Sunday, October 25, 2009

Veracruz - Sun. 10/25 '09

This morning six of us met in the school's small living room to go out for breakfast and an informal city tour with Jorge. He's a smart, well-spoken 18-year-old in his first year of universidad, studying civil engineering.

My fellow students are from just about everywhere: Mike, from Houston; Inez, from Kentucky—formerly of Michigan; Jenny, from North Carolina; and Laurie, from Kansas. (I'm still working on remembering the other names and hometowns.)

Walking to the nearest bus stop, we grabbed a blue bus (six pesos -- about 50 cents -- for a ride without air conditioning versus the yellow ones with air for $7.50 Mex.) headed for el centro.
Our destination was El Gran Café de la Parróquia a landmark in the city for 200 years. (The city was founded in 1513 by none other than Hernando Cortes as the first Spanish conquest in Mexico.) The restaurant is famous for the favorite local rendition of coffee, the lechero, consisting of a few tablespoonsful of strong coffee with lots of steaming milk poured in from great silver kettles held about a foot above a glass. I ordered the stronger cafe Americano with inverse proportions of coffee and milk, and the tortilla de la Parroquia, an egg, potato and onion omelett served swimming in a bowl of savory broth.

After breakfast we strolled along the seawall, overlooking the very busy port of Veracruz (Mexico's first, second or third busiest seaport, depending on whom you ask). Across the harbor mammoth container ships and the hefty cranes to load and unload them intimidate every other boat and everything else in view.
Along the promenade of small shops strolled a number of young sailors, dashing in their crisp, snow-white, dress uniforms, some of them even sporting sheathed sabers. One group of young women commandeered a pair of sailors to pose with them for a photo.

On our way to the zocalo—the main city plaza—we walked past the Baluarte Santiago, one of what once were many small fortifications that surrounded the city, connected by walls.

The zocalo, smaller than those I've seen in many other cities, is flanked by the usual government buildings and the cathedral, a crumbling, dismal building caked in black and gray blotches from air pollution and/or mold. Posters indicated that a fundraising effort's underway to clean it up and make the most-needed repairs.

We hopped another blue bus for Boca del Rio, a smaller and somewhat more modern city that sort of blends into Veracruz to the south. There we got off at the small park where the muddy river (name?) actually spills into the Gulf. Kids lined the seawall, not trying very hard to escape the explosions of spray that shot up with each surge of the sea as it butted heads with the river's current.

Back at the school, Jorge—who'd told me of his interest in playing guitar—picked up the guitar on display in the lounge and softly played a couple of very polished classical pieces -- ¡Muy impresionante!

I struck out on my own and went to the aquarium—advertised as the biggest and best in Latin America—just a few blocks from school. It is not spectacular like Boston's, but decent, especially for the few humongous specimens of jewfish—some of them looking to be seven or eight feet long and at least 400 pounds. Another exhibit that caught my fancy was that of some four- to six-inch fish with no eyes— apparently evolved away for lack of use in their total-darkness cave habitat.

Walking back, I met a nice young woman by asking her about her dog (an "eschnauzer"), a sort of cream-colored variety I've never seen before. She knew all about the immersion school and seemed very anxious to practice (what else?) her English!! If I don't hook up with other students for dinner during the week, I may give her a call -- she offered to show me around a bit and take me to a good restaurant. If so, we agreed to talk English/Spanish half & half.

I'm feeling pretty competent in my Spanish so far and already have siezed many opportunities to chat with school staff members and other locals. I look forward to a bit more structure tomorrow and during the week.

When I was ready for dinner, no one was around, so I went out to Che Tango, an Argentine restaurant I'd passed while exploring this afternoon. Though I knew beef would be the place's forte, I'd hoped for a potato and some veggies along with my meat. I had to settle for a medley of fried onions and jalapeños, but my small steak (for some reason called vacío—which means "empty") was superb, as was the wine I ordered to accompany it.


jenniferfitzgerald said...

Hi Jeff,

We're glad you're having a good time in Mexico. It sounds like you're seeing and experiencing a lot of great things. We can't wait to see all of your pictures.

Jenny, Joe and Allie Moe

Hubbs Center said...

We think your breakfast sounds really good. Do you eat that omelett every day? That fish with no eyes is weird. We hope you can post some pictures soon.
Your Hubbs Center English class

Hubbs Center said...

Hi Jeff
I hope you will have a good trip and fun in Mixico.

And Jeff if you have any kind of amizine things please sending to us in hubb center.

Because I was learned a lot of things in you jouney in Mixico.

I have learned fish no eye in Mixico because you.

Have a good and new amizine things for your next job.

by a new student
respactfully kaw

sally gibson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sally gibson said...

It appears your trip is going well and the blog has a photo of an attractive young man. So, I'm deducing two things: you found a cord for your camera and I'm looking at Jorge, is this right? I look forward to sharing your journey vicariously.

murciélago said...

Jenny: Thanks for your visit! Yes, seeing some interesting things, but most of all meeting lots of nice people and gaining much confidence already in my español. You and Joe should try this immersion sometime ;-)

murciélago said...

To my dear Hubbs Center class: Thanks so much for your comments!! It makes me feel like you're with me here, sharing -- at least a little -- my experiences.
No I don't have the same omelet every day (This morning I ate just some sweet bread, fruit and coffee.)
Kaw: Thanks for your comment. I'm glad you learned something new from my experiences (the fish with no eyes). By the way, you wrote very well -- keep up the good work!!
Everyone: I hope we all can stay in touch!

murciélago said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hubbs Center said...

Hi, Jeff

I am Randy Moua. I write this letter to you to talk about your story two two weeks ago.Jeff, I like your story because you tell something I never heard before and I hope you have many opportunities when you travel to Mexico.Jeff is good you have time to go to learn something new and you had time for fun.

murciélago said...

Sally: Hi sweetheart!! Yes, I just borrowed a compatible cord from Eric. You must have tuned in just as I've been uploading the pix for yesterday. More to come...
Yes, that pix is of Jorge, who, unfortunately, I don't get to see again til next weekend.
I love you!!

Hubbs Center said...

Thanks for your note, Jeff. We see the pictures now. They're beautiful!

murciélago said...

Hey Randy: Your comment was very well written -- thank you! Yes, I am indeed lucky to be able to travel. As you know, travel can make life very interesting and fun. Keep up the good work with your writing!!

murciélago said...

Hey Cris -- I'll try to answer any student who wants to ask a question or tell me of a similar experience he/she might have had in traveling.

Hubbs Center said...

Amelia likes the picture of the fish at the aquarium. She's never been underwater, but now she knows how things look there. The color is beautiful.

Hubbs Center said...

Sahra says the first time she went to Nairobi she couldn't speak Swahili. She had to point at things she wanted to buy in the market. Muslima wants to know how you're getting along in Mexico. Can you always say what you want to say in Spanish?

murciélago said...

Sahra: Once in a while, I still have to point at something I want. But I always ask what it's called in Spanish so I can continue to build my vocabulary. It's important, if you don't know how to say something, to try to figure out a way of saying the same thing with different words. For example, if I didn't know the word restaurant, I could say "the place where I can eat."
I hope that answers your question.