Veracruz Chronicles

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Hotel Pendley y Griffin officially closed for business...

The last month of business was a blast, many friends and not a day without without someone coming or going, something to do. Local friends came today to help empty the house, the maletas are packed, the floors mopped. We are in the center of town, enjoying our last mole y cervesa before our bus leaves town at midnight.

We´re on our way home, but we are leaving a bit of ourselves here.

Hasta luego, Papantla, no es un adios.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006


We had a wonderful trip to visit Mark´s parents in the beginning of May. We had some time in Cuernavaca to relax, visit their church...some time in Mexico City with our Norman friends Mary and Chris Carter...followed by a visit to the retreat Oaxtepec.

We started the week at Las Mananitas, for my birthday...

Birthday at Mananitas

Visited Mexico City from the north (pyramids of Teotihuacan) to the south (Xochimilco) and just about everywhere inbetween...

The whole gang

We finished the week up in the swimming pools of Oaxtepec, for Mark´s birthday...


It was a perfect vacation. Thanks ´buelos!!!

As always, click on a photo above to see more photos.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Semana Santa en Veracruz

We had a lovely week with a visit from Joy's parents. We started off in Veracruz (the port city) where we took granny and paw paw to the old fort. We also introduced them to cafe lecheros and pescado a la veracruzano here.
San Juan

From the port city, we moved onto Jalapa, the capital city of Veracruz. Jalapa is a fabulous city, with a small-ish city feel, in the mountains (read cooler than other parts of Veracruz) with enough coffee for our family (read expresso shop on most streets)! It is also a capital of music, refered to as the Austin, Texas of Mexico. We took granny and pawpaw to the Anthropology museum, which has an excellent collection of Olmec artifacts and many impressive Olmec heads. The next day we traveled up to the town of Coatepec, known as a center of coffee production. We walked about town and saw several impresive churches and chapels.

We arrived in Papantla. The children invited school friends and granny brought lots of Easter decorations and plastic eggs. We had an egg hunt and needless to say, our little friends caught on quickly! They all enjoyed themselves.
Egg Hunt

We rounded out the week with a trip to the local ruins, Tajin, and the whole family traveled out to one of the communities where I work to visit the family and participate in holy Thursday activities (read, making a whole lot of tamales). Mom and dad got to see a vanilla orchard, corn and bean fields and sample fresh made tamales and tortillas off a wood fire. I think they enjoyed themselves and have a good understanding of life in the countryside in this part of Mexico.

The children were so sad to see their grandparents leave and have experienced some real homesickness this past week. Our time here in Mexico is down to two months, hard to believe. We are planning a trip to visit the abuelos (grandparents in Spanish) in Cuernavaca at the end of the week. Time with them will help with the homesickness. We are looking forward to seeing a bit of central Mexico and just spending time with the abuelos before we head back to the states.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Cumbre Tajin

We'd heard about it before we came but didn't realize what a big deal it really was: Cumbre Tajin. CT is a week long music festival held outside Papantla in a fair ground near the ruins of Tajin. The festival opens in the morning with craft and cultural workshops throughout the day. The kids participated in workshops ranging from traditional weaving of palm fronds to making toys out of recycled trash (a hobby horse). There were workshops in dance, from salsa, tango to African stomps. In the Totonac section of the park there were demonstrations throughout the day of dance, ceremony, cooking and of course the Voladores flew. On the first day of the festival, they held a tree cutting ceremony and set up the Voladore pole.

A troupe of clowns from Mexico City's Bellas Artes (Fine Arts Center) were a big hit with everyone attending. They were somewhat medieval, with large rumps (or chests) and grotesque paper mache noses. They traveled around the fairgrounds several times a day, stopping to perform acrobatics (with PVC pipe and yoga balls), oogle at pretty women or soak the audience with water filled insecticide pumps. They always had a loyal following and their performance was fun and smart.



