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Mexico Travel - Veracuz To Mexico City
( Originally Published 1939 - Presented For Historical Purpose )
THE MEXICANA RAILWAY ADVERTISES THE TRIP FROM VERAcruz to Mexico as "The Route of a Thousand Wonders." If anything, this is only half the truth.
If your time is short, you may have to travel one way by night train, but at any rate you must go in one direction by day. I personally advise your taking two days. Take the train leaving Veracruz at 6: 50 A.M. as far as Cordoba. Leave the train at this point and drive by automobile to Orizaba. Spend the afternoon and night either in Orizaba or in the resort of Fortin. Pick up the same train at 10:45 in the morning of the next day and continue on to Mexico City.
If your boat arrives at Veracruz early enough, you can catch the, 1:01 P.M. train, avoid staying overnight in Veracruz, and arrive at Cordoba at 5 o'clock. This train has no observation or dining car, so be sure to have lunch before leaving Veracruz. You will find the first-class car quite comfortable. You can then take the automobile drive to Orizaba, look the town over in the evening, and continue on to Mexico City on the 10:45 train in the morning.
The night train leaves Veracruz at 7:30 P.M. and arrives in Mexico City at 7:05 A.M. All these trains run on a daily schedule. Naturally, since timetables are subject to change, I cannot guarantee how long these schedules will be in force, so please check up and make sure. There are really three classes on the Mexicana Railway and on all other railways in Mexico-sleeping or parlor car, primera, and segunda. First class is primera, corresponding to our day coach. The seats are usually leather-backed, but are just as comfortable as our daycoach seats, and the car is about the same. Second-class cars, or segunda, have wooden seats, usually arranged in groups of four. They make pretty hard riding for the uninitiated. On the principal day train of the Mexicana Railway, there is an observation car divided off into sections. One section is the dining portion, with tables for four. Then comes a reclining chair section, in which numbered seats are sold, an observation parlor, and last of all, an observation platform. To ride in this, you must have a special ticket in addition to your first-class ticket, just as you would in one of our Pullmans. On the night trains they run regular sleeping cars of the Pullman variety.
Meals are served in the observation car or the Pullman, on both the day and night trains, and judging by my experiences, the food is excellent.
The Mexicana Railway is a private company, operating only between Veracruz and Mexico City, with a few short branches, and is largely British-owned. The ride on the Mexicana Railway at night is fairly rough.
The distance from Mexico City to Veracruz is 425 kilometers. Remember that the kilometers are numbered beginning at Mexico City, so that in the following description of the ride up, the kilometers would seem to be going backward. The kilometer posts are on the left side of the train to Mexico and on the right side from Mexico.
The best views are on the left side of the train, en route from Veracruz to Mexico City, and on the right side of the train, from Mexico City to Veracruz. As far as kilometer 388, the ride is rather sultry and not particularly interesting. Farther on, it will still be hot traveling, but the views of the mountains ahead will compensate you for the discomfort.
Steam locomotive is used as far as PASO DEL MACHO at kilometer 348. Here the steam engine is taken off, an electric engine is put on, and we begin climbing. The good scenery begins almost at once. At kilometer 341 you will get a superb view of the valley and of an old bridge to the left, and soon after you will pass through two short tunnels, between which there is a gorge and a waterfall (on the left).
At the station of ATOYAC you will notice a sign telling you that you are 46 1 meters above the sea, and a little arithmetic will show you that the line has already brought you up 1,512 feet. Just after Atoyac station there is a fine view of a gorge running through the center of a little town with houses perilously perched on either side of the gorge, and then for a few minutes, the best views will be on the right, as far as PETRERO. Then we enter a district of huge sugar plantations, and continue climbing until we reach Cordoba, 107 kilometers from Veracruz.
At Cordoba the real mountain scenery begins, and the heat subsides considerably. Here I advise you to leave the train and take a short ride by automobile as far as Orizaba. Of course, you cannot do this conveniently unless you have enough time for a stopover, so if you are going straight through to Mexico City, you will have to forget the whole thing.
CORDOBA is a delightful tropical town, the center of a rich farming district. The chief crops are coffee, tobacco, sugar, fruit-and gardenias. In season gardenias are sold on the streets and also by vendors on the station platform. When a train pulls in, every railroad station in Mexico suddenly becomes transformed into a marketplace, where men and women offer for sale all kinds of local products. It is a most delightful and amusing custom.
