Do You Know The Way To Veracruz: Part III

Wes and I stood outside the gate to the port of Veracruz for a short while and finally realized that taxis don’t usually come there unless to bring a fare. I returned to the big building to ask if there was a bus or some other form of transportation which would be able to return us to the city. After a difficult exercise in overcoming a language barrier I learned that buses came and went at shift change but not during the day. The man at the counter told me that we could get a taxi at the old stone fort which was about a mile down the road. I remembered seeing that fort on the way to the port and thought then that it looked like it would be an interesting place to visit. Now it looked like we would indeed be visiting it,

We began to walk down the road towards the city, jumping into a ditch from time to time to avoid the trucks carrying cargo to and from the port. Wes and I both picked up medium-sized rocks to launch at dogs if they should menace. The line between a Mexican stray and a Mexican pet can be a little blurry, and although Wes and I both like dogs we didn’t necessarily feel like being bitten by one. Or ten. The precaution was unnecessary and soon we were walking into a broad area in front of the fort which contained parking for cars, a taxi loading and unloading area, and several outdoor concessions which included one business selling tacos, carnitas, and more to the point, beer.

We ordered our food and beers and took up a couple of seats at a long table under a large canvas tent-like top. Soon the food and beer were in front of us and we wolfed it down in a few minutes. We had not really noticed how hungry we were. While we sat at our table we had time to get a good look at the stone fort, or ‘Fortaleza’. The polygonal building is massive, made out of huge carved stone blocks and standing a good twenty or thirty feet high. Wes and I decided at that table that we would spend a day enjoying Veracruz and then return home. We wanted to purchase our airline tickets – we had experienced all of the Mexican buses that we cared for – that day so that we would be certain to be able to get home. That would turn out to be a rare bit of good sense on our part.

But first we wanted to get a look at the Fortaleza. We bought our tickets and began a walking tour of the building, and it is huge and extensive. We walked in hallways built within the massive walls; in some places five or six feet thick. The fort was begun by Hernan Cortez at the beginning of the conquest of Mexico and it was the last Spanish foothold when Mexico rebelled and expelled the Spanish in 1825. The walls were lined with maps, drawings photographs, and historical notes in both Spanish and English. Wes and I were fascinated and stayed there longer than we had planned. At one point we did feel a little nervous however. One display of photos with their historical explanations concerned the capture of the city in 1914 by U.S. Marines and Navy personnel as part of a complicated affair involving German arms shipments to the Mexican government in the midst of a revolution. On the wall were several photos of Mexican soldiers and civilians defending their city as the battle waxed and waned through the streets and from behind buildings. Wes and I began to feel a bit uncomfortable as we stood with a group of Mexicans looking at the exhibit. We wondered just how gringo we looked.

At length we had seen enough of the fort and flagged a taxi to take us to the airport, where we purchased two of the last five tickets available on that flight for the return trip to Ciudad Juarez the next afternoon, and then returned to our hotel to settle up there as well. We then counted and pooled our money and set out to enjoy what had turned into being a vacation as well as an adventure.

We began the rest of our stay in Veracruz by walking to a rum shack on the waterfront which we had seen the day before from the trolley. Seated outside we began drinking rum and cokes, but the drinks became progressively more rum and less coke. I was twenty eight years old at the time and for the last ten years had lived anything but a temperate and sober life, so I could soak up a good deal of rum and remain functional. Next to us was a Mexican boy of about ten years of age who was selling coconuts. When a customer came along he would neatly lop the top end of the coconut off with a machete and send them on their way refreshed with the milk of the coconut. I purchased a coconut and asked if I could try to knock the top off myself. The kid agreed and I whacked away with the machete but failed miserably to even dent the shell. I returned nut and machete to the boy and he took off the top with one clean, effortless swing. Wes told me he was certain that I would cut my hand off and under the circumstances it was probably a miracle that I didn’t. I poured my rum into the coconut and drank the mixture of milk and rum with a straw. Soon after that Wes and I wobbled out of the rum shack in search of someplace to eat dinner.

We found a restaurant not too far away which featured foods from all over Mexico. There is much more to Mexican food than tacos and enchiladas. I don’t remember what Wes ate, but I had red snapper in a local red sauce with all the trimmings. While we ate we enjoyed a mariachi band which would circle the room, playing for anyone who would pay. My weak grasp of the Spanish language precluded my following their lyrics fully, but it sounded as if they were sort of a comedy act as well as singers. They seemed to be making fun of their patrons, but in a good natured way. Sort of like a celebrity roast, but less nasty. The patrons were laughing uproariously at some of the lines, and the singers worked hard to keep a straight face during their performance. After finishing our meal we walked for a while on the downtown sidewalks and then returned to the hotel bar where we sat nursing drinks for another hour or two before retiring for the evening.

