Tuesday, January 13, 2015
state capital tour
It didn't start out that way. After all, when you start a trip with no plan, nothing turns out as it started.
We have somehow turned our jaunt around Mexico into a tour of Mexican state capitals. There are 31 -- and one federal entity -- in the United Mexican States. Similar to the American federal system with its 50 states -- and one federal entity.
I had visited sixteen of the states (and the federal district) before this trip. As we were driving across the border from Tabasco into Campeche, I told Dan: "Four. I have now added four new states to my visited list: Oaxaca, Veracruz, Tabasco, and Campeche." (I had been in Tabasco previously, but only to fly out of the airport at Villahermosa. That didn't count.) As of yesterday, I now have a full set of southern Mexican states.
So far on this trip, we have visited four state capitals: Colima, Colima; Oaxaca, Oaxaca; Villahermosa, Tabasaco; and Campeche, Campeche. If we had visited Chilpancingo, Morelia, and Veracruz, in states we drove through, we could have had added three more to the list. But there is always time to do that.
However, we are not on the road to satisfy an unscratched obsessive itch to complete checklists. We are out here to learn and experience.
One thing we learned is that Ciudad del Camen -- a town that owes its size to Mexico's oil industry -- is not a very attractive city in the rain. Very few places are.
Over on Mexpatriate's Facebook subsidiary, my English friend Hilary commented on our drive to Villahermosa: "It looks like Cleveleys did this afternoon, dull, stormy and horrid."
The same could be said for Ciudad del Carmen yesterday morning. That is its beach at the top of the page. You can come to your own conclusion about Hilary's observation by comparing my photographs of Cleveleys from this past summer -- we're not in mexico any more, toto. Ciudad del Carmen may actually suffer in the comparison.
But the curtain of British ennui lifted before we were too far out of town -- on our way to the capital city of Campeche. (After all, "capital cities" is supposed to be the hook of this essay.) We took a quick break when we saw what looked like a scene lifted from the Caribbean side of the country.
Like so many other cities in Mexico, people were already living on the site that would become Campeche. The Spanish solved that by evicting the Maya and building their own town in 1541.
Apparently, the place became rich enough through commerce to attract the attention of a series of pirates (some headquartered just west of the city on the island that would become Ciudad del Carmen). If you were English, a pirate invasion was the stuff 8-year old boys dream of. If you were a Spanish settler in Campeche, it was a far more serious matter.
The Spanish responded by building walls and fortifications. Some of them are still in place. Dan and Patty, who once lived on Puerto Rico, commented that it felt like being home.
Campeche and Mérida have long been political rivals -- a rivalry that ended in the creation of the state of Campeche from a portion of the state of Yucatán in 1858. Even with that rivalry, it would be easy to confuse one town with the other while walking through their colonial neighborhoods.
The limestone one-story houses painted in Caribbean colors and set in a very orderly street grid is characteristic of both cities -- and a lot of the Spanish colonial cities in the Caribbean.
Both cities have also retained a lot of their civic colonial heritage. Campeche's Independence Park is not as monumental as Mérida's grand plaza, but Campeche's cathedral is far more inviting.
That is undoubtedly because Mérida's cathedral was built (and used) as a fortress for protection against Maya uprisings -- such as the Caste Wars during the 1800s. Campeche had city walls for that purpose.
And there is no mistaking that this is a Spanish colonial city. The porticoed buildings surrounding the park are evidence of that.
Campeche seems to have a certain whimsy that does not ride as evidently on Morelia's surface. Take this little vista, for example.
The city has placed a clever modern statue of a family against the rather austere background of the cathedral wall. Someone had a good eye for the complementary power of space.
But you need to walk to the other side of the cathedral's façade to fully appreciate the power of whimsy.
This bourgeois couple exiting church may be far more effective as a leftist political statement than most left-wing publications. The reason is obvious. The former is humorous; the latter seldom is.
We would have explored more of the city yesterday, but we declared a day of rest from our rovings to and fro. We plan on spending two nights here. So, I will undoubtedly have more Campeche to share with you tomorrow.