About Me

My Life in Mexico

Photographs and Text by John Todd, Jr.

We Go on Vacation, Señor!
All my life, I've had a job and when I came back to Veracruz for a rest from the last project, I thought it would be only for a couple of months before going back to work.

At one point, I was talking to one of my neighbors here in Veracruz about the job situation and asked him,

"What do the people of Veracruz do when they can´t find a job?".

"Oh, Señor," he said with a broad smile, as if I were the luckiest guy in the world.

"Vamos a pasear! We go on vacation!"

"Oh, Señor, now you have the time to enjoy life!"

It wasn´t exactly what I had expected to hear. The people of Veracruz have a different way of looking at life and its "misfortunes". Now I realized how fortunate I was. At last I had Time to Enjoy Life.

My Own Vacation
So, I decided to continue to apply for jobs, but until it was time to go back to work, I would go on vacation, and do what I really wanted to do. Now there was time, and I could spend more time with the interesting people in this area, visit the many museums, talk with friends, learn more Spanish from the people on the streets and in the markets, enjoy the music and the delicious food of the coast, and explore the back roads of this region of Mexico. The people of Veracruz began to invite me to go places with them and now my days were full.

These stories are the letters and photos I have been sending back to my family and friends in the States on this web site. It´s what I am doing when I´m not doing anything. This is my story so far. I will probably continue writing these stories until I go back to work.

Puebla at Dawn
Waking up in Mexico
Puebla, Puebla
How It Started
Several years ago in May, after finishing a long construction project, I was looking for a change in pace.

For the previous year and a half, I had been working 60 hour weeks in Tuxpan, Veracruz as part of a project management team to build 2 huge offshore oil production platforms for the national oil company in Mexico. And, now it would be a time for a rest.

A Digital Camera
On the job I had done a lot of computer work and decided to splurge and buy a digital camera.

I didn´t know much about taking pictures, and was looking for a camera where the photos could be stored on a diskette and be emailed to friends.

That was the best technology available in those days for my budget.
Deck Akal TM
Tuxpan, Veracruz
High Technology
An engineer at work in Tuxpan had a digital camera, and it was useful in documenting all kinds of activities.

So, after finishing the project in Tuxpan, on the way back home to Arkansas, I stopped by Circuit City in Brownsville to look at the cameras.

Ten minutes later I walked out of the store with a Sony Mavica and a box of small diskettes for the memory.

That night trying to read the instruction manual in the motel in Refugio, TX, I realized it was going to take some time to learn how to use the camera.
La Banda Municipal
Amatepec, Estado de Mexico
Works of Art
Almost from the outset, I discovered this was no ordinary camera.

When viewed on the computer screen, the pictures began to look like works of art, with almost a quality that you see in magazines.

And since developing was free, I took pictures of everything in my everyday life.

It was like shooting a shotgun into the air to see if ducks would fall out of the sky.

And that´s what happened. The pictures of people turned out especially good.
Mexican Dances
Aguascalientes, Ags.
How I Got To Veracruz
In 1985, I was living in Houston during a slump in the oil market.

A chance meeting with the representative of a steel mill in Mexico in a pipeyard in East Houston resulted in an offer to start up an oilfield service company in Mexico. I accepted the position in Veracruz, and have been living and working in Mexico ever since.

Other assignments led me to Cd. del Carmen with a US company developing projects with the Pemex Cantarell Project, and to Torreon in the north, making sales visits to many of the important gold and silver mines in northern Mexico.
Girl with Parents
Orizaba, Veracruz
Taking Time off in Veracruz
After the project in Tuxpan, I was transferred to San Francisco.

Each weekend I rented a car and went somewhere outside of town and began to learn how to use the camera.

At the conclusion of the project in San Francisco, I thought about returning to Veracruz to visit old friends again.

I wanted to go back to some of the places I had been in earlier years, and to take pictures along the way.

It was good to be back in Mexico again. It felt good to be free again!
Lady Mariachi
Guadalajara, Jalisco
Renewing Old Friendships
It seems that in Veracruz, for good friends time doesn´t mean much.

Although several years had passed, we took up where we had left off.

I would be on vacation until the next project came along. Now I had the time to enjoy life.

Trips all over Mexico
Friends began to invite me along on trips to different parts of Mexico to meet other friends.