The next morning we awoke early and hung over. It was a Sunday and most places where one might get a breakfast were closed, including the restaurant at our hotel. We exited the building and walked towards the center of old Veracruz, but still found nothing but closed businesses. Upon entering the large plaza in front of the old cathedral we lapsed into tourist mode, examining buildings and fountains and grassy miniparks with bleary eyes. As we walked through the plaza we saw a sight which caused hope to surge through our addled brains; a cantina boasted a sigh which said ‘Abierto’, or ‘open’.

A little hair of the dog which bit us seemed like good medicine so we veered to the right and made for the cantina. As we approached it our spirits soared even higher, for another sign announced free tacos for paying customers. This piece of luck cheered us greatly and we sat down at an outside table and ordered beer and tacos. Our order came straightaway and we dug into the rolled tacos with gusto, washing mouths full down with the cold Mexican beer.

After a short while of eating with abandon I happened to look over at Wes. He had been looking pretty green since he had crawled out of his bed that morning and now he looked a little greener. “What’s wrong, Man?” I asked around a large mouthful of half-chewed taco. “Do you know what we’re eating?” he asked, putting down his half-eaten meal. “No, and I don’t really care. It’s pretty good whatever it is. You should have seen some of the things I ate in Vietnam” I told him, although I really had no idea what I had eaten at some places in Vietnam. It could have been just about anything. Wes unrolled his half-eaten taco and showed me the white, honeycombed substance within. “It’s tripe.” I looked at the filling of the taco and sure enough, it was tripe, or ‘menudo’, the lining of a cow’s stomach. That is a very cheap bit of meat, which is why it could be given away for free. “I don’t care” I said with my best machismo, and finished my taco. I couldn’t quite bring myself to eat another one however.

A young Mexican lad was watching this drama from a short distance away from our table. I have no doubt that he’d seen this all play out before and knew the probable outcome of two gringos eating menudo tacos. After a few moments of seeing our hands remaining wrapped around our beers and not venturing close to the tacos he approached our table and asked in pretty good English “Are you going to eat those?” “No”, we answered in unison. “They’re all yours” said Wes, and the kid gathered up the tacos to go and eat them somewhere else, happy to have a free breakfast. This left Wes and I with our original problem; where could we get something to eat?

Just about as we were finishing our beers the answer to our dilemma came walking across the plaza. An old man carrying a basket of shrimp was approaching our table and we called him over. The shrimp that he was carrying was fresh, caught and cooked in some manner that very morning. The little sea bugs were still in their shells but were ready to eat. We bought a half-kilo of them and ordered two more beers, and for the next half hour popped those shrimps out of their shells like peanuts and feasted on them. Slowly a pile of empty shells grew on our table as we plowed through our stash of still-warm shrimp.

That breakfast held us over for the rest of the morning, and we did not eat again until we arrived at the airport as the sun was beginning to set in the afternoon, We counted up our money and found that after our taxi ride to the airport and dinner at a restaurant there, we had just about ten dollars left. Our taxi from the Ciudad Juarez airport to the bridge over the Rio Grande took all but about two fifty of that and the El Paso bus to the gates of Fort Bliss, where an old friend from our neighborhood was stationed, just about cleaned us out. A call from our friend Benny’s quarters to my brother resulted in two bus tickets back to Albuquerque where we would strap on our tool belts and begin making some money again in construction, but that is a story which must be told at some other time.

Do You Know The way To Veracruz: Part II

The airport in Veracruz, like many airports in the world, is well away from the city itself. This makes sense as most airplane accidents happen on takeoff and landing, and having large machines loaded with aviation fuel fall out of the sky onto populated areas is a very bad idea, as the city of San Diego learned in 1978. Wes and I recovered our backpacks and boarded a taxi to run us into the city. We told the driver that we wanted a clean hotel but not resort grade, and he took us to a hotel right on the waterfront that matched all of our requirements. We checked into our room and then stepped out to get a good look at Veracruz. Wes and I both fell in love with what we saw.

