Xalapa, Veracruz: My Mexican city of dreams
Originally from Boulder, Colorado, I have lived in Xalapa, Veracruz, for the last 27 years. Xalapa (hah-LAH-pah) is truly the place of my dreams. Nestled in lush coffee growing hills, with a micro climate averaging 68° F (20° C) year-round, it's the capital of the Gulf of Mexico state of Veracruz.
Xalapa comes from the Nahuatl (Aztec) language meaning "springs (of water) in the sand." Sometimes, you'll see it spelled Jalapa because "X" has several sounds and the Spaniards spelled Jalapa the way they thought it should be. Pickled serrano chiles are known as jalapeños because Don Mario Jimenez began commercializing them from here.
Xalapa is also known as the "Athens of Veracruz" because of it's strong cultural influences of three major universities, a multitude of preparatory and technical schools, insitutes, art galleries, folklore groups, outstanding anthropology and science museums, and the world renowned Xalapa Symphony Orchestra.
In the surrounding area, you'll find many interesting villages to visit such as: Coatepec and Xico (lots of coffee and where the movie "Romancing the Stone" was shot); Naolinco, famous for its "standing river" (waterfall!); Las Vigas in the pine covered mountains with delicious jamón serrano (cured Spanish ham) and beautiful vistas; and Carrizal with it's thermal baths and white water rafting. There are dozens of other small towns with unique attractions that would take a thick book to tell about.
I live right downtown in Xalapa, even though the traffic is often annoying in this active colonial city of over 600,000 inhabitants. I rarely use a car since the taxis only cost around a dollar! Why hassle finding a parking place when a taxi will drop you off right where you want to go? Then later, for a little more money, you can call a radio taxi to meet you at the door. And for you "walkaholics," like me, who love to explore new sights and sounds on foot, Xalapa is the place to come, with it's narrow and often very steep streets.
My jalapeña wife, Lourdes, who has put up with me for 25 years, will send me out to get a loaf of bread from the corner store with the admonishment "Now don't be to long because I'm really hungry." When I show up about an hour or so later, of course she's furious, and I give her the lame excuse that I met " Fulano, Mengano y Perengano"("Joe, Dick and Harry") that I just had to chat with.
Let me tell you, Xalapa is the place to make lasting friends where you can meet for a delicious cup of capuchino or Americano at the myriad of cafés and restaurants this city has to offer. My favorites are Café Chiquito (on Bravo street) or Café Latino (next to the main post office). You can tell by my ample girth that I love Mexican food--my favorite restaurants being Mi Nueva Banderilla (by Los Lagos); El Diamante (at El Callejon del Diamante) attended by owner Don Sergio with his delicious horchata de coco drink; La Casa de Mago (Morelos 46 around the corner from the hotel La Posada del Cafeto); and the fairly new La Cocina de la Abuela attended by Doña Blanca who makes fantastic mole.
For 25 years, I've owned and operated a photography and video business, Studio ROY, which has allowed me to become very closely involved with the community. Lately, I find that I'm taking the 1st communion pictures of children of parents of whom I took their 1st communion pictures! My weekends are always hectic, with bautizos (baptisms), primera comuniones (1st communions), quince años (debutant balls) and bodas (weddings). Many of these involve foreigeners — Canadians, Germans, Italians, Poles, etc. who have married Mexicans. Sometimes I find myself speaking three languages in one conversation.
If you're sports oriented, Xalapa lends itself to mountain biking and hiking, with it's paths through the coffee plantations. A 25 kilometer trip I love to take with my collie, Kaiser, is to the town of Pacho Viejo and Pacho Nuevo where my friend, Marisa, has her ex-hacienda. In the near future, I will write an article about her place, which is like stepping back 100 years in time.
Another trip I enjoy is to Rancho Viejo where George Vinaver, a Frenchman and ex-photographer has lived for over 30 years and grows delicious macadamia nuts. There are also several rainbow trout farms nearby where you can have a mouth watering trout cooked in aluminum foil on charcoal with a leaf of acuyo herb. It makes me hungry just thinking about it!
For the really adventuous types, you can go white water rafting down the Rio Pescados from Jalcomulco or the Rio Filabobos (near Misantla) with it's recently discovered Totonac ruins There are a dozen or more tour companies anxious for you business and ready to help you have a wonderful time exploring these areas.
There are several tennis clubs (Club Britania is one) in Xalapa, an excellent horse riding academy, as well as excellent sports facilities at the Universidad Veracruzana.
If you're looking for creative pastimes, the Patio Muñoz, almost in front of my studio, offers painting, sculpture, jarana (Mexican small guitar) and jarocho (Veracruz) dance classes. Xalapa has an active artist community, with painters like Fernando Vilchis and his very famous wife, Leticia Tarrago(her brother is a world famous violinist). With the excellent Xalapa Symphony Orchestra, probably one of the best in all the Americas, and the Universidad Veracruzana School of Music, the opportunities for studying a musical instrument are abundant. There are also many private classes for pottery and other crafts.
There are many fine hotels in the city.
I hope you can visit us soon so you can understand first hand why I love my adopted land so much. As president of the Xalapa Rotary Club, cordially invite any Rotarians to join us. Please feel free to contact me if you have specific questions (mention where you found out about me), and I'll be glad to help out as much as I can.