Although I thought I knew Mexico pretty well, I realized there was still a lot out there to be discovered.

It was almost like getting a second degree in Mexican Affairs. It was the stuff you can't learn in college.

Learning More Spanish and New Friends
During these trips our conversations covered just about every question I had ever had about Mexico.
Daughter of Cattle Rancher
Pintotepa Nacional, Oaxaca
We traveled to the cities and small towns in Mexico meeting all kinds of people.

Some of the best food in Mexico can be found at a "fonda" in the "mercado" in Tacubaya, a suburb of Mexico City.

Chicken Feet, Necks, and Livers
On these trips these friends shared with me a lot about Mexican culture, and how they grew up.

One time we stopped at a little restaurant beside the road.

One of the guys ordered some chicken necks and livers in "mole" sauce. It didn´t look very appetizing.
Quiet Bungalows
Costa Esmeralda, Veracruz
Actually, a hamburger sounded better.

One of my friends told me that when he was growing up, his mother worked as a maid in the home of wealthy "patrones" in Mexico City.

He told me the children of the servant get the most nutritious part of the meal because the maid takes home what the family of the "patrón" won´t eat.

Chicken necks, feet, and livers have the most vitamins and when prepared in a soup are nourishing for a growing child.

Our trips were full of stories and anecdotes about life in Mexico on our trips that went from the Guatemalan to the Texas border.
Shrimp Table
Veracruz, Ver.
More Than a Tourist
In the process, I found a rich and different Mexico that most visitors don´t have the time to explore.

I began to discover little details unwritten in books about Mexico, and kind of develped a sixth sense about what was happening around me in my daily life.

And when you think you have seen the best of Mexico, you seem to discover something new. Especially in the wide variety of food.

On these trips I took along the Sony Mavica and took pictures at every opportunity. My friends didn´t mind.
The Machete Dance
Tierra Blanca, Veracruz
Stranded in Oaxaca
One weekend we got stranded in the Oaxacan village of Juxtlahuaca.

When we got back to Veracruz, I wrote a letter to a friend about this remarkable trip, and wanted to include some of the pictures of this typical Mexican town taken on the trip.

Later I wanted to send the same letter to family and other friends, but it was too much trouble.

That´s how the story Car Trouble in the Land of the Cloud People came about.
El Santo Niño de Atocha
Fresnillo, Zac.
A Personal Web Site
My son James lives in Houston, and does computer work.

He suggested a solution might be a personal web site where stories and photos of the trips could be placed for the whole family to read. He encouraged me to set up a web site, and got me started.

Getting Lost and Religious Shrines
On another trip to Oaxaca, we got lost in the mountains after dark.Eventually, found our way to Juquila, Oaxaca, and the Shrine of the Virgin of Juquila, who is venerated not only in Oaxaca but throughout all of southeastern Mexico.

Another weekend we were in Zacatecas. On Sunday we were invited to a celebration in the nearby mining town of Fresnillo.

There was some spare time and the little town of Plateros wasn´t far, so we went to see the Shrine to the Santo Niño de Atocha, the Holy Infant of Atocha.
Una Jarocha
Tierra Blanca, Veracruz
Another weekend one of my neighbors asked me to take her to Otatitlán, Veracruz, to visit her ailing father. It was in a tropical paradise and "El Cristo Negro" de Otatitlán.

You come away from these experiences feeling peaceful.

Then you realize the way you look at life around you is beginning to change.

Dinosaur Bones at 2,800 Meters
For several years, I had been intrigued by the legend of dinosaur bones in Mexico.

After a great deal of research on the internet, I finally found what I was looking for.

It was in the little town of Tepexi de Rodriguez, Puebla where you can find Elephant Teeth and Camel Tracks 6,000 ft. above Sea Level.

The little museum in Tepexi is so interesting that I went back several times.
From San Juan de Ulua
Veracruz, Veracruz
Hawk Migration Census
The next project, The Hawk Stalkers of Veracruz. resulted from a short trip to the neighboring town of Cardel.

Each year volunteers count hawks and other raptors during their annual migrations south for the winter. Their census count for the season is in the millions!

The Beauty of Historic Sites
The early years in Veracruz along The Camino Real were also the origins of the history of Texas, New Mexico, and California.

The area around Veracruz has some exciting history, and you can explore these places yourself.

