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My Trip To Mexico That Was Not In The Travel Guide Books

Updated on January 24, 2014
Olmec Colossal Head, Parque-Museo de La Venta
Olmec Colossal Head, Parque-Museo de La Venta | Source
The road less traveled, village road, Los Soldados, Veracruz, Mexico
The road less traveled, village road, Los Soldados, Veracruz, Mexico | Source

A Photo Journal of My Visit to Mexico Off the Beaten Path

Our youngest son, Andy, was in rural Mexico for 4 months participating in an archeology dig under the supervision of a professor from California State University, Fullerton. Andy enjoys traveling but not being a tourist. He journeys to foreign countries, learning their cultures and studying their history. He has been to Senegal, Peru, and Belize. For him, this was an exciting opportunity to participate, hands-on, in something he had studied in college. A chance to travel to a foreign country, and best of all, spend an extended period of time living and working with the local people. This would be an all-immersion, rather than an all-inclusive, trip. His excitement was tempered only by the fact that he spoke no Spanish and would have to supervise a team that spoke no English.

I too saw this as a great opportunity. I would be able to visit my son doing something he loved. I could visit a country and see and do things the average tourist would never have the opportunity to experience. I had to balance my interest in seeing Andy and an active archeology site with my concern regarding travel in Mexico and the fact that I also speak no Spanish.

The decision was made. The airplane ticket was bought. The adventure would begin, but not until the extensive planning process was completed. For the details of my planning see "How I Prepared For And Traveled During My Trip to Rural Mexico".

Olmec Heartland Overview
Olmec Heartland Overview | Source

Olmec, the Mother Culture

Olmec was established along the Gulf Coast around 1200B.C. The first notable culture in Mexico, it is often referred to as the 'mother culture' because of its influence on later civilizations such as Mayan and Aztec.

Their principle locations were at San Lorenzo and La Venta. San Lorenzo was destroyed about 900B.C., but why and by whom is a mystery. About the same time, La Venta, to the east, reached its peak. A thousand years later, Olmec civilization was fading into obscurity.

Today, the culture is associated with the colossal carved stone heads that were fashioned from massive basalt blocks weighing up to 20 tons.

La Venta and Parque-Museo de La Venta

La Venta is a major Olmec archeological site in the Mexican state of Tabasco. A prominent civic and ceremonial center for the culture around 900BC, it was essentially abandoned for unknown reasons around 400BC. It is located on an island in a coastal swamp, east of the Tonalá River.

Unlike Mayan and Aztec structures, Olmec structures were built of earth and clay. Large basalt stones from the Tuxtla Mountains were used to build monuments such as colossal heads and "alters" (thrones).

With the development of the southern end of this area into a petroleum refinery, many of the relics were moved to the Parque-Museo de La Venta in Villahermosa for preservation. The refinery made further exploration difficult or impossible.

Parque-Museo de La Venta, Villahermosa, Tabasco, Mexico

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Carving of a ruler or powerful individual in the Olmec culture, Parque-Museo de La VentaAlter, Parque-Museo de La VentaJaguar Mosaic, Parque-Museo de La Venta"Grammy", Parque-Museo de La VentaOlmec tomb, Parque-Museo de La VentaSculpture of a woman, Parque-Museo de La Venta"Smiley" Colossal Head, Parque-Museo de La Venta Suspension footbridge, Parque-Museo de La Venta
Carving of a ruler or powerful individual in the Olmec culture, Parque-Museo de La Venta
Carving of a ruler or powerful individual in the Olmec culture, Parque-Museo de La Venta | Source
Alter, Parque-Museo de La Venta
Alter, Parque-Museo de La Venta | Source
Jaguar Mosaic, Parque-Museo de La Venta
Jaguar Mosaic, Parque-Museo de La Venta | Source
"Grammy", Parque-Museo de La Venta
"Grammy", Parque-Museo de La Venta | Source
Olmec tomb, Parque-Museo de La Venta
Olmec tomb, Parque-Museo de La Venta | Source
Sculpture of a woman, Parque-Museo de La Venta
Sculpture of a woman, Parque-Museo de La Venta | Source
"Smiley" Colossal Head, Parque-Museo de La Venta
"Smiley" Colossal Head, Parque-Museo de La Venta | Source
Suspension footbridge, Parque-Museo de La Venta
Suspension footbridge, Parque-Museo de La Venta | Source

Los Soldados, the Archeology Dig

Los Soldados, 4 miles down a dirt road through pastures and woods, is a small rural village on the west shore of the Tonalá River. It is less than 10 miles south of La Venta. This area has been inhabited, on and off, since about 900 BC. If the regal elite lived in La Venta, it is possible that commoners lived in Los Soldados.

