With a combination of genuine regret, since the campground was so beautiful and the campers such an interesting European mix, and anticipation for what we knew lay ahead, we drove away from Chetumal and set out for the long trek to San Miguel de Allende where we intended to stay next.

We spent the first night in a quiet campground near Ciudad del Carmen, then drove on to a town called Catemaco which is in a lake district of sorts in some low lying mountains and is just about the northern limit of real rainforest jungle on the Gulf of Mexico side.  This is sort of ‘Bruja Central’ for Mexico.  Brujos are what we would call wizards or witchdoctors; brujas are witches, and here in Catemaco there is a gathering every year of brujas and brujos from all over Mexico.  The town has an abundance of resident brujos and brujas as well, and their presence is advertised rather obviously on some of the streets as the picture at the top of this entry shows.

The central market contains a large area devoted to brujas as well where you can buy potions both for casting spells and for their removal.

Note the shelves of potions and his cape--made up of $100 US bills!

Note the shelves of potions and his cape–made up of $100 US bills!

Given it was Good Friday, even the Plaza for Brujos was quiet.

A quiet day for the Brujo Plaza with just a couple of teenage boys around

A quiet day for the Brujo Plaza with just a couple of teenage boys around

There was more activity down by the lake where lots of families were enjoying the beach and having holiday picnics.

Beach Scene

We are not sure of how much the Brujos had to do with this, but when we got back to Dan and climbed in we found he had a new gearshift knob.  Looks to us like he wants to go Mexican Low Rider on us!

Dan's new gearshift knob. The eyes light up when you shift!

Dan’s new gearshift knob. The eyes light up when you shift!

The next day we moved on to a couple of interesting towns on our way toward Veracruz.  First was Santiago Tuxtla, an old colonial town that is in the midst of the Olmec pre-Columbian area.  The Olmecs were the first real culture in Mexico and predate all the others.  Their chief remnants are enormous heads carved from stone, and the largest ever uncovered sits in the town’s central square, lovely with its tailored vegetation.

The square is surrounded by elegantly manicured hedges

The square is surrounded by elegantly manicured hedges

 

The largest Olmec head yet uncovered, weighing more than 30 tons

The largest Olmec head yet uncovered, weighing more than 30 tons

We then drove to Tlacotalpan, a charming town on a broad river in predominantly farmland, and until the mid 1800’s a major port for the whole area with ships coming up the river from the coast. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998 because its urban layout and architecture are an interesting fusion of Spanish and Caribbean styles, some of the buildings dating from very early in the 16th century.  Those houses close to the river all have colonnades and verandas on the street side and are painted in wonderfully diverse colors.

Part of the long row of grand houses along the river

Part of the long row of grand houses along the river

 

This sort of colorful scene was everywhere

This sort of colorful scene was everywhere

That evening we drove on to the southern outskirts of Veracruz, but decided to pass the city by.  The next day would be Easter and we expected much of the city to be quiet and closed, and instead decided to push on inland to the suburb of Puebla called Cholula, which contains the second largest pyramid by mass in the world.  What appears to be a huge hill with a magnificent church on top turned out to be five pyramids, one on top of the other, and the earliest dating from Zapotec times, approximately 400 BC.  When the archeologists finally started exploring the interior they dug over five miles of tunnels, and while only a small section is open to the public, it is fascinating to encounter staircases that were on the exterior of earlier pyramids as you penetrate deeper into the structure.

Atop the pyramid is the Santuario of the Virgin of Remedies, and contains a very special if tiny statue of the Virgin Mary holding the baby Jesus.  She has a whole wardrobe of dresses that are changed periodically, and has a long history of being carried and protected by the Spanish through the early years of the conquest.

Her dress is so grand you have to look closely to see her face and the baby Jesus

Her dress is so grand you have to look closely to see her face and the baby Jesus

The church itself is beautifully furnished within and was filled with people on Easter Sunday.  Many had come in groups from outlying villages and had brought their own relics for blessing on this important holiday.  Each group enters the church and proceeds to the alter, then after being blessed, retreat walking backwards out of the church, singing the entire time.

Note the woman holding the encased relic which she then carried all the way down the hill

Note the woman holding the encased relic which she then carried all the way down the hill

Outside as we descended the hill we encountered a medicine man blessing and cleansing a young girl, with her family admiring the ceremony as well.

The medicine man finishing his cleansing. Notice his equipment on the cloth beside him, including incense

The medicine man finishing his cleansing. Notice his equipment on the cloth beside him, including incense

We took some more time to explore the historic district of Cholula with its many churches, monasteries and a library of early colonial documents from the Franciscans, then spent the night in one more deserted campground before moving on to San Miguel de Allende and a week of seeing friends and enjoying one of our very favorite places.