Next I went out and took pictures of some of the well known historical sites in the area around Veracruz like Quiahuiztlán and Villa Rica which for about 3 years was actually the second Veracruz.

Relics of the Past
Xico, Veracruz
Villa Rica is not hard to find, and few people outside Veracruz know the beauty of this part of the coast.

Most of the Aztec gold of Moctezuma passed through Antigua, Veracruz, the second Veracruz, along the Camino Real which connected Spain with the rest of the Spanish provinces, as far away as the Philipines and California.

After 80 years, the third Veracruz was founded at the fort of San Juan de Ulua. While at the fort, I heard the story of Chucho el Roto, the Mexican bandit who was like Robin Hood. Along the way I found a panoramic map of Veracruz.

The French in Mexico
Then came a trip to the French Foreign Legion monument in the little village of El Camaron de Tejeda, Veracruz.
Playa Vicente, Veracruz
April 30 is the anniversary of the Battle of El Camarón. I went back took the pictures which appear in The French Remember.

The Lost Haciendas of Santa Anna
La Hacienda El Lencero is a beautiful museum just outside Xalapa. It was once owned by Santa Anna but only for about 15 years. Actually, I found he owned three other haciendas.

Along the old road towards Xalapa is the village of Puente Nacional. A strange name for a town. "National Bridge".

The original name was "The King´s Bridge" or Puente del Rey, and that it was a strategic point along the old Camino Real for bandits and the forces of Mexican Independence.

One Sunday, I stopped at Puente Nacional and saw a fort on top of a high hill above the bridge.
Delicious Garnachas
Rinconada, Veracruz
This resulted in a very long search for Santa Anna´s lost Hacienda "Manga de Clavo" at Puente Nacional. Later I discovered that these were the ruins of Paso de Varas.

And finally the discovery in the village of Vargas where I met Luis Vázquez Lagunes.

Later Luis invited me to his cousin´s wedding and later to a Quinceañera Party which were a lot of fun.

Later, I found Boca del Monte, another of Santa Anna´s haciendas, and discovered some great "empanadas" home cooked by the owner for breakfast.
Amatepec, Estado de Mexico
The Relative of a Friend
María Elena, a beautiful woman who was always happy, showed me the enchanting city of Puebla de los Angeles. It´s where people speak of the legend of the China Poblana, the Slave who brought color to Mexico.

Her mother told me the fascinating story from about her grandfather, Don Domingo Bureau, the architect of modern Veracruz. He was truly a great man.

I began doing research on his life, and discovered some other remarkable stories like how Ciriaco Vázquez Park came about.

Later in searching for don Domingo´s final resting place all I found was Reino Mágico, an amusement park.

Later Dr. Humberto Ojeda helped me translate the article into the Spanish version, El Hombre Olvidado.

Some photos are isolated images of experiences captured at the moment and are in a section called Images of Mexico.
Musica Tropical
Tuxtepec, Oaxaca
A Story of Love
When I heard about Col. Peter Bean´s adventures in Mexican Independence, I knew I had to go to Banderilla, Veracruz.

I wanted to walk the same streets and enter the same church where Doña Magdalena Falfán nourished her faith to wait almost 25 years for her American husband to return to Mexico.

Most of the local people I talked to in Banderilla told me they had never heard the story until I met Doña Yolanda on a later visit to Banderilla.

Getting to Know Veracruz
When people come here, sometimes they don´t know where to start, so I organized a Walking Tour of downtown Veracruz for people who come to Veracruz for the first time.

When the Cruise Ships began to come here I went with a couple of the groups to see some of the historic places around Veracruz and attended performances of the Voladores de Papantla.

Most people don´t know it, but some of the best seafood in town is on the third floor of the Veracruz Fish Market.
Taxco, Gro.
On the Weekends
There´s a lot to do and see on the weekends in Veracruz. Easter Sunday I was invited by some friends to a picnic at the jungle paradise and beach at Playa Hermosa, Veracruz.

A couple of weeks later, a friend invited me along with a group of school teachers on Labor Day (May 1) on a charter bus trip on A Mexican Bus Trip: A Second Visit to Playa Hermosa.

A year later, on Cinco de Mayo, I went back to the beaches of Montepío which must be the best beach on the Gulf of Mexico.It´s where two small rivers empty into the Gulf of Mexico, and one of them is cold. I guess that´s why they call it the "Río Cold".