Payaso, watch the water

Mark volunteered at the festival and was assigned to a group of monks. They are from Nepal, living in India in exile, traveling the world to raise awareness of their struggle. (They are in exile due to lack of religious freedom in Nepal after the takeover of Chinese.) They spoke very little English, no Spanish, so Mark's job was to translate for groups and explain the significance of their project, that of making a mandala. They worked for five days constructing the mandala, which is a picture made out of different colored sand. The work is meditative and a metaphor for the detachment they should have to the material world. At the end of the construction, they have a ceremony and then sweep all the sand into a pile. The sand was put into bags and given out as reminders of the mandala. Mark enjoyed his time with them and the whole family got to know the men. It made an impression on all of us.


The highlight of the weekend was the final night when one of Mark's favorite singers performed AND he got to have an interview with her afterwards. For those of you that did not know, Mark is writing a book about a Mexican music genre called Trova and this singer figures into several of his chapters. Don't know if I'll be able to get Mark home this summer, he is having too much fun.
Eugenia Leon

We just looked at the calendar and realized we have but three months before our return. It has gone by too fast. Willa wants to know if she can bring all her friends home with her. My work is good, I am lucky to be working with such kind and interesting people. Anyone want to visit Cumbre Tajin with us next year???

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Smiths go to Papantla

Just got word that the Smiths arrived safely at the border. They drove to the US-Mexican border from Oklahoma and made the 12 hour bus ride to Papantla last week and returned to the border on the same bus. What an adventure! We had a fun-filled week, packed with trips: first to the center of town, where we bought one of each fruit available in the market, then we visited the ecological park for an introduction to the local ecological and cultural scene. We made a trip to the beach, where everyone was a kid and we all came home with five hour sunburns. Opps. Next time one of us monitors exposure. The family visited Tajin and Martine and James visited the countryside with me. The family put together some impressions before they left, so I'll post them below with photos.

Smith visit 162

Jonathon says: The food was nothing like the Mexican food in Oklahoma. The bananas were the best and I don't even like bananas in Oklahoma. They tasted different. I ate five each day. We would buy twenty-eight bananas in the market and in two hours they were gone. My favorite thing was the pyramids. There were altars and places to sacrifice people or things and they killed themselves in the ballgame. You couldn't go into the pyramids.

Winston adds: My trip to Mexico was very interesting. First, the food. The bananas were totally different. They were sweeter and not as hard. I think another thing is, it's hot in Mexico. The oranges were much better. They were not as sour as Oklahoma oranges and they were not bitter. When I tasted an orange here, I thought, "You know what, this is a real orange." the places I went were El Tajin. There were many pyramids, just a mystery, it seems like it will never end. You think to yourself, "Did people live in these pyramids? Were there really humans that lived here?" Another thing, there was a statue, I couldn't figure out why they made it. Probably because of the Voladores. A Voladore is a tall pole with men on top that spin around. They climb up, wrap the rope around and the drummer climbs up last. Sometimes he stands up and sometimes not. The other men jumped off and spun around in the cardinal directions. They did certain tricks. Each one had a different trick. They would land on their feet. What I couldn't understand was how they could tell when to flip. That's all.

Tecolutla, five hours later
The crew at the beach. Life is good.

Mimsy has definite opinions about Mexico too: What I didn't like about Mexico was having to speak the language. The best thing about Mexico was the Totonac dancing around the square. Each one's feet dancing were the same. Go to Mexico with me!

Did someone eat a bug?
At the ecological park.

James says: My own hospitality has become suspect. I will not soon forget my wife cooking tortillas over an open fire in a dirt floor kitchen. That was a trip. Truely beautiful, remarkable people. (James visited out in the countryside with me). I met a barefoot Indian with more sophistication than most people I meet daily: more understanding of how similar humans are, how valuable humans are. I'm already scamming on how to get back.

Martine where she should be...

Martine wrote: Mi pasion por Mexico
I'm glad I didn't have much time to think about our trip here, or I would've spent way too much time measuring whether reality was matching up with what I'd read. As it turned out, I got to experience Mexico on its own terms, not mine. The garlic is stronger here, the music more varied, the flora more brilliant, the kindness more intimate than my imagination would've allowed me to venture.
For the cuisine, I was prepared to go hungry a lot, thinking I would be faced with lots of deep-fried food devoid of any vegetables. What I was served was low-fat, vegetable laden, highly flavored fare, that was surprisingly complex in its flavors, yet simple in its preparation.
As for the heat, it was about as hot during the hottest part of the day as it was in the Florida panhandle in June or July. So, it was fine for me as long as we were in shade or inside during that time.
Watching the children has been warmly fulfilling. They have tried all the different foods, they have gamely trekked all over the city and beyond and they seem to be really soaking up the sights and sounds and smells all around them. I hope their memories stay strong, and that this experience moves them to think deeply about their American life.

