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John and Mandi

us --> van --> overland
1,725 days a wanderin'

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Tolls for Pot Holes, El Tajin to La Jungla (Veracruz)

Mar 28, 2016
by John

When deciding our course we always have to pick between driving the free roads or the toll roads. Being on a budget, where overages directly reduce travel, we usually opt to drive the free roads. Much like home, where we preferred highways to interstates, the free roads here are much more scenic. Unfortunately, they are also in much worse shape, at times only resembling a road in name.

The free roads also come with a fairly large catch, topes (tow-pay). They are speed bumps of various shapes and sizes, the bane of vehicular travelers. Few are mild annoyances while many are automotive destroyers, the latter almost always in front of a mechanic's shop. Where there are topes there are services. Not hot lattes but rather hocked wares: food, juices, window washers, and the like. In essence, topes serve two purposes, to calm traffic and to provide a steady flow of potential customers.

Sometimes to tope or not to tope is a difficult question. Usually time and/or distance driven saved can make the toll roads a handsome alternative. We have used toll roads on a few occasions and openly rejoiced once when we traveled 300 kms without a single tope. Our most recent foray with the toll roads left us enraged. Unexpectedly, we learned that some free roads have been converted to toll roads without any maintenance or changes. Imagine our surprise when we had to pay to drive a horridly pot hole riddled, tope infused, wreck of a highway that had no viable alternative. Good play Veracruz, good play.

What We Did

El Tajin, Veracruz

A nice small set of ruins at the north end of Veracruz. We arrived on a Sunday, free for Mexican citizens, so we literally sweated it out in the parking lot then spent the night to catch the ruins first thing the next morning. We expected to be the only ones visiting El Tajin when it opened but a Japanese tour bus said differently. They slowly wandered the grounds with their guide so we essentially had it all to ourselves anyway.

The dense morning fog that encapsulated the ruins reminded us of the Great Smokey Mountains. It was wonderfully eery, not the best for photos. The structures have not been restored as much as others, such as Teotihuacán, so the experience is more to our liking. The days of stumbling upon some lost ancient civilization have mostly long passed, meandering about places like El Tajin will just have to do for those of us who lust for archaeological adventure.

El Tajin, Veracruz, Mexico

There's no way THAT's the dark tower

El Tajin, Veracruz, Mexico

Doric, Ionic, or Corinthian?

El Tajin, Veracruz, Mexico

H&R Blockhead

El Tajin, Veracruz, Mexico

By the Power of Grayskull...

El Tajin, Veracruz, Mexico

Give me all your bean sprouts

El Tajin, Veracruz, Mexico

The Skipper and Gilligan have been busy

El Tajin, Veracruz, Mexico

Dude, that's not the kind of grass I'm talking about

El Tajin, Veracruz, Mexico

I'm feeling a bit cornered

El Tajin, Veracruz, Mexico

It ain't Christmas

Luis Martinez Beach, Veracruz Coast

While most of the drive down the coast was spent concentrating on not removing any critical pieces of our suspension, it was beautiful for both our eyes and noses. The orange groves were in bloom, their sweet nectar tickling our minds with nostalgia. The mountain backdrops that eventually led us to the flatlands near the ocean was a great surprise. The bright fields in bloom ushered us along one of the worst roads we have driven.

Luis Martinez Beach is a free spot we found in iOverlander, it was both wonderful and horrible. Like many places in Mexico, trash greatly outnumbered all vegetation. It's sad to see a place so beautiful that is apparently disregarded. It was far better than spending the night at a Pemex, it could be a real spectacular location if for only a little care.

Veracruz, Mexico

You're a daisy if you do

Luis Martinez Beach, Veracruz, Mexico

Photos lie

La Jungla, Catemaco, Veracruz

We've been itching for a taste of the jungle for some time. La Jungla was a wonderful first experience. We didn't spot any Toucans but the Parrots and Howler monkeys were plentiful. Other travelers, Rudi & Kathrin whom we first met in Guanajuato, were the only ones in the campground when we arrived. For a little less than $10 US per day it's another form of paradise. We mostly just sat around reading, chasing birds and other wildlife with our cameras, and hanging out with new friends.

The heat did start to pick up so we took several short cold showers throughout each day to cool off. Mandi got an onsite massage for around $11 US from a local woman who works at the neighboring property. Rudi & Kathrin arranged a couple for themselves so she just tacked on. Like solving a great mystery, the water onsite is potable so we finally got some real Mexican ground water to drink. We're glad to report there were no ill side effects. We spent 3 nights at La Jungla and could have easily spent double or triple more. Its on our list to revisit someday.

La Jungla, Catemaco, Veracruz, Mexico

Of course it's safe to swim. We put a big flag on the crocodile, you can't miss it

La Jungla, Catemaco, Veracruz, Mexico

Pterodactyl sounding sum-bitches

La Jungla, Catemaco, Veracruz, Mexico

Lunchy munchy?

La Jungla, Catemaco, Veracruz, Mexico

Mexican pink flamingo

La Jungla, Catemaco, Veracruz, Mexico

Yellow fever

La Jungla, Catemaco, Veracruz, Mexico

Crazy good

Honorable Mentions - San Miguel de Allende

Our route more or less required a bit of back tracking, the delayed delivery of our Kermit chairs had us planning multiple visits to San Miguel de Allende. Once before, then after checking out Guanajuato, and again on our way back south from the state of San Luis Potosi. Our final visit resulted in a five night stay due to a two day storm and the convenience of the city itself. Many travelers refer to it as Disneyland, a remark regarding the vast number of expatriates that live there and all of the western conveniences. We were a bit hard on it too after our first visit. Completing our third has us fully understanding and appreciating its unique charm. Hailing from Florida, home to the much larger and more chaotic experience of Disney World, we couldn't disagree more with that moniker. As in all things, YMMV.

Zenteno Cafe

During our three stays in SMA we visited the Zenteno Cafe almost daily. The cappuccinos were fantastic, the fresh cakes divine. While not the normal traveler fair, we thoroughly enjoyed the indulgences.

Antigua Trattoria Romana

There are plenty of Italian restaurants to choose from throughout SMA, we happened into Antigua Trattoria Romana for some pizza during our first stay. Each subsequent visit we made sure to eat there again and had the exact same thing every time. Not the cheapest, especially if you plan on having a couple drinks, but we loved the Insalata Mista de la Casa and the Quattro (4 meat) pizza.

Artesano's Bakery

A recommendation from the RV park that became an instant favorite. It is very small, cafe sized, but the Focaccia was the best we've had so far. Their bread pudding is more like a very moist cake, phenomenal.

Super Bonanza

We had forgotten to fill all of our spices before leaving the US. Figuring there would be no better a place than SMA to find most of what we needed we asked several locals who directed us to Super Bonanza. The rather large bulk spice area in the back of the store was exactly what we needed, very affordable.


Say what? (2)
Jim Green
Mar 31, 2016 at 12:54 PM
Wonderful following your adventures! We are outfitting our SMB this year and hope to hit the road late Fall. Our plan is similar to yours........meander South with no particular schedule
have fun!
Mar 31, 2016 at 06:19 PM
Hey Jim,

Thanks and how wonderful! Keep in touch and share any info on your Sportsmobile and trip. Hopefully one day we'll share a campfire.
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