In December, I went along with a group of student tour guides on some interesting trips to some places that are only about an hour from Veracruz.

After a great shrimp cocktail in Alvarado, Veracruz, we went to Tlacotalpan, Veracruz to walk the quiet streets of river town that has done a good job at preserving its past.
Gentle Hands with a Vanilla Orchid
Papantla, Veracruz
A Documentary Film about Vanilla
In April, I went to Papantla, Veracruz with Steve Greisen to help out as a Spanish interpreter to help him with a documentary on the vanilla industry in Papantla.

He was searching for the elusive Melipona bee that originally pollinated the orchid that produces vanilla.

We found that although the vanilla orchid can grow in many places, for pollination it needs the unique services of melipona bee that only lives around Papantla.

It took 300 years to discover you could do the same thing with a toothpick. Later, I found that vanilla is an important ingredient in Coca cola.
Stone Carved Atrium Cross
El Lencero, Veracruz
The Sounds of Music
The Sony Mavica could also take short video clips, and I began to experiment with .mpg´s at local parties and dances.

The Sounds of Mexico is the sound of a rosary in a church, and the live music of parties that lift the spirit. These are the sounds I like.

English Pirates and Lost Spanish Forts
Also related to ships and the sea, I found that many years ago, buccaneers John Hawkins and Francis Drake lost 3 of their 5 ships in the same harbor. The year was 1568.

After months of research, and exploring the coast north of Veracruz I discovered the location the lost port of Boquilla de Piedras which was destroyed by Spanish troops in 1816.
La Música Jarocha
Cempoala, Veracruz
A Third Camino Real
Old history books and maps of Mexico are fascinating.

In a book dated 1880, is the fascinating story of how in 1767, the Jesuits were expelled from Spain and all its colonies. It was a top secret order for those days.

At the same time I found since 1600, the Jesuits had a trail from the mountains to Paso de Ovejas, Veracruz to support their profitable wool exporting business to Spain.

They used the money to finance their schools and universities in New Spain.
Land of Opportunities
Acazónica, Ver.
Explorations into the Back Country
On the old map you could see that the Third Camino Real started high in the mountains and passed through the little towns of Totutla and San Martín Tlacotepec de Mejía to the Tierra Caliente, and several haciendas such as Acazónica which were suddenly abandoned.

On an old map was Acazónica and I drove the old Camino Real through some very poor country until finding the little town.

Old Maps and Lost Haciendas
The first winter storms have passed and the tall Johnson grass is drying out.

The sun is not as hot and it feels good to be outside again.
Country Roads
Near Soledad de Doblado
The hip high weeds growing around the old ruins of abandoned haciendas in the countryside are withering away as the dry season begins and reveal the ancient stones.

It´s a good time of the year to explore more of the old dirt roads looking for the remnants of the French Army in El Camarón, Veracruz, listen to the stories of the Mexican Revolution from the old campesinos, and take some more pictures.

You never know what you´ll find or the stories you´ll hear.
A PostCard
Veracruz, Ver.
The Best Things in Life Are Free
There´s a lot of things to do in Veracruz that don´t cost a thing.

It's fun to pick up things on the beach, and I have a couple of my own favorite spots I like to explore.

That´s how "Today I found a Copper Nail..." came about.

In this area of the Gulf Coast, you may find something very old. Not just seashells.
Pescado Al Mojo de Ajo
Cempoala, Ver.
August is a lazy month, and it was good to stay close to home. Instead of going fishing, I took a trip down to the Veracruz Seafood Market.

Organizing Your Own Trip
The other day, I met some backpackers from Europe at the restaurant where I was having morning coffee.

They were doing a tour Mexico in two weeks, and had set aside 12 hours for Veracruz which wasn't much time.

Once again, I realized there´s not much written about Veracruz, and how set up your trip.

So, I put together a new page for people planning a short trip to Veracruz: Before You Come to Veracruz, Organize Your Trip.
Living Among the Palm Trees
Doing it Yourself
For the first time visitor to Veracruz, it must be confusing since there´s not much concrete travel information about how to get to the really good places.

Later I realized more specific information was necessary about the Northern Route which will give you an idea of what´s here, distances, and the time you will need to go to Quiahuiztlán/Villa Rica, the pyramids at Cempoala, and Antigua, Veracruz.

