Spreading our wings a little
Trip Start Jul 29, 2012
21Trip End Aug 01, 2013
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In early December, I ran a 10K race in the mountains near our house. During some post-race chit chat, a new friend asked if I was interested in running the Veracruz half marathon on January 20. I told him it wasn’t on my radar screen, but that I was curious to learn more. He passed my name along to a friend of his who was putting together a "Veracruz Medio Maraton travel package," and his friend gave me a call with details a couple of weeks later. Cost: US$110. Logistics: the group would depart Oaxaca on a travel bus on Friday, January 18, spend Saturday picking up our race packets and visiting the renowned Veracruz aquarium, and drive back to Oaxaca on Sunday afternoon, after the race. Also included: five-star hotel, one breakfast, and the pre-race dinner. It sounded to me like a great way to immerse myself in the Oaxacan running community and to explore Mexico for a reasonable cost, so I signed up. So did one of my running buddies, Leah Frost (so as to eliminate confusion, I’ll refer to her henceforth as “Frosty”).
Now, I should explain that, when conversing in Spanish, I’ve gotten quite used to pretending I understand what is being said to me even when I only understand about 60% of it. I’m good at asking for clarification when I feel it is needed, but not more than that. (If I asked for clarification as often as I lost track of the details of conversations, it would be pretty cumbersome for everyone involved.) In the case of the half marathon, in addition to not understanding everything about it, I also made some assumptions. And so it came to pass that I learned some important details only after I had put my money down. The result was a very fun weekend with a lot of highlights and plenty of opportunities to smile and roll-with-it. Leah and I refer to this as the “chill factor”, and I must say, we’re both getting good at it.
Veracruz is a major port city (within the state of Veracruz) on the Atlantic Coast of Mexico, about a seven hour bus ride from Oaxaca. My first roll-with-it moment came when I learned that our departure time on Friday would be 11:00pm. Ah … no wonder the cost wasn’t higher! The package only included Saturday night in a hotel. Friday night would be spent on the bus. It is generally thought that the most important night’s sleep before a race is two nights before. Oh well.
Friday, January 18th came. We departed Oaxaca at 11:30. I likely would have gotten more sleep were it not for the air conditioning which was on full blast. Of all things, my ankles were freezing. Early Saturday morning, our busload of sleepy travelers rolled up to our hotel. Not surprisingly, the hotel wasn’t ready for us to check in at 7am, so we all sprawled onto the small pieces of lawn and pavement in front of the hotel and soaked in the warm sea air.
After eventually checking into our hotel, taking a short jog on the course, and eating a delicious breakfast buffet, some of us walked five blocks to pick up our race packets. The pre-race hubbub was pretty standard; all went well on that front. Race number, t-shirt, and timing chip in-hand, I went back to the hotel for a nap and then joined the group on a visit to the Veracruz Aquarium. It was impressive. With my kids in mind, I took a lot of photos.
I opted out of the ensuing trip to the “Mall of the Americas”. Back at the hotel, I relaxed with a good book. Next on the schedule was our pre-race meal. Another roll-with-it moment came when we were told to reconvene for dinner at the Chinese Buffet down the block from our hotel. While downing egg drop soup, stir-fried rice, banana roll sushi, and seafood surprise, I told Frosty, “If I run really well tomorrow, I may need to make eating octopus a part of my future pre-race routine.” Gulp.
I was happy about the scheduled 7 a.m. race start time because it meant the generally tropical Veracruz temperatures would be held at bay until after I finished. I slept well, and was rarin’ to go – in a groggy turtle kind of way - when my alarm went off at 5:15. Warmed up and at the start line by 6:30, I started looking around for port-a-potties. If they were there, I never found them. There were over 3,000 participants, so this still has me stumped. I’m pretty sure Mexicans pee, too.
A funny thing happens at the starting line of many races here. The proudest and most eager runners are often not the fastest runners, but they take their places front and center, often pushing back the more swift of foot. Picture humble, patient, elite-level Kenyans ten rows back while plump Mexican grandmothers, game faces on, toe the starting line. Not wanting to engage in this jockeying for position, I lined up waaay back in the field (it took two minutes and fifteen seconds for me to cross the start line – a mistake on my part), weaved through slower runners for the first couple of miles, ducked in behind an abandoned building to relieve myself, and then settled into the race.
The course was beautiful - almost all of it along the ocean - and there were two turn-around points, so I got to see the Kenyan race-leaders zip past going the other direction. I felt good, ran hard, finished strong, and, all things considered, was pretty content with my 1:24:43 finish time. A big highlight of the weekend came during my warm down jog along the ocean. While running by a beach, Frosty, who had run an impressive 1:29:13, asked if I was interested in a swim. I replied, “absolutely”. We jogged down to the beach, took off our shoes, and plunged into the waves. Wonderful.
After getting cleaned up, taking in some of the post-race festivities, eating, and checking out of the hotel, our group gathered on the bus at 1 p.m. The tour organizer then asked everyone what we wanted to do next – go to the beach or go to a restaurant on an ocean lagoon? The vote was split; my vote was for the beach. I don’t know how it was decided, but we headed to the restaurant. Frosty and I had already eaten, so we went in with the group just to socialize. Plunk. The waiter put down two beers in front of us. When I looked up quizzically, the waiter informed us that one of our new friends had bought us the drinks. We looked down the long table to see him holding up his beer and saying, “cheers”. And so it began that I learned how good my Spanish could be with a loosened-up tongue.