Veracruz is a very old city. It began its existence when Hernan Cortez landed there and began the Spanish conquest of Mexico. But Veracruz is a new city too. Being one of only two major ports on Mexico’s east coast and being the closest port to Mexico City, the commerce taking place in that city insures that a very modern infrastructure of banking, communication, transportation and the like is available to service those commercial needs. Veracruz is also a major port of call for the cruise ships which ply the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico. When those ships are in port, passenger loads of from two to six thousand will be available to debark from the ship and sample the food, drink and souvenir offerings in the city. Much work went into making the city as clean and attractive as possible so as to not scare off the tourists before they dropped impressive amounts of cash into the pockets of businesspeople large and small.

Wes and I noticed a set of very narrow steel tracks running down the middle of one street near our hotel and asked a vendor of fresh fruit juices if it was a working trolley. This was a somewhat difficult task as that level of communications tested my language skills, but the vendor’s limited English and my limited Spanish sufficed to get the job done, and we learned that indeed the trolley ran every day and if we would wait there a few minutes we could board it on its next pass through the neighborhood, I purchased my usual favorite drink, a pineapple/mango concoction which the vendor whipped up on the spot, and Wes got something for himself. We then sat on the curb to enjoy our drinks and wait for the trolley.

Before we finished our drinks we heard the ‘clang, clang’ of the bell as the trolley approached our position. It was still around a corner so we couldn’t see it, but we arose from our curbside seats so that we would be ready to jump on when it passed by. At last the trolley hove into view and I watched its approach with admiration and anticipation. The trolley looked like something out of a Disney movie. It was spindly but not fragile. Low side rails and thin roof supports left a great deal of open space so that the traveller did not feel enclosed at all. The body of the trolley was fairly light in weight which matched the small, thin steel rails set into the asphalt and cobblestones of the streets upon which the trolley ran. It was painted in the red, white and green colors of the Mexican flag with golden pom poms dangling from the edge of the roof all the way around. The operator saw us waiting and slowed the trolley down so that we could jump aboard. We noticed later that he would stop for an elderly tourist, a senora getting on or off with little children and/or packages from shopping, or a young senorita under any circumstances. The rest of us had to time our step to board the still-moving trolley.

We paid our peso or two and found seats near the rear of the carriage. The trolley chugged at one or two miles per hour and we relaxed as we passed through shopping areas and residential neighborhoods, past piers where the cruise liners tied up and along the sea wall, called the ‘malecon’ (pronounced MALL-A-CONE with a long ‘A’), where everyone gathered on the summer evenings to walk along the waterfront, enjoying the cool ocean breezes and beautiful view of the sparkling Caribbean stretching out to infinity in the east. At several points along the way we jumped off to poke our noses into shops or collections of stalls and booths selling just about anything that one can imagine. We bought a couple of the tiny (by American standards) street tacos and some fruit on a stick, and hopped back onto the trolley when it made its next pass through the neighborhood. The operator of the trolley waved off our pesos as we reached to pay again, recognizing us from our first ride. We proceeded in this manner all the way around the loop which brought us back to the point where we had begun our trolley ride.

The rest of the afternoon was spent walking the streets of Veracruz and along the waterfront. We could not see the commercial seaport very well, although the derricks and cranes on the horizon showed us where it was. We would go there the next morning first thing. We decided to have dinner at the hotel, which wasn’t great but wasn’t bad either, and visited the hotel bar for an hour or two afterwards. After that the culmination of twenty four hours on a bus and the better part of a day flying to and exploring Veracruz caught up with us both and we turned in early to get rested up for the next day, since we had no idea what that day would bring.

Morning came and we were out of our beds and dressed in a flash. This day could possibly be the craziest day of our lives and we could hardly wait to begin it. After breakfast at the hotel we caught a taxi to the port, and soon we were standing in front the broad gate which opened into the Port of Veracruz. Wes and I had no idea where we should start asking about work on a freighter so we gambled that you just went up to a freighter, found the captain, and asked. Probably I let myself be influenced by reading Moby Dick and too many Jack London novels. None of the freighters in port had a captain with a large beard, a jagged scar, and an artificial leg carved out of whalebone standing on the fo’c’sle looking to hire rookie seamen for one three hundred and sixtieth part each of the profits of the voyage. In fact, we never laid eyes on a captain of anything that day.