Secluded Beaches
Some of my favorite beach spots are the Costa Esmeralda, about 2 hours north of Veracruz, and Montepío about 2 hours south of Veracruz. (Let´s try to keep them a secret.)

Group Transportation
A couple of weeks ago, I was approached by a trip organizer with the prospect of getting his 20 people from Veracruz to Oaxaca.

It didn´t look good because all the regular bus lines were full.
Shrimp Boats
Alvarado, Ver.
If you rent a bus, it may cost a little more than local bus service, but you don´t have to round up 5 taxis each time you want to go somewhere, or plan your whole trip around a commercial bus schedule.

The Only Tourists Were Us
At Christmas time, I was with some people showing them around the Fort of San Juan de Ulua, and one of them remarked:

"I don´t see any American tourists." It was true.
The "Bridge of the Last Sigh"
Later when we were at beautiful Quiahuiztlán, the pyramids at Cempoala, and Antigua, we looked around and noticed we were the only American tourists in sight.

I wondered why? It may be because Veracruz is not for the average traveler because it is not easy to get to.

An Incomplete History
Not long ago, a friend gave me a copy of the Lonely Planet Guide about Veracruz. It was interesting, and perhaps politically correct, but it was incomplete, at best. So I put together Three Places Called Veracruz which is a little better.
Veracruz is for People in Love
National Treasure?
Last year one of the regulars at morning coffee brought by a map of old Veracruz, and I began a search for the Legends of Old Convents and the Lost Tunnels of Veracruz.

Maybe Nicolas Cage should have filmed "National Treasure" here.

Do your Homework First
It´s important to do your homework before you come so you will make the most of your time.
Two Sisters at a Charreada
Veracruz, Veracruz
There´s a lot to see here. A trip to Veracruz is great for people who don´t enjoy being around crowds of other "tourists".

Most of the year, you will have the best places all to yourself.

Little Unknown Events
One day in April I was invited to Charreada by a friend. It wasn't announced anywhere, and I asked my friend if he was sure about it.

"Yes", he said. "It is a regional competition. It´s free and open to the public. Not many people come anyway so they don´t charge."

The charreada is a distant cousin to the rodeo as it´s known in the States. I discovered each is very different. Maybe it´s as if they had the same great grandfather.
High Winds in the Tropics
Hurricane Season in Veracruz
Sometimes life in the easy going tropics is interrupted by abrupt changes that take us out of the everyday life.

For the first time perhaps since 1926, Category I Hurricane Stan made a direct hit just south of Veracruz in the remote area around Montepío and Playa Hermosa causing mostly flooding of the low areas.

Since normal life stopped as people began preparations for the storm, I went out and took photos of the fishermen taking their boats out of the water and placing them on the boulevard.

Later, I realized there might be people outside Veracruz who wanted to know what was happening so I begin a page about Hurricane Stan news based on the daily newscasts I was hearing on XEU Radio.

So, the next time there's a hurricane coming towards Veracruz, you might check back here for the latest summary of news in the area and tune in to XEU Radio.
The Malecon in Veracruz
Photo by Howard Wolinsky
Helping Others
From time to time, I get emails from people asking for help in planning their trip to Veracruz.

Some of them were newspaper reporters who came to Veracruz:

Dai Huyhn came down from Houston for the Chronicle to cover the gathering of the "curanderos" in Catemaco and wrote this article called "Casting a spell in Mexico" in the Houston Chronicle.

I never thought I'd be a newspaper source!
My Book for $5 Dollars
Writing Down the Stories of Veracruz
When you go to the Fort of San Juan de Ulua, you always hear about story of the bandit Chucho El Roto who was like a local version of Robin Hood. Later I wrote a story about Chucho El Roto for this web site.

One day, one of the tour guides at the fort saw the article and asked why I didn´t write a booklet in English and Spanish to sell to tourists who come to Veracruz.

I thought about it for a couple of months, but I needed a "patrón" to help with the costs of printing. The cost of printing color pictures is high.

Later I found a sponsor, and in April 2006 my little book went on sale at the souvenir booths at the fort of San Juan de Ulua. It´s something different, and it's been fun meeting new people who have given me the encouragement to do this new project.