Of moderate interest is the cathedral in Cordoba. Outside of this, there is little to see in the town.
If you are wise, you will have telephoned ahead to a hotel at OriZaba (the Hotel de France is the best) to send an automobile to Cordoba for you. The rate for the drive is only i o to 15 pesos, and it is well worth it. Don't worry about getting lost. Even if your driver doesn't speak English, he will somehow succeed in making himself understood, and the hotel will thoughtfully provide him with a note written in English, addressed to you and informing you that this is your chauffeur.
For the first few miles of the drive to Orizaba, you will probably wonder why I recommended your leaving the train and taking the automobile, for the road from Cordoba to Fortin is rather dull.
Fortin is a charming little mountain resort, rapidly becoming popular both with Mexicans and tourists. It has an excellent little hotel, the Hotel del Fortin, with a new annex, where they have tennis courts, a swimming pool, saddle horses, and many of the pleasures of resort life. Since Fortin is situated in the center of one of the great flower districts of Mexico, in a country where the local varieties of orchids grow like wildflowers in other lands, it is a delightful place for riding.
A short distance from Fortin, your road will begin to pass through valleys of unique beauty, which the passengers on the railroad can only glance at. For a short drive, I think it is undoubtedly one of the finest in the world. The landscape is true tropical jungle, yet the elevation of 4,000 feet prevents it from being oppres sively hot.About halfway to Orizaba, after a long climb up and around the hills, your driver will turn off the main highway to a narrow side road leading into the hydroelectric plant at Tuxpango.
This side road is a garden in itself. All kinds of flowering trees and shrubs line the road and in many places almost meet overhead. After a mile or so of garden, you suddenly come out on a shelf, about a thousand feet above the dam and artificial lake of the hydroelectric station below. It is one of the most breathtaking views that I have ever seen. A little farther on is a funicular, electrically operated, which is perfectly safe but extremely steep. Special arrangements can be made to ride down on the funicular to the hydroelectric plant, but if you have the slightest tendency to be nervous, I would content myself with just a look.
A little farther on the way to Orizaba, you will be taken to see the coffee plantations, an interesting spectacle if you have never seen them before. Go slowly from this point on-the scenery is much too lovely to absorb in quick gulps.
ORIZABA, at an altitude of about 4,000 feet, has long been an important little city. It lies practically on the slope of the Pico de Orizaba, and in clear weather you can sometimes get a glimpse of the snowcapped peak almost overhead, peering above the hills surrounding the town. It is an industrial city, but an unusually attractive one. Long before the Conquest, cotton spinning was the chief home industry of the Indians of this region, and today the largest cotton mills in Mexico can be found here. Orizaba is famous also as the home of the great Moctezuma Brewery and as the site of the first flour mills in America.
There is a paved road from Orizaba all the way to Mexico, fascinating walks around town, and rides by auto, saddle horse, or busses.
To really appreciate the charm of Orizaba, you have to go on foot. A short stroll will take you to the little neoclassic CHURCH OF CARMEN arid the convent behind it, now partly in ruins. As you walk along Main Street, which is also the main road through town, you should watch out for the bridge over the GORGE. From the open side of the bridge, you will get your broadest view of the gorge; the other side is shut off by a grated window, but you will still be able to look down.
Many of the old buildings in town have been put to modern use. There is, for example, the old convent at No. 6, Which has been converted into a garage. Then, on the corner of Avenida Poniento (Main Street) and Galle Sur, there is a simple and dignified church with interesting frescoes in the dome and behind the altar. Pass down the Galle Sur, turn right at the first corner, and enter the second covered gate, which will lead you into and under the old convent now converted into tenements.
If you will go back to the Galle Sur and continue your walk on that street, in a block you will come to a pretty little park called the ALAMEVA. Orizaba is proud of this park, and with reason. Then turn right and pass the WORKERS' EDUCATIONAL CENTER, an important and wellkept school, to the next bridge over the gorge. If you turn left before crossing the bridge, down a narrow alley, and then right again, you can get down to the river bank for some glorious near views. Everywhere up and down the gorge through town you will see buzzards resting in the trees or flying in the air, and most amazingly ornamental they are, too. Somehow they have nothing of the unpleasantness of the buzzards of Veracruz.