The merriment continued for a few hours, after which we again piled onto the bus. I assumed we would begin the drive back to Oaxaca. I was wrong. Some of the group said they wished they could have gotten a coffee at the famous coffee house in Veracruz. So, the organizer informed us all that we would be making another stop in downtown Veracruz. So as not to rush anyone, we’d meet back at the bus at 8 p.m. That turned into 8:30. We eventually arrived back in Oaxaca at 3:45 a.m. It had been a very fun adventure.
Less than three days later, Leah and I took the kids out of school early to hop on the first of two short flights to Manzanillo. Like Veracruz, Manzanillo is a port city. Only, it is on the Pacific Coast of Mexico, about two hours from Guadalajara. Leah’s dad, Gary, has a condo at Puerto Las Hadas in Manzanillo, and we got to join him there to help him celebrate his 73rd birthday and spend four great days together on the ocean. Gary’s business partner Jimmy (Uncle Jimmy to Micah and Zola) and his wife Barb (Auntie Barb) live in Manzanillo 10 months of the year, also at Puerto Las Hadas. Jimmy and Barb were the ones who arranged for us to have a car down here, and have been key supports in organizing the logistics of living in Mexico. We were super excited to have a Manzanillo reunion (Leah and her family started going there about 25 years ago).
Well, our trip almost didn’t happen.
Leah had arranged our flights and told me that we were to depart at 2 p.m. Because one can never be sure whether the drive to the airport will take 30 minutes or 60 minutes, we arranged to have a taxi pick us up at our house at noon. The drive ended up taking about 35 minutes. On the way, Leah looked at our itinerary and said, “Oh, it turns out our flight is at 2:38”. Well, that turned out to be a good thing, because as we were approaching the airport, Leah asked me, “Do you have the kids’ passports?” I said I didn’t, and that I didn’t think we needed them because we were flying within Mexico, not internationally. I was wrong. While the taxi waited, Leah ran into the airport and confirmed that the kids needed identification (to prevent kidnapping and child trafficking, we were told). Our taxi driver was up for the challenge of getting us home and back to the airport in an hour and fifteen minutes. The traffic on the normal route to our house was backed up, as it generally is in the early afternoon, so he took us on a tour of side roads. Meanwhile, I was calculating the time and telling Leah, “I think we can do it.” When we arrived back at our house, I raced in for the passports, zipped back out, and we began our trip all over again. Via side roads, we made it back to the airport in good time and had a great time chatting it up with the best taxi driver in Oaxaca (we will be recommending him to all of our friends). As I unloaded our bags, and paid and tipped our driver, I was relieved that we had gotten off easy by only paying an extra US$25 for our oversight. Even cooler is that it hadn’t really been stressful. Ah, the chill factor…
The flight to Mexico City from Oaxaca lasted less than an hour. The flight from Mexico City to Manzanillo was just a little bit longer. We had no time to kill between the flights and landed in Manzanillo earlier than our 6:30 expected arrival time. Leaving the terminal with suitcases in hand, we were greeted by Gary and Uncle Jimmy. Moments later, we were driving down the highway past beautiful banana farms on our way to Las Hadas.
I asked the family to help me remember all of the highlights from our time there. They are, in no particular order:
Swimming! Micah and Zola spent so much time in the pool that they turned into prunes (see photos). Las Hadas has a great pool; just right for Micah and Zola, who are becoming good swimmers. Leah and I spent our time watching and playing with the kids and socializing with the Las Hadas regulars from Minnesota.
Boat ride on the ocean! Jimmy and Barb invited all of us to join them for noontime boat ride. The kids each got to pilot the boat, but they said that an even bigger highlight was spotting dolphins.
Eating seafood! Manzanillo is a fishing community, most renowned for its dorado (mahi-mahi). We enjoyed lots of fresh local fare.
The iguana tree! There is a place in downtown Manzanillo where the trees are loaded with iguanas. There are branches with literally dozens of iguanas on them. Pretty cool.
Monkeys and toucans! Gary and Jimmy’s friend, Wolf, manages a restaurant in Manzanillo which houses five or six squirrel monkeys. Also, down the block, he is raising toucans and some other tropical birds. The kids loved it. Zola was in heaven watching the monkeys and feeding them crackers.
Hanging out with Grandpa! Enough said?
Looking for whales! The kids got us up before sunrise every morning to look for whales. A pod of whales had been seen in the bay near our condo a few days earlier. We never saw them, but we enjoyed watching the sun rise and scanning the ocean as a family.
Watching the pelicans dive! We spent a few lazy afternoons just watching pelicans dive for fish. Very entertaining.
While it may appear that we are living a life of leisure, rest assured that Leah is making great progress on her book. She’s right on track. I just read her latest two chapters and I was rapt. I’m making good progress on my Spanish and will be writing a blog entry soon about helping out with the construction of a new classroom at Micah and Zola’s school. Micah and Zola love school and are speaking a lot of Spanish. It is fun to listen to them play with their friends in Spanish. They have great accents. In fact, Micah and I have been amusing ourselves and our family by talking to each other with bad American accents. Mooey Bee-en.