Oysters and Orchids, Oh Mole!
The first day was just travel and we arrived in Veracruz without incident (although my mother had to throw out her apple since you can’t bring stuff like that into other countries for fear of spreading disease and pestilence). We were greeted at the airport in Veracruz by our American guide Mike Vondruska and our local, Mexican, English-Speaking guide, Jorge Alberto Vidal Lopezolivera.
Bags were transferred to a large van and we met our fellow tour attendees like deer in the headlights (as often happens when you put a bunch of people together who have just met for the first time but know they have to spend nine days together having no idea how this is all going to go).
We arrived and were checked into the Gran Hotel Deligencias. My mother and I were in room 419, each in our own bed. A quick “snack” dinner of oysters, guacamole and chips, and cold cervezas at the hotel restaurant later and we were ready for sleep. The passionate locals were enjoying loud music until at least 1:00a.m., but we were so tired, we faded into dreamland.
Next morning, we were up at 7:00a.m., showered, repacked and in the elevator back to the hotel lobby by 8:00a.m. We loaded our baggage in the tour van and walked across the street to Gran Café del Portal Veracruz for a breakfast of café, orange juice and Machaca (eggs with “dried meat” and salsa) and warm corn tortillas.
Bellies full, bill paid and money exchanged, we were in the van on our way to a local town, Coatepec. Our first stop was an Orchid Museum (Museo de la Orquidea), established by Dr. Isiaias Contreras Juarez over the course of 40 years. There are over 350 species of orchid from 2mm tall to about a foot tall. Most were not in bloom, but the ones that were stretched their beautiful blooms (even the ones we had to use a magnifying glass to see). J
Some important things we learned about orchids are:
- They have a symbiotic relationship with the plant they grow on
- The changes in temperature they experience throughout the year help them bloom
- Climate change is affecting their natural growth rhythms
- They need mostly air (and some water) to live
- Vanilla is an orchid!
- The word “orchid” means “testicles” (from the shape of their bulbs)
After the orchid museum, we walked to see a jade plant in bloom. Then, we drove down the road and ate lunch at a very nice restaurant and enjoyed artisanal bread and dark beer. Mom had grilled chicken and I had snapper, rice and vegetables with a fresh, salad. At the end of the meal, the wait staff bought a large bottle of tequila (a casa (“on the house”)) and we all partook.
Then, we were off to our next hotel, a boutique-y place near the town square called Casa Real del Café.
We peeked into one of the local Iglesias (churches) and chuckled at the statue to Santa del Café (the patron saint of coffee). Then, we walked around the town for a bit and enjoyed people watching a typical Sunday evening in the town square, complete with live singing, couples dancing, artisans selling their wares, children playing and other street performers.
Our final activity at the end of a full day was a cooking class with Art Cuisine, a local mother, Tanya, and her family taught us how to make picaditas (masa cooked on the griddle, pinched, and topped with frijoles and queso, or rojo salsa), chicken and mushroom mole dish, and coffee lemonade (made with local coffee with just the right technique). And, we finished with coffee gelatin and vanilla and raisin ice cream.
The bed felt so welcoming after such a colorful and adventure-filled day!