The big, hulking freighters were tied up at the docks, and the gangways were down connecting dock to deck. There were no guards or any other official-looking people regulating who went up the gangway onto the ship but we were reluctant to just walk onto the ship in search of its captain. Dock workers were loading and unloading cargo but we weren’t allowed to interfere with them, so we located a large building and went inside to look for a harbormaster or whoever ran the place. Inside we found a small counter with nobody present behind which were doors which led into the interior of the building. To the left was a row of rather worn chairs in front of a dirty window. Wes and I went to the chairs and I moved one around a little which caused the metal legs to squeak on the floor. I reasoned that the noise might alert somebody to our presence. I don’t know if my stratagem worked or not, but soon a man appeared in the doorway and moved over to the counter. He looked surprised to see us.

“Buenos dias, Como estan?” “Buenos dias. Habla usted Ingles?” “No, no lo hablo.” The man did not speak English, and so this deal would have to be done in Spanish, which ensured that it would take a lot of time to get it right. At first the man had no idea what I was trying to communicate, and then he thought that we were merchant seamen looking for a particular ship. Finally I made it clear that we were two young American men with absolutely no experience at all with working on ships who wanted to sail somewhere. He never really did get the part about Saudi Arabia and the oil fields. Once he understood the main point however he motioned for us to wait and disappeared through the doorway, returning shortly with another man in tow. This person was dressed a little better and in general looked a bit higher on the food chain. I felt like I was buying a new car.

“So, Guillermo say to me you want work en un barco, uh, on ship, but you no work before?” “Yes” I said, and in the best Spanish I could muster continued to say “we work hard. Building houses. We know hard work, but never on ship.” At least I think that’s what I said, although I could have said “My mother’s tool belt shot fifteen birds” as far as I knew at the time. Eventually we both felt like we had the conversation right and he told us that the chances were not good, but to wait. Both of the men retreated into the interior of the building, probably to have a good laugh at our expense, and reemerged shortly to let us know that we wouldn’t be shipping out from their port.

It had not occurred to Wes and I that we would fail to find work on a ship in Veracruz and now we had to regroup. As I wrote earlier, I must have filled my head with romantic notions of ships always being shorthanded and having to shanghai sailors to fill their duty rosters. The reality appeared to be that there were plenty of capable sailors available and the rosters were all full. Wes and I thanked the men for their time and assistance and returned to the dusty yard outside of the building.

At that point we had no idea what to do next. The only reason for coming to Veracruz was to get on a freighter and forget the unpleasant world that was behind us, and that plan now looked like it was going nowhere. I looked back at the ships tied up along the dock with their gangways wide open and unguarded and said “Come on Wes, Let’s go and see for ourselves.” “No, man” Wes responded. “We don’t know the rules here. You know how you are always saying ‘remember where you are?’ Well then, remember where you are.” “I know man, but I just traveled a couple thousand miles, and a bunch of that on a Mexican bus, to do this and I don’t want to bag the whole thing without one more try” I handed my money belt and a pocket knife to Wes, retaining a small amount of money in my wallet. If I got into a bind I could try to buy my way out of trouble with the smaller amount of money which I kept on me. I would make the case that it was all I had. Failing that, Wes could come to my rescue with the bulk of my money. “Wait here” I said, and began to walk up the gangway.

The clatter of my shoes on the metal stairs seemed as loud as a snare drum to me but did not seem to draw anyone’s attention. I reached the deck and saw nobody in the passageway which ran along the side of the ship. I began to walk toward the bow of the ship, looking in the metal doorways as I passed them with the hope of seeing somebody to ask about the whereabouts of the captain. There was nobody in sight as I emerged into the open area of the front part of the ship. I don’t know nautical terms, and so you must be patient with me, dear reader.

As I looked around I saw a man bent over something on the next deck above me. I considered calling to him but then decided that a personal touch was needed, so I sent to the metal stairway which led upwards to that deck. When I got there the sailor began to straighten up as I walked towards him. It seemed like he had removed something from his shoe. “Excuse me” I said. “Can I ask you a question?” The man jumped a little, surprised by my presence. He was a brown person of slight build, who gave me the impression that he might hail from somewhere in Southeast Asia. He also didn’t speak a word of English or Spanish. He did seem to understand ‘KAP EE TAN” however and held up a hand for me to wait. The sailor disappeared and five or ten minutes and later returned with a ship’s officer of undetermined rank or ethnic origin who was more familiar with English. “Are you the captain?” I asked. He answered in the negative and I continued. “I know that you are busy, but I wanted to ask if you needed any hands to work on your ship for the next cruise.” It took the officer a moment and some clarification but eventually he understood my question. “No, we have all of the hands that we need. We don’t hire people right off the deck anyway; we usually go through the harbormaster shoreside and only use skilled hands.” “Is it that way with the other ships?” I asked, and he nodded in the affirmative. “I think so. We can all find skilled hands when we need them, and as far as I know we all do it pretty much the same way.”