If you come to Veracruz, I hope you will visit the old fort and get a copy to take home to show your friends. In addition to the legend, there are some good photos of the fort.
At San Juan de Ulua
The Origins of the Song "La Bamba"
A New Book
Before writing the book about "Chucho el Roto", I didn´t know much about the publishing business.

In April of 2006, the little book went on sale at the souvenir booths at the San Juan de Ulua for $5 dollars, and by the end of the year, about 300 copies had sold which was really surprising. Not bad. Only 700 left to sell. Actually, I didn´t expect it to do that well.

Over time, people began to ask me to write another one for people to take home as a souvenir of their visit to Veracruz. It would have to also be in Spanish and English.

In 2006, I had begun a web site story about the Origins of the Song La Bamba. From the web site statistics I realized it had become one of the popular stories here.

By January 2008, I had saved enough money to finance the publishing of the book, and, in February 2008, Origins of the Song La Bamba went on sale at the fort of San Juan de Ulua.

Like the book about Chucho el Roto, it has lots of photos and some of the forgotten events in the history of Veracruz.
An Old Obituary
Another Trip
One day, I came across this clipping. Since there was a little time left, I took a trip up to the little town of Cotaxtla, Veracruz to take a look around.

I was looking for the Final Resting Place of Catalina de Erauzu, also known as the Ensign Nun. Her story was well known in the early years of New Spain, and she died near Veracruz in 1650.
Graduation Picture Sitting on an Old Cannon
Also a trip to Cuautinchán, Puebla to explore an abandoned Spanish convent. Somehow it all seemed to fit together.

It was good to be on vacation again!

Back to Work
Around 10:30 each morning, I used to go for mid morning coffee to the "La Casita" Restaurant in front of Fort Santiago, but now it´s closed for lack of business.

But, lately, there have been couple of nibbles about some new projects, and now time is becoming precious again.

Life goes on, and it may be time to go back to work again.
An Almost Abandoned Building in Downtown Veracruz

The Abandoned Church of San Francisco Xavier in Downtown Veracruz with an Early 20th Stairway
A Mystery in Downtown Veracruz
In some of the abandoned crumbling buildings in the downtown area of Veracruz, you can imagine there must be many mysteries of the past.

After all, the city is almost 500 years old. One of these old abandoned buildings is the old Colegio de San Francisco Xavier, almost across the street from the municipality offices.

Several years ago, during free time between construction projects, I took a trip to Spain. A historian friend suggested I look up a certain file at the archives in Madrid, and it was there that I discovered one of the best kept secrets in Mexico.

The day after arriving in Madrid, I walked into the archives and asked for File 88. They had it on the micro fiche machine. Scrolling down the screen, looking at the old handwriting of the scribe, it almost felt like reading the DaVinci code!

What I had found were the official log books of the expulsion of the Jesuits from Veracruz sent back to the Crown in 1767! The archives have an excellent copying service, and sent me some 600 pages

This was the expulsion of the Jesuit Order from Spain and all its colonies in 1767. Part of the royal decree was that the names of the almost 700 jesuits sent to Veracruz would never be spoken nor would anything appear in print about the event. The penalty was death!

What was found in Spain was the story of An Unknown Church in Veracruz and a Lost Treasure:. Then, Other Lost Treasures: The Liquidation of Jesuit Buildings in Downtown Veracruz after 1767.

From the copies of these files, other stories about Veracruz were uncovered: Forgotten Drama in Veracruz: The First "Public School in Mexico and The British are Coming! To Veracruz! (We need to fix the Cannons...).
John Todd, Jr.
Veracruz, Ver.
A Good Place to Peel Some Shrimp
During my time in Veracruz, I have found some good places away from where most of the tourists go just to peel shrimp, listen to some live music, and talk with friends.

After a trip to Quiahuiztlán, a friend from the States remarked:

"When it feels like work on my laptop at my work station in the office is getting a little too stuffy, it´s time to go back to Veracruz.

It's a time to spend your evenings with the Musicos on the Zócalo to feel free again." Maybe you know what he means.

For the last eight years of working somewhere else, you realize your time during those days in Veracruz was very special. And my neighbor was right.

It was a time to remember how good it was to have the TIME to enjoy life, and how you can really miss the easy going way of life in Veracruz!
April 2018

Dreams of Personal Projects Back in 2008
In early January of 2008, someone asked what I would REALLY like to do in 2008.

