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Saturday February 24 2018
Enjoying Xalapa, “The City of Flowers”

William Kaliher

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Jalapa- Xalapa a confused Exploration

I pulled aside the curb and let the traffic speed past wondering if I’d ever been on a darker street. Every few minutes, a new pack of traffic hurried past, then nothing for several minutes. I didn’t have a city map and wouldn’t get directions along this unknown, deserted street. The raindrops bubbling down the windshield somehow said, “You know better than to drive in Mexico at night.”

Though I’ve visited the country for extended trips during the past forty years, I’d never seen Jalapa (also spelled Xalapa), “The City of Flowers.” The architecture and climate are renowned. Mexicans often marveled at the city’s cleanliness. I decided to rectify the omission by visiting. So, just 452 years after Cortez’s first tour and 160 years after Generals Lee and Grant visited, I called on the city.

The American troops of 1847 had a great interest in Jalapa’s climate. The 4,659 foot altitude removed them from the yellow fever, or vomito, that struck subtropical Veracruz yearly. Thankfully, the fever is no longer a concern, but Jalapa remains a perfect escape from the heat and humidity. The free road from Veracruz provides spectacular vistas and glimpses of small town life, including Plan del Rio, where the American army camped on their march to Jalapa. However, the curves and hills make the toll road a far better choice for RV drivers and those in a hurry.

The city flows around hills and valleys. I never became comfortable when driving without consulting a map. I was alone, which always increases problems when learning a city. A worse problem was the lack of parking in the historical area. My solution meant taking a bus or cab to El Centro. My rides were from diverse areas making my temporary solution add to my confusion.

Directional confusion can sometimes lead to good outcomes. I’d entered the city of 400,000 inhabitants after dark and ended up on Avenida Jalapa, completely lost. A steady rain added to my problems--not great conditions for a gringo gone astray in a medieval, colonial Mexican city. I spotted Hotel El Mirador, and managed a u-turn despite three lanes of traffic, separated by a pedestrian lane, flying both ways. My tension evaporated on reaching the hotel.

The clerk, obviously unused to American guests, examined me curiously and quoted eighteen dollars and fifty cents. That covered a single, tiny room. The parking lot sat a block behind the building. The hotel was not four star, or even three, but I’d soon discover perfect for viewing the northeast corner of the city.

Jalapa: How about a walk?

A wonderful park-like pedestrian walk bisects the broad avenue.
Across it and down a few hundred yards, past a fenced park, sprawls the Museo De Antropologia De Xalapa. One of the first displays was an Olmec head. Seventeen such heads, some weighing forty tons, have been discovered so far. Speculation continues concerning their Negroid and possibly Mongoloid features. The giant heads, however, were far from the only attention-grabbing display in this spacious modern museum.

Three ancient cultures, Olmeca, Totonaca and Huasteca (or Huaxteca) furnish the museum. The statues, pottery and other artifacts can be appreciated by anyone. However, I recommend a tourist read a book on Mexican Indian civilizations before visiting. Even a brief background in their history greatly increases the appreciation and understanding of the exhibits. The museum is uniquely laid out on an incline. The visitor works down a gentle slope through a central hallway, (300-plus yards) with anterooms on the right side. The exit opens into a park-like perpetual spring-like setting, and leaving the museum carries the visitor past wide openings into the anterooms.

I recognize.

Two days could easily be consumed touring the Museo De Antropologia De Xalapa, but I only spent one, thinking I’d return. I drove to the Centro Historico or the historic district. The combination of ancient edifices and milling people both thrilled and overwhelmed. I also realized there wouldn’t be a place to park even if I circled the area for hours. Resorting to plan B, I parked at the hotel, hailed a cab and, for two-fifty, returned to the Centro Historico.

Talk about a relaxing park.

Arriving at Juarez Park, I knew I’d be unable to do Jalapa justice this visit and would have to return. The cab ride verified what my drive through had shown. I’d have to find a week to devote to the Centro Historico. I needed to be up the hill thirty or forty blocks and stroll downhill from three or four different directions if I really wanted to absorb the culture, smells and pulse of the historical area. This trip I’d just have to spend my time at the park and around the Cathedral.

Straying from the center reveals ancient alleys crammed with vendors.