I hung my head for a moment, trying to think of any other angle I could pursue and also letting my disappointment show, just in case the officer took pity on me. Neither approach bore fruit. I thanked the officer and returned down the stairs and down the gangway to a waiting Wes. “No luck” I told him. “It looks like this is as far as we go.” Wes handed back my knife and money belt and we began to walk back toward the gate through which we had so recently and eagerly entered the port. The old plan was now finished, and the next order of business was to make a new one. We decided to find a place to have a little lunch and a couple of beers and figure out what we should do next.

Do You Know The Way To Veracruz, Part I

As I have written elsewhere, 1976 was not my best year. In February of that year my first marriage began to unravel and in May it melted down completely. Up until that time I had been working long hours sometimes seven days a week trying to make a success of a construction company which I began with a partner, plus finish my last class in order to earn my bachelor’s degree in history at a nearby college. With the collapse of my marriage came a collapse of my focus. The construction company and college class were abandoned and I secured a small part-time job at which I performed poorly and then devoted the remainder of my time to medicating my pain in whatever ways presented themselves.

For six months I shared a three bedroom apartment with three other people, and that was a time of impressively dissolute living. Every hour of the day when I wasn’t working, which was most of them, I was lounging in the sun drinking beer and reading classic literature or history, and every evening the music was on, beer and rum and tequila were flowing, and marijuana smoke was rolling out of our windows in clouds. One evening a young woman with whom I worked came over to our place with a friend. We had a keg of beer in the bathtub packed in ice and were passing joints like hot potatoes. My friend’s date began to feel bad about partaking of our intoxicants and at length said “If I had known that you were having a party I would have brought something to share.” My friend let out a small, musical laugh and answered him “They’re not having a party. It’s like this here every night.”

Eventually I began to tire of this life however, and the urge to move on began to grow in me. In August my wife and I stood before a judge and said the magic words in proper sequence and he declared us to be legally separated, divorce to be final after a six month waiting period to allow for any possible reconciliation. As we emerged from the courthouse I cried, not the first time and certainly not the last, and returned to my apartment to try to drink and smoke myself into annihilation.

It was a couple of months later as Christmas was approaching that I received a phone call from out of the blue from my oldest friend Wes, who still lived in San Diego where we both grew up. Wes had just broken up with a girlfriend qnd was feeling down in the dumps. We hadn’t spoken to each other in ages so Wes had no idea what my story was. After we hung up I began to take stock of my situation and decided that I couldn’t stay in this rut into which I had fallen much longer.

It was December at this point and Christmas was approaching. Two of my roommates and I had crept commando style onto a high-roller golf course and cut down a tree that would fit nicely in our living room. It was a revolutionary act, you see. We decorated the tree with strings made from the pull tops from our beer cans and crowned it with a piece of cardboard which we painted into a Chinese flag and onto which we glued a picture of Chairman Mao. Our revolutionary credentials were impressive and we were proud of our creativity.

But the thought of spending Christmas of 1976 in Northern California removed from my relationship with my wife but physically residing less than a mile from her was a prospect which I did not relish. Thanksgiving had been bad enough and the hangover from that binge lasted for two days. I had been thinking seriously about leaving for several months and now believed that the time had come.

I called Wes back and said “You want to meet me at my brother’s place?” “Whata you got in mind?” he asked. “I’ve got my passport and I thought about going to Mexico and getting work on a freighter that would take me to Saudi Arabis and work in the oil fields.” Now I had no connection with work in oil fields and in fact had no idea what one actually did in an oil field. I only knew that there was a gob of money being made in oil and I wanted to get as far away from my current life as possible. Wes, being my equal in age, wisdom and capacity for reasoning answered almost immediately and said “Sure. Why not?”

So a week before Christmas I showed up at my brother’s house in Albuquerque. I had at least called to let him know that I was coming, which was very out of character for me, and upon arrival I let him know that Wes would be showing up in a day or two as well. Brad was fine with that, but his wife Ginny was less enthusiastic. I assured them that we would stay a few days only and then be on our way. Brad is four years older than Wes and I and a little more willing to use his head as something more functional than a hatrack. He was therefore tempted to accompany us in our wild scheme but the responsibilities of a family, and the presence of a large wooden rolling pin in a kitchen drawer, persuaded him to sit this one out.