For the last year and a half, I had been working on a special project in the US that involved a service of mostly time and effort, and not making money. It finally closed out at the end of 2007, and now there was some free time ahead, but not the funds.

So, here's what I would REALLY like to do:

1. Cadiz and Seville. For starters, go to Cadiz, Spain and walk through the old downtown area, where for 300 years the Spanish Gold Fleets used to arrive. Then on to Seville, Spain to go to the Spanish Archives wee what's at the Archivo de las Indias. Many of the mysteries about The Third Veracruz: San Juan de Ulúa 1600-1825 will be found in those old papers. I also want to talk to the people of Spain and listen to their legends. At the same time there may be people in Spain who are also interested in Veracruz and maybe help clear up some of their own mysteries.

--Note: This dream was realized in October 2010 with a three and a half week trip across Spain that would take your breath away!

2. La Bamba. Investigate more about the The Origins of the Song La Bamba: and the Bamba tribe of Africa. Maybe there will be a new legend or a new interpretation of the "Bamba Event" in Spain. Maybe in Spain there will be more about the origins of the Congolese Towns Near Veracruz.

3. Nasugbu, Batangas Province, Philippines. Go to Nasugbu, Batangas Province, Philippines to find out more about the statue of The Forgotten Lady of the Staircase at San Juan de Ulua . I want to see it for myself. Perhaps it could have been the same one that brought protection and good fortune to sailors for 300 years. Maybe there are other unexplored connections between the Philippines and Mexico.

4. In Veracruz. There are many new projects to explore in and around Veracruz, and more time to drive around the countryside talking to people. One of the new projects is to find the Hacienda La Estanzuela somewhere near Tierra Blanca north of the Papaloapan River. The hacienda lands once covered the whole area from Tierra Blanca and Tuxtepec, Oaxaca clear to the Gulf Coast.

--Note: I found the Hacienda la Estanzuela and it was worth it!

4a. But, my car is old and not reliable and I need a better car. (It may sound childish that wishes come true, but two weeks after writing this, someone loaned me the money to buy a much newer and more reliable car! I love my "new" car because once again I have dependable transportation.

5. Travel Companions. When you pursue these mysteries, it´s lot more fun when you have someone else riding along with you. So, I hope to continue meeting good people along the way that I can learn from.

When these projects are finished, maybe it will be possible to go to Spain and the Philippines after all! It never hurts to wish in public like this. Some people may call it a form of prayer.

So, these are my own dreams of what I want to do. I have seen miracles happen for others, and now maybe this year some of my own might also come true.

Here´s what happened next:

An Unexpected Surprise: A Project at a Mine in Chihuahua
A Sudden Change to Chihuahua...
The quiet life in Veracruz abruptly changed in April of 2008, and I got a REAL job! And through July 2008, it was on a construction project deep in the Sierra Madre mountains of the Baja Tarahumara area of Chihuahua.

The work was tough: 10 hours per day, 7 days a week, but the overtime was good.

But after 3 straight weeks of the same routine, I realized that my neighbor in Veracruz was right about not having enough free time to sit back and enjoy life. Each day of the week felt like a Tuesday!
The Unique Cuisine of Tampico
Since September 2008 in Tampico...
Then in August, there was another project in Tampico and I was accepted.

It is an interesting job where you get the weekends off and there are several more exploration projects in mind in the jungles up the huge Pánuco river.

But, first I need to try one of the famous "tortas de la barda". It´s a huge sandwich at one of the little restaurants next to the wall at the railroad station at the port.
The Stories from Old Tampico
Tampico Has It´s Own Charm
When you work, you don´t have as much time off and it´s taken a little longer to explore the area.

But, in time there was time to discover that Tampico has it´s own charm.

At the Museo de las Huastecas, there´s a small book store where I found a small book of short stories about Tampico back in the old days, and started a new section where I´ve translated a couple of these stories.

It´s called Stories from Tampico. Hope you enjoy them!

In April 2010
Back in December of 2008, reflecting back on the many changes in my life since writing the above paragraph about what I´d like to do, but couldn´t. At that time, the car was junky, and there was just enough money in the bank to live from day to day.

Then everything changed almost over night. Starting in April of 2008, I began to get a series of good jobs that yanked me out of my lethargy, and helped revive the struggling finances. I got a newer car with the help of a relative so, now I don´t have to cringe wondering if the transmission won´t go out.

