When I was 12, I spent the entire two weeks of my family’s beach vacation lusting after the son of the owners of hotel we were staying in. He was a sleazy little pre-teen who got me in trouble for sneaking me off to the beach with him, and after our dirty adolescent dalliances (second base! salacious!) walked past me at the pool like he’d forgotten my name. Going to the beach had previously been the highlight of my year, and this time around I was just begging to get back home and and jump into school supply season.
Our last night, though, a family with a son my age checked in, and it was instant chemistry. We chatted, his father let us drink a mudslide (they were those classy LI-ers who brought their blender on vacation, heaven forbid a week without frozen cocktails!) and he may have stroked my thigh. We exchanged AOL screen names as I departed arly the next morning, and I wondered why, after expending such energy liking someone that simply didn’t care, with whom it would never work out, had I found someone that made sense as I had one foot out the door? We could have had a magical 14 days: Marshmallows over the beach, games of Marco Polo in which he’d pretend to have his eyes closed but would secretly brush my shoulder, French kissing. Alas, though we did indeed chat on the Interweb several times, the moment was gone. Yes, the bittersweet symphony played loud that summer.
In a shockingly apt corrolary, I spent the larger part of 20 months trying desperately to love Puebla and Mexico City. Puebla, in retrospect, as a psychotically religious and conservative state where fashion goes to die and alcohol sits in the bottles so long it turns back into grapes and yeast, was kind of a long shot. But Mexico City seemed, on the outside, like it could be a winner. A metro, millions of people, gay marriage, ecobicis (still waiting for my form in the mail…). I got dressed up every morning, went out with a spring in my step and a new resolve to fall in love. Yet every single day, something stupid would piss me off. I’d see one too many tlapalerias; a few too many outrageously over-wealthy pseudo-Spaniards would cruise by in their Escalade while I got off the metro in Polanco; too many mullets would cross my path. It was not meant to be.
The last leg of my trip was spent in Chiapas, which was, after Guatemala, uninspiring. Too many colonial streets, hippies, fusion restaurants, irritating mixed race couples who think they matter. Between my pining for New York, the omnipresence of my in-laws, and the 123 earthquakes, I was beginning to feel that Mexico was nothing more than a long-past-due-for-a-breakup ex-boyfriend who you can’t break up with because you’ve got the lease for three more months.
And then, eight days before my departure, we went to Veracruz.
[I’d be lying if I said I’d never visited the state before. Homeboy and I went last Semana Santa to Catemaco, his wealthy laguna’ed hometown known for fabulous food, witchcraft and shamanism. But this doesn’t really count. It’s kind of like visiting New Paltz in that it’s a very nice place and you can have a lovely experience, but you can’t say you’ve been to New York. In another parallel to my home state, the capital of Veracruz is not Veracruz,as I thought, but Xalapa, which is about as interesting as Albany (or so I’ve heard; I’ve never visited either).]
- There are BLACK and GAY people in Veracruz. This alone makes it superior to the rest of the racist, homophobic country.
- Anyway, imagine any throbbing coastal city (Miami and Santo Domingo spring to mind): The thick air that ruims hair but makes skin glow, the lights, the trashy/chic disco lights, the boats docked in dirty water, ice cream and raspadas sold on every corner, and everyone drinking beer.
- Add salsa, blaring out of every bar, restaurant, car stereo, and outdoor square. People walk around, screaming, talking, laughing. Cars squeal and honk in a happy way.
- There are churches, but they’re not as obscene and obvious as in most other Mexican hubs; furthermore, though I hate church, nothing can look too bad with the sea as a backdrop.
- People in Veracruz are NICE. They walk around looking like they’re glad to be alive (if you’ve been to Mexico you know this is not a common face). They apologize if they bump you. Vendors make jokes. The fake Cartier sunglass lady told me I looked elegant. Even the bums are kind of nice.
- There is a BEACH. And not a douchy backpacker beach like Tulum, or a death beach like Acapulco, or an absurdly touristy beach like Cancun (which I do love). It’s got a grittier, Coney Island-esque feel to it; the beach for people who don’t need frills.
The best thing, though, for this materialistic ‘Merican, was the goods. Shopping in Mexico is fun for about two weeks. Copious amounts of scarves! Earrings from found objects! Typical shawls so you can blend in with locals! It starts out seeming so original; you can see yourself pairing this rainbow rebozo with my BCBG shirred black dress and wearing it to Verlaine on Rivington to pick up travel-happy hipsters. You snatch up scarves at the Parian, head to Ciudadella and adorn yourself with draping tops with patterns that could re-blind Stevie Wonder. Then you come down off your hand-embroidered cloud and realize you look like a fifty-five year old divorcee in a lesbian phase. You head out of the markets and into the streets, where the scrunchies, polyester pants, kitten heels, and adult-sized baby clothes available in most of Mexico to the average-earning citizen simply don’t appeal to you, either. I hit the Zoc of Veracruz and was instantly in heaven. Short shorts! Tight pants! Lime green platform heels! Fake everything! I even saw a couple of thrift stores, a near-rarity in status-obsessed Mexico. There were sparkles, and giant earrings, and people who dared to dream. Though funds were low, I did get a pair of sparkly silver flats.
In conclusion, this travel equivalent of amazing breakup sex was bittersweet. The great discovery and mind-opening adventure made more blatant the fact that not only was my time in Mexico ending, but that there was so much of the country (never mind the continent) left unexplored. One door closing is another opening and all that shit, but I think after such a long stint in another country, one’s allowed to be remorseful and self-indulgent, at least temporarily. As I prepare to rip the metaphorical Band-Aid, I’m consoled by the fact that a traveler’s work is never done. Until next time, Veracruz.