Balloon salesmen and clowns stood out through a flotilla of happy people working the park. I fit perfectly, resting on a bench between my explorations. Although the name Jalapa is slowly changing to Xalapa by the government, the people like Jalapa. They make a play on words that they’re Jalapeños or hot stuff. The nightlife of the city verifies the Jalapeño appellation, but in the late morning, the park is filled with either non-Jalapeños or hot peppers recharging.

On clear days, the two most important mountains in the state of Veracruz, Orizaba’s Peak, 18,701 feet, and the extinct volcano Cofre de Perote, 14,408 feet, can be seen from Juarez park. Unfortunately, Jalapa’s surrounding mountains are known for their cloud covers, and the peaks were shrouded from view during my visits. I’d loved to have seen it when horsemen ruled the city.

Across the street from the park stands the Cathedral. It is necessary to be aware when crossing the alley cutting up the hill beside the church; traffic literally roars up that hill. But, it’s worth crossing to reach the building began in 1772. The main aisle gently rises toward the altar. Due to the surrounding buildings, photographing the entire complex is difficult. However, the Palacio de Gobierno more than rivals the Cathedral for photographic attention. The Cathedral: Inviting indeed. Once inside, it’s even more inviting.
Somehow the government buildings at home doesn’t measure up.

About the time I became comfortable with the route between my hotel and the Cathedral area, I realized my Toyota needed service. I changed to a hotel closer to the dealership. I found one five-star outfit demanding $175 dollars a night. Being on a three month trip I was on the eco-plan so I looked further. The Best Western and Howard Johnson, both fine-looking deluxe hotels, cost from fifty-five to eighty-five dollars per night. On the verge of returning to Avenida Jalapa, where my twenty dollar-plus budget was appreciated, I spotted hotel Villa Las Margarita []. First class and costing forty bucks a night, I splurged. The proximity to the Toyota dealership would be worthwhile. They had a marvelous dining room. A club sandwich, fries and coffee costing $4.30 provides a fair indication of their price ranges.

I left the city for Yucatan, but Jalapa had captured me. I returned to the city after two weeks and took a different hotel on Avenida Jalapa. Two other hotels in the low twenty-dollar range with courtyard parking stand within a block of Hotel El Mirador. I liked that better and I was still close to the Hotel El Mirador restaurant, featuring, for my money, the friendliest cook and waitress in the city. I only had two days before I had to leave the city, and I wanted to walk.

Cerro de Macuiltepetl.
Too much climbing to be a restful park.

On reaching Cerro de Macuiltepetl, a conifer-covered mountain peak within the city I gazed up. A labyrinth of trails circled toward the crown. The air, tinged with odor of pine and cedar, was as inviting as the forest itself. Areas for Boy Scout camping and exploration were barely noticeable beside the trail on the lower level. Hikers and joggers made themselves at home. I browsed the mountain at a leisurely pace, enjoying the views inside the park and of the city spread out below. Near the top, it’s obvious from the rock formations the mountain is an extinct volcano.

Jalapa doesn’t possess the abundance of tourist sites most Mexican cities boast. On my disjointed tour, I missed the majority of the attractions it does have. Still, I travel Mexico to see life more than sites, so the trip met my objective. On my last day, I discovered parking possibilities on the other side of Juarez Park at Los Lagos, a lake area for tourists. I’d come to Jalapa knowing little about the city, but learned how to tackle her on my next visit when I’ll see.

Other tourist attractions and catch the city’s symphony orchestra. I’ll again bunk on the outskirts in the more economical hotels. I’ll definitely find stopping places for a leisurely walk downhill toward the Cathedral and Juarez Park. More than likely, I’ll catch a cab to return to my car rather than walk uphill. I can’t think of a better way to enjoy the colonial architecture than strolling downhill, stopping often for a cup of coffee, and learning the city. But I won’t again enter the city by auto after dark, especially if it’s raining.

*William B. “Bill” Kaliher has traveled Mexico at every opportunity since the 1960s by car, bus, train and motorcycle. Although known for his Mexican travel articles he’s written for over 300 publications including The World & I, The Pragmatist and Down Memory Lane. His tour business is designed to allow small groups to experience the Mexico regular tourists seldom see. You may contact William Kalhiher at:


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