The proximity of Los Soldados to La Venta made it a logical location for an archeological dig. This was the CSU, Fullerton professor's second trip to Los Soldados.

The village, with an active community, offered few public areas to dig. Many of the archeology units were on public land, particularly on school or church property. A few units were on private property along the river. Not long after I left, underwater archeologists were brought in to explore select locations on the river bottom.


Click thumbnail to view full-size
Silas (digging) and Andy at the unitAndy at his archeology unit waiting for full buckets of dirt from Silas to handover to Genaro to sift. Genaro sifting the dirt from the archeology unit.  (Pedro and Andy in the background).Ceramic in the archeology unit
Silas (digging) and Andy at the unit
Silas (digging) and Andy at the unit | Source
Andy at his archeology unit waiting for full buckets of dirt from Silas to handover to Genaro to sift.
Andy at his archeology unit waiting for full buckets of dirt from Silas to handover to Genaro to sift.
Genaro sifting the dirt from the archeology unit.  (Pedro and Andy in the background).
Genaro sifting the dirt from the archeology unit. (Pedro and Andy in the background). | Source
Ceramic in the archeology unit
Ceramic in the archeology unit | Source

Los Soldados, the School and Village

Still a location for commoners, laborers and fishermen, Los Soldados is a village of 400-500 people with modest houses to shacks, schools, 2 or 3 churches and 4 or 5 "stores". While the locals enjoy the modern conveniences of electricity, street lights, satellite dishes, and cell phone service, much of their infrastructure consists of dirt roads, outhouses, water wells and cisterns.

Despite the austerity of the village, the students at the public elementary school were dressed in neat, clean, white shirts with matching navy blue pants, skirts, or shorts.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Students at the Monday morning school assembly, Los SoldadosSchool "restrooms", "Teachers", "Boys" "Girls"School classroom and libraryTwo of the classrooms, Los SoldadosTwo houses in Los SoldaldosVillage Road, Los SoldadosPentecostal Church, Los SoldadosOutside of the Catholic Church, Los SoldadosInside of the Catholic Church, Los SoldadosHouses in the distance along the Tonalá River, Los SoldadosSwimming area,Tonalá River, Los SoldadosCattle grazing on the far bank of the Tonalá RiverFlowers in Los Soldados
Students at the Monday morning school assembly, Los Soldados
Students at the Monday morning school assembly, Los Soldados | Source
School "restrooms", "Teachers", "Boys" "Girls"
School "restrooms", "Teachers", "Boys" "Girls" | Source
School classroom and library
School classroom and library | Source
Two of the classrooms, Los Soldados
Two of the classrooms, Los Soldados | Source
Two houses in Los Soldaldos
Two houses in Los Soldaldos | Source
Village Road, Los Soldados
Village Road, Los Soldados | Source
Pentecostal Church, Los Soldados
Pentecostal Church, Los Soldados | Source
Outside of the Catholic Church, Los Soldados
Outside of the Catholic Church, Los Soldados | Source
Inside of the Catholic Church, Los Soldados
Inside of the Catholic Church, Los Soldados | Source
Houses in the distance along the Tonalá River, Los Soldados
Houses in the distance along the Tonalá River, Los Soldados | Source
Swimming area,Tonalá River, Los Soldados
Swimming area,Tonalá River, Los Soldados | Source
Cattle grazing on the far bank of the Tonalá River
Cattle grazing on the far bank of the Tonalá River | Source
Flowers in Los Soldados
Flowers in Los Soldados | Source
Source

Agua Dulce, the Town Where Andy Lived

Agua Dulce is a city with a PEMEX refinery and an agricultural component supporting the local economy. Andy lived here in a modest house with 3 other student archeologists. Sam, a graduate of Penn State University, Alejandro and Miguel, both undergraduates at Mexican universities. The professor and Jess, a graduate student from Albany, lived in a house down the street.

The house was 4 rooms, 2 bedrooms and 2 common rooms. It had a bath with a sink, toilet, and shower, but there was no true kitchen. In the back common room was a table with a large bottle of drinking water, a hot plate, and a coffee maker. Furniture for their short stay included a few tables and plastic chairs. Without air conditioning, there were fans everywhere.