I would advise a glance at the neoclassic CATHEDRAL. It is a church of great dignity and, although not important architecturally, worth a short visit. Near the church is a black-and-white CITY HALL of inconceivable ugliness, of which Orizaba is as heartily ashamed as it is proud of its pretty park. Facing the church on a small plaza stands the MUNICIPAL THEATER. Orizaba today gives the impression of a prosperous town, and it is hard to believe that one hundred years or so ago, it was twice the size and had a population of over 100,000 people.
If you have stayed on the train, you will find that your real mountain scenery begins at Cordoba. The line more or less follows the Rio Blanco Valley, and the peaks grow steadily higher. After Orizaba, the grades and the curves make the ride very slow for a long distance. All sorts of interesting bits of native life can be seen from the windows of the train. Indians do their plowing often with teams of bulls, a custom rarely seen elsewhere. Their huts dot the hilltops in all sorts of surprising places. The train begins moving in a series of bold curves until, at kilometer 272, you will get a fine view of the valley and the line which you have just passed over. You pass through a short tunnel, and at kilometer 273 the line runs through a narrow gorge, where the wheels of the train are almost washed by the tiny stream down the center, which has been dammed by the Indians into a series of pools for the raising of watercress.
At this stage of the trip, you may have the impression that your train could not possibly climb any faster than it did on the last stretch of the route, but you will be wrong. After leaving MALTRATA, the line really goes uphill. The series of wild loops now take the track up the hill from Maltrata to Alta Luz-an amazing feat. At kilometer 265 you can look back and see five apparently disconnected sections of track. The views get better and better until finally, at kilometer 255, you can look straight down and see Maltrata, which you left some fifteen minutes ago, lying straight at your feet, and when I say "look down," I mean just that. There is a great bridge at kilometer 254, and at kilometer 251, at BOCA DEL MONTE, you will be at the highest point in this particular climb. Here you are 7,934 feet above sea level.
At about one o'clock, you will probably reach ESPERANZA, where the train makes a twenty-minute stop for lunch. This is the end of the electric section and of heavy grades. You have now reached the level of the great central plateau, and most of the views from Esperanza to Mexico City will be distant ones.
The Pico de Orizaba
If you are not too hungry, I suggest that you forego your lunch in the restaurant (you can always buy lunch on the train) and spend your time on the platform, gazing at the great PICO DE ORIZABA. This is one of the great mountains of the world. Towering 18,209 feet into the air, it is the second highest peak in North America (Mount McKinley is the highest). Seen from the platform at Esperanza, this great extinct volcano rises sharply from the plain, and although you are nearly 8,00o feet up, the mountain still towers io,ooo feet higher.
For years Popocatepetl was considered the highest mountain in North America, until Orizaba was correctly measured, and then for years Orizaba held the honor, until Mount McKinley in Alaska wrested the title. Now, although Orizaba does not compete with the 22,00o feet of Mount McKinley, its height of 18,209 feet makes it easily the second highest mountain yet known anywhere in North America.
Certainly, it is one of the most interesting. Its Indian name, the Mountain of the Star, goes 'way back to Aztec mythology and refers to one of the numerous legends of the assumption of Quetzalcoatl. When he left Chulula in his character of god of the air, Quetzalcoatl is supposed to have died at Coatzacoalcos. What happened to him after that is the subject of two important legends. One is that he sailed away in a canoe, promising to re turn. The other is that his body was brought up to the Pico de Orizaba, where fire from Heaven burned it, and his spirit returned to Heaven in the form of a peacock. Both legends agreed that his spirit would eventually return to Mexico.
The American army, in the Mexican War of 1848, and the French army, in its struggle to bolster up the empire of Maximilian, did a good deal of fighting around Orizaba. A French officer, by name Doignon, was determined to ascend the peak of Orizaba, which at that time was considered practically unscalable. When he reached the top, he found the remnants of an American flag with the date 1848 carved into the staff! He was naturally disappointed at not having been the first to make the ascent, but honorably gave the credit where it was due. At present there is an iron cross planted at the summit of the mountain, and an experienced mountain climber has no difficulty in making the ascent.
After Esperanza, the line passes across a vast plain dominated by the Pico de Orizaba. The best views for a time will be on the right. The plain is dotted with the remains of wrecked haciendas, mute reminders of the revolution. This is an extremely fertile section, although it is inclined to be dusty in the dry season.
From kilometer 165, it is possible to see on the right (if the weather is clear) the tip of COFRE DE PEROTE, also a volcano, but so far away that it is rarely seen. On your left, beginning at about kilometer 163, and continuing for some distance, you have a fine view of MT. MALINTzllv,* a beautiful, majestic mountain. It rises, like the other mountains, sheer from the plain. The highest point on the line 1S at ACACOTLA, 8,175 feet in the air. Here begins your descent into Mexico City, only l,ooo feet below.
