Adventures in Mexico pt III
Tuesday 23rd January
Nice breakfast, though I was feeling a bit under the weather, and hit the road by 8.40am. Found our way through the complicated Pachuca bypasses and headed off east towards Tulancingo. But the Mexican Road Improvement Project halted us very quickly - the main road was being widened and we were diverted off to Lord knows where. After around 20 minutes driving we came upon a place called Zempoala, and shortly after that things became interesting - we came to a hillside covered in Nolina parviflora. Finding a suitable place to pull in, we investigated, finding a huge stand of these plus Dasylirion acrotriche - some of which were just enormous.
Below: a nice multiheaded Nolina parviflora.
Below: one of those huge Dasylirion acrotriche
Below: general view of the nolina forest with dasylirion and opuntia in evidence.
Below - a particularly tufty Dasylirion acrotriche.
I've seen Nolina parviflora growing in a few places, but these were the most handsome yet. They seemed very keen to make multi-headed plants here and kept their old petticoats very attractively. Superficially resembling a Cordyline australis but evidently supremely drought tolerant and, at over 2600m altitude, I would guess pretty cold tolerant too - plus to my eyes a notch or two up in terms of elegance. As an aside, there are plants that are in the loop in the Italian nurseries that they call Nolina longifolia (or, in some cases, Dasylirion longifolia). I own what I would consider to be 'real' Nolina longifolia, and also a couple of these Italian plants, and they are not the same thing - I reckon the Italian ones are this species. For one thing, they don't have particularly long leaves, unlike 'proper' Nolina longifolia, which does. Another interesting thing was that Toby spoke to the local landowner who referred to these nolinas as 'palma de gata' - cat palms. Not heard that before.
Anyway, we left the nolinas and carried on east, picking up our original route, dropping down in altitude into the warmer subtopics and into Veracruz, where the vegetation changed as the conditions became warmer and moister. We also picked up our old friend, the mist, along the way making the journey rather slow going along the winding roads. We stopped off to have a look at this rather splendidly presented fern - Lophosoria quadripinnata - growing with another couple of interesting ferns and what I took to be a tibouchina of some sort.
Below left - unknown fern also with quadripinnate leaves, below right a tibouchina, possibly?
Our destination was one of the most impressive sites of pre-Columbian ruins in Veracruz at El Tajin, a short drive from the town of Papantla. Apparently little is known of those who built the site, believed to be over a period from 600AD until it was abandoned in 1200AD. There it lay undisturbed until 'discovered' by the Spanish in 1785. One feature of the site is that there are 19 ball courts, the strange game played my many of the ancient tribes in central America. Another is the use of the 'niches' along the sides of the pyramids - an uncommon feature for this area.
Below: reconstruction of thatched living area.
Below: Carved panel at the base of a ball court wall depicting a participant about to have his heart removed. I think I prefer rugby....
Fascinating as the site was, I found it hard to make any kind of connection with the people who had built these magnificent structures. The culture is so alien to that of modern Europeans and, as most of what little is known is largely guesswork, it is difficult to imagine day to day living compared to somewhere such as Pompeii or Herculaneum in Italy.
Our, by now customary, mist turned to drizzle so we headed to Papantla to find out Hotel (Hotel Tajin), after which we checked out the local market for vanilla - this part of Mexico being the vanilla capital of the world. Well, Mexico, anyway, but they do like to big it up. The whole market was scented, quite weird. Found a great restaurant in town and had my first tamales - corn dough with a savoury filling, steamed in a banana leaf. Delicious. Then back to the hotel for a goldfish-bowl sized measure of tequila.
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