Andy's house was less than a 1/2 mile to the traffic circle, bus station, high school, and BodegaAurrerá. The Bodega, as they referred to it, was a store much like Walmart. In fact, it is owned by Walmart. Like a Super Walmart, there isn't much you could need that you couldn't buy here. From groceries to clothing to electronics, it was all there.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Traffic circle near Andy's house, Agua Dulce, Veracruz, MexicoBus Station, across from the high school, Agua Dulce, Veracruz, MexicoFestival float, Agua Dulce, Veracruz, Mexicoback of another festival float, Agua Dulce, Veracruz, MexicoAndy heading to work outside his house, Agua Dulce, Veracruz, MexicoInside of Andy's house, Agua Dulce, Veracruz, MexicoView from the back patio of Andy's house, Agua Dulce, Veracruz, MexicoLas Vegas Motel outside Agua Dulce, Veracruz, Mexico
Traffic circle near Andy's house, Agua Dulce, Veracruz, Mexico
Traffic circle near Andy's house, Agua Dulce, Veracruz, Mexico | Source
Bus Station, across from the high school, Agua Dulce, Veracruz, Mexico
Bus Station, across from the high school, Agua Dulce, Veracruz, Mexico | Source
Festival float, Agua Dulce, Veracruz, Mexico
Festival float, Agua Dulce, Veracruz, Mexico | Source
back of another festival float, Agua Dulce, Veracruz, Mexico
back of another festival float, Agua Dulce, Veracruz, Mexico
Andy heading to work outside his house, Agua Dulce, Veracruz, Mexico
Andy heading to work outside his house, Agua Dulce, Veracruz, Mexico | Source
Inside of Andy's house, Agua Dulce, Veracruz, Mexico
Inside of Andy's house, Agua Dulce, Veracruz, Mexico | Source
View from the back patio of Andy's house, Agua Dulce, Veracruz, Mexico
View from the back patio of Andy's house, Agua Dulce, Veracruz, Mexico | Source
Las Vegas Motel outside Agua Dulce, Veracruz, Mexico
Las Vegas Motel outside Agua Dulce, Veracruz, Mexico | Source

Coatzacoalcos and Minatitlán

Like several locations along the gulf coast in the United States, this area of Mexico depends heavily on the petrochemical industry.

Coatzacoalcos is a large port city on the Gulf of Mexico. With a quarter of a million people, it is the 3rd larges city in the state of Veracruz.

While not a major international tourist area, it appears to be developing into a destination for Mexican nationals. With more restaurants, retail outlets, and hotels springing up just inland from the beach, upscale housing developments are following close behind. Four large petrochemical complexes are located here as well as the headquarters of the state-owned PEMEX petroleum company.

Minatitlán, an industrial city, is built on reclaimed wetlands and also home to a large refinery.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Street outside the ADO Bus Station, Minatitlán, Veracruz, MexicoLow income house in Minatitlán, Veracruz, MexicoADO Bus Station, Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz, MexicoFiesta Inn along the Gulf of Mexico coast, Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz, MexicoUpscale home overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz, MexicoBouievard along the beach and Gulf of Mexico, Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz, Mexico Upscale housing near the beach, Gulf of Mexico, Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz, MexicoView of the landscape from the bus.
Street outside the ADO Bus Station, Minatitlán, Veracruz, Mexico
Street outside the ADO Bus Station, Minatitlán, Veracruz, Mexico | Source
Low income house in Minatitlán, Veracruz, Mexico
Low income house in Minatitlán, Veracruz, Mexico
ADO Bus Station, Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz, Mexico
ADO Bus Station, Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz, Mexico | Source
Fiesta Inn along the Gulf of Mexico coast, Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz, Mexico
Fiesta Inn along the Gulf of Mexico coast, Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz, Mexico | Source
Upscale home overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz, Mexico
Upscale home overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz, Mexico | Source
Bouievard along the beach and Gulf of Mexico, Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz, Mexico
Bouievard along the beach and Gulf of Mexico, Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz, Mexico | Source
Upscale housing near the beach, Gulf of Mexico, Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz, Mexico
Upscale housing near the beach, Gulf of Mexico, Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz, Mexico | Source
View of the landscape from the bus.
View of the landscape from the bus. | Source

Veracruz, My Portal to Rural Mexico

Veracruz, Mexico's oldest, largest and historically significant port, is a major port on the Gulf of Mexico. With many historical sites and resort areas, it is a popular tourist site. It is home to an international airport.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Cathedral, VeracruzPlaza in the center of Veracruz next to the Cathedral.Carranza Lighthouse and naval museum, VeracruzBenito Juarez Lighthouse, VeracruzRegistro Civil, VeracruzSan Juan de Ulua Fort, VeracruzView of the Veracruz harbor from the balcony of my Hotel Emporio room.Channel into Veracruz HarborTaxis outside the Veracruz Mexico International Airport
Cathedral, Veracruz
Cathedral, Veracruz | Source
Plaza in the center of Veracruz next to the Cathedral.
Plaza in the center of Veracruz next to the Cathedral. | Source
Carranza Lighthouse and naval museum, Veracruz
Carranza Lighthouse and naval museum, Veracruz | Source
Benito Juarez Lighthouse, Veracruz
Benito Juarez Lighthouse, Veracruz | Source
Registro Civil, Veracruz
Registro Civil, Veracruz | Source
San Juan de Ulua Fort, Veracruz
San Juan de Ulua Fort, Veracruz | Source
View of the Veracruz harbor from the balcony of my Hotel Emporio room.
View of the Veracruz harbor from the balcony of my Hotel Emporio room. | Source
Channel into Veracruz Harbor
Channel into Veracruz Harbor | Source
Taxis outside the Veracruz Mexico International Airport
Taxis outside the Veracruz Mexico International Airport | Source