Now your views go back to the left. You will lose Orizaba as you go down the hill, but in its place you will have your first views of the two most famous mountains in Mexico, IXTACCIHUATL and POPOCATEPETL.
Ixtaccihuatl and Popocatepetl
Popocatepetl is probably the third highest peak in North America. It is 17,888 t feet from sea level to the summit, rising almost two miles higher than the plateau on which it stands. The volcano has been in an active state until about eighteen years ago-the last outburst of smoke and ashes occurred in 1g21. Since then it has been smoldering only at intervals.
Ixtaccihuatl is the twin volcano of Popocatepetl. Lower than its sister mountain, it is still an impressive sight, towering 17,343 feet in the air. The Indians called it the "Sleeping Woman," because the three peaks on the summit resemble the head, the breasts, and the feet of a woman lying at rest.
There is a charming myth about Popocatepetl and Ixtaccihuatl. Popocatepetl, a warrior, was deeply in love with the daughter of an Aztec emperor. When, in his old age, his enemies went to war against him, the old emperor in desperation offered his daughter and the succession to his throne to whichever one of his warriors should be successful in vanquishing the enemy and saving the empire. The battle was long and bloody, and the warriors on the emperor's side waged their fight, not only against the enemy, but even among themselves, because each one was eager to win the hand of the lady.
In the midst of the battle, Popocatepetl's enemies sent back false word that he had been killed. The princess, overcome with sorrow, became gravely ill. The priests and witch doctors worked their mightiest spells, but it availed them nothing, and the princess finally died.
When Popocatepetl returned from the war victorious, his grief was beyond words. He built a great pyramid, thousands of feet high, and placed the body of his be loved on it. He then built another pyramid, higher than the first, on which he could hold an eternally burning funeral torch while he watched over her sleep. Through the years the snows have wrapped a white blanket around both Ixtaccihuatl and Popocatepetl, covering everything but the torch, which with its fitful burning shows that Popocatepetl still faithfully maintains his vigil over the body of the dead princess.
Your time now for many kilometers will be fully occupied in looking at these mountains and in trying to pronounce them. They are really fairly simple to master, once you have learned the secret. Since Ixtaccihuatl is the easier of the two, we might begin with that one. Take the English word "ecstasy" and substitute an "i" for the "e." This gives you "Ixtacci." Then simply add the English word "wattle," combine them, and you get Ixtaccihuatl, with the accents exactly as in English. You have it so closely now that even a Mexican Indian will understand you.
For the other one, start with "Popo." Add "cah" to it, making "Popacah." Add "tep," accenting it strongly, and you have "Popocahtep'." Wind up with "petal," run them all together, remembering to accent the "tep," and you have an excellent pronunciation of Popocatep'etl.
For a long way across the valley, it is hard to decide which side gives the finer views. Of course, Ixtaccihuatl and Popocatepetl are in sight on the left, but there are many scenes of great beauty and interest on the right also.
At kilometer 139, the train stops at APIZACO. I have never heard of any tourists stopping there, and since they undoubtedly would have if the town had any sights of particular interest, it obviously has not. However, here is a place to begin making purchases with a clear con science. Apizaco is famous for its canes, and when the train stops, you will see many of the natives dashing out to buy some. Both full-size and miniature canes are sold in Apizaco. The designs, carved in high relief, are considered by experts to be old Aztec pre-Spanish designs, painted in the old Aztec colors. Here also you will enjoy seeing the vendors on the platform, selling loaves of bread, elaborately shaped and decorated, and each one a full meal, and rare varieties of sweetmeats and pastes.
You will pass now through miles of maguey, through the town of APAN, which is one of the most important centers of the pulque trade of Mexico.
Then on across the plain toward Mexico City, until on the right, at kilometer 46, there loom up the PYRAMIDS OF THE SUN AND THE MOON, at San Juan TCOtlhuacan. They are impressive from the train, but much more impressive at close view, and as they will undoubtedly be the main feature of your chief excursion from Mexico City, there is no need to discuss them here.
Neither is it necessary to discuss here the great SHRINE OF THE VIRGIN OF GUADALUPE, which you will pass just before entering Mexico City, as undoubtedly it is one of the things you will come back to see.