The day after Christmas came and, good as our word, Wes and I were on a Greyhound bus before the crack of dawn rolling south towards El Paso. We arrived there in the early afternoon and walked across the bridge into Ciudad Juarez. A short taxi ride brought us to the train station where we planned to purchase tickets to the port of Veracruz. The ticket seller seemed to be having trouble understanding us even though I spoke a little Spanish. He also seemed to be having trouble figuring out the train timetable, and even the cash register and the book in which the blank ticket stubs were located seemed to be beyond his capabilities. I knew what was going on of course. The ticket seller was waiting for us to pay ‘la mordita’, the ‘little bite’, a bribe to grease the process. I had had a very bad year and was nursing a very bad hangover, and didn’t feel like paying any damned bribe. Consequently, Wes and I were still arguing with the ticket guy when the train to Veracruz pulled out of the station.

So away we went by taxi to the bus station. We had changed our plan and would now take a bus to Veracruz. There were no shenanigans at the bus station, although at this point I would have paid ‘la mordita’ if it had been required. Perhaps they figured that two Gringos taking a long-distance Mexican bus must be so down on their luck that there was nothing to be gotten from us.

The bus meandered south down the Mexican roads, picking up passengers and the occasional chicken or goat along the way, and by evening we arrived at Torreon, deep into northern Mexico. We did not have any Mexican pesos with us, which had never been a problem in Mexico before, but Mexico agt this time was in the midst of an economic crisis. Inflation was out of control and nobody but a bank knew from moment to moment what the exchange rate was, and so no restaurants would take American money because nobody knew what it was worth, and we were hungry! Finally a very nice hotel restaurant took pity on us and took a chance on the value of our money, and we got a meal to hold us over to the next day when a bank would be open. In an hour or so our bus was back on the road leading east into the gloom of the Mexican evening towards Monterrey, the next city on the road to Veracruz.

It was a very long night. Wes and I slept on the bus, of course, and when morning came we were cramped, hungry, sweaty and thoroughly fed up with the bus. Upon our arrival in Monterrey we decided to forget the bus and rent a car. Both Wes and I had driven in Mexico a lot and were perfectly comfortable with the idea of doing so again. We looked in a directory in the bus station and found the name and address of a car rental agency nearby, and a short walk brought us in front of that establishment.

“En que puedo servirle?” asked the agent at the counter. “Por favor” I replied. “Habla usted Ingles?” “Yes, I speak English” she replied, and I told her that we wanted to rent a car and drive to Veracruz. For those of you who are geographically challenged the distance from Monterrey to Veracruz is 529 miles. “You want to drive one of our cars to Veracruz?” she asked, and we affirmed that that was indeed our intention. The agent looked skeptical. “Have you identification? A passport? A credit card?” We had all but the credit card, which I have since learned is critical to renting a car anywhere.

The furrows in her brow deepened as the agent struggled to grasp completely how imbecilic the two Gringos standing in front of her really were. “Do you have an employer with whom we could check?” “No, not currently. I worked for that last six months at such-and-such a business but before that I have been in construction for the last four years.” She looked over at Wes and asked the same questions and got virtually the same answer. The agent thought for a moment longer and then excused herself to go consult with her manager. I could see them on the other side of the office and I am almost certain that I saw them laughing. At length the agent returned. “I’m sorry sir, but we are not going to be able to rent you one of our cars.” We already suspected that that would be the case, and so we exited the building with no further ado and found ourselves out on the sidewalk in Monterrey debating what to do next.

“Aw, the hell with it. Let’s fly” I said. “That would leave me with almost no money there” said Wes. “No worry. I’ll cover you” I said. I had a good bit of cash from splitting our savings when my wife and I divorced, and getting to Veracruz with Wes that very day seemed like a great way to spend it. Wes felt uncomfortable with that plan at first but I convinced him that I thought of it as money well spent.

Within the hour we were at the ticket counter at the Monterrey International Airport buying our passage on the next plane to Veracruz, which was leaving in just under two more hours. Wes and I hurried to a restaurant in the airport where we bought some belated breakfast and washed it down with a couple of beers. At the appointed time we boarded the plane and sat back into the soft seats of the jet airliner. The flight was a quick one, little more than and hour, at the end of which the doors were opened and we descended the portable stairway. We crossed the tarmac, entered the terminal, and exited into the front of the building where the taxis were lined up. Phase one of our mission was accomplished. We were in Veracruz.