Map of Some of the Areas I Visited

show route and directions
A markerAgua Dulce, Veracruz, Mexico -
Agua Dulce, Veracruz, Mexico
get directions

B markerCoatzacoalcos, Veracruz, Mexico -
Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz, Mexico
get directions

C markerMinatitlan, Veracruz, Mexico -
Minatitlán, Veracruz, Mexico
get directions

D markerLa Venta, Tabasco, Mexico -
La Venta, Tabasco, Mexico
get directions

E markerLos Soldados, Veracruz Mexico -
Los Soldados, Veracruz, Mexico
get directions

Final Thoughts

The trip was quite an experience. Neither AAA nor Abercrombie and Kent would have planned and carried out my trip. Nervous and obsessed in my planning, I never felt threatened or uncomfortable in Mexico. The people were friendly and helpful. It was great to experience their life rather than that of a tourist.

The people associated with the archeology dig, professors, student archeologists, and local workers, were friendly and made every effort to make me feel comfortable and included. They were more than willing to tolerate my very limited Spanish while practicing their limited English.

I was particularly impressed with the school children. The ones at the dig were polite and interested in what we were doing. All of the students, from grade school to high school, wore uniforms. Their uniforms were a clean, neat white shirt or blouse with pants, shorts, or skirts in the associated school pattern. They looked as if they attended a private school in the U.S. rather than a public school in rural Mexico.

I hope you enjoyed the photo journal of my trip to Mexico off the beaten path. If you would like to learn more about how I planned my trip you can check out "How I Prepared For and Traveled During My Trip to Rural Mexico".

How to Get a U.S. Passport

If your are planning a trip to Mexico or anywhere out of the country, you will need a passport. "How to Get a U.S. Passport in Time for Travel" by KrystalID will give you all the information you need with step by step instructions on how to get one.

© 2012 bankscottage

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    • Hmtrio2 profile image

      Stevie Glenn 4 years ago from Minneapolis

      Excellent steller article: full of information and interesting photos of historical places and activities, a great read.

    • bankscottage profile image
      Author

      bankscottage 4 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Hmtrio2, thanks for stopping by and commenting. Glad you enjoyed my trip.

    • gmmurgirl profile image

      gmmurgirl 4 years ago from Pilipinas

      Very detailed hub about the beauty of Mexico!Id love to visit this place one day and Id rather go the off-beaten track because it has more surprises for someone who loves the unexpected. Thanks much!

    • bankscottage profile image
      Author

      bankscottage 4 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Gmmurgirl, thanks for the nice comment. Staying at resorts is like seeing America just in a different location. My son does these trips with far less planning than I do. He just goes along with whatever happens. I don't quite have the courage to do that, but I do want to see a country as the locals see it.

    • Outbound Dan profile image

      Dan Human 4 years ago from Niagara Falls, NY

      Awesome Hub with great pictures! This brought back memories of my Mesoamerican archaeology classes - I've always been fascinated with Olmec heads.

      It looks like you had an awesome trip.

      Shared!

    • bankscottage profile image
      Author

      bankscottage 4 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Thanks for stopping by, commenting and sharing Dan. My son loves mesoamerican cultures. He assures me that unlike the bodies they recently found under the Easter Island heads, there are no bodies under the Colossal heads (they moved the ones from La Venta to the park-museum).

      My trip was only a small part of the great experience he had. He even got to do some of the underwater work.

      What I found interesting is that they can't talk about what they found even between each other and the locals that helped them. I guess it is competitive between archeologists, but more important, they don't want looters to come in after they leave (particularly if they ever want to come back and dig more).

    • kikalina profile image

      kikalina 4 years ago from Europe

      What great pictures! THanks for sharing!

    • bankscottage profile image
      Author

      bankscottage 4 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Kikalina, thanks for stopping by. Glad you enjoyed the photos.

    • nestle02 profile image

      nestle02 2 months ago from Florida, USA

      Great photos!

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