About Cadiz and Seville, Spain. In September of 2008, I began work at a shipyard owned by a company from Cadiz, Spain! And, now have several contacts at work who were born and raised in that area of Spain. The project is now finished, and my first plans are to go visit my new friends in Cádiz, the sister port city of Veracruz, probably in September when the tourist season is over.

After that, I want to go the Philippines and look for the little town of Nasugbu, in the Province of Batangas. We´ll see how it works out.

Maybe somebody out there heard my New Year´s wishes for 2008. Maybe my wish list will eventually be granted. Who knows?

My project in Tampico finished up in late February, and I was given an extended assigment in the States. After that I found that it´s good to be free again!

May 1, 2010: Free At Last!
April 30 was my last day at the office in Houston, and now I´m free again!

It will be good to not have a quick hotel breakfast at 6:30AM, or be at the office at 7AM. Everybody around me does it, and they don´t seem to mind it, but once you´ve lived in Veracruz where you eat breakfast when you get hungry, and go about work in a leisurely manner your outlook on life is different. You always remember what life was like in Mexico.

The Real World?
Working for awhile in Houston, surrounded by tall office buildings and staying in a nice hotel, a European working with me remarked that he had been to Mexico briefly on business and found it to be crazy and almost "surreal". I told him that for me Houston was "surreal", and that the reality of life is found in Mexico. I guess it depends on your point of view.

Back to the Real World
In late May, I drove back home to Veracruz from Houston. After months of reading scary news headlines, I was expecting to see a lot of Army checkpoints, but there wasn´t much, and life appears to be normal. I guess if all you read are the scandal sheets, you´d think violence is everywhere in Mexico, but it´s not. It´s life as usual here in Veracruz.

It´s good to be home again and to have TIME to enjoy life again and think about some new exploration projects. I´ll let you know.

Off to Spain
For a long time, I'd been wanting to explore Spain, and now the time has come! My plans are to leave for Madrid the first week of October. First, it will be Madrid, then off to Cádiz and Sevilla to look for the roots of old Veracruz. I´ll let you know what I find.

Back from Spain!
In late September 2010, and on the spur of the moment, I booked a flight to Madrid and with little planning began an incredible trip to Spain. Some time was spent in Madrid in the National Archives, I saw the Tower of Hercules in La Coruña on the Atlantic, took a high speed train to Elche, Murcia, and Caravaca on the Mediterranean side of Spain, to an all day bus to Cádiz and Sevilla, visited the small town of Ágreda by taxi to see the convent of the nun who introduced bluebonnets to Texas, and to magnificent Toledo!

It was the trip of a lifetime that takes your breath away at each street corner. Now there's time to go through the photos to prepare some more web site stories about what I saw, so stay tuned.

It´s so good to have TIME to enjoy life again and begin some new exploration projects!

A New Packet from the Lady who sells Refrescos
By August 2011, after another brief 3 week trip to Spain, I returned to Veracruz and began to apply for jobs again. By now, visiting the shrine of the Virgen de Cuyucuenda has become fairly routine, especially when you get a little tired of the hustle and bustle of every day life in Veracruz. Sometimes, it's just good to get out into the green countryside of August again.

Faith is important in Mexico, and so are prayers for miracles. And sometimes people are the bearer of miracles to show you the way. On this particular day, I went to Cuyucuenda and in talking with Doña Lucha, she said simply, "Here's something that will help you."

A Prayer for a New Job
It was a little plastic envelope with a picture of San Judas Tadeo, and a prayer on the back. The packet also contained some seeds and 3 little plastic coins. I'd never seen the prayer before. It was for a job.

After about three weeks in saying the prayer, I got a call from a large company in Houston about a job in Venezuela, and it felt like I was on the fast track to a new job. This time to Venezuela! (You can now find the Prayer for a job on the page for San Judas Tadeo.)

By October 2011, I was on the project for Venezuela, and spent a wonderful week there until February 2012 when the proyect was finished.

I continued with the prayer, and just as the project was winding down, one of the people on another project, this time in Corpus Christi got sick, and I was available.

When the project in Corpus Christi was finished in August, I thought I would now have time to enjoy life again back home in Veracruz. But, at the last minute, I was hired for another project based in Houston where is talk they might send me out on a field project in another interesting place in the world. So, I continue the prayer, and we'll see what happens!