Smith visit 164

That about says it all. To travel to someplace completely different to learn more about the place we live. To see other photos, click on a photo above.

Flat Stanley visits Papantla!

Dear McKinley!
We had a visit recently from our dear friend Flat Stanley. He arrived from a fellow McKinley student, Ellen, in Mrs. Leisenfeld's class. We were happy to see an old face and showed him around town. Below are a few photos from our adventure. To see more photos, click on a picture below to be transferred to our flickr photo album.

FS with an attitude

The first thing Flat Stanley wanted to do was go to the square. Most Mexican towns are built around a central square. Around the square, or zocalo, is the largest church of the town, government buildings and stores. Weekends on the square are a lot of fun. We go almost every weekend to listen to music, visit with friends and eat some of the great food being sold (fresh roasted corn, fruit flavored ice cream, ice cold fruit juice). In this photo, FS is sitting with Elena (Willa's name in Spanish) on a park bench.

FS climbs the mural

There is a beautiful mural on one side of the park that tells the story of the region (from the pre-Columbian civilization of Tajin to the present day economy of cattle ranching, vanilla production and the oil industry). In this picture, FS climbed the mural with Austin.
FS and a Voladore

In this picture, FS is with a Voladore. The Voladores are Totonac Indians that participate in a religious ritual that involves a four story pole. Four Voladores fly off the pole, attached by a rope around their waist. You can see a photo of this ritual and more photos of Flat Stanley and the whole gang by clicking on a photo in this blog.

Thank you Ellen for sending Flat Stanley all this way. We sure miss McKinley and Norman and look forward to seeing everyone when we return in July.

Saludos De Mexico!

Tuesday, March 14, 2006


While the big Veracruz celebration of carnaval takes place in the port city and rivals Rio and New Orleans, Papantla put on a parade on Sunday afterwards. I was a bit confused, as what exactly would a post-Ash Wednesday Carnaval parade entail? No red meat? Public display of Lenten discipline?

Much to my relief, it was Mardi Gras and there were plenty of feathers and dancing. Here are a few photos, click on one to see the others in flickr.

Carnaval 148

Carnaval 111

Carnaval 098

Carnaval 067

Coming soon: The Smiths go to Papantla...

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Running in Mexico

Much to our surprise, we are doing much more running during our year in Mexico than soccer. But this seems to be fine with the children, they have joined a track team and they insist on participating in every race they hear about. The track team is a great bunch of kids and parents, they've really welcomed our family and been very kind to us. The coach is a teacher during the day and meets with the children every evening but Sunday, training any children that come. There is a lot of dedication there. There are two older girls that are on their way to pre-national competition this weekend. They may be the fastest girls in Mexico now and we think we may see them in the Olympics someday.

W & A did a 5K race this past weekend. The route was along a dirt road from one small community to the next. They were the only children and did a great job. In Feb, the family participated in several races in Poza Rica, everyone enjoying themselves. The weather is beginning to change (read HOT), so we may have to alter our running schedule (read 5am). Oklahoma will feel cool when we return in July!

Photos of recent runs below:

Mark and Austin half way through their 10k race in Poza Rica.

Willa: first lap

This was a 3/4 mile race Willa did in Poza Rica. Her coach tells us she is a great athlete.

Ansel's race

Ansel participated in a sprint. He was knocked down in all the excitement after the gun went off, but he jumped up and ran as hard as he could. He got third place! We were so proud he didn't give up.

After the race.

This was Austin's first 10k race and he did great. We were so proud of him, that was a long run. The other runners and the press were particularly interested in him. They all were a bit perplexed when they found out that he beat his dad, but Mark is resigned. We can't keep up with our children at this point! Our friends, Bernardo and Edna went along for the ride.

Carnaval was quite a show here in Papantla last weekend. I'll post the photos as soon as I get them uploaded.