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Villahermosa for a day, and the trip home

Thursday would be my last full day for this trip. My plan was to spend it walking and exploring Villahermosa, the largest and capital city of the state of Tabasco. On my agenda was a visit to the cathedral, then stroll to the clinic where I could get my rapid test (Covid) to meet the USA requirements for re-entry, and then to La Venta, a park-museum situated along the Laguna de Las Ilusiones, which spreads through the northeastern part of the city.

Leaving the hotel and walking down a busy and wide Avenida Paseo Tabasco for about 4-5 blocks, I used an elevated walkway to cross the street, although the museum that it included was shuttered. I did catch my first view for the day of the twin towers of the cathedral. La Catedral del Señor de Villahermosa is situated on a busy corner behind a fence. The main entrance faces southeast to Av. 27 de Febrero, where the gate was locked closed. I used the side entry to gain the property.

From the outside, the stark white exterior with two massively tall towers radiates its colonial style of architecture. A canvas awning extends from the front entrance, and, upon entering, the high vault defers the observation that the nave is actually quite short. Immediately inside the front, two side chapels provide the function of the columbarium, with locked niches behind tiles illustrating the risen Christ, the Pieta and the Last Supper.

It was a quarter hour before Mass, so I decided to sit and wait, after my initial perusal of the building. The cathedra was placed in the center of the high altar space, on a riser below the crucified Christ with a brass circular sculpture. A very simple altar, the table sat to the right, while the lectern was to the left. A second marble riser separated the altar from the church’s main flooring.

As the priest said Mass, and during his sermon (which I didn’t understand,) I studied the building. The tall windows in the transept, open to provide cross-flow, were a stylized representation of trees in a forest. Statues of two saints, John the Baptist and Jude Thaddeus, stood solitarily in the transepts. The vault at the crossing stretched up several stories, but was unadorned. The priest read off a long list of names, presumably those for whom the Mass was offered. What appeared to be a family had arrived just before Mass and placed floral arrangements, lit candles and a photograph on a table below the altar. Mother Theresa and John Paul II, the newer saints in the Catholic pantheon, were also honored with statues. I was surprised that there were so few birds in the vault!

Once Mass concluded, I continued to take pictures inside, then exited to cross the street to the corner I’d used the night before for getting the better angles of the building. Returning, I walked around the cathedral, taking in different viewing aspects. It was during these walks that I became aware of how foreshortened the actual church stood. Construction at the site of previous building began in 1945, completed in 1970 and the cathedral was consecrated by the Pope in 1990. I’d heard that it was the second tallest cathedral in Mexico, after the cathedral in Zamora, Michoacán.

Following the Av. 27 de Febrero and the Av. Francisco Javier Miña about 2km, I turned right after crossing under the multi-lane roadway that the taxi driver had used Tuesday. About 2 long blocks later was the Salud Digna, the clinic where I had my Covid test scheduled. I was an hour early, so got (poor) directions to find lunch.

A staircase led to a walkway over the roadway, and I found El Oasis, a hamburger shop with an open storefront (I had really wanted air conditioning!) Papaya juice, a burger and water, I was set. The waiter was part of the family business, and had great English. He recommended the Nature Park, which was on my list.

Back to the clinic, I was put at the front of the line, and pleasantly guided through the process, being assigned to staff who had at least a smattering of English. I was out in 15 minutes, and told to use WhatsApp to retrieve my results, after 2 hours. I followed the sometime elevated roadway another 2km, trying to find shade in the midday brilliant sunshine (90°F and 90% humidity), and had to meander a bit to avoid construction work. As I approached the Laguna and the park, I saw a crocodile in the water below.

With a triceratops statue out front, I was really looking forward to entering the Natural History Museum, especially for the air-conditioning. Continuing a trend, it was closed. However the Parque Museo La Venta was open, so after paying an admission fee, I walked into the combination zoo-outdoor museum. First up, spider monkeys who swung and climbed, entertaining the children and adults alike. Jaguars, a lazing spotted one and a stalking black, were entrancing to me. My primary interest in La Venta was to see the basalt carved blocks that Franz Blom had discovered. Known as “the big heads” many depicted the heads of gods and rulers. The roughly 40 works were situated on walkways that meandered through the forest setting.

Yes, I believe that I saw them all: altars, heads, statues, demarking fencepoles. No, I’m not going to subject my readers to multiple photos of all of them. I will recommend that you consider this venue, particularly if you’re also interested in Palenque and other pre-colonial Mayan sites in Tabasco, Chiapas and Guatemala. In addition to the animals on display in the zoo, there were groups of wild tlacuache and tamandua (which made me think of the tejon I’d heard about in Jalisco) foraging on the forest floor.

Back to the zoo animals, the crocodiles seemed to co-exist nicely with turtles, jaguars liked to make noise with each breath, tapirs and white-tailed deer lazed, and people didn’t litter while wearing their masks. The aviary had colorful parrot-family birds, peacocks, and ducks, as well as a handsome gold iguana. I watched a camera-shy grisón (new to me) pace out the boundary of the pit. As it was closing time, I took my last shot of the map of the parque as I was chased out.

