we get enough views to separate Rufous-tailed from the chalconota subspecies of Buff-bellied and opt for the latter based on the slightly forked tail. We save our best bird for last. After climbing a steep trail that leaf-cutter ants opportunistically also use, we come to an anthill big enough to envelope an automobile. Here we find boulders and tree trunks to lean on while and keep our balance while we look uphill and skyward at the mixed flock of birds putting on a show. After spotting saltators, warblers, and ant-tanagers, I notice two birds that have been quietly watching us for the past twenty minutes from a perch just above us. Two Violaceous Trogons calmly rest on a branch while their surrounds are a buzz of feeding frenzy and bird-watching activity.

(Shari) Pulling and tugging on the heavy wooden boat towards the Gulf of Mexico from the sandy beach of Veracruz, twenty Mexican men of varying ages move it only inches at a time. Finally the boat hits water and floats, five men get in and motor out to sea disappearing in the mist of the 9 AM morning. I presume they are fishermen and had beached their boat last night on shore. I spend the rest of my day playing catch-up with road logs, bookkeeping, writing journals and reading. I am anxious to see the birders on their return. I need a caravan fix since I was getting a little lonely.

Day 9 - January 22 - Veracruz to Villahermosa, Tabasco

(Bert) We take a different route today. Instead of trudging through the coastal mountains, we head inland and then south on cuota road. In fact, so much of our travel today is on cuota road that our tolls tally to $91.21, a one-day record for us in Mexico. I used to think Mexico tolls were high, until we recently had to take the toll road around Houston because 610 and 59 were both closed. There the tolls were about 50 cents per mile and we paid $18 just to get past the city. Unlike the population and commerce of Houston, today's surroundings include few people and very few buildings. Instead, we pass miles of sugar cane, then a twenty-mile stretch of pineapple fields, then grazing cattle attended by Cattle Egrets. A few overpasses cross the cuota road, but most seem unconnected to other roads and their intent seems to be for cattle and farmers to cross. In fact, in one case we see a herd of cattle above us. Below, against the pillars, a vendor hawks fresh pineapple juice. The coastal plain - flat as far as the eye can see - is lush, oozing with water in rivers and marshes, and densely covered in green, but few trees until we reach forests of tall palms as we get nearer the Veracruz-Tabasco border. The marshes harbor hundreds of scattered Great Egrets, their long white necks sticking prominently above the greenery. Imperfections in the road surface vibrate and bump our RV's, but we maintain 55-60 mph throughout much of the trip, slowing when we cross into Tabasco and the 4-year-old road is so badly damaged that we slow to half that speed. Nonetheless, we cover 300 miles today and surpass the 1000-mile mark as we enter into the city of Villahermosa.

(Shari) An early start and a toll road do not help a tedious day. The cuota road today is in poor repair and we continually avoid potholes and traffic. Bob has a flat tire on his tow car, but it causes only a minor disruption in our trip. Katy's lasagna tonight is going to taste very very good. She wants to use up her pork and cheese before our agricultural inspection tomorrow and has graciously offered to make lasagna for the group. I help cook one of her pans in my oven and we all bring a dish to share. What a nice treat! As the mosquitoes get vicious about the time we want to eat, we all pile into Katy and Robby's triple slide motor home. Not even crowded, we joke that there is even room to dance on the kitchen floor.

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