Google Maps seemed quite confused with my location, and I had a pretty good idea as to how to return to the hotel by walking along the waterside. The views while staying in the shade were stunning and relaxing, and I strolled along, people-watching as well. When I spotted the suspension support for the pedestrian walkway I’d used at the start of the morning, I knew I was nearly “home.”

First task on returning to the hotel was to attempt to retrieve my test results. In my room I pulled out the Chromebook, and tried to get to WhatsApp, but without a SIM card, it was no-go. So back on my phone, I attempted to log in. Name and registration number were easy. Then it asked for my date of birth, in the form 25 December 1975, but in Spanish. And I don’t know how October is spelled. So I headed down the flight of stairs into the lobby, got the bellman, who told me there was a U in October, and my negative results popped up. Mid-way through this process I got into a WhatsApp conversation with Alex, who was checking in. Multi-tasking is just not my thing.

An early start the following morning caused me to decide to dine earlier than my usual. I checked Google for nearby restaurants, particularly those which wouldn’t require crossing a major artery. Just down the street was an Argentine restaurant with a view over water. When I arrived, it was closed, so I checked across the street and saw sushi and Mexican restaurants, side-by-side. So I walked into Crescencio, which had many tables in a large space, and seemed to be set up as a nightclub. With my pick of tables, I found one with good lighting, and ordered a Bohemia Obscura. My waiter was a bit overboard on his recommendations, as I wound up with more than enough food for an army. I started with Machete de Short Ribs (200grams): confitada por 12 horas a coccion lenta – muy lenta con salsa borracha y queso asadero fundido. That followed by Chamorros al Pibil: a coccion lenta par 16 horas en nuestro horno artesanal de leña y carbon, ceboles corridas, chicharron y yugo de frijoles.

The starter is chopped barbecue pork with peppers and cheese with a white sauce, wrapped in a big tortilla. Just the starter was way too much food for me. The main was like veal osso bucco, in a frijole sauce. Not hot enough, I also felt it needed more seasoning to give it some pizzazz. It was fall-off-the-bone tender, good. With the restaurant nearly empty, the wait staff took to hanging out with me, alternating who got to have a conversation. In my typical uncensored way, I expressed my opinions, to which I got grins and laughs, nodding agreements. I hardly expected to be the comedy act that night, but it was all in good fun. After sending both courses off to be boxed up, I decided to chance a Volcan de Chocolat: de chocolate 100% tabasqueño acompañado de helado artesanal.

My principal waiter kept speaking to me in English, while I kept trying to respond in Spanish. The dessert was a bit disappointing, as I was used to molten chocolate flowing out of the cake when I cut into it with a spoon. I learned when I got back that food is served warm as a rule in Mexico, and that one needs to specify that hot or heated food is your preference. I’ll know better the next time, and be a little more forceful if my meals arrive just warm.

After crossing the avenue and up the slight incline to the hotel, I began folding and packing clothes and fitting stuff into my suitcase, trying to protect the gourd-bowl. Since I continue to leave my unwanted, dirty clothes behind, I actually had room in the case. Ignoring the conversations of fellow lodgers parting company in the hallways, I was in bed earlier than even planned.

Up ahead of the alarm, I cleaned up and finished packing, and got my bag down to the lobby (by elevator) to checkout. Nothing due, I was loaded into the van, and a second passenger (with a much smaller suitcase) also boarded. We zipped out of town, getting to the airport in less than 30 minutes, and I was checked in and set with boarding passes, through security and waiting on a 9:15 departure at 7am. It is a small airport, with few flights out, most to Mexico City, but ones to Cancun and Monterrey.

We lifted off at 10. I watched the map application as the pilot took us on a zigzag course around and through the mountain chain. The plane was full, but cool. We touched down at 11:15 and 25 minutes later began leaving the aircraft down stairs to an awaiting bus. The flight to Atlanta was to take off at 2, so after I cleared security, I decided to have lunch at Le Pain Quotidien. Lemonade, soup, spaghetti and meatballs on a prix fixe menu, I added a glass of 2020 “Arrogant Frog” red wine and water, so apparently fell off the fixed price menu. The pasta was served in a bowl, had hard small meatballs and a soupy thin gravy. No offer of additional cheese, which I find to be a cardinal sin. While the wine was young plonk, it had some red berry tastes and was drinkable.

Another Boeing 737-800 took us to Atlanta. We pushed back 10 minutes early and took a half hour to get into the air. In Atlanta, we futzed around finding a gate, and after the customs/immigration/rechecking baggage dance, I was headed to my gate. There was a computer glitch for our flight, so they had to revert to pre-computer days, manually checking each boarding pass. A late departure, and busy queue to liftoff had us about a half hour (with some serious hustling) late into Sarasota. My luggage came off fairly early at the carousel, and I was outside watching sheer stupidity as arriving passengers risked life and limb to get into their rides. Nancy rolled around, we got the bag into the back, and soon were off to Venice. My house was warm and stuffy, so I opened a window, unpacked and flopped into bed.

Twelve days, about 1200 photographs, lots of great memories: yes, this trip is a success. I have photos of 4 more cathedrals from Mexico, added 2 Mexican states to my list, and actually visited Guatemala. Now I’ll settle back, deal with the medical profession for the month of March, and continue preparing for at least one road trip before the big trip starting in August to Europe. As well as starting to